Photo: Children in Kaunas ghetto, courtesy Yad Vashem.
Today [June 15] the Lithuanian parliament adopted a resolution on commemorating the 80th anniversary of great losses and resistance to the occupations of Lithuanian by totalitarian regimes which says “After Nazi Germany occupied Lithuania, the Nazis began to carry out the genocide of the Jews of Lithuania, opening the way to mass murders and violence, leading to the loss of the larger part of the Jewish community.”
The language of the resolution is missing an essential element, a reminder that the mass murders were carried out with the aid of local collaborators. Would you like to put it more simply and clearly? There were people in the Lithuanian cities and towns who murdered their Jewish neighbors. Should we put it yet another way? There weren’t Nazi tanks and units standing by the side of the gravel pits on the forest margin, there were armed local men who fatally shot Jews lined up there, men, women and children [in Lithuania Jewish children were often murdered by smashing their heads against trees and rocks or with rifle butts in order to save ammunition–translator]. Another formulation which frightens us so much is also missing: there were Lithuanians among those who organized and physically carried out the genocide.
Does that sound horrible? But it’s the truth. The truth which is so hard to admit yet again. Perhaps the Lithuanian parliament is following the Lithuanian saying, “one teaspoon of tar ruins the barrel of honey?”
If so, it’s being misapplied, because the Lithuanian people aren’t a barrel of honey, and the Lithuanians who murdered Jews aren’t a teaspoon of tar. They are criminals who have committed crimes against humanity. A nation who can admit such people existed in its ranks is a brave and honorable nation. It’s not that their sins pass down to us, just that today’s generation is still afraid of the truth.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community had hoped the voice of the only Jewish member of the Lithuanian parliament, Emanuelis Zingeris, would be heard. He proposed amending the text of the resolution to read “the Nazis and their local collaborators.” He was not heard. Neither were the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the thousands of victims who stood before their armed neighbors, and millions of Jews and other people of goodwill around the world who are only asking for one thing, to face the truth.
Before writing this commentary, many people said: “It’s not worth raising the issue, it’s better to keep quiet, remain silent, not irritate, not sow discord.” But as Tomas Venclova said, “We should avoid descending into these scandals, but they will be inevitable as long as there are defenders of the Nazi collaborators.”
Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman
Lithuanian Jewish Community