The chief editor of the Lithuania Tribune Ruslanas Iržikevičius, spoke with Adv. Marcelle Juliet Saul Sheiman, an attorney to the Supreme Court of the Republic of South Africa and Israeli advocate, who attended the World Lithuania Economic Forum. Marcelle Juliet Saul Sheiman (MS) currently serves as Chairman of the Israel-South Africa Chamber of Commerce.
The Lithuania Tribune (TLT): After a recent visit to South Africa, Vilnius’ mayor, Artūras Zuokas, claimed that he had met with 50 South African Litvaks who generate about 40 per cent of all Africa’s GDP. Is that possible?
MS: Well, last year there was a dinner that the Israel-South Africa Chamber of Commerce organised together with the Israel-Lithuanian Chamber of Commerce, where the Foreign Minister of Lithuania came as guest speaker.
The theme was the celebration of the success and heritage of the South African Litvaks, and certainly, when you look you see that about 90 per cent of the entire South African Jewish population came from Lithuania. This is a population that came before WWII and they were extremely productive and successful in South Africa.
When you look, you see that these have been people that have been at the forefront of areas such as medicine and law, and also the social justice movement. In coming here and being exposed and working in Lithuania I also see firsthand the industriousness and the talent of the Lithuanian people, so I am not surprised.
TLT: From what I understand these people came to South Africa mostly before WWII. Is this correct?
MS: Yes, they came to South Africa mostly before WWII, so in terms of heritage and connections you find a population that precedes the Holocaust. Some moved to South Africa because of the Russian ‘pogroms’, but I think people at that particular stage also moved to South Africa in search for opportunities that were opening up at that time in South Africa.
I think the experience differs from the Holocaust experiences that came with it. Moreover, I think that what is happening now and where we are going with this is that with people who are connected to their roots, are coming back to invest in Lithuania, specifically deriving from the heritage aspect and, of course, business and I think that is a very nice thing to see and something that could be developed.
I believe there is a move to strengthen the Lithuanian-South African linkages on a state level; interestingly too the Ambassador of Lithuania to Israel is the non-resident Ambassador of Lithuania to South Africa.
The tendency towards extending the ties with South Africa is a natural tendency, specifically because of the closeness in terms of our historic ties, and I think that this is something that could be built on.
One should also take into account the strengthening of Lithuania’s standing in the EU, the rising of Africa, as well as South Africa’s geopolitical standing and, as a result, better possibilities of trade ties. One also needs to take note of Lithuania’s drive for innovation, competitiveness and global leadership in various areas of technology.
TLT: How does the South African Litvak community feel towards Lithuania respecting the tremendous suffering and loss the Jewish population endured in Lithuania during WWII? Is there indifference, animosity?
MS: I think there is, of course, an acknowledgement of the terrible history of the Jews during the Holocaust and that side of the history of the Jews in Lithuania, but there is also an acknowledgement that you do not forget the history, but you have to move forward
In this regard, it is also interesting to look at Israel and its relations with Lithuania; take, for example, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister’s visit to Israel as a state guest on the commemoration of the 20 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The relationship between Israel and Lithuania is a celebrated one, I know Lithuania is a strong friend of Israel’s, and we have to view things with that perspective. Lithuania has great awareness and appreciation of what is going on in Israel in terms of technology and Israel as ‘start-up’ nation. There are many South African Litvaks living in Israel and elsewhere in the diaspora – to wherever South African Jews have emigrated; and I know there is a Lithuanian population in Israel as well. I think opportunity has to be looked at within that framework too.
TLT: Could we say then that things are changing in the sense that there is an acknowledgement of the past and the need of remembering, but that there is a future of opportunities in business and a good relations between South Africa and Lithuania?
MS: I think it is more than just acknowledgement. We also move forward. Last week the Foreign Minister of Lithuania visited Israel and held a commemoration of Synagogues in Lithuania and I know that the Ambassador of Lithuania to Israel is really doing a tremendous job in commemorating what was, but is also fostering better today’s ties.
In that light, I think also South Africa is moving with Lithuania in a direction to be a start-up nation in technological innovation, but I think that South Africans who come and invest here in Lithuania will probably do that in terms of their ties and heritage, which is something that should be celebrated, absolutely.
Source: The Lithuania Tribune http://bit.ly/172hOAQ