“If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem”

World leaders spoke but will they act?

From the 2020 World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem to the protest against Lithuania in Tel Aviv 24 hours later

By David E. Kaplan

They came but who saw2

As world leaders from some 50 countries descended on the capital of the Jewish people for the  World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, on the 23rd January 2020, marking 75 years since the “gates of Hell” were opened at Auschwitz, one commentator on i24NEWS remarked:

 “This conference is about education,” to which another in the panel skeptically responded:

 “Yes, but young people in Europe today not only know nothing about the Holocaust; they also don’t want to believe it. They deny it!”

And this is Europe where the largest mass murder in history  occurred? Where the majority of its Jews today lie beneath its surface while above the horrific truth is obscured, denied, ignored, equated or “they had it coming”?

And with a world increasingly directing the “new antisemitism” on the ‘collective Jew’ – Israel – it was only fitting that the World Holocaust Forum was held in the centre of the Jewish people – Jerusalem – Israel’s eternal capital since King David over 3000 years ago.

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World leaders gather at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for the 5th World Holocaust Forum.

If a world – and in particular one where its young generations – need to hear the truth, who better to hear it from than the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier who addressed the memorial forum with:

Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, I stand before you all as President of Germany – I stand here laden with the heavy, historical burden of guilt.”

He confessed his country’s guilt to the world with:

Germans deported them. Germans burned numbers on their forearms. Germans tried to dehumanize them; to reduce them to numbers; to erase all memory of them in the extermination camps.”

No less important for the world to hear was Steinmeier’s admission that Germans had not learned the lesson of the Holocaust as Jew-hatred was not disappearing but growing and that despite different times, the “same evil” prevails today. And while the German State President wished he could say that Germans had learned from history, he felt compelled to admit that “I cannot say that when Jewish children are spat on in the schoolyard; I cannot say that when crude antisemitism is cloaked in supposed criticism of Israeli policy,” and “I cannot say that when only a thick wooden door prevents a right-wing terrorist from causing a bloodbath in a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur.”

 

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‘Laden With Guilt’. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivers a speech during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020.

Beginning and ending by reciting in Hebrew the Jewish blessing of “Shehehiyanu”, Steinmeier  told the world there remains only one answer:

To ensure – “Never again! Nie wieder!

But who was hearing in order to remember?

Even with Prince Charles representing the United Kingdom, President Emmanuel Macron representing France, Vice President Mike Pence representing the USA and President Vladimir Putin representing Russia, I switched TV channels to notice there was hardly a mention on CNN , Sky, BBC or RT of the event. The exceptions were France 24, i24NEWS and Israel’s Hebrew channels that gave live coverage.

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Right Royal. 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, “hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, tell new lies, and seek new victims,” says Prince Charles at the 5th World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum on January 23, 2020 in Jerusalem, Israel.

Far more important than for Israelis to hear –  Jews know what happened –  it was for the billions across the world, in particular, the Europeans to listen, and to hear from their national leaders.

Did these international news networks not believe there was any interest despite the gathering of world leaders in Jerusalem? When these very same leaders were in Davos only a few HOURS before for the 50th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, there was continuous news coverage.

Even over news content, global economics trumps Jewish existential anxiety so are we surprised that antisemitism is here to stay?

For this writer, it was poignantly ironic and telling that only one day after the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem titled ‘Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism” initiated by the President of the European Jewish Congress Dr. Moshe Kantor, that there was a demonstration of Jews of Lithuanian descent outside Lithuania’s embassy in Ramat Gan in the district of Tel Aviv.

While I was there covering the event for Lay Of The Land it was also personal, and I  had helped draft the invitation notice in English:

No One Saved Their Lives, Lets Save The Truth

Come protest Friday 24th January 2020 outside Lithuanian Embassy, Ramat Gan.

We won’t forget and we won’t forgive!

And why did over 200 people brave the freezing cold and rain  to protest? They came to register their opposition to Arūnas Gumuliauskas, chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Commission on the Fight for Freedom and Historical Memory, who intends to propose a parliamentary resolution declaring that:

Lithuania has no responsibility for the murders and extermination of Lithuanian Jews during the Second World War because it was occupied by Soviets and then by Nazi Germany.”

The proposed resolution is to absolve Lithuania and Lithuanians of involvement in the Holocaust for the murder of 95% of Lithuanian citizens because it was occupied successively by Russia and Germany!

The protestors knew the truth and could relate stories of members of their families who were killed. Etched in the memory of this writer,  was my visit to Lithuania in 1992 when I met for the fist time a cousin who had survived the war by escaping into the forest and joining with the partisans. Alexander Judelis related the only reason he had not perished in his Shtetl of Riteva with his family was, “that my father had sent me to a Yeshiva in the north only a few weeks before the Nazi invasion. In fact, I did not want to go because I was not religious, but he saved my life.”  Judelis further related that , “the day before the Nazis entered Riteva,  local Lithuanians in our village, people who we knew all our lives, wanted to impress the Nazis before they came and went on a rampage of murdering most of the Jews,” which included members of his family.

