Simonas Gurevičius was the spokesman from the Lithuanian jewish community in the international conference in Vilnius "Totalitarianisma nd Tolerance. Challenges to Freedom"
Judaism teaches that evil inside each of us is renewing every day, and we only have as much good as we manage to accumulate. Since the evil, that was defeated yesterday, can renew, one has to be prepared to meet it. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge and remember evil‘s sallies in order to be able to resist it. We remember pain not to avoid suffering from it again, but also to help others avoid suffering from the same pain.
So, when speaking about present, it is inevitable to lean upon the past, just as when speaking about past, we have to develop an awareness of the present perspective, from which we are speaking. I certainly do not want my words to sound as an accusation to someone. However, I would like to be heard and understood. To be a Jew in a nowadays Lithuania means to be living in a country, where a catastrophe that took many people‘s lives happened. We are a part of the family, in which from ten people only one and only by miracle stayed alive. It is to live face to face with bereavement.
By no means should we focus only on the culprits today, but only truth can help us accept the reality in which we are.
I am sure that when speaking about history, especially about it‘s painful pages, it is very important to avoid politicking. The real place of education of tolerance and memory healing should not be conferences with a tint of politics, it should be school desk and pupil‘s book, full of historical truth and honesty. Namely in school should children have an opportunity to know the truth of history, learn to accept diversity, understanding not only the tragedy of Holocaust, but also the diverse life of Jews in Lithuania for almost 700 years already.
Unfortunately, today we have to admit that there is not enough information about life of Jews in Lithuania in school textbooks. We are talking about a tragedy that happened to a country during the years of war, but let‘s also ask ourselves what we generally know about Jews, their traditions, how many schools, streets in Lithuania are named after those who saved Jews, sacrificing all that was dearest to them. Sadly, it is much easier today to find streets and schools named after controversial figures, even those who participated in creating ghettos, raised a weapon against the innocent.
Sometimes it is said that we, Lithuanian Jews, do not understand the pain of the Lithuanian nation. I truly disagree with that. I certainly feel equal pain in my heart for every person that was beaten or suffered injustice, no matter what their nationality is. It [heart] hurts for everyone who suffered in Siberia, for every baby that stayed in the pit in Paneriai or every soldier that fell from enemy’s bullet. But it also hurts just as much when I see how people manipulate history and run from the truth. History is not a book from which one can tear out certain pages. All these attempts to do so become new pages in history. Unfortunately, they are usually not very pleasant.
Today it is important to not only speak, but also to open hearts to each other. The president of Israel Shimon Peres, when asked if there is ever going to be love between Israelis and Palestinians, said: I don‘t know about love, but I know that first of all we have to learn to respect each other, to light up our history with truth and just live in peace, because without it there will be no love. These words also apply to us.
Today we, Lithuanian Jews, can freely believe, celebrate religious holidays, and speak Yiddish. The law does not restrict us; we can freely represent our Jewishness. But the law does not mean maturity of society. If we walk in the city wearing a kippah, we receive negative remarks, wry looks and insults. Attitudes of tolerance, that we strived for and that are sealed in the law and European values, unfortunately, are not firm in our modern society.
Lithuania is a free country and we, Jews, can live a free life here. But we want to be understood, how painful it is to see a swastika drawn on the car, how uncanny it is, that reacting to a candle of Hanukkah in the window as often as not a stone is thrown to a window and pig’s head is left near the synagogue. Oddly enough we are invited to discussions about Lithuanian people only to give an opinion from the side. Haven‘t we really become natives throughout the centuries?
It is important to look at history with open eyes and search in it what connects us. One, which will look for reason for disagreement, will always find pretext for it in history. But it is a way of destruction, not creation. Just as it is a way of destruction to celebrate those, who did crimes, because purportedly they were nationally-minded.
In Israeli universities there are no history faculties, but there are memory faculties. It is a good example for us too, because we should also speak firstly of collective memory, in which there is place for everyone‘s pain and mutual respect. Let‘s name all the criminals, no matter what their nationality is, let‘s name all the crimes, no matter who they were directed at, also let‘s not forget the deeds and their heroes, who were just ordinary people form towns and villages. Then we will be able to be free from shadows of the past, we will be able to hope that evil of the past will not renew in our hearts. Tolerance is very important and we have to nurture it, but it cannot be a synonym to indifference for evil. I hope that in the future we will not only talk about tolerance, but also about love, respect and mutual understanding.