Jerusalem-Kabul Exchange of Ideas: Dr. Efraim Zuroff, head of Wiesenthal Center’s Israel Office, Replies to EU’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Vygaudas Ušackas


Background on

2 January 2012 report

13 January 2012, from Efraim Zuroff (Jerusalem):


The fourth event involved former Lithuanian foreign minister Vygaudas Ušackas, currently the EU Special Representative to Afghanistan, who wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he characterized the Nazi occupation of his homeland during the years 1941-1945 as “a few years’ respite from the communists.”

In view of the fact that 96.4 percent of the 220,000 Lithuanian Jews who lived there under the German occupation were murdered (along with thousands more Jews deported there from Western and Central Europe ), many by local Nazi collaborators, Ušackas’ description was grossly insensitive, if not outright outrageous. Yet in response to my criticism, Ušackas issued a public statement in which he justified his original text by pointing to the unbalanced treatment in Western public opinion of “the crimes of Stalin’s regime … and the tragedy of its victims,” which had only recently received due legal recognition, “in contrast to Nazi crimes which have been universally condemned by all civilized humanity.” And while he did reiterate an earlier condemnation of Holocaust crimes in general, his comments did not mention a word about the tragic plight of Lithuanian Jewry or the horrific crimes committed by Lithuanians during the “respite” from Soviet occupation.

Such callous indifference to the fate of over 200,000 Lithuanian citizens, murdered in many cases by their own countrymen, may seem shocking coming from an official representative of the European Union, but recent events in Lithuania clearly indicate the government’s determination to rewrite the history books to cover up the crimes of local Nazi collaborators. In this regard, one example stands out: a conference held in the Seimas (Lithuanian parliament ) last June to mark the 70th anniversary of the German invasion. The conference’s main purpose was to glorify the Lithuanian Activist Front, a political group that collaborated with the Nazis in the hope of reestablishing Lithuanian independence, and that openly called for violence against the Jews. This incitement was a factor in the widespread attacks on Jews in 46 Lithuanian communities even before the arrival of Nazi troops — a well-documented phenomenon whose existence was denied at the conference.


All of the above cases can best be described as “Holocaust distortion” (as opposed to denial), which seeks to promote the canard of historical equivalency between Nazi and communist crimes, thereby denying the Holocaust its rightful place as a unique case of genocide. Such distortion also minimizes the highly significant role of Hitler’s Eastern European collaborators in Holocaust crimes and paves the way for the rehabilitation of those who fought against the Soviets, regardless of any crimes they may have committed against Jews. It is this ideological foundation that spawned all four events described above.

This approach was originally formulated in the Prague Declaration of June 3, 2008, which can properly be categorized as the official “manifesto of Holocaust distortion.”

9 January 2012, from Efraim Zuroff (Jerusalem):

Wiesenthal Center: EU Ambassador Ušackes’ Reply Only Further Insults Holocaust Victims in Lithuania

Jerusalem — The Simon Wiesenthal Center today responded with dismay and consternation to a communication from EU Ambassador to Afghanistan Vygaudas Ušackes to its chief Nazi-hunter, Israel director Dr. Efraim Zuroff, following his criticism of an op-ed by Ušackes in the Wall Street Journal in which the ambassador referred to the Nazi occupation of Lithuania as “a few years’ respite from the Communists.” In a statement issued here today, the Center noted that rather than rectifying his grossly insensitive remark about the Holocaust, Ambassador Ušackes has again insulted its victims, especially those murdered in his homeland.

According to Zuroff:

“All Ambassador Ušackes was expected to do was to admit that his original comment was inappropriate and apologize for his lack of sensitivity to the fate of Lithuanian Jewry during the Holocaust. Instead, he chose to defend his callous indifference to the murder of some 212,000 Lithuanian Jews during the Nazi occupation, by complaining about the imbalance in public opinion between “Nazi crimes which have been universally condemned by all civilized humanity,” and “the crimes of Stalin’s regime…and the tragedy of its victims,” which only received recognition more recently, as if this justifies ignoring the Holocaust. And while he did condemn Holocaust crimes in general, he did not say a word about those committed by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators.

