This month Lithuania's president attended the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem where he spoke to EJP about the legacy of the Holocaust in his country and the problem of anti-Semitism in Europe.
President Valdas Adamkus said he was profoundly moved by the exhibition at the new museum at Yad Vashem and stressed that the events of 60 years ago should never be repeated.
He added that there was very little discrimination against Jews in his country today, but emphasised that if it were to become a problem, Lithuania would take immediate steps to stop anti-Semitism.
Some 95 percent of Lithuanian Jewry was killed during the Holocaust. Today the country has a Jewish community of about 4,000. Excerpts:
It is your first time is Israel. What are your impressions?
I have had a very good feeling about the country and I see the people are working hard creating things. Everyone here should be proud of his accomplishments.
What did you discuss with Israeli leaders?
I met with the president Moshe Katsav and prime minister Ariel Sharon. We looked into the future about closer cooperation between our two countries. I also spoke to the president about strengthening our future diplomatic relationship.
I also wanted to reassure him that Lithuania, as a member of the EU and NATO, is going to do everything possible to help bring peace and stability to this region.
What did you think of the new Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum?
|The President said the Israeli government should give youngsters an opportunity to see the new Holocaust Museum|
Every human being who goes through that museum, if he has a conscience, is shaken up… This is not the first time I see these atrocities, but every time you look at it, it shakes you up. I feel the Israeli government should give all young people an opportunity to see this museum.
How did the Holocaust affect Lithuania?
The Holocaust was a tragic thing and I pray and hope that it will never, never happen again. It was a tragic loss to the Jewish community of Lithuania and also to the state of Lithuania because these people were of course Lithuanian citizens and made important contributions to our society.
Why was it important for you to come to Yad Vashem?
I came first of all to pay my respect to the millions of people who were killed and show the rest of the world that we will not accept this kind of situation. We are witnessing a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. We want people to know that we are not going to accept it and will do everything possible to prevent it.
I believe you can definitely say that all the leaders have expressed similar views in terms of Israel and anti-Semitism. I think it was a very successful and productive meeting.
Did you discuss the problem of anti-Semitism with leaders of other states during your stay?
We didn’t have the opportunity to have formal meetings but we met during the course of the programme here and discussed the issue. I believe there is an agreement that this is the way we should approach the problem, if it arises in any country.
Is there much anti-Semitism today in Lithuania?
If we were to see a rise in anti-Semitism in Lithuania, we would take every step to stop it
|President Valdas Adamkus|
There is really very little discrimination against the Jewish minority. We in the government have an extremely good working relationship. We are rebuilding the [Jewish] cultural centre in Vilnius. If we were to see a rise in anti-Semitism in Lithuania we would take every step to stop it and make sure it does not develop.
What about the recent anti-Semitic articles in Lithuania?
I immediately responded to issue of newspaper articles and we are looking into whether there has been a violation of existing laws. If this is the case we will respond and make sure the perpetrators are dealt with in the correct manner.
What is the situation regarding the property restitution? Is it important?
The requests have been handed to the relevant authorities and are being dealt with.
What is your message to the Jewish community in Europe?
I say to you all – continue with the same vitality, and continue helping to build up the life of Israel and try to establish the closest relationship with the rest of the international community.