Israel shuns Lithuanians over Holocaust probe

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel’s official Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem on Thursday rescinded an invitation to Lithuanian officials to attend a memorial service, as a protest against their country’s call to investigate a Holocaust survivor.

The decision follows a Lithuanian accusation against a prominent survivor of slandering Lithuanians who collaborated with the Nazis, but are considered national heroes because they opposed the Russians.

The German Nazis were greeted as liberators in many eastern European countries that suffered under communism. Collaboration was rampant. In recent years, Lithuania and others have sought to highlight the activities of nationalist figures who opposed the Soviets _ even those suspected of atrocities against Jews.

Of the nearly 250,000 Lithuanian Jews before World War II, only a few thousands survived. Many of their murderers were Lithuanians.

It’s not the first time Israel has clashed with Lithuania over its treatment of Holocaust survivors. In 2007, Lithuanian authorities launched investigations into the wartime activities of Holocaust survivors and partisans in Lithuania. Among those accused of war crimes was Yitzhak Arad, a former chairman of Yad Vashem.

The investigations prompted Yad Vashem to publicly express concern over “the atmosphere of anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism in Lithuania.”

The case against Arad was closed in 2008. But Lithuania recently targeted Joseph Melamed, the 86-year-old survivor and a partisan who fought in the forests.

Melamed, as chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, provided Lithuanian authorities with documents allegedly implicating thousands of Lithuanians of collaborating with the Nazis and executing Jews and demanded they be investigated.

The authorities refused and instead asked Israeli police to question Melamed in regards to slandering nine of its national heroes.

In response, Yad Vashem said it decided to cancel the participation of Lithuania’s culture minister and its ambassador to Israel in a ceremony next week commemorating the World War II destruction of Lithuanian Jewry.

Yad Vashem said the memorial will take place with survivor organizations attending.

The Israeli police had no immediate comment to the questioning of Melamed.

The Lithuanian embassy in Tel Aviv did not respond to Yad Vashem’s move Thursday. But in a letter to the Haaretz daily earlier this week, the ambassador, Darius Degatis, wrote that Melamed has not been accused of anything and that prosecutors merely wished to verify the documents on which he based his accusations.

Degatis said that nine of the people accused of genocide were leaders of the postwar Lithuanian resistance against the Soviets and had been “falsely accused of serious crimes.”

In announcing the withdrawal of its invitation to the Lithuanian officials, Yad Vashem noted that it is “aware that Lithuania has announced steps this year to confront its Holocaust-era past, including in opening archives, and educational and commemoration activities.”