Lithuania assures the world that it is not responsible for the Holocaust. New legislation being drafted in parliament could make it illegal to claim otherwise. How responsible is Lithuania for what happened to its Jews? Let’s look at the facts.
Declaring independence in 1918, Lithuania’s new leadership approached the Jewish community to assist them in nation building. Jews were assured their contributions would be rewarded and Jews would be treated as equal citizens without prejudice. The Jewish community officially declared itself in favor of Lithuanian independence and Jews fought alongside their compatriots in Lithuania’s wars of independence. Alas, the pretense didn’t last.
In 1921-23, Ukraine was stricken by the first Soviet-induced famine. Instead of helping, Lithuanian officials did what they could to prevent Lithuanian Jews from returning from Ukraine. This condemned them to almost certain death (my own family members included). Meanwhile, it didn’t take long for Lithuania to revert to blaming Jews. An economic crisis in the early 1920s witnessed a surge in anti-Semitic manifestations.
As the inter-war period progressed, anti-Semitism only grew. During the 1930s, Lithuania’s Jews became subject to increasing restrictions and harassment as they were pushed out of roles in business and government. The Association of Lithuanian Businessmen and bigots like Jonas Noreika (author of the anti-Semitic pamphlet “Hold Your Head High, Lithuanian” and future Nazi collaborator, currently idolized as a national hero) were urging Lithuanians to boycott Jewish businesses. Meanwhile, politicians and diplomats enthralled by fascism and national socialism like Kazys Skirpa curried favor and plotted alliances with Nazi Germany. The Businessmen’s Association, the paramilitary Riflemen’s Union, and other groups spread anti-Semitism through their publications. By the end of the decade, anti-Semitic attacks were becoming increasingly common, including attacks on Jewish homes, schools, and synagogues.
The Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in 1940 and began to deport the intelligentsia and bourgeoisie, including Lithuanian Jews. Jews were statistically twice as likely to be deported to Siberia as their non-Jewish counterparts. This did not prevent Lithuanians from blaming Jews for the Soviet occupation, as propaganda emanating from Skirpa’s Berlin-based resistance group encouraged them to do. Emulating the Nazis, Skirpa’s activists equated Jews with communism and promised a Jew-free independent Lithuania united with Hitler in building a “new Europe”.
The genocide of Lithuania’s Jews began even before the Nazis arrived. As the Soviets retreated, armed Lithuanians began plundering and murdering Jews en masse. Lithuania’s provisional government signed off on Nazi-style anti-Semitic legislation and not a finger was lifted in any official capacity to protect Jews from persecution. A greater percentage of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered than in any other country. It was safer to be a Jew in Nazi Germany than in Lithuania.
Less than 1,000 Lithuanians were rescuers – 0.04% of the population. The approved fable is that most did not know what was happening. Not even Lithuania’s provisional government, set up by Skirpa and his cohorts. We are told it had no real power. All it could do was plead with Lithuanians to “avoid executing Jews publicly” (Ministerial Meeting June 27, 1941) – which belies claims nobody knew what was going on (the same protocol details a report by Infrastructure Minister Vytautas Landsbergis-Zemkalnis, father of Lithuanian independence leader Vytautas Landsbergis, about the massacre of Jews in Kaunas and acknowledges that actions are being taken “against Jews for their communistic activities”).
Jonas Noreika, who served as head of Siauliai district under the Nazis, is said not to have known that by moving Jews into a ghetto he was contributing to their demise – this despite the fact that many were murdered in the process. You see, they say, Noreika thought Jews would be safer there. They also claim he had no choice, although somehow his predecessor, Ignas Urbaitis, who served only briefly under the provisional government got away with resigning his post – in his words, “for humanitarian reasons”.
Lithuania’s official, state-sponsored Genocide and Resistance Research Centre now claims, on the basis of the testimony of one intimate Noreika family friend, that Noreika was not only NOT harming Jews, but secretly rescuing them! They have no corroborating evidence, nor have any of the rescued been identified. It was common for fellow emigres to try to exonerate Lithuanian war criminals, especially when they were such close friends.
But what is past is past. Such a shame Lithuania “lost its Jewish community” (said as if Jews merely wandered off instead of being slaughtered). Shame about the scoundrels and hooligans who took part. Anyway, there weren’t very many. And certainly no one of any significance. And look how many were rescuers (including even “secret” ones like Noreika)! And look how supportive Lithuania is of Israel now! Let us not dwell on past unpleasantries. Let us talk about the present, about moving forward.
So, let’s talk about the present.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Lithuania’s government has spent a great deal of resources investigating Soviet oppression. While so far only a few individuals have been tried and convicted (for example, for signing off on deportations – apparently, “we didn’t know this would harm them” and “we had no choice” excuses don’t apply when Lithuanians are the victims), of all those involved in Soviet-era repressions, one security officer, Nachman Dushansky, was singled out as representing the worst of the Soviet regime. It just so happens Dushansky was a Jew. There were at least 20 KGB and NKVD officers who were involved in similar activities. But they were not Jews. Nowadays, throwing out the name “Dushansky” is supposed to excuse whatever was done to Jews because “look, this bad Soviet guy was a Jew”.
