O P I N I O N
by Olga Zabludoff
Note: The following six articles, spanning the period October 2011 through January 2012, were published in VilNews in the course of a discussion. Each article is followed by the link to the original VilNews publication to enable readers to follow both sides of the argument (if Comments are included — many sides of the argument) in the original place of publication.
1. Mr. Januta Twists Facts and Figures to Suit his Arguments
Mr. Januta’s article goes right to the heart of the problem: the tendency of critics like him to accuse others of being misinformed and of misstating facts. Indeed it is Mr. Januta who twists facts and figures to suit his arguments. Even when his facts are “correct,” they are simply half-truths.
For example: Yes, there is a Holocaust Museum in Vilnius, but to compare the pitiful little hidden building (the Green House) with the state-of-the-art Museum of Genocide located on a major street is like comparing a mouse to an elephant.
It hardly pays to argue with Januta because his reasoning is obviously skewed and his facts distorted. For example: 95-96% of the Lithuanian-Jewish population was murdered in the Holocaust in Lithuania. His figure is 90%.
In his book Professor Dov Levin speaks of two evils — but of only one genocide, another confusion in Mr. Januta’s mind. Furthermore, his ridiculous claim that the Jews of Lithuania contributed “zilch” to the economy and culture of the country is contradicted by Dov Levin in his book: “The majority of the Jewish population worked at every possible trade, serving not only their own community but also the population at large” (Introduction, p. 11). Even going back to the Middle Ages, Dov Levin writes: “On more than one occasion, when the Lithuanian authorities got into financial (or other) difficulty, the country’s wealthiest Jews came to their aid with generous loans or grants of credit” (p. 44). “The Jews’ deep penetration into the Lithuanian economy also created extra employment for the general population” (p. 50).
Januta’s interpretation of Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands is an injustice to the author’s careful research and articulate writing. Here is an excerpt that Mr. Januta obviously missed:
“The Germans arrived in Lithuania with their hand-picked nationalist Lithuanians and encountered local people who were willing to believe, or to act as if they believed, that Jews were responsible for Soviet repression. The Soviet deportations had taken place that very month, and the NKVD had shot Lithuanians in prison just a few days before the Germans arrived. The Lithuanian diplomat Kazys Škirpa, who returned with the Germans, used this suffering in his radio broadcasts to spur mobs to murder. Some 2,500 Jews were killed by Lithuanians in bloody pogroms in early July.
“As a result of trained collaboration and local assistance, German killers had all the help they needed in Lithuania.” (pp. 191-192)
No need to say any more. “fdfdg” says it all in his comments below the article.
From: VilNews, 27 October 2011
2. I Love and Respect Lithuanians No Less Than I do my American Friends, Both Jews and Non-Jews
Thank you for your gracious opening paragraph to our discussion. I will try to comment on the points you raise in your letter.
I do not dispute Dina Porat’s finding that 99.5% of the Lithuanian population was neither directly nor indirectly involved in the killing of Jews. I would not dispute the findings of any reputable researcher/historian. But what I wish to point out is that one-half of 1% of the 1941 Lithuanian population equaled about 15,000 persons. Looking at the Jewish population of about 200,000 at the time, the ratio between killers and victims was 1:13. That can account for high efficiency. The real problem was that the other 99.5% of the population chose to close their eyes.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” This quote from Edmund Burke is the painful truth in the story of the Holocaust as well as other major tragedies. But to ask in hindsight why good men did nothing means not to comprehend the climate and the terror of the times.
No one is blaming innocent Lithuanians. I think the anger and the constant memory stem from the distortion of the history of what really took place. If only the true history were presented by teachers and texts, if only the Lithuanian people accepted the truth, I think the healing process would begin and an honest reconciliation would follow. Again I am not claiming that all Lithuanians do not accept the truth. There are certainly many notable exceptions.
Regarding the contributions of the Jews to the economy of Lithuania, if you choose not to believe Professor Dov Levin’s claims that Jews were an integral part of the economy, then let’s take a common-sense approach to the subject. The Jews were mainly merchants, traders, shopkeepers, craftsmen. They stimulated the economy with their businesses and provided a marketplace for farmers and others who needed to sell their produce and wares. Lithuania was one country and one economy. All of the participants in that economy made contributions, whether they were Jews, Lithuanians or other ethnic groups. They lived side by side, and even though the various groups carried on their individual traditions, they were still all part of one whole.
