Friday 28 September 2007, 16 Tishrei 5768

Why the expert witness will not face scrutiny
By Efraim Zuroff


Several weeks ago, Israel received a request from Lithuania for judicial assistance which aroused the ire of the Israeli Justice Ministry. A Jewish Israeli citizen was suspected of committing war crimes and/or crimes against humanity during World War Two.

This was not the first request of its kind from the Lithuanians, who had previously accused two Jews living in Israel of carrying out severe crimes against Lithuanians in their capacity as Communist officers during or shortly after the war. Those requests were rejected by Israel on the grounds that Lithuanian officers of higher or equivalent rank in the same units were never even questioned, let alone prosecuted, for possible involvement in the supposed crimes.

But this time the suspect was none other than former Yad Vashem chairman and noted Holocaust scholar Dr Yitzhak Arad, who had fought with the Soviet partisans against Nazi soldiers and their Lithuanian collaborators.

Anyone acquainted with Lithuania’s abysmal failure to punish local Holocaust perpetrators and the ceaseless efforts to minimise the role played by Lithuanians in Holocaust crimes can hardly have been surprised by the authorities’ latest manoeuvre to relativise Lithuania’s Holocaust guilt. What better way to demonstrate the “balance” between the misdeeds of Jews and Lithuanians than to press charges against Dr Arad, who has testified as an expert witness in the US and Canada about the role played by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators in the mass murder of Jews. His prosecution would go a long way to undermine the legitimacy of Jewish demands that Lithuania take legal measures against local Holocaust perpetrators.

In fact, Lithuania has failed to incarcerate a single Holocaust criminal for a single minute since it obtained independence in 1991, despite the fact that more than a dozen Nazi collaborators who had escaped to the US after the war have returned to their homeland after being prosecuted by the American Office of Special Investigations for their failure to disclose their World War Two activities. The irony of the Lithuanian efforts to prosecute Dr Arad is that, unlike other Holocaust scholars, he was willing to serve on the historical commission established by Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus to investigate the crimes of the Nazi and Communist occupations. Others had harshly criticised the false symmetry the combination would create between Holocaust and Communist crimes, and warned that such a commission would be used to minimise Lithuanian complicity in the Shoah. But the fear in Yad Vashem and the Foreign Ministry was that, without Jewish participation, there was no chance whatsoever of preventing such a dangerous result.

In response to the efforts to investigate Dr Arad, Yad Vashem has suspended its participation in the historical commission, as it should, but the truth is that in many respects the handwriting was on the wall. Having got away scot-free with protecting its Holocaust perpetrators, and having been rewarded for minimal progress in relatively innocuous issues such as Holocaust remembrance by support from Jewish organisations such as the American Jewish Committee for entry to Nato, Lithuania apparently believed that it could even prosecute Dr Arad.

It remains to be seen whether Israel and the Jewish world have learned their lesson. In post-communist Europe, where declarations of intentions to honour the victims and prosecute the guilty are all the rage, the time has come to judge countries not by their words, but by their actions. The investigation of Holocaust hero Yitzhak Arad is hopefully the wake-up call that will finally be heeded.