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Post Holocaust Denial in Lithuania
Created by John Eipper on 04/05/19 2:33 AM

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Holocaust Denial in Lithuania (Tom Hashimoto, -UK, 04/05/19 2:33 am)

I am always surprised by JE's memory of who's who. Yes, for the past three years, I have been travelling to Vilnius almost once a month. While unfortunately I do not speak Lithuanian, I can gather some thoughts on this matter. In this post, I'll try to highlight why such denials may be found in Lithuania. I will not argue against what happened in Lithuania in relation to the Holocaust, as I am not denying it.

First, let me stress that Lithuanians are very sensitive to the Holocaust or genocides in general. Compared to many Central and Eastern European people, Lithuanians tend to be less xenophobic. Keeping in mind that their country is small and has been invaded by almost all the neighbours including Poland (during the interwar period, Poland established "Middle Lithuania" which led Lithuanians to move to Kaunas), this is quite remarkable.

Some may argue the rise of Islamophobia as a counter-example. I simply point out that Muslims had a flourishing settlement near Trakai (near Vilnius) for centuries. So, I am sympathetic to Lithuanians who try to play down their xenophobic past (which unfortunately includes anti-Semitism) as a kind of catharsis for their national identity.

Second, I think that anti-Semitism in Lithuania, as in many Central and Eastern Europe, is partly connected to nationalities or languages they speak. During the interwar period, Poles and Russians were considered as invaders and many Jewish residents in Lithuania could speak these languages for their trade. I wouldn't be surprised if they were hastily labelled as Polish or Russian spies or collaborators.

This might be an off-topic, but Lithuania was a rare case where Russification was softened under Stalin. Moscow encouraged Lithuanian education, as he thought the conflict between Lithuanians on one side, Poles and Jews on the other would reduce the hostility towards Moscow.

Third, with all due respect and sympathy, people in Central and Eastern Europe in general are getting tired of hearing about the tragedy of Holocaust year after year. In Jewish festivals, they prefer to listen to traditional songs and taste Jewish cuisine instead of hearing the same stories again and again. This sentiment is stronger among the younger generations. For them, even the Cold War is beyond their imagination. If the Holocaust has to be retold, they prefer to hear about heroes. I remember how Lithuanians enthusiastically talk about Chiune Sugihara to me, as soon as they see that I am Japanese.

Fourth, when it comes to this Genocide and Resistance Research Centre, it is not so famous in Lithuania. I asked my colleagues and they told me they have only heard of it. I reckon that their attitude to history is not driven by anti-Semitism, but by anti-Sovietism. They want to "promote" the crimes committed by the Soviet against the Lithuanians as much as the Holocaust.

By the way, JE, Lithuanians would protest how you put these posts on Lithuania under "Eastern Europe" category. Lithuanians would say they are either in Northern Europe or the Baltics. "Central and Eastern Europe" would already be a compromise. They don't even want to be remembered as a former Soviet country, to the point that they did not join the Commonwealth of the Independent States...

JE comments:  Should one "center's" view be applied to an entire nation?  Perhaps the operative question is whether a nation can "move on" from its past without (in this case) being accused of Holocaust denial.

Tom, I also sense that you are implying that Poland's xenophobia at present far outstrips that of Lithuania.

I had not heard of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Kaunas who issued transit visas to permit the escape of some 6000 Jewish residents.  He is the only Japanese person to be honored as "Righteous Among the Nations."  A fascinating story reminiscent of the far better-known Raoul Wallenberg:


This is too serious a topic for a digression about tourism, but I did visit Trakai and its splendid castle back in 2017:


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