Professor Saulius Sužiedėlis (Millersville University, Pennsylvania), a major historian who has recently been flown to conferences far and wide courtesy of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, and politician Ronaldas Račinskas, deputy chairman of the state-funded ‘Red-Brown commission’ have blasted Dr. Efraim Zuroff and Professor Dovid Katz for being responsible for Lithuania’s international Holocaust issues, in a major panel discussion that appeared in the media both as a sound file and in an edited transcript format. There were also other members of the panel discussion.
Some selections in English translation can be edifying about the gist of politico-academic-media discourse on the Holocaust in the country. There is zero recognition in any part of the discussion that there might actually be objective, empirically real issues that are rather near the heart of the matter that could merit at least discussion by local intellectuals and government-appointed historians.
These include for example the 2010 legalization of public swastikas; Genocide Center personnel and members of parliament joining neo-Nazi parades; a ‘Genocide Museum’ that won’t mention the Holocaust; kangaroo investigation of two heroic women anti-Nazi partisan veterans; the campaign to glorify the LAF and other Nazi henchmen; the 2010 law passed by the parliament that effectively criminalizes the view that the Holocaust was actually the genocide that occurred in Lithuania. Instead, the issue is dissemination of the local narrative internationally, a process apparently being spoiled by — Zurofas and Kacas.
- “But returning to the media, I believe there are two problems here. It’s not just a problem of topics. There is also the problem of the content of the media themselves. Two elements differentiate themselves in our media: news which is intended to scandalize, to force a lower selling price, and opinions which are also expressed rather frequently without the proper reserve or responsibility for publicly uttered speech. Usually there is no deeper analysis. Just ringing epithets. Let’s say, Efraim Zuroff. For some reason he is very popular in Lithuania, the media presents every statement he makes as very important, almost the opinion of all Jews in the world. But in Israel, if you ask who is Efraim Zuroff, people don’t know who he is. I’m not talking about average people, even professionals don’t know.” [Translator’s comment: This was edited in Lithuanian from what he actually said during the radio interview, which included a snorting laugh but also different words, about “people from the street” rather than “ordinary people” and a much more mocking tone.]
- “They write in a special kind of media, the left-wing Guardian. And that writing is used successfully in internal political struggles as well.”
- “I’d like to emphasize one thing. When we speak about Katz and Zuroff, whose writings sometimes devolve to gross demagoguery, although not always, we need to understand that they succeed partially because their narrative is accepted in the West, where most people’s understanding of WWII is based on Steven Spielberg films. Many there don’t have the slightest idea what happened at that time in Lithuania. And sometimes that very same vocabulary is their advantage. For example, the word ‘anti-fascist’. In the West it only has a positive sense. But what sort of ‘anti-fascists’ did my parents see? Stalinist, nothing other. For many people of Lithuania the word has no positive sense. And thus these two narratives can come to odds just because of the different sense of the vocabularies. Or, let’s say, the Lithuanian word ‘post-war’. How do you explain to a Westerner that ten times more ethnic Lithuanians died after the war than during the war? It is too much for them to wrap their heads around.
- “But it’s not all hopeless. In this regard Timothy Snyder has written an important book called Bloodlands. It is popular now, the aforementioned figures have come out against it. Snyder found a way to present this narrative which, I think, is more acceptable, much more connected with our history. It is liked by many in the West because it isn’t identified with a certain ethnic group or anything like that. Perhaps such works could somewhat affect the narrative of Westerners as well, to help them to understand that there could be another attitude toward World War II without violating historical truth.”
- “One thing I’d like to point out is that Katz, Zuroff et al., they want to force their narrative alone on us. And if we correct that narrative, we become the bad guys. I would like to think it’s possible to adopt certain principles by which we could not only accurately, honestly and thoroughly study the tragedy of the Jews, but at the same time we could spread our own narrative as well. These narratives are not mutually opposed, if we work conscientiously.” [Translator’s note: The transcript says “But that will happen if we work conscientiously and dare accept certain unpleasant facts about the participation of Lithuanians in the Holocaust”, which wasn’t in the interview.]
NOTE: An unedited draft translation of the entire panel discussion transcript is available here. The text contains some rather remarkable discussion on what children should be taught about ‘freedom fighters’ who collaborated with the Nazi regime in Lithuania…
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