Muddling the Holocaust in Lithuania


Mr. Lawson is a Professor of History at Rutgers University .

As Peter Novick argues in The Holocaust in American Life (1999), in the late 1940s Americans, especially Jews, hesitated to discuss the Holocaust openly.  The Nuremburg Trials and the presentation of film footage of Nazi atrocities in the concentration camps had appropriately shocked citizens in the U.S. and allied countries. The conversion of postwar Germany into an ally against the Soviet Union as the Cold War began did not change the horror of the extermination of six million Jewish civilians by the Nazis and their collaborators, but it did encourage American leaders to focus on the “Red Fascism” of the U.S.S.R. instead of the German fascism that had produced the Holocaust.

This has changed of course during the past sixty years.  American presidents have visited the sites of concentration camps, and Hollywood has supplied a vast array of television series, documentaries, and feature films testifying to the human misery inflicted by the Third Reich during World War II.  The end of the Cold War in the last decade of the twentieth century further allowed the Holocaust to become a subject of public discussion and analysis without upsetting the U.S.’s geopolitical demands in battling Communism. 

Yet the end of the Cold War has brought about ironic and dangerous twists in remembering and depicting the Holocaust.  The dissolution of the Soviet Empire and the creation of independent republics in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States brought political, economic, and intellectual freedoms.  However, this independence has posed challenges both for keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive as well as for safeguarding those remaining elderly Jews who fought on the Partisan side during World War II alongside the Soviet Union.  Such is the situation in Lithuania, where the Nazis and their collaborators murdered over 200,000 Jews, around 95 percent of the country’s prewar Jewish population.

Ironically, as Lithuania has entered a closer alliance with the United States through NATO and membership in the European Union, it has revived a new internal cold war.  Without rejecting the idea of the Jewish Holocaust, the Lithuanian government has called for historical “symmetry,” one that recognizes and even privileges the suffering of Lithuanians under Soviet rule.  In promoting a kind of holocaust equality, the Lithuanian government financed an “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania” and established a “Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania” in its capital, Vilnius. The problem is not in vindicating the historical suffering of diverse victims of tyranny, but in using this anti-Soviet sentiment to minimize Lithuania’s enormous complicity in the destruction of its wartime Jewish population.  This is no attempt by the government to engage in the shameful, anti-Semitic practice of Holocaust Denial, as practiced by the Iranian government, but to confuse the issue in such a way that diminishes sympathy and support for Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The disreputable cause of Holocaust Denial has been replaced by what one scholar, a professor at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, calls “Holocaust Obfuscation.”  The term has been gaining traction since the Economist published a piece on the subject last August, “Lithuania must stop blaming the Victims.”

The key to Holocaust Obfuscation is to stress the connection between Jewish citizens who escaped certain extermination by joining the Soviet-sponsored partisan groups in fighting the Nazis on the one hand; and on the other the Stalinist regime that inflicted pain and terror upon the Lithuanian people and upon its Jewish minority too.   Undoubtedly there were Lithuanian Jewish Communists (before the war well under 1 percent of the Jewish population), but placing their actions on a par with the Nazi slaughter of millions of people masks a sophisticated and pernicious form of anti-Semitism in the name of equality and tolerance. Indeed, Vilnius’s Genocide Research Center displays many books about Soviet deportations, but almost none about the Jewish Holocaust. Its Genocide Museum barely mentions the Holocaust at all.

To make matters worse, Lithuanian officials have recently sought to question Lithuanian Jews on suspicion of “crimes against humanity.”  One of them is Fania Brantsovsky, the 86-year-old librarian of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. A former partisan, Brantsovsky has been called “a murderer” for her time fighting with the Soviet partisans against the Nazis, and a local newspaper has demanded “she be put on trial.”  At the urging of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, the American Embassy in Lithuania honored Brantsovsky with a certificate of achievement last April, and in August, the British Embassy organized a walking tour of the former Vilna Ghetto, led by Brantsovsky, in which fifteen Western alliance embassies participated (but none of the Baltic States).

Another target is Dr. Rachel Margolis, 87, a retired Vilnius University biologist who helped set up a Holocaust exhibit in the city and published a fine book of memoirs in 2006. She had also rediscovered, transcribed, and published the lost diary of a Polish witness to the murders at Ponar (Paneriai), the mass murder site outside Vilnius (an English edition, Ponary Diary, was brought out by Yale in 2005). Some surmise that this work inspired a craving for revenge, because the diary reveals exactly who the killers were, a fact masked in many local treatments of the period, and left wholly unmentioned by the new “genocide industry” in town. A dual Lithuanian-Israeli citizen, Margolis is in Rehovot, unable to return to her native city, Vilnius, for her annual lectures on the Holocaust. Last May, armed plainclothes police came looking for her. Three American congressmen took up her cause last August, but she has yet to receive assurances of safe passage for return to Vilnius. A group of European Union and NATO ambassadors has recently sent her a joint letter expressing the wish to hear her lecture in Vilnius. They include representatives of Austria, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Ireland, Sweden and the United States.

