On August 30, Superintendent Tamar Bat Sharon and another Israel Police investigator reported to the office of Joseph Melamed. They came as emissaries of the Lithuanian government, which is accusing Melamed of slandering nine Lithuanians who were executed by the Soviet government for collaborating with the Nazis. In their homeland they are considered national heroes.
Attorney Melamed, 86, a survivor of the Kovno Ghetto and a partisan who fought in the forests, is chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel. In 1999, he sent the Lithuanian prosecutor general a document entitled "Lithuania: Crime and Punishment," which contains a list of thousands of Lithuanians who collaborated with the Nazis and executed Jews during World War II. The list is based on testimony taken from survivors and eyewitnesses. Melamed demanded that the prosecutor general investigate their crimes.
Lithuania didn't lift a finger. Its government waited for 12 years and has now issued an order to investigate Melamed, of all people.
One of the nine whose honor the Lithuanian government wants to uphold is Juazas Luks'a, an officer in the Lithuanian army, who in 1941 used his sword to saw off the head of Rabbi Zalman Osovsky, and then put it on public display.
Many Lithuanians gladly collaborated with the Nazis and welcomed them as liberators. In 1941, even before the "liberation," Lithuanians began to massacre their Jewish neighbors. Most Lithuanian Jews, about 200,000, were exterminated in the Holocaust. Many of the murderers were Lithuanians. They had no need of Nazi encouragement.
Instead of being ashamed of its past, Lithuania is rewriting its history. It grants pardons to Lithuanians who were tried after the war in Soviet courts for the crime of collaboration with the Nazis. It considers them national heroes. In 2010, Lithuania even permitted the public use of swastikas.
Israel's embarrassing silence is being interpreted in Lithuania as weakness. Encouraged by the lack of Israeli response, Lithuania is not content only with expressions of nostalgia for the Nazi occupation or with sanctifying "patriots," the collaborators. In recent years there has been an escalation in Lithuanian chutzpah. It has begun to demand that Israel investigate Holocaust survivors for "war crimes." It began a few years ago with a demand that Israel extradite Brig. Gen. (ret. ) Yitzhak Arad, who was the chief education officer and chairman of Yad Vashem. The Lithuanians demanded his extradition for being a partisan who fought the Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators.
Instead of responding firmly and sending back the request without examining it, as is to be expected from a country that has vowed to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, the Israeli Justice Ministry made do with a rejection of the request, adding that it would have been preferable had it not been submitted, or something to that effect.
Later, the Lithuanians repeated the despicable maneuver of accusing Holocaust survivors of "war crimes," this time directing it at Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky, a resident of Vilna, and Rachel Margolis of Rehovot.
It turns out that in the case of Melamed there was no coordination between the Israel Police and the Justice Ministry. It is surprising that the Israel Police, which usually investigates slowly, actually demonstrated unusual alacrity when it came to Lithuania's request to take testimony from Melamed (the case was first reported by Prof. Dovid Katz in his blog DefendingHistory.com).
But even more disturbing is the deafening silence of the Israeli government. The time has come for the government to stop showing restraint and to voice a harsh protest in order to put an end, once and for all, to the Lithuanian chutzpah.
Declaring the Lithuanian ambassador to Israel a persona non grata, or at least lowering the level of diplomatic relations, are fitting steps for a country that presumes to be the country of Holocaust survivors.