'Our culture must be renewed here'

By Anna Sheinman, September 22, 2011
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This week there were speeches, processions and a wreath-laying in Vilnius and nearby suburb Ponar, where 70,000 Jews were murdered between 1941 and 1944.

Shmuel Ben-Zvi, a Lithuanian Jew who was arrested in the town 40 years ago by the KGB for protesting against the Holocaust denial of the Communist government, returned to Ponar with Israeli choir Anachnu Kan, who were due to perform at a concert yesterday.

The event comes amid fresh questions over Lithuania's attitude towards the Holocaust. Earlier this year, the Ninth Fort memorial - where 10,000 Jews were killed in one day - was vandalised. Meanwhile, last month, Lithuanian authorities sought to prosecute a survivor for publishing a list of dead Lithuanians alleged to have taken part in the mass-killings of Jews.

Given this background, does Mr Ben-Zvi have any misgivings about his presence at the ceremony? "Yes of course the antisemitism, and the recent desecration of memorial sites, is something that is worrying us very much, but really wherever you go there is antisemitism. The important thing is to let them know they will not win. They may have won the pogroms, they may have won in the ghettos, but they did not win the war."

He added: "It is very important that Israel's connection with the diaspora is strengthened. But this is also to renew understanding in Lithuania of Jewish culture."

President of Vilnius Jewish Community Faina Kukliansky remains optimistic. She said: "The government is very friendly to us. They have given us much more money this year for commemorations. Of course there is always more you can do, but you can never, never do enough."

Last updated: 4:10pm, September 22 2011