Commentary by Faina Kukliansky, chair of the Lithuanian Jewish Community
Auschwitz in the winter, during International Holocaust Day, was as moving as the Holocaust survivors who met here. My thoughts swirled around the people who are still alive. In Lithuania the only still living survivor is Meyshe Preis, who through some sort of miracle survived the Auschwitz, Stutthoff and Dachau concentration camps. His poor health didn’t allow him to attend the commemoration of Auschwitz victims on January 27. Kings, queens and heads of state did attend. I want the people of Lithuania, her politicians and high-ranking civil servants, and especially her decision makers, to understood that a trip to Auschwitz is not the same thing as travelling to Brussels for the usual meeting.
Seventy years ago the Jew were liberated, but they were persecuted en masse from 1939. Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, foreign minister Linas Linkevičius and the chair of the Lithuanian Jewish Community travelled to the ceremony and were deeply affected by it. I believe their attitude is that of the state regarding Holocaust survivors, whose children and grandchildren now form the basis of our community. I will interject here that representing the community doesn’t mean that some high institutions choose a certain Jew for the post according to merit. That’s how it was for many years. If there’s a Jewish community which elects its chairperson democratically, then the chairperson must represent the community and Lithuania as well, if the community is loyal to the state and sees itself as a part of the country.
I think statements issued by the Lithuanian state about the events in Ukraine, that it is unacceptable to kill people, are quite topical and important viewed against the backdrop of Auschwitz. If back then the right person at the right place and time had spoken up and said you should not murder 6 million people just for being Jews, and that Roma and homosexuals shouldn’t be murdered, it’s possible things might have taken a much different turn.
But things are as they are. There are not many Jews left in Lithuania. The best thing we can do now for Holocaust victims is to remember and commemorate them and their suffering. I think the Lithuanian state owes Jews a debt of commemoration overall. Jews fought so much for an independent Lithuania, so much blood was spilt, and so many shining cultural figures, philosophers, doctors, scholars and scientists have emerged from the Lithuanian Jewish community. Why has their work, the historic old towns of Lithuanian towns, the economies, jobs and improved lives they created disappeared from memory? I really don’t want to single Jews out as a bunch of outstanding geniuses, what I am trying to say is that today they have disappeared, but memory must live on. Who will answer the question of why there were 200 Jewish towns in Lithuania before the war, and then 200 Jewish mass graves after? We must discuss and think about this in the preparation of educational curricula.
I would like to add that it is slanderous to say Jews are being persecuted in Lithuania. There are people who seek to divide and claim to speak in the name of all Jews. Why do Jews need to be incited against the Lithuanian state? Is this perhaps related to the Goodwill Fund and restitution monies? This money has enriched the community and provided more opportunities for satisfying Jewish needs, but it is not allocated to individuals. We help our community members living through hard times. No one is persecuting us. The LJC uses the money for projects and the state auditor supervises the disbursement of funds. There is a limit to all manner of rumor and talk to the contrary, and there is such a thing as punishment for slander and sowing ethnic and religious discord, and such a thing as compensation for damages as well.