The large majority of readers of the Oct. 2 and Oct. 6 JNS articles on the events marking Lithuanian Holocaust Memorial Day were likely convinced that the Baltic country is doing an excellent job of commemorating the destruction of its Jewish community.
That is a consoling thought, but nothing could be further from the truth. It downplays the very significant role played by local collaborators in the annihilation of Lithuanian Jews; the more than 5,000 German, Austrian and French Jews deported to Lithuania to be murdered by Lithuanians; and the at least 20,000 Belarussian Jews shot near their homes by the men of the 12th Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion.
Moreover, since it regained its independence in 1990, Lithuania has played a major role in promoting the dangerous phenomenon called “Holocaust distortion,” which is currently rampant throughout post-communist Eastern Europe. For those unacquainted with the term, it refers to the rewriting of the narrative of the Holocaust to achieve four goals:
- Hide completely or seriously minimize the role played in the Holocaust by local collaborators. On this issue, it is extremely important to note that only in Eastern Europe did collaboration with Nazi Germany include participation in the systematic mass murder of Jews.
- Promote the canard that communist and Nazi crimes are equivalent and officially categorize the former as genocide. This has serious repercussions because, if it is accepted, anti-Semites can portray “Jewish communists” as perpetrators of genocide against the peoples of Eastern Europe. And if everyone is equally guilty, no one can be accused.
- Allow the glorification of individuals who fought the Soviets after World War II as national heroes, even if they collaborated with the Nazis and participated in the Holocaust.
- Establish an International Memorial Day for All Victims of Totalitarian Crimes on Aug. 23, the day of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, which would certainly make International Holocaust Memorial Day (Jan. 27) redundant.
Member of the Lithuanian parliament Emanuel Zingeris, for example, who was interviewed at length in the Oct. 6 article and expressed great concern for Holocaust education, was among the architects—and the only Jew to sign—the infamous Prague Declaration of June 3, 2008, which is the manifesto of Holocaust distortion.
Zingeris, I am sorry to say, always has two positions on Jewish issues: One for his Lithuanian colleagues and another for ignorant foreign Jews. In his interview with JNS, he praised truthteller Silvia Foti, who discovered that her grandfather, Lithuanian national hero Jonas Noreika, was a Holocaust perpetrator. But where was Zingeris in 2016, when popular Lithuanian author Ruta Vanagaite, who also discovered that her family members were participants in Holocaust crimes, was viciously attacked for revealing the truth about Lithuanian complicity in the Holocaust.
In order to understand why the Lithuanians have changed their narrative of the Holocaust, it is important to remember that 96.4% of the Jews who lived under the Nazi occupation in Lithuania (212,000 of 220,000) were murdered. Some 90% were shot near their homes, in many cases by Lithuanian neighbors without any Germans present. In fact, there were less than 1,000 Germans in Lithuania during the Holocaust, a shocking statistic that no Lithuanian will ever mention.
Thus, on day one of Lithuanian independence, the fake narrative of the Holocaust was born: “The Nazis murdered our Jews, what a tragedy.” If pressed on the issue of local collaborators, the official response will be: “Those few Lithuanians who participated were from the dregs of society, outcasts, not normative Lithuanians, who would never do such things.”
A perfect example of this cover-up was provided several months ago by Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, who was quoted waxing poetic about the importance of memory and Holocaust education. But when the monuments at the Ponar mass murder site outside Vilna were vandalized, she referred to the 70,000 Jews murdered there as having been killed by “Nazis and others.” She could not utter the truth, nor could any other Lithuanian politician or official.
I am afraid that the JNS reports on Lithuanian Holocaust commemoration and education, which hide the sad truth about what is really happening in the Baltic republic, are likely influenced by the March of the Living, which wants to maintain good relations with the Lithuanian government. They got exactly what they wanted, regardless of truth and the dignity of the martyrs.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff is a historian of the Holocaust, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs. His most recent book, written with Ruta Vanagaite, is Our People: Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust published by Roman & Littlefield.