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18 Sep, 2007 02:55

Lithuanian-Israeli row brewing over WW2 killings

Lithuanian-Israeli row brewing over WW2 killings

Israel has refused a request from Lithuania’s chief prosecutor to question Yitzhak Arad, former Director of the Israeli Holocaust Museum. The prosecutor alleges that Arad was involved in the killing of Lithuanian civilians as a partisan fighter during Wor

The dispute started with a small article in a local Lithuanian magazine, but grew to involve the governments of Israel and Lithuania, who are now deadlocked over what steps to take next.

Until now they’ve not found even one Jew who would have killed defenceless Lithuanians. There were no Jews like this. And in all the archives you will find the names of 23,000 Lithuanians who killed Jewish people.

Joseph Melamed, President,
Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel

Based on quotes from his autobiography, and testimonies Yitzhak Arad gave at the trials of Nazi war criminals, Lithuania’s chief prosecutor wants to question him for alleged crimes against Nazi collaborators.

Mr Arad believes he was targeted as part of a general Lithuanian policy against pro-Soviet World War Two troops: “What, as I understand, they are investigating now, is actually the whole Soviet partisan movement,” he says.

Unlike ordinary Lithuanian civilians, his choice, as a Jewish teenager in a territory occupied by the Nazis, was for survival, Mr Arad says: “I saw as my obligation to fight those who were murderers of my people, those who were murderers of millions of other people. I saw it as my duty. I was proud of it. And of course, I saw it also as a matter of survival.”

The Israeli government says the request to question Yitzhak Arad is nothing short of outrageous.

The issue in general first arose when Lithuania established a committee to examine the role of partisans in the killings of Lithuanian civilians.

Leading historians in Israel charge that the committee was not established to discover the truth, but rather to ease Lithuania’s acceptance into the European Union.