Vilnius mayor wins praise for changing Lithuania’s Holocaust narrative

Remigijus Šimašius, the mayor of Vilnius, has been praised for his efforts to correct the narrative around Lithuanian complicity in the Holocaust at a event organised by the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

Earlier this summer, Šimašius oversaw two important decisions regarding Holocaust memory in Lithuania. The first was changing the name of a street honoring Kazys Skirpa, founder of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) resistance organisation, and the second was removing a plaque honoring Jonas Noreika, an anti-Soviet fighter who was responsible for the imprisonment of Šiauliai Jews and seizure of their property during the Holocaust.

Those decisions sparked an intense backlash against the mayor and Lithuania’s International Historical Commission, whose authoritative reports served as the basis for the mayor’s actions. Right-wing, populist Lithuanian groups protested, mainstream politicians were largely silent, and even recently elected President Gitanas Nausėda avoided the controversy by calling for “a moratorium on erasing historic memory.”

“Twenty years ago, people in Lithuania were ignorant,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC director of International Jewish Affairs. “They saw themselves as victims of communism and did not realise that some of the anti-Soviet fighters they admired were also complicit in the murder of Jews. But now with the benefit of an accurate historical accounting they know better. So, when they honor people like Noreika and Skirpa, they are also saying that their antisemitism just doesn’t matter.”

Mayor Šimašius, reflecting on his decisions, said, “It’s clear that their (Skirpa and Noreika) participation in the Holocaust was not an accident. It’s not about plaques or street names, but about principles.”

In addition to sharing his personal reflections about his family’s experience during the Holocaust, and the complexity around dealing with Holocaust memory, Šimašius expressed gratitude for the US military serving on Lithuanian soil.

US Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Cherrie Daniels praised the mayor’s use of the findings of the International Historical Commission. “It takes courage in any country to look at one’s own past and one’s own heroes with an objective eye and honestly assess the impact that that person had, for good and for bad,” said Daniels. “The best we can do is honestly assess that past, even the unsavory parts, and use those lessons in Holocaust education.”

2 Comments

  1. Stephanie Stephanie Friday, November 1, 2019

    Were there any progroms or killing of Jews when Lithuania was its own master? From what I have read, they owned factories, stores, big houses, etc. What we are speaking about occurred at a time of LT occupation.
    When are we going to see an apology from the Jews for the people, students, teachers, none in the military, who were so brutally tortured and killed in Rainiu Mskelis? The person who ordered it was known, a Jew, who continued to live in Telsiai without incident until independence when he emigrated to Israel where he died of natural causes.
    What about other atrocities committed by the communists, many of whom were Jews?I heard a man who had been incarcerated in the prison across from Lukiskiu Aikste speak about his experience there. He said that if you were told, when you were being led to be interrogated, that it was going to be a Jew, steel yourself, for they were the most brutal.
    Isn’t it time for the Lithuanians to stop apologizing and the Jewish community to also apologize for their actions?
    Fast forward- these people who are condemning the actions of others are obviously totally ignoring their own actions of the past 60 years when the Palestinians were forced off of their lands. The genocide that started then is continuing today!Isn’t there a saying, something about seeing the speck in the others eye, while not seeing the log in one’s own?
    Lithuanians, stop apologizing! The country which , by percentage of population, saved the most Jews, the only country which was occupied by the Nazis which could not get enough young LT men to join the local SS unit and the universities were closed as punishment- enough already!!!! Start talking about this!

    • The arrow The arrow Sunday, November 3, 2019

      Stephanie, don’t you hurry to “fast forward”. You’re avoiding the theme of the article. First of all it would be very nice if you define your view about the collaboration of some Lithuanian’s (this was the case in Latvia and Ukraine and other Nazi-occupied countries as well) with the Nazi regime. Instead of SS division, f.e. there was some 26 batallions of “Lithauische Hilfspolizei” and some of these formations are on the record of doing the dirty job for the Germans during the Holocaust (and not only inside Lithuania). Then we can talk about what happened under the Communists, where Lithuanians were not the only ones who suffered, too.

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