The speech of the novelist, the director of Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, which was presented in the International Conference in Vilnius “Totalitarianims and Tolerance. The Challenge to Freedom”.
During the years of totalitarianism, those who went against the current had to prove the truthfulness of the Russian saying “there can be an army of one” with their fates and, sometimes, even lives.
Then and now artists have attempted to portray the Enslaved Mind. Some Soviet stereotypes, especially anti-Semitic ones, disseminated with a run of hundreds of thousands copies in the USSR after Israel’s six-day war in the Middle East, fifteen years after Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaigns (during which the Jewish Museum of Lithuania was closed), have remained until the present day.
Another fact of Communism’s cooperation with Nazism – the reticence about the Holocaust in monuments and school books – manifested itself in those days. This theme was cut out by the ruthless scissors of censorship. The monument erected in Ponary by Holocaust survivors was demolished and substituted with a new one. Some older people still remember how Yevtushenko’s poem, “Babi Yar”, about the massacre of Kiev’s Jews, made an effect similar to that of a bomb. It was immediately forbidden in the Soviet Union.
The fact that in the enclosed society of the Soviet Union the theme of the Holocaust was taboo, preconditioned the reappearance of anti-Semitism in contemporary society.
I’ve recently seen a modern play on the Holocaust, produced in a Lithuanian theatre, and the director told me how difficult it was for him to work with a group of young actors whose lack of knowledge hindered the acting. Luckily, they have worked this out and the play has come out well.
Probably the worst stamp of the totalitarian regime, which cut into the minds of intellectuals, was self-censorship. The laws limited the freedom of thought. There was an article in the Criminal Code for Anti-Soviet propaganda. Looking for a solution and trying not to step away from the truths of life, artists, during the period of totalitarianism, used the so-called language of Aesop. Metaphors of art, especially poetry and theatre, were the result of trying to find forms of self-expression that would circumvent censorship.
I remember the play “Strazdas” about a Lithuanian poet during the tsarist times, directed by J. Jurašas. One of the director’s solutions was two people dressed in one shirt – two heads in one collar – one of a conformist and one of a rebel. The Communist Party sought to take the restlessness of the intelligentsia and transform it into anti-Semitism. Adam Michnik, a Polish essayist, journalist and human right activist, remembers how the production of the play “Dziady” (All Souls Day), with clear allusions to reality, in one of Poland’s theatres, inspired a riot by the younger generation, and many Jewish Polish intellectuals and educationalists were forced to leave the country.
After the Jackson-Vanik amendment in 1974, special KGB departments were created in the USSR Republics. Their task was to fight the so-called bourgeois ideology among the Jewish youth.
As a Jew and as a Lithuanian I am proud of the fact that in those times Lithuanian Jews were among the most active fighters for the right to emigrate from the USSR, and also of the fact that in those neo-Stalinist times – the period of Brezhnevian stagnation – the Helsinki group was established in Vilnius, which fought for the rights granted to a citizen by the Western Constitutions, based on the Age of Enlightenment and the ideals of the Great French Revolution as well as the legal documents of the late period of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.