There are about 6,000 Jews in Lithuania (out of total population
of 3.5 million), most of whom live in Vilnius (Vilna), the capital. The Jewish
Community of Lithuania is the umbrella organization of Lithuanian Jewry. A
Jewish secondary school and kindergarten operate in Vilnius while other towns
have Jewish Sunday schools. The community in Vilnius publishes the monthly Jerusalem
of Lithuania in Lithuanian, Russian, Yiddish and English. The Jewish
community building in Vilnius houses the State Jewish Museum, the Israel Center
of Culture and Arts, the Center of Yiddish Culture and Music, and the Zalman
Reizen Foundation which supports Jewish culture, education and science. The
town of Trokai has a museum of the Karaite community.
Several buildings of the Jewish community were vandalized.
During the weekend of August 9−10, swastikas and other antisemitic
graffiti were painted on the Jewish community building in Panevezys, while swastikas,
Stars of David on gallows and the slogan "Juden raus" appeared on the
Jewish community building in Vilnius. In late August, Israeli tourists
discovered swastikas and the slogan "Jews − out" on the fence
of the Jewish community building in Klaipeda, as well as at the local Jewish
cemetery. On September 24, an Israeli flag placed on the building of the Jewish
community in Klaipeda, alongside a Lithuanian flag, was set alight.
cases of desecration of Holocaust memorials were recorded in 2008. In May there was an attempt to set alight the Holocaust memorial in Vernikai forest, where the
Nazis murdered 1446 Jews from nearby towns, while on October 16 antisemitic
graffiti was painted on the Holocaust memorial near the village of Pluskiai, and parts of the memorial were broken.
were filed in all cases and police investigations were launched, but no
perpetrators were caught.
the annual festival in Vilnius held in early February 2008 and which
traditionally takes place on Ash Wednesday (during the seventh week before
Easter), some participants were dressed as peddlers in stereotypic Jewish
clothes and grotesque masques, beards and ear locks and spoke with “Jewish” accents.
Imitating Halloween-style trick-or-treating, two children dressed in horns and
tails knocked on the door of Simonas Gurevicius, executive director of the
Jewish community of Lithuania, and when he opened it they sang in Lithuanian:
"We're little Lithuanian Jews/We want blintzes and coffee/If you don't
have blintzes/Give us some of your money." Several festival participants
also masqueraded as gypsies, wearing gaudy makeup, holding babies and asking
March 11, 2008 (Lithuanian Independence Day) about 200 skinheads held an
unauthorized demonstration in the center of Vilnius. They shouted antisemitic
and racist slogans such as "One, Two, Three, Lithuania is beautiful
without Russians,” "Juden Raus,” "Kill this Jew” and "Lithuania for
Lithuanians.” The participants held banners with swastikas and skulls, as well
as the flags of Lithuania and Latvia. Police videotaped the demonstration and opened
an investigation. The meeting was condemned by Lithuanian Prime Minister
Gediminis Kirkilas and President Valdas Adamkus, as well as by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. A public opinion poll published in a Lithuanian daily revealed
that 32 percent of respondents approved of the antisemitic and racist slogans
shouted during the march. Another 22 percent supported the march in general. In
June 2008 an 18-year-old female and two 20-year-old males, who had participated
in the demonstration, were convicted of incitement of ethnic hatred and fined
377−867 euros. In February 2009 one of the people arrested after the
march was released since in the opinion of the court the slogan he shouted,
"Lithuania for Lithuanians" was not racist. In early March 2009 a court sentenced another participant to home detention at night for shouting "A better Lithuania without Russians.”
toward the Holocaust and World War II
On February 27, 2008, Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem,
handed a letter of protest to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas
during his visit to Israel, after it became known that the Lithuanian General
Prosecutor's Office had launched an investigation against Yitzhak Arad, former
chairman of Yad Vashem and a historian of the Holocaust in Lithuania, for
allegedly killing civilians while he was a partisan in Lithuania during World
War II. The FEOR (Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia) also protested. On May 28, the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent an official protest to the
Lithuanian authorities after it became know that two more similar
investigations were being launched against former partisans − Fania
Brantsovsky, a librarian at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and Rachel Margolis,
founder of Vilnius’s Jewish museum. In September the general prosecutor dropped
the investigation against Arad "because of insufficient data.” There is no
further information about the other investigations.
On July 4, the Lithuanian Court of Appeals
ruled that Algimantas Mykolas Dailide (87) would not be imprisoned for
collaborating with the Nazis during World War II and taking part in atrocities
against the Jews, on the grounds of age and the fact that he posed no danger to
society. The Appeals Court thus ratified the ruling of the Vilnius District
Court handed down in 2006 (see ASW 2006).
April 19, 2008, a large red cloth with a swastika was discovered on a deserted
building in Klaipeda. It was removed by local firemen and the police opened an
investigation. This was not the first time that a Nazi flag was displayed in Klaipeda around the time of Hitler’s birthday.
Nazi and Soviet regimes were equated in practice when on June 18 the Lithuanian
parliament approved a law prohibiting public display of Nazi and Soviet
symbols, including portraits of Nazi and Soviet leaders, flags, hammer and
sickle representations, swastikas, military symbols, uniforms and playing the
Nazi and Soviet hymns.
October 2008, during a meeting with Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of the
International Affairs Department of the American Jewish Committee, Lithuanian
Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas promised that the government would solve
the problem of Jewish property in Lithuania confiscated by the Nazis. The real
estate will be used for religious, cultural, educational and charity purposes
and Holocaust survivors will be recompensed.