Contrary to what you are implying about my reaction to Bloodlands, I think it is an excellent book and everyone should read it. I went to Timothy Snyder’s presentation at George Washington University shortly after the book came off the press. It was extremely interesting and impressive to hear him speak and answer the myriad questions from the audience. I bought the book right there and later read it. Why would I have quoted from the book if I believed it is not a valuable work?
As for the Kazys Škirpa radio broadcasts reported in Bloodlands, if you say that this reference proved to be incorrect and has been deleted from subsequent printings of the book, I take your word for it. But that in itself doesn’t change the fact that there were bloody pogroms in Lithuania even before the Germans had arrived. This has been reported countless times in survivor testimonies and historical accounts. It ushered in the Holocaust in Lithuania. Another fact that has been reported for seventy years by survivors, witnesses and historical accounts is that the Germans received all the help they needed from Lithuanian locals who were eager accomplices.
I find it very sad when you say, “I still don’t know why the Lithuanians can’t simply grieve their own tragedy, and the Jews grieve theirs.” All people should grieve over tragedies that involve the loss and suffering of others and should mourn the victims, regardless of their nationality or race. It seems cold and indifferent to separate out who should be mourned by whom.
During my three lengthy trips to Lithuania, I have made deep and lasting friendships with a good number of Lithuanians. I love and respect them no less than I do my American friends, both Jews and non-Jews. I cannot imagine that my Lithuanian friends could ever live in a different compartment of my heart.
In your final sentence you write, “The Lithuanians and the Jews both suffered greatly during World War II – or do you disagree with this as well?”
How could I possibly disagree with the truth? You can even go further and say the Lithuanians suffered beyond World War II during the second Soviet occupation that lasted almost fifty years. But there is one major difference: the goal of the Nazi regime was total annihilation of European Jewry – genocide. They came close to succeeding in Lithuania. The Soviet regime imposed deportations, imprisonment, death and suffering on the Lithuanian nation, but the majority of the Lithuanian population survived. While many perished in Siberian gulags, larger numbers eventually returned home to Lithuania. Both the Nazi and the Soviet regimes were heinous, but there was only one genocide. That fact should be acknowledged so that the history of World War II will not become distorted.
From: VilNews, 29 October 2011
3. I Dare to Hope That Our Debate can Build Bridges to a Better Understanding
The last paragraph in your article of 8 November is a good place to begin my response. I concur that our differences of opinion as well as our areas of agreement should be viewed as an exchange of honest, healthy dialogue. I would even dare to hope that it can begin to build bridges to a better understanding of all the issues we wander into.
For a moment let’s forget about the Lithuanian economy during medieval times. It’s really hard to relate to. Let’s move forward to the more modern economy of the inter-war years. Yes, on the eve of World War 1 Lithuania was economically backward. But that had nothing to do with your claim that the Jews did not contribute to the economy. Like the rest of Eastern Europe at the time, economic development was lagging in Lithuania. Modern economic strides began in Western Europe much earlier than it did in Eastern Europe.
You speak of the Jews having had a monopoly as merchants, traders, shopkeepers and craftsmen. There was no such thing as a monopoly in these small and scattered operations. These were mostly mom-and-pop businesses run out of front rooms in their homes. Of course, like everyone else, they tried to get the best prices they could, but to speak of anti-trust laws and anti-price-fixing laws is totally out of context for that environment.
Another point of importance is that Jews had little choice but to make their living as merchants and traders. Traditionally they were excluded from other occupations and professions. For example, my father had studied engineering in St. Petersburg only to discover when he returned to Lithuania that it was impossible for a Jew to find employment as an engineer. Instead, he became a bank manager in the Jewish Peoples’ Bank.
I still think you are underestimating the contributions of the Jews to the Lithuanian economy, so let me quote from an article which appeared in the Lithuania Tribune of 12/23/10 during the visit of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius to Israel:
“Prime Minister Kubilius has agreed that the Lithuanian history is unimaginable without the Lithuanian Jewish community that has left a deep imprint on our history and our lives. Since the times of Vytautas the Great, it has always been an integral part of the Lithuanian society, closely involved in the development of science, economy and culture.”
One major difference of opinion in our discussions concerns the definition of “genocide.” The term “genocide” was first applied in 1944 in regard to the attempted extermination of the Jews by Nazi Germany. It clearly refers to the systematic killing or extermination of a whole people. Obviously, and unfortunately, there have been other genocides, but the Soviet regime did not liquidate the majority of Lithuanians. That the Soviets committed terrible crimes against the Lithuanians is a given, that the nation lost political leaders, army officers, clergymen and others is undisputed. But the Lithuanian population was very far from being exterminated.
