How Has Post-Soviet Lithuania Used Holocaust Remembrance to Project a “New” European Identity?




O P I N I O N

by Rachel Croucher  (Melbourne, Australia)

 

Lithuania declared its restoration of independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on March 11, 1990. The country then began to immediately seek closer ties with established Western European institutions as a means to consolidate its national and economic security. After centuries of subjugation at the hands of various foreign powers, this need for national and economic security was seen as being of primary and urgent concern to the fledgling democracy. This race to join as many Western European institutions as possible was also a way to prove to the rest of the world that Lithuania was now in practice a true European country, part of the post-1945 Western European order. The sentiment behind this is best expressed by Czech-born and naturalized French writer Milan Kundera when he stated in 1989 that

“… the word ‘Europe’ does not represent a phenomenon of geography but a spiritual notion synonymous with the word ‘West.'”[1]

As such, by aligning itself with as many Western European institutions as possible, Lithuania was finally able to secure its long-held desire to be included in, and regarded as, an integral part of the body politic and “soul” of Europe and the “West.” Lithuania’s efforts have since culminated in rapidly successful membership in various Western European institutions including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1991, the Council of Europe in 1993, the European Union in 2004. From July through December 2013 the country holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Nevertheless, the image of “new” Lithuania, that is to say post-Soviet and post EU-membership Lithuania, seeking to reinforce and give meaning to itself within the Western European model of a liberal democratic framework is still fraught with various — albeit often subtle — internal battles for public memory with regard to Holocaust remembrance. The country has only had two decades to come to terms with its over-active role in the genocide of Europe’s Jews, unlike the almost seven decades afforded to its Western European counterparts. Not all Western European countries collaborated to the extent and, more importantly, in the manner that Lithuania did. However, as part of membership in  the aforementioned organizations Lithuania chose to commit itself to accepted norms of Holocaust remembrance and commemoration that had evolved in Western Europe since 1945.

Nevertheless, if one actually takes the time to examine various incidents in Lithuania in recent years, it is clear the country has engaged in direct and conscious conflict with the normative conduct of other European countries when it comes to Holocaust remembrance.

At present, the official version of events of the Holocaust in the country has been commandeered by various figures seeking to conceal the extent of the role of self-initiated and enthusiastic local participation and collaboration in the genocide of approximately 96.4% of Lithuanian Jewry, the highest in all of National Socialist-occupied Europe. A further hindrance to an accurate remembrance of the Holocaust within the established Western European model is the official redefinition of genocide by right-leaning “New Europe” states fearful of confronting their nationalist base, to include the brutalities inflicted upon the Lithuanian nation by their Soviet occupiers.[2] As a result of this redefinition of genocide, anti-Soviet partisans, military figures and resistance organizations persecuted by the Soviets are often regarded as victims of genocide and lauded as national heroes for their stance against Moscow with little to no examination of the willing complicity of many of the very same individuals and groups in the mass murder of Lithuania’s Jewish population, a minority of peaceful citizens of over six hundred years’ standing.

This contradiction and others indicate deeper issues at play beyond the ostensibly unfeigned sincerity of various public displays of Holocaust remembrance put forth by government institutions as a means to reinforce the country’s stated parity with its Western European counterparts on the issue. Although indeed sincere in some cases, it is clear that the contradictions inherent in Holocaust remembrance in the country expose that remembrance is increasingly being used as a tool to gain acceptance and accolades from Western European countries and institutions; largely because it is what the latter have expected of them, but also because the extent of the Holocaust in Lithuania was so devastating that remembrance and commemoration could and can simply not be avoided without raising suspicion the country was lurching into a far right-wing mentality of Holocaust whitewashing and denial. Any such lurch to the right, perceived or otherwise, would be in direct opposition to the Western European image of liberal democracy Lithuania is aspiring to and in turn result in undesired admonishments from the institutions in which it so desires to be regarded as equal partners.

The “West” that Kundera spoke of is a Europe, a continent comprised of a diverse range of nation states, which experienced a collective identity crisis after World War I. There was the realization that all the ideals which showcased various European countries as champions of Enlightenment ideals such as reason and progress were shattered by the massive scale of destruction both perpetuated and endured between 1914 and 1918. Afterwards, however, amidst the interwar turmoil of rebuilding itself both physically and psychologically, Europe attempted to recoup its identity as a stable body of progressive nations by holding a series of peace conferences; in particular the Paris Peace Conference which signaled the end of the war and the establishment of the League of Nations, an intergovernmental organization ostensibly dedicated to maintaining world peace.

Crucial to Lithuania’s self-image and self-preservation as a historical nation at this time were its attempts to secure legitimacy both at home and abroad as a modern, democratic, European nation. It was in this light that the Council of Lithuania designated Antanas Smetona as first President of Lithuania on April 4, 1919, and elections to the newly formed Constituent Assembly were scheduled for April 14-15, 1920. As a result of these efforts, among others, Lithuania was finally recognized as an independent, democratic republic by the end of 1922. Notwithstanding efforts at consolidating democratic processes and institutions after the April 1920 election, instability continued to pervade Lithuanian political life, and the country produced eleven governments between 1920 and 1926. Then on December 18, 1926, former President Antanas Smetona, with support from the army and Catholic political forces,[3] deposed incumbent President Kazys Grinius. After this coup d’état Smetona ruled the country with an authoritarian hand until the first Soviet occupation in 1940. To this day, Lithuania still regards the Smetona era as part of its democratic European heritage.

