Lithuanian Synagogue Vandalized After Commemoration of Nazi Collaborator

Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet

A famous Vilnius synagogue was vandalized over the weekend, shortly after an official ceremony in remembrance of Lithuania's 1941 pro-Nazi leader. The event occurred on Friday, when assailants threw green paint at the façade of the only Vilnius synagogue that has remained active since before the Holocaust.

A member of the Lithuanian Jewish community, who requested not to be named, said the two events were related. "Every time the government and the big professors commemorate the memory of a local 'hero' that worked with the Nazis during the Holocaust, there is an increased sense of anti-Semitism in the city. It only takes one thug with a tin of paint."

On Sunday, an official ceremony was held in Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania, to burry the bones of Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, who served as the head of Lithuania's Nazi-puppet "Provisional Government" of 1941. His bones were flown to Vilnius last Thursday, and were received with an official ceremony at the airport. From there, they were transferred to Kaunas and on Sunday they were buried at a respectful ceremony attended by politicians, to the sound of the national anthem.

Milan Chersonski, long-time editor of the Jewish Community’s newspaper, told Haaretz that the weekend's vandalism was clearly linked to what he called the "unofficial supplementary program" to honor the Nazi collaborator.

"If great eminences like the former heads of state Vytaytas Landsbergis and Valdas Adamkus are parties to the honoring of a Holocaust collaborator, then hooligans in town feel able to make their own contribution too with a can of paint thrown at the synagogue. In their own way, they all have thrown paint in the faces of the small surviving Jewish community in the country," he said.

The Choral Temple of Vilnius was erected in 1903 and was the only synagogue - out of more than one hundred - in the city to survive the Second World War and remain active today, to serve Vilnius' Jewish community. All other synagogues whose structures may have survived the Holocaust did not remain active.

The Ambrazevičius-led government strove for the independence of Lithuania during both the Soviet and German occupations, and as such he is remembered by many as a local hero. Nonetheless, his government also cooperated with the Nazis and assisted them in the persecution of Jews – actions that are recorded in historical documents, signed by Ambrazevičius himself.

The burial ceremony took place in Lithuania despite protests by the Jewish community, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Lithuanian politicians, who said it is inconceivable that a member state of the European Union and NATO would finance and support the burial of a leader who took part in the Holocaust of Lithuanian Jews. Out of 210,000 Jews that lived in Lithuania during World War Two, some 195,000 were murdered in the Holocaust.

Read this article in Hebrew.

The Choral Temple of Vilnius is seen after green paint was thrown at it on May 18, 2012.Credit: Milan Chersonski
Choral Temple, Vilnius, Lithuania.Credit: Ofer Aderet
Soldiers attend a reburial ceremony of Lithuanian World War II-era leader Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, Kaunas, May 20, 2012.Credit: AFP