The Glorification of Nazi History in Lithuania

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights states the following:

“Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice.”

It is not a coincidence that words like “human dignity”,  “freedom” and “equality” were chosen to reflect European democratic values after the Second World War. However, it is not necessary to summarize the horrors of fascism again because all of us know too well what impact it had, and still has, on so many people. Therefore let me focus on the present situation within the European Union. Lithuania, a country filled with Jewish history. One example is Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, also known as the Vilna Gaon, who is Buried in Vilnius, Lithuania. And we should not forget the entire Litvak Jewish school of Torah study which originates from Lithuania as well. However, the country is still actively glorifying its Nazi past to the point that it is blatant anti-Semitism.

One clear example of the ongoing glorification of Nazi history in Lithuania is the case of Dr. Stanislovas Tomas who destroyed a plaque in memory of Nazi war criminal Jonas Noreika ( Location: Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences (Vilnius). It takes courage to stand up to facism, and to stop the ongoing propagation of Nazi ideology. Unfortunately the Lithuanian government perceived this as a negative action and therefore they are demanding retribution for the destroyed plaque and a three months jail sentence. Now my question is the following: In which European country can a European citizen (Dr. Stanislovas Tomas) be sentenced to jail and be forced to pay for a new plaque in memory of the known Nazi war criminal Jonas Noreika? The answer is simple, in no European country, not even Lithuania, should a citizen be punished for actively destroying Nazi propaganda because it is obvious that the memorial plaque goes against the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Moreover, the case of  Nazi war criminal Jonas Noreika was already discussed in a Lithuanian court which stated that there was no proof that Jonas Noreika was a war criminal. Even though all the evidence shows that he obviously was a Nazi collaborator. How much evidence does a court need to finally remove Nazi memorials? How many court cases does one have to start to remove items in the public sphere which propagate holocaust denial? There is no difference between a Nazi flag and a memorial plaque in memory of Nazi war criminals. The public sphere in the European Union has to promote European values and norms. It can’t be the case that people will be subjugated to holocaust denial and Nazi propaganda on their way to school, or work.

Google maps street view of Vrublevskis’ Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences where you can see the new and improved plaque of Jonas Noreika (on the left corner). Retrieved on 01/03/2023.

Google maps street view of Vrublevskis’ Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences where you can see the new and improved plaque of Jonas Noreika (zoomed in). Retrieved on 01/03/2023.

Moreover, this is not just about one Nazi memorial in Lithuania. It’s about how Nazi glorification is being normalized to the point that buildings are being renamed after Nazi collaborators. There is one clear case of the Landsbergis-Žemkalnis Research Laboratory in the city of Kaunas which is named after the famous architect Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis. Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalni was the infrastructure minister in Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis’s government which collaborated with the Nazi’s. Professor Pinchos Fridberg stated the following:

“the architect Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis, who by his own volition became the infrastructure minister in Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis’s government which worked with the Nazis. It was this ministry which was entrusted with “the honorable” task of creating a Jewish concentration camp in Kaunas.”

 “Protocol of the meeting of the cabinet of ministers of the Provisional Government on June 30, 1941
Presiding: acting prime minister J. Ambrazevičius
All members of the cabinet of ministers present.

[Considered:] 4. Maintenance of the Lithuanian Battalion and the establishment of a Jewish concentration camp [empahsis added].

[Resolved:]. 4. After hearing out Kaunas kommandant colonel Bobelis’s report on the matter of the battalion being formed (Hilfpolizeidienstbatalion) and the establishment of a Jewish concentration camp [empahsis added], the cabinet of ministers resolved:

2) to approve the establishment of a Jewish concentration camp and to assign the project of its establishment to deputy infrastructure minister Mr. Švipa, in coordination with Mr. colonel Bobelis.
The next sitting of the cabinet of ministers is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. today.

  1. Ambrazevičius, acting prime minister [signed]
  2. Švelnikas, chief of staff, cabinet of ministers [signed]

from the book “Lietuvos laikinoji vyriausybė: posėdžių protokolai, 1941 m. birželio 24 – rugpjūčio 4 d.” A. Anušauskas, ed. Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras. Vilnius, 2001. pp. 19-20.

Appendix no. 1 to [the protocol of the Lithuanian cabinet of ministers], August 1, 1941

Protocol No. 31

Regulations on the Status of Jews
The cabinet of ministers, taking into consideration the Jews have for whole centuries exploited the Lithuanian people economically and ruined us morally, and more recently, under the cover of Bolshevism, have embarked upon the widest possible battle against Lithuanian independence and the Lithuanian people, and seeking to put a halt to the harmful activities of the Jews and to protect the Lithuanian people from their pestilent influence, has resolved to adopt the following regulations:

August 1, 1941, Kaunas

  1. Ambrazevičius, acting prime minister [signed]
  2. Šlepetys, interior minister [signed]

from the book “Lietuvos laikinoji vyriausybė: posėdžių protokolai, 1941 m. birželio 24 – rugpjūčio 4 d.” A. Anušauskas, ed. Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras. Vilnius, 2001. pp. 135-137.”