Nevertheless, elsewhere in Europe various countries were falling into the hands of fascist governments. The image of a rational and progressive Europe advanced by the League of Nations was shattered upon the arrival of World War II during which time war on various fronts brought about the deaths of millions upon millions of soldiers and civilians, and escalating antisemitism facilitated the almost complete annihilation of Western and Eastern Europe’s Jewish populations. As one means to reclaim both peace and its shaken but unbroken self-image of the arbiters of civilization, after the end of World War II public manifestations of Holocaust remembrance and commemoration were — and arguably remain — the most salient features of post-World War II European attempts to comprehend and in turn master the enormity of the Holocaust. In reconstructing its post-war image, such public displays of remembrance and commemoration provided and continue to provide a unifying moral principle for a variety of European countries to work through the dual horrors of war and genocide in order to construct new and expiated identity models for themselves.

After World War II, the construction of new identity models no longer tainted by the political philosophies and religious enmity which led to the murder of approximately 6,000,000 European Jews took place through complex self-examination and public displays of Holocaust remembrance and commemoration.

Lithuania clearly pays homage to such conduct in order to be seen as acting just like their Western European brothers and sisters, but the reality is in fact quite different. In a parliamentary resolution of 21 September 2010, for example, the Seimas (Parliament) of Lithuania declared 2011 was to be the Year of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania. This resolution explicitly “condemn[s] the genocide perpetrated against Jews by Nazis and their collaborators in Lithuania.”[4] Nevertheless, only one week later, on 28 September 2010, the same Seimas adopted another resolution declaring 2011 to also be the Year for Commemoration of the Defense of Freedom and Great Losses.[5] The latter resolution sought to “mark the anniversary of the events of 1941 and 1991”;[6] that is to say the national “uprising” in response to the first Soviet occupation and the post-Cold War restoration of independence respectively.

The events which commemorated and explored the “great losses” of 1941 included only Soviet crimes, in particular the murder of Lithuanian partisans and mass deportations. These “great losses” of 1941 did not include a single reference to the simultaneous events of the Holocaust, thereby indicating that the genocide of the country’s Jews is increasingly being regarded as an adjunct to the metanarrative of Lithuanian national suffering rather than an integral part of it, much less a direct victim of its nationalist manifestations. A program of events was planned and in turn carried out for both commemorations. Controversially, however, the program for the latter commemoration included a series of events honoring the Lietuvos aktyvistų frontas, or Lithuanian Activist Front.[7]

The Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) was an ultranationalist, anti-Soviet resistance organization formed in Berlin by political exiles on 17 November 1940. Their core aim was to restore the Lithuanian independence declared in 1918 and usurped by the Soviet Union in June 1940. Their image for independent Lithuania was based on an exclusionary racialist notion of nationhood from which all minorities must be expunged. The LAF reserved special contempt for the country’s Jewish population which had resided in the country for over 600 years, collectively blaming them for the Soviet occupation of the small Baltic country. The Berlin headquarters of the LAF encouraged and assisted with the establishment of networks of secret activist cells in Soviet-occupied Lithuania. They also attempted to unite various other local resistance organizations under the banner of the LAF. These efforts at systematizing Lithuanian resistance were intended to ready the country for a united uprising aimed at expelling the Soviets and re-establishing Lithuanian independence in order for it to join the European family of nations once more.

The Berlin headquarters of the LAF was a place where Lithuanian political refugees and émigrés were able to work with the assistance of various organs of the National Socialist bureaucratic hierarchy to remotely plan their own military assault on Soviet-occupied Lithuania. The headquarters was also a hotbed for the cultivation of propaganda conveying a National Socialist-inspired, but nevertheless idiosyncratic, style and barbarous living-out of antisemitism. The unique nature of LAF propaganda, disseminated throughout Lithuania via smuggled pamphlets and clandestine radio broadcasts, sought to encourage cells of activists to rise up against the occupying Soviet power as a first step toward re-establishing independence. However, this very same propaganda arm of the LAF also agitated segments of the local population with antisemitic propaganda to such an extent that a number of LAF partisans would take part in the killings of Jews across the country after the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, and particularly starting the following day, 23 June 1941, in many cases before the arrival of any German forces on the ground. More senior members collaborated with the National Socialist authorities on an administrative level through the Laikinoji Vyriausybė, or Provisional Government (PG), proclaimed by the LAF on the morning of 23 June 1941. Although only short-lived, the PG established a number of administrative bodies in order to provide both a bureaucratic framework for the re-establishment of independence and to buttress National Socialist ambitions to make Lithuania completely judenrein, or cleansed of Jews.

