Of all the Baltic states, Lithuanians are the worst at distorting Holocaust crimes. I admit this comes as a surprise, even to me, because I thought all three Baltic states were the same on this issue. But apparently, they’re not. Lithuania is unfortunately the outlier.
I’ve learned firsthand how vehemently Lithuanians deny their own role in the Holocaust. All of this came to the forefront after the publication of my book Storm in the Land of Rain: A Mother’s Dying Wish Becomes Her Daughter’s Nightmare, in which I discovered my grandfather Jonas Noreika, considered a World War Two hero in Lithuania for fighting so bravely against the Communists also played a role in killing Jews during the Holocaust.
Since my book was first published as The Nazi’s Granddaughter in March 2021, I have been warmly welcomed by hundreds of Jewish audiences around the globe, but have been coldly and angrily shunned by Lithuanians. To date, I have not been invited to speak to a single Lithuanian audience, nor to a Latvian or Estonian audience, for that matter, so I mistakenly assumed all three Baltic groups had the same outlook on their own role in the Holocaust.
A recent event, however, proved otherwise.
Latvian General Consul
Juris Bunkis, MD, Latvian General Consul in Los Angeles, tried to show Baltic Truth, a documentary primarily about the Holocaust in Latvia at the Latvian Center in Los Angeles. Dr. Bunkis was born in a refugee camp in Germany and immigrated to Canada in 1951. His father was a mining engineer, and he learned how to speak Latvian by his parents, as there were no formal Latvian schools where he grew up. He attended medical schools at the University of Toronto, Columbia University, and Harvard University. After graduating, he taught at the University of San Francisco, and later built his plastic surgery practice in Orange County.
Last year, Dr. Bunkis approached the head of the Latvian community in Los Angeles, as well as the Latvian Ambassador in Washington D.C. to receive permission to show Baltic Truth, a film that is primarily about the Holocaust in Latvia, but it also touches the Holocaust in Lithuania. It includes interviews with Ruta Vanagaite, Efraim Zuroff, Grant Gochin, and me.
Its website states: “Hosted by award-winning Israeli performer Dudu Fisher (Les Misérables), Baltic Truth exposes the tragic events of the first months of WW2 in the Baltic States and how almost the entire Jewish community of the occupied Baltic Nations was eliminated by face-to-face executions, one bullet at a time with assistance of local population, before the Final Solution, before Auschwitz, and before gas chambers.
“The film reflects the need for accuracy of Holocaust history, and does not allow the shifting of blame simply onto Nazis, and the exculpation of Latvian and Lithuanian perpetrators.
“Lithuania is the most egregious historical revisionist today. That government’s well-organized and systematic campaign to rewrite the history of Holocaust criminals seriously jeopardizes the international community’s efforts to preserve the truth of this dark period in history and thereby undermines efforts to prevent future genocide around the world.
“This film reveals the truth about the collaboration with the Nazi regime in the Baltic States; how neighbor turned on neighbor without hesitation, prompting a massacre of great proportions. Baltic Truth exposes how some national heroes involved in Holocaust crimes are being celebrated by their fellow countrymen to this very day.”
Showing the film to Latvians
Dr. Bunkis had played a role in helping the film along. When the director/producer Eugene Levin had trouble getting into Latvia during Covid times, Dr. Bunkis wrote to his foreign minister, as well as his ambassador, to get permission for Mr. Levin to enter Latvia, which he received.
All the Latvians were enthusiastic about showing the film in Los Angeles, Dr. Bunkis said. The date was set for February 4, 2023.
But then the Latvian ambassador received a call from someone in the Lithuanian government, asking him to put a stop to showing the film, said Dr. Bunkis. Apparently Andrejs Jramcovs, director and screenwriter for Baltic Truth had produced anti-Latvian pieces for Russian television channels in recent years. This was enough to label the entire project as Russian propaganda and the director as a Russian agent.
Lithuanians pressure Latvians
“The Lithuanians put pressure on my ambassador in Washington to not show the film,” said Dr. Bunkis. “He said it was my call, that he was all in favor of the discussion, but perhaps it would be more palatable to the Lithuanians if we showed a film that was entirely focused on the Latvian Holocaust and did not mention the Lithuanian Holocaust.”
Dr. Bunkis agreed to show another film called It’s Only Now We Begin, hoping the change would assuage the Lithuanians. He thought it was important to get a discussion started about the Holocaust in the Baltic States, and thought a focus on the Latvian Holocaust would be the way to go. He invited Latvian, Estonian, and Lithuanian dignitaries to the event.
“The Latvians and Estonians were all in, but unfortunately, not the Lithuanians,” Dr. Bunkis said. “They never got back to me. They never acknowledged it. They didn’t respond to my invitation.”
On the day of the event, however, the Lithuanian honorary council Daiva Čekanauskas Navarette showed up, Dr. Bunkis said.
“I was happy somebody from the Lithuanians came,” Dr. Bunkis said. “She sat in the back of the room, however. She wouldn’t sit with any of the dignitaries in the front room. In the back row, she constantly took notes.”
After the showing, Dr. Bunkis was besieged by audience members who congratulated him for showing the film. The Latvians and Estonians gushed over the film, saying they had never heard the Holocaust mentioned in Latvian or Estonian schools, and that an event of this type was long overdue.
“But then Daiva walked up the front of the line and reamed me out, calling me a liar,” Dr. Bunkis said. “She said I shouldn’t have shown this film. That it was Russian propaganda. Frankly, I was shocked. Where the hell was this coming from?”
Ironically, nobody working on It’s Only Now We Begin was part of a Russian television station, Dr. Bunkis said. However, the Lithuanians treated it with the same scorn as they treated Baltic Truth.
“In retrospect, there was no point in changing the film,” Dr. Bunkis said. “I can understand if you don’t know the truth and don’t have access to it. People in North Korea don’t have access to information. But today, in Lithuania, they just don’t want to learn about the truth, apparently. It’s just not in the Lithuanian mindset. I’m puzzled by how the Lithuanians can still be stuck in the Middle Ages. That would never happen in Latvia or Estonia.”
Storm Door Blog
Dr. Bunkis elaborated that during Soviet times, discussion of the Holocaust was suppressed in all the Baltic states. But after Latvia gained independence, its government looked into the atrocities that occurred on its soil. The Supreme Council of Latvia passed a declaration condemning and prohibiting genocide in Latvia. After Latvian independence, historians started significant research, remembrance, education on the Holocaust and on antisemitism.
At the time the Holocaust began, Latvia had 70,000 Jews and Estonia had 4,500 Jews. In contrast, Lithuania had 220,000 Jews.
“In Lithuania, the Holocaust is not discussed,” Dr. Bunkis observed. “They keep blaming the Nazis. There were about 600 Nazis assigned to the Holocaust in Lithuania and many were drivers and secretaries. It was physically impossible for so few Nazis to kill so many Jews. There is evidence that Lithuanians participated in the Holocaust everywhere you look. But Lithuanians just don’t want to believe it.
“I’m hopeful that someday somebody in the government will come to their senses and acknowledge that Lithuanians participated in the Holocaust because you can’t keep denying it forever.”
In other news….
- Baltic Truth won Best Documentary at the Boca Raton Jewish Film Festival.
- Rambam High School protested against Lithuanian Nazi Jonas Noreika in New York City on March 15. Read about it here.
- Grant Gochin, Michael Kretzmer, director of J’Accuse! and I appeared at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance on Monday, March 20. Here is a video of the question and answer after the film viewing.
Wishing you truth and peace in the storms of your life,
Silvia Foti, granddaughter of General Storm, Jonas Noreika