Lithuania Propaganda Agency is On The Road Again




O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

This opinion piece and eyewitness report by Geoff Vasil relates to the July 10th event in honor of the Red-Brown Commission held at the Vilnius Jewish Public Library. See related reports on the library’s instrumentalization as a PR platform for the Commission and the more or less contemporaneous announcement of the Commission’s resumed activities, in the absence of apologies to Yitzhak Arad, Pinchos Fridberg, and the other accused Holocaust survivors.


Attendees at the July 10, 2013 event to honor the “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania” were treated to speeches and plentiful Katz-bashing by (from right) Ronaldas Račinskas, Saulius Sužiedėlis and Ilya Lempertas.

major litvaks honored at red brown commission eventin Vilnius

Presumed international leaders of Litvak legacy were honored with front-row seats, but only one, American born poet Kerry Shawn Keys (second from left) asked a question about inclusion of the “Litvak narrative.” Close to two years after its grand opening, most of the state-of-the-art high-cost shelves are empty, as thousands of Wyman Brent’s books waste away in storage.

The evening was billed as a meeting with Saulius Sužiedėlis of Millersville University of Pennsylvania (retired) to discuss the topic: “The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania: Past Accomplishments, Challenges Ahead.” Sužiedėlis was accompanied by Ronaldas Račinskas, executive director of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania (or ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL for short), and Dr. Ilya Lempertas, described as “Historian and Scholar of the Holocaust.”

The venue: the “Jewish Public Library” in Vilnius, which has some Jewish books, some Holocaust books, and some entertainment books by Jews, but which has no Jews on staff, last time I checked, and no real roots in the Jewish community. To say I was dubious is an understatement. I’ve seen Sužiedėlis and Račinskas do their shtik before, plus my only possible companion said he would have nothing to do with any event involving Račinskas after the latter basically ran a disinformation campaign to slander the former, merely for asking one of Račinskas’s ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL colleagues to name a Lithuanian family she claimed rescued an incredible number of Jews over four years of “the Nazi occupation of Lithuania.” She could not. Instead of saying, “I don’t know,” members of the ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL decided to defame Holocaust survivor and retired professor Pinchos Fridberg instead, using state resources to do so. They misrepresented his words on their website, to the press and to Jews living in Israel who were rescued by the family the ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL member was unable to name and whose heroic deeds she misrepresented during a formal “international forum” held inside the Lithuanian parliament [see reports by Evaldas Balciunas, Milan Chersonski, Pinchos Fridberg, Geoff Vasil].

I was resigned to going anyway, alone, to hear once again the same old arguments being made by the same old people, although I’d never heard Ilya Lempertas speak before. Actually I’d never seen any of his books on the Holocaust either. I still haven’t.

At the last minute, I got a reprieve: Dovid Katz and Milan Chersonski, my colleagues at Defending History, and film maker Saulius Berzinis all found time to go along. I hung back at the entrance while the rest of our gang of four ascended the stairs in the back alley off Vilnius’s main boulevard, Gedimino, where the Jewish Public Library is located. Several people came through the gates in the alley with that mystified look which only people who are looking for an address and not finding it seem to sport, so I sent a delegation of what appeared to be a French diplomat and entourage up the darkened stairwell as well as an elegant middle-aged Lithuanian woman. Mr. Račinskas showed up at the door at the stroke of 6 PM, punctual to the millisecond somehow, and sported a very interesting teal-blue jacket with a white dress shirt underneath. He looked very good, but sort of as if he were going for the English public school look, minus the school tie. Certainly more casual than most of the French―or Belgian?―diplomats, and more in tune with the temperature, for this meeting was held on one of the few truly hot days of summer in the Lithuanian capital. The temperature was several degrees cooler in the darkness inside, and the Library even seemed to have some air-conditioning going on. It was quite comfortable.

Inside the audience and panel were all dressed more or less casually, and the chairman and director of the Vilnius Jewish Public Library set the tone by helping himself to some of the wine set out on a small table in front. Usually these things in Lithuania seem to follow the Salvation Army school of etiquette: you have to sit through the sermon to get the food and drink. The chairs were comfortable as well. The lighting was good: not too bright, not too dim. There was even a librarian, I suppose she was, at the door to guide us toward the conference room. At this point I was certain they had made a mistake by inviting me: even when I do get invited to public functions and events involving Jewish issues, there’s always someone who decides I’ve wandered in by mistake, a hoodlum or street ruffian looking for a drink or a morsel, who then confronts me as to my business at this or that public event. I guess I just have that sort of face. “I’m just here for the wine,” I was prepared to say, but no one even asked. The seating arrangements were interesting. It was a free-for-all, of course, and of course people tended to sit with those with whom they came, but even so a sort of ethnic or cultural divide appeared almost immediately.