In one of the most prominent incidences of Lithuanian-instigated violence, the evening of 23 June 1941 in the city of Kaunas (Kovno) saw an approximate 600 strong unit of LAF-trained partisans under the command of local journalist Algirdas (Jonas) Klimaitis take control of the city and “unleash a bloodbath, which by June 28 had claimed 3,800 Jewish lives.”[8] This figure reaches 5,000 when killings in the smaller, surrounding towns are counted. The command of the Klimaitis unit was not subordinate to the LAF or the PG but instead worked in partial cooperation with Einsatzgruppe A, then under the command of Franz Walter Stahlecker. Although resembling the National Socialist incitement policy of a Selbstreinigungsaktion, or self-cleansing action, the Kaunas pogrom began one week before Reinhard Heydrich’s Einsatzbefehl, or deployment order, was dispensed[9], thus proving that the partisans inspired by LAF ideology who carried out much of the killings across the country were willing collaborators in the genocide of the country’s Jews and not simply forcibly following the orders of their National Socialist occupiers.

Furthermore, according to various eyewitness accounts, including Jewish survivors, German soldiers and even the chief of staff of the LAF, it is claimed that although there were Germans present in the city at the time it was in fact almost entirely Lithuanian volunteers who instigated and carried out the public murder of the Jews in Kaunas.[10] A collection of eyewitness testimonies published by now deceased historian and former head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Israel’s foremost Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, David Bankier informs us

“… the intensity of these massacres was unprecedented – the obliteration of entire communities in the inhuman, unimaginable, face-to-face murder of utterly helpless people, including the old, women, children and infants.”[11]

The Jews who lived in the Lithuanian provinces were totally annihilated during the first few months of the war[12], and after the National Socialist occupying forces consolidated their control over all of Lithuania the local Jewish population had either been forced into ghettos and slave labor or killed by way of systematic shootings at the Kaunas Fortress complex. This complex was selected for use by the occupying German forces but the actual killers were largely drawn from local volunteers who had been members of the LAF and were coordinated by an administrative bodies and organizations established by the Provisional Government[13]. Examples of the PG’s assistance in the National Socialist genocide included organizing the formation of battalions of willing Lithuanian collaborators who took part in the widespread shootings of Jews across the country, most infamously the murder of approximately 10,000 Jews in the Ninth Fort complex on the outskirts of Kaunas on October 28, 1941;[14] Prime Minister of the PG, Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, signing an order on June 7, 1941, to force the Jews of Kaunas into ghettos and for the furnishing of police with bayonets;[15] and the enactment of anti-Jewish laws including orders forcing Jews to wear a yellow patch and forbidding them to walk on sidewalks.[16] There is widespread disagreement between experts on the role of the LAF in both the Kaunas pogrom and the ubiquitous killings of Jews throughout the country during the tenure of the organization’s existence. This ongoing disagreement was brought under the spotlight by the Lithuanian government’s 2010 choice to honor the LAF as heroes of the aborted independence movement of 1941 without any critical appraisal of their role in the Holocaust. It is only through the rendering of a historically faithful narrative of Lithuanian collaboration and participation in the Holocaust that the Lithuanian government can truly be seen to “condemn the genocide perpetrated against the Jews”[17] as well as truly adhering to Western and European norms of remembrance in which condemnation of perpetrators is the general rule rather than the exception, irrespective of any supposedly positive role perpetrators might have played in the history of any given country. The current obscurantist approaches to Holocaust do very little to give meaning to Lithuania as a “true” Western/European country ready and willing to evaluate its past honestly.

Such obscurantist approaches to ethnic and nationalist Lithuanian collaboration in the Holocaust is a conspicuous feature of Holocaust remembrance in Lithuania and extends beyond public discourse into the versions of history taught in local educational institutions; versions of history in vast contrast to the curriculum of the majority of most high schools throughout Western Europe.[18] This obscurantism has become a particularly pertinent issue in recent times due to an array of more concerted and public attempts to expunge the collaborationist and participatory role (i.e. participating in mass murder) role played by members of the LAF from the organization’s — and the country’s ― history.

The attempt to downplay the role of the LAF in the murder of the country’s Jews has been ongoing since 1989 when independent Lithuania began conferring the Vyčio Kryžiaus ordinas, or Order of the Cross of Vytis, on hundreds of individuals deemed by the Office of the President to have performed

“acts of bravery… defending the freedom and independence of the Republic of Lithuania.”[19]

It would be unthinkable for modern-day Germany to bestow a posthumous award for bravery upon any of Hitler’s henchmen, or for France to posthumously award the Legion of Honor to Marshal Pétain or any other senior member of the Vichy government.

