This year, while Israel is celebrating 70 years of modern statehood, Lithuania is celebrating 100 years of restored independence.
For centuries Lithuanian Jewry was part of the educated and intellectual elite of our society. One hundred years ago they took the most active part in the process of creating the Republic of Lithuania. They were elected to the Lithuanian Parliament, took up diplomatic posts, served in the army. I would like to particularly mention some of those great men.
Back in the 1920s the chairman of the Vilna Jewish community Jacob Wygodsky became the first Jewish Affairs Minister in Lithuania – the very post was a completely new phenomenon in our history. Shimshon Rosenbaum, a famous Zionist movement activist, became vice minister of foreign affairs and was a member the Lithuanian delegation to negotiate the peace treaty with Soviet Russia. Nachman Rachmilevich is yet another great example. He became vice minister of industry and trade.
Later both Rosenbaum and Rachmilevich left for Israel, where they served as Lithuanian honorary consuls. A member of the Lithuanian Parliament, Max Soloveichik, acted on behalf of Lithuania at the Paris Peace Conference in 1920s. Later on he moved to London as a member of the World Zionist Congress Committee.
These brave men made their contribution to the prosperity of my country. Also being Zionists, they were among the founding fathers of the State of Israel.
The Republic of Lithuania existed up to the Second World War, until Soviet and then Nazi occupation. Then came the Shoah, the Catastrophe. Thousands of thousands of the Lithuanian Jews perished in it.
After regaining independence, Lithuania assumed the task of historical justice and honoring the memory of the victims. We acknowledged the responsibility of those who collaborated with the Nazis.
Back in 1995 the Lithuanian president, speaking at the Knesset, apologized on behalf of the country for those Lithuanians who took part in killing Jews. There can be no pardon for what they have done.
We honor the memory of the Shoah victims – and we are very proud of those 891 Lithuanian men and women, the Righteous Among the Nations, who saved lives of their Jewish countrymen.
The preservation of the priceless Litvak heritage is a priority for the Lithuanian government – more and more unique wooden synagogues are being rebuilt. Only recently a trove of documents that miraculously survived the Holocaust and the Soviet occupation was discovered. The newest Vilna discovery contains never-before published manuscripts from famous Yiddish writers, numerous religious and communal works and provides an unique look into Jewish life in Eastern Europe. The spirit of Northern Jerusalem is coming back.
Today both Lithuania and Israel are proud members of the international community and partners in global organizations.
Both are looking forward to tomorrow – as the late Shimon Peres wished – to striving and vibrant societies full of innovation and know-how but always true to their historical roots.
As was the case almost five years ago, my genuine message to our Jewish brothers and sisters remains the same: let’s study the past – not forget, not forgive – but at the same time let’s continue to go from darkness to the light.
The author is the foreign minister of Lithuania.