Lithuania (JTA) -- At first it seemed like a potential
breakthrough in Lithuania’s efforts to come to terms
with the Holocaust.
In September of last year, Lithuania’s parliament declared 2011 to be the Year
of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania.
Yet only a week later, the parliament passed another
resolution -- one that some critics charge has also made
2011 the year of the perpetrators.
The Lithuanian parliament
declared 2011 the Year of Commemoration of the Defense
of Freedom and the Great Losses. That designation marks
the events of 1991, when the Baltic state won its independence
from the crumbling Soviet Union, and more controversially,
It was in 1941 that the Nazis
drove the Soviets out of Lithuania. Lithuanian fighters
rose up against the year-old Soviet occupation, and Lithuanian
nationalists formed a short-lived, Nazi-allied provisional
While the anti-Soviet fighters
are seen as national heroes by many Lithuanians, they
are remembered by Jews as having played a key role in
the Nazi effort that wiped out some 90 percent of the
country’s Jewish population, with some mounting deadly
pogroms against Jews even before the Nazi killing squads
It is a disconnect that continues
to bedevil Lithuanian-Jewish relations.
Efraim Zuroff, director of
the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office, said
the two resolutions “are inherently contradictory,” noting
that while there is a desire “to honor Lithuanian heroes,
among them are people who were involved in the mass murder
Lithuanians have tended to
focus on the brutality they faced at the hands of the
Soviets rather than their wartime collaboration with
the Nazis. In 2008, Lithuanian authorities outraged Jewish
groups by investigating anti-Nazi, Soviet-aligned Jewish
partisans for alleged complicity in war crimes against
Milan Chersonskij, the former
editor of Jerusalem of Lithuania, the country's nnow-defunct
Jewish newspaper, said he finds the juxtaposition of
the two parliamentary resolutions troubling. He says
the situation reflects an unwillingness to grapple with
Lithuanian culpability in the Holocaust.
"They want the
European countries to forget and forgive them the Holocaust
of the Jews. They're doing all that they can," he said. "The Holocaust, they say, was made not by Lithuanians but by Germans."
The text of the Holocaust
remembrance resolution condemns “the genocide committed
against Jews by Nazis and their collaborators in Lithuania
during the occupation by Nazi Germany.” It also hails
residents of Lithuania who fought against fascism and
The resolution was sponsored
by Emmanuel Zingeris, a Lithuanian parliament member
who is Jewish. He said the two initiatives simply honor
different slices of the country's history.
A conversation and healthy
dialogue between the two is important, he says.
"In our parliament
we have different political groups promoting different
projects. We are a democracy, not a Belarus dictatorship," Zingeris said. "We've struggled long enough for the right to live in a democratic society, where
there's no way one can block an initiative to mark and
reflect on and evaluate history."
Faina Kukliansky, a restitution
lawyer who serves as the vice president of Lithuania's
approximately 3,500-member Jewish community, says it
is important to remember that the country was under Soviet
rule for 60 years and is only two decades into grappling
with its role in the Holocaust.
"You have to notice
not only what is wrong but what is good," she said. "Only to sit and criticize and not take part in all these events ... I don't think
it's the best position."
Kukliansky said that funding
from the Holocaust remembrance initiative has financed
the commemoration of the old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius
and facilitated the proper burial of 64 people killed
during the Holocaust.
She said the Jewish community
has been involved every step of the way, and if she has
concerns about the other parliamentary resolution, Kukliansky
said she knows better than to bring them up now. The
Jewish community has pushed for Jews to be included in
events commemorating victims of Soviet oppression, with
some success, she said.
"We try to use
it as much as we can, to commemorate the events, to educate
people, to use it in our favor," she said. "We're not openly fighting with the government about this issue."
The Holocaust commemorative
year has brought tangible results, including 25 victim
remembrance projects and the passage of a law that will
allocate $53 million in compensation to Jewish communities.
Zingeris noted that it also has spurred discussion about
the construction of an upgraded memorial at Paneriai,
near Vilnius, where some 70,000 Jews were murdered during
the Holocaust, along with thousands of Poles and others.
But Zuroff said the Holocaust
commemoration year is a publicity stunt.
"This is one big
cover-up, and it's part of a well-orchestrated and -financed
campaign to fool world Jewry and help polish Lithuania's
image," he said. "Everything that's being done is being done for all the wrong reasons, and I haven't
seen any serious effort to honestly face the past."
For Zingeris, the year represents
a chance to increase tolerance in Lithuania and remind
the country of its substantial Jewish heritage.
"I just happen
to be a second-generation Holocaust survivor and member
of the parliament since 1990. If I would not introduce
this resolution, perhaps there would be no Year of the
Holocaust Remembrance," he said. "We have to fight revisionist tendencies in our society. We have to honor the
victims, the fighters and the rescuers."
Rabbi Sholem Ber Krinsky,
who has served as the Chabad rabbi in Vilnius since 1994,
said he has seen a noticeable thaw in Lithuania's historic
unwillingness to examine its past.
was frozen for 60 years. There's new wounds," he said. "You can't change people's psyche in a day and you can't expect to."
Regarding the Holocaust initiative,
Krinsky said, "They took a big step, so let's applaud it. Why sift through the sand to find