Photo: Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a news conference with then-Latvian prime minister Maris Kucinskis in 2018. Photo credit: Ints Kalnins/Reuters.
Israel Has Failed to Fight Latvia, Lithuania’s Holocaust Distortion
A number of acclaimed films have shone a spotlight on the Holocaust in the Baltics. But Latvia and Lithuania have responded with Holocaust distortion.
by Efraim Zuroff, Jerusalem Post, May 23, 2023
During the past half year, three new documentary films devoted to the Holocaust in the Baltics, and especially in Lithuania, have been screened in numerous venues all over the world, except in Lithuania and Latvia, which are the subjects of these films.
One, titled When Did the Holocaust Begin, was produced by the BBC and focuses on the use of new forensic archeological technology to discover unknown mass graves of Holocaust victims in western Lithuania, where indeed the systematic mass murder of European Jewry began following the Nazi invasion of Lithuania, on June 22, 1941.
A second film, J’Accuse, focuses on the mass murder of the Jews of northwest Lithuania and the highly-significant role played by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators, and especially national hero Jonas Noreika, who, during the Holocaust, was the liaison between the Nazis and the Lithuanians, and was responsible for the annihilation of many thousands of Jews. After World War II, he was a leader of the local opposition to the Soviets.
The heroes of this movie, created independently by former BBC journalist Michael Kretchmer, are Noreika’s granddaughter, Silvia Foti, and American Litvak Grant Gochin, dozens of whose relatives were murdered in that part of Lithuania and who has unsuccessfully tried to sue the Lithuanian government numerous times to cancel the honors awarded to Noreika.
Silvia Foti’s biography of her grandfather, which began as an attempt to glorify him, ultimately exposed his role in Holocaust crimes, shocking Lithuanian society.
The third film, which is called Baltic Truth, deals with the Holocaust in Latvia and Lithuania, and emphasizes the failure of both Baltic republics to admit the highly-significant role played by local Nazi collaborators in the mass murder of their Jewish communities.
Produced by Eugene Levin, a Soviet-Jewish emigrant from Latvia living in Boston, whose grandfather was the sole survivor of the Latvian shtetl of Akniste, it tells a similar story about his country of birth, as well as about Lithuania.
So far, these films, especially J’Accuse, have won many awards at film festivals all over the world, but have not been widely shown in the countries to whom the messages of the films are directed. Nor has there been any official government response to the harsh accusations. Instead, these countries have launched charm offensives, which are directed at potential Israeli tourists.
Lithuania, Latvia fight Holocaust history with a charm offensive against Israelis
Thus two weeks ago, a lengthy article was published in the Dyokan weekend magazine of the staunchly-right wing Israeli weekly Makor Rishon by senior correspondent Ariel Shnebel, about his visit to Lithuania and Latvia at the expense of the Lithuanian and Latvian governments.
He was invited to promote the two countries as wonderful destinations for Orthodox tourists (who are the overwhelming majority of the readers of Makor Rishon), due to the numerous sites connected to the lives of leading renowned Orthodox rabbis, such as the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski and Rav Kook, as well as sites of famous yeshivas, such as Slobodka, Panevitch and Telz.
But what about the elephant in the room? Shnebel mentioned to his host, Vilna Deputy Mayor Tomas Gablinas, that Israelis think that the Lithuanians occasionally collaborated too closely with the Nazis, as if this was just an opinion of some and not an established fact.
Gablinas totally ignored it and proceeded, according to Shnebel, to tell his guest about the contemporary efforts of the government to combat anti-Semitism and their success in changing the name of a street previously named for a Lithuanian political leader who supported Hitler. Ever the polite guest, Shnebel dropped the subject and missed an opportunity to deliver an important message.
More recently, this past Friday, The Jerusalem Post devoted two pages of its Magazine to an interview with Latvian deputy chairman of the Riga City Council, Linda Ozola, who had come to Israel to attend the 17th International Conference on Innovation Crisis Management hosted by the Tel Aviv Municipality.
From the interview, we learned important facts about Latvia, all of which were patently false. First of all, the number of Latvian Jews murdered in the Holocaust was not 25,000, but 67,000, out of the 70,000 who lived in Latvia under the Nazis occupation, among the highest percentages of victims.
And that does not include the more than 30,000 Jews deported to Riga from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, only 4% of whom survived, and the thousands of Jews murdered in Minsk by the notorious Latvian Arajs Kommando murder squad.
According to the article, Latvia did not fight during World War II, a mistake that Ozola claimed would not be repeated in the future. That was not the reality, however, as there were two divisions of Latvian Waffen-SS created in 1943, which fought alongside the Nazis for a victory of the Third Reich, among whose men were former Latvian police who had actively participated in the mass murders of Latvian Jews.
A few months ago, in fact, Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks claimed that those Latvians “are the pride of the Latvian people and the state,” and books praising the Legionnaires are on sale in Riga International Airport. Unfortunately, Ozola was not challenged on any of these facts, or on her assertion that there is no anti-Semitism in Latvia, or about the rampant Holocaust distortion in Latvia.
Hopefully, the film J’Accuse, which was screened in Israel this past Holocaust Remembrance Day, as well as the other two films, will be shown here again and given wide publicity, to help educate the Israeli public, regarding the truth about what happened in the Holocaust in Lithuania and Latvia.
The writer, a Holocaust historian, is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel office. His most recent book (with Ruta Vanagaitė) is Our People: Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust, published by Rowan & Littlefield.
Full op/ed here.