The government of Lithuania must publicly disclose its list of citizens who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, the former Soviet republic’s organized Jewish community has demanded.
Information regarding the document, which records more than 2,000 Lithuanians “alleged to have committed or contributed to the murder of Jews during World War II” must be published, along with a detailed breakdown of the government’s subsequent actions toward the accused, demanded Faina Kukliansky, the president of the organized community, in an open letter to the country’s prosecutor general and the government-sponsored Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania last Thursday.
“The Lithuanian Jewish Community believes refusal to release the list could have negative repercussions at the international as well as national level and could give rise to various theories that would damage the reputation of the Lithuanian state – for example, that Lithuania is avoiding the criminal prosecution in cases of still-living Holocaust perpetrators – and that might be exploited and manipulated for political aims unfavorable to the Lithuanian state,” Kukliansky wrote.
Earlier this month the Genocide Center announced that it would publish the list, which, it stated, contained more than 1,000 names, following a public firestorm ignited by the publication of a book on Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust written by Israeli Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff and Ruta Vanagaite, a Lithuanian author who began studying the Holocaust after discovering that members of her own family played a role in the murder of Jews during the genocide.
According to Vanagaite, in 2012, the center gave the government a list containing 2,055 names of supposed perpetrators, but Vilnius neither published it nor made any attempt to investigate the people concerned. While at least one government figure subsequently denied the existence of any such list, a senior center official admitted to its existence and asserted that her organization had eliminated around 1,000 of those referenced as suspects.
Within days of that announcement, the center walked back its commitment, announcing that it would instead transfer the list to state prosecutors because of concerns that its publication would “violate [the] rights” of those listed, due to worries that “their guilt is not proven.”
That proposal met with Kukliansky’s approval, with the former prosecutor explaining that the degree of guilt of those named is not sufficiently clear.
Following Kukliansky’s statement, Zuroff accused her of “selling out” and “switching over to the side of the government.” Kukliansky declined to answer questions about the matter posed by the media.
Less than a week later, however, Kukliansky changed her tune, publishing the letter demanding to know how many of those listed in the document have been convicted and subsequently rehabilitated and if any of them have been honored in any way by the Republic of Lithuania.
Vilnius must “disclose the identities on the list according to category, describing each category and their actual contribution to the implementation of the Holocaust,” Kukliansky wrote, adding that it must be made known how many of those listed were “honored by statues whose construction was financed by funds from the state or municipal institutions” or recognized in other ways.
Furthermore, she stated, anyone who had been granted recognition as a Freedom Fighter must have their honors stripped, with any memorials to their memory torn down, and the names of anyone still fit to stand trial should be turned over to state prosecutors.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Lithuanian Jewish community have clashed repeatedly in recent years, with Zuroff accusing the representative body of Holocaust distortion last November following the publication of an article on its website asserting that Jonas Noreika, one of men responsible for the massacres of the Jews during the war, “didn’t participate in the mass murder of Jews in Lithuania during World War II.”
Despite their former antagonisms, however, Zuroff lauded Kukliansky on Sunday, issuing a statement of support for the Jewish community’s move and urging the Genocide Center “to once and for all publish its list of Lithuanian Holocaust perpetrators.”
JTA contributed to this report.