To say that there were other genocides does not diminish the Holocaust, but to equate the Holocaust with events that were not genocides is to diminish the Holocaust. Comparing incomparables, equating unequals is a distortion of history.
I’m sure that Professor Dovid Katz can easily defend himself, so I won’t venture into that area. From reading his articles in the various media and on his website www.defendinghistory.com I have to assert that he is courageously outspoken and is probably feared and shunned by many in the Lithuanian government. But if they would only listen to him, I believe it would help them accomplish what they say they are sincerely trying to do: to improve their damaged relationship with their small Lithuanian-Jewish community and, consequently, with world Jewry.
Professor Katz analyzes politics and politicians from a vantage point that few other scholars have reached. He should be valued in Lithuania, not feared, if the government wants to deal with its Jewish problems in a realistic way to create a better tomorrow for themselves and their people.
4. Let me Try Once More to Convince You
The ball is now in my court and I am happy to continue the discussion. It might be that you and I have an irreconcilable difference of opinion on the subject of Jewish contributions to the Lithuanian economy, or — as you maintain — the lack of Jewish contributions. Let me try once more to convince you.
You point out that on the eve of World War 1 the economy of “Mother Russia,” which had an insignificant Jewish population, and the economy of Lithuania, which had a substantial Jewish population, were pretty much equal — depressed and backward. You emphasize that in spite of the fact that Jews participated in Lithuania’s economy but did not participate in the economy of czarist Russia, there was no virtual difference in the two economies.
Logic 101: If Jews had not been present in Lithuania at the time and therefore had not participated in its economy, perhaps Lithuania’s economy might have been even weaker than that of “Mother Russia.” Participating in a nation’s economy does not mean controlling the economy of that nation, let alone an entire region. Conditions in Eastern Europe during that period were what they were; the result was a weak and undeveloped economy.
Your grandfather in Ylakiai obviously was a kind and generous man to have opened his home to a Jewish family whose house had burned down. Good neighbors helped less fortunate ones. Just as your father held fond memories of the time the Jewish family had lived in his house, my father told me stories of how his mother, a widow with eight children, had been beloved by most of the Lithuanians in her town.
My grandmother owned a grocery-and-whatever store – the front room of the house. Often Lithuanian neighbors would come without money to pay for what they needed. It was known that Rochel-Leah never turned anyone away. She gave them “credit.” Sometimes she collected her debts; more often they just accumulated.
Stories like these of their daily lives – Lithuanians helping Jews and Jews helping Lithuanians – drive home the point that these two peoples could live side by side in harmony and friendship for many centuries, each maintaining its distinct traditions and religious beliefs. Which makes even more inconceivable the savagery of the summer of 1941 when hate and greed replaced love and loyalty.
But now, back to the subject of monopolies and price-fixing. Supply and Demand is one of the most fundamental concepts of economics. It is the backbone of a market economy. Perhaps the Lithuanian farmers in the first half of the 20th century did not understand this, but surely an educated man like you knows all about supply and demand. You make it sound like a conspiracy of the Jews to cheat the farmers and producers by paying them lower prices. In some years over-production of crops created a staggering drop in prices. The Jewish shop-keepers did not buy at criminally low prices in the market and sell at criminally high prices in their shops. The farmers themselves, whether they realized it or not, were creating the market, the cause and effect, or supply and demand. Ignorance can be very dangerous. The theory that the Jews were creating monopolies and fixing prices could easily have fueled the rage of the Lithuanians against the Jews in the summer of 1941. All they needed was the Nazi propaganda to ignite the fuse.
Yes, I know that politics can be false and politicians can deliver gratuitous speeches because it serves their agendas or pleases their hosts. So I concur that Mr. Kubilius may have been generous in his praise of Jewish involvement in Lithuania’s development of science, economy and culture. But, on the other hand, I doubt very much he went as far as total fabrication. While Lithuania may not have developed space scientists or nuclear physicists, certainly they had their share of physicians, physicists and chemists. And I can assure you that Jews were in the highest percentages per capita in these scientific fields. That’s because education was among the highest values in Jewish culture.
