Free Speech and Holocaust Remembrance in the Eastern European Union


by Geoff Vasil

NOTE: This was written in response to “Foreign countries use far-right operations to undermine Lithuania’s image” published on June 7, 2013, on the Lithuania Tribune website.

Initially the editor-in-chief of the Lithuania Tribune agreed to publish the following reply in the Lithuania Tribune, but then changed his mind and finally refused, only informing the author a month later…



“It is possible that man may sometimes return on the track of evolution, and it is my belief that an awful lore is not yet dead.”     —Arthur Machen

Every year the memory of Pearl Harbor fades a little more. Surviving veterans and eye-witnesses are passing away and the event, so shocking at the time, slowly assimilates into that matrix of memory, emotions and facts we call history. This process is inevitable, and the distance it provides can be a barrier to understanding, but paradoxically also a lens providing a clearer view of what really happened.

This passing into history seems to affect all human events, lending credibility to the saying, time heals all wounds. Even the singularity, the black hole giving the lie to the veneer of modern civilization, commonly called the Holocaust, seemingly so impervious to explanation or full comprehension at first glance, succumbs to the tides of time and slowly but surely approaches that same horizon beyond which The Past holds reign. Slowly the survivors pass on, the eye-witnesses and perpetrators do the same, and the generations to come will decide in their day what to make of it all.

This article, a response to one in the Lithuania Tribune, was accepted by their editor, and after a month of non-publication, mysteriously rejected…

A different force, an artificial force, also acts upon our memory of the past, upon history as we know it. Sometimes events are engineered for a political purpose, such as the Reichstag fire in Berlin, but more often history is politicized following the fact, through careful direction and misdirection of public perceptions. Often enough as well, these political expediencies, political aims and policies apparently based on the lessons of history also change over time. When Americans watched symbols of American greatness razed to the ground on September 11, the almost spontaneous response was: “We will never forget!” This phrase popped up on personal websites, adorned the press and generally insinuated itself into the American mass consciousness. Ten years on, however, the idea of never forgetting 9/11, of bringing the perpetrators to justice no matter how long it took and no matter who the perpetrators actually were, was no longer desired by American politicians, neither by the out-going Bush administration, nor the new Obama crew, who substituted for “We will never forget” the unimaginative “Let’s move on.”

Likewise, in Israel Holocaust remembrance doesn’t always serve the perceived needs of consolidating the state. Thus, while remembering the Holocaust serves to underpin certain Israeli policies, it is more useful if the people don’t remember the Holocaust too well. Just enough to serve the aim of the current political leadership, and at appropriate venues, such as on Yom ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

As in America and Israel, so in Europe politicized, redacted history is employed for current political aims. The history of wars, and of World War II especially, serves as rationale for the existence of the European Union, as some sort of antidote to future intra-European conflicts at least. Never mind that the top-heavy, bureaucratic entity fails to serve its undefined public, and instead benefits only a select group of elite, including those engaged in the very redaction of Europe’s World War II history. Never mind that it serves as the vehicle for annulling all national sovereignties in the service of this same financial, bureaucratic and intellectual elite. And never mind that Germany, the successor state of the various Reichs which were main characters in the two world wars, seems to think it owns the EU and has the right to “demand” various steps in Greece and Cyprus, including defrauding bank account holders of their funds. And, while engaged in this sort of outrageous behavior, German leader Angela Merkel sees fit to make comments such as “Multiculturalism is dead, multiculturalism has failed.” In other words, she declared the EU dead, since there can be no EU if not a multicultural EU, and yet… Germany owns the corpse? I could say something about extracting gold teeth, but it could be interpreted as disrespectful to the dead.

Nowhere is the revision of history for political purposes more apparent than in modern Lithuania. Not content to rewrite the history of the Holocaust to exonerate Lithuanians en masse, Lithuania’s State Security Department in their latest annual report to the parliament did what they have done before: they denounced me personally and as a whole as agents of foreign influence, read: Russian and/or Israeli intelligence agency paid agents. On a positive note, at least they don’t call us KGB anymore, having realized finally the KGB no longer exists (except in Belarus).