In Lithuania, on the other hand, there was not a single outcry from any of the Western European (or North American!) organizations of which the country is a member when the country posthumously conferred the Order of the Cross of Vytis upon various members of the LAF including Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis,[20] Prime Minister and Minister of Education in the Provisional Government; Vytautas Stonis,[21] founder of the headquarters of the LAF in Kaunas and a weapons’ caretaker there; and Bronius Stasiukaitis,[22] senior staff member of the Propaganda and Literature Division at the headquarters of the LAF. Although not all of the deeds perpetrated by the likes of Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, Stonis and Stasiukaitis and other members of the LAF as pertaining to the murder of Lithuania’s Jews are readily available to a non-Lithuanian language audience, the online academic journal Defending History founded and edited by American-born and Vilnius-based Professor Dovid Katz provides myriad translations of contemporaneous documents and articles which support the allegations of collaboration and participation of which the aforementioned figures have been accused.[23] There has been no attempt by the Lithuanian judiciary to investigate crimes allegedly committed by the aforementioned and other prominent members of the LAF at the same time members of this organization are being glorified for their role in supposedly fighting against the Soviet occupying forces in June of 1941 (though there is a general silence about what if any brave anti-Soviet actions they undertook before 22 June 1941, when the Soviets began fleeing the Nazis’ Operation Barbarossa, the largest European land invasion in history. It can thus be concluded that government authorities have been willingly seeking to contrive a false discourse on the Holocaust in Lithuania from the outset of Lithuania’s declaration of independence in 1990. This approach thereby reinforces the country’s self-image as a European country victimized by the Soviets and consciously overlooks Western Europe’s normative and now widely accepted approaches to comprehensive and diverse models of Holocaust remembrance, none of which sanction obfuscation of the simple truth.

In-depth examination of one’s role in the Holocaust has become the general hallmark of remembrance in the majority of Western European countries. That is to say, the admission and investigation of one’s guilt and role in the genocide of Europe’s Jews and how it became bureaucratically possible is a common method of self-reflection. In Lithuania, however, bureaucratic responsibility for the country’s willing collaboration in the murder of its Jews has been proven to be consciously avoided for fear of political and financial repercussions and the loss of the status as a victimized European nation.

On September 12, 2000, less than two years after applying for membership to the European Union,

“an attempt by extreme rightists [was made] in parliament to give national status to the parliamentary declaration of 23 June 1941, when a provisional government was set up under the Nazis.” [24]

Public outrage at this legislation, which would have made Lithuania, rather than the occupying German forces, culpable for the mass murder of Jews during the war,

“forced the lawmakers to retract and cancel this proposal within a week.”[25]

Most notably, this law, based in part on the writing of ultranationalist historian A. Liekis, would as an unintended consequence have resulted in members of the LAF, the driving force behind the Provisional Government, being deemed war criminals if they had participated in any killing of Jewish civilians. The swift retraction of this proposal makes it clear that the Lithuanian political establishment is acutely aware that many of the same individuals who are being honored by the Lithuanian government for supposed “acts of bravery” (even though the Soviet army they supposedly dislodged was fleeing the Nazis, not them), are also guilty of willing complicity in Holocaust crimes and sometimes of initiating them before the arrival of German forces or before the establishment of full German administration. Hence the retraction of this proposal effectively confirms that ongoing attempts to conceal the crimes of ethnic Lithuanians are indeed a conscious mechanism to appropriate and distort the course of public memory in order for Lithuanian national “heroes” to be regarded equally as victims of Communism as the Jews were of National Socialism which conflicts with the country’s post-independence attempts to partake in standards of self-examination and reflection that has become the benchmark for Holocaust remembrance in the majority of pre-2004 EU member states. It is therefore safe to argue that despite having endured unspeakable horrors under the Soviets, Lithuania has still not accepted its role in the Holocaust not just as a means to reinforce its status as a European victim of both fascism and communism but also due to a fear of potentially ongoing pecuniary liability for their role in Europe’s most extensive and devastating act against its own citizens.

It is not just the pecuniary liability for crimes against its Jewish citizens which motivates various governmental figures to obscure the country’s role in the Holocaust, but an overwhelming desire to be accepted by Western European communities and organizations has led to an academically opaque approach to the ongoing process of overcoming of national shame through a thorough self-examination undertaken in particular depth by Germany, but also other countries in Western Europe whose governments and citizens collaborated with the National Socialist regime. The opaqueness of Lithuania’s approach to coming to terms with the past is no more evident than in the government-funded research body The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes[26] (hereafter “the Commission”).

This Commission was established in 1998 for the ostensible purpose of carrying out comprehensive studies about crimes perpetrated by the National Socialist and Soviet occupying regimes respectively. Its stated mission is to

“provide answers to sensitive questions and overcome moral and psychological barriers that still arise on the road to a democratic and developed society.”[27]

This mission statement was clearly designed to impress upon its Western European counterparts that in reflecting upon so-called “sensitive questions” Lithuania’s political establishment was indeed on the path to reinforcing its identity as part of the Western European community of nations by way of representing its manner of dealing with the past as indicative of the country moving towards becoming a “democratic and developed society.” The Commission has since then focused almost exclusively on Soviet crimes against the Lithuanian state rather than equally examining the crimes of the National Socialist occupying regime and their local collaborators against Lithuania’s Jewish population[28].

