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NATO 2023 in Lithuania: Rife with political pitfalls

(Courtesy of author)
(Courtesy of author)

One of the greatest public relations catastrophes of President Reagan’s tenure was his May 1985 visit to a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, that contained numerous members of the Waffen SS. Today, nearly four decades later, the visit is still remembered with anger, confoundment, and mostly for America, embarrassment.

NATO has announced that the next meeting of NATO heads of state and government will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11-12, 2023. There are, unfortunately, obvious parallels to Reagan’s “goodwill” visit to Bitburg.

In World War II, and primarily in the second half of 1941, about 200,000 Lithuanian Jews – about 96% — were systematically expelled from their homes, robbed, starved, tortured, and brutally murdered primarily by ethnic Lithuanian death squads euphemistically referred to auxiliary “police” units. Lithuania does not acknowledge the fact that most of the mass murderers were ethnic Lithuanians. To the contrary, Lithuania in many cases has elevated the stature of many of those who led the Lithuanian Holocaust, arguing that they were anti-Soviet. This itself is an echo of the Nazis canard conflating Jews with communism.

During this NATO summit, the government of Lithuania will likely take the heads of state and delegations to four locations often displayed to visiting dignitaries:

  1. The “Genocide Museum,” a unique institution in the world that is premised on the contention that ethnic Lithuanians, rather than Jews, were the primary victims of genocide in the 20th Century
  2. The Antakalnis Cemetery, their National Cemetery
  3. The Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences
  4. The Tuskulėnai manor

Lithuania will characterize these locations as mere sites of national historical importance, hoping to deceive naïve foreign leaders. Yet, by giving the honor of their presence to any of these four sites, the foreign leaders are exposing themselves to scandal, embarrassment, and a public relations disaster akin to President Reagan’s Bitburg calamity of 1985. The problem is easily avoided by NATO dignitaries sidestepping these sites:

  1. The Genocide Museum

Part of the former KGB building in Vilnius now houses “The Museum of Occupations and Battles for Freedom” formally (and informally) known as Lithuania’s Genocide Museum. This is a primary nationalistic tourist attraction. The exterior walls of the museum are inscribed with the names of people sentenced to death by the Soviet regime and executed at the Tuskulėnai manor house in Vilnius.

The organization in charge of the museum and for national commemorative policy, the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania (Genocide Center), is best described as Lithuania’s center for Holocaust fraud and fictional history. Indeed, the center’s Lithuanian name translates into English as something quite different – the Center for the Study of the Genocide of Lithuanian Residents and Resistance. This Lithuanian title suggests that ethnic Lithuanians were the victims of genocide – even though there was no systematic mass-murder of ethnic Lithuanians in the 20th Century – and that Lithuanians “resisted” some authority. Did the Lithuanians resist the Nazis? No, they collaborated with the Nazis to a greater extent than any other people in Europe. And after Lithuania regained its independence, it threatened to prosecute Jews who fought against the Nazis.

The Lithuanian government has repeatedly been exposed as promoting Holocaust revisionism. Indeed, for this specific reason some international academic institutions have terminated their interactions with Lithuanian state-sponsored historical-revision institutions. Lithuania pretends that it is objectively seeking the truth. The record shows quite the opposite. They have gone to great lengths to devise artifices suggesting that Holocaust perpetrators were not involved in the Holocaust. This effort would no doubt win the praise of Goebbels in the Nazi era and is comparable to today’s Kremlin disinformation factories.

Many of the names engraved into the exterior wall of the museum are those of Holocaust perpetrators. This makes the museum a shrine for honoring murderers of Lithuanian Jews as well as those who played no role in the Holocaust. Under growing international pressure, the Genocide Center now vaguely concedes that there are “problems” with some of the names engraved into the museum wall.

