O P I N I O N
by Danny-Ben Moshe
This comment appeared today in the Jerusalem Post and is republished here with the author’s permission.
The Israel-South Africa Chamber of Commerce is hosting as guest of honor Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis at a gala dinner. Given the current Lithuanian government’s policies towards the Holocaust, it is a bizarre choice.
More than twenty years into their post-Soviet eras, Lithuania and other East European nations are understandably and appropriately seeking international acknowledgment for the suffering inflicted on them by the Soviet regime.
However, rather than commemorating this in its own right, Lithuania has led the campaign to tie this recognition in with the Holocaust, in a policy known as Double Genocide. By so doing, the recognition they seek for their own suffering under the Soviets ipso facto becomes a policy that distorts and downgrades the Holocaust, and undermines and threatens its memory.
Double Genocide, as this term makes clear, contends that Europe experienced two genocides, the Soviet and the Nazi, and herein lies the first major problem with this policy. To obtain the recognition the Lithuanians deserve they are elevating their oppression into genocide. If the East European experience under the Soviets was the same or similar to the Jewish experience under the Nazis, as Double Genocide contends, then we start to lose the true nature, meaning and uniqueness of the Holocaust.
Beyond the danger posed by the theoretical construct of Double Genocide, we are also able to see the further negative impact it has on memory by the way it is practiced. In the Lithuanian case, this entails turning the supposed Lithuanian “genocide” into the greater of the “two genocides” and as such dwarfs the actual genocide in a country where more Jews were wiped out in terms of percentage than in any other country in Europe: around 95 percent.
Evidence of the elevation of the Lithuanian “genocide” and the concomitant dwarfing of the Holocaust is provided in the national Genocide Museum in Vilnius where three floors are dedicated to Lithuania’s “genocide” at the hands of the Soviets and there is one token room about the Holocaust, very belatedly added. So not only does something that is not genocide become genocide, in the process it dwarfs if not conceals the actual genocide.
Yet there is another dimension and consequence of Double Genocide that is equally if not more sinister, and perhaps is part of the political motive which explains why it is occurring.
By emphasizing their own suffering Lithuanians avoid accepting their own culpability for unprecedented participation in the actual murder of the country’s 600-year-old Jewish community. Once again, this is evident in the Genocide Museum where the fighters against the Soviets, the white armbanders of the Lithuanian Activist Front, are lauded as heroes. The role of the same heroes as the killers of Jews is completely neglected. Ultimately there is a thin line between the obfuscation that is Double Genocide and the outright lie that is denial.
The manifestation and consequences of Double Genocide take on even more sinister proportions when, in practice, they provide a context to explain the genocide of the country’s Jews.
In the worst traditions of antisemitism, the Lithuanian Activist Front that led the genocide of Litvak Jewry saw Jews and Communists as one. Therefore, if the Jews are regarded in the public mindset as being responsible for the Lithuanian suffering then what happened to the Jews once the Soviets left in 1941 is understandable: Communists (Jews) killed Lithuanians and then the Communists (Jews) got killed. In practice, then, Double Genocide is not just about distorting the Holocaust, it is effectively about rationalizing and even justifying it.
To truly understand Double Genocide we have to look into the reality on the ground in Lithuania to appreciate that it is a central element of a double game. It is a game where the foreign minister can smile beguilingly with Jewish groups in Tel Aviv, when down the road in Rehovot 90-year-old Rachel Margolis is afraid to return to Vilnius for fear of arrest as part of the government’s war crimes campaign against Jewish Holocaust survivor partisans.
We know it is a double game because while the government cites plaques put up to acknowledge what happened to Jews in Lithuania under the Nazis, they simultaneously laud organizations like the Lithuanian Activist Front without a critical word about their role in wiping out Lithuanian Jewry.
It is a double game when Lithuanian embassies around world sponsor Jewish events, while at home the foreign minister perpetuates classical antisemitic myths by ominously blaming Jews for seeking foreign citizenship laws to claim assets.
We see the double game when the government says it is illegal to deny the Holocaust in Lithuania, but the same law makes it a criminal offense to dispute the notion of double genocide. And on and on the double game goes.
There is a fundamental question about whether Double Genocide is a genuine but misguided policy in the pursuit of recognition, or whether it represents something more pernicious. That can only be answered by looking at the big picture of what is occurring in policy and practice in Lithuania.
Whatever the answer to this moot point it seems incredible that the foreign minister, whose response to the Seventy Year Declaration (SYD) on the Final Solution Conference at Wannsee was to quip, “It isn’t possible to find differences between Hitler and Stalin except in their moustache: Hitler’s was smaller,” is received as a guest of honor by any Jewish group, let alone a Litvak-based organization, which thereby desecrates the memory of Litvaks whose genocide is obfuscated by Double Genocide and the double game.
This is not a case of one people claiming to have been greater victims than another. Every loss is a tragedy. This is not a competition of numbers, scale or nature of suffering and loss. Rather, it is about the truth behind the numbers, scale and nature of suffering and loss, so that all losses can be genuinely acknowledged and remembered, all of which is the necessary foundation for reconciliation.
The writer is an associate professor at Victoria University in Melbourne and a documentary film maker making a film about double genocide (www.rewriting- history.org) and is co-author of the Seventy Years Declaration.