The Co-Authors of Rūta Vanagaitė’s Book

by Sergejus Kanovičius

The noise generated as soon as an excerpt from Rūta Vanagaitė’s book “Mūsiškiai” was published was phenomenal in the true sense of the word. The passage released is almost certainly a transcription of an interview Saulius Beržinis conducted almost two and a half decades ago, one of many he did with Holocaust perpetrators. It says nothing about the book or its worth.

A bit later several interviews with the author and several responses to the facts recited in those interviews appeared. Writers, historians, publishers and known and unknown public figures began immediately discussing and judging the unread book, some even compared to a great work of literature and mused upon questions of metaphysical guilt and the effect of the Holocaust on society. For some of the non-readers it was enough that famous Holocaust historian and Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff attended the presentation of the book and participated in its creation: right-wing non-readers immediately christened the unread book a provocation by the Kremlin intended to sow ethnic discord. One long-time Conservative Party member even fretted the book would ruin Lithuania and Israel’s wonderful relations, although she was unable to explain exactly the connection between Lithuania’s inability to come to terms with its past and foreign policy.

The interview Saulius Beržinis conducted for the US Holocaust Museum is an unexpected discovery for many people. One well-known web page even put up an “I’m over 18” block for those who wanted to watch it. The web page likely forgot there is no minimum age limit for going to Ponar… On the other hand, people only go to Ponar to read speeches of mourning. Likewise, there is no requirement for Vilnius schools to ever make field trips there, the students are under 18 after all, and later, after turning 18, it’s too late.

So I, whether I like it or not, as another of the non-readers of Rūta Vanagaitė’s book, have become involved in discussions of that book. But are these discussions really about that book? Or are they rather about the assertions of historical fact Vanagaitė made in interviews about who and how many people murdered the Jews of Lithuania?

Vanagaitė’s undoubtedly does have uncredited co-authors. Otherwise it would have never appeared. I think the greatest responsibility for the book’s appearance has to go to the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania. Center historians, performing a very complex task, determined the names of over 2,000 Holocaust perpetrators. That work doubtlessly continues and the list is being expanded. Center director Teresė Birutė Burauskaitė in an interview conducted several years ago even expressed pride in the gigantic task accomplished. Asked who had taken part in the genocide of the Jews during that interview, the Center director replied diplomatically she could only name a few of the famous Lithuanian partisans who hadn’t taken part, but all the names of the rest of the Holocaust perpetrators remained locked up in her employees’ filing cabinets.

The book could never have appeared if it weren’t needed, if the Genocide Center had done their professional and moral duty and named the murderers, their assistants and their ideologues. But, it turns out, the Genocide Center is itself a special kind of victim. A tool used to keep the truth from the eyes of the public. A state institution whose job it is to make sure the truth isn’t told. It’s self-evident that others who do want to tell the truth, or publish it, will appear. You cannot stop them in a free society. All attempts and calls for the Genocide Center to act in a civilized manner pushes them towards more inappropriate behavior: they foist another manipulation upon the public and make the claim, for example, that an organization which sees Lithuania’s future without Jews and the leaders of that organization are in no way connected with the Holocaust…

Since the time of Lithuanian independence a mendacious narrative full of self-deception has been presented, according to which the genocide of the Jews of Lithuania may have victims, it may have rescuers of victims, and it may have ceremonial commemorations of rescuers. How naïve the promoters of that narrative were and still are to believe no one will even wonder who committed the crime and who the ideologues behind it were. In other words, it is conceded that Lithuania is one big graveyard of Lithuanian Jews who did not want to die, but there are no gravediggers nor anyone who made certain they didn’t want for shovels in Lithuania.

It’s symbolic and rather professional of Vanagaitė that she chose to present her book to the public on the even of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s also symbolic that the Genocide Center didn’t think to mark the day with any events at all other than a short press release. Perhaps that was for the best, because it would be macabre for an agency which still distributes certificates of heroism generously and abundantly to the perpetrators of the crime to commemorate the Holocaust as well. I am still asking myself why the Genocide Center is called the Genocide Center. What genocide has to do with it is only clear to that agency’s godparents who naïvely believe the lie can go on forever.

If I were the author, I would thank the Genocide Center, and endless efforts of right-wing politicians who dictate fashion to the Center and who can never seem to get off the stage, without whom the book would not have been possible, would never have generated so much noise and would never get so much attention. If the truth had been told, why would it need to be repeated? If the truth hadn’t been told, if it were distorted and hidden, there’s no reason to be surprised at the constant appearance of people dissatisfied about that. And as long as the truth will be hidden, there will inevitably appear new authors and new books attempting to fill the artificial void created by the politicians.

Full piece here.