Sur­mount­ing Lithua­nia’s Holo­caust past

The road to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion can­not dodge recog­ni­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Ja­son Katz Ja­son Katz is the prin­ci­pal of TSG, LLC. He is a for­mer di­rec­tor of gov­ern­men­tal re­la­tions and pub­lic af­fairs for the Amer­i­can Jewish Com­mit­tee, based in Los An­ge­les.

Since its in­de­pen­dence from the Soviet Union, an ar­du­ous and painful process in it­self, Lithua­nia has gone to great lengths to take its place among the democ­ra­cies of Europe. Se­cur­ing both NATO and Euro­pean Union mem­ber­ship are in­cluded in the tan­gi­ble acts the na­tion has taken on the road to ob­tain­ing its place in the cur­rent world or­der.

There are, of course, re­spon­si­bil­i­ties associated with these mem­ber­ships.

Lithua­nia’s achieve­ments notwith­stand­ing, the na­tion grap­ples with the truth, par­tic­u­larly as it per­tains to the Holo­caust and its very sub­stan­tial par­tic­i­pa­tion in it. The Holo­caust, con­ceived and de­vised by Nazi Ger­many, saw the sys­tem­atic and in­dus­tri­al­ized slaugh­ter of roughly 6 mil­lion Jews.

Yet the Holo­caust was per­pe­trated not only by the Nazis, but also at the hands of the count­less anti-Semitic butch­ers from through­out Ger­man-oc­cu­pied Europe — in­clud­ing, in sig­nif­i­cant mea­sure, Lithua­nia.

After the war and the near-mo­tion­less years of the Soviet era, Lithua­nia sought to come to terms with its World War II-era his­tory of com­plic­ity with the Nazis. The na­tion es­tab­lished the Geno­cide and Re­sis­tance Re­search Cen­ter (Geno­cide Cen­ter), a think tank and truth-and-rec­on­cil­i­a­tion­type or­ga­ni­za­tion. The group was tasked with in­ves­ti­gat­ing and re­port­ing on Holo­caust is­sues in or­der to help the na­tion to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for and cope with its bloody past.

Un­for­tu­nately, in Lithua­nia, a 25year road was em­barked upon, re­plete with de­nial of its in­volve­ment and cul­pa­bil­ity vis a vis the Holo­caust, in­clud­ing the min­i­miza­tion of mur­der­ous and tor­tu­ous acts, and the oblig­a­tory ob­fus­ca­tion. Re­cently, Geno­cide Cen­ter Di­rec­tor Terese Bu­rauskaite ad­mit­ted that her cen­ter is sub­ject to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure to is­sue de­ter­mi­na­tions of fact that are po­lit­i­cally ex­pe­di­ent, not fac­tual.

Prompted by the re­moval of Soviet-era mon­u­ments in the cap­i­tal city of Vil­nius, a group of prom­i­nent and en­gaged cit­i­zens pe­ti­tioned the gov­ern­ment to re­move mon­u­ments erected in honor of Holo­caust per­pe­tra­tors. The pe­ti­tion was pe­cu­liarly met with op­po­si­tion from Lithua­nia’s Geno­cide Cen­ter. Un­con­scionably, the cen­ter pub­licly shamed those call­ing for the dis­man­tle­ment of these stat­ues in a man­ner rem­i­nis­cent of pre-World War II and Soviet rhetoric by dis­miss­ing them as “Jews,” “Krem­lin agents” and “stupid peo­ple.”

Fol­low­ing this in­ex­pli­ca­ble ex­change, sev­eral ac­tivists, in par­tic­u­lar, Lithua­nian-Amer­i­can Grant Gochin, ap­proached the Lithua­nian gov­ern­ment di­rectly. The re­quest for the re­moval of the mon­u­ment ded­i­cated to Jonas Nor­eika — the man re­spon­si­ble for the an­ni­hi­la­tion of Mr. Gochin’s own rel­a­tives — was re­ferred to the Geno­cide Cen­ter for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Nor­eika’s cul­pa­bil­ity.

The cen­ter, in turn, is­sued a re­port ex­cul­pat­ing Nor­eika, while opt­ing to flout the orig­i­nal “per­se­cu­tion in­struc­tions” al­ready in the gov­ern­ment’s cus­tody. Fur­ther, the cen­ter dis­missed eye­wit­ness tes­ti­mony of Nor­eika’s or­ders to mur­der as “un­re­li­able.” In the end, a plethora of ev­i­dence against Nor­eika was sum­mar­ily re­jected by the very in­sti­tu­tion charged with deal­ing with is­sues like Nor­eika’s bloody past. The cen­ter even is­sued a let­ter glo­ri­fy­ing Nor­eika’s ac­tions dur­ing that pe­riod.

Dur­ing Mr. Gochin’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he found “a con­sis­tent agenda of de­nial, min­i­miza­tion, and the cre­ation of false­hoods as the modus operandi for Bu­rauskaite and her Cen­ter.” Ex­am­ples in­clude the ex­on­er­a­tion of a leader of the Maidanek Con­cen­tra­tion Camp guard unit, claim­ing he served out­side the camp and could not have pos­si­bly known what was tak­ing place inside.

Although the cen­ter func­tions as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive and an of­fi­cial spokesper­son for the gov­ern­ment of Lithua­nia, the Lithua­nian pres­i­dent, Supreme Court and State Se­cu­rity Depart­ment all con­firmed that no cor­rec­tive ac­tions are re­quired, re­in­forc­ing Ms. Bu­rauskaite’s pro­nounce­ments. His rep­u­ta­tion in­tact, Nor­eika will re­main a Lithua­nian na­tional hero.

Since in­de­pen­dence in 1990, Lithua­nia has de­clined to pun­ish a sin­gle mur­derer of a Jew. The Lithua­nian gov­ern­ment’s con­tention is that a dead man can­not be tried and that any ev­i­dence against him is ir­rel­e­vant. Thus, mon­u­ments to mur­ders stay erect and his­tory’s of­fi­cial records re­main blem­ished and in­com­plete.

It is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of any Euro­pean gov­ern­ment to ac­cu­rately re­port geno­cide per­pe­trated in its ter­ri­tory. Lithua­nia’s de­nial that many of its cit­i­zens whole­heart­edly par­tic­i­pated in the Holo­caust is unacceptable.

More im­me­di­ately, whether the pow­ers that be in Lithua­nia un­der­stand it or not, their na­tion’s avoid­ance of the truth and recog­ni­tion of their mur­der­ous past will af­fect the na­tion’s nat­u­ral devel­op­ment — a se­ri­ous prob­lem when try­ing to nav­i­gate the EU as a small power and when deal­ing with NATO mem­bers who ei­ther fought the Nazis or have come to terms with their com­plic­ity in that pe­riod. Ei­ther way, it would be­hoove Lithua­nia to deal with these is­sues and not be rel­e­gated to the pe­riph­ery of Europe and the world stage.

Un­con­scionably, the cen­ter pub­licly shamed those call­ing for the dis­man­tle­ment of these stat­ues in a man­ner rem­i­nis­cent of pre-World War II and Soviet rhetoric by dis­miss­ing them as “Jews,” “Krem­lin agents” and “stupid peo­ple.”

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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