Yad Vashem Chairman Danny Dayan was unusually invited Wednesday night to address the plenum of the parliament in Vilna. This is an honorable and unusual occasion in which a person who is not the head of state speaks before the Samias, and for Dayan himself this was the first appearance of this kind.
Holocaust Remembrance Day siren and wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem (Archive)/Courtesy of Yad Vashem
Dayan spoke in English, and began his speech with a quote from Abba Kovner, who was born and raised in Vilna and was the first Jew to fight the Nazis when he declared in 1942: "Do not go like sheep to the slaughter." The Israeli representative expressed appreciation for the many steps that the governments in Vilna have taken to combat anti-Semitism and perpetuate and destroy the Jewish community.
"We are encouraged by the gradual but substantial progress made over the years by Lithuania – including important initiatives to commemorate the Holocaust and preserve the heritage of the Jewish community," Dayan said. He also mentioned that many Lithuanians saved Jews and were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
Jews at the gate of the consulate in Kovno (Lithuania), 1940,
After the congratulations, Dayan pointed the finger at the Lithuanian people and their leaders for still not taking responsibility for the crimes committed by Lithuanians against Jews and presenting murderers of Jews as national heroes. "A murderer cannot be considered a 'good person,' and certainly not a 'hero,'" Dayan said. "Lithuania must recognize that many of its Jews were massacred in the Holocaust by their Lithuanian counterparts, and that Lithuanians participated in the extermination of Jews in neighboring countries."
Dayan emphasized that an honest look at the past is necessary not only for the murdered, but especially for the younger generation of the Lithuanian people. He also directly attacked MPs present in the chamber who were complicit in covering up the crimes. "Such recognition is required for the Jewish victims, but also for the present and future generations of Lithuanians. We need to have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism, including in this room. This zero-tolerance policy must also apply to the glorification of war criminals associated with the massacre of Jews."
Dayan went on to name specific Lithuanian national heroes: "Names like Noreika, Skirpa and Krikštaponis (which the Lithuanian government defines as national heroes) do not add to the honor of your nation, nor to its compliance with international norms of appropriate national memory. Quite the opposite," said the Chairman of Yad Vashem's Directorate.
Yad Vashem. Will continue cooperation with the Lithuanians (archive), photo: Oren Ben Hakon
"Lithuanian history during the Holocaust also included despicable operations and, of course, a lot of murder of passersby. Everything must be remembered - accurately, proportionately and in the right context. This is precisely why ongoing efforts to advance accurate Holocaust research, documentation, education and commemoration are so vital."
Despite the criticism, Dayan stressed that Yad Vashem would continue its cooperation with the Lithuanians in order to encourage the right direction of Holocaust commemoration. His remarks were met with loud applause from MPs.
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