You mention that Dovid Katz impressed you as thoughtful and helpful in your meetings and communications with him. But lately he has “gone off the deep end.” What has happened to alter your former favorable impression of him? If you will visit
http://defendinghistory.com/7-solutions written just one month ago by Dovid Katz, you will read a concise and perfectly lucid recommendation for improved relations between the Lithuanian government and the Jewish community. While anyone is free to disagree with Professor Katz’s views, is it unconscionable that a witch hunt is currently in effect against those who dare to have a second opinion in a European Union NATO democracy. It is my understanding that the problem is not between most Lithuanians and most Jews but between the Jewish community and the Lithuanian government which appeases the ultra-nationalist element.
Likewise, regarding Efraim Zuroff’s viewpoints on the subject of Lithuanian-Jewish relations, I see no reason to malign him. It is a sad symptom of the ultra-nationalist influence in Lithuanian politics that the image of an evil Zuroff is perpetrated against a man who spends his life representing the victims of the Holocaust. He asks only that suspected war criminals be given a fair trial in their own country. Is it not a cause for pause for Lithuanians that Dr. Zuroff was awarded a medal by the president of Croatia for the same work for which he is so vilified by the far-right in Lithuania?
While, as I stated in my last post, I see no reason to have to defend Professor Katz, let me make a few points about his character so that he can be judged fairly. After decades as an acclaimed educator – the first eighteen years at Oxford University followed by a year at Yale, where he turned down a multi-year offer in favor of a position at Vilnius University, remaining there for eleven years – he was discontinued. No reason was given for his termination other than informal boasts that he should never have spoken out in the Western press about the persecution of Holocaust survivors who had joined the partisans.
Does it not give cause for pause that the country’s last Jewish professor, and its only Yiddish professor, was dismissed because he had published articles in respectable Western publications protesting the government’s campaign against Holocaust survivors who joined the resistance? Is this how Lithuania is going to build a civic society where free debate and disagreement are nurtured among the younger generations?
I have never heard the argument that the Green House is the only Holocaust Museum in Lithuania. But it is the only Holocaust Museum in Vilnius. The Museum of Tolerance, while a part of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, is more of a cultural museum than anything else. I recall that the exhibits are displays of the works of Jewish artists and sculptors and other similar genres. The Museum of Genocide, which should not be called a “genocide” museum, is of course dedicated to Soviet crimes in Lithuania. Despicable and cruel as were the deportations, imprisonments, executions and tortures, the Soviets did not commit genocide on the people of Lithuania. So why is this museum called a genocide museum with not a word of mention of the Holocaust? That is, until last month when — thanks to Dovid Katz, Efraim Zuroff and others who brought the issue to the attention of the world — a small exhibit was finally added in the cellar.
Concerning the alleged slaughter of the Kaniukai villagers by anti-Nazi partisans, let me be very clear: IF there is a single specific charge of willful action against a civilian by veterans of any side, then of course that person should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But that is not what happened here. Yes, the Soviet partisans attacked a village whose occupants had been heavily armed by the Nazis and who were killing off partisans over many months. Yes, there was a battle. But in recent years, prosecutors have started a campaign against only Jewish survivors of the anti-Nazi partisan movement without an iota of evidence, without any charge, with a horrific campaign of defamation that is a disgrace to modern Lithuania. The majority of Soviet partisans were not even Jewish.
How dare a state prosecutor target survivor-partisans as war criminals when these same prosecutors have failed to bring a single Lithuanian murderer to justice? How dare they “investigate” unproven “crimes” while the government and parliament honors the memory of the killers with the white armbands (the Lithuanian Activist Front)? And while courts legalize the display of swastikas in public? Dovid Katz has spoken out against this gross abuse of prosecutorial powers in the country, putting the issue into the public arena and into history. Now, of course, Lithuanians who would like to speak out are afraid to do so because they too would lose their jobs and careers.
Please walk with me through the barbed wire of the double-genocide concept. As I have noted in earlier posts, clearly there was only one genocide. If history teachers throughout Lithuania will teach students about two concurrent genocides; if textbooks will be slanted to teach that same concept to children and youth, their education will be a jaded version of the true history of the World War 11 era.
Children are not born with evil. Unless they are taught to understand the consequences of hatred and bigotry, unless they are taught and shown what pain and suffering does to others, they simply won’t know how to make judgments or how to choose values. If the Holocaust is taught with a view to protecting youth from the truth, the authors of a distorted history will bear the responsibility of their contrivances.
