Tuesday, August 26, 2008

europe view no 95 Lithuania and the Holocaust

[this was written three weeks ago before the attack on Georgia and published while I was on holiday]


Prosecution and persecution
Aug 21st 2008
From Economist.com

Lithuania must stop blaming the victims

IS LITHUANIA really persecuting Holocaust survivors as if they were war criminals? Not quite, but the story is still troubling. It starts with the Nazi occupation of Lithuania when the Germans, with local help, were murdering Jews (more than 200,000 Jews perished, around 95% of the pre-war population). The Nazis’ main opponent was the Soviet Union, so Jews’ only chance of survival was to fight alongside Soviet-backed partisan groups, who were fighting both against Hitler and to restore communist rule in Lithuania.

Sixty years on, independent Lithuania is still wrestling with the dilemmas of the wartime years. The Soviets condemned many Nazi collaborators (and tens of thousands of others) immediately after the war, but atrocities committed by the other side remain almost wholly unpunished. Perpetrators of dreadful crimes are still living freely in Russia and elsewhere.

Yet the interest Lithuanian prosecutors have shown in a handful of elderly Holocaust survivors seems to have only a tangential relationship with righting those historical wrongs. Fania Brantsovsky, now 86, is a librarian at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in Lithuania, a survivor of the Vilna Ghetto and a former partisan. Prosecutors say they want to talk to her and another survivor, Rachel Margolis, about a partisan massacre of civilians in 1944.

Perhaps most spectacularly, a prosecutor wants to interview Yitzhak Arad, a Lithuanian-born historian and ex-head of Yad Vashem in Israel. Until recently he sat on a high-level Lithuanian commission investigating crimes perpetrated by totalitarian regimes in the country. Now he is refusing to co-operate. In a book published in 1979 he described how his partisan unit “punished” villagers who did not give them food.

No formal charges have been brought; the prosecutors say they are just following up a line of inquiry. But they claim to be “searching” for Ms Brantsovsky, as if she were a fugitive. The Lithuanian government seems embarrassed by the issue but says it cannot intervene in the justice system. It is bits of the Lithuanian media, calling for the individuals concerned to be put on trial as terrorists and criminals, who have done most to inflame the situation.

But it is still bad. Lithuania’s record on prosecuting war criminals of the other stripe has been spotty, to put it mildly. Targeting prominent local Jews looks selective, even vindictive. It also fits into a general pattern of what Dovid Katz, the Yiddish Institute’s research director, calls “Holocaust obfuscation”. This involves a series of false moral equivalences: Jews were disloyal citizens of pre-war Lithuania, helped the Soviet occupiers in 1940, and were therefore partly to blame for their fate. And the genocide that really matters was the one that Lithuanian people suffered at Soviet hands after 1944.

These arguments are as repellent as they are flimsy. Jews (perhaps 500 of them) comprised around a third of the pre-war Communist Party. But Jews also suffered disproportionately from the deportations of June 1941, aimed at the bourgeoisie of all races. The Soviet Union was profoundly anti-Semitic.

Dodging the blame for Lithuanian collaboration in the Holocaust is shameful. It also makes separating facts from Soviet-era smears (now enthusiastically repeated by Kremlin propagandists) more difficult. Lithuania suffered dreadfully under Soviet rule, but “genocide” is the wrong word. Lithuania in fact suffered less than its Baltic neighbours. It regained territory (including its historic capital, Vilnius) and a wily local Communist leader shielded it from russification.

It may suit demagogic politicians and their media hangers-on to distort history and defame Jews. But it reflects dreadfully on Lithuania, at a time when small countries in Russia’s shadow need all the help they can get.


Colleen said...

i completely agree that lithuania is wrong in rewriting the history of ww ii and, in so doing, promoting anti-semitism.


Bea said...

Lithuania as a country does not deny that some of its former and present citizens collaborated with Nazis and killed Jews or helped to find them and keep them in jail or similar.