The Commission has embraced the Lithuanian government’s 1992 law which reworked the internationally accepted definition of genocide to include

“the killing and torturing and deportation of Lithuanian inhabitants committed during the occupation and annexation of Lithuania by Nazi Germany and the USSR correspond [sic] the crime of genocide as contemplated by international law”[29]

and has subsequently modeled its research paradigm on this law. However, the United Nation’s 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide does not include deportation in its definition of genocide, nor does it include social and political groups which were added to the Lithuanian law on genocide as target groups. Despite protests from political figures the atrocities committed by the Soviets against Lithuanian citizens do not in fact constitute genocide in international law. Yitzhak Arad, a Lithuanian-born Holocaust survivor, former member of the “Vilnius” anti-Nazi partisan squad, director of Yad Vashem for twenty-one years, and former member historian of the aforementioned Commission, states the following about the Commission, the Genocide and Resistance Research Center[30] and other so-called investigative commissions:

“It is plausible that such commissions were established not through any genuine desire by Baltic political elites for historical self-scrutiny on the behavior of their nationals in the period of the Holocaust, but rather based on the judgment that this would likely facilitate their joining the European Union and NATO. The fact that the commission was established on the eve of formal negotiations serves to heighten the probability of this assessment and even confirms it.”[31]

Arad is well-placed to critique the motivations of Lithuania’s political elite who do not evince the meaningful and genuine reflection of events in the country during the Holocaust that has become the norm in Western Europe, which in turn exposes the duplicity of the country’s attempts to give meaning to Holocaust remembrance. During Arad’s tenure as member historian of the Commission — his tenure commenced — from the Commission’s inception in 1998, he conducted various research projects, in particular one which resulted in the publication of a list of atrocities committed by Lithuanian collaborators in the National Socialist-motivated genocide of the country’s Jews. Shortly after releasing this publication in May 2006 the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s office launched a probe into Arad’s own wartime activities, using the framework of the country’s genocide law to do so. Arad was then officially accused and charged for being a member of the Soviet secret police, otherwise known as the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs or its Russian acronym, the NKVD, not to mention allegations of the murder of Lithuanian civilians during his time as a partisan.

The fact that a founding member of the Commission who was also the long-time director of Yad Vashem was charged with such crimes after having been a member historian for a decade clearly indicates a manipulation of the genocide law is implemented by the Lithuanian government as framed in 1992. Arad staunchly denies the allegations of the murder of civilians or prisoners of war during his time as an anti-Nazi partisan, finding it suspicious the allegations and charges were only brought about after he released his publication on ethnic Lithuanian collaboration with the National Socialists[32]. A large part of the allegations against him were based upon passages from his own memoir The Partisan: From the Valley of Death to Mount Zion[33] published two decades before he was invited to join the Commission. It is therefore reasonable to infer that the Lithuanian government was using its reworked legal definition of genocide to seek revenge upon Dr. Yitzhak Arad for his detailed exposé of Lithuanian wartime collaboration in genocide given the period of time between the publication of Arad’s memoir in 1979, the passing of Lithuania’s law on genocide in 1992 and the charges pressed against him in 2006. Despite the investigation (there never were any charges) being partially dropped in 2008, the Lithuanian authorities still refuse to publicly declare Arad innocent of the crimes of which he stood accused. Politicians and the renewed Commission refuse to condemn the massive defamation he suffered as a result of prosecutors’ and politicians’ antisemitically motivated abuse of power. Such actions, including similar such investigations against other Jewish wartime anti-Nazi partisans including former Vilnius Yiddish Institute librarian Fania Brantsovsky, and biologist and Holocaust scholar Rachel Margolis[34], are indicative that Lithuania’s authorities are unwilling to give sincere meaning to prevailing norms of Holocaust remembrance in the country due to their fear of the extent of ethnic Lithuanian collaboration with the National Socialist genocide being exposed.

Politicians and scholars such as Lithuanian Liberal Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Leonidas Donskis, Professor Dovid Katz, Dr. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Israel, British historian Sir Martin Gilbert and University of Sydney Professor Konrad Kwiet, amongst others, fear that official attempts in the country to conceal the extent of ethnic Lithuanian collaboration will lead to a distortion of European history in perpetuity. Lithuania and various other Eastern European countries equally guilty of extensive levels of collaboration are now seeking to

“equalize Soviet and National Socialist crimes in order to rewrite the history of the Holocaust without denying a single death.”[35]

 The idea that the crimes of the National Socialist and successive Communist regimes are in fact equal is gaining acceptance in international circles and this acceptance is nowhere more pronounced than in The Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism,[36] commonly referred to as the Prague Declaration, signed on 3 June 2008, whereby various Eastern European nations are sensibly seeking to establish a “common history” with the history of totalitarian crimes perpetuated in and by Western European nations. The 27 founding signatories of the Prague Declaration were a group comprised of prominent Eastern European politicians, intellectuals and former dissidents. This group included Lithuanian politicians Emanuelis Zingeris, the former honorary chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, current member of the Lithuanian Parliament and chairman of its foreign affairs committee as well as Vytautas Landsbergis, now a Member of the European Parliament. Zingeris is often cited as the only Jew in Europe to have signed the Prague Declaration.