5. It is Most Powerful when Lithuanians Themselves Stand Up and Speak Out
Please excuse my long delay in responding to you. I have been traveling but have kept up with my reading of VilNews. There is much catching up to do. And since “Tautietis” joined our discussion with his comments posted on 20th November, I am going to address his points here also.
I must say that it is exceptionally trying to find logic in Tautietis’s arguments as he leapfrogs from 19th century Tsarist Russia into the “so called ‘Golden age’ for Lithuanian Jews,” as though the two historical periods were simultaneous. Only during Independent Lithuania (the period between the two world wars) did the Jews of Lithuania experience anything resembling a golden age, and that was very short-lived. (More on this later.)
“It is no secret that Jews accepted [the] Russian language and culture more readily than Lithuanians – and were better positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that were there in Imperial Russia.”
I quote from Lithuanian Jewish Communities by Schoenburg & Schoenburg, 1991:
“Russia, a country that had always excluded Jews, suddenly found itself sovereign over the largest concentration of Jews in the world. In addition to the innate hostility toward Jews held by most Russians, especially the nobility, the problem was compounded by the fact that Jews and the Jewish communal structure did not fit the feudal structure of Russian society” (page 28).
In the Russian Empire Jews were forced to live in the Pale of Settlement and were excluded from many occupations. They had few choices of how to earn their living.
“The poorest portion of the Pale of Settlement was Lithuania. As economic conditions deteriorated, Litvaks moved to better areas . . . Some settled in Latvia. Others went to the Ukraine, northeast Poland, or to other parts of the Pale”. . . (pages 31-32).
“With the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in March 1881, all pretense of liberalism ended and the repression of the Jews intensified . . . Between 1880 and 1914, over two million Jews had emigrated to the West . . . The emigration was heaviest from Lithuania” (page 32).
Your statement referring to supply and demand is sheer nonsense: “If you own the market, you are in position to set the demand.” No one can set the demand, and the Jews were mainly small-scale entrepreneurs, not monopolists who “owned the market.” No need to waste any more words on that subject.
Donatas, in your 22nd November post, you write: “. . . But if the Lithuanians themselves had been allowed to have a broader hand in the economy, it [the economy] might have been a lot better, too.”
When were the Lithuanian people not allowed to have a hand in their country’s economy or barred from any particular occupations? Even before Independent Lithuania the Lithuanian people were free to select their occupations. It was their choice, not their mandate, to earn their livelihood mainly through farming. It was a tradition, not a law imposed against them. There seems to be a trend, among those who take your side of the debate, to switch roles, to create the impression that the Jews were the controllers and the Lithuanians, the underdogs. Please, let’s not mangle history to that extreme. It is too reminiscent of the anti-Semitic propaganda during the 1920s and 1930s that lit up the stage for the horrors that were to follow.
I am frankly stunned by your statement that Lithuania’s vote against Palestinian membership in UNESCO “was an example of Lithuania’s cowardice in succumbing to pressure from Israel and Israel’s ally the United States.” In one ultra-nationalist sentence you managed to damn both your ancestral land and the land you live in. To say nothing of your apparent negative attitude toward Israel.
I remember well the incident you refer to when the Los Angeles Lithuanian Community refused to permit a troupe of Yiddish dancers to perform at a folk dance festival. I guess they didn’t want the Yiddish presence because it might have been symbolic of a time when Lithuania had a Jewish population . . . and all that that memory entails. I agree with Efraim Zuroff that this was an anti-Semitic expression, but I don’t think it would happen today.
As far as the statement you attribute to Zuroff that “the Lithuanian émigré community consisted largely of descendants of war criminals,” I think Dr. Zuroff knows better than to hold the children responsible for the sins of their fathers. What he may have meant was that since many of the Lithuanian war criminals did flee after the war to the US and Canada, fearing reprisals from the Soviets, their children could have been indoctrinated with anti-Semitism. Children learn from parents and often adopt the same values. That’s why education of the young is so important.
I do not know Irena Veisaite or Yves Plasseraud (other than through their brief writings I have read recently in VilNews), so I cannot judge their politics or their characters. But let me say that I seem to understand and feel more connected to people like Dr. Saulius Sužiedėlis and Didier Bertin. I believe they are every inch as sincerely interested in reconciliation between Jews and Lithuanians as Veisaite and Plasseraud. They lay the issues on the table; they believe the problems of the past and present must be confronted (or embraced) and thereby overcome, and then it will be possible to start with a clean slate. I believe in that kind of common-sense, organized and open approach. It defines Democracy.