“Ušackes’ reluctance to honestly deal with his country’s bloody Holocaust past raises serious doubts about his ability to properly represent the European Union.”

  • For more information call 00-972-50-7214156

3 January 2012, from Vygaudas Ušackas (Kabul):

In response to Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Press release from 2nd of January, 2012, I wish to state the following:


One word from the article on my personal history as a Lithuanian who grew up under the Soviet occupation does not represent my views regarding Lithuanian Jewry or the horrors of the Holocaust.

I hold my views to what I said as Lithuania’s Foreign Minster, during my visit to Israel in December 2009:

“The Holocaust is an unprecedented phenomenon that sought to employ a modern industrial state and even the entire European civilization with the goal of extermination of the entire Jewish nation. Lithuania, having experienced both the horrors of Nazism and the repression of Stalinism, holds in deepest respect all the fighters – living and dead – of the anti-Nazi resistance and the anti-Hitler coalition.”

In contrast to Nazi crimes which have been universally condemned by all civilized humanity, it was a long time before the crimes of Stalin’s regime received due legal evaluation and the tragedy of its victims was recognized. The uncensored history of Eastern and Central European states and nations has long remained a taboo even in the states that suffered from Stalinist terror and Soviet occupation.

My article of December, 2011 in the Wall Street Journal was devoted to a similar plight of otherwise very different countries, namely Lithuania and Afghanistan. Both countries have experienced tyranny. Lithuania successfully fought against it; Afghanistan’s fight, which is supported by all right-thinking people, continues as it strives to regain its rightful place among the international community of freedom loving nations.

  • Yours,
  • Vygaudas Ušackas
  • Ambassador
  • Head of Delegation and EU Special Representative

2 January 2012, from Efraim Zuroff (Jerusalem):

Wiesenthal Center Calls Upon Lithuanian EU Ambassador to Afghanistan Ušackas to Apologize for Grossly Insensitive Comments on Nazi Occupation of Lithuania

Jerusalem — The Simon Wiesenthal Center today called upon EU Ambassador to Afghanistan, Lithuania’s former Foreign Minister Vygaudas Ušackas, to apologize or retract his grossly insensitive comments regarding the Nazi occupation of his country in his December 2011 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. In an article entitled “My Long, Strange Journey to Afghanistan,” Ušackas categorized the Nazi occupation of Lithuania (1941-1944) during which over 96% of the country’s Jewish community was murdered, in many cases by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators, as “a respite from the Communists while the Nazis were in control.” In a statement issued here today by its Israel director, Holocaust historian Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the Center termed the comment “a grave insult to the victims of the Holocaust and especially to those murdered in Lithuania.”

According to Zuroff:

 “It is incomprehensible that an individual who represents the European Union can refer to the mass annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry in such grossly insensitive terms, which fail to reflect the historical reality of that period. We urge Ambassador Ušachas to apologize and retract his statement and call upon the European Union to take appropriate measures should he refuse to do so.”

  • For more information call 00-972-50-7214156

6 December 2011, article in the Wall Street Journal, by Vygaudas Ušackas (Kabul):

Afghanistan’s Struggle Has Wide Resonance

From America to the former Soviet bloc, the fight against tyranny deserves wholehearted support.

By Vygaudas Usackas

In the spring of 1983, I boarded a train for Kazakhstan along with other Lithuanians drafted into the Soviet military. Once there, we were to receive our orders for deployment to Afghanistan, where the Red Army was bogged down in what was to become one of the most notorious wars of the modern age.

As luck would have it, our commanding officer liked a drink, so once we got to Almaty, then Kazakhstan’s capital, we plied him with as much vodka as us poorly paid conscripts could afford. He got so drunk that he passed out and didn’t wake up until our transport to Afghanistan was long gone. We let him sleep, of course, and we never did get sent to fight the Afghans. We sat out the war, which helped bring down the Soviet Union, in Karaganda, far from the fighting.