The French or Belgian delegation sat tastefully two or three rows back from the front, the middle-aged Lithuanian woman sat with a group of Lithuanians, two apparently Scandinavian (I would guess Danish) young men, probably from an embassy, sat toward the back and I was sort of surrounded by the very small Jewish contingent in the far back corner, at the left from our point of view looking forward, with a lot of Yiddish back and forth before the speakers began speaking. In front of us were three Lithuanian Americans, apparently, a man named Kestutis who runs the VilNews site, his charming wife and his editor named Vincas. I believe they said they were all from Boston. There were a few more people, young Lithuanian or Lithuanian-American girls, toward the middle front. The interesting part, to me at least, was that several Jewish people avoided the Yiddishist ghetto in the back like the plague and seemed afraid to even make eye contact with any of us; it might cost them brownie points. I called them assimilated in my own mental shorthand, and they sat at the very front. The one exception was American born poet Kerry Shawn Keys who made a point to come to the Jewish ghetto in the back to say hello, in the spirit of “We can all be friends anyhow.” However that stratification took place, the room was actually not empty (though not full) by the time the director of the library got around to opening the meeting with a formal/informal little speech about 15 minutes later. Usually, in my experience, these sorts of events don’t have a large attendance. And with an inspiring name like “The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania: Past Accomplishments, Challenges Ahead,” I figured even that meager constituency would find better things to do on a nice summer evening.

The library director, Mr. Žilvinas Bieliauskas, seemed to sense a certain divide in opinion right from the start. He began to introduce this panel of distinguished guests, but inserted some sort of qualifier, along the lines of “or maybe not so distinguished.” He managed to get all the vital points out about the panel, and made a point of addressing “dear dissident Katz” in the rear by name, calling upon him (in theory) to add to the discussion. It was at this time Mikhail Iossel, Canada-based  director of the Summer Literary Seminars (which jettisoned Efraim Zuroff from its faculty in 2011 as part of a grant offer from the US embassy, presumably acting on Lithuanian government instructions) entered, elegantly late. He seemed to work hard to avoid eye-contact with the Jewish section, preferring the front row where the government’s official Litvak emissaries had taken their places. Bieliauskas then also pointed out Iossel by name, who responded with a gracious nod toward the podium. Iossel may be embarrassed because he had not too long ago espoused an opposite set of opinions, and even set up the excellent website www.LitvakStudiesInstitute.org. Seems that when the political tide turned, all trace of the website was removed from the web (but nothing is ever removed from the web, if you know how to look).

Saulius Sužiedėlis began by talking about the name of the ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL, challenging anyone to say the full name ten times fast, or something along those lines. It seemed like a good way to kick things off, to me at least. Unfortunately Sužiedėlis didn’t really say anything new, anything he hadn’t said at the “international forum” at the Lithuanian parliament not very long ago. He called for making a clear distinction between history and narratives. He said he recognized three main narratives concerning the Holocaust in Lithuania. He said testimonies were important, but not all-important. He said Soviet interrogation documents were useful, but needed to be treated with care. Presumably he meant by that these cases against Lithuanians for Holocaust crimes might have been ideologically, i.e., politically motivated, but he also pointed out in another context the Soviets didn’t really treat the Holocaust as separate from crimes the Nazis committed against Soviet citizens, so presumably that caution over the use of Soviet interrogation documents must include the possibility of diminution as well as exaggeration. He said, as he has before, that the Lithuanian American immigrant narrative was basically a denial and untenable, and that this had set him many years ago on the path of Holocaust research. He repeated the same anecdote about his trip to a cemetery located near his ancestral Lithuanian village that he used at the parliament forum earlier, intended to demonstrate that the really dangerous part of the war for ethnic Lithuanians was the post-war period. And again, he denigrated the idea genocide differs in any real way from mass murder, dismissing the legal concept by saying it all seems the same to him personally, and probably to the victims as well. He also denied that the so-called Double Genocide Theory has any adherents at all, that it is in toto an emotional response by Lithuanians, and that scholars have every right to compare mass murder events, in a scholarly way, of course.

As ever, Sužiedėlis accused anti-Nazi westerners and Americans of learning about the war (and it seemed, everything else) from “Steven Spielberg.” You wouldn’t guess that a half century of Americans were educated on Cold War style educational materials.