There are few Jews in Lithuania today.  The Holocaust in German occupied Lithuania resulted in the near total destruction of Lithuanian Jews (Litvaks) and as all who stood shivering in the cold outside the Lithuanian embassy knew, their forebears who died in peacetime were the lucky ones lying beneath simple gravestones. Those that came after them have no gravestones –   they were dragged out of town, marched into the woods and shot to death in front of mass pits.

Many watching them dig their own graves before pulling the triggers of the submachine guns were their fellow Lithuanians. To the rat-a-tat soundtrack of gunfire, they gloated while murdering their neighbours, impressing their smiling German invaders.

This is the horrendous visual truth that Gumuliaskas wants to conceal by parliamentary legislation!

And this is what the shivering protestors outside the Lithuanian Embassy were determined not to permit – not without a fight.

Law is designed to reveal the truth not to hide it!

As chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Immigrants in Israel, Arie Ben-Ari expressed at the protest that “In the first months of the Nazi occupation, most of Lithuanian Jewry was annihilated by Lithuanians, and that from published information, over 22,000 Lithuanians participated in and carried out the murders in 214 places in Lithuania. Many of them advanced and subsequently served the Nazis as guards and murderers of Jews in concentration and extermination camps, including in Auschwitz.”

Yes, the very Auschwitz which in Jerusalem the day before, the world leaders assembled not only to commemorate its  liberation 75 years earlier but to impress upon the world the words:

Never Again”.

Conspicuous by his absence at the World Holocaust Forum was the President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda, who declined to attend. He  joined the Polish President Andrzej Duda who also did not come. Setting aside their issues with Putin, Duda  too is introducing a law in Poland imposing fines and jail time on anyone who refers to Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

Instead of trying to conceal their nefarious past by introducing laws, had both presidents attended the World Holocaust Forum, they would have heard the wise words of former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor who 75 years earlier, was liberated as a 7-year-old from the Buchenwald concentration camp.

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You Have The Power To Lead For good, So Lead. Holocaust survivor and former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, sends strong message to world leaders at World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem.

Drawing a parallel of the world leaders before him together in one tent in Jerusalem with Noah’s ark where all the animals of the world  – many of them too natural enemies –  proved no threat to each other. With arms outstretched and looking at the world leaders in front of him he posed the question:

How did the snake and the lion share the confined space with the lamb and the dove?  The answer was they feared a common enemy – “the flood”.

The “flood” today is poverty, disease, war, and antisemitism.  “You as world leaders have the power to work together against these threats to mankind”.

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Call To Arms Against Antisemitism. A view of the audience at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on Jan. 23, 2020.

But the presidents of Poland and Lithuania were not present to hear these words. While world leaders were all expressing “Never Again”, Lithuania had another use of the word “never” – that Lithuanians were “never” involved in the mass murder of its fellow Jewish citizens and that future generations must “never” hear again of Lithuanians mass murdering Jews.

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We remember. Protestors holding placards outside Lithuanian Embassy in Ramat Gan (Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

The banners at the protest outside the Lithuanian embassy  included  with the wording “Lithuania – take responsibility for the Holocaust”, “Zero Tolerance For Antisemitism” and “Gumuliaskas – no law can wash away Jewish blood’.

And when the rain poured, the umbrellas went up and the protestors stayed at their posts.

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Come Hell Or High Water. Downpour of rain did not deter the protestors outside Lithuanian Embassy countering attempts to deny past evils (Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

Moderated by Zohar Cheskov,  other speakers included Chairman of the Vilnius Association Mickey Cantor, the CEO of the Wiesenthal Center Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, Holocaust historian and researcher Remi Neiderfer  and 91-year-old Holocaust survivor from Kovna (Kaunas) Rosa Bloch,  who said Lithuanians “started to kill the Jews even before the Germans arrived.”

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Truth Be Told. Chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office Efraim Zuroff (left) with former South Africans living in Israel and of Lithuanian decent (l-r)Abel Levitt, Marcelle Kornel, the writer, David Kaplan and Barry Kornel holding a banner in Hebrew “Gumuliaskas – no law can wash away Jewish blood”.(Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

Since I was in Lithuania in 1992, the country has come a long way in confronting her wartime past.

However, maybe again, and possibly emboldened by the recent path of Poland’s leadership, does Lithuania too want to rewrite history and erase its ugly history of Nazi collaboration?

The message from the protestors outside the Lithuanian Embassy on the 24th January 2020 in Tel Aviv is a call for protest  not only by Jews of Lithuanian descent; but all decent people around the world  to join together against the rising “flood” in Lithuania and oppose the despicable resolution of Arūnas Gumuliauskas.

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Resolute Against Resolution. Protesting opposition to Arūnas Gumuliauskas resolution declaring Lithuania not responsible for the murders and extermination of Lithuanian Jews during the Second World War (Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

To the murdered Jews of Lithuanians:

No One Saved Their Lives, Lets Save The Truth