I am writing to alert you to a situation of considerable importance and to ask for your help in publicizing the plight of some aging former Jewish Partisans in Lithuania who lost their entire families in the Holocaust and survived because of their extraordinary courage in joining the anti-nazi partisan resistance. As many of you know, I spent considerable time researching the story of the Vilna Ghetto while researching my book on Major Plagge. During that time I was helped and encouraged by Fania Brantsovsky, a former Jewish Partisan living in Vilnius who supported me and urged me to continue my work. Now Fania needs our help as she is being attacked by Lithuanian nationalists with the help of government officials and offices.
Here is some background. During the terrible years of genocide, from 1941-44, over 200,000 Lithuanian Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators — virtually annihilating the Jews of Lithuania. Sadly, much of the actual killing was carried out by Lithuanian fascist paramilitary forces known as the Ypatingasis B?rys/Shaulists. Approximately 96% of Lithuania's Jews were killed during the Holocaust. However a small number of Jewish teenagers and young adults did manage to escape from the Vilna Ghetto into the surrounding forest where they joined Partisan units supported by the Soviet Union and helped fight against the genocide that had consumed their families and people.
After the war Lithuania was controlled by the Soviet Union, and since the fall of the Soviet Union Lithuania has been an independent republic. As a nation, Lithuania has done little to acknowledge the role of its citizens in carrying out the Holocaust. Its national identity seems to be fixed on a self-image as the long-suffering victim of Soviet oppression. Thus we find little interest in Lithuania for bringing those who murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews to justice before the Soviet occupation. Since Lithuanian independence in 1989 only three Lithuanian Nazi perpetrators have been brought to trial for their crimes and none of these received any significant punishment.
Recently however, the government — apparently pandering to right wing domestic forces — has begun an investigation of two former Jewish Partisans — Fania Brantsovsky and Yitzhak Arad. Both Fania and Yitzhak were teenagers during the war and after escaping from the Vilna Ghetto fought with the Partisans against the Nazis and their local collaborators. Fania is one of the few Jews who remained in Lithuania after the war and, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has worked tirelessly to rebuild Lithuania, aided aging Jewish survivors, and has been giving educational tours of the Vilna Ghetto. Since 2001 she has worked as librarian of the new Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University. Yitzhak Arad immigrated to Israel where he wrote a seminal book on the Vilna Ghetto (Ghetto in Flames) and another on his time as a partisan (The Partisan), and also served as the head of Yad Vashem for twenty-one years. Spurred on by right wing Lithuanian nationalists — who view anyone who was ever allied with the Soviets as national enemies — the Lithuanian government began investigating a 1944 battle at the village of Kaniukai between Soviet Partisans and armed local Nazi allies. During this battle approximately 38 civilians were killed. There is no evidence that either Fania or Yitzhak took part in this battle, and no indication that civilians were purposely targeted by any of the partisans. Yet in spite of the fact that those who purposely and systematically murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews continue to go unpunished, 86 year old Fania is being investigated — visited by men in dark suits for interrogation, threatened with prosecution and defamed in the press as a "murderer". This is in effect a campaign of state sponsored defamation of Jewish survivor heroes who stood up to the Hitlerist war machine.
Prosecutors have written letters to the Israeli government requesting that Dr. Arad be sent brought to Lithuania for "questioning". The Simon Weisenthal Center in Jerusalem has aptly characterized the actions of Lithuania's judicial authorities as "launching a campaign to discredit Jewish resistance fighters by falsely accusing them of war crimes in order to deflect attention from widespread Lithuanian participation in the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust".
This new form of Holocaust denial and persecution of aging Holocaust survivors must not go unchallenged! Initially Fania and another former partisan, Rachel Margolis, were described as war crime "suspects" but due to initial international attention the government has recently been calling them "witnesses". However the Lithuanian government continues to consider Yitzhak Arad a "suspect" and continues to refuse the simple request of growing segments of the international community to clearly state that these aging Jewish survivors will no longer be threatened in the future with anything, including interrogation and defamation. Fania currently lives in fear of another knock on the door by police; Rachel, who has been living in Rehovot, Israel, but coming to Vilnius each summer to give Holocaust lectures and tours, is now afraid to come, which is a massive blow to Holocaust truth telling in Lithuania. Yitzhak too is unable to return to his birthplace because of the politically motivated threats of the authorities.
I would ask that you and your friends write to the officials listed below to protest this injustice. Please demand that the Lithuanian government cease all threats of interrogation, abuses of prosecutorial powers and defamatory press releases against Fania Brantsovsky, Yitzhak Arad and Rachel Margolis.
Lithuanian Ambassador to the US, Audrius Bruzga email: Audrius.Bruzga@ltembassyus.org
American Ambassador to Lithuania John A. Cloud email: WebEmailVilnius@state.gov
I have copied my own letter to Ambassador Bruzga (along with articles from the Jerusalem Post and London Jewish Chronicle) below which you may refer to. You can even copy and paste the letter, replacing my introductory paragraph with a brief statement of who you are and why you are interested in this cause.