All of this comes despite the poor record of the Lithuanian government in pursuing non-Jewish war criminals. No Lithuanian collaborator of the Nazis has been punished since the country achieved independence in 1991, and the recent efforts to target Soviet anti-Nazi partisans seems to name only Jews, who were a minority in the partisan movement.  It also comes at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in Vilnius, as witnessed by the parade of some 200 neo-Nazis through the city on Independence Day, March 11, 2008, and the more recent painting of swastikas  and anti-Semitic slogans on the tiny number of Jewish community centers in the country.

The actions of the Lithuanian government have occasioned protests from the tiny Jewish population remaining in Vilnius as well as from some academics and staff associated with the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at the University of Vilnius.  But these folks at the Institute are running afoul of the state security services and Genocide industry establishments, and may be in danger of marginalization and losing their jobs. The government, however, doesn’t want bad publicity to interfere with its attempts to show the western world, and especially American Jews, that Lithuania remembers Jewish suffering, while at the same time they obfuscate the memory of the Holocaust with their anti-Soviet priorities.  It is vital for people to rally around the truth tellers in the Yiddish Institute and let the Lithuanian government and academy know that, in the words of the 1960s, “the whole world is watching.” 

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siga Kisieliute - 11/9/2010

I completely agree. Sorry you can not get away with completely bashing Lithuania. Our country has endured so much and we will not stand to be disrespected in this way. Just for the record, Stalin killed over 20 million, and Hitler killed 6 million (but some have found even that number botched and say was actually less). But obviously you do not care at all for the over 20 million who died at the hands of Stalin. That is called ignorance!!

siga Kisieliute - 11/9/2010

This article could not be farther from the truth. First it has been proven and is found universally accepted that Stalin killed over 20 million, while Hitler 6 million. Yet everyone seems to believe that Hitler is worse, even though Stalin killed four times as many people. I believe what you wrote is one of the biggest disgraces to all those who have had family affected by the Stalin's holocaust. Some of my family were dragged out in livestock trains to Siberia. Some died on the way there simply from the lack of food and hygiene. When in Siberia they were brutally tortured and given no defense to Siberia's horrid cold winters. My one great aunt recalls eating grass to stay alive. I could continue with my stories on and on, but I just want you to know that you should really look into what you write before you say it. This was truly hurtful for me to read after all my family had suffered. I hope you know you have just disgraced over 20 million people dead by the hands of Stalin, I hope that makes you feel happy.

Antanas Labas Palanga - 4/12/2010

What happened to the Lithuanians by the U.S.S.R. was Laughable!!!!!!!! How can you say that. That is so insensitive. Stalin killed just as many if not more people than Hitler. The Holocaust was horrible and unimaginable and I say that whole-heartedly. But you also have to remember about the Soviet Union and the things they did. Visit the KGB prison museum in Vilnius Lithuania in the former KGB prison in Vilnius ir you ever get the chance and you will start to see just the tip of the iceberg in the horrors committed by the Soviet Union.

Antanas Labas Palanga - 4/12/2010

I am an 8th grade student in Illinois and it makes very very upset and dissapointed when people like you deny the Soviet Genocide. Do you know that Stalin killed the same amount of people or even more than Hitler did. Did you know that Lithuanias and Iraqs populations in the early 1900's pre World-War II were both around 3 million people. Now Iraq's population is at an upwards of 20 million people while Lithuanias is just 3 million people. Sure Iraqi's might give birth more, but not at that rate. Also, Stalin did not just kill Lithuanians but also people of many different other countries. also Staliun lived and ruled for a much longer time than Hitler. So don't you dare deny the genocide that occured in the Baltics and Eastern europe and even Russians.In recent news, the tragedy that occured in Poland made me think. That is when the Soviet Union killed 20,000 Polish Military Officers in the Katyn Forest. The Soviet Genocides are all concealed from historical records. God Bless the Polish dead high ranking officials in the plane crash and also the Polish military officers killed in the Katyn Massacre. I cannot begin to explain the sadness and anger that builds up in me when I hear comments like that. all we learn about in school is what happened to the Jews and about what the Nazis did. I understand that the Holocaust was bad, because it was. I completely agree that we should learn about the horrors of it but I think if we learn about one mass genocide then we should learn about other ones to. Also, Mao Zedong killed maybe even more people than Stalin and Hitler in China. I know you might not take me seriously because I am an 8th grader. I am a very smart 8th grader so make sure you take these words seriously and read them carefully. So next time you even THINK about saying that the Soviet Union did not commit a Holocaust and only murdered one social class think again.

