No tolerance for false history

On a recent visit to Vilnius, the US spokeswoman on anti-Semitism failed to address Lithuania’s attempt to hide its active complicity in the Shoah.

May 1, 2010 22:58
4 minute read.
GERMAN SOLDIERS and Lithuanian locals watch a  syn

lithuania holocaust 311. (photo credit: German Federal Archive)


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Over the past year, I have written articles in The Jerusalem Post concerning the disturbing problem of Holocaust distortion in Eastern Europe, and especially its most dangerous dimension – an insidious campaign to obtain official recognition in European bodies that the crimes of communism are equivalent to those of the Nazis

While this battle has hereto been primarily fought in Europe, it now appears that the Americans, whose assistance is critical in combating these attacks on the accepted Holocaust narrative, have apparently been duped by the Lithuanians, who are spending millions of euros to hide their active complicity in Shoah crimes and their failure to prosecute Holocaust perpetrators. Thus, if recent press reports out of Vilnius are to be believed (and in this case there is no reason to doubt them), the US government’s spokeswoman on anti-Semitism failed to address the issue in her visit last week to Lithuania.

On the contrary, in her comments, according to a Baltic News Service report, special US envoy Hannah Rosenthal, who heads the grandly-named Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism,  not only declared that Lithuania had “taken very proactive steps in dealing with anti-Semitism,” but also promised the Lithuanians 64,000 euros “to develop Holocaust education,” without a word against the campaign to equate communist and Nazi crimes.

ANYONE ACQUAINTED with the manner in which the largest Baltic republic has dealt with its particularly bloody Holocaust past and an entire range of practical Holocaust-related issues, as well as with local anti-Semitism, would be shocked by these pronouncements, and especially by the elements missing from Rosenthal’s declarations.

For starters, there was no mention of last month’s neo-fascist march in the center of Vilnius, which was supported by members of the Seimas (Lithuanian parliament) from the ruling party and which only drew faint public criticism from any quarter after foreign critics raised the issue. Nor has there been any public outcry following the vandalization of synagogues (last week in Sveksna) and the like. The Lithuanian government actually excels in pronouncements regarding anti-Semitism, but rarely acts in a manner which sends an unequivocal message against it.

Nowhere is this gap more telling than in the government’s attitude toward the role of Lithuanians in Holocaust crimes. During World War II, 212,000 of the 220,000 Jews who lived in Lithuania were murdered – the highest victim rate in Europe. A key factor was the widespread participation of volunteer local Nazi collaborators – a phenomenon which encompassed all strata of Lithuanian society from the clergy and intellectuals to its worst elements.

During the Soviet occupation, many local perpetrators were prosecuted and punished, but the subject of the Jews’ fate was manipulated by the communists for their own propaganda, and it was only when Lithuania regained independence in 1991 that there was finally an opportunity for the Lithuanian people to honestly deal with the role of their nationals in Holocaust crimes. Unfortunately, this critical opportunity has been squandered by the Lithuanians, who seem to get greater and greater rewards the more they abuse the historical record.

IN PRACTICAL terms, we can begin with the fact that not a single Lithuanian Nazi war criminal has been punished since independence. What makes this particularly infuriating is that there was no shortage of available suspects. Thus 14 such individuals who escaped after the war to the US were deported back to Lithuania for concealing their collaboration during the immigration and naturalization process, among them Aleksandras Lileikis and Kazys Gimzauskas, the commander and deputy commander of the dreaded Saugumas (Lithuanian security police) in the Vilnius district, who returned in reasonable health, but were only indicted after they were medically unfit to stand trial.

A third Saugumas operative, Algimantas Dailide, was actually sentenced to prison, but the judges refused to implement his sentence. Instead, local prosecutors went after totally innocent Jewish anti-Nazi partisans on trumped up charges of war crimes to create a false symmetry  between ostensible World War II crimes by Jews and Holocaust atrocities by Lithuanians.

Even worse, the Lithuanians are leading the campaign to equate communist and Holocaust crimes in the European Union and throughout the world in an effort to rewrite history and help rid themselves of the unpleasant label of “Holocaust perpetrators,” which can then be replaced by “victims of communism,” with all the concomitant privileges and perks. In this respect, the subject of the Holocaust is being purposely misused to pursue an agenda which abuses its history and dishonors its victims.

Under these circumstances, one would expect that the US, a country with a highly developed Holocaust consciousness and probably the best Shoah museum outside Israel, would know better than to reward the country which has done so much to distort Holocaust history and so little to punish its perpetrators.

What better occasion than Rosenthal’s visit to Vilnius to finally make clear that there should be no tolerance for false historical symmetries between Nazism and communism, and that the time had come for Vilnius to teach the truth and internalize its lessons.

Instead of donating funds to a government which is the chief culprit in a campaign of disinformation, the Americans should be demanding that pupils in Lithuanian schools finally be taught the whole truth about their history during World War II, as difficult and as painful as that may be.

The writer is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office. His most recent book Operation Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice was published last year by Palgrave/Macmillan.

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