Finally, it is important to note that Vilnius has been chosen by the European Commission to be the 2009 "Capital of European Culture". Please, please copy your letters to Jan Figel (email: Cab-FIGEL@ec.europa.eu), the European Commission's Commissioner of Culture and point out to him that Vilnius does not deserve the honor usually afforded to cities that are chosen by the commission because they exemplify diversity, tolerance and cooperation among ethnic groups.
Durham, CT USA
Dear Ambassador Bruzga,
I am the son of Perela Esterowicz and Wowka Gdud, two Jewish Holocaust survivors from Vilnius. Out of my extended family of 88 people, only 11 survived the genocidal years of 1941-44.
As I'm sure you know, most of the Jews of Vilnius were executed at the killing grounds of Paneriai by Lithuanian fascists (Ypatingasis B?rys/Shaulists) who collaborated with the Nazis and actively took part in the virtual annihilation of Lithuania's Jewish population. It is estimated that 212,000 Lithuanian Jews were killed during the war, however this does not count the tens of thousands of Polish Jews, Poles and Russians who were also killed by these same paramilitary men during these years. It is my understanding that since becoming an independent republic, the government of Lithuania has prosecuted only three former Shaulists for their bloody crimes and that none of these were effectively punished.
Out of the nearly 98,000 Polish, Russian and Lithuanian Jews who perished from the Vilnius area, a small handful of Jewish teenagers managed to escape from the Vilna Ghetto and join the Soviet partisans in the forest outside of Vilnius as a means of survival and to fight against the ongoing genocide. I was extremely distressed to read in the Jerusalem Post (see below) that the Lithuanian authorities are currently investigating and had considered war crime charges against two former Jewish Partisans, Fania Brantsovsky and Yitzhak Arad, who escaped from the murder in order to fight against the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators. While the prosecutors office has refused give any details of what the charges are, they seem to stem from a firefight that occurred between anti-Nazi partisans and pro-German forces in the village of Kaniukai during which 38 civilians were killed. All of us understand that during war, \ fighting in and around cities and villages tragically results in civilian casualties. However, to pursue such a prosecution or investigation while those who purposely and systematically slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocents have been left untouched - or even worse praised as "anti-soviet heroes" is a slap in the face of of all of those who lost family members during the Shoah in Lithuania. It is a perversion of justice and an attempt to distort the roles between victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust. I would very much appreciate your explanation of these events and demand that the Lithuanian government clearly state that these aging survivors will not be threatened with prosecution, interrogated, subjected to defamatory press releases and assured that can safely live in or visit Vilnius, the city where they were born.
Michael Good MD
May 28, 2008 22:00 | Updated May 29, 2008 4:06
'I have fought once, I can fight again'
By DANIELLE SINGER
Fania Brantsovsky is a librarian at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in Lithuania and a survivor of the Vilna Ghetto. To her government, though, she is a suspect.
Two weeks ago, two Lithuanian police knocked on the door of Rachel Margolis, a former Holocaust survivor and a fellow member of the Soviet Partisans, in hopes that they would be able to use Margolis as a witness to gain more information about Brantsovsky's "crimes" during her participation as a partisan.
For a year now, Lithuania has investigated Brantsovsky and Holocaust survivor Yitzhak Arad for war crimes related to their Soviet partisan activities during World War II.
The investigations have been publicized in Lithuanian newspapers and television stations, referring to the two as terrorists and murderers of innocent Lithuanian civilians.
Arad, who lives in Israel and formerly served as chairman of Yad Vashem, has been accused of killing Lithuanian civilians and members of the anti-Soviet resistance movement.
He claimed that the Lithuanian government was twisting the story, saying that it was actually the Lithuanian civilians who had been hostile to the partisans and were given arms by the Lithuanian government to "defend themselves."
"What they are trying to do is rewrite history," said Arad. "The murderers of the Jews are now becoming the heroes of Lithuania and they are making [partisans] out to be criminals and murders."
Brantsovsky is also being investigated for crimes that she is alleged to have committed as a partisan. Lithuanian newspapers, such as the Lietuvos Aidas, have accused her of killing inhabitants of the Kaniukai village on January 29, 1944.
Although she refused to comment about the specific event, Brantsovsky said her participation in the partisans was not to commit murder, but in self-defense.
"My decision to join the group was because the group provided a desperate Jew during the Holocaust [an] opportunity for safety and to fight death," she told The Jerusalem Post. "A group of Jews banded with the Soviet fighters to defend our honor - so we would not just walk to our deaths."
Brantsovsky still wants to continue living in Lithuania. Though she has considered moving to Israel, she said, her family and work are in Lithuania and she doesn't wish to leave them.
"Until it is absolutely necessary, I won't leave," she said. "I have fought once, I can fight again."
Lithuania had one of the highest death tolls of the Holocaust, with an estimated 212,000 Jews murdered.
Since the Lithuanian government gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, it has done little to bring Lithuanians to justice for the murders of so many Lithuanian Jews.
"There have only been three Lithuanians who were responsible for many murdered Jews, put on trial - and all three got off unpunished," he said. "And here we have already two Holocaust survivors who are being accused of war crimes. Where is the justice?"
The Lithuanian Embassy and general prosecutor for Lithuania declined to comment on the investigations.
Simon Wiesenthal Center Press Release: http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/s/content.asp?c=fwLYKnN8LzH&b=253162&ct=5430489