VILNIUS—Rachel Kostanian, doyenne of Holocaust history dissidents in Lithuania and beyond led, for over a quarter century, a tiny little museum in a wooden green house — it came to be known internationally as The Green House — high up a driveway invisible from the street, that insisted on telling the bitter truth about the Holocaust. Though part of the state’s Jewish museum complex officially, she personally raised support for its own major projects and publications and kept the editorial control independent. Her museum told the truth about the Lithuanian Holocaust, starting with the mass campaign of murder, plunder, humiliation and violence unleashed by the “Lithuanian Activist Front” (LAF), and other local “White-Armbanders” before the first German soldiers even arrived in June 1941. The huge “Genocide Museum” on the city’s main boulevard, by contrast, some seven minutes’ walk away, has a large hall dedicated to glorification of these same collaborators as supposedly heroic leaders of an anti-Soviet “rebellion” (a strange term here, as the Soviets were fleeing Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa, the largest invasion in human history, not the local white-armbanded fascists). As it turns out, the issue comes to the fore in 2021, with the 80th anniversary of the events looming, and the nation’s parliament having named the year in honor of an LAF member accused of atrocities.
For years, Kostanian was harassed and demoted, never losing her dignity or cool in educating thousands of Lithuanian school children (whose teachers certainly did appreciate her work), and tens of thousands of foreign visitors. She also insisted on a major room dedicated to prewar living Yiddish culture, All texts had to be in Lithuanian, English and Yiddish.
Ms. Kostanian was one of the major inspirers of the rise of the Defending History movement in 2008, and this journal the following year. A 2012 documentary film, Rewriting History, by Danny Ben-Moshe, featured her role prominently, and the late Sir Martin Gilbert stepped in as white knight more than once to save her from being fired. In her late eighties, she retired to Berlin to be near her son and grandchildren. Her recent 91st birthday attracted tributes from the former British, Irish, and Norwegian ambassadors to Lithuania, the state museum’s former director, Markas Zingeris, and a number of foreign scholars whose work she enabled.
“Cinderella is finally invited to the ball.”