Exterior wall of Genocide Museum.
Source: personal photo

In October 2019, the then-director of the Center, Teresė Birutė Burauskaitė said three of the names were complicit in Holocaust crimes. These three were:

Antanas Gerdvilis[1]

Bronius Jakunskas[2]

Petras Jurkus[3]

Burauskaitė omitted others, most notably Jonas Noreika, the murderer of up to 14,500 of Lithuania’s Jewish citizens. The Lithuanian government has now rewritten his history to portray him as a rescuer of Jews. Also omitted is the name of a notorious Holocaust perpetrator whose grandson, Darius Semaška, was Lithuania’s prior ambassador to Germany,

Joseph A. Melamed, a Holocaust survivor from Kovna (Kaunas), Lithuania, who became a Tel Aviv attorney, devoted many years to identifying the Lithuanian Holocaust perpetrators. In a 1999 publication he identified 5,000, but added that the number of Lithuanians “directly involved in acts of genocide” is estimated to total 23,000.[4]

For decades, the Lithuanian government has promised to research and publicize the names of the perpetrators and, more generally, remedy the situation. But this remains unlikely. In 2012, the museum gave to the government a list containing the names of 2,055 supposed perpetrators, but the list was never made public by the museum or the government. A government deputy minister later denied having received the list. And then-museum-director Burauskaitė herself subsequently said that after studying the list for three years, her organization eliminated approximately 1,000 suspects.

The list of perpetrators has now shrunk to a mere 200. The research on this group was due to be completed by the end of 2020. It was not.

In April 2021, Genocide Center historian Rytas Narvydas tried to justify the delay by saying that work had been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Narvydas stated that “103 biographies out of almost 200 have been studied.” At the same time, he conceded that the pace of the study was clearly insufficient. He explained that the problem was that only one person was assigned to perform the research, and that that person could only research between 10 and 12 biographies per year. At this rate, the Genocide Center will need another decade or more to complete their ”study” of just 200 individuals. They have over 100 employees, so the rhetorical question to be asked is why has only one person been assigned to this task?

Arvydas Anušauskas, who is now Lithuania’s Minister of National Defense, was the previous head of the Genocide Center. While there, he oversaw rampant Holocaust revisionism. Among other things, he claimed there had been “exhaustive” research into names engraved  on the exterior wall of the Genocide Museum, and declared that none were Holocaust perpetrators. Anušauskas is a nationalist ideologue who has little to no use for “uncomfortable” facts. His self-described “exhaustive” research apparently was unable to take notice of the Holocaust crimes of Jonas Noreika. This is consistent with Lithuania’s track record of ignoring what Lithuanian perpetrators did during World War II.

When NATO foreign leaders visit the Genocide Museum or the Genocide Center, they will be visiting a shrine of perpetrator veneration. To honor such a shrine would display a profound disrespect to Holocaust victims and give credence to Lithuania’s studied inversion of facts.

Sharing space on the wall are the names of also Nefiodovas[5], Gylys[6], Andriuškevičius, Griška, and Paškevičius.

Foreign leaders should not “pay their respects” to the museum that honoring perpetrators. This is worse than Reagan’s benighted visit to Bitburg.

2. Antakalnis Cemetery

Antakalnis Cemetery is Lithuania’s national cemetery. The Lithuanian government takes visiting dignitaries to view the graves of its national heroes. Most recently, they took the Queen of Belgium to the cemetery.

Queen of Belgium unwittingly visits Antakalnis Cemetery
Source: https://lithuania.postsen.com/local/47174/The-President-of-Lithuania-and-the-First-Lady-met-with-the-King-and-Queen-of-Belgium-both-ladies-wore-hats.html

The Lithuanian Government will almost certainly fail to inform visiting dignitaries that the cemetery likely contains Holocaust perpetrators whom Lithuania deems to be national heroes.

NATO protects Lithuania from her Russian enemies on the premise that Lithuania adheres to the same values as Western democracies. Yet, clearly, Lithuania does not hold the same values. The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and other allies would never honor those who committed the mass murder of innocent civilians. NATO dignitaries must be mindful of this and try to avoid embarrassing themselves and the nations they represent.

3. Wroblewski Library of the Academy of Sciences of Lithuania

The exterior of this building displays a plaque honoring the genocidal mass murderer of the Jews of northwestern Lithuania – Jonas Noreika. Noreika‘s crimes are well known and have been exposed by his own granddaughter in her non-fiction work, The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal (2021).

Many governments, organizations, and individuals have voiced their staunch disapproval of Lithuania’s disingenuous efforts to deny the culpability of Jonas Noreika. Among those are the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the U.S. Congress and State Department, Lithuania’s own Presidential Commission, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the American Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Congress, and others. Given the volume of condemnations by major institutions, as well as the American, German, and Israeli governments, it is patently obvious that Lithuania’s government is deeply involved in Holocaust denial.