The fact that a Lithuanian prosecutor starts a trial about some exact Jew's case after a request of some exact other person, does not mean Lithuania as a country deliberately prosecutes the victims of holocaust instead of searching for the killers of Jews.

Many proffessional Lithuanian historians and other liberal intellectuals constantly claim what you claimed about the Jewish holocaust and the Lithuanian "genocide" in this article.

The fact that part of Lithuanian uneducated kinda ignorant villagers might still scream of how bad citizens of Lithuania all the Jews were and are, is the personal antisemitism, not a feature of an entire nation and not a sign that the Lithuanian nation should be called "killers of Jews" or preached by foreigners or distrusted as entirely, utterly and hopelessly chauvinistic.

The article of the Economist suggests to remember the saying "the offence is the best defence", doesn't it?

It sure will look like a histerical smear of Lithuania or at least a shallow article serving the interests of those who want Lithuania to have bad image of a non democratic chauvinistic country.

Edward Lucas said...

I am certainly not saying that Lithuania is anti-semitic. But the prosecutor's office is behaving oddly, and bits of the media are being outrageous.

Bea said...

I am not saying that the prosecutors office is not behaving oddly. I say that from a serious article I would expect proofs of the exact oddness and mention of the more exact media outrage.;) Why can't people who were blamed in something respond to the prosecutor office calmly and as a person blamed in something usually does, instead of screaming to the media in USA, etc. Are they really that different from all the rest? Was their case really that exceptional? Show all its terribility in detail then.;)

The country which is, ml;dly said, not very well known in the world after so long occupation is very sensitive of what is being said about it. Its people grieve about every negative remark and enjoy every positive touch.;)

Bea said...

It may suit demagogic politicians and their media hangers-on to distort history and defame Lithuanians, too. But it doesn't reflect dreadfully on Israel or Jews, it just looks to the dreadful Lithuanians that Jews are untouchable... Enjoy outrage of those whose antisemitic theory gets confirmed and wait for another article about your bad, Lithuania. ;)

Yes. This country had problems with quick punishing of some of its former citizens who had run to the USA from Soviets and been sent back to the newly independent, newly democratic, unexperienced country that lacked certain laws. The persons were suddenly dropped to the country which had not yet come to terms whith its history, because its people had been held shut up about their history by Soviets for tens of years. Didn't we need time to come to terms with so many things that were hidden from us and that we were lied about?
Didn't the then old, deseased criminals have right to an advocate who tried to help them in everry way to avoid their guilt recognized? What exactly was that terrile of what our courts did?
Didn't our President go to Israel to say sorry in the name of Lithuanians for the deeds of those (I still have no idea how many were they) Lithuanians which contributed to the holocaust deeds in our occupied thrice and humiliated] country?

We don't deny holocaust and contribution of Lithuanians to it, old ordinary people in every village always knew to point out the local "Jew-shooters" and ostracized them, people thought that most of them were actually punished by Soviets, because many were punished as servants of nazis, there were places of their killings marked and even if they were officially marked as places of mass graves of Soviet citizens, people talked those citizens were Jews killed fro being Jews. We have holocaust museums, we already have books which explain to us what was our nation's contribution to the holocaust... But no, we still don't understand why should we see Jews as untouchable now? Why none of them can be tried for war crimes? A lot less (if any!) of war criminals communists were tried and punished here.

This all goes unmentioned and stays generally unknown from such articles as the one above. And then... it makes all Lithuanians feel only blamed on, smeared, and unhappy, because it includes too few exact details and the stress isn't made on the exact cases, too big the generalizations, imho. :(

Tautietis said...

IMHO Lithuanian prosecutors should be more sensitive to the pain of others. In that sense I think doing what they do is not good.

However, what would an established democracy do if some survivor of killings reads the book and files an individual case in the court (this is a crime against the humanity)? Should the court not even investigate the complaint and not ask the book's author how it was in fact?

Bea said...


Can you read in Lithuanian, Edward?