Jewish souvenirs in Trani, Italy

Jewish souvenirs in Trani, Italy

JEWISH HERITAGE EUROPE



Check out the rich resources on www.jewish-heritage-europe.eu -- an online clearing house for news and information on Jewish heritage that I coordinate as a project of the Rothschild Foundation Europe




Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lithuania -- Paradox, contradictions and a new Jewish tourism office

Synagogue in Vilnius. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Haaretz has run a long and very interesting article discussing the schizophrenia exhibited by Lithuanian authorities vis-a-vis Jews, Jewish culture, historic memory and the like. It is pegged to a "cultural offensive" by the Lithuanian Embassy keyed to the Jerusalem International Book Fair.
This cultural offensive, however, is not being welcomed wholeheartedly. Despite the fact that one of the sessions to be presented at the fair will deal directly with the subject of the Holocaust (Is It Still Difficult to Speak about the Holocaust in Lithuania? at 5 P.M. Tuesday), the Lithuanian-sponsored campaign has been met with some derision by those who see it as a mere fig leaf to cover an official reluctance in the country to deal with its anti-Semitic past.

Calling Lithuania's participation in the book fair "propaganda," Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel office, told Haaretz that Lithuania, the country with the highest percentage of Jews killed during the Holocaust, has been a 'total failure' at bringing Nazi collaborators to justice.
Read the Full Article


The article, by Raphael Ahren, is thoughtful and presents a good picture of the contradictions and paradoxes of the situation.

He quotes the Lithuanian ambassador to Israel as being

convinced that her country's interest in its Jewish past is genuine and sincere. Jews have been in Lithuania for already six or seven centuries, they're a part of our culture and it's part of our mentality, part of heritage and history, she said when asked about her country's presence at the book fair. The Jews who lived in Lithuania before World War II contributed a lot to our culture, philosophy and mentality, and also to research in a lot of scientific fields. The Baltic country wants to present those parts of our history to the Israeli public, she said.

The Vilnius Yiddish Institute opened at the University of Vilnius in 2001, there is a new Jewish tourism office in the capital city, and in 2007 a Jewish nursery school started teaching Yiddish to its children in an attempt to preserve the language as Ashkenazi Jews' mother tongue.
Recently, however, I got a long email from Wyman Brent, detailing some of the bureaucratic (and other) problems he has had in trying to put together and donate a Jewish library to Vilnius... Last I heard, he has 165 boxes of books en route as a gift to the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, but, he says, "The museum is in dire straits as the government is now saying that it will no longer pay for the necessities of water, gas and electricity" and one of the museum's buildings may have to close down....

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