Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania is maturing.
At the turn of the 20th century, approximately half of Vilnius’s population was Jewish. Currently, all that remains of Jewish life is a tourist trail, along with monuments lauding Holocaust perpetrators.
To divorce Lithuania from its Holocaust-related past, and to create a national foundation narrative, Lithuania has devised a government agency named “The Genocide Center,” whose mission has been to rewrite the history of Lithuania. Through this sanitization process, it has converted perpetrators into national heroes, and whenever possible, to deny culpability of Lithuanians in the Holocaust.
There is virtually no recourse against the Genocide Center. Its Holocaust revisionism has been aggressive and blatant for years. Continuous appeals for truth have been met with contempt and intimidation by the government, which has then been validated by the Lithuanian legal system. At the same time, however, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry has cynically marketed Lithuania as friendly toward Jews.
The Soviet occupation of Lithuania has been identified as a Genocide, while the Genocide of the Jews in Lithuania has been all but ignored. Lithuania admits the murders occurred, but will not identify Lithuanians who participated in it, or who led the slaughters. Instead they blame it all on Soviets and Nazis–and occasionally and begrudgingly on a few nebulous and nameless “local collaborators.” Culpability by Lithuanians is effectively reduced to an occasional platitude. This illustrates Holocaust distortion at its finest.
Revising history to elevate the murderers to hero status is an assault on the victims and all humanity. So then, the memory of the murdered victims has been all but eliminated from the Lithuanian consciousness. Marketing occasional platitudes about memory, while distorting truth, supplants history’s accuracy. As time progresses, this vulgar Lithuanian narrative has been repeated so frequently that unsuspecting Lithuanians believe it to be the truth.
In 2015 the mayor of Vilnius removed Soviet art statues and addressed the suffering of Lithuanians under Russian rule. However, he strongly declined to address monuments honoring murderers of Jews. Therefore, I began my campaign to address the national honors for Holocaust perpetrators.
Each government department disclaimed responsibility– ultimately, all roads referred back to the very locus of Holocaust deception, The Genocide Center. Academic studies are continually rejected for absurd reasons, leaving the judicial system as the only recourse to reveal the truth. Unfortunately, Lithuanian courts often obey ideologically political instructions on how to rule rather than adjudicating on the truth, and so distortions are effectively endorsed. The court of public opinion becomes the last resort.
In 2018, Silvia Foti, the granddaughter of Jonas Noreika (a nationally recognized hero) publicly and heroically stepped forward to describe the Holocaust crimes of her grandfather. She reported her own approaches to the Lithuanian government to tell the truth. For her crime of telling the truth, Foti has been repudiated by segments of the Lithuanian community, both in America and in Lithuania. Additionally, she was vilified by the Lithuanian government. The combination of a campaign for Holocaust truth by the granddaughter of a perpetrator and simultaneously the descendant of his victims grew to be electrifying–and drew significant international media attention. No longer could the government stand so resolutely against truth, and therefore the Lithuanian façade began to crumble.
In the Lithuanian presidential election of 2019, Gitanas Nausėda ran on a campaign of addressing judicial corruption. We could see in his campaign that a new wind was blowing. Within the first two weeks of his presidency, corrupt judges have been dismissed and the street in Vilnius named after an architect of the Lithuanian Holocaust (Kazys Skirpa) was renamed. On July 27, the monument in Vilnius for Jonas Noreika was removed.
Changing one street sign and removing one monument becomes the very first breakthrough to truth telling. As a nation, Lithuania is to be applauded. The majority of Lithuanians are fine people; it is not an easy process for any nation to admit that some of its founding fathers were murderers and criminals, especially when its people have been fed a contradictory narrative. In order for a nation to mature, truth about its past is a necessary step.
Finally, under new leadership, Lithuania has an opportunity to walk a fresh path. The government needs to tell the truth; it needs to revoke certificates of good conduct awarded to Holocaust perpetrators and renounce their national honors. The government will need to replace the current leadership of the Genocide Center and appoint new leaders who will commit to telling the truth. They will need to educate the population that they were deliberately misinformed, and in the words of the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, they need to “come clean.”
Reconciliation can only be based on truth. Anything else is a sham destined to collapse. After truth is told, then, and only then, can Jews and Lithuanians join each other to walk together toward a better future.