The Lithuanian Jewish Community, the Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights and the secretariat of the International Commission to Assess the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania are currently implementing a project to educate Lithuanian teachers about the Holocaust and human rights.
The goal of the project is to improve quality of education by examining different aspects of the Holocaust and human rights and social justice in light of the main historical events of the 20th century. The project is aimed at teaching new teaching methods and talking about opportunities for including them in the education process.
The lessons and seminars are intended to provide a deeper understanding of the effect stereotypes, superstitions and discrimination have on people, different groups and society as a whole. There is also broad discussion with teachers about Jewish life before the Holocaust and after. The sessions include painful and uncomfortable topics and histories which need to be told to the younger generation.
Silvia Foti, journalist and author of a book about her grandfather Jonas Noreika which has received international attention, led one seminar for teachers. She talked about her experience confronting her family’s past and the moral responsibility to speak out even when one would rather remain silent.
Her book has achieved a sort of infamy in Lithuania and has faced criticism from those who want to suppress the historical facts. After meeting with Foti, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said: “Mrs. Foti is not tarnishing Lithuania’s reputation. Speaking about the Holocaust doesn’t mean tarnishing Lithuania’s reputation. Carrying out the Holocaust, that’s tarnishing Lithuania’s reputation.”
Chairwoman Kukliansky stressed the need to try to insure Lithuanian school textbooks include separate and comprehensive chapters on Litvak history and the Jewish community’s contribution to Lithuanian learning, culture and social identity. “Jewish history in Lithuania doesn’t begin with Nazis and pits. It extends back many more years than that. Only the ability to teach the truth without fear about the tragedy which took place and about its consequences which both peoples still feel today will allow for working towards reconciliation,” she said.
The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights is named after Hungarian Jew Olga Lengyel, a Holocaust survivor. She and her family were transported to Auschwitz, where only she survived. Her story is the basis for the book novelized by William Styron and the Academy Award-winning film “Sophie’s Choice” (1979 and 1982, respectively). The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights was founded to continue her work teaching future generations about the Holocaust and its significance for the world today.