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
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.