Yitzhak Arad

Yitzhak Arad

Arad on the cover of his book titled Ghetto in Flames (1980, first print)
Born Itzhak Rudnicki
(1926-11-11) November 11, 1926
Święciany, Second Polish Republic

Yitzhak Arad (Hebrew: יצחק ארד) (né Itzhak Rudnicki) (born November 11, 1926),[1] is an Israeli historian, retired IDF brigadier general and a former Soviet partisan who has served as director of Yad Vashem from 1972 to 1993.

Early life and war experiences

Arad was born Itzhak Rudnicki on November 11, 1926, in what was then Święciany in the Second Polish Republic (now Švenčionys, Lithuania). In his youth, he belonged to the Zionist youth movement Ha-No'ar ha-Tsiyyoni. During the war – according to Arad's 1993 interview with Harry J. Cargas – he was active in the ghetto underground movement from 1942 to 1944.[2] In February 1943, he joined the Soviet partisans of the Markov Brigade, a primarily non-Jewish unit in which he had to contend with antisemitism. Apart from a foray infiltrating the Vilna Ghetto in April 1943 to meet with underground leader Abba Kovner, he stayed with the Soviet partisans until the end of the war, fighting the Germans, taking part in mining trains and in ambushes around the Naroch Forest of Belarus. "The official attitude of the Soviet partisan movement was that there was no place for Jewish units" acting independently, said Arad.[3]

In December 1945, Yitzhak Arad immigrated without authorization to Mandate Palestine, on the Ha'apala (Aliyah Bet) boat named for Hannah Szenes. In Arad's military career in the IDF, he reached the rank of brigadier general and was appointed to the post of Chief Education Officer. He retired from the military in 1972.

Academic career

In his academic career as a lecturer on Jewish history at Tel Aviv University, he has researched World War II and the Holocaust, and has published extensively as author and editor, primarily in Hebrew. His current research deals with the Holocaust in the USSR. Dr. Yitzhak Arad served as the director (Chairman of the Directorate) of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Authority, for 21 years (1972–1993). He remains associated with Yad Vashem in an advisor's capacity. Arad was awarded the Honorary degree of Doctor honoris causa by Poland's Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń on 7 June 1993.[4]

War crimes investigation in Lithuania

In the Soviet era Arad was honored in Lithuania as a war hero. For his service fighting the Nazis and their Lithuanian allies he was awarded the Partisan Medal, First Degree. However in post-Communist Lithuania anti-Nazi partisans, particularly Jewish ones, are portrayed as traitors, and Nazi-aligned nationalists are considered anti-Soviet heroes. In June 2007, Lithuania asked the State of Israel to question Arad on suspicions of war crimes and crimes against humanity.[5] An investigation found that Arad had served in the NKVD.[6] The Vilnius Battalion, the unit with which Arad served, has been accused of killing Lithuanian anti-communist partisans and civilians in 1943-1944,[7][8] and the chief prosecutor of Lithuania suspected that Arad had been involved in these alleged crimes. Israel refused the request, and called it "nothing short of outrageous". Lithuanian prosecutor Rimvydas Valentukevicius told AFP that the suspicions were based on Arad's own memoirs and documents obtained from the Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Center.[6]

Arad’s memoir The Partisan refers to a 1944 “mopping-up operation” against “armed Lithuanians” after the Nazi withdrawal from Lithuania. An openly anti-semitic newspaper deemed this an admission of “ethnic cleansing of Lithuanians", and demanded his prosecution.The state-sponsored Genocide Center takes a revisionist view of the Holocaust and honors war criminals such as Jonas Noreika as national heroes. While the Nazi genocide of the Jews and Lithuanian collaboration is minimized, the "genocide" of Lithuanians by Soviet partisans is described extensively. One plaque at the Genocide Center says that these partisans were “mostly of Jewish nationality [since] native people didn’t support Soviet partisans.” The head of the Genocide Center at the time, Arvydas Anusauskas, was responsible for the initiation of a criminal investigation against Arad.[7]

Arad denied accusations of committing war crimes,[6] calling the investigation a vendetta for his documentation of atrocities committed by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators.[9] Arad has commented: "I am proud that I fought the Nazi Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators. That fate made it possible for me to fight against the murderers of my family, the murderers of my people."[7]

The General Prosecutor’s office dropped the criminal investigation regarding possible war crimes of Arad in September 2008, citing "failure to collect sufficient data".[10] According to Nazi hunter Ephraim Zuroff, "Not a single Lithuanian war criminal has sat one day—not one minute!—in a Lithuanian prison since independence."[7]


He was born Itzhak Rudnicki, later adopting the Hebrew surname Arad (Hebrew: ארד). During World War II, he was known as "Tolya" in the underground and among the partisans.[11]

Bibliography in English

As author

As editor


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