The conference which preceded the Declaration received letters of support from noted Western politicians including former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, former British Prime Minister Lady Margaret Thatcher, as well as international figures such as Canada’s former Secretary of State and now Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney as well as National Security adviser to former United States President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski.[37] An additional 50 members of the European Parliament have since signed the Declaration, and the proposal to designate 23 August as European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism has now been adopted (in a nonbinding resolution) by the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This confirms that Western European institutions are accepting in part at least the legitimacy of equalizing Soviet and National Socialist crimes without investigating any of the sinister motivations driving the movement for the Prague Declaration behind the former Iron Curtain. The extent of this support for the Declaration has furthered its legitimacy on the international stage and has provided yet another means by which governments such as that in Lithuania can conceal their complicity in the Holocaust. Although the document states that its primary aim is to “condemn and teach about the crimes of Communism”[38] it is riddled with myriad inconsistencies that communicate more disturbing motivations. Embedded in the document is the assertion that Communist and National Socialist crimes should be “evaluated the same way [and] dealt with the same way”,[39] but any investigation of the arbitrary manner in which the crimes of these regimes are evaluated in various post-Communist countries, in particular Lithuania, reveals an array of concerted attempts to see to it that evaluation of Communist crimes takes precedence over all others. The Declaration states that “whereas in many countries, even though Communist parties are not in power, they have not distanced themselves publicly from the crimes of Communist regimes nor condemned them”[40] before going on to advocate for the “introduction of legislation that would enable courts of law to judge and sentence perpetrators of Communist crimes and to compensate victims of Communism.”[41] The practice of lustration was adopted in most post-Soviet and post-Communist countries in Eastern Europe where it gained some degree of notoriety due to its exclusion “from public office for varying periods of time former Communist party functionaries and those who collaborated with secret police forces.”[42]

It is thus specious to suggest that the countries from whence the majority of authors of this Declaration came have not been publicly distanced from Communist crimes. Legislation has also been introduced across Eastern Europe to prosecute perpetrators of Communist crimes, such as the reformulated notion of “genocide” in Lithuania’s statute books, and various means of restitution implemented. In discussion of National Socialist and Communist crimes, Vytautas Landsbergis has elsewhere derided “Jewish organizations [for] defending the exceptionality of their nation’s sufferings,”[43] and thereby revealed himself to not regard the Holocaust as a unique event in history. It is this exact attitude that is prevalent throughout discourse on the Prague Declaration, and the concealment of advances already made in dealing with the Communist past further bolsters attempts to minimize both the uniqueness and magnitude of the Holocaust. It can therefore be concluded that the Prague Declaration is but a further attempt to give international credence to the equalization of Communist and National Socialist crimes in order to conceal from the international community that evaluating National Socialist crimes is no longer a priority.

At its core, Lithuania wants to be seen as part of the “European club” and as a result has shown an apparent willingness to replicate normative forms of Holocaust remembrance commonly seen in Western Europe, but in many cases this has been proven to be a mirage. It goes without saying that the Lithuanian nation suffered great losses as a result of Soviet crimes; however no matter the extent of these crimes they do not constitute genocide in the eyes of international law irrespective of Lithuania’s domestic attempts to rework and manipulate the legal definition of the crime. As it stands, the majority of Western European, to wit European Union, members adhere to sincere and truthful forms of Holocaust remembrance which have evolved since the end of World War II. It remains to be seen whether Lithuania will follow in Western Europe’s footsteps to reinforce and give true meaning to its post-EU membership, that is to say “new” European, identity by confronting the true nature of its past and the level of willing collaboration in the National Socialist genocide of the country’s Jews.



N O T E S

[1] Milan Kundera, “The Tragedy of Central Europe,” New York Review of Books, Volume 31, Number 7, April 26, 1984.

[2] Justinas Zilinskas, “Broadening the Concept of Genocide in Lithuania’s Criminal Law and the Principle of nullum sine lege,” Mykolas Romeris University, Faculty of Law, 2009.

[3] Anatol Lieven, The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1994, p. 66.

[4] Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, “Resolution on Declaring the Year 2011 As the Year of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania,” No XI-1017, Vilnius, 21 September 2010. Accessed October 13, 2013, at http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_e?p_id=381414&p_query=&p_tr2.

[5] Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, “2011-ieji paskelbti Laisvės gynimo ir didžių netekčių atminties metais,” Vilnius, 28 September 2011. Accessed October 13, 2013, at http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter/w5_show?p_r=4445&p_d=102577&p_k=1.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, “June Events of 2011: The Year of Remembrance of Defence of Freedom and Great Losses and the Victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania.” Accessed October 13, 2013, at http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter/w5_show?p_r=8005&p_k=2.

[8] Zvi Gitelman, Bitter Legacy: Confronting the Holocaust in the USSR, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1997, p. 97.