Yes, I reiterate: the majority of the Soviet partisans in Lithuania during World War II were not Jewish. There were approximately 5,000 Soviet partisans in Lithuania operating in the forests around Vilnius. Your numbers of Jewish partisans total about 300, and the units they were in were the Jewish partisan groups which of course had the largest numbers of Jews.
I will stand by my statement that there was inconceivable savagery when hate and greed overwhelmed love and loyalty in Lithuania in 1941. And I do mean to imply that most of the Lithuanians were guilty to various degrees. I still maintain that 99.5 % of the local population did not participate in the murder of Jews. But the 0.5 % who did actively participate totaled at least 15,000 people. The ratio was 1:13 — one killer for every 13 Jews. The rest of the “good” people turned a blind eye. There were a small number of saints — those Lithuanians who risked their lives and their families to do what they considered the right thing, the Christian thing. To say that they were heroes does not do sufficient justice to the magnitude of their deeds.
During my trips to Lithuania I have befriended as many non-Jews as Jews. My dear friend Domicele, who died a few years ago at age 91, told me the story of the Holocaust in her small town. Many men and women, even with children in tow, went as spectators to the killing site to watch the executions. Once all the Jews were in the pits, the looting began. The killers were given first choice of the spoils. Very few did not participate in the frenzy of stealing whatever they could from Jewish homes. They felt “entitled.” Even the priest came with a wagon and loaded up furniture and other Jewish possessions. All this was going on while the earth at the mass graves was still moving. At night thieves came to the graves to extract gold teeth from corpses.
If this isn’t savagery, what else can you call it? It happened in towns and villages throughout the country. I heard the same stories from Jewish survivors and non-Jewish witnesses. It is documented heavily in books, memoirs and oral testimonies.
Your closing paragraph of your 22nd November article reads: “. . . What I would also like to see is to have the Soviet inflicted tragedies, including the “Kaniukai” slaughter, be recognized and acknowledged in the West for what they were, just as the German inflicted tragedies have been, and to have their perpetrators judged as the criminals they were and are. And I don’t see how this is disrespectful of the Jewish dead or the Jewish survivors, or how it has anything to do with the Holocaust.”
In theory your request does not sound unreasonable, but look at it this way: First of all, surely you accept by now that the “German” inflicted tragedies were inflicted mostly by the Lithuanian collaborators. In Lithuania the Germans did not have or need much manpower because they had all the help they needed from the locals. Secondly, Lithuania has not brought to justice a single Lithuanian war criminal, not even the ones deported from the US. Yet you would like to see the former Jewish partisans “judged” as war criminals?
Your article of 24th November is a detailed account of the relationship between Lithuanians and Jews during the period of Independent Lithuania which began at the close of World War I. Your closing paragraph: “The Jews of Lithuania in 1918-1920 contributed financially and politically to the re-establishment of Lithuania as an independent sovereign state. And they also fought and they died as warriors with weapons in their hands, next to their Lithuanian comrades. . . .”
Let me take the theme of Independent Lithuania to its conclusion by quoting from Lithuanian Jewish Communities:
“The Jews supported Lithuanian aspirations for independence. In 1919, the Lithuanian delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference sent a letter guaranteeing the Jews of Lithuania the ‘right of national-cultural autonomy.’ This was followed by laws allowing Jewish autonomy and a constitutional provision protecting the rights of large minorities. Jewish communal institutions were established and national conferences were held. The period 1919-1922 was the Golden Age for modern Jewish autonomy. Thereafter it decayed due to pressure from reactionary clerical groups and because the Jews were no longer needed to further Lithuanian nationalism.
“In the economic sphere, Lithuanian cooperatives were formed under governmental auspices which had the effect of cutting the Jews out of their traditional middleman merchandising positions. Many Jews earned their livelihood in crafts, some in the professions and a number in the import-export trade. As time passed, the numbers in each declined with the places taken by Lithuanians. The slogan was ‘Lithuania for the Lithuanians.’ . . . The Jews lived in poverty. Many Jews emigrated” (pages 38-39).
“Elections in May 1926 gave a majority to the left wing which was followed in December by an army coup d’état which instituted an extreme nationalist government and totalitarian rule. The constitution was soon abolished and with it many democratic provisions and rights.
