A Lithuanian literature professor—who is also a Holocaust
survivor—is a recipient of this year’s Goethe Medal.
Irena Veisaite, 84, has spent her time since the end of World War II working
to benefit the community at large, through societies
she founded like the Lithuanian Soros Foundation, as
well as her literary work.
The Goethe Medal is a
German honor designating “outstanding service” from
foreigners in the area of German language and international
Veisaite was awarded the
honor “for her life's work as a driving force in German-Lithuanian
cultural dialogue, her creativity, and her political
courage to address even uncomfortable themes.”
The scholar is known for
addressing communism in her work. She has said that
while in the Kovno Ghetto she read German classics
in a secret, underground school.
The award was given to
Veisaite and two others—a writer from Bosnia and a
theater director from Kazakhstan—at a ceremony Tuesday.
president of the Goethe Institute, said at the ceremony, "Our award winners use the power of the word, to cite social developments and
to understand, come to terms with the past and convey
the human community as a cultural achievement."
However, some Jewish leaders
have criticized Germany’s decision to award Veisaite
with the award. Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal
Center, took umbrage with the scholar’s comparison
of Soviet communism to German Nazism.
In a German newspaper
article on Tuesday, Veisaite said, “The Soviets were
very, very bad. Different from the Nazis, but not better.”
Zuroff told The Jerusalem
Post: “It is particularly unfortunate that the recipient
of this year’s Goethe prize is a Holocaust survivor
who allows her personal tragedy to be exploited, in
the service of the current Lithuanian government’s
efforts to distort the history of the Shoah – by minimizing
or hiding the unusually extensive complicity of Lithuanians
in the mass murder of their fellow Jewish citizens,
and by promoting the canard of historical equivalency
between the crimes of Communism and those committed
by the Nazis.”
Jewish community was almost entirely decimated during