The speech of the head of the radio „Israel's Voice“ international programme. The speech was delivered in an international conference „Totalitarianism and Tolerance. The Challenge to Freedom“, which was held in Vilnius, November 16th.
First of all I would like to express the gratitude which the whole Jewish nation feels towards Lithuania – a country which was among the 14 countries of the world which dared to vote against Palestina´s entry into UNESCO. According to Israel´s foreign affairs minister, today there´re 14 great countries in the world which dare to protect the Jewish nation and it is very glad, that Lithuania is one of these countries.
In general I would like to rejoice that lately bigger and bigger rapprochement between Lithuania and Israel is felt, old and complicated questions are being solved and this gives a basis for optimism. It is also worth to pay attention to the fact, that litvaks, the Jewish emigrants from Lithuania, nowadays have very strong political weight in Israel. They hold important positions and this also provides a favourable medium for the development of more close relations between Lithuania and Israel.
I am convinced that in Soviet Union Lithuania always held a position of great importance. Here in particular conducive conditions for the development of different movements and initiatives appeared. Despite of the shocks caused by the Second World War, only in Lithuania a Jewish drama troup was established in 1956, in the framework of the troup a group of actors was also carrying out its activities. Jewish cultural collectives of this kind did not exist in any other place of Soviet Union´s territory. Although it was not rarely emphasized that the troup was established in a bottom-up way, following a directive of the Central Committee of those times and in this way trying to show that also here the Jewish have all the opportunities for self-realization and there were no reasons to strain to get into Israel, however, we should appreciate in a proper manner the importance of this Jewish theatre. Performances were built, concerts based on the works of the most famous Jewish autors were going on, jidish language was used in them.
My father was among the founders of this drama troup. I was eight at that time and I felt that all this theatre atmosphere from inside. Yes, I know that there were very fierce discussions if the appearance of such a collective will not harm the struggle of Lithuanian Jewish for their right to leave to Israel. There were different opinions and it is hard to give a noncontraversial assesment. I want, however, to remind that the theatre provided an opportunity not only to me, but also to other young people to meet twice or three times in a week, to live a life, soaked with Jewish culture, arrange concerts for the others and listen to the jidish language. All these things wouldn´t have existed if this artistic collective did not exist.
I would like to emphasize once again that such a collective appeared only in Lithuania and the Jewish living in other places of Soviet Union were jeallous for that. Strong movement for the right to go to Israel existed in Lithuania in particular. This movement was not homogenous. It was a dilemma if this simply was a movement of those who wanted to leave Lithuania or it was a fight for human right of self-determination, where one wants to live and in this sense the movement was an anti-sovietic action? I remember that the fighters for the right to leave themselves often tried to avoid any connections with the dissidents of that time. They feared that the government, playing the card of „anti-systemic activities“, can smash the whole movement which demanded repatriation.
It is especially important, that at that time in Lithuania there were such people like Eitein Finkelstein, who perceived the fight for the right to leave as a fight for human rights. None the less important was the fact, that at that time he also fulfilled functions of a peculiar minister for foreign affairs – he managed to transfer to the West all the information about what was happening in Lithuania. At that time it was especially important. If you are fighting and nobody in the West knows about your fight, you risk a lot to be simply eliminated, destroyed. And when the West got to know about the fight, then you kind of got an insurance that you will not be silently eliminated.
I especially felt this in 1970 when on the 1st of August we, five hundred Jewish, gathered wihout any political slogans or demands and went on foot to Paneriai. There we composed a hexagonal star out of yellow flowers and then pinned zellow hexagons to our lapels and went home. It was not a political demarsh, it was an expression of respect for the Jewish who lived here and at the same time it was a reminder that we are here. However, as one could expect, the goverment reacted and our company did not manage to get back to Vilnius. We got surrounded by security officials and policemen, eight of us were arrested and put to Lukiškės prison. There we were imprisoned for two weeks, during which the government was considering what to do with us. It was a time of anxiety and obscurity. But one day we were brought to work in the quarter of Lazdynai which at that time was still under construction. There we managed to find an opportunity to listen to the radio. It was so joyful to hear about our arrest via „Israel's Voice“. It was Eitein Finkelstein who looked after this matter. We understood that now the government for sure will not dare to eliminate us silently and that our lives were safe.
It was a period when processes against Jewish were going on in different places of Soviet Union. I know that Lithuanian Central Committe was also considering what to do. I have a witness who can affirm that at that time the firm position of Antanas Sniečkus was of crucial importance, a position that it will be no processes against the Jewish in a republic under his rule. Indeed such processes never went in Lithuania.
While still being in Lukiškės, I promised myself: if I will manage to leave to Israel, I will go to work to radio and will tell about such people who need help. I kept this promise – in Israel I worked in „Israel's Voice“ as an announcer for a programme held in Russian. It was a rule there, forbidding to talk to audience under one's name, and thus I chose a name of Schmuel Eitan as a sign of respect for Eitein Finkelstein.
I left Lithuania and soon I got to know that Helsinki Group got created here and that the eve of its establishement was attended by Andrei Sakharov - one of the greatest personalities of the XXth century. His visit was a source of inspiration for those disidents who lived in Lithuania. On the other hand, one can also put it differently – Lithuania was a special place which also attracted A.Sakharov. He for sure did not visit random places.
I wish very much for Lithuania to further retain this specialness attracting free people, to retain the potential for tolerance which it always had.