Perhaps there is some other reason why Commission employees don’t want Lithuanian teachers (or anyone) to read Karen Sutton’s The Massacre of the Jews in LithuaniaNow what could that be?

Next, “Holocaust researcher of 38 years” Ilya Lempertas struggled to get across his idea that no one in the West was even paying attention to the Holocaust before 1984 or so. He said the word hadn’t even been used until a 1978 television mini-series called The Holocaust aired in the United States. He then went on, if I understood him correctly, to claim consciousness of the Holocaust in the West only really came about as a result of Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. I’d heard other Lithuanians make similar claims in the past. Sužiedėlis had earlier dabbled in misrepresentation of popular understanding in the West at one point, although I don’t remember now, because this sort of stuff is best dismissed out-of-hand and not given a second thought.

Just to do Dr. Lempertas justice, I decided to look it up. Apparently Dr. Lempertas acquired his misconceptions either directly or through an intermediary from a FAQ text hosted on the website of the Washington, D. C., Holocaust Museum, which mentions both the mini-series and when Holocaust came to refer exclusively to the Shoah for the majority of English speakers (following a special commission using the term set up by then-president Jimmy Carter). Not completely satisfied even by this―apparently Dr. Lempertas or someone else tendentiously mistranslated the same information to mean the Shoah was terra incognita for Americans until a television network got around to telling them about it in 1978―I checked the Oxford English Dictionary and looked around on the internet. In reference to the Shoah, OED says:

“The specific application was introduced by historians during the 1950s, probably as an equivalent to Hebrew churban and shoah ‘catastrophe’ (used in the same sense); but it had been foreshadowed by contemporary references to the Nazi atrocities as a ‘holocaust.’

“The earliest of those contemporary references is from this newspaper report in 1942: ‘Holocaust . . . Nothing else in Hitler’s record is comparable to his treatment of the Jews . . . The word has gone forth that . . . the Jewish peoples are to be exterminated . . . The conscience of humanity stands aghast.’”

According to a less authoritative source on the internet, the above-referenced newspaper item was published in the News Chronicle in the United Kingdom on December 5, 1942. Wikipedia puts the first instance of the modern usage at around the same period:

“By the late 1950s, documents translated from Hebrew sometimes used the word ‘Holocaust’ to translate ‘Shoah,’ as the Judeocide. This use can be found as early as May 23, 1943, in The New York Times, on page E6, in an article by Julian Meltzer, referring to feelings in Palestine about Jewish immigration of refugees from ‘the Nazi holocaust.’ By the late 1960s, the term was starting to be used in this sense without qualification.”

Ernst Zundel, the German Canadian Holocaust denier and publisher of books about Nazis and flying saucers in Antarctica, among other things, told the Crown at his first trial in 1985 he had begun to doubt “the Holocaust” in 1960. If even the deniers are using the term by 1960―or perhaps they were calling it the Final Solution or something else back then, but at least clearly knew at least some term to refer to the same crime unprecedented in human history―then it does seem a little odd Dr. Lempertas, struggling to even express himself with minimal clarity, would somehow be so confident that these usages were isolated aberrations occurring on the fringes of the English-speaking world until television mini-series aired in America in the late 70s, decades after American troops filmed and brought home footage from the concentration camps, including footage of an American airman imprisoned at Mathausen who told the camera there had been another two Americans but they were murdered by the Nazis before liberation. Decades after the horror of the murder of six million Jews and many others, news suddenly leaked back to the American public, who were outraged by the Nazi atrocities.

Dr. Lempertas then tried to say there had been many works published in Lithuania but that nothing had really changed the Lithuanian consciousness concerning the Holocaust in Lithuania, for some reason. He mentioned the book Masines zudynes [Mass Murders in Lithuania, 1941-1944] by name (published in Russian in 1972 and Lithuanian in 1973, apparently). Lempertas then brought up school textbooks in the context of Holocaust education. “Of course there can only be good things in textbooks,” he said. “I mean, to, what’s that word?” Someone in the audience evidently saw where he was going and offered “indoctrinate!” “Yes, indoctrinate only good things from the history. I mean, no country prints bad things from its history in textbooks for students.” This was too much even for the Lithuanian Americans near the back of the room, and Kestutis piped up: “Yes they do!” Lempertas retreated into a sort of general lament that all attempts to educate Lithuanians about the Holocaust had failed―all attempts, apparently, except actually telling the truth in history class.