Almost two decades later, I was sent to Kabul as the European Union’s ambassador to Afghanistan. I often describe it as a miracle that I escaped being sent to fight in Afghanistan, and that my fate was to be sent there as a diplomat instead, representing 27 countries and half a billion people. Every conversation I have with the Afghan people is informed by the intervening years, when I was on the frontline of Lithuania’s fight for independence from the Soviet Union.

It is that experience, fighting for the freedom and future of my own country, that helps me understand where Afghanistan finds itself today, on the precipice of despair. I have been on that precipice, and I strive each day to reassure Afghans that, whichever way they fall, their fate is in their own hands.

My country, today among the smallest in Europe, was once among the biggest and richest. From the 13th to 15th centuries, it included in its territory Belarus, Ukraine and parts of what are today Poland and Russia. My father comes from a wealthy landowning family, my mother from simple farming folk. Despite representing different ends of the social spectrum, both families faced fierce persecution when the Soviets invaded in 1940. We had a few years’ respite from the communists while the Nazis were in control during World War II. The Soviets re-occupied Lithuania in 1944.

“We had a few years’ respite from the communists while the Nazis were in control during World War II.”

[image: A rally for independence in Vilnius, Lithuania, in January 1990. Associated Press]

My father and his parents were on the first train of deportees sent to Siberia, and spent five years in the frozen labor camps between Kasnojarsk and Irkutsk. My mother was shot twice and has carried the bullets in her chest all her life—as souvenirs, we like to say. The family’s land was confiscated.

During my two years as a Soviet soldier, I had to attend regular political indoctrination sessions, where we were told that the war in Afghanistan was one of “liberation.” We had heard that one before, when the Soviets supposedly “liberated” Lithuania after the war.

After returning home, I studied law at Vilnius University, where I discovered Thomas Jefferson, who “swore upon the altar of God against every form of tyranny.” To this day I keep a picture of the man who drafted the U.S. Declaration of Independence on my desk, as a reminder that freedom is everyone’s right.

Student politics at that time in Lithuania could be dangerous, even life-threatening. But it was also exciting, and I felt I was supporting the cause of freedom and democracy in my country, which had been under the yoke of the Soviet Union for 50 years.

In 1990, a year before the Soviet Union disintegrated, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence. But it was almost two years before Washington recognized Lithuania as an independent country. During that time, my colleagues and I feared that it would all unravel, that freedom was for others but not for Lithuanians. History, it turns out, was on our side.

It is my belief that history will also prove to be on Afghanistan’s side. Now, two decades later, we can look back and understand how painful the Soviet war in Afghanistan was, but we can also see that it helped to undermine the Soviet Union. Afghanistan shook the foundations of the communist giant and enabled the Baltics to become free again. It is an achievement Afghan people can be proud of.

They can also be proud of the achievements of the past ten years, since the Taliban were pushed from power and the Afghan people once more became masters of their own destiny. Many Afghans tell me that they worry their gains will be lost, given the 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO combat troops and knowing that violent insurgency will continue for some time after that. One young man, citing the doomsayers, told me that if Afghans are constantly told their situation is hopeless, eventually it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that they will lose hope.

He has no reason to lose hope, but he does need to be vigilant. Only Afghans can determine the type of country they want for themselves and for their children. In pursuing freedom from tyranny, they have the wholehearted support of the international community, and the goodwill of all right-thinking people.

Today, when Afghanistan’s leaders attend the Bonn Conference on their country’s future, they will find that the commitment of their supporters has not wavered and will not waver. The lessons of the Soviet withdrawal have been learned. We are in Afghanistan to stay, to help the Afghans create the country they want, and to ensure they take and hold their rightful place among the international community of free nations. The genuine efforts of Afghans to improve governance and justice in their country, to tackle corruption and to advance the rights of women, will help entrench the staying power of their many supporters around the world.

—Mr. Usackas is the European Union’s ambassador and special representative to Afghanistan. He previously served as Lithuania’s foreign minister and its ambassador to the U.S. and U.K.

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