“The program of the nationalists was based upon xenophobic nationalism and the church. Education was controlled to further these ideals. One of the objects of derision were the Jews who were considered foreigners. Lithuanian newspapers in the 1930s were so anti-Semitic, they easily rivaled Nazi publications in vitriolicity” (page 37).
“Most Jewish leaders welcomed the creation of a Lithuanian state in which Jews were promised relative autonomy. . . . it seemed that the Jews would have an opportunity to develop their national life. However, these minority rights were abrogated starting in 1924. The Lithuanian government encouraged the development of an ethnically Lithuanian urban middle class to compete with, and ultimately to displace, Jewish businesses” (The Litvak Legacy, Mark N. Ozer, 2009, page 81).
Excerpt from a letter dated 1 October 1924 from my uncle Dovid Shlomo to his brother who had managed to get to Havana a year earlier [translated from Yiddish]:
“Times are very critical here. There are many bankruptcies in Kovna, and this is spreading to us. They chased out the national council. They are requesting that Jewish signs be removed from businesses. We feel like we’re being driven out – like we’re being exiled.
“Dear Brother, maybe you have a way to get us out of here. It would be very good because things are getting worse, not better. . . .”
From a letter dated 15 February 1939 from Dovid Shlomo to his brother now in the US [translated from Yiddish]:
“The news from us is not cheerful. Firstly, they are not giving Jews any permits for restaurants. Just imagine: what will I be able to do? My mind is already drying up. Secondly, there is even a worse problem here: they are telling us to tear down the house. This is already underwritten by the powers-that-be. I can still appeal to the interior minister, but who knows what his thinking is. In the best case, if they would allow us to keep the house, then they would demand a renovation which would cost as much as 4,000 litas. So you can see how I can allow this.
“Now there are Christians who want to buy the house. They won’t be subject to any hardship. So I don’t know what to do. If you would bring us over, then I would sell the house. . . .”
First they were pushed out of their business, then out of their house, then marched to the ghetto and from there to the mass grave. That was the fate of my uncle Dovid Shlomo, his wife Tsila, their two little daughters and my grandmother who lived with them.
In regard to your post of 2nd December, I find your denunciation of Dr. Dovid Katz (a scholar you formerly admired) truly offensive and a strong case of public character assassination. It is the same tactic employed by the Soviet regime which you so abhor. If one expresses an opinion contrary to the party line of the government, the message must be crushed and the messenger discredited and denounced.
You speculate that Professor Katz was removed from his position at Vilnius University after 11 years because he allegedly doesn’t speak Lithuanian. It makes no sense that after a successful tenure of 11 years, Dr. Katz would suddenly be discontinued for allegedly not speaking Lithuanian. This is a ridiculous trumped-up charge. It is more likely that Katz’s efforts to tell the truth is the unspoken but real reason for his dismissal. Long live Democracy in Lithuania!
Meanwhile there are encouraging signs from bold young Lithuanian voices. See the recent review by Birutė Ušinskaitė. Both the reviewer of a stage play which opened recently in Kaunas and the playwright of Day and Night, Daiva Čepauskaitė, are to be applauded for their brave, clear messages.
See also the recent piece by Evaldas Balčiūnas of Šiauliai: “The Vilna Ghetto memoir of Rozka Korczak-Marle . . . is unfortunately completely unknown to Lithuanians today. I have therefore decided to translate the book into Lithuanian.”
It is most powerful when Lithuanians themselves stand up and speak out. Let’s hope the examples set by courageous pioneers for truth and openness will trigger others to follow their lead. The country will benefit enormously from the sound of enlightened voices.
6. It Was the “Lucky Jews” Who Were Deported [to Siberia] Since They Accounted for Many of the Survivors . . . Jews Could Not Return from the Mass Graves
I send New Year greetings to you and your family.
In response to your article of 20th December, 2011, I regret to tell you that your lengthy sermon on serfdom was irrelevant to our discussion. Let me remind you that from its onset this debate has been rooted in modern Lithuanian history. It has been labeled a discussion on “Holocaust in Lithuania” and has frequently traveled into the arena of current Lithuanian-Jewish issues and attempts at reconciliation.
