How the Zingeris-Račinskas Red-Brown Commission “Gently” Pushed Along the Conversion of Holocaust Studies into Double Genocide Studies




O P I N I O N

by Rachel Croucher (Melbourne)

Although not seeking to deny the Holocaust, the ultimate consequence of the movement to redefine genocide is the equalization of National Socialist and Soviet crimes. The characterization of Soviet crimes as genocide is a misrepresentation that hinders authentic remembrance of the Holocaust in Lithuania by helping to obscure the extent and nature of Lithuanian complicity in the killings of the local Jewish population.

The idea that the crimes of Hitler and successive Soviet regimes are in fact equal has been a growing force behind public discourse on the Holocaust since the formulation of the national Holocaust and Genocide Education Program at the sixth meeting of The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania in June 2002.

This meeting was attended by local and international members of the aforementioned Commission, including from the United States and Israel. Various matters pertaining to crimes of both the National Socialist and Soviet regimes were discussed. The stated purpose was to reach a series of findings that would provide the basis for “the implementation of a unified educational method of teaching about totalitarian regimes in all institutions of education in Lithuania”[1].

Only one of five sets of sessions held at this meeting addressed the murder of Lithuania’s Jews, but nevertheless failed to address the specifics of how the murders were carried out. The session entitled The Nazi occupation of 1941-1944: The Holocaust and Other Nazi Crimes released eight official findings under the rubric of Preconditions for the Holocaust in Lithuania[2]. Published only in Lithuanian on the website of the Commission, the findings agreed upon reflect a subversion and, ultimately, concealment of both the actual preconditions for the Holocaust as well as its implementation.

Only cursory mention is made of pre-existing antisemitism. Economic and linguistic issues were cited as having contributed to tensions between Lithuanians and Jews in the 1920s, but a distinct lack of specifics means that an authentic sense of responsibility for contributing to such tensions is not apportioned to any particular individual, group or movement. Being that nationalism and antisemitism are inextricably linked, and that various cultural and linguistic nationalist groups in Lithuania were prominent in the independence movement during the 1940s, the omitting of names of those directly responsible for contributing to tensions with the local Jewish community prior to the Holocaust can be seen as a mechanism by which to intentionally obscure the involvement of revered figures in the nascent independence movement.

Rather than absolving antisemitic agitators of their guilt, the tack of simply not addressing their deeds displaces culpability and ensures that the historical narrative of Lithuanian suffering is left untarnished by the willing and lethal involvement of various individuals, groups and movements in the annihilation of virtually the country’s entire Jewish community. This manipulation of history has created a model of blameless suffering from which antisemitic agitators and later willing participants in the murder of Lithuania’s Jews have been excised in order to cultivate a false symmetry between National Socialist and Soviet crimes.

In the fifth finding of this session, the issue of the “Jew-Communist” stereotype is addressed and the Soviet occupation of 1940-1941 is described as having immediately worsened relations between Lithuanians and Jews. This is the first time the findings apportion direct responsibility to a specific movement, that is to say Soviet Communism, and due to the suffering later endured by Lithuanians under the Soviet occupation this apportioning of responsibility obscures the deficient examination of the role played by ethnic Lithuanians in cultivating tensions with the Jewish community prior to the Holocaust.

This finding asserted that “the minds of many Lithuanians were overshadowed by a new, politically motivated image of the Jews as ‘Lithuanian traitors, occupiers’ collaborators’”[3] and the word Jew thus often became synonymous with Communist. This stereotype was said to be formed by Lithuanians as a result of Jewish membership of the Communist Party and Communist Youth League.

At first, the Commission appeared to contextualize this stereotype for a contemporary setting by reporting that “the number of Jewish members of the Communist Party was very small compared to the total number of members of the Jewish community”[4]. However, in the seventh finding on the era of the first Soviet occupation in 1940-1941, while some incidences of Jewish suffering during this period were outlined, it was also stated at the outset that “background material shows that in 1940-1941 Jews played a special role in the Soviet government, as well as its repressive institutions and structures”[5] .