It would be easy to take Lempertas’s words out of context, because the context was never apparent. For example, at one point, when he was saying something about Jews as wraith-like bogeymen in post-war Lithuania, he said “There are no Jews anymore, it’s safe.” I suddenly found myself back in 1974, with that unforgettable ditty encountered everywhere in those days, “duuuuuuh-duh, duuuuuuh-duh, duuuh-duh, duh-duh-duh-duh.” The same motif later adapted for one of the first arcade videogames, Space Invaders. I thought: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water Jews!” The movie poster had a Hasidic Jew in full garb, mouth wide open, his head emerging from the deep with a terrific splashing. Then there was the sound of a needle dragging across vinyl and I was back in 2013. Sužiedėlis had already given lip-service to what he termed “coming clean” about the Holocaust, the need for that to happen in Lithuania by Lithuanians, making Dr. Lempertas’s omission all the more conspicuous by its absence. Just to recap up to this point: genocide as specific kind of mass murder doesn’t exist; Double Genocide doesn’t exist as a phenomenon; testimonies are anecdotal and while Soviet prosecution files are unreliable, they’re probably better than eye-witness testimonies, because these are “narrative” rather than real bona fide “history” the Holocaust didn’t exist until 1978 when ABC revealed it to Americans; all countries only print positive aspects of their histories in their school books. So much for “coming clean,” eh? Ronaldas Račinskas chimed in with something of a non sequitur about some materials produced by the long-defunct House of Memory project, which “we decided not to use,” presumably meaning they didn’t use the materials from that organization in school curricula, although I have yet to see his own commission produce any comparably good school curricula, and how and why that related to Lempertas’s and Sužiedėlis’s points, I’m not sure.

Ronaldas Račinskas delivered a rapid and impassioned plea for his bureaucratic agency, the ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL, and claimed it was doing important work. Nobody would have guessed that his state-sponsored ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL helped put the universally praised House of Memory out of business, by sucking up all support, and by replacing Holocaust studies with “Two Holocausts studies.” Sužiedėlis also poo-pooed the idea there was a conspiracy or even ill-willed individuals engaged in promoting a revisionist version of the Lithuanian Holocaust. As he did so, he turned slightly to his left and glanced at Ronaldas Račinskas. I found this gesture pregnant with meaning, for some reason. He mentioned that the Nazi subcommission was about to resume work after a long break, following the resignation of Yitzhak Arad, after he was accused by Lithuanian prosecutors of war crimes or sought for questioning about alleged war crimes Jewish partisans were thought to have committed against civilians. During his diatribe I found my mind wandering, while my mouth began to mouth the words emanating from Ronaldas Račinskas. Incredibly, my mouth began to mouth those words milliseconds before he uttered them. How is this possible, I wondered. Psychotronic mind control, or just the depths of boredom? Neither possibility seemed a very satisfactory explanation, and I decided I was doing something I’ve heard of among the musically-inclined, anticipating the next note according to a general pattern. As far as I was concerned, nothing of substance was said. Sužiedėlis made a laconic point that under the rule of law the executive wasn’t supposed to interfere in the judicial branch (you would think he was thinking about a current trial in the United States with great media fanfare), and added that he was generally appalled Arad had been accused, a sentiment which Račinskas and Lempertas seemed to share.

Library director Bieliauskas opened the floor up for questions from the audience. An amusing comment came from a lady who said she hadn’t been aware the ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL had been on hiatus! A non-Jewish American expatriate sitting up front  in the “front-row government” section commented on Sužiedėlis’s supposition of three main narratives, saying there should be a fourth, the Litvak narrative, as well. Sužiedėlis explained he included this in Israeli narratives, which fell under the general rubric of Western narrative.

At some point Dovid Quixote Commander of Yiddishist Expeditionary Forces got around to making the five points he had scrawled on the back of an envelope he borrowed off his friend Jacob Piliansky, who joined our Jewish ghetto in the back left hand corner. Dovid Quoxite Commander scrawled his points in spider-web-like cramped Yiddish, of course, but delivered them in English. Piliansky, a native Lithuanian Jew in middle age, had gained his own notoriety with a taped interview on why the government continues to allow neo-Nazi marches in the center of the capital on independence day. The point I remember most about Katz’s comments concerned Pinchos Fridberg, subject of the disinformation campaign by the director of the ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL, Ronaldas Račinskas. Katz pointed out Fridberg was not in attendance because of the campaign waged against him, including on the official ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL website.

When Katz finished, roving Lithuanian ambassador Violeta Gaizauskaite, sitting in the Lithuanian section, clapped in response to Katz’s statements. But the three members of the panel went into heated competition on who could best discredit Dovid Katz, seemingly with the foreknowledge that chairman Bielauskas would not allow a response to any of the list of personal slurs forthcoming. Račinskas said, to paraphrase (but without distortion), “Everything Dovid Katz says is wrong.” He just failed to respond at all to any of the five points made in their particulars (which are made loud and clear in Defending History).

Bizarrely, Sužiedėlis attacked Katz for having included a certain book in a list recommended for Lithuanian teachers in an obscure article back in 2010. One of the five or so Katz suggested there for enabling local teachers to learn more about the international perspective on the Lithuanian Holocaust was Karen Sutton’s The Massacre of the Jews of Lithuania (2008). Sužiedėlis lashed out at Katz for including Sutton’s book, fuming on that Sutton doesn’t even know Lithuanian. And then he made a stranger comment still: he compared Sutton’s work to someone writing a book about Vichy France without knowledge of the French language. I understood his motivation, I think: he was making a point, in that special mental framework of Lithuanian activism especially prevalent among those Lithuanians who don’t actually have to live in Lithuania, about the value of the Lithuanian language and scholarship, about how the Lithuanian language is not inferior to any other. Who said that it was? But apart from Masines zudynes (also published in Russian, I believe), what is this great Lithuanian Holocaust scholarship Sutton failed to reference? Perhaps Sužiedėlis was referring to prosecutorial documents containing testimonies from Lithuanian war crimes suspects. But most of that is in Russian, from what I’ve seen. In any event, it’s a false analogy, because the French of Vichy France spoke French and considered themselves French, whereas the Quisling Lithuanian pro-Nazis attacked Jews, whom they felt were a distinct and inferior race, and whose language, Yiddish they did not highly regard. Is Sužiedėlis claiming Sutton’s book is flawed because she didn’t use Lithuanian sources, or is he just pointing out that Lithuanian is a language worthy of study and respect in its own right? How much Hebrew and Yiddish does Sužiedėlis read and write, and does that make him less or more qualified to write about the Holocaust in Lithuania? Must a scholar of Vichy France also know Provencal, and Basque, and perhaps have passing fluency in Arabic and Berber as well?

Perhaps there is some other reason why Commission employees don’t want Lithuanian teachers (or anyone) to read Karen Sutton’s The Massacre of the Jews in LithuaniaNow what could that be? (His attack on Sutton and her book has become a staple of his ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL stump speech, and he didn’t fail to go for it at the incredible May 2012 symposium convened in Vilnius to camouflage the reburial and state glorification of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister who oversaw the start of the Lithuanian Holocaust; while he found time to “go for Sutton” he neglected to mention the repatriation of the Nazi collaborator that the symposium was diverting attention from, the very same week. Is something wrong?)

Sužiedėlis then accused Dovid Katz of claiming that members of the Commission had foreknowledge of the plot to discredit its founding member Yitzhak Arad. But he knows well that Katz had never said anything of the sort, he had criticized the Commission for failing to condemn the kangaroo investigation and defamation to this day, and failing to obtain a formal apology from top prosecutors and other government leaders (Katz in his remarks invited the Commissioners to do so right now!). In his own earlier remarks, Katz invited the assembled to check Arad’s Wikipedia bio to see how the stain of being investigated for (sham) war crimes charges is a case of permanent and horrific defamation that can only be fixed by an apology from the same government that sponsors this Commission.

But it was by then clear that the chairman would not allow anyone from the Jewish ghetto in the back to reply, and the field day ecstasy was in full flow, providing an adolescent rush for Sužiedėlis, Račinskas and the latest pretender to chief court Jew of Vilnius, Ilya Lempertas. Sadly for him he is far from the front of the list, and he generally seems to have kept quiet during the lifetime of his illustrious father, Israel Lempert (Izraelis Lempertas), one of the major scholars of Lithuanian Jewry until his death last December. Someone in our Jewish Ghetto section muttered something about Lempert senior (a proud and widely loved Soviet army veteran, decorated in the war against Hitler, in addition to being a major scholar and educator) turning over in his grave, but I could not make out who it was, trying as I was to listen to the action up front.

Lempertas’s response was not generally intelligible, except that the Prague Declaration was a fine document with no problems, and Katz is generally wrong about everything. One would never dream that seventy Euro-parliamentarians signed a counter-declaration in 2012, or that the Prague Declaration has many critics internationally (or that the ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL itself has been heavily criticized by Holocaust survivors, and that Martin Gilbert, Konrad Kwiet and Yitzhak Arad are among the scholars who resigned on principle).