William Hone,Jr. - 1/29/2009

I'd like to ask Professor Lawson what his take is on the reason the Lithuanian bureaucracy permitted Defiance, the 2008 American war film directed by Edward Zwick,to be filmed on location in Lithuania. Certainly any official who read its script would have known that the film's depiction of the alliance between Jewish and Red Army partizans would create in the mind of the fim's mass audience a strong resistance to the programme of muddled history you bring to our attention.

Lorraine Paul - 1/26/2009

May I humbly suggest that genocide does not mean killing off a segment of a society but killing off all segments of a society.

Genocide should not be a word bandied about indiscriminately.

vytas barauskas - 1/26/2009

If there were serious scholarship here rather than pure propaganda, we might see some footnotes and references rather than bald unsupported assertions and conclusions against the Lithuanian government. The vile and utterly false notion that all Lithuanians happily collaborated with Nazi murderers has been repeated too many times.

A completely unsung and unknown (to Americans) fact is there was a separate genocide in Lithuania by Stalin, who deported and killed an entire segment of society, the educational and business communities, in a way that would do Pol Pot proud. If the Lithuanians don't consider their nation's devastation a lesser one than that suffered by the Jews at the hand of the Nazis, why should they?

Jewish exceptionalism, the notion that the Holocaust is somehow more of a crime than other genocides of our time, is self-serving and no better than the American exceptionalism we've seen at the constitution-shredding hands of Bush/Cheney.

What's being studied by the Lithuanian government is civilian mass murders that took place at the hands of Soviet partisans. If collaborators in these events happened to be Jewish, I'm sorry, but that doesn't let them off the hook.

No one has been indicted, Margolis and Brandsofsky have merely been asked to tell what happened.

Let's have a little honest truth and reconciliation here, shall we? A little less incendiary rhetoric and more light shed, please.

Kenneth L Rasmussen - 1/26/2009


Please continue reading your own work and you will learn I am correct. Here are some examples.

Look at who controls Israel today, Talmud followers, NOT Torah followers. Only a maniac would use depleted uranium against his neighbors which blows radiation back on their own Israeli population the next time the wind blows. That is VINDICTIVE behavior, the trademark of the Talmud, NOT the Torah.

Then look at exact passage comparisons at this site

Then look at who controls the international banking system that has financed all wars for the last several hundred years. Anti-semitics want to blame all Jews. Wrong, look at the Rothschild family. They never showed any respect for the Torah, only the Talmud. Then as the Rothschilds conspired with the Italian (Roman) Mafia in the Vatican to create the cult known as Zionism, they back stabbed the Jewish race, capitalized Hitler and put international bankers in control of the world economy. Do you see that behavior taught anywhere in the Torah?

And as a Christian myself, look at what faction conspired with the Romans and killed my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Pharisees, a radical group of Talmud worshiping Rabbis, not the entire population.

The Talmud teaches hate, racism and vindictive behavior against the Goyim. If you deny this, you haven't read it.

The only other religious book I know of with as much hate in it is the Koran.

Also reference these sites for more exact quotes from the Talmud that more than prove my point.



And please don't take my comments as a personal attack. As a Christian I have found my own New Testament scriptures tampered with by 2 phony scholars from Oxford a hundred years ago which perverted ALL the translations published last century. It is a sobering fact of life to learn you had been reading some lies for years. Keep seeking truth, it does exist though.

Ken Rasmussen

Steven F. Lawson - 1/26/2009

Please folks, lets not get into an argument about the exclusivity of suffering. No one questions that many Lithuanians cooperated with the Nazis and many other suffered under Soviet totalitarianism. What is at issue is that the Holocaust as portrayed in Lithuania is anti-historical and is being used to persecute the remainder of the victims of Nazism as well as silence the contemporary critics of the government's attempt to obfuscate memory.

Caroline Fletcher - 1/26/2009

Mr Rasmussen writes:"Until you learn a Cabalistic Talmudic Jew has as much evil intention against humanity as any Islamic terrorist, you remain deceived and confused by propaganda."
As an observant Jew, whose husband, sons and sons-in-law study the Talmud, I defy him to give proof of this appalling lie.

Kenneth L Rasmussen - 1/26/2009

Partial history is as dangerous as no history. Lithuania has every right to honor their own citizens first, then others.