Lithuania has not punished a single Lithuanian Holocaust perpetrator. But it did try to open criminal cases against elderly Jews who had survived the Holocaust, ostensibly for their activities as anti-Nazi partisans. As the Economist’s Edward Lucas put it, this “targeting” of “prominent local Jews looks selective, even vindictive” and fits into a general pattern of “Holocaust obfuscation” on the part of Lithuania.
Lithuania is roiled by constant exposes of how it honors murderers of Jews as national heroes. They say these heroes fought the Soviets. The Foreign Ministry assures us that not a single one of these freedom fighters ever murdered a Jew. And pity the Lithuanian who dares to ask how likely that story is to be true. When writer Ruta Vanagaite dared to question that narrative, she was hounded out of the country. Her books were removed from shelves and destroyed while Vytautas Landsbergis publicly suggested she go hang herself (this from a man who was applying to join the Communist Youth League while those freedom fighters were still holding out in the forests).
After regaining independence, Lithuania offered Jews restitution of their property, but only to those who were still alive and Lithuanian citizens (most were not). But there seemed to be two lines for applicants. The few Jews who qualified (they had to have left the country after 1940, which excluded anyone who fled the increasing anti-Semitism of the 1920s and 30s) were forced into a bureaucratic maze that ethnic Lithuanians seemed able to avoid. The government later “discovered” how unfairly Jews had been treated and passed legislation to give citizenship to more Jews. But by then the restitution period had ended.
The contemporary engine of Holocaust fraud in Lithuania is the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre. The Centre’s scholars seem unable to determine who murdered Jews, but can promptly determine who wronged ethnic Lithuanians. They reach so far towards fraud that the US Congress recently wrote the Prime Minister warning him to stop the misuse of US Congressional documents for Holocaust distortion.
The Noreika Holocaust distortion case has been reported worldwide. The government has called the scholars who researched Noreika’s crimes “dilettantes who lacked history methodology because they weren’t trained and qualified historians”. One, Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas, is an American philosophy professor, and the other, Evaldas Balciunas, is a seasoned researcher and writer. Kulikauskas and Balciunas discovered about 100 documents proving Noreika’s guilt. All were dismissed by the government.
But researchers’ qualifications suddenly become irrelevant when a geologist finds testimony he extrapolates into a tale that instead of facilitating the murder of thousands of Jews, Noreika was secretly working to rescue them. Later, the geologist says the story is really only his opinion, but by then the government has already proclaimed his “opinion” in an official statement. The government representative who is responsible for official historical research on the Holocaust in Lithuania, and who identified Dr. Kulikauskas and Mr. Balciunas as “dilettantes”, has admitted to the national media that, when it comes to her work: “I myself am not an historian, so for me inner conviction is very important”.
The government’s position is that Jews have no “material interest” in having verified facts about the Holocaust in Lithuania be presented to the world. The credibility of government researchers in Lithuania is dependent upon the ideological suitability of their findings and their responsibility is to make sure blame is shifted away from Lithuanians, especially any significant personalities.
Noreika’s granddaughter Silvia Foti has spent more than 20 years researching her grandfather’s crimes. She confirms that he was responsible for the murder of around 14,000 Lithuanian Jews (my own family members included). But the government of Lithuania says Foti is “unreliable” because she “disagreed with her mother”. If only she had a degree in geology! Foti has been honored by the California State Assembly, AJC, Simon Wiesenthal Center, and many others for her bravery in confronting government lies and intimidation.
In protecting the “good name” of the genocidal Noreika, the Lithuanian government has declared that he is constitutionally entitled to the presumption of complete innocence as he has never been convicted of a crime. By this standard, we can say nothing of Hitler’s and Stalin’s crimes, either. Neither of them was ever convicted. What would we think of a country that established an official government agency to defend Hitler or Stalin from anyone who had evidence of their genocidal crimes?
Evidently not entitled to the same protections is Lithuanian writer Cvirka. He suggested to Stalin to incorporate Lithuania into the Soviet Union and volunteered to help out, snitching on “unpatriotic” colleagues. Outraged by this, the Lithuanian government declared Cvirka a Soviet collaborator. But Cvirka was also never convicted of any crimes during his lifetime. The difference is that Cvirka’s victims were Lithuanians, not Jews.
Will Lithuania actually legislate that it never participated in the Holocaust? During the Noreika trial, the government’s lawyer stated: “The Lithuanian nation has never actually perpetrated crimes against humanity. It’s a fact and no one is ever going to be able to prove what you’re trying to prove.” And, just to be sure, they may make it illegal to even try.
This year, the Holocaust distortion trial of Jonas Noreika will reach Lithuania’s Supreme Court. Lithuania assures us we should expect justice and truth. We do, but only when the case reaches the European Court of Human Rights where the Lithuanian government’s case will simply not hold water.
Lithuania’s President Nausėda is scheduled to attend the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem on 23 January to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He will, no doubt, remind us of the 900 or so Lithuanians who worked to rescue Jews. He will refocus the subject away from facts about the Holocaust and away from Lithuanian participation and responsibility. He will triangulate, speaking of the losses, pain, and suffering of all of Lithuania’s people at the hands of Nazis and Soviets. As usual, Lithuania will be only a victim, having suffered so much, counting the “loss of its Jewish community” as one of many tragedies. As for Lithuanian collaboration, responsibility, and culpability? A few “bad apples” will be acknowledged without impugning the tree that produced them. And without mention of the honors accorded to some of them.
After all, did they really have any choice?