The New HOLOCAUST Room in a BASEMENT CUBICLE of the GENOCIDE Museum in Vilnius

21 November 2011

by Dovid Katz

Photos by Richard Schofield  (© R. Schofield)

Which is worse?

A Genocide Museum on ground zero of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe that does not mention the Holocaust,


One that, more than a year after being exposed in this journal in the summer of 2010, and a confluence of international pressures, has added, in October 2011, a single solitary cell in the basement, unannounced on the main floor, that distorts the Lithuanian Holocaust and actually glorifies (as ‘rebels’) the local killers who unleashed the Holocaust in the country, while failing to mention their Holocaust role in an exhibit on the Holocaust?

You decide. . .   

The Lithuanian government in 2011 financed an array of activities to commemorate the LAF and its partners in the annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry, alongside a Holocaust commemoration year. This exhibit seems a suitable symbolic finale to the ongoing moral dissonance.

The exhibits on the main floor continue to boast antisemitic cartoons from after the war (i.e. after the Holocaust) without a word of curatorial comment, glorification of the local perpetrators as ‘rebels against the Soviets’ and ubiquitous distortion of history, including the nonsense that the Soviet army fled the Lithuanian Activist Front’s ‘rebellion’. Of course the Soviets fled the German invasion, and the LAF ‘white armbanders’ were busy butchering Jews in diverse parts of the country.

The museum continues to trumpet ever more loudly its official, and Orwellian, name The Museum of Genocide Victims, when the actual genocide that occurred in Lithuania seems the topic it would least like to mention, let alone record accurately for new generations.

The brass plaque mounted on a pole outside the entrance has been duly modified to include the word ‘Gestapo’, to cover the years 1941-1944, though not a word about the Holocaust per se.

Moreover, an added plaque on the Gedimino Boulevard side of the museum, where names of KGB victims are engraved in stone (not a single victim of the Holocaust is included among the names), now mentions, in the Obfuspeak so characteristic of the entire Holocaust Obfuscation movement in the region, that ‘the following repressive bodies operated in this building: the Gestapo, and the KGB. The Genocide of the population was planned here. Citizens of Lithuania were imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and killed.’ All the same, part of one unified Nazi-Soviet genocide…

Everything in the central welcoming area is about Soviet crimes, which are arbitrarily all called genocide, while the Holocaust remains unmentioned to visitors to the main area.

But when you come to descend into the holding and torture cells in the cellar, there is a helpful map elucidating eighteen locations, including cell no. 3 (= item no. 5 on the list), still listed as earlier as the site of ‘marks on the wall made during the Nazi occupation’.

When you come to the doorway of cell no 3, you see that there is an up-to-date exhibition housed in the small room, making it different from all the preserved-as-they-were cells in the basement. There is an emblem of the Nazi-era yellow star on the plaque outside the door, and a huge star-of-David on the far wall, over the window and radiator.

Close-up of the plaque near the door, which explains: ‘This cell contains a small exhibition on the topic of the Nazi occupation and Holocaust in Lithuania (mostly in Vilnius and its surroundings).’ It goes on to detail various German Nazi units housed in the building and elsewhere, without a word mentioning their partners, the Lithuanian units that carried out most of the actual killing. Given that this is a Museum of Genocide Victims of Lithuania, the limitation to the Vilnius area strikes visitors as somewhat odd, giving the impression that the murder of the majority of the 200,000 or so Jewish citizens killed in hundreds of locations in 1941 is a topic avoided in a room dedicated to just this topic.

A further plaque credits the sources of the exhibits included, one of them being the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum. It seems however that care was taken to avoid mention of the Green House as the Holocaust section of that museum is universally known, and which is located in a hard-to-find wooden house up an alleyway, invisible from the street, less than ten minutes away from the massive Genocide Museum on the capital’s main boulevard. Would it not help visitors learn more if perhaps a sentence were added along the lines of: ‘Visitors interested in learning more about the Holocaust in Lithuania are advised to visit the Green House at Pamenkalnio Street 12, about a ten minute walk from here, where the Holocaust exhibits of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum are located.’ Would the curators of the Genocide Museum, and the city authorities more generally, not want visitors to know where in town they might learn the accurate history of the Holocaust?

