Viewing cable 09VILNIUS624

09VILNIUS6242009-11-23 10:08:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius

DE RUEHVL #0624/01 3271008
P 231008Z NOV 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L VILNIUS 000624 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/23/2019 
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Damian R. Leader for reasons 1.4 
 (b) and (d). 
¶1.  (U)  SUMMARY:  Lithuania's small Jewish community, 
largely elderly and impoverished, lives among a homogeneous 
ethnic Lithuanian population, significant elements of which 
accept anti-Semitic stereotypes and blame the Jews for 
fighting alongside Soviet soldiers during World War II, 
Jewish leaders told Ambassador Derse during her introductory 
call on the community's elected chairman.  The Holocaust took 
the lives of 95 percent of the country's Jews, the highest 
percentage of any country, and many Lithuanians are loath to 
acknowledge that their countrymen participated in massacres 
of Jews, the community leaders said.  The Jewish community 
has tried for years, unsuccessfully, to regain ownership of 
communal property confiscated by the Nazis and Soviets, and 
hopes to eventually use proceeds from restitution to help 
restore Jewish life and culture in the country. End summary. 
¶2.  (U)  Ambassador Derse visited the central Vilnius offices 
of the Jewish Community of Lithuania (JCL) on November 17 to 
pay a courtesy call on Simonas Alperavicius, the elderly 
elected chairman of the JCL.  Also present were the JCL's two 
vice chairwomen, Faina Kukliansky and Masha Grodnikiene, JCL 
executive director Simonas Gurevicius and the chief rabbi of 
Lithuania, Chaim Burshtein, who lives in Lithuania only part 
time.  Alperavicius, 81, has been chairman of the JCL for 17 
¶3.  (U)  Alperavicius told the Ambassador that widespread 
anti-Semitism hurts the community; he cited a survey showing 
that 37 percent of Lithuanians harbor negative attitudes 
towards Jews.  Also, with the 70th anniversary of the 
infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact this year, he said, 
Lithuanians have been comparing the Nazi and Soviet regimes 
and debating which was worse for Lithuania.  Because some 
Lithuanian Jews fought alongside Soviet troops or Communist 
partisans against the Nazis, some Lithuanians and media 
outlets today claim that the Jews were complicit with the 
Soviets and thus not patriotic Lithuanians, said 
Alperavicius.  He himself was born in Vilnius, fled to Russia 
with his family at the outbreak of the war before returning 
in 1944, and has lived in Lithuania ever since. 
¶4.  (U)  "What insults me most is that we are treated as if 
we are Jews but not citizens of Lithuania," said Grodnikiene, 
JCL vice chairwoman. 
¶5.  (U)  Gurevicius, the JCL executive director, said, "This 
is not anti-Israelism, but anti-Semitism based on old 
stereotypes.  We try not to fight against anti-Semitism, but 
instead we try to fight for tolerance.  We're trying to open 
the doors to the community.  For us it's a challenge, but 
it's that much more of a challenge for this (the larger 
Lithuanian) community." 
¶6.  (U) Kukliansky, a lawyer who is also head of the Jewish 
Community of Vilnius, said intolerance was able to take root 
because almost no political, social or intellectual leaders 
in Lithuania were willing to speak out against it, in part 
because they would likely then be attacked themselves by 
newspapers that are extremist but also very popular. 
¶7.  (C)  Alperavicius said to the Ambassador:  "Although 
Lithuania became a member of the European Union, it has not 
become a real European country.  I can tell you that.  I 
can't say it publicly." 
¶8.  (U)  The Ambassador asked whether the European Union has 
been any help in fostering tolerance or taking Lithuania to 
task for failing to live up to its obligations as a member 
state.  She also said, "The United States Government cares 
about tolerance and diversity.  President Obama has made 
clear how incredibly important those values are to us.  I 
believe the issue of education for tolerance in society is 
very important."  She promised that the Embassy would work 
with the Jewish community and others to promote tolerance. 
Communal property restitution 
¶9.  (U)  One of the primary goals of the JCL has been to 
regain communal property confiscated from the Jewish 
community during the Nazi and Soviet occupations.  "The 
strengthening of anti-Semitism is also related to 
restitution, because the television and papers talk about it 
as if Lithuania was giving away its property, not simply 
returning property that was taken from the Jews.  People 
don't differentiate communal property from private property." 
 Alperavicius also said that there is no state-sponsored 
anti-Semitism in Lithuania, but that "there are a lot of 
government officials who are anti-Semitic in their views, and 
we feel this." 
¶10.  (U)  Gurevicius, the JCL executive director, said the 
Jewish community sees restitution as a tool, not an aim.  The 
goal is to revive Jewish culture and Jewish life in a country 
where 95 percent of the Jews were exterminated, he said, and 
the money from property restitution would help to do that. 
¶11.  (C)  The GOL has submitted to the Seimas (parliament) a 
bill that would provide partial compensation of 128 million 
LTL (about USD 55 million) -- but not actual restitution of 
property -- to the Jewish community for some of its 
confiscated buildings.  But GOL and Seimas leaders have told 
us that the bill will not come up for debate until after 
passage of the 2010 government budget, for fear that a 
proposal to pay millions of dollars to Jews at a time when 
the government is cutting pensions and other social benefits 
would raise anti-Semitism, have no chance of passage, hurt 
the budget's chances of passage and, in the words of the 
Justice Minister, be "political suicide." 
¶12.  (C)  Local and international Jewish leaders who have 
long negotiated the restitution issue with the GOL have 
publicly said the bill before the Seimas is inadequate and 
not acceptable, but privately they say they are willing to 
accept it, as they believe it is their only chance to get any 
compensation at all. 
¶13.  (U)  The Ambassador said that the Embassy has paid close 
attention to the restitution issue and would continue to 
follow the progress of the bill in the Seimas. 
Snipiskes cemetery 
¶14.  (U)  Rabbi Burshtein thanked the Ambassador for the 
Embassy's assistance in getting the GOL to protect from 
future development the Snipiskes Cemetery, a centuries-old 
Jewish burial ground in central Vilnius.  "People whose books 
are learned in every yeshiva in the world are buried here, 
and that's very important to us."  The Ambassador said that 
the Embassy has made clear to GOL officials that while 
declaring the cemetery protected was a positive move, it must 
be followed by clear steps to implement the declaration and 
restore the cemetery to its proper use and appearance. 
Community growth 
¶15.  (U)  The JCL leaders gave the Ambassador an overview of 
their activities:  feeding and caring for destitute and 
elderly Jews, providing religious and language instruction, 
operating a Jewish school and kindergarten, publishing books 
and hosting conferences on a variety of topics related to 
Jewish culture, religion and history.  Grodnikiene said, "Our 
largest achievement is our young generation, which will 
ensure continuity, that our community will continue in the