(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Several hundred ultra-nationalists marched in Lithuania’s prewar capital of Kaunas on Tuesday, yelling slogans in honor of Holocaust collaborators and denouncing their nation’s enemies, drawing harsh condemnations and accusations of anti-Semitism.
The annual march, which was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Baltic state’s independence from Russia in 1918, was smaller than that of previous years, said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter, who attends the event every year.
Zuroff estimated that between 200 and 300 people took part, a significant decline from the usual 500 to 1,000 participants.
“There were the usual nationalistic slogans and they announced that they are honoring the heroes of Lithuania who are being discredited by the enemies” of their country, Zuroff said in a phone call from Kaunas. “All of those are people who murdered Jews during the Holocaust.”
Among those honored in recent years is Juozas Ambrazevicius, the prime minister of Lithuania’s wartime provisional government and an enthusiastic Nazi collaborator.
While the size of the crowd may have been smaller than usual, the issue of Lithuanian complicity in the genocide of its Jewish population has been a hot topic across the country in recent weeks, following the publication of Zuroff’s book Our People; Journey With an Enemy, which he co-wrote with local author Ruta Vanagaite.
The book, which claims to lay bare the extent of Lithuanian complicity in the genocide, ignited a public firestorm, leading the government-sponsored Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance to announce that it would publicly release a list of collaborators about whom the authors wrote.
However, the government later backtracked on its pledge and, while the local Jewish community was initially supportive of the decision, it publicly demanded the release of the names and the prosecution of any perpetrators remaining alive.
The Jewish community’s umbrella organization did not make any public statements regarding Tuesday’s events, leading Zuroff to harshly criticize the group, with which he has previously engaged in several public clashes.
In a February 16 op-ed in The Jerusalem Post, Zuroff explained that while these marches were initially held in a “blatantly anti-Semitic” manner, in recent years the “anti-Semitic content [has been] far more subtle...
around the issue of Lithuanian complicity in the Holocaust, which the nationalists persistently refuse to acknowledge.”
During last year’s march, one of the organizers denied that the event was anti-Semitic, stating that there were “many Lithuanians who find it hard to forgive Jews who, during communism, killed nationalist freedom fighters.
But I think we should leave it in the past and look ahead.”JTA contributed to this report.