[9] Werner Bergmann, “Ethnic Riots in Situations of Loss of Control: Revolution, Civil War, and Regime Change as Opportunity Structures for Anti-Jewish Violence In Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Europe,” in Wilhelm Heitmeyer et al (Eds), Control of Violence: Historical and International Perspectives on Violence in Modern Societies, New York, Springer, 2011, p. 511.

[10] See testimony of Aleksandras Bendinskas in op. cit. Zvi Gitelman, Bitter Legacy: Confronting the Holocaust in the USSR, pp. 200-202.

[11] David Bankier, Expulsion and Extermination: Holocaust Testimonials from Provincial Lithuania, Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, 2011.

[12] Dovid Katz, “Memory and Holocaust Denial: The Case of Lithuania,” Keynote Address at Aftermath Conference, Monash University, 5 June 2011.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Zuroff, Efraim, “The Ongoing Pursuit of Nazi War Criminals,” Public Lecture at The Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre, Melbourne, 16 June 2011.

[15] “Full Translation of the Minutes of the 7 July 1941 ‘Provisional Government’ Meeting in Kaunas Signed by Juozas Ambrazevičius,” Defending History, undated.

[16] Joseph Melamed, “Anti-Jewish Laws Enacted,” Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, undated.

[17] Op. cit., Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, “Resolution on Declaring the Year 2011 as the Year of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania.”

[18] For further information about Holocaust education in Lithuania see: Rachel Croucher, “How the Zingeris-Račinskas Red-Brown Commission ‘Gently’ Pushed Along the Conversion of Holocaust Studies into Double Genocide Studies”, Defending History, November 23, 2011.

[19] Order of the Cross of Vytis (The Knight). Accessed on October 7, 2013 at http://adamkus.president.lt/ordinai/vkordinas_e.phtml.

[20] Dovid Katz, “Perpetrator Dry-Clean,” in Defending History, undated.

[21] Algimantas Liekis, Lietuvos Laikinoji Vyriausybė, Vilnius, Vilniaus Universitetas, 2000, p. 112.

[22] Henry L. Gaidis, A History of the Lithuanian Military Forces in World War II: 1939-1945, Vilnius, Lithuanian Research and Studies Centre, 1998, p. 41.

[24] “Annual Report: Baltic Republics 2000-2001,” in The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism. Accessed on October 7, 2013, at http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2000-1/baltic_republics.htm.

[25] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Katz, Dovid, “Understanding the Double Genocide,” Public Lecture at the Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre, Melbourne, 9 June 2011.

[29] Op. cit., Justinas Zilinskas, “Broadening the Concept of Genocide in Lithuania’s Criminal Law and the Principle of nullum sine lege,” p. 14.

[31] Yitzhak Arad, “The Holocaust in Lithuania and its Obfuscation in Lithuanian Sources,” Defending History, December 1, 2012.

[32] “Lithuania wants to grill top Israeli historian over war crimes,” European Jewish Press, September 12, 2007.

[33] Yitzhak Arad, The Partisan: From the Valley of Death to Mount Zion, New York, Schocken Books, 1979.

[34] Dovid Katz, “Halting Holocaust Obfuscation,” The Guardian, January 8, 2010.

[35] Op. cit., Dovid, Katz, “Understanding the Double Genocide.”

[36] “The Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism”, Declaration Text, Prague, Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, 3 June 2008. Accessed on October 22, 2013, at http://www.praguedeclaration.org/.

[37] “Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism: Press Release,” in Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, 9 June 2008. Accessed on October 22, 2013, at http://www.victimsofcommunism.org/media/article.php?article=3850.

[38] Op. cit., “The Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism”.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Eric Brahm, “Lustration,” in Beyond Intractability. Accessed October 22, 2013, at http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/lustration/.

[43] Vytautas Landsbergis, “The European Commission Is Deceiving Itself,” in The Lithuania Tribune, May 21, 2011.


B i b l i o g r a p h y

TEXTS

(Primary)

Arad, Yitzhak, The Partisan: From the Valley of Death to Mount Zion, New York, Schocken Books, 1979.

“Full Translation of the Minutes of the 7 July 1941 ‘Provisional Government’ Meeting in Kaunas Signed by Juozas Ambrazevičius” in Defending History, undated.

Lietuvos Respublikos įstatymas “Dėl atsakomybės už Lietuvos gyventojų genocidą,” Valstybės žinios, 1992, no. 13-342. [Law on Responsibility for the Genocide of Lithuanian Inhabitants, Official Gazette, 1992, No. 13-342].

Order of the Cross of Vytis (The Knight). Accessed on October 7, 2013 at http://adamkus.president.lt/ordinai/vkordinas_e.phtml.

Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, “Resolution on Declaring the Year 2011 As the Year of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania,” No XI-1017, Vilnius, 21 September 2010. Accessed October 13, 2013, at http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_e?p_id=381414&p_query=&p_tr2.

Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, “2011-ieji paskelbti Laisvės gynimo ir didžių netekčių atminties metais,” Vilnius, 28 September 2011. Accessed October 13, 2013, at http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter/w5_show?p_r=4445&p_d=102577&p_k=1.

Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, “June Events of 2011: The Year of Remembrance of Defense of Freedom and Great Losses and the Victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania.” Accessed October 13, 2013, at http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter/w5_show?p_r=8005&p_k=2.

“The Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism”, Declaration Text, Prague, Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, 3 June 2008. Accessed October 22, 2013, at http://www.praguedeclaration.org/.

“Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism: Press Release” in Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, 9 June 2008. Accessed October 22, 2013, at http://www.victimsofcommunism.org/media/article.php?article=3850.


TEXTS

Secondary

Bankier, David, Expulsion and Extermination: Holocaust Testimonials from Provincial Lithuania, Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, 2011.

Bergmann, Werner, “Ethnic Riots in Situations of Loss of Control: Revolution, Civil War, and Regime Change as Opportunity Structures for Anti-Jewish Violence In Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Europe” in Wilhelm Heitmeyer et al (eds), Control of Violence: Historical and International Perspectives on Violence in Modern Societies, New York, Springer, 2011.

Gaidis, Henry L., A History of the Lithuanian Military Forces in World War II: 1939-1945, Vilnius, Lithuanian Research and Studies Centre, 1998.

Gitelman, Zvi, Bitter Legacy: Confronting the Holocaust in the USSR, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1997.


Journal Articles

Arad, Yitzhak, “The Holocaust in Lithuania and its Obfuscation in Lithuanian Sources” in Defending History, December 1, 2012.

Brahm, Eric, “Lustration” in Beyond Intractability. Accessed October 22, 2013, at http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/lustration/.

Croucher, Rachel, “How the Zingeris-Račinskas Red-Brown Commission ‘Gently’ Pushed Along the Conversion of Holocaust Studies into Double Genocide Studies” in Defending History, November 23, 2011.

Kuebler, Elisabeth, “Holocaust Remembrance in the Council of Europe: Deplorable Victims and Evil Ideologies without Perpetrators” in  Jewish Political Studies Review, vol. 23 No. 12, 2010.

Liekis, Algimantas, Lietuvos Laikinoji Vyriausybė, Vilnius, Vilniaus Universitetas, 2000.

MacQueen, Michael, “The Context of Mass Destruction: Agents and Prerequisites of the Holocaust in Lithuania” in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 12:1, 1998.

Mälksoo, Lauri, “Soviet Genocide? Communist Mass Deportations in the Baltic States and International Law” in Leiden Journal of International Law, Alphen aan den Rijn, Kluwer Law International, 2001.

Melamed, Joseph, “Anti-Jewish Laws Enacted” in Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, undated.

Melamed, Joseph. A., “Soviet Lithuania and its attitude towards the Holocaust,” Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel. Accessed October 10, 2013, at http://www.lithuanianjews.org.il/HTMLs/article_list4.aspx?C2014=14396&BSP=14395&BSS59=13971.

Zilinskas, Justinas, ” Broadening the Concept of Genocide in Lithuania’s Criminal Law and the Principle of nullum sine lege,” Mykolas Romeris University, Faculty of Law, 2009.


Media

Brendle, Frank (Interview with Joseph Melamed), “Sie wollen Mörder als Nationalhelden,” Junge Welt, September 12, 2011.

Donskis, Leonidas, “How Memory Prevails,” The Baltic Times, August 31, 2013.

“Lithuania wants to grill top Israeli historian over war crimes,” European Jewish Press, September 12, 2007.

Katz, Dovid, “Halting Holocaust Obfuscation,” The Guardian, January 8, 2010.

Kundera, Milan, “The Tragedy of Central Europe,” New York Review of Books, Volume 31, Number 7, April 26, 1984.

Landsbergis, Vytautas, “The European Commission is Deceiving Itself,” The Lithuania Tribune, May 21, 2011.

Vasil, Geoff, “Wreaths laid, but doubt hangs in the air,” The Jewish Chronicle, September 22, 2011.

Zuroff, Efraim, “Lithuania’s Shame,” The Jerusalem Post, May 15, 2012.


Internet

http://www.defendinghistory.com

http://www.genocid.lt/centras/en/

http://www.komisija.lt/en/

http://www.operationlastchance.org


O t h e r

“Annual Report: Baltic Republics 2000-2001”  in The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism. Accessed on 7 October, 2013, at http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2000-1/baltic_republics.htm,.

Katz, Dovid, “Perpetrator Dry-Clean” in Defending History, undated.

Katz, Dovid, “Memory and Holocaust Denial: The Case of Lithuania,” Keynote Address at Aftermath Conference, Monash University, Caulfield, 5 June 2011.

Katz, Dovid, “Understanding the Double Genocide,” Public Lecture at the Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre, Melbourne, 9 June 2011.

Zuroff, Efraim, “The Ongoing Pursuit of Nazi War Criminals,” Public Lecture at The Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre, Melbourne, 16 June 2011.

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