Overview of the exhibition now in the basement ‘Holocaust cell’:

And then comes the False History. Not only is the role of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) in the onset of the Lithuanian Holocaust not mentioned, a grave omission, but the LAF is cited as having organized an ‘uprising’ to ‘restore the independent Lithuanian state’. In fact the LAF’s prewar leaflets contained commitments to destroy the nation’s Jewish population, and its role in unleashing the Holocaust has been well documented by many scholars, including Yitzhak Arad, Valentinas Brandišauskas, Martin Gilbert, Konrad Kwiet, Dov Levin, Joseph LevinsonDina Porat, and Liudas Truska. A new video project continues to collect survivor testimony about the murderous role of the LAF in the opening days of the Lithuanian Holocaust.

How can such an exhibit exclude the massive collaboration that resulted in the country’s having the highest rate of murder of its Jewish population in all of Holocaust-era Europe? An exhibit on the Holocaust that even repeats — to the indescribable pain of every Lithuanian Holocaust survivor on the planet, and his or her family and descendants — the responsibility-deflecting falsehoods about the Lithuanian Activist Front’s role being a ‘rebellion’ against the Soviet Union, with zero mention of the LAF’s murderous role in unleashing the barbarity of the Holocaust in dozens of locations before the first German soldiers ever arrived.

The text in the new exhibit is so deceptively worded as to even leave open the possibility for the uninformed visitor that the Holocaust actually went ahead because the Nazis did away with the LAF and the Provisional Government. . . It is an instance of Holocaust Obfuscation at its worst.

The images and exhibits have been meticulously selected to stress purely German actions and villains and to avoid the participation, collaboration and carrying out of much of the killing by local ‘patriots’ that were the hallmark of the Lithuanian Holocaust.

A subsection is dedicated to the Vilna Ghetto (‘Vilnius Ghetto’) where it is easier to restrict coverage to German involvement, though not without injustice to the historic record of local units’ role. This also gave the exhibits’ makers the ‘opportunity’, even while omitting the massive role of Lithuanian volunteer collaborators, partners and killers, to contemptuously cite the Jewish Judenrat (see e.g. photo to the left of ‘The Chronicle of the Vilnius Ghetto’ sign below). While far from noble in most cases, there is no moral comparison of the tragic compulsion intermingled with false hopes of the Judenrat with the massive voluntary participation in the genocide of neighbors that is omitted entirely from the narrative. To cite the one and omit the other, in an exhibit on the Holocaust, is curious to say the least.

When it comes to Ponár (Paneriai), the mass murder site outside Vilnius, there are as ever here, inaccuracies emanating from the incomprehensible will to minimize wherever possible both Jewish victimhood and Lithuanian nationalist involvement in the genocide. It is known among scholars that of the 100,000 or so victims, some 70,000 were Jewish. Here the figure is downgraded to 30,000 – 40,000. The name of the mostly Lithuanian murder squad is given in its German rather than its much better known Lithuanian form. But here at least a major ray of truth is to be found in the description, though even that is followed by a wholly disproportionate qualifier: ‘Most members of the Special Squad were Lithuanians, but there were also several Russians and Poles.’

The most redeeming feature of the entire room is the section dedicated to the Lithuanian Righteous Among the Nations who were among the most inspirationally courageous rescuers in all of Europe. They were widely considered traitors worthy of death who were betraying their own nation’s patriots and beliefs of the day, not only traitors to the occupying regime. They are the true heroes of the era. It is a shame that parliament dedicated 2011 in memory of the LAF and other ‘resistance heroes’ who brought such shame on their country instead of the rescuers who truly deserve much more than one year in their memory. On the rescuers see here and here.

The new Holocaust cell in the basement of the Genocide Museum was opened with fanfare by the prime minister of Lithuania, and trumpeted in a widely distributed press release on 20 October 2011.

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