The failure to mention such facts as, for example, that in 1918, Jewish leaders had supported Lithuania’s claim for independence and to Polish-ruled Wilno (Vilna, Vilnius)[6], and by stressing that “Jews” had played a role in the Soviet oppression of Lithuania without providing even a cursory sociological qualification of this charge, the Commission gives weight to the argument that complicity in the Holocaust was indeed a fear-driven response to the spread of Soviet Communism.

Additionally, the contrast between the “special role” played by Jews in the Soviet government and the suffering of the Jews under the Soviets evokes the impression that Jews in Lithuania willingly betrayed both the ethnic Lithuanian population as well as fellow Jews. This troublesome distortion serves to further equalize National Socialist and Soviet crimes by turning the image of the Jewish victim into that of perpetrator, as well as simultaneously providing a shrewdly concealed antisemitic rationale for Lithuanian participation in the genocide of the Jews by buying into the Jew-Communist stereotype.

However, the most egregious distortion among these findings is the assessment of the activities of the Lithuanian Activist Front in the sixth finding, where it is claimed that

“[t]he command of the Lithuanian Activist Front, who were former players in the Lithuanian political scene, revoked the right of abode granted to the Jews  by Vytautas the Great and insisted (“to avoid unnecessary casualties”) that they [the Jews] abandoned the country and fled to Russia. The LAF headquarters in Berlin issued antisemitic proclamations and other documents that reached Lithuania and had a significant impact on the Lithuanian consciousness”[7].

In contrast to the outright bolstering of the Jew-Communist stereotype in findings five and seven, the Lithuanian Activist Front is presented in the sixth finding as an organization whose antisemitic proclamations merely had an “impact” on Lithuanian “consciousness”.

The Lithuanian Activist Front was in fact not just comprised of “former players in the Lithuanian political scene”, but was an organized anti-Soviet resistance network that had established the Provisional Government on 22 June 1941. Various antisemitic proclamations issued by the Lithuanian Activist Front had been forthcoming since well before the Soviet retreat[8] and during the period after the proclamation of the Provisional Government, further antisemitic proclamations were primarily intended to inspire squads of “partisans” to partake in the killings of Jews across the country in order to make an independent Lithuania Judenrein, or free of Jews.

The Kaunas-based headquarters of the Provisional Government issued such a proclamation on 28 June 1941, before the German occupying forces consolidated their control of the country, ordering the partisans to “deal” with the Jews of Lithuania. As a direct result of this proclamation, groups of “partisans [then] went on the rampage and in a series of organized and spontaneous pogroms, murdered and raped thousands of Jews and looted their property… often in broad daylight”[9]. Referred to by the Germans as organisierte Räubenbände, or organized bands of robbers[10], the Lithuanian Activist Front was an organization with limited resources and the fact they dedicated a significant portion of their resources to the indiscriminate killing of Lithuania’s Jews in such a brutal manner even before the Germans arrived indicates their willingness to voluntarily partake in the killings was borne more of a home-grown, primitive antisemitism than an importation of National Socialist Germany’s style of ideological antisemitism.

Furthermore, the Provisional Government founded the Tautinio Darbo Apsaugos Batalionas, or National Security Battalion, as well as the Saugumo policija, or Security Police, on 24 June 1941[11], drawing from the partisan membership of the Lithuanian Activist Front to do so. Both of these organizations voluntarily collaborated with the occupying German forces to carry out the persecution and, ultimately, annihilation by execution of Lithuania’s Jews.

In light of these facts it is fair to suggest the specious conclusions decided upon by the Commission in the sixth finding were meant to purposefully conceal the extent to which the Lithuanian Activist Front actively engaged in the killing of Jews. Although not stated explicitly, it is reasonable to surmise that the motivation for doing so is to sanitize the deeds of the Lithuanian Activist Front in order to promote them as a noble resistance organization dedicated solely to the country’s independence, thereby further equalizing the notion of blameless, holistic suffering of ethnic Lithuanians and Jews under the Soviet and National Socialist regimes respectively.

