by Dovid Katz
For years now, Defending History has, on the first of January each year, named the newborn year in honor of Lithuanian Holocaust-era Rescuers, or Righteous of the Nations as they are also known (tsadíkey úmes ho-óylem in Yiddish). In 2020 — Antanas Zubrys and Dr. Matilda Zubrienė; in 2019 — Jonas Paulavičius; in 2018 — Malvina Šokelytė Valeikienė. That is a tradition we hope to resume next year. But 2021, the eightieth anniversary of 1941, calls for something more focused, not least when some governmental bodies have chosen, shockingly, to use the anniversary to glorify the perpetrators rather than commemorate the victims and honor those who helped a neighbor to escape the rapidly closing death vise in the last week of June 1941.
By and large, the 916 Rescuers recognized by Yad Vashem (and a somewhat larger number if those recognized by Lithuanian institutions and assorted survivor families are added) are people who risked their own and their families’ lives to hide (and feed, sustain, care for and guard) a Jew or Jews for an extended period, risking it all for weeks, months or years, until the fall of the Nazi regime at the hands of the USSR — then in alliance with the United States, Great Britain and the other Allies — in July of 1944 (there were no American or British forces in Eastern Europe…). As an old adage, variously attributed, goes: One fascist with an automatic weapon could murder hundreds of trapped innocent civilians in some moments, but to save one person took years of heart-wrenching, inspirationally courageous effort by entire families and networks of incredibly good people. In the Baltics, the courage had to be greater than most other places, because they were regarded as traitors to their own nationalist leaders, not only to the occupying Nazi forces. And frankly, because things are different when much or most of the actual killing is done by willing locals idolized by the nationalists of the day.