During his visit to Lithuania, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the “distance travelled” from WWII-era atrocities and massacres.
Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister to visit Lithuania last week, which offered him opportunity to assess the situation in the country that was once home to his forefathers. "For the Jewish people, what has changed in these 75 years? Not the attempts to destroy us, they still seek to destroy us," Netanyahu said during a visit to Vilnius's Choral Synagogue according to AFP.
A document from the Lithuanian government written and disseminated ahead of Netanyahu’s visit, and cited by Israel daily Israel Hayom, says that 95 percent of the Jews in Lithuania at the time of the Holocaust were killed and calls the deaths "a great tragedy for the Lithuanian state and society. It is regrettable that Lithuanian civilians were personally involved in the mass killings organized by the Nazis," the document reads.
Last month, Silvia Foti wrote for American news and opinion website Salon about the saga that led to the discovery that her grandfather Jonas Noreika, whom she initially considered “a famous Lithuanian World War II hero who fought the Communists,” allegedly led an uprising and taught Lithuanian soldiers how to exterminate Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Baltic country.
After doing research of her own that confirmed the allegations, Foti ended by backing up a drive initiated by Grant Gochin, a Jewish man of Lithuanian descent living in the United States, who launched a campaign to remove a plaque dedicated to Noreika from the Vilnius Library of the Academy of Science building.
In light of this and other such stories, which show that Vilnius did not make enough efforts to come to terms with its role in the Holocaust, Israeli Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff criticized Netanyahu for warming to Lithuania. In a Facebook post cited by AFP, Zuroff wrote that" to praise the Lithuanian government's efforts to commemorate the Shoah is like commending the KKK for improving race relations in the US".
Lithuania’s turbulent history over the past centuries, during which it was under Tsarist, Soviet, Nazi, and Soviet rule once more, led to massive emigration rates, and a diaspora of 1.3 million people living abroad, from a country with a population of less than 3 million. The largest Lithuanian community outside the country is in Chicago, according to The Economist.
- Archeologists have managed to excavate the former site of what was known as the "Great Synagogue of Vilna," a designation using the old name of the city of Vilnius. Built during the 17th century, the synagogue was burned down during World War II, and during the Soviet rule that followed its ruins were leveled and then built over, first with a kindergarten and later with a primary school, according to Live Science.
- After more than 90 percent of its Jewish population perished in the Holocaust, Lithuania has been making efforts to breathe new life into the community, and to encourage Litvak Jews to return. However, the local Museum of Genocide Victims falls short of this task, with the word “genocide” in its name referring to the atrocities committed by the Soviet Union post-World War II.