Jonas Noreika monument plaque on exterior of Wroblewski Library in Vilnius.
Source: Personal photo

NATO delegations should avoid this location so that it is clear that they do not endorse the honoring of a known Holocaust perpetrator.

4. The Tuskulėnai Manor

On the grounds of the Tuskulėnai manor is the burial place of approximately 767 Lithuanians who were executed by the Soviets. Among those were many Nazi criminals who were members of the “Ypatingasis būrys” (“Special Squad”), a Lithuanian death squad that operated in the Vilnius Region. Also buried here are members of Rollkommando Hamann, a small mobile killing unit composed of 8–10 Germans and several dozen local Lithuanian collaborators who traveled throughout the Lithuanian countryside in the second half of 1941.

Lithuania deems all who were executed by the Soviets to be  “victims” and does not distinguish war criminals of the worst kind from those who were bona-fide heroes. By conflating them, Lithuania honors perpetrators. NATO should not.

Vilnius is a small city. This map shows the proximity of the Antakalnis cemetery, the Genocide Center, the Wroblewski Library, Tuskulėnai Manor, and the Parliament of Lithuania.

NATO officials and state visitors will have no ability to avoid monuments and honors for Holocaust perpetrators in Lithuania. These monuments are everywhere.

Lithuania should not dupe NATO representatives into unconsciously paying respect to Holocaust perpetrators. If they will not be honest about their history, it is nonetheless incumbent upon the NATO delegations to understand Lithuanian duplicity.

For NATO members to pay respect at monuments for Holocaust perpetrators is to taint the mission of NATO, and question the naivete of the countries they represent. After all, there will be much press in Vilnius during the summit and the world will see where the delegations pay respects.

Lithuania has made its fraudulent Holocaust positions clear many times, over many years, and in many forums. Even if Lithuania now tells the truth, it has been such a long term effort to bring them to truth, it would be impossible to now consider Lithuania telling truth as voluntary or sincere. They fought it too hard and for too long.

Lithuania themselves hold the key to the problem they have created for NATO. If Lithuania sincerely, honestly, and comprehensively state the details of who, what, when, where, why, and how, the country can move forward over time.

NATO is too critical for our own protection. They should not have been dragged into this Holocaust denial morass.

With gratitude to Evaldas Balciunas.

[1] A member of the June 1941 pro-Nazi “uprising,” a police officer from Alanta, Lithuania, who administered stolen Jewish property and was a Holocaust perpetrator.

[2] An alderman of Kalvarija, Lithuania, who arrested Jews, compiled lists of Jewish families, and seized their property.

[3] He took part in executing so-called Soviet activists in the town of Švėkšna, where the majority of the population was Jewish, and later administered property stolen from the Jews.

[4] Lithuania Crime & Punishment, January 1999 Edition, p. 5.

[5] In April 1941 – two months before the Nazi invasion of Lithuania – Vladimaras Nefiodovas was the commander of the underground pro-Nazi unit in the Kaunas suburb of Petrašiūnai. He was tried by the Soviets for criminal activity and convicted in 1945. At his trial he testified that his unit arrested 50 “loads” of Jews. Presumably, these Jews were among the 125 Jews of Petrašiūnai who were murdered in Petrašiūnai on August 30, 1941.

[6] Pranas Gylys was tried and convicted by a Soviet court for Holocaust crimes. He was sentenced to death and executed in 1946.

About the Author
Grant Arthur Gochin currently serves as the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Togo. He is the Emeritus Special Envoy for Diaspora Affairs for the African Union, which represents the fifty-five African nations, and Emeritus Vice Dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps, the second largest Consular Corps in the world. Gochin is actively involved in Jewish affairs, focusing on historical justice. He has spent the past twenty five years documenting and restoring signs of Jewish life in Lithuania. He has served as the Chair of the Maceva Project in Lithuania, which mapped / inventoried / documented / restored over fifty abandoned and neglected Jewish cemeteries. Gochin is the author of “Malice, Murder and Manipulation”, published in 2013. His book documents his family history of oppression in Lithuania. He is presently working on a project to expose the current Holocaust revisionism within the Lithuanian government. He is Chief of the Village of Babade in Togo, an honor granted for his philanthropic work. Professionally, Gochin is a Certified Financial Planner and practices as a Wealth Advisor in California, where he lives with his family. Personal site: https://www.grantgochin.com/
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