by Sergejus Kanovičius
Once, long ago, I attended a Lithuanian school. Back then there were two Jews, or more accurately, a Jewish boy and a Jewish girl. The boy was in the grade next to her. Dark-skinned speaking without an accent, the Jewish boy always got into fights when others reminded him he was different. Different and therefore not as good. No one tried to break it up. There were always observers. Later they called themselves pals because they didn’t get into fights with him. They didn’t defend him, but they didn’t beat him, either. It’s much safer to stand to the side and keep quiet. That’s been proven historically. The Jewish girl didn’t get into fist fights. She was shy and had curly hair. Whenever someone called her žydelka [Jew-girl], which is now for some reason considered an endearing diminutive term, she used to walk away, sometimes wiping a tear. When I used to hear these “terms of endearment,” unlike the majority of the žydelkos, I had to get into a fight again.
There have always been more apologists for epithets such as žydelka, žydo išpera [Jew-spawn] and others and they have always been stronger. But my family taught me one thing: never to retreat from abuse, to oppose it. I would be lying if I said I had ever been the victor in some fist fight. The combatants were always greater in number and I lost. No matter what, though, they got theirs. Of the many wonderful teachers there were only a few who didn’t give out beatings, they found a pseudo-intellectual way of telling the whole class that this one is different and therefore is worthy of less respect. This kind of intellectual pedagogical encouragement to hate. Like the mark for dictation, when because of one comma the dark kid used to get four [out of ten] with a minus. Just because. So I wouldn’t forget I was different.
Many years later as Lithuania counts her fourth decade of independence, no one dare beat me. Fists have become unpopular. They beat through words. Sometimes rather beautiful ones. The world is free. But it is painful the Lithuanian National Defense Ministry’s magazine Karys [Soldier] has published the lie of a pseudo-historian about the local leader of anti-Semitic ideology (who knows whether another NATO member who sometimes guards our airspace, if the French Defense Ministry would try to tell their soldiers what a great diplomat and patriot Pétain was). Or insistently try to prove “Jew-girl” is a term of endearment (happy International Women’s Day, žydelkos!). Frida Vismant of Šeduva recalls that’s what they called her on the streets in 1940. “You just wait, žydelka padalka, Hitler will come and we’ll show you!” (Out of endearment, I guess, they told her she was a žydelka in the Šiauliai ghetto after they took her firstborn Rachmielis and beat him to death along with 600 child žydelkos).
There is a person at the Martynas Mažvydas Lithuanian National Library who calls himself an historian, who talks about the swastika and compares Hitler to Napoleon, and says everything has been forgotten, everything has taken on a different meaning. Read: and soon we will understand the swastika differently. Soccer is being played with a commemorative plaque commemorating a failed anti-hero and the police are watching carefully to insure that those who break the rules aren’t, God forbid, punished. The office of the prosecutor completely fails to understand that the diminutive term of endearment žydelka is an insult made in the parliament on the day when light and truth are supposed to lead us [lines from the Lithuanian anthem], and suggest we read the Lithuanian dictionary. Never mind the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania with their statements and historical findings which resemble more a tragic farce. The picture is a poor one.
Observers observe as several thousand surviving Jews are whipped, while they are constantly being reminded they are different, and therefore they can’t complain. This poor picture needs to be improved, some lighter tones need to be added to the dark colors, they are administratively necessary, a word must be said during the anniversary of the mass murder of these žydelkos and Jew-spawn sent back to Abraham, a tear must be shed and a moment of silence observed. Until the next commemoration. Against the background of the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the Year of Chiune Sugihara, against the background of some nomination or other, these institutional “improvements” of anti-Semitism present even worse optics. They in no way serve to mask the systematic distorting of history under way, the wanton and painfully obvious lie and the insulting of Jews. Of course there are others as well who will always say on a radio program the Wehrmacht and its soldiers savoring of cologne were like manna from Heaven for Lithuania which had lost her independence. At least go and try to water Ponar with that cologne.
Silence has struck. Of the intellectuals, historians, political advisors and those who have by oath assumed the post of political leader and member of parliament. And who cares about them. There will be no Jews in Lithuania. That’s the demographics. It’s just a matter of time. It’s another matter how we see ourselves. As St. Francis of Assisi said, the truth is born in silence. In the current silence truth is not born. The lie is born. It is possible to occupy a country. The occupiers leave. The virus remains. How comfortably we all manage to live with it. And this compote of stewed fruit, forgive me, in which anti-Semitism lives in harmony with ceremonial bagel samplings and ultra-sensitive speeches once per year, they are suggesting we drink daily. It’s disgusting.