Pre-war Vilnius was about one third Jewish and it had long been a center of Jewish scholarship and life; it had been the most vibrant center of Zionism in the Russian empire. Roughly two hundred thousand Jews perished in the next four years. They were driven out of town and shot in rows in the fields; they were clubbed down in the streets and burned alive in buildings; they were tortured and murdered in the old KGB prison; they were deported and gassed. The diminishing band of Jewish survivors huddled together in the ghetto did their best to keep their culture and their traditions alive; they organized a lending library which celebrated a milestone in December 1942 when the 100,000th book was checked out.
Among the reasons I despise those who make excuses for the Soviets and other communists,
As was the case in so many other countries overrun by the reds, priests, nuns, students and intellectuals faced especial brutality. Today the solitary confinement cells, the cells where prisoners were forced to stand in icy water and beaten brutally when they fell, the holding cells for the condemned and the execution ground are all open for visitors. Garish and clunky Soviet high tech phones and communications devices are still in the guardrooms; there are bags full of shredded documents left by the KGB in its rush to abandon the building as the USSR fell apart in 1990.
Standing in the cellar of the KGB prison, admiring the ingenuously designed torture cells, retracing the final steps of the prisoners on their journey from the condemned cells to the execution yard, it’s impossible not to think of Vladimir Putin bemoaning the fall of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century. Putin made his career in the same KGB that murdered and tortured for decades in Lithuania and its neighboring republics; the longing for the good old days must sometimes grow unspeakable.
And among the reasons I dislike the hell out of a bunch of the clowns in this administration:
Granted, Israel blundered by announcing the new housing while Biden was visiting, but Netanyahu has repeatedly apologized for what he said was an inadvertent slight. In November, Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month moratorium on construction in the West Bank but pointedly excluded East Jerusalem. That was hailed by U.S. special envoy George Mitchell as a "positive development." Now it's an insult. Again: Why?
Two press leaks may illuminate administration thinking. First, in July 2009, President Obama reportedly told Jewish leaders at the White House that it was important to put some "space" between the U.S. and Israel to "change the way the Arabs see us." Then an Israeli newspaper claimed that in a private meeting, Biden told Netanyahu that Israeli settlements were "dangerous for us": "What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace."
I can't vouch for the authenticity of those quotes (the second one has been denied by the administration). But in spirit they ring true. They indicate a mind-set that holds that Israeli settlements are the primary obstacle to peace and that an Israeli-Palestinian accord is necessary to defeat the broader terrorist movement.