KAUNAS—For the fifth year running, the Defending History team was the only Lithuania-based monitoring unit on site to observe and record the neo-Nazi march in the center of Kaunas, from start to finish, on February 16th, the anniversary of Lithuania’s 1918 declaration of independence. (DH has monitored the March 11th marches in Vilnius since 2008.) Once again, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office was the only foreign partner to attend, monitor and participate in our annual silent protest. There was no sign of any of the many well-funded human rights monitors in the region.
Yet again, the center of Kaunas, the interwar capital and modern Lithuania’s second city, was gifted by the city’s authorities to the neo-Nazis for their event, which drew hundreds, and was kept orderly by a highly professional, and by now experienced, police and state security presence (which, as ever, took every care to keep the Defending History team secure throughout the day).
This year’s theme was a front-of-march We Know Our Nation’s Heroes banner featuring six figures who share the following unsettling common denominator: all were alleged Nazi collaborators and/or Holocaust perpetrators (from left): Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, Jonas Noreika, Povilas Plechavičius, Kazys Škirpa, Antanas Baltūsis-Žvejas, and Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis. It is as if the marchers are celebrating the murder of the 30,000 Jewish citizens of Kaunas, the more than 95% of the over 200,000 strong Lithuanian Jewish population on the eve of the Holocaust, and the resulting “cleansing” of Lithuania’s Jewish minority.
MEDIA REPORTS: 15min.lt; Lrytas.lt; Kaunas.kasviksta.lt; Efraim Zuroff’s Jerusalem Post op-ed on the eve of the march; Defending History’s pre-march report. Post-event reports in the Jerusalem Post, JTA.
As ever, variants on the swastika and other fascist symbols were freely displayed with no interventions or comment by the police and other security forces.
One of the handmade signs was proudly flaunted throughout by two young women. It read (here in translation):
“We, (Jews) will turn Europe into mixture of Asian people — Negroes, ruled by Jews…” — R. Coudenhove-Kalergi, “Father” of European Union. NO TO THE ISLAMIZATION OF LITHUANIA!
There were just three counter-protesters, one from Kaunas and two from Panevėžys, whose sign reads: “Lithuania — Not the Third Reich”.
The Defending History monitoring team comprised Evaldas Balčiūnas who came from Šiauliai; Rūta Ostrovskaja who made the trip from Birštonas; and from Vilnius — Milan Chersonski, Dovid Katz, and Julius Norwilla. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Dr. Efraim Zuroff and Rūta Vanagaitė, co-authors of a major new book on the Lithuanian Holocaust, attended the opening event at Ramybės Park in central Kaunas. Dr. Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, has been coming to join in the monitoring of the city-center far-right marches for many years in both Vilnius (March 11th) and Kaunas (February 16th). The year they started in Vilnius, in 2008, the Wiesenthal Center was the first international Jewish body to voice protest.
As ever, the Defending History team expressed its protest silently with no yelled slogans or signs, but by following the marchers from start to finish, and explaining to all who cared to ask us that we were honoring the thirty thousand murdered Jews of Kaunas (Kovno, Yiddish Kóvne) who were also Lithuanian citizens who cherished the February 16th independence day (in 2013 some of the last Kaunas Holocaust survivors wrote to express their feelings). In fact, every Jewish community in pre-Holocaust Lithuania celebrated the day. One famous photo is from the 1928 celebration of the tenth anniversary of Lithuania’s 1918 independence, with a huge banner in Hebrew and Lithuanian, in Dorbyán (Darbėnai).