says survivor defamed national heroes by accusing them
of having collaborated with Nazis.
Yad Vashem has rescinded an invitation to Lithuanian officials to attend a memorial
service in response to the Baltic state’s request that
Israel investigate a Holocaust survivor for defaming
the country’s national heroes.
The state Holocaust museum on Thursday said Lithuania’s Culture Minister Arunas
Gelunas and ambassador to Israel Darius Degutis were
not welcome at next week’s ceremony in Jerusalem commemorating
Lithuanian Jews killed during World War II.
The announcement came after Lithuania had asked Israel to probe Joseph Melamed,
the chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in
Israel, for allegedly defaming Lithuanian national heroes
by accusing them of collaborating with the Nazis.
“Two people came from the Ministry of Justice who usually work with the Interpol
following a request by the Lithuanians,” Melamed told
The Jerusalem Post on Saturday. “It was not an investigation,
but they asked about a list of Lithuanian murderers we
had put out 15 years earlier.”
According to Melamed, the
list which was recently uploaded to the Internet, contained
the names of 5,000 Lithuanians who killed Jews, nine
of whom are recognized by the government in Vilnius as
“They claim nine of them are
Lithuanian heroes that did not kill Jews but this is
a lie,” he said. “Not only were they murderers but they
are mass murderers. So they are preparing to sue for
Efraim Zuroff, head of the
Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, said Yad Vashem’s
action was significant in efforts to remember the Holocaust
in the Baltic region.
“This is a very important
step taken by Yad Vashem because it makes clear Israel
will no longer countenance the efforts by the Lithuanians
to prosecute former Jewish partisans,” Zuroff said.
“Hopefully, it will mark an
end to tolerance of Holocaust distortion activity.”
Of the estimated 210,000 Jews
living in Lithuania before the war only about 15,000
are believed to have survived, one of the lowest survival
rates in Europe.
Nazis operating on Lithuanian
soil were closely aided by Lithuanian nationalists who
instigated pogroms against Jews on their own initiative.
After gaining independence in 1991, Lithuania sought to distance itself from
communism by embracing nationalist forces which had fought
the Soviet Union during WWII, including some who carried
out attacks against Jews.
In 2007, Lithuania asked Israel to extradite partisan fighter and former Yad
Vashem head Yitzhak Arad for allegedly killing Lithuanian
civilians during WWII.
The Lithuanian-born Israeli
rejected the allegations made against him and said he
was being persecuted because he had called on Vilnius
to bring Nazi collaborators to justice.
Melamed on Saturday said he
did not want to provoke an argument with Lithuania. He
said the controversial list was removed from the Web
even though he stood behind its veracity.
“The Lithuanians should think
twice before they sue us because it will open up a hornet’s
nest,” Melamed said.