I visited the Nazi concentration camp just outside Kaunas Lithuania in 1995. As I gazed at the numerous pictures of victims in the museum I made the most stupid and inconsiderate comment of my life to the young lady who was hosting and interpreting my trip. I asked if these were all Jewish Holocaust victims? She nearly burst into tears and replied "these were all Lithuanians." I soon learned there was a lot more to WWII atrocities than the whitewashed gibberish I was taught in US public schools. Rather than cave in to one special interest group with an agenda, Lithuania would be wise to start exposing the real reasons WWII happened at all, killing millions of innocents on all sides. Yes, 6 million Jews were killed, but so were 5 or so million Christians. Unless you learn from the works of Antony Sutton, Walter Veith, Dr. Stan Monteith, G. Ed Griffin, Dr. Dennis Cuddy and the like, you will never be able to distinguish mass murder from natural causes destined to all humanity.

You cannot lump the entire Jewish bloodline into one innocent group, any more than you can any other group. All humans answer for their actions individually. Until you learn a Cabalistic Talmudic Jew has as much evil intention against humanity as any Islamic terrorist, you remain deceived and confused by propaganda. Unless you study the intervention into history by numerous "secret societies," many tied to the Vatican and so-called Royal Bloodlines, and all their secret oaths, you will never understand what is going on. Nothing will make sense. What school teaches the FACT that Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill were ALL Freemasons? When you learn that, the butcherous agreement made in Tehran suddenly makes sense, toss all the Baltics to Stalin, just another secret handshake deal. If Lithuania is hiding anything, it is the Vatican's ties to Adolph Hitler. Why is he still not excommunicated? Why did an American banker BANKROLL Hitler? (Prescott Bush) What does the Vilnius Yiddish Institute say about Talmudic Jewish involvement in the Bolshevik Revolution which brought Stalin into power? He went on to kill about 50 million. Any tears for them?

We know there are no winners in war. I met a kind elderly gentleman here in the US, who was a young boy during WWII in Nazi Germany. He was forced into the Hitler Youth only because he lived there. He tells me his mother was raped 15 times by invading Russian troops.

The real criminals of war are not those who take preference in which fallen they honor first, but those who HIDE WHO CAUSED THE WAR IN THE FIRST PLACE. The SAME power mongers we now see pushing the world into economic turmoil with their international banking system. No they are NOT Jews, but they ARE tied to every secret society OF ALL RACES on the planet.

Ken Rasmussen

Lorraine Paul - 1/26/2009

Sorry if my comments are not coherent but this is close to my heart. As a baby-boomer, born in 1946, WWII was something that many of us from that time grew up with.

The horror of the Cold War was an ever present 'Sword of Damocles' hanging over us. To understand the 'why' of this I read widely. Lord Liverpool's "Scourge of the Swastika" was a book which I could never read, however, I read much else.

Ralph Gibson's "The People Stand Up", is the definitive work for me. Ralph was a communist and his anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi stance is to be treasured. Lady "Jessie" Street's "Truth or Repose" is another book which had a huge impact on me.

Lorraine Paul - 1/26/2009

One cannot help but thank Prof Lawson for bring this disgusting matter before HNN.

Lithunia was a Nazi Germany ally. Many who emigrated to Australia and were rabidly anti-communist were the same ones who collaborated with Nazism.

The Baltic States have always been problematic regarding the USSR and to present this bogus view regarding the suffering of the Jewish people with their being part of the old USSR is beyond belief!!!

There were many mistakes made by past leaders of the USSR but it is laughable to equate what happened in that era with the Holocaust is an insult to the communists, trades unionists, socialists, Jews, intellectually disabled and, even Jehovah's Witnesses who were murdered by the Nazi regime and their allies in Lithunia.

Lorraine Paul - 1/26/2009

That is a wicked thing to say, Mr Kislock!!

There are many who try to equate the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank with what Nazi Germany did in the Second World War!!!

There is NO comparison! What Nazi Germany did was create a bureaucracy which 'methodically' murdered many people in the countries they invaded. If you were a communist, Trades Unionist, progressive, a gypsy, a Jehovah's Witness then you were part of the elimination programme put in place by Nazi 'pen-pushers'!!

This isn't even counting the civilians, military personnel of those who opposed the Nazi war machine.

Do not call yourself a student of history, or even a historian, because you have shown by your statement that you know nothing about even recent history!!

What is happening in Gaza and on the West Bank is about land and dispossession by Israelis against the Palestinians. It is a war, not a Holocaust!!

Stephen Kislock - 1/26/2009

What of the new Holocaust in Gaza?