Confronting the Past

Prior to World War II, approximately 200,000 Jews lived in Lithuania — most of them in the city and region of Vilnius.  About 95% of Lithuanian Jews were murdered during the German occupation of Lithuania in 1941-1944.  Paneriai, a village located 10 km outside of Vilnius, was the site of the murder of at least 100,000 people by Nazi forces and Lithuanian collaborators.  Of those murdered at this place in the pine forests were 70,000 Jews, 20,000 Poles, and 8,000 Russians (mostly local), as well as Soviet soldiers taken as prisoners-of-war and local Lithuanians.  There has been difficulty in Lithuania in coming to terms with the Nazi German occupation and the mass murder of Lithuania’s Jews.  It much too complicated to address in a blog post, but these are a few of my opinions on the subject, along with some photographs from my visit to Paneriai a few weeks ago.

Some Lithuanians collaborated with the Nazis in mass murder; this does not mean that all Lithuanians are fascists but it is a fact.  In my opinion, accusations of this kind and the denials of any collaboration or making excuses for collaboration by the other side serve only to foster continued anger and intolerance and display a lack of historical understanding.  Confronting the past requires a lot of courage, honesty and compassion — it is not accomplished by blanket accusations or denials.

Suffering is not a game of one-up-manship.  There was an almost complete destruction of Lithuanian Jews during World War II.  Lithuanians suffered greatly under Soviet occupation, experiencing oppression, deportation and death.  Recognizing that the Holocaust was an extreme form of assault on a people (called genocide, a term invented to describe the attempt to eradicate a population) or that some Lithuanians participated does not devalue Lithuanian suffering — or any other people’s suffering.  Constantly trying to prove that one’s suffering is greater or that it justifies other actions  or that there are excuses for attacking other human beings leads, in my opinion, to a lack of compassion and blindness to one’s own ability to inflict suffering.  It also, once again, displays a lack of understanding about the complexity of history.

I usually avoid making any comments on this topic because it only leads to attacks by one side or the other.  At the same time, walking through a forest where at least 100,000 people were murdered reminded me that avoiding conflict is exactly how Europe got into World War II and mass murder in the first place.  Sometimes speaking out, even if it means taking flak, is the right thing to do.

The memorial to the Jews murdered at Paneriai in 1941-1944


One of the pits where people were shot and buried in mass graves.



About amanda

Creating academic and public environments for the humanities to flourish Researching Soviet and Eastern European history Engaging people and ideas as a writer and interviewer Traveling as much as possible View all posts by amanda

2 responses to “Confronting the Past

  • Litlocal

    “…Some Lithuanians collaborated with the Nazis in mass murder; this does not mean that all Lithuanians are fascists …”

    What i often come across on the internet is specifically accusation of lithuanian nation and lithuanian government, and they usually are the accusations at any cost. In english and russian languages. I think most of denials (by lithuanians) is attempt to deny these accusations, but not the facts or something. And of course those silly anonymous comments on Delfi etc probably should not be taken into account, everybody know enses etc.
    One thing about that site in Paneriai is that during soviet times it was called a “site of the murder of Soviet people by Faszist forces”. Typical vocabulary of typical propaganda of that time, and since the words “soviet people” and “faszists” were involved, it immediately provoked some hostility to all that event and to everything related to it. “Soviet people” was typical symbol of goodness in official soviet understanding, and “faszism” was evil threatening that soviet “goodness”, thus it was not supposed to be overall bad, but only bad as something that can injure anyhing “soviet”. So i remember how boring at school were those “little hours of political education” where we were obliged to listen and teacher was obliged to tell us various nonsenses. Btw my class teacher was Jewish (lithuanian jewish, i mean), my few classmates were Jewish (well, they still are) and i can say that recent scandals and pseudo-misunderstandings is something new.
    Well, all that soviet propaganda regarding Paneriai was a lie throughout. Some of those murdered people indeed could be called “Soviet people” as at least several weeks they already lived under soviet regime but it’s not that essential 😉 . Also there was at least 1 full train car from Holland, as they could not finish the “work” in time…
    As for lithuanian collaborants – who deny? There is nothing to deny – some Lithuanians collaborated with the Nazis in mass murder and it is a fact.

  • Litlocal

    Sorry, part of one sentence “escaped”: …everybody know that there are regular posters posting nonsenses etc.

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