A shameful Shoah whitewash

By Efraim Zuroff, February 4, 2011
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A financially-strapped small Eastern European country is spending tens of thousands of pounds to sponsor an extraordinarily large number of political and cultural events - lectures, concerts, exhibitions and films - in London next week. Why? That is the obvious question for the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, several Lithuanian cultural institutions, and local UK partners.

Under the heading, No Simple Stories; Jewish-Lithuanian relationships: facing difficult questions, the events are projected as an honest attempt to address the ostensibly complex history of Lithuania's once very large Jewish community, which was irreparably decimated during the Holocaust - 96.4 per cent of the 220,000 Jews who lived in Lithuania under the Nazi occupation were slaughtered, with the help of a large number of local collaborators.

A closer look at the themes of the events and the identity of the participants in the international colloquium slated for University College this weekend, raises serious doubts as to the real intentions of the Lithuanian sponsors. According to the accompanying literature, the organisers seek to present a more nuanced version of the history of the Shoah in Lithuania, which they claim has been misrepresented by the false narratives created by Jewish survivors on the one hand and Soviet historiography on the other. Thus, while the latter hid the identity of the Nazis' Jewish victims, the former overemphasised the significance of the role played by local Lithuanian collaborators.

The truth is, however, that the history of the Shoah in Lithuania is depressingly simple. While the guilt of the German and Austrian Nazis in launching the Final Solution all over Europe and creating the circumstances in which it was carried out in the Baltics is absolutely unequivocal, it was the extensive and zealous involvement of all strata of Lithuanian society in the mass murders that spawned the near-totality of the destruction.

The truth is, the history of the Shoah in Lithuania is sadly simple

Not a single Lithuanian Holocaust perpetrator has been punished in Lithuania since it became independent; the text books do not explain the widespread extent of local, murderous collaboration with the Nazis; and restitution is still a pipedream. In addition, the authorities tried to prosecute Jewish anti-Nazi Soviet partisans on trumped-up war crimes charges and to inflate the number of brave Lithuanians who helped Jews.

Thus it comes as no surprise that no Lithuanian Jewish survivors (from any country) were invited to address the historical colloquium or participate in any of the panels. Nor were any Lithuanian Jewish scholars who have been trying to write accurate accounts of the Shoah, nor in fact any historian or scholar who has challenged the accuracy of the Lithuanian government's narrative on Holocaust crimes.

This latter point is of great significance at the moment because of that government's intensive campaign to promote the Prague Declaration of June 3 2008, which seeks recognition of the canard that the crimes of Communism are equivalent to those of the Nazis and calls for the rewriting of all European history textbooks in that spirit and for the establishment of a European Research Institute to study totalitarian crimes as if they are all equal.

And that is really what is behind the upcoming blitz of events in London that seek to relativise Lithuania's Holocaust guilt and pave the way for a false historical symmetry in which the crimes of Jewish Communists can balance out the far more lethal atrocities committed against Jews by Lithuanians.

Aware as I am of Lithuania's abysmal failure since independence to face honestly its Holocaust complicity, the efforts being made by its government to burnish the country's image are hardly surprising.

What is more difficult to understand is the participation of British Jewish bodies who are helping them do so.

Dr Efraim Zuroff is the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre

Last updated: 10:38am, February 4 2011