The Israel-South Africa Chamber of Commerce is hosting as Guest of Honor
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis at a gala dinner. Given the
current Lithuanian government’s policies towards the Holocaust, it is a bizarre
More than 20 years into their post-Soviet eras, Lithuania and
other East European nations are understandably and appropriately seeking
international acknowledgment for the suffering inflicted on them by the Soviet
regime. However, rather than commemorating this in its own right, Lithuania has
led the campaign to tie this recognition in with the Holocaust, in a policy
known as Double Genocide. By so doing, the recognition they seek for their own
suffering under the Soviets ipso facto becomes a policy that distorts and
downgrades the Holocaust, and undermines and threatens its memory.
Genocide, as this term makes clear, contends that Europe experienced two
genocides, the Soviet and the Nazi, and herein lies the first major problem with
this policy. To obtain the recognition the Lithuanians deserve they are
elevating their oppression into genocide. If the East European experience under
the Soviets was the same or similar to the Jewish experience under the Nazis, as
Double Genocide contends, then we start to lose the true nature, meaning and
uniqueness of the Holocaust.
Beyond the danger posed by the theoretical
construct of Double Genocide, we are also able to see the further negative
impact it has on memory by the way it is practiced. In the Lithuanian case, this
entails turning the supposed Lithuanian “genocide” into the greater of the “two
genocides” and as such dwarfs the actual genocide in a country where more Jews
were wiped out in terms of percentage than in any other country in Europe:
around 95 percent.
Evidence of the elevation of the Lithuanian “genocide”
and the concomitant dwarfing of the Holocaust is provided in the national
Genocide Museum in Vilnius where three floors are dedicated to Lithuania’s
“genocide” at the hands of the Soviets and there is one token room about the
Holocaust. So not only does something that is not genocide become genocide, in
the process it dwarfs if not conceals the actual genocide.
Yet there is
another dimension and consequence of Double Genocide that is equally if not more
sinister, and perhaps is part of the political motive which explains why it is
occurring. By emphasizing their own suffering Lithuanians avoid accepting their
own culpability for unprecedented participation in the actual murder of the
country’s 600-year-old Jewish community. Once again, this is evident in the
Genocide Museum where the fighters against the Soviets, the white armbanders of
the Lithuanian Activist Front, are lauded as heroes. The role of the same heroes
as the killers of Jews is completely neglected. Ultimately there is a thin line
between the obfuscation that is Double Genocide and the outright lie that is
The manifestation and consequences of Double Genocide take on
even more sinister proportions when, in practice, they provide a context to
explain the genocide of the country’s Jews. In the worst traditions of
anti-Semitism, the Lithuanian Activist Front that led the genocide of Litvak
Jewry saw Jews and Communists as one. Therefore, if the Jews are regarded
in the public mindset as being responsible for the Lithuanian suffering then
what happened to the Jews once the Soviets left in 1941 is understandable:
Communists (Jews) killed Lithuanians and then the Communists (Jews) got killed.
In practice, then, Double Genocide is not just about distorting the Holocaust,
it is effectively about rationalizing and even justifying it.
understand Double Genocide we have to look into the reality on the ground in
Lithuania to appreciate that it is a central element in a double game. It is a
game where the Foreign Minister can smile beguilingly with Jewish groups in Tel
Aviv, when down the road in Rehovot 90-year-old Rachel Margolis is afraid to
return to Vilnius for fear of arrest as part of the government’s war crimes
campaign against Jewish Holocaust survivor partisans.
We know it is a
double game because while the government cites plaques put up to acknowledge
what happened to Jews in Lithuania under the Nazis, they simultaneously laud
organizations like the Lithuanian Activist Front without a critical word about
their role in wiping out Lithuanian Jewry.
It is a double game when
Lithuanian embassies around world sponsor Jewish events, while at home the
Foreign Minister perpetuates classical anti-Semitic myths by ominously blaming
Jews for seeking foreign citizenship laws to claim assets.
We see the
double game when the government says it is illegal to deny the Holocaust in
Lithuania, but the same law makes it a criminal offense to dispute the notion of
double genocide. And on and on the double game goes.
There is a
fundamental question about whether Double Genocide is a genuine but misguided
policy in the pursuit of recognition, or whether it represents something more
pernicious. That can only be answered by looking at the big picture of
what is occurring in policy and practice in Lithuania.
answer to this moot point it seems incredible that the Foreign Minister, whose
response to the 70 Year Declaration on the Final Solution Conference at Wannsee
was to quip, “It isn’t possible to find differences between Hitler and Stalin
except in their moustache: Hitler’s was smaller,” is received as a Guest of
Honor by any Jewish group, let alone a Litvak-based organization, which thereby
desecrates the memory of Litvaks whose genocide is obfuscated by Double Genocide
and the double game.
This is not a case of one people claiming to have
been greater victims than another. Every loss is a tragedy. This is not a
competition of numbers, scale or nature of suffering and loss. Rather, it is
about the truth behind the numbers, scale and nature of suffering and loss, so
that all losses can be genuinely acknowledged and remembered, all of which is
the necessary foundation for reconciliation.
The writer is an associate
professor at Victoria University in Melbourne and a documentary film maker
making a film about double genocide (www.rewriting- history.org) and is
co-author of The Seventy Years Declaration.