The Commission’s Executive Director Ronaldas Račinskas and the Lithuanian Minister for Education and Science Algirdas Monkevičius signed an agreement on the Holocaust and Genocide Education Program at the end of this conference in June 2002, with all the findings of the conference to henceforth supply a “unified educational method of teaching about totalitarian regimes in all institutions of education”[12]. It is evident in the aforementioned findings as well as the language employed in the Education Program, most prominently the notion of teaching “about totalitarian regimes”, that an official means by which to surreptitiously further a version of history wherein the Holocaust and the crimes of successive Soviet regimes are equalized has been officially sought and sanctioned.

The approach to teaching the Holocaust as only one part of a greater atmosphere of persecution in the country gives legitimacy to the acceptance of two genocides as having taken place there. This approach in turn annuls the uniqueness of the historical circumstances which led to the Holocaust and by placing ethnic Lithuanian suffering on par with that of Lithuania’s Jews also helps to obscure the complicity of large numbers of ethnic Lithuanians in the genocide of the country’s Jewish population, resulting in a victim rate that is the highest, or among the highest, in all of Holocaust-era Europe.

Additionally, it is important to note that this very same Commission which so shrewdly contrived the aforementioned obscurantist educational frameworks is at the forefront of myriad political activities across Europe to remodel the history of the 20th century so as to equate Soviet Communism and National Socialism.[13]

Rachel Croucher is a postgraduate student at Monash University’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation and has worked in the field of Holocaust education for five years.



[1] Various author/s, “Posėdžiai: 6-asis Komisijos posėdis”, in Tarptautinė komisija Nacių ir Sovietinio okupacinių režimų nusikaltimams Lietuvoje įvertinti, at http://www.komisija.lt/lt/naujiena.php?id=23, accessed on 22 May 2011.

[2] Emanuelis Zingeris (meeting chair), “Nacių okupacija 1941-1944 m. Holokaustas ir kiti nacių nusikaltimai. Holokausto Lietuvoje prielaidos”, in Tarptautinė komisija Nacių ir Sovietinio okupacinių režimų nusikaltimams Lietuvoje įvertinti at http://www.komisija.lt/lt/dokumentas.php?id=1173805650, accessed on 22 May 2011.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Solomonas Atamukas, “The Hard Long Road to the Truth: On the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Holocaust in Lithuania” in Lituanus (Winter 2001), at http://www.lituanus.org/2001/01_4_03.htm, accessed on 06 May 2011.

[7] Op. Cit., Emanuelis Zingeris (meeting chair), “Nacių okupacija 1941-1944 m. Holokaustas ir kiti nacių nusikaltimai. Holokausto Lietuvoje prielaidos”.

[8] For excerpts of various anti-Semitic leaflets published by the Lithuanian Activist Front prior to 22 June 1941, please see: Dovid Katz, “LAF Intentions in the Time Preceding German Control of Lithuanian Locations”, in Holocaust in the Baltics, at http://holocaustinthebaltics.com/collaborator-dry-clean/laf-intentions, accessed on 6 May 2011.

[9] Joseph A. Melamed, “The Battalions of Death and Destruction”, in Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, at http://www.lithuanianjews.org.il/HTMLs/article_list4.aspx?C2014=14437&BSP=14430&BSS6=13971, accessed on 7 May 2011.

[10] Tadeusz Piotrowski, Poland’s Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company Inc., 1998, p. 164.

[11] Op. Cit., Solomonas Atamukas, “The Hard Long Road to the Truth: On the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Holocaust in Lithuania”.

[12] Op. Cit., Various author/s, “Posėdžiai: 6-asis Komisijos posėdis”.

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