O P I N I O N
by David Goshen (Kiryat Ono)
[Editor’s note of 1 December 2012: The letter below refers to the revised Yad Vashem exhibit of recent years, rather than the long-time exhibit removed. Cf. the final point made in my own June 2009 letter to Yad Vashem.]
The following letter was recently sent by me to the editor of the Jerusalem Post. It had one main object, namely to point out that a major portion of the responsibility for the murder of the Jews of Lithuania lies on the shoulders of the local Lithuanian population and to persuade the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum that the description “killed by the Nazis with the assistance of their local allies” does not by far describe what really took place in Lithuania in the Holocaust. A much abridged version of the letter was published on 30 November 2011.
The text of my original letter was as follows:
The Holocaust in Lithuania was very different to other countries. When the Nazis launched their attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, locals immediately commenced rampant killing of Jews and carried out major massacres. Local armed militias were organized overnight which carried out systematic killings of Jews in the main towns as well as in rural areas. By the end of 1941, up to 80% of the Jewish population of Lithuania had been killed, a large percentage by the volunteer local militias. The Nazis encouraged the locals releasing all criminals from prisons and encouraging them to join the massacres. Lithuania holds the record for the highest percentage of Jews killed in the Holocaust. The Nazis were amazed at the vicious attacks by locals on the Jewish population.
Later, many of the members of large local militias which exceeded 30,000 armed men which carried out the initial major liquidations of local Jewish population escaped from Lithuania with the advance of the Soviet Army and entered Germany claiming to be refugees and victims of the war. Many were assisted to emigrate to western countries thus it is not surprising that few remained to be prosecuted.
The Nazi invasion was considered by many as a liberation from Soviet rule and the Lithuanians expected the Nazis to grant them independence and allow them self-government so there was little opposition to the invasion. It eventually became clear to the Lithuanians that they would not gain independence and self-rule. During the war the main anti-Nazi partisan activities were carried out by Polish and Soviet partisans. Now their government tries to give the impression that they too resisted the Nazis in a meaningful way.
The first step we need to take here in Israel is for the new exhibit at Yad Vashem to replace the wording at the Lithuanian Pavilion from “murdered by the Nazis with the assistance of their local allies” to a more accurate description of the history.