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The Baltic nations have embarked on a state-financed international initiative which seeks to cover up their role in the Holocaust by falsely equating Nazism with Communism, the founder of the Yiddish program at Vilnius University said this week.
"There is a state-sponsored genocide industry at work which seeks to mitigate the Holocaust and replace it with a model of two equal genocides," said Professor Dovid Katz in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
The remarks came amid a recent strain in relations between Israel and Lithuania over the latter's investigations of Jewish Holocaust survivors, including a former Yad Vashem chairman, over their wartime activities as partisans.
The New York-born Katz, who has been based in Lithuania for the past decade, said this "bogus distortion of history," which had anti-Semitic roots, needed to be fought before it gained strength.
"We are overwhelmed by a state-financed genocide industry which seeks both locally and internationally to mitigate and trivialize the local Baltic involvement in the Holocaust in order to rewrite their history without the stain of the Holocaust," he said. To this end, the Baltic states have been spearheading an international effort, dubbed the "Prague Declaration," to have Nazi and Soviet crimes declared equal by the EU, Katz said.
"They think that they are fixing their country's Holocaust problem not by coming clean and moving onward but by obfuscating the actual history with this bogus new model of two equal genocides," he said.
He noted that state-sponsored bodies such as the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania were actively promoting this "historical rewrite," though without denying the mass murder of the Jews. "The catchword is equal," he said.
During the Holocaust, most of the Jews of Lithuania were murdered by local citizens. The "Order Police" began to massacre Jews as soon as the Soviets left in 1941 - before the German occupation. Out of a prewar population of 220,000, only a few thousand Jews survived the war in Lithuania, representing the largest percentage of Jews murdered in one country during the Holocaust.
The Lithuanian capital - a one-time preeminent center for rabbinical studies dating back to the 16th century - is today home to about 5,000 Jews.
"There is no question that the greatest threat to the Holocaust narrative today is not Holocaust denial but rather Holocaust distortion, which is currently rampant in post-Communist eastern Europe, especially the Baltics," said Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"This is a major focus of the Baltic states' foreign policy objectives," he said.
Zuroff noted that the problem was largely under the radar and little known to people in the field of Holocaust education.
Yad Vashem spokeswoman Estee Yaari said Monday that the Holocaust distortion in a number of countries was a "worrying trend" that had to be combated.
She added that Israel's Holocaust Memorial had in 2007 suspended its participation in the state-sponsored Lithuanian commission on the Holocaust, although it continued to work with Holocaust educators from Lithuania to counter this phenemenom.
Earlier this year, Yad Vashem said it was increasingly concerned over growing Holocaust revisionism and anti-Semitism in Lithuania.
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