Jewish Deportations Just as Painful as Lithuanian Deportations, Forgotten by Lithuanians

Žydo tremtinio sąvoka Lietuvos visuomenėje šiandien yra beveik užmirštama. Ji tokia pat skausminga kaip lietuvių tremtis

About 1.3% of members of the Lithuanian Jewish community were deported to the Soviet Union in 1941. This percentage of deportations is the highest for any ethnic group in Lithuania. The deportations failed, however, to extinguish Jewish nationalism, and Zionist groups operated underground, organizing Hebrew education and exerting all efforts to allow Jews to leave for Palestine. According to Jewish historiography, in June of 1941 alone about 3,000 Jewish activists from the right and the left and Jewish owners of large industrial concerns and factories were deported. It is a great shame Lithuanian society today has almost no understanding of these deportations, or has chosen to ignore them, designating deportation an exclusively ethnic Lithuanian tragedy.

Historian Solomon Atamuk found there were 16 Jewish daily newspapers, 30 weeklies and 13 intermittent periodicals along with about 20 collections of literature published in Lithuania before World War II. After the June 14, 1940, ultimatum by the Soviet Union to Lithuania and the occupation which quickly followed, the Jewish community bore the brunt of social and cultural repressions. All leftist and rightist Jewish newspapers were shut down. Even Folksblat, popular among Communists and the organ of the Jewish People’s Party, was banned. Beyond the ban on the Jewish newspapers, editors of Jewish publications were fired and the new regime undertook a complete reorganization and shutting down of existing academic institutions. YIVO was made to heel, employees were fired, various books, newspapers and collections were seized. Opportunities to read in Hebrew were systematically lessened and Jewish libraries were shut down.

Thus all Jewish deportees who following deportation but still in the Soviet era left for Israel never had the opportunity to restore Lithuanian citizenship, although they had never renounced this, their native citizenship, even as they were sent to Siberia, and never had their property nationalized or otherwise seized by the Soviets returned, although that was the reason for their deportation.

Cultural historian Dr. V. Davoliūtė has written that the history of Jewish deportations and Jewish political prisoners is a completely unexamined area of research in Lithuania and other countries.

On the contrary, for decades now the Nazi myth has been repeated that Jews deported Lithuanians and that the Jew is a Bolshevik deporter. This myth was never deconstructed during the Soviet era. People in the Soviet Union used to say deportation was heaven compared to the Holocaust. Among Jews as well the focus has been on the Holocaust rather than Soviet exile.

Jewish deportees have long only told their stories to their children and grandchildren, with testimonies later written down for posterity. Now there is a kind of return of memory about the Jewish deportations going on.

The metropolitan elite, rich and educated Jews and Lithuanians, were the main targets of deportation in 1941. Most of the Jews spoke Lithuanian, had attended Lithuanian schools and many spoke Lithuanian and/or Yiddish at home. Jewish deportees have a unique experience of exile, but the Holocaust provided additional features and issues to their return from exile and re-integration into society. The absolute majority of returnees only remained in Lithuania temporarily and left for Israel when it was possible to do so.