Lithuania, Poland, and Eastern Europe’s Confrontation with the Holocaust

In the late 1990s, and again a decade later, attempts to prosecute a few Lithuanian citizens for their involvement in the slaughter of Jews during World War II were countered by efforts to prosecute a Nazi hunter and then two Holocaust survivors for committing “crimes” against Lithuanians. At the time, the historian Antony Polonsky wrote an essay on these and related controversies in Lithuania, comparing them with similar controversies in Poland and Germany; the essay was published in Poland in 2010 but has now been made available online for the first time in the wake of the recent Polish law forbidding false statements about the Polish role in the Holocaust:

Lithuanian and Jewish collective memories [are still] very far apart. The Lithuanians, who lost their independence after World War II, felt that the Jews had shown little appreciation for the favorable way they had been treated in interwar Lithuania [which, on the whole, was marginally better than what Jews experienced in neighboring countries, or had experienced under the Tsars] and held the Jews collectively responsible for aiding the first [1940-41] and second [1944-1991] Soviet occupations of their country. Only a small number of Lithuanians had participated in the mass murder of the Jews, comparable to the minority of alleged Jewish collaborators with the Soviets.

Jews for their part highlighted the growth of anti-Semitism [in Lithuania] in the 1930s. They were particularly affronted by what they saw as the massive involvement of Lithuanians in the mass murder of the Jews, both just before the establishment of Nazi rule and particularly in cooperation with the Nazi occupiers, and were shocked by the brutal behavior of Lithuanians in such incidents as the massacre at the Lietukis garage in Kaunas on June 27, 1941.

Given the large-scale complicity of Lithuanians in the mass murder of Jews in 1941, the traumatic effect of the two Soviet occupations of Lithuania, the second lasting nearly a half-century, and the unstable nature of the Lithuanian political scene, with the temptation this offers to demagogic politicians to engage in populist rhetoric, it is not surprising that the discussion of wartime issues has proved a difficult and painful topic and has led to bitter exchanges between Jews and Lithuanians. . . .

From the first days of independence, a series of public statements by Lithuanian leaders expressed regret at the participation of Lithuanians in the Holocaust and condemned the genocide. The culminating point was the visit of then-President Brazauskas to Israel during which, in his address to the Knesset in March 1995, he publicly asked forgiveness “for [the actions of] those Lithuanians who mercilessly murdered, shot, deported, and robbed Jews.” This was not universally well-received in Lithuania and led to calls for the Jews in response to apologize for their “crimes” against the Lithuanian nation during the Soviet occupation.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Polish public figures have begun making similar appeals for Jewish apologies in recent days.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Eastern Europe, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Lithuania, Poland, World War II

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy