Many South African Jews are descended from an immigration wave from Lithuania in the 1920s. Our grandparents seldom explained the context; here it is.
During World War I, when the current territory of Lithuania was part of Russia, the Tsarist army conducted a mass ethnic cleansing of Jews. During that period, especially in the Spring of 1915, a number of Lithuanians took an active part in murdering old Jewish men, women, and even children, and plundering Jewish assets. Lithuania claims that the Russians were entirely responsible for the actions of ethnic Lithuanians. Lithuanians retained the stolen Jewish property.
Betrayal after betrayal followed, and Jews began to leave for greener pastures. It was the lesser educated and the unemployed Jews that left Lithuania, the intelligentsia stayed on hoping that life would improve, instead, they were slaughtered.
The world knows of the genocide perpetrated in Lithuania in 1941 in which Jonas Noreika was responsible for the murder of about 14 500 out of the 200 000 murder victims (including my own family). The sharing of Jewish property was widespread, and once again, Lithuanians were enriched with Jewish property.
Upon independence in 1990, we hoped Lithuania would reform and enter the pantheon of civilized nations, tell the truth, and move forward as compatriots. Alas, our generation is as disillusioned as previous generations. A bureaucracy named the Genocide Centre has been established in Lithuania to rewrite the history of the Holocaust and absolve Lithuania of responsibility.
The Holocaust distortion in the case of Jonas Noreika has been noticed by the world, and exposed the governments’ very deliberate deceptions. Lithuanian diplomats who are tasked with attracting Jewish investment into Lithuania participate in this. Lithuania appears to have a strange fascination with Jewish assets. The case of a Lithuanian named Cvirka amply displays the strategy. Cvirka was a bad man, his victims were Lithuanians whereas Noreika’s victims were our own Jewish families. The Lithuanian government examined both, and declared Cvirka a collaborator and Noreika “completely innocent”. What are the differences?
Cvirka assisted Soviets in deporting Lithuanians to Siberia, where about 28,000 out of 250,000 deportees died of poor living conditions (11.2%). Lithuania defines this as a genocide. Noreika assisted Nazis in deporting Jews, where 96.4% were tortured, raped, and murdered. When Cvirka signed instructions to deport Lithuanians, the government described those as “orders”, but Noreika’s instructions to ghetto and plunder Jews are described as “letters” (a language difference designed to minimize the actions).
Cvirka distributed Soviet propaganda glorifying the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), while Noreika wrote and published articles glorifying Nazi ideology.
Cvirka travelled to the USSR, whereas Noreika travelled to congratulate his staff on their outstanding work in the slaughter of the Jews.
And so, the comparisons continue, but, according to the government, the persecutor of Lithuanians is a criminal, and the murderer of Jews is a Lithuanian national hero. What might the difference be?
Many South African Jews have applied for restoration of citizenship rights, but few know the history. Lithuania offered Jews restitution of stolen property on condition someone was a Lithuanian citizen. But they made it almost impossible for Jews to reclaim citizenship. I led a legal and media campaign to expose the dual system (similar to Cvirka versus Noreika), and met the identical wall of fraud, deception, and anti-Semitism.
After the restitution period ended, Lithuania “discovered” how obstructionist its citizenship process was for Jews, and rectified it. It was able to claim that restitution had been offered, albeit almost nobody was successful. Now, Lithuania holds out citizenship as an incentive, waiting for Jews to accept it, and then hopefully invest in Lithuania, travel there, and promote the country. (Again with a “rich Jews” fascination.)
In the process of denying Jewish citizenship applications during the restitution process, the Lithuanian government called one of South Africa’s primary national heroes, Esther Barsel, “unreliable” because her testimony contradicted its ideology. Jewish testimony being denied as “unreliable” has a long history in Europe, Jews were never considered “reliable”. Lithuania has identified Noreika’s granddaughter, Silvia Foti*, as “unreliable” for disclaiming its Holocaust distortion of her grandfather’s murders. Also deemed “unreliable” are academics that have studied Noreika’s crimes, and a witness that reported Noreika’s own words to murder Jews.
The United States congress wrote to the Lithuanian prime minister to instruct that it stop misusing congressional documents for Holocaust distortion. Is congress “unreliable”?
A government public-relations consultant wrote a dishonest report claiming that Noreika saved Jews. According to the government, he is “reliable”.
Much has also been written about Lithuania’s intention to build a new convention Centre on top of a Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. Since identifying Cvirka as a “collaborator”, Lithuania has reported that his monument is built atop Jewish gravestones. It wants to save these Jewish gravestones as an “act of good faith”, but criticizing digging up a Jewish cemetery makes one “unreliable”.
Lithuania’s ruling party is discussing legislation to absolve the nation of Holocaust crimes. After all, it says, it wasn’t the state that did it, but thousands of individuals, and those individuals should be identified and put on trial. Except, Lithuania refuses to identify the individuals, and dead people can’t be placed on trial. Discussing these “minor details” would likely also make one “unreliable”.
Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, was scheduled to attend the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem on 23 January to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. On 24 January 2020, a demonstration is scheduled to take place in Israel by the “Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel” to protest Lithuanian Holocaust lies. On 27 January, Lithuania will produce its annual “Holocaust regret show” in which it will talk about the devastation caused by Soviets and Nazis. Highly trained, professional writers will construct a message of sorrow and regret, but minimize Lithuanian involvement. Afterwards, Lithuanians will go home and honor heroes such as Jonas Noreika.
Which is “unreliable”, Lithuanian actions, or Lithuanian words? The only appropriate response to Lithuania is disgust, anger, and outrage.
*Silvia Foti’s Storm in the Fatherland: A Memoir Unmasking a War Criminal will be published by Harper Collins in Spanish in 2020, and by Regnery History in English in 2021.
This article first ran in the South African Jewish Report on 23 January, 2020.
South African-born Grant Gochin is actively involved in Jewish affairs, focusing on historical justice. He has spent the past 20 years documenting and restoring signs of Jewish life in Lithuania. In March 2019, he took the Lithuanian government to court to get it to recognize its active role in the Holocaust.
Grant can be reached at email@example.com