27 February 2008
During the visit of Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas to Yad Vashem today, the Chairman of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, presented a letter to the Minister protesting Lithuania’s intention to pursue a criminal investigation into the wartime activities of Dr. Yitzhak Arad. Dr. Arad is a former partisan, a Holocaust historian, and former chairman of Yad Vashem. “Sadly, not only have the so-called legal proceedings not been suspended and an official apology to Dr. Arad not been forthcoming. Rather, the State of Israel, Yad Vashem and Dr. Arad’s numerous friends and supporters all over the world have encountered as a response little more than meaningless explanations at best, or more frequently - silence,” Shalev wrote. “It is clear that initiating criminal proceedings into Dr. Arad’s involvement in Lithuanian partisan activity during World War II is tantamount to a call for an investigation into all partisan activity. Any attempt to equate those actions with illegal activities, thereby defining them as criminal, is a dangerous perversion of the events that occurred in Lithuania during the war.”
Approximately a year ago, Lithuania opened a criminal investigation into Dr. Arad. The investigation became known when the Lithuanian prosecutor’s office turned to the Israeli Justice Ministry with a request to interrogate Dr. Arad on suspicion that he took part in the murder of Lithuanian civilians during the Holocaust. The Lithuanian case is based on Dr. Arad’s memoir, in which he describes his experiences as a partisan in Nazi-occupied Lithuania.
Shalev concluded his letter by urging a speedy resolution to the issue: “On behalf of Yad Vashem, and all who share our faith in humanistic and democratic values, I emphatically call for a swift and final conclusion to this matter. I respectfully urge you, as Lithuania’s Foreign Minister, to do your utmost bring this subject to a rapid end, and thus facilitate the cessation of historical revisionism and distortion in Lithuania.”
The Holocaust in Lithuania was unique in that most of the Jews there were murdered by local citizens. The “Order Police” began to massacre Jews as soon as the Soviets left in 1941, before the German occupation. Out of a prewar population of 220,000, only a few thousand Jews survived the war in Lithuania - representing the largest percentage of Jews murdered in one country during the Holocaust. Dr. Arad is a retired Brigadier General in the IDF, and served for 21 years as the Chairman of Yad Vashem, until his retirement in 1993. His comprehensive study on the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, including Lithuania, was published three years ago.