News2019.08.08 10:59

Lithuania's Jewish community divided over response to historical commemoration debate

BNS 2019.08.08 10:59

Several local Jewish organizations have criticized Faina Kukliansky, the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LŽB), for her handling of the debate in the country over commemorative signs to controversial historical figures linked to the Holocaust.

Simonas Gurevičius, the leader of the Vilnius Jewish Community (VJC), and his associates from Kaunas, Klaipėda, Šiauliai, Panevėžys and Ukmergė, say Kukliansky's “tactless” statements may turn the rest of Lithuanian society against Jews.

“We regret that without consulting Lithuanian Jewish communities due to her authoritarian style, the LŽB chairwoman makes tactless statements on behalf of all Jews of Lithuania, thus possibly setting the other part of Lithuanian society against us (Lithuanian Jews),” they said in a statement on Wednesday.

According to Gurevičius, the statement was also joined by Mausa Bairakas, leader of the Kaunas Jewish Religious Community, Feliksas Puzemskis, leader of the Klaipėda Jewish Community, Sania Kerbelis, leader of the Šiauliai County Jewish Community, Leonidas Mejerovas, leader of the Panevėžys Community for Support to Jews, and Artūras Taicas, leader of the Ukmergė District Jewish Community.

A staunch critic of Kukliansky, Gurevičius has had legal disputes with the LŽB chairwoman.

Kukliansky announced on Tuesday that the LŽB was temporarily closing the Vilnius Synagogue and the community's headquarters due to threats, but did not intend to turn to the police.

Threatening letters and phone calls came in the wake of Vilnius authorities' decisions to remove tributes to two controversial World War Two-era figures.

The authors of Wednesday's statements said they expressly welcomed “the removal of commemorative signs to individuals who collaborated with the Nazis from public spaces in Vilnius and all over Lithuania”.

“We regret that extremist forces want to use this to divide and antagonize the society, and that the Lithuanian political elite and leaders do not unequivocally condemn it,” they said.

The organizations said they “feel safe both in Vilnius and across Lithuania, but are worried by the rise of anti-Semitism”.

Tensions have risen in Lithuania in recent weeks following Vilnius officials' decisions to rename a street named after Kazys Škirpa, a controversial 20th century Lithuanian diplomat and military officer, and to remove a memorial plaque to Jonas Noreika, a high-ranking military officer accused of collaborating with the Nazis, due to their activities during World War Two.

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