by Dovid Katz
The Lithuanian Holocaust broke out in the week of 22 June 1941, when the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union; it is the week when, in many locations, so-called ‘patriots’ and ‘rebels’ in large numbers began to humiliate, plunder, injure and slaughter Jewish neighbors before the first Germans ever arrived. At the conference held yesterday and today in the country’s parliament, this was the Elephant in the Room that reared its head now and again, no matter how hard the political and academic planners worked to ensure that it would disappear in a program dedicated to virtually every other conceivable aspect (translation of original program here; final printed English version of the program here).
The plot thickens. These are the very ‘patriots’ and ‘rebels’ who are being honored this week by major state institutions, and to no small degree, at this very conference. As if their launch of the Holocaust, which went on under German rule, and with their continued massive voluntary participation, is either some kind of uncorroborated slander, or, as if this is some very tiny detail in an otherwise glorious campaign of rebellion against Soviet forces (with no mention that the USSR’s troops were actually fleeing the German invasion, not their ‘rebellion’).
The attempted deletion of the most shameful week in Lithuanian history also meant that the incredibly brave Lithuanian citizens — an eternal symbol of valor and true patriotism — who helped a Jewish neighbor that particular week, in effect helping save someone from murder from the country’s own ‘patriotic rebels’ (rather than from the Germans as in later periods), went unmentioned at a conference dedicated to the seventieth anniversary of that very week. This journal has opened a new page dedicated to First Week Rescuers, in the hope that scholars and readers will be providing sources and resources for its eventual growth (with no prejudice of course to the honoring of all Righteous Gentiles in the country who risked their and their families’ lives to save neighbors).
To put it differently, the new Denial that is part of Holocaust Obfuscation in the Baltics is Denial of the outbreak of the Holocaust locally, prior to the arrival of German forces. Its special importance this week lies in the precise seventieth anniversary of those events. For background, see the Lithuanian Activist Front’s own leaflets predating the German invasion, and the recent attempts to cover up those events and turn the perpetrators into heroes (see top story on Page 1). Of course, listings of reliable works on the subject contain many established historic sources. Some of the online sources may also be referenced via a Map of the Lithuanian Holocaust.
But the Elephant in the Room had popped out most shockingly yesterday, when a historian from the Genocide Research Center told the assembled that there is no evidence for the murders before German arrival, and that such ideas are only to be found in the works of the ‘Jewish historian Dov Levin’. Professor Levin’s outstanding work is complemented by hundreds of testimonies and the researches of every competent scholar who has studied the issue (a first reading list here).
Today the affirmation of the New Denial was left to Ronaldas Račinskas, executive director of the discredited ‘Red-Brown Commission’ (whose official and lengthily Orwellian name is The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania). In addition to drawing the pain and anger of Holocaust survivors and Holocaust scholars for its campaign to equalize Nazi and Soviet crimes throughout Europe (the so-called Double Genocide movement), it has by now inspired the resignations on principle of a number of its members and associate scholars and experts, including Dr Yitzhak Arad, Sir Martin Gilbert, Professor Gershon Greenberg, and Professor Konrad Kwiet. The impetus to the resignations was the commission’s failure, to this day, to publicly condemn Lithuanian prosecutors’ kangaroo investigations, and the concurrent massive campaigns of defamation, emanating from the highest levels of society, against its own founding member Yitzhak Arad, as well as other Holocaust survivors who survived by joining the anti-Nazi resistance.
Mr Račinskas explained the principle of ‘equality of victimhood’, a principle which the commission’s chairman Emanuelis Zingeris expounded in 2008, the same year he became the only Jew in Europe to sign the Prague Decalaration. The problem is that the victimhood of a minority of a population that is deported for political reasons (horrific as that is) is just not equal to the victimhood of the murder of an entire people, leaving an extinct group on the same territory. Lithuania is thankfully a thriving EU and NATO country. Lithuanian Jewry is a nearly extinct race, whose remains lie scattered in 250 mass graves covering every region in the nation. To put it differently, it is the empirical distinction between genocide and an array of other crimes, though tragically, it has now become illegal in Lithuania to say this.
Mr Račinskas went on to mention that Jews were ‘very disproportionately represented in the Communist party’, and that while that was no justification for the stereotype that Jews in general are communists, it was sufficient cause for the Jewish community (!) to analyze why such a stereotype developed. Today’s tiny and shrinking remnant Jewish community in Lithuania numbers several thousand, many of whom are flight survivors and very elderly. What ‘study of stereotypes’ does he want them to embark on, exactly?
Turning his attention to the Elephant in the Room, perhaps uniquely among the scheduled speakers today, Mr Račinskas turned folksy: ‘About killing before the Nazis arrived. Whenever I tried to get more details about that, I found no information. You know, historians would either smile, or tell me that everybody knows it.’ Ever the politician playing scholar, he called on people to ‘avoid spreading such stereotypes by getting more information’…
And finally, the Red-Brown Commission’s executive director was the only speaker to raise the equally delicate issue about the country having the highest proportion of Holocaust murder in all of Europe. He explained that this was not, as is commonly thought, due to massive voluntary Lithuanian collaboration, and that it is just another ‘stereotype’. He assured the audience that it was because of the German master plan for it to be so.
