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Olga Zabludoff: Reply to Donatas Januta re Holocaust in Lithuania

I love and respect Lithuanians no less than I do my American friends, both Jews and non-Jews


Olga Zabludoff

Dear Donatas,

Thank you for your gracious opening paragraph to our discussion. I will try to comment on the points you raise in your letter.

I do not dispute Dina Porat’s finding that 99.5% of the Lithuanian population was neither directly nor indirectly involved in the killing of Jews. I would not dispute the findings of any reputable researcher/historian. But what I wish to point out is that one-half of 1% of the 1941 Lithuanian population equaled about 15,000 persons. Looking at the Jewish population of about 200,000 at the time, the ratio between killers and victims was 1: 13.
That can account for high efficiency. The real problem was that the other 99.5% of the population chose to close their eyes.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." This quote from Edmund Burke is the painful truth in the story of the Holocaust as well as other major tragedies. But to ask in hindsight why good men did nothing means not to comprehend the climate and the terror of the times.

No one is blaming innocent Lithuanians. I think the anger and the constant memory stem from the distortion of the history of what really took place. If only the true history were presented by teachers and texts, if only the Lithuanian people accepted the truth, I think the healing process would begin and an honest reconciliation would follow. Again I am not claiming that all Lithuanians do not accept the truth. There are certainly many notable exceptions.

Regarding the contributions of the Jews to the economy of Lithuania, if you choose not to believe Professor Dov Levin’s claims that Jews were an integral part of the economy, then let’s take a common-sense approach to the subject. The Jews were mainly merchants, traders, shopkeepers, craftsmen. They stimulated the economy with their businesses and provided a marketplace for farmers and others who needed to sell their produce and wares. Lithuania was one country and one economy. All of the participants in that economy made contributions, whether they were Jews, Lithuanians or other ethnic groups. They lived side by side, and even though the various groups carried on their individual traditions, there were still all part of one whole.

Contrary to what you are implying about my reaction to Bloodlands, I think it is an excellent book and everyone should read it. I went to Timothy Snyder’s presentation at George Washington University shortly after the book came off the press. It was extremely interesting and impressive to hear him speak and answer the myriad questions from the audience. I bought the book right there and later read it. Why would I have quoted from the book if I believed it is not a valuable work?

As for the Kazys Skirpa radio broadcasts reported in Bloodlands, if you say that this reference proved to be incorrect and has been deleted from subsequent printings of the book, I take your word for it. But that in itself doesn’t change the fact that there were bloody pogroms in Lithuania even before the Germans had arrived. This has been reported countless times in survivor testimonies and historical accounts. It ushered in the Holocaust in Lithuania. Another fact that has been reported for 70 years by survivors, witnesses and historical accounts is that the Germans received all the help they needed from Lithuanian locals who were eager accomplices.

I find it very sad when you say, “I still don’t know why the Lithuanians can’t simply grieve their own tragedy, and the Jews grieve  theirs.” All people should grieve over tragedies that involve the loss and suffering of others and should mourn the victims, regardless of their nationality or race. It seems cold and indifferent to separate out who should be mourned by whom.

During my three lengthy trips to Lithuania, I have made deep and lasting friendships with a good number of Lithuanians. I love and respect them no less than I do my American friends, both Jews and non-Jews. I cannot imagine that my Lithuanian friends could ever live in a different compartment of my heart.

In your final sentence you write, “The Lithuanians and the Jews both suffered greatly during World War II – or do you disagree with this as well?”

How could I possibly disagree with the truth? You can even go further and say the Lithuanians suffered beyond World War II during the second Soviet occupation that lasted almost fifty years. But there is one major difference: the goal of the Nazi regime was total annihilation of European Jewry – genocide. They came close to succeeding in Lithuania. The Soviet regime imposed deportations, imprisonment, death and suffering on the Lithuanian nation, but the majority of the Lithuanian population survived. While many perished in Siberian gulags, larger numbers eventually returned home to Lithuania. Both the Nazi and the Soviet regimes were heinous, but there was only one genocide. That fact should be acknowledged so that the history of World War II will not become distorted.

Olga Zabludoff

Category : Blog archive

  • […] Olga Zabludoff: I love and respect Lithuanians no less than I do my American friends, both Jews and non-Jews […]

    November 08 2011
    CommentsLike
    • Donatas Januta

      Dear Olga,
      I do not believe that you and I are that far apart. At least I hope that.
      Just one brief note for now – when I asked why each group cannot
      simply grieve separately, my intent was not that each should ignore
      the other's sufferings, but rather I was hoping to avoid comparisons
      which seem to lead to so much discord,
      Let me think some more on all that you say.
      In the meantime, Barry Rubin, reflects a lot my thinking in his article:
      "Unfinished Business and Unexploited Opportunities: Central and Eastern Europe, Jews,
      and the Jewish State," Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs ( Nr. 2, 2010).

      November 07 2011
      CommentsLike



      

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