How can it be possible that buildings in the European Union are being named after someone who was part of the development of a Jewish concentration camp? One can make the argument that Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis was “merely” present during the meeting on June 30, 1941. However, this definitely would not be the case given his position as an infrastructure minister. Additionally, no one would have been given a cabinet position within the government if one did not align himself with the provisional government prime minister Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis. Apparently there are stories out there which state that he himself became displaced and fell out of favor because his son was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944. However, even if this is factually true then one can’t ignore the three years between 1941 and 1944. Besides 1944 was almost the end of the Second World War, and some of the people that collaborated with the Nazi’s tried to change sides or run away when they realized that facism lost the war. Only in order to save themselves from the transitional justice process, and not because they believed that it was wrong with what they did or who they supported during wartime.

What makes this entire situation even stranger is that the Landsbergis-Žemkalnis Research Laboratory received funding from the European Union (EU) Structural Funds. One would think that the European Union would double check where their funds are exactly going to. Especially when these funds come from taxpayers like us. Why would I want my tax money to be spent on Nazi glorification? Obviously, the EU missed something while doing the screening process for this funding. However, that doesn’t mean that they are not accountable. Additionally, Lithuania is eligible to receive EU  Internal Security Fund (2021-2027). Now this is not something unusual or bad because the EU tries to reinforce Internal Security on an EU level. However, when you look closely at the the goal of the Internal Security Fund that you will see the following description:

“to support efforts to strengthen capabilities to combat and prevent crime, terrorism and radicalization, as well as manage security-related incidents, risks and crises, in particular through increased cooperation between public authorities, civil society and private partners across the Member States”.

I hope that the EU perceives anti-Semitism and Nazism as radicalization, and that they will monitor the projects that they will support in Lithuania. Additionally, the promo video on their website portrays police actions against high profile crimes while the words “as well as manage security-related incidents, risks and crises” remains an ambiguous terminology. This means that funding of “security-related incidents” could also indirectly go into securing Nazi memorials? while the EU regulation states the following:
Regulation (EU) 2021/1149 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 July 2021 establishing the Internal Security Fund:

“(9) The Fund should be implemented in full compliance with the values enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), the rights and principles enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the ‘Charter’) and the Union’s international obligations as regards human rights. In particular, the Fund should be implemented in full respect of fundamental rights such as the right to human dignity, the right to life, the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to protection of personal data, the rights of the child and the right to an effective remedy, as well as in full respect of the principle of non-discrimination.”.

The EU regulation explicitly states “full respect of the principle of non-discrimination” which means that none of the ISF should go into the glorification of Nazism and the prevention of destroying Nazi propaganda. The only thing that we can do as EU citizens is to ask questions about how the ISF is being used by the Lithuanian government and try to monitor it. Moreover, it would be extremely paradoxical if the ISF is being used to locate Dr. Stanislovas Tomas for destroying a Nazi memorial plaque. The main point is that the Lithuanian government has access to all these different funds while they propagate and glorify Nazism in the public sphere while Lithuania is part of the European Union. Should it not be the priority of the EU to get rid of, or prevent, all positive references towards Nazism of the Second World War? I would like to remind people that there is a concept called “transitional justice” in which transitional justice aims to provide recognition to the victims. And keeping these Nazi memorials actively prevents part of transitional justice from taking place. To be more precise, it prevents the completion of transitional justice, and no EU country should want this to be the case.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that it’s great that the European investment bank (under the European Fund for Strategic Investments) invests in Lithuania to provide long-term financing for public and private sector projects. However, not every EU fund is the same, and not every investment is the same. What we want to prevent is that our EU tax money goes into projects that directly, or indirectly, glorify Nazism. We don’t want projects, buildings, streets, and other objects being named after known Nazi’s. Now I understand that the chance of this happening with projects related to the EIB is rather small. However, it is easy to lose track of what exactly is being funded when one is dealing with large sums of money. For example, the EIB can invest in Lithuania’s sustainability, innovation, digitalisation, small and medium-sized businesses, and skills. However, the moral question is if we should support these small and medium-sized businesses if they are located in buildings which are tainted by Nazi glorification. In my opinion the EU should be more strict regarding the allocation of EU funds and investments. It can’t be the case that a prestigious project is being funded with EU money while the building, street, or location honors its Nazi past.

Therefore, the goal is to complete transitional justice in Lithuania by removing these fascist symbols, and to prevent Nazi glorification. We can’t send our children to a school, or university which is subsidized with EU money while at the same time it is surrounded by Nazi propaganda. Neither can we be silent about Nazi dogma and symbolism when it enters the public sphere. Moreover, is it really that difficult to remove Nazi memorials in Lithuania and replace them with something else? For example, a memorial for Nechama Lifshitz (1927-2017) who dared to revive the memory of the Holocaust in music. Internal and external pressure can help the completion of  transitional justice in Lithuania. However, one thing we can’t do, and that is to remain silent and to let Nazi glorification enter into the EU public sphere.

About the Author
Natan Schaapkens moved to Israel in 2007 and studied at two different yeshivot in Jerusalem. He also did an internship at the WZO writing articles. Natan moved back to Europe in 2012 to study European studies (BA) at Maastricht University and then moved to Poland in 2017 to study political science (MA). He has lived in Wroclaw and Krakow where he was part of the Jewish community, and in 2020 moved back to the Netherlands.
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