Finally, Lithuania Begins to Confront the Holocaust

September 15, 2017 | Benas Gerdziunas
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In the small Baltic nation of Lithuania, any attempt at public discussion of the Holocaust has generally been made impossible by the history of local collaboration in the slaughter of Jews, the country’s attempt to ally with the Nazis against the Soviets, and today’s ever-growing, and well founded, fears of Russian revanche. But Benas Gerdziunas points to some signs that this might be changing:

In the years following Lithuanian independence [from the Soviet Union] in 1991, a succession of governments has offered a narrative of history connecting the modern state to the World War II effort to win independence at the cost of collaboration [with the Nazis]. A street dedicated to Kazys Škirpa, prime minister of the Nazi-collaborating government [that ruled from 1941 to 1944], stretches below the iconic Gediminas castle in the capital city of Vilnius. Jonas Noreika, who signed orders consigning Jews to ghettos where they were murdered, was posthumously awarded the country’s second highest military medal after Lithuanian independence in 1991. . . .

Textbooks in Lithuanian schools offer only fleeting mentions of Lithuanian Jewry, an integral part of Lithuanian society for more than 500 years. And the history of the Holocaust moves swiftly on to the stories of the many Lithuanians who saved Jews. . . .

In 2016, Ruta Vanagaite, a Lithuanian writer, injected the Holocaust back into public discourse with a book, Our People, which paints a stark contrast to the official historical narrative. She was immediately swamped with interview requests, she says, by “Putin apologists” and representatives from the Russian media and the Russian embassy in Vilnius. “I refused, knowing what it would mean for Lithuania,” she says. “We need to deal with this ourselves.”

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