April 9, 2019
American Jewish Committee (AJC) is deeply troubled by recent developments in Lithuania which serve to distort the history of the Holocaust in that country. In a recent court filing, the state-supported Center for Research of the Genocide and Resistance of the People of Lithuania offered a defense of the wartime activities of Jonas Noreika, District Chief of Šiauliai during the German occupation, that sought to excuse his culpability and disputed well-established facts of the murder of Lithuanian Jews.
“Lithuania had made considerable progress in confronting its Holocaust-era past,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC Director of International Jewish Affairs. “That is why this latest reversal is so troubling. No one today can claim ignorance about the role of Lithuanian collaborators.”
AJC praised the Lithuanian International Historical Commission’s strong response to the Genocide Center’s defense of Noreika.
The Commission accused the Center of “attempts to minimize the nature and extent of the collaboration of [Noreika] in carrying out the genocide of the Jews during the summer and fall of 1941.” It cited other “exculpatory arguments and obfuscation which are irrelevant to the history of the Holocaust in Lithuania and, in some cases, even offensive to the memory of the victims.” And it charged the Center with promoting the notion that “the establishment of the ghettos created, albeit temporarily, some sort of haven for the Jews,” an idea, the Commission pointed out, that was a “recycled Nazi argument.”
Commission members, appointed by the Lithuanian government, include notable Holocaust historians from Yad Vashem, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and other American and European experts. AJC’s Baker is one of the few non-historians on the Commission.
Since its founding in 1998, the Lithuanian Commission has produced a series of key research volumes on the history of the Holocaust in Lithuania. It also has viewed its responsibility to condemn the public commemoration of persons “who participated in the persecution and/or murder of Jews and other victims during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania regardless of any other activities in which they have been engaged.”
AJC played an instrumental role in the establishment of national historical commissions in each of the three Baltic States.