The Lithuanian Tradition of Distorting History
It has become a Lithuanian tradition for the media to mark Holocaust commemorative days with articles shockingly distorting factual history. On January 27, 2021, the United Nations’ International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, Lithuanian MP Valdas Rakutis came out with an article called “International Holocaust Day and Historical Memory” which contained, apart from basic nonsense unbefitting even feeble minded Lithuanian historians, gross insults aimed at the victims.
He wrote: “After all, there was no lack of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves either, especially in the structures of self-government in the ghettos. We must name these people openly and strive to make sure people similar to them don’t appear again. But we must also answer the question of what the views of the Jews themselves were, what ideas encourage some Jews to cooperate with the Soviet government, to take high posts in the repressive Soviet structures. Sometimes understand the reasons allows us to understand the ends, even if it doesn’t justify the means” (see: https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/pozicija/679/1329389/valdas-rakutis-tarptautine-holokausto-diena-ir-istorine-atmintis).
At the time this surprising series of statements caused a real scandal which cost Rakutis his post as chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Historical Memory Commission. They tried to smooth over the scandal by saying Mr. Rakutis expressed himself poorly and was misunderstood. The actual items of Holocaust denial and the distortion of history, however, were not condemned appropriately. This member of parliament continues in Parliament and continues to mix up his political views of unknown origin with real history in his public statements.
This year a lesser figure tried his hand at furthering the Lithuanian tradition. Karolis Jovaišas, who presents himself as an attorney, published an article on September 23, Lithuania’s Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide, meant to coincide with the anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, with the very strange title of “Are Lithuanians a Nation of Jew-Shooters? Think Again!” (for part one, see: https://www.delfi.lt/news/ringas/lit/karolis-jovaisas-lietuviai-zydsaudziu-tauta-pagalvokit-dar-karta-i-dalis.d?id=91281425 ). At the beginning of the article he attempted to trivialize the scope of participation by individual Lithuanians. Not by the nation, because collective guilt is an absurdity and a method employed by the Nazis. (Unlike Lithuanians who consider Jews “Jew Killers” – a 2000 year old conspiracy theory whose generational and collective guilt is unquestioned by people such as Jovaišas.)
Nonetheless, the author does think in terms of collective guilt for Lithuanians or non-Jews, and goes on to say:
“Basically, although there are people who think differently, we recognize the nation’s collective guilt for the holocaust [uncapitalized], and we do not reassign guilt exclusively to scum and social outcasts. This sort of admission does not demonstrate Lithuania’s weakness, but maturity and spiritual strength. An honorable past and the spirit of our forefathers has given this to the Land of Mary [Lithuania].”
Here he perceives one problem: not to accept “too great” a guilt. This writer with extremely right-wing views likes to demonize Holocaust author Rūta Vanagaitė and mix Stalin’s name into everything (which the aforementioned Rakutis does as well). Using myths about the Lithuanian Grand Duchy (if not the Greatest Duchy), he comes up with the claim having nothing in common with reality that we are a country which never had pogroms against Jews.
There were fewer pogroms in Lithuania than in neighboring countries, but there were dozens and perhaps hundreds of pogroms in Lithuania, no one has really counted. Some historians claim that although there were pogroms in the history of independent Lithuania, none of them resulted in deaths. This too is untrue. On December 26, 1932, a gang of children went to beat Jews and 13-year-old Leibas Šeras was murdered (see: https://evaldukas.livejournal.com/94917.html ). Jovaišas addresses the issue of Jewish collaboration with the Soviets based on falsified numbers of “Jewish Communists.” This is followed by a repetition of the myth the TDA battalions were groupings of the dregs of society, and a fantastic fairy-tale about those who rescued Jews from the Holocaust:
“The good, brave people who risked their own lives and those of the families constantly to save and hide Jews have partially ransomed this shame and rehabilitated the honor of the nation. These more or less 25,000 righteous gentiles who dared pose a challenge to the brutal and powerful Nazi war machine, their fatal risk was hundreds of times greater than the benefit enjoyed by the retarded people who were exterminating the Jews [sic].”
The number of people whom Yad Vashem has recognized as Righteous Gentiles in Lithuania comes to much less than one thousand (0.04% of the population). Jovaišas’s article is illiterate, dishonest propaganda, that is intended to confuse and deceive. It is contemptible that a website, Delfi.lt, which calls itself the biggest news source in Lithuania, stooped to publishing an obvious garbage, hateful screed on its pages.
The second part of the article published a month later managed to vomit further than the first part even (see: https://m.delfi.lt/ringas/article.php?id=91406683&=1 ). In part two the author undertakes an examination of the complicity of the Jews (victim blaming): “Solidarity and rallying together are not a national feature of the Jewish people so much as a means for their survival and establishment in their social environment. It loses all meaning when the precondition for one Jew’s survival is the destruction of another Jew. The goal to survive was the main motivation for action by the condemned in the Jewish ghettos.”
The degree of verbal diarrhea at work is demonstrated by the author’s conclusion: “The Jewish ghetto was based on a blood-curdling and horrific philosophy for survival: I eat, therefore I live; I inform on another, therefore I avoid torture or receive privileges; I send others to their death, therefore, I survive. When death is unavoidable, you die today, I’ll die later.”
To give basis to his statement, Jovaišas even uses two books: Grigoriy Shur’s “Vilnius Ghetto Chronicle, 1941-1944” (Vilnius 1997) and “The Secret History of the Kaunas Jewish Ghetto Police” by unknown authors (Vilnius 2021). He even cites the Bible, but is unable to disabuse himself of the concept of “collective guilt” used by the Nazis. If he had bothered to use real stories and testimonies, the author might have noticed that no tactic and no strategy guaranteed the survival of any Jews. Those who did survive mainly did so because of help from other people: some (several thousand) were rescued by Righteous Gentiles, others saved themselves by joining Soviet partisan units (several thousand more), and some survived after passing through the Nazi ghettos and concentration camps (also several thousand) along with those who came back after being evacuated to the Soviet Union (the largest group). All of these people together formed the Lithuanian Jewish community after World War II which also faced many misfortunes after the war: over the first five post-war years the Soviets managed to oppress and deport around one thousand members of this much diminished community. Soviet Lithuania wasn’t an easy place to live and we recall the pogrom in Plungė, the case of the currency speculators and the anti-Semitic demonstrations condemning the Arab-Israeli Six Day War. The Lithuanian Jews suffered through all of that and they will suffer through anti-Semitic texts published on important Holocaust commemoration days as well. Why Lithuania feels the need to make these kinds of attacks is difficult to say. There are laws against trivializing crimes of genocide. If the state wanted, it could put a stop to them. It is pathetic and sad, but this is a tradition emanating from long ago, from Jonas Noreika’s anti-Semitic pamphlet “Hold Your Head High, Lithuanian!”
This article was co-authored by Grant Gochin and Evaldas Balčiūnas