Netanyahu’s silence helps to hide Lithuanian Jewish genocide

  • EfraimZuroff
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to address the dangerous issue of Holocaust distortion during his recent visit to Lithuania. To best understand the severity of this, we need to clarify the terms and potential hazards.
by DR EFRAIM ZUROFF | Sep 06, 2018

Holocaust distortion is often confused with the better-known phenomenon of Holocaust denial, but it is a more recent version of the latter.

It began with the fall of the Soviet Union, and the transition to democracy of post-Communist Eastern Europe. It was then (1990-1991) that these countries were able to face their Holocaust past honestly, including countries like Lithuania, which participated in systematic mass murder.

In Lithuania, 212 000 out of the 220 000 Jews who lived in the country under Nazi occupation were murdered during the Shoa (96.4%). This was the highest percentage of fatalities among the larger European Jewish communities. In Estonia, 99% of the Jews were killed, but only 1 000 lived under Nazi occupation, the rest, 3 500, were able to escape to the Soviet Union before the Nazi invasion.

It is important to remember that 90% of Lithuanian Jewry (in many cases the relatives of South African Jewry) were not murdered in death camps, as were most of the Nazis’ victims. Instead, they were shot near their homes, and in many cases by their neighbours or by other Lithuanians.

Added to that, thousands of Jews were deported from Germany, Austria, France, and the Czech Protectorate to be murdered in Lithuania by the Nazis and their local collaborators. Also, a Lithuanian unit, which was sent to Belarus expressly for that purpose, murdered an additional approximately 20 000 Jews.

Knowing this, it is not hard to understand why Lithuania has difficulty telling the truth about the Shoa.

With 227 mass Holocaust graves scattered all over the country, it is impossible to deny that the Shoa took place. Besides, any attempt to do so would automatically have derailed Lithuania’s efforts to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, probably its most critical foreign policy objective since obtaining independence.

And so, Lithuania commemorates the Holocaust, and has a special memorial day for its victims. However, you will never hear any Lithuanian leaders or officials admit how all strata of Lithuanian society were complicit in the annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry. You will also never hear them discuss how important the massive participation of local collaborators (more than 20 000) was in the success of the implementation of the Final Solution in Lithuania.

All our efforts, moreover, to facilitate the prosecution of unpunished Lithuanian Nazi war criminals were rendered futile by the government. It even made sure that none of the three criminals ultimately prosecuted in Lithuanian courts sat a single day in jail.

This cover up, is only one aspect of Lithuania’s efforts to distort the history of the Holocaust and World War II, and undermine the uniqueness of the Shoa. This is a very dangerous step, which if successful, is likely to severely damage Holocaust commemoration and education.

It is based on the canard of the equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes, and Lithuania has been one of the leaders of the so-called “double genocide” movement. This comparison is inherently flawed historically. Communism never sought to wipe a people off the face of the earth, nor did Communists ever carry out industrialised mass murder. So, this comparison has a very insidious dimension when it comes to Jews.

If Communist crimes can indeed be categorised as “genocide” (which they weren’t), it means that Jews (who served in the KGB) committed genocide. In that case, how can Jews complain about genocidal crimes by others? In other words, if everybody is guilty, then nobody is guilty.

Probably the most important goal of those supporting “double genocide” is the campaign to establish a joint memorial day for all the victims of totalitarian regimes on 23 August, the date of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. This was expressed in the Prague Declaration of 3 June 2008, which should be regarded as the manifesto of the movement.

Several resolutions supporting this initiative have already been passed in European forums. The danger is that if it is adopted, International Holocaust Remembrance Day will obviously become superfluous.

There are two additional aspects of Lithuanian Holocaust distortion which also deserve mention. One is the ongoing efforts of the Lithuanian government to turn anti-Soviet resistance fighters into national heroes, even if these individuals participated in Holocaust crimes.

Simple decency would obviously dictate that participation in the persecution and/or murder of Jews would automatically disqualify such persons from being made into national heroes. That has not stopped Lithuania from doing so. Several streets and educational institutions have been named for murderers of Jews, who have also been honoured in other ways.

The second relates to the sale of mass-murder sites. At least two such places have been sold to private individuals for their own use. The most egregious example is the Seventh Fort in Kaunas (Kovno), where 5 000 Jews were murdered in early July 1941, the first mass murder of the Holocaust. The site now hosts some educational activities, weddings, and treasure hunts. Children are allowed to run freely all over the murder site, which has never been properly marked and fenced off.

Another mass grave turned over to a private individual is in Velicionys on the outskirts of Vilnius (Vilna), where 1 159 Jews were murdered in the fall of 1941.

In view of all this, it would only have been natural for Netanyahu to raise these issues with his Lithuanian hosts and seek their assistance in combatting these negative phenomena. Alas, that was not the case.

Netanyahu failed to criticise, or at least draw attention to, to these serious problems of Holocaust distortion. He actually praised the Lithuanians for their efforts to commemorate the Holocaust and speak openly about the subject.

Bibi continued Israel’s policy of refraining from criticising Eastern Europeans for distorting the Shoa. Needless to say, his silence will only embolden his hosts to continue to desecrate the memory of the victims. It will unjustifiably protect the memory of the killers, some of whom will continue to be national heroes in the land of the Žydšaudžys, a unique term in Lithuanian for “Jew-shooters”. (Lithuania is the only country in the world which has a special word for this phenomenon.)

  • Dr Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European affairs. His most recent book, with Lithuanian author Ruta Vanagaite, is Musiskiai; Kelione su Priesu (Our People; Journey With an Enemy), which deals with Lithuanian complicity in Holocaust crimes, and has already been published in Lithuanian, Polish, Hebrew, and Russian, and is scheduled for publication in Swedish next year.


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