Jews from Kovno, Lithuania, rounded up before their execution, July 27, 1941. (Yad Vashem) (Yad Vashem)
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“The horrific fate of Lithuanian Jewry during the Holocaust is no secret. Nor is the highly significant role played in the murders by local collaborators from all strata of Lithuanian society,” famous Nazi hunter Ephraim Zuroff wrote in The Jerusalem Post.

By David E. Kaplan, Lay of the Land

There was a certain irony here!

Last year being the 300th anniversary of the Vilna Gaon’s birth, the Lithuanian Parliament dedicated 2020 the year to commemorate this world famous commentator of Torah and Talmud and the country’s 700-year-old Jewish history. Yet it was Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, commonly known as the Vilna Gaon, who said, “The goal of the redemption is the redemption of truth.”

Where is that “redemption” for Lithuania if it does not honestly confront the truth and reveal the role it played as perpetrators  in the Holocaust?

In an article in The Jerusalem Post “The Elephant in the room – The false narrative of the Holocaust promoted by the Lithuanian government” (published January 15, 2021), chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, takes issue with those celebrating the “contemporary relations between Israel and Lithuania” when the task should really be to unmask Lithuania’s murder of its Jews during the Holocaust.

Zuroff writes:

“The horrific fate of Lithuanian Jewry during the Holocaust is no secret. Nor is the highly significant role played in the murders by local collaborators from all strata of Lithuanian society. Of the approximately 220,000 Jews living under the Nazi occupation, 212,000 were murdered.” That translates into 96.4%, representing the highest percentage of victims among the large European Jewish communities.

And this is what is most astonishing, revelatory, sobering and horrifying:

“Some 90% of them,” reveals Zuroff, “were shot near their homes in Lithuania, in many cases by their neighbors.”

Zuroff has done extensive research, and in 2020 published with Rūta Vanagaité, a descendent of Lithuanian perpetrators an expose of Lithuanian complicity in “Our People – Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust”. The book is a journey of a descendent of the victims of the Holocaust and a descendent of its perpetrators who team up to unravel the truth of who murdered the Jews of Lithuania.

Their research reveals, as Zuroff writes:

“If we add the more than 5,000 German, Austrian and French Jews murdered in Lithuania, and the approximately 20,000 Jews murdered in 1941-1942 by the 12th Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion sent to Belarus in October 1941, the figure of victims is staggering for such a small country. What is virtually unknown, however, is that there were less than 1,000 Germans stationed in Lithuania during the Nazi occupation. Given the fact that all of these victims had to be murdered individually by shooting, and buried in some 250 mass graves, primarily in Lithuania (234 mass graves), but also in Belarus, one begins to grasp the incredibly critical role played by Lithuanian collaborators.”

Zuroff feels that Lithuania does not yet deserve Israel’s “friendship and cooperation” because “instead of boldly and honestly confronting the tragedy of its Jewish population, Lithuania became a leader of the post-Communist Eastern European initiatives to distort the narrative of the Holocaust”.

Zuroff sets out the four ways Lithuania did so:

– “It grossly minimized the crimes of local collaborators (none of whom have ever been punished in Lithuanian courts).”

– “It inflated the small number of Lithuanian Righteous.”

– “It has brazenly promoted the canard of equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes, and vigorously lobbied for the observance of memorial day for all the victims of totalitarian  crimes, which would make International Holocaust Memorial Day superfluous.”

– “It has glorified anti-Soviet fighters, even if they committed Holocaust crimes which, in theory, should have disqualified from being turned into national heroes.”

Rather than confront the past, Lithuania prefers to suppress it. Following the publication of Zuroff’s and Rūta Vanagaité book, the father of Lithuanian independence, Vytautas Landsbergis, wrote an op-ed in the country’s most influential and popular website, basically telling Rūta, a celebrated writer in Lithuania, that now that she has “betrayed her country,” she “should commit suicide.”

That was sufficient to convince her at the time to leave Lithuania  and seek refuge in Israel. Adding insult to injury, her publisher severed relations with her, removed all her books  from bookstores, and taunted her that they “were going to turn her books into toilet paper.”

So much for honoring the legacy of the Jews of Lithuania!

How further ironic that the Vilna Gaon, whose 300th anniversary was so honoured in 2020, would not only have been murdered had he lived in Vilna during the Holocaust, but more than likely, as the statistics show, he would have been shot not by a German Nazi but by a Lithuanian civilian.

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