Why does the Lithuanian state go to the trouble of denouncing people—not by name, of course—who simply insist on the historical truth, on the version of Holocaust and World War II history accepted around the world, people who act as private citizens without any state support?

The answer might surprise you. What it boils down to is very simple, once you see it. Lithuania is stuck in 1938. The buildings are the same, with a slight patina left by the intervening Soviet years. The mentality is the same. The propaganda is the same. The intelligence community, such as it is, is the same, like some sort of Three Stooges movie set in a fictional Balkan kingdom. The underlying myth of national identity is still stuck in 1938, too. Back then, you could find talk in the newspaper editorials of the “zutbut kova uz buti tarp lietuviu ir zydu,” “the life-and-death struggle for existence between the Jew and the Lithuanian.” When you scratch the surface of Lithuanian opposition to the generally accepted and generally true history of the Holocaust, they make appeals to some sort of Lithuanian exceptionalism, to their own special case or special set of circumstances.

What it comes down—the exceptionalism is always wrong and you can find everything that happened in Lithuania happened in other parts of Europe, with the exception of the percentage of Jewish civilians killed, where Lithuanians excelled—what it comes down to is righteous indignation of being confronted with the Holocaust and the crimes committed at a time when Lithuanians are, or were, engaged in “nation-building,” in inventing and resurrecting a set of myths and ideas upon which to forge a new national identity. That’s the first reaction: it’s rude to remind us. The second reaction is to fall back upon anecdotal atrocities Lithuanians suffered, often allegedly under Jews acting within Communist structures.

Neither of these reactions are particularly interesting, but what underlies them is, at least to me. What is going on is that Lithuanians are still engaged in trying to prove they are not an inferior race. The underlying assumption is that there are inferior and superior races—what are now called nations—and that Lithuanians can’t be somehow not at the pinnacle. This is the yardstick of 1938, remember. By demanding recognition Lithuanians played the major part in the murder of Lithuanian Jews, or even a major part, modern Lithuanians instinctively feel they are being relegated to the category of savages, or “aborigines” as they often say. This is clearly “inferior.” This inferiority complex was played upon by Russian-speaking settlers in the Soviet Union, and even comes up, in a way, in Hermann Kruk’s diary, where he talks with an air of the incredulous of Lithuanians claiming to be members of the Aryan master race during the initial period of Nazi occupation. As he rightly pointed out, the Nazis had much different ideas about the status of Lithuanians as a “race,” but he also says the Lithuanians in Vilnius at least convinced the Nazis to persecute the Poles as lower on the racial totem pole than Lithuanians.

Of course the world has moved on since 1938, and it’s considered preposterous and to some extent immoral to talk about superior and inferior races and peoples. Of course there are still chauvinists in every society, but that same national awakening that gave birth to Germany, to Lithuania, to Israel, Finland and so on, the heirs of this exercise in nation-building, the nation-states which grew out of it, have mostly moved on and measure themselves and others in new ways. One of those new measures of a given group or people’s ability to deal with reality in a rational way is how well they deal with the dark passages in their own—more or less invented—national histories. Germany is still dealing with the Holocaust, Finland’s very limited contribution to the attempted Nazi extermination of all European Jews has been dealt with fully, and Lithuania is still trying to prove to the dead leaders of the dead Third Reich and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that Lithuanians are not an inferior bunch. represents a threat to the national security of Lithuania to the exact extent that the existence of the state of Lithuania is based on fantastic reinventions of World War II history to serve short-sighted and narrow-minded political aims.

If the basis of the Lithuanian state and Lithuanian identity is Holocaust obfuscation, is an enemy of the state. We should probably all be rounded up and sent to concentration camps, to protect the children. All three—four?—of us, none of whom receive any financing by any foreign state entity, but all of whom are vitally interested in telling the truth about the Lithuanian Holocaust, so that as that sun of memory sets over the horizon, whoever it is in the future who looks back upon this point in history can say, yes, there were voices then, even then, at least attempting to speak for all those who were unable to speak for themselves. I expect those people of the future, those interested at all in the Lithuanian Holocaust, will be mainly Lithuanians whose identity and state are not based upon lies promulgated by government edict and foisted upon the public at tremendous expense to the citizens.

Geoff Vasil is senior analyst at Defending History.


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