I have tried to play by the rules and have told you time and again that I find it difficult to relate to medieval times in Lithuania or even to the period of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – given the time frame of our topic. (Sure, sometimes one makes a reference to an earlier period but almost as a simple footnote.) So when I asked: “When were the Lithuanian people not allowed to have a hand in their country’s economy or barred from any particular occupations?” I was clearly not referring to the 18th century when most Lithuanians were indeed peasant serfs. I was talking about the period of Independent Lithuania (the interwar years), the era on which our debate is focused. Your digression into the earlier centuries makes about as much sense as if I would have cried to you that my Jewish ancestors had been Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt.
In one of my earliest responses to you I claimed that you twist your facts and figures to suit your arguments. Actually you go further than that. You constantly resort to periods in Lithuanian history that have little or no connection to our theme. Is this in order to deflect or distract from issues you would rather not address? You corrupt history by telling only half the story. For instance, in your 24th November 2011 article, “Litvaks: Lithuania’s Warriors,” you state openly that Lithuanian Jews were a force in helping win an Independent Lithuania, fighting and dying alongside their Lithuanian brethren. In turn, the Jews were rewarded with rights and privileges for their participation in achieving their country’s freedom. But at that point you stop short, obviously preferring to omit the rest of the story:
After a few years of this “Golden Age,” all Jewish rights and privileges were harshly revoked, and the darkest period in the history of Lithuania’s Jews began to germinate: “Lithuania for Lithuanians!” Jewish signs on businesses had to be removed. Then they lost their businesses, their homes. Vitriolic Nazi propaganda was embraced in Lithuania. We all know the end . . .
Like an insidious drum beat you recycle and recycle your party line: Jews contributed “zilch” to the Lithuanian economy. Jews created a monopoly in the marketplace. Jews played no role in Lithuanian culture. Jews kept themselves distinct from the Lithuanians among whom they lived. Jews did not invite Lithuanians to dance with them. Jews did not communicate with Lithuanians in the same language. Jews did not worship the Lithuanian religion. Jews had separate schools and dressed differently from Lithuanians. Jews did not intermix with Lithuanians except in the marketplace. Their Litvak culture was totally separate and distinct from the ethnic Lithuanian culture.
In other words, you are chastising the Lithuanian Jews for not being ethnic Lithuanians. You are leading up in cunning fashion to the Nazi-inspired rhetoric that the Jews themselves were responsible for what happened to them, and that they deserved their fate. This is a devious Nationalist strategy to incite hatred and to rid Lithuania of guilt. And of course there is the eternal echo in your arguments that the Lithuanians were the victims of the controlling Jews. This is another diabolical tactic to reverse the roles of perpetrator and victim.
A prominent historian in the UK (a non-Jew) wrote me recently:
“The double genocide argument is so fraudulent. Of course the word ‘genocide’ cannot be used exclusively for the Holocaust: there are other genocides as well. But the evidence set out clearly indicates that there was no such extermination of the Lithuanians — terrible suffering, yes, but not a genocide. You don’t have to look far for the reasons (not the reasoning) for the argument. It helps to reduce the sense of guilt. So instead of saying ‘Weren’t we terrible,’ they say, ‘We all suffered together.’ Which in turn reduces the need for a complete realignment of sensibility.”
I have read recent pieces in VilNews concerning the Soviet deportations of Lithuanians to Siberia. Among the responses to the articles are many which confirm that the deportees eventually returned to their home country – not all, but many. It is also important for readers to realize that the Soviets did not spare Lithuanian Jews from being deported to Siberia along with non-Jews. In fact, it was the “lucky Jews” who were deported since they accounted for a good number of survivors. Brutal as were the conditions of the deportees, the population statistics tell us that by 1951 more than 90% of non-Jewish Lithuanians had survived, after which year the population began to climb. In sharp contrast less than 5% of the pre-war Lithuanian-Jewish population remained alive at the close of 1941. Jews could not return from mass graves. The annihilation of more than 95% defines a true genocide.
Donatas, I don’t believe we have made progress, however hard we may have tried. I cannot and do not want to keep repeating myself in reply to your cyclical charges of red herrings, Jewish monopolies, Jewishness, Zuroff & Co. and one-way streets. It is like a jingle you have created. We will not convince one another. I find it unfortunate that a man of your education has a distorted view of the very same facts that other educated Lithuanians or Lithuanian-Americans or historians in general see as historical truth. The seeds of reconciliation are probably sprouting in the minds and hearts of young educated Lithuanians who are able to confront their nation’s past with clarity and whose visions for their country’s future are not clouded by present-day Nationalist politics.
In closing, I wish you would read the articles I have linked below.
From: VilNews, 3 January 2012