When the chairman informed him that his time was up, Mr Račinskas, alone in the entire conference, demanded five more minutes to make another major point of the movement he represents in the eastern European Union. He proposed and lauded the (pseudo) ‘philosophical quandary’ of the ‘Victims who become Killers, and the Killers who become Victims’.
In this way, there are no longer any perpetrators and victims of the Holocaust, just the Double Genocide movement’s longed-for distortionist mush. In the local code of Holocaust discourse, this is reference to the idea that the killers had after all been victims of Soviet oppression, and, since the recent antisemitic ‘investigations’ against former Jewish partisans (condemned internationally), there is the added notion that some Jews became partisans if they escaped the ghetto and ipso facto became criminals too, and so in the end, everyone was killing everyone, everyone was a victim, the New Equality of the Zingeris-Račinskas (Račinskas-Zingeris?) Commission that is dressed up rather differently in Brussels and Strasbourg…. It is the disseminated drivel of Obfuscation, that needs to be exposed and combated with force, clarity and perseverance.
The executive director of the red-brown commission concluded with a pietistic tribute to the notion of the inherent equality of both totalitarian regimes, making it sound rather like the equality of all people and nations. His paper was the last, as the organizers’ chosen Grand Finale. It’s title on the program was: ‘Nazi and Soviet crimes: challenges for understanding and evaluating’.
For those (few?) in the audience who were interested in the outbreak of the Holocaust in the week being remembered seventy years on, the major event of the conference was the paper by Professor emeritus Saulius Sužiedėlis of Millersville University. His paper was titled: ‘Twists and turns in the history and memory of the 1941 genocide of Lithuania’s Jews in view of new investigations, old stereotypes and public discourse’.
A highly accomplished and respected scholar, whose own works on the Lithuanian Holocaust have generated sincere respect all around, he has become somewhat controversial in recent times, since agreeing to become one of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry’s ‘travelling Holocaust/Jewish event team’, an assignment that took him over the last year to Washington, London and Warsaw, among others. Occasionally he has slipped into a disturbingly different voice when speaking in Lithuanian to Lithuanian audiences; see some reaction in a Facebook thread). Unlike Sir Martin Gilbert and others, he has not resigned from the Zingeris-Racinskas ‘Red-Brown Commission’, even after its mission turned blatantly political, right down to proposing new details of red-brown ‘equivalence’ to the European Union in the movement to downgrade the Holocaust in Europe.
The anticipation was great and for much of his paper it seemed he would disappoint. He ran through the oft-repeated chronicle of the different narratives of the Lithuanian exile community in the United States and Holocaust survivors in Israel, among others.
But at the very end, when warned by the chairman that his time was nearly up, Professor Sužiedėlis told a largely unappreciative audience that the Holocaust was a central event in modern Lithuanian history, that it was the bloodiest event, and he made special reference to October 29th 1941 at the Ninth Fort near Kaunas, when 10,000 Jews were killed in a single day.
Given the character of the audience today in the Seimas, this was a statement of impressive courage and integrity for which the professor is to be warmly congratulated.
The discussion session was lively, and produced a few rants bordering on antisemitism, by Irena Tumavičiūtė, author of notoriously antisemitic articles (including the one that called on prosecutors to go for Jewish Holocaust survivors in 2008), and Father Alfonsas Svarinskas.
As evidenced by the heated debates in the question-and-answer session, the audience was most interested in the paper of Dr Algimantas Kasparavičius on the behavior and performance of Lithuanian diplomats and leaders during the war. There were accusations of treason against Dr Kasparavičius, and he was attacked with rather sharp polemic force by Professor Landsbergis who walked out at one point. A memorable moment in this debate came with the intervention by a teacher, Ms Juratė Litvinaitė, who begged her fellow Lithuanians to learn to tolerate differences of opinion, and to desist from labeling opponents traitors or Russian lackeys or spies (see the Democracy page for related issues). She asked the audience: ‘Why is it that if it’s a controversial opinion in Lithuania, it is called the work of Soviet spies. Should I say to my pupils, that if you don’t agree, you’re going to have to go to another job or leave?’
But this conference had an other unexpected hero. He was an elderly fellow who dared to disagree with the powerful leaders of the state’s Double Genocide Industry in the room (those from the Genocide Center, the Genocide Museum, and the Red-Brown Commission).
He is Mr Antanas Terleckas, former Soviet-era dissident and champion of independence, and of late a human rights activist, who rose to say that he personally remembers the murder of Jews in the days before the Germans arrived in the villages of Saldutiškis and Linkmenys (in Yiddish: Saldúteshik and Lingmyán).
Bravo to Mr Terleckas for bringing such honor to his country at a conference in the nation’s parliament, where so very little of that precious commodity was to be found.