On January 15, a trial will begin in a Lithuanian court in Vilnius to consider whether the Lithuanian government willfully covered up the wartime crimes of one of the country’s Nazi-era leaders. The attorneys representing the government urge that the case be dismissed on several grounds, including the contention that nothing material can come from a finding that the government engaged in a blatant falsification of the country’s role in the murder of over 200,000 Jews, about 96% of the total Jewish population.
Despite the government attorneys’ suggestion that the case is of little consequence, in fact the opposite is true. Lithuania is very much aware that the mass-killings in the Holocaust did not begin in Poland in 1939 or 1940 but rather in Lithuania in 1941 and for the most part was committed by ethnic Lithuanians, not Germans. Lithuania has engaged in a multi-pronged program to whitewash what one noted Lithuanian-American historian called “the greatest single atrocity in modern Lithuanian history.” Lithuania cannot, of course, deny that the genocide of the Jews began in its country. Instead, it has used various tactics to deflect responsibility to whatever extent possible. The foreign ministry and other apologists express regret that Lithuania’s Jews were wiped out, but never seem to know at whose hands.
And when evidence of the culpability of one of its Nazi-era leaders is brought forward, the government’s official arbiter of Holocaust history goes to work to fabricate plausible sounding reasons for refusing to acknowledge the truth. Their constructed narrative makes it almost appear that no Lithuanian ever heard a Jew being persecuted, no Lithuanian ever saw a Jew being persecuted, and no Lithuanian knew of Jews being persecuted. The reports must have mistaken Lithuanian for German perpetrators. The reports must also have been created by Soviet agents to disparage Lithuanians – unless they support the Lithuanian positions, and those documents alone are then considered credible. If, in fact, proof is irrefutable that a Lithuanian was the perpetrator, Lithuania has difficulty in identifying that person. The narrative also includes a corollary, that so many Lithuanians saw Jews being persecuted by Nazis and Soviets, that almost every Lithuanian sought to save Jews.
These frauds are crude and blatant. Only those who are unfamiliar with the anti-Semitism in 1930s Lithuania, and the years-long efforts of Lithuanian propagandists to blame the 1940 Soviet takeover of Lithuania on the country’s Jews, could consider the official government statements even remotely plausible.
Although the upcoming trial will consider whether the state’s so-called “Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania,” has willfully engaged in Holocaust denial in claiming that it cannot agree that Jonas Noreika was a genocidal murderer of Jews, the reaction of the Lithuanian press and public will reveal the values of modern Lithuanian society. Countries that seek to be part of Western civilization confront their pasts with candor and honesty. By contrast, countries that attempt to portray mass-murderers as heroes clearly indicate that their values are quite different than those they purport to embrace.
The defenses put forth by the Lithuanian government reach levels of absurdity that even Kafka could not have invented, fairy tales such as there may have been an invisible person who stood in Noreika’s place and committed his evil deeds; that Germans made him do it (that defense was thrown out in Nuremberg), or that someone could have forged Noreika’s signature to the numerous orders he issued – any argument that avoids admitting and confronting the truth.
The enormous amount of taxpayer funds that have been committed by the Lithuanian government to defend itself in this trial belies the contention that the core issues are of little consequence. Unlike Germany and Austria, which have worked hard to identify why their people embrace Hitlerism and to fundamentally change their country’s values, Lithuania clings to an idolization of its Nazi-era leaders and does not want to address how that reflects upon values of contemporary Lithuanian society. Of course, they only delude themselves. The outside world has long known the truth that Lithuania still has not come to terms with their dark and evil past.
And that is why a review of the government’s inability to find fault with the actions of Nazi-era perpetrator is of considerable consequence.
 “The Burden of 1941,” Prof. Saulius Sužiedėlis, Lituanus (Winter 2001), Vol. 47, No. 4,