Račinskas was beaming with pride at the Jewish Lempertas’s unbridled servitude to the ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL. At this rate, it seemed to me, he may soon be rewarded with a job at the ICFTEOTCOTNASORIL, or maybe even a membership in the august body, alongside the Genocide Center’s Arunas Bubnys, among many other fellow travelers. Kestutis, the Lithuanian American, raised his hand and joined in the attack on Quixote Commander Katz, saying there were certain nefarious forces abroad in the world who would stop at nothing to ruin the construction of bridges of understanding between the Jewish and the Lithuanian people. Well, he didn’t use exactly those words, but that’s what he said. He also said his VilNews website has 3,000 Litvak pages, and that all were welcome to submit articles. He introduced his editor Vincas to the audience, who said something and sat back down. At this point the two Scandinavian young men left their card with the greeter girl librarian and slipped away into the evening.

A final question came from a Lithuanian American young woman in the mid-front, unaffiliated with the Bostonians apparently, who asked about how the panelists viewed a recent novel a Lithuanian author set during the Holocaust. The book has received some notice by Lithuanians because it doesn’t portray the murderers as anti-Soviet heroes or some such. Sužiedėlis to his credit had actually read the first three chapters. Opinions were varied―this wasn’t a school textbook, so obviously discussing bad things was allowed―but what no one said was, this is a work of fiction set during the Holocaust and should not be construed as anything other than fiction. The young man whom no one noticed, and thus the one to really watch, sitting in the back corner, started folding up his laptop.

Sensing what was clearly in the air, library director Bieliauskas slowly got around to breaking the news that our revelries had ended and our lives the stuff dreams are made of, bounded on both ends by sleep. Well, he said it a little differently, but that was the general gist of it. The Jewish Defense Forces avoided the wine table by the balcony as if it were all curly fries and bacon-cheeseburgers and congregated at the metal book-theft prevention apparatus, while Quixote Commander K seemed to be busily recruiting a new person for the JDF; she had come to tell him it was a life-giving breath of fresh air to hear someone actually respond to the government mush about the Holocaust. But Katz and Co. then got busy in a warm conversation with Lithuanian American poet Ken Slade. So, we survived, through another of Sužiedėlis’s virtually identical presentations; listening to Račinskas explain why his agency is worth pouring ever more money into, while avoiding answering any questions (the man offers a very different narrative to Lithuanian audiences; that one is generally focused on the “Jewish Communists”); trying to decipher Lempertas’s garbled attempts at any single idea; and generally suffering all the slings and arrows of attending what for some appeared to be an art gallery opening, and to others a serious matter involving the death of millions of people.

Orchestrating everything was the Hollywood-handsome host, the library director, Žilvinas Bieliauskas, who reminds some people of the Warsaw hat-maker who pretended to be from Paris in Romain Gary’s Vilna-set Promise at Dawn. To others, his exquisite skills enchanting foreign (and well-to-do) Jewish ladies of some age suggest a twenty-first century ultra-fit version of Zero Mostel in The Producers.

Is reconciliation possible? Is there a simple solution? I think the panelists unwittingly hit on it: come clean with the real history, even the bad stuff. Not the narratives, as Račinskas and Sužiedėlis would say, but the real history. Not the sort of book Sužiedėlis and Dieckmann co-authored, meant for a tiny readership of mostly foreigners, and which reads like it was written by an entire commission, with qualifiers prefacing every atrocity and a stamp of approval, Soviet-style, at the end, by politicians. Just the simple truth, as is known and has been known for quite some time.

The LAF (Lithuanian Activist Front) and PG (Provisional Government) were criminal Nazi organizations, the June Uprising was a Nazi feint to promote the rapid invasion of the Soviet Union, and Lithuanians participated massively in killing Jews in Lithuania and abroad. This isn’t higher mathematics, or the Kennedy assassination, or fluid dynamics or the stellar mechanics of black holes. If the whole idea is that Lithuania needs to deny the Holocaust to deny the legitimacy of the Soviet occupation in order to sue the Russian Federation for reparations and generally serve the interests of the Great Game, that’s really not a wise idea, no wiser than joining the Third Reich in 1941. It doesn’t serve the people or the interests of statehood. There are no Mongol hordes at the gate, no more than there were in 1941, when the Germans attacked Russia mainly on that principle, and became themselves the greatest barbarians Europe had ever seen, and homegrown ones at that.

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