President of Germany Honors Major East European ‘History Dissident’ Rachel Kostanian, Longtime Head of Vilnius’s Only Holocaust Museum


Andreas Görgen, head of the Directorate-General for Culture and Communication of Germany’s Federal Foreign Office  presents  Rachel Kostanian the Presidential Order of Merit signed by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Lukas Welz, chairman of AMCHA Germany was there and issued today’s press release. Photos: Florian Krauss for AMCHA Germany.

Rachel Kostanian in 2010

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.”

Then, just days after her 91st birthday, and the release of DH’s Rachel Kostanian section, came the sensational news that major cultural figures in Germany were – entirely separately — working on a major state honor for Kostanian. Word spread that the president of Germany, Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier had personally signed the award to Ms. Kostanian of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of the pandemic, the Foreign Ministry arranged a small private ceremony in Ms. Kostanian’s Berlin home, at which the award was presented by Andreas Görgen, head of the Directorate-General for Culture and Communication of Germany’s Federal Foreign Office. It was attended by Lukas Welz, chairman of the Board of AMCHA Germany who nominated Ms. Kostanian for the award after extensive research and consultation, and whose Berlin office released a press release today about the event.

From left: Rachel Kostanian; Andreas Görgen, head of the Directorate-General for Culture and Communication of Germany’s Federal Foreign Office; Lukas Welz, chairman of AMCHA Germany. Below: The Order of Merit. Photos: Florian Krauss for AMCHA Germany.

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