Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky spoke at the Lithuanian president’s ceremony to award the Lithuanian Cross of the Life-Saver to those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust on Lithuania’s Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide.
Your excellency, honorable Mr. president Gitanas Nausėda, honorable first lady Diana Nausėdienė,
Honorable rescuers of Jews and family members, honored Holocaust survivors and dear guests,
It is a great honor for me to speak to you including in the name of the Lithuanian Jews words of gratitude to those who rescued Jews for the light of humanity they gave during the darkest of times. It is thanks to these greatest of people that I stand here today.
So many Lithuanians surrendered themselves to an unprecedented, systematized hatred during World War II, becoming henchmen sowing death or kowtowers in their native land. So giving the honor due and commemorative tribute to those who found themselves at a dead end of human values, to those who opened the gates of hope to the people were condemned to death, to those innocents sentenced to death, is the least our generation and the next generation can do.
The story of the rescuers needs to do more than sleep in the history textbooks, more than simply be celebrated in statues. The priceless lesson of humanity which these heroes gave us, gave Lithuania and gave to the entire international community is no less important today when democracy, civic-mindedness and historical truth are drowning in the rhetoric of crisis or getting lost in the maze of political narratives and interests.
Even in what seemed a hopeless situation, balancing between the suppressed truth and the sanctioned lie, the example of the rescuers reminds us there is always a choice between killing and saving. The choice to save was the choice made by about 900 Lithuanians based on basic conscience. This was a voluntary choice, neither purchased nor sold, but based on a free mind unfettered by fear and uneclipsed by false promises.
In marking this the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the Year of Litvak History, I invite you again to remember our heroes. I hope the name of each rescuer of Jews will inspire us, illuminate our consciousness with hope and belief, and strengthen our peoples and the generations building bridges of historical memory.