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Lithuanian Jews to Get Reparations

Reigniting criticism of the country’s equation of the Holocaust and Soviet occupation

Stephanie Butnick
November 07, 2013

The Lithuanian government is granting symbolic reparations to Lithuanian Holocaust survivors, JTA reports. Each survivor will get $622 this year, which Lithuanian officials are calling compensation for both the Holocaust and the Soviet occupation, an enduring parallel drawn by authorities in various Baltic states that has long angered Jewish individuals and institutions, the Simon Wiesenthal Center among them.

As Dovid Katz wrote in 2010, local Lithuanian authorities employ an unofficial policy of “Holocaust obfuscation,” as Katz termed it. Katz cited Rachel Margolis, an octogenarian who survived the Holocaust and worked as a biology professor at Vilnius University for four decades, only to be deemed a war criminal at 88 years old for joining the anti-Nazi resistance half a century earlier.

Margolis is one of a group of elderly survivors who have become pawns in a sinister game of Holocaust obfuscation by local authorities in the Baltic states—which, though they are among the smallest nations in Europe, had the highest rates of Holocaust genocide in Europe. A more complex phenomenon than Holocaust denial, obfuscation does not deny a single Jewish death at the hands of the Nazis. Instead, it uses as a starting point the idea that the Nazi genocide was not a unique event but rather a reaction to Soviet “genocide” (and antecedent to further Soviet genocide) in which the same elements of Lithuanian society that often sided with the Nazi invaders were persecuted and imprisoned by the Communist regime, whose officials included Jews.

The Holocaust remains a strained subject in Lithuania to this day, making headlines in July 2011 when a Holocaust memorial in a forest outside of Vilnius was vandalized with swastikas. As The Scroll’s Marc Tracy wrote at the time, “Today, the Lithuanian government has concerns other than publicizing the role of some of their ancestors in the Holocaust, or indeed in publicizing the Holocaust itself. Politically, it casts the U.S.S.R. as Lithuania’s ultimate historical enemy.”

This latest news, in the form of $622 per Holocaust (and Soviet occupation) survivor this year, will likely reignite the conversation about Lithuania’s treatment of the Holocaust. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.