October the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the police announced
that an investigation would be launched against Lithuanian showmen Algis
Ramanauskas and Rimas Shapauskas for distributing a video on YouTube in which
they are seen mocking Jews and even blowing them up. One of the episodes is entitled
"Orbit – the Jews Are Being Smoked out of the Nest" and another,
"Orbit – Jews are Eating Catholic children.” The video was removed from
There are about 15,000 Jews in Latvia (out of a total population
of 2.2 million), most of whom live in the capital Riga. The leading Jewish
organization is the Society for Jewish Culture. Synagogues are active in Riga, Daugavpils, Liepaja and Rezekne. There is a Jewish school where children learn
Hebrew and Yiddish. The main Holocaust memorial in Riga marks the site of the
Choral Synagogue, in which hundreds of Jews were burnt to death in July 1941.
Latvia is a parliamentary democracy,
where the prime minister is head of the government and the president holds a
primarily ceremonial role as head of state. The parliament (Saeima) has 100
members, elected by citizens on the basis of proportional representation for four
years. The Saeima elects the president, who must be at least 40 years old. The
president appoints the prime minister, who appoints the other ministers. Latvia has a multi-party system and usually no party is able to gain power alone. While there
is no official antisemitism or racism in Latvia, an extreme right-wing
organization called All for Latvia (Visu Latvijai) and
which began as a political youth organization in 2000, became a
political party in January 2006.
of "visible" minority groups claim they do not feel safe in many
places, including the center of Riga and the old town, and especially at night,
due to the increasingly aggressive behavior of youths often dressed as skinheads.
The groups most vulnerable to such violence are those of African, Asian and
Roma descent. No less worrying are reports that the police do not always behave
appropriately when victims complain of racist attacks. In fact, there are reports
of police harassment of minority members who came to police stations to file a
complaint. According to a report issued for 2008, the Ombudsman's Office
received 23 written and 34 oral complaints of ethnic and racial discrimination.
of desecration of Holocaust memorials were recorded: on February 27 swastikas
and Stars of David were painted on the Holocaust memorial in Rumbula. More than
25,000 Jews from the ghetto of Riga were murdered there between November 30 and
December 8, 1941 by the Nazis and their collaborators. On May 18, footprints
were discovered on a Holocaust memorial in Riga.
was discovered in April that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and
other antisemitic works by Russian authors were being sold freely in one of the
biggest bookstores in Riga, Pa Rokai. Since there is no list of banned books in
Latvia, it is practically impossible to take steps against the stores.
toward World War II and the Holocaust
February 2008 the municipality of Riga announced that it had received several
requests to allow events commemorating Latvian soldiers, the so-called
legionaries who fought on the Nazi side during World War II against the Soviet Union. The main event, held on March 16, had earlier aroused the concern of Latvian
Minister of Interior Marek Seglinsh. However, on that day, after a memorial
service was held in a Riga church, about 1500 participants, including,
reportedly, several former German soldiers, marched through Old Riga and laid
flowers at the Liberty Monument. An anti-fascist demonstration attended by
about 200 people was held near the monument. Similar events have been held in Latvia every year on March 16 since 1994. The date marks the day in 1943 when the Latvian
Waffen SS legion began to participate in battles against the Soviet army.
to Racism and Antisemitism
March 6, 2008 the regional court in Riga sentenced Andris Yordans to 18 months
imprisonment for incitement of ethnic hatred. In February 2007 he attended a
discussion titled "The Problems of Nazism, Neo-Nazism and Xenophobia in Latvia," where he announced that he was a neo-Nazi and that "the neo-Nazi idea is
the only one that helps a person to live a full life.” He also spoke in favor
of ethnic cleansing, claiming it was an "ideal possibility" for Latvia. According to Yordans, Roma and Jews "are not human beings.”
The Jewish Community
About 2,500 Jews live in Estonia (out of a population of
1.3 million), mostly in the capital Tallinn. The Jewish Community of Estonia is
the umbrella organization of Estonian Jewry. A Jewish Sunday school and a
Jewish school for 1st−12th grades have operated in Tallinn since the
early 1990s. Until the end of 2006 the synagogue in Tallinn was located in a
small building that had been adapted for the purpose (the original synagogue
was destroyed during the Holocaust). A new synagogue was opened in May 2007,
financed by local and foreign donations. On December 17, 2008, a Jewish museum was inaugurated in Tallinn. The ceremony was attended among others by Mayor
Edgar Savisaar, Estonia's Chief Rabbi Shmuel Kot and leaders of the Jewish
community. The museum, which shows the history of Estonia's Jewry since 1828,
also has an archive.
toward World War II
2008 Estonian SS veterans held their annual meeting in Sinimae, near the
Russian border. It was attended by MP Trivimi Velliste and Regional Governor
Veikko Lukhalaid, as well as SS veterans from Norway and Denmark. Velliste called on the Estonian parliament to recognize the Estonian SS soldiers as
September, a calendar entitled "Eesti Leegioni kalender 09" (Calendar
of Estonian Legions 09) went on sale in book stores in Estonia. The calendar contained 12 posters from World War II calling for recruits to the Estonian
legions (which collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and numbered
about 80,000). The calendar was condemned by the Jewish Community of Estonia
and the Union of Camp Prisoners. In November the calendar was still on sale.