Yitzhak Arad on the cover of his own book titled Ghetto in Flames (1980, first print)
November 21, 1926
Święciany, Second Polish Republic (present-day Švenčionys, Lithuania)
Yitzhak Arad (Hebrew: יצחק ארד) (né Itzhak Rudnicki) (born November 11, 1926), 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. It was revealed in the 2000s that he had served in the NKVD and from 2006, he was investigated for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Lithuania. The prosecutor subsequently dropped the investigation after Israel had refused to cooperate, citing "failure to collect sufficient data."
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. 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 Narocz Forest of Belarus. "The official attitude of the Soviet partisan movement was that there was no place for Jewish units" acting independently, said Arad.
Historian Mark Paul explains that Arad (then Rudnicki, aged 18), belonged to a partisan unit which was part of the Voroshilov Brigade based in Narocz forest, involved in punitive missions against other partisan groups whom they considered as enemies. The Voroshilov brigade partisans were representing Soviet interests in the region and followed the NKVD directives in numerous "revenge" actions. Noah Shneidman estimates that there were at least 300 Jewish partisans in it, one-fifth of its numerical strength. Piotr Zychowicz (Rzeczpospolita), points out that according to evidence in possession of the Lithuanian court system, Arad joined the NKVD at the end of 1944, and became active in combatting the anti-Communist Lithuanian underground. He participated in the NKVD destruction of Tigras brigade of the Lithuanian Liberation Army. In his interview Arad insisted that he was not on the NKVD payroll, thus contradicting the documentary evidence presented by Rytas Narvydas from the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania. He was allegedly dismissed from the NKVD ranks for his undisciplined behaviour. However in the same interview it is clearly stated that the documents allegedly demonstrating the participation of Arad to the criminal actions (that would have happened while the war was still ongoing) are being kept secret and are not available to the public. A number of actions of the partisan units that Arad belonged to and that could be considered war crimes are described in a book written by Arad himself The partisan (1979), like shooting Armia Krajowa officer (p. 162) or a Lithuanian policeman (p. 155), taken as prisoners of war, burning down of houses during a punitive action against a Lithuanian village that organized self-defence against partisans and was armed by Germans (p 158).
In December 1945, Yitzhak Arad immigrated illegally to Palestine, on the Ha'apala (Aliyah Bet) boat named after 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 in 1972.
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.
War crimes investigation in Lithuania
In June 2007, Lithuania asked Israel to question Arad on suspicions of war crimes and crimes against humanity. An investigation demonstrated that Arad had served in the NKVD. The Vilnius Battalion, the unit with which Arad served, has been accused of killing Lithuanian civilians and members of the anti-Soviet resistance movement in 1943-1944, and the chief prosecutor of Lithuania suspected that Arad had been involved in these crimes. Israel refused the request, and called it "nothing short of outrageous". Arad denied the accusation, claiming that the allegations are a vendetta for his listing of atrocities committed by Lithuanian collaborators. Nevertheless, 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.
The General Prosecutor’s office dropped the criminal investigation regarding possible war crimes of Arad in September 2008, citing "failure to collect sufficient data".
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.
Bibliography in English
- The partisan : from the Valley of Death to Mount Zion (1979)
- Ghetto in flames : the struggle and destruction of the Jews in Vilna in the Holocaust (1980)
- Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka : the Operation Reinhard death camps (1987) ISBN 0-253-21305-3
- In the Shadow of the Red Banner (2010), Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 978-965-229-487-6
- Documents on the Holocaust: selected sources on the destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union (1982, rev. 1989, 1999) with Israel Gutman and Abraham Margaliot
- The Einsatzgruppen reports: selections from the dispatches of the Nazi Death Squads’ campaign against the Jews July 1941-January 1943 (1989) with Shmuel Krakowski and Shmuel Spector
- Pictorial History of the Holocaust (1990)
- Ponary diary, 1941-1943 : a bystander’s account of a mass murder, by Kazimierz Sakowicz (2005, from the Polish)
- Izhak Arad (Rudnicki) vital statistics at Jewish Partisans' website
- Lithuania wants to grill top Israeli historian over war crimes, European Jewish Press
- "Lithuania drops war crimes probe of Israeli historian," canada.com (September 24, 2008).
- Yitzhak Arad interview for Martyrdom & Resistance, September/October 2010. Tishri/Cheshvan, 5771
- Mark Paul, "A Tangled Web. Polish-Jewish Relations in Wartime Northeastern Poland and the Aftermath. (Part Two)," (Toronto: PEFINA Press, 2008).
- N. [Noah] N. Shneidman, Jerusalem of Lithuania: The Rise and Fall of Jewish Vilnius—A Personal Perspective (Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic Press, 1998), page 113.
- Piotr Zychowicz, "Wybory Icchaka Arada." Rzeczpospolita, 12-07-2008
- Piotr Zychowicz, "Icchak Arad: od NKVD do Yad Vashem" (From NKVD to Yad Vashem) Rzeczpospolita, July 12, 2008
- Information on suspicions against Yizthak Arad, General Prosecutor's Office, 10/Sep/2007
- "Yitzhak Arad: Lithuania wants to grill top Israeli historian over war crimes". History News Network. September 12, 2007. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
- "Part of the pre-trial investigation in respect of crimes committed by the Soviet partisan squad during the WWII and related to Yizthak Arad was closed", a press-release of the Prosecution Service of the Republic of Lithuania (retrieved February 19, 2013)
- "Lithuanian-Israeli row brewing over WW2 killings," RT Newsline, "TV-Novosti", 18 September 2007