Growing up in Apartheid South Africa, “Blood River Day” (or Dingaan’s Day) was a primary national holiday. The day celebrated the victory of white Colonialists over the indigenous black population. The name recalled that a visible consequence of the victory was that rivers ran red with the blood of black people. Blacks were also required to observe this holiday. The underlying message was clear: The killing of black South Africans was sanctioned, when and as required, to maintain minority white rule. In post-Apartheid South Africa, which has openly and frankly discussed the legacy of Apartheid, the holiday has been re-named “Day of Reconciliation.”
This South African holiday held special resonance for Jewish South Africans, of whom an estimated 90% were of Lithuanian heritage. When South African Jews lived in Europe, they suffered persecution and were largely unable to defend themselves. When they saw injustice in South Africa, they stood up for the civil rights of their black fellow citizens. It was therefore no coincidence that in comprising an estimated 2% of white South Africans, almost half of white South Africans involved in the South African liberation struggle were Jews.
It is similar in the USA, where Jews have been disproportionately represented in American civil rights campaigns.
A current controversy in the USA regards how its Confederate leaders are remembered. The cause that the Confederacy fought for was a political and economic system that, like Apartheid South Africa, afforded few rights to black people. The monuments glorifying the leaders of the “Lost Cause” reminds people living today that the enslavement and degradation of blacks was once acceptable.
We do need to remember history, but the place for the memory of values which modern society has rejected is in a museum. The memorials in public squares should honor those whose sacrifices and achievements reflect the best of contemporary social values. In schools and public spaces we want children to learn those values so that they can maintain them and use them to build a better society in the future.
The terrorist organization Hamas teaches its youth that murdering Israelis is a criterion for hero status. Lessons learned in youth are hard to undo. No matter how hard anybody tries to un-teach these lessons, a residue of racial hatred will remain and be transmitted generationally.
A similar example exists in the killing fields of Europe. The Government of Lithuania actively engages in the idolization of ethnic Lithuanians who plundered, tortured, and brutally slaughtered over 200,000 Jews. The rationalization for honoring such evil perpetrators is that at some later time these same individuals fought against the Soviets. The fact that these individuals were pro-Nazi war criminals is no impediment to their being accorded hero status in monuments and the names of streets and public building. Indeed, after Lithuania regained its independence in 1990, Lithuania went to the extraordinary length of exonerating many of the individuals whom the Soviets had prosecuted for mass murder. These are the unrepentant values of contemporary Lithuanian society. And these are the values that Lithuania is transmitting generationally.
Hamas make clear that the indiscriminate slaughter of Jews is a core element of its value system. Apartheid South Africa was somewhat less explicit in celebrating Blood River Day. Post-Apartheid South Africa, like post-war Germany, actively rejects and condemns ideologies that assert that one race or ethnic group has the right, if not the obligation, to oppress and murder those who are of a different race or ethnicity .
How is it possible that Lithuania, an Eastern European nation that desperately wants to portray itself as sharing the values of Western civilization, refuses to recognize, acknowledge, and publicly confront the pro-Nazi values of those who it honors, those who actively and enthusiastically took leading roles in the murder of the Jews in their own country and in neighboring countries?
The murders of Jews by Lithuanians is still within living memory, and for nearly 30 years Lithuania has been free to interview perpetrators, witnesses, and survivors and to conduct research in the world’s archives and libraries to understand the ferocity and gravity of the crimes committed by Lithuanians. Yet, Lithuania has not removed a single one of the many monuments for identified Holocaust perpetrators.
As Lithuanians increasingly come into contact with the West, where the facts of Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust are well known, there is some begrudging acknowledgement that perhaps it isn’t appropriate to honor some heroes whose direct complicity in the Holocaust is firmly established. Yet, the popular support for the mythology surrounding such heroes is such that elected officials fear that even suggesting the removal of an honor for a cherished perpetrator may result in their being defeated at the polls.
The situation is akin to a suggestion that might have been made in the American South in 1910 that a memorial to a Confederate leader should be removed. And, in this respect, it is clear that the continued honors reflect the values of contemporary Lithuanian society – the values that will be transmitted generationally. As a case in point, even after Lithuania’s Foreign Minister voiced his opinion that a specific plaque in downtown Vilnius should be removed, the city’s elected mayor, Remigijus Simasius has said that the plaque should remain. The mayor may be speaking for himself, but in context he is speaking on behalf of ordinary members of Lithuania’s society who have no concerns about the inherent evil nature of Holocaust participants.
Today, in countries with a history of gross crimes committed in the name of racial and ethnic superiority, such as South Africa, the USA, and Germany, youth are taught both in the classroom and in public spaces to reject racial and ethnic prejudice. By contrast, Lithuania, which has made no meaningful effort to confront its pro-Nazi past, has much more in common with Hamas than with South Africa, the USA, or Germany.
In his “Notes on Nationalism,” George Orwell observed that nationalists have a remarkable capacity to ignore atrocities committed by those who share their values. Such is the state of what passes for Lithuania’s past and present “racially conscious” nationalism. And, it does not bode well for the children to whom these values are being transmitted.
Grant Arthur Gochin currently serves as the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Togo, and as Vice Dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps, the second largest Consular Corps in the world. In March 2018, he was appointed as the Special Envoy for Diaspora Affairs for the African Union, which represents the fifty-five African nations. Gochin is actively involved in Jewish affairs, focusing on historical justice. He has spent the past twenty years documenting and restoring signs of Jewish life in Lithuania. He has served as the Chair of the Maceva Project in Lithuania, which restored over fifty abandoned and neglected Jewish cemeteries. Gochin is the author of “Malice, Murder and Manipulation”, published in 2013. His book documents his family history of oppression in Lithuania. He is presently working on a project to expose the current Holocaust revisionism within the Lithuanian government. He is Chief of the Village of Babde in Togo, an honor granted for his philanthropic work. Professionally, Gochin is a Certified Financial Planner and practices as a Wealth Advisor in California, where he lives with his family. Website: www.ggochin.wordpress.com