“The Germans were not there; the Lithuanians did it themselves.”
July 30, 2015 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Double Genocide: Lithuania wants to erase its ugly history of Nazi collaboration - by accusing Jewish partisans who fought the Germans of war crimes.
"After Lithuanians got independence,” he told me, “we hoped that Lithuania would give us help.” But it was not to be. In one of its very first independent actions, before even fully breaking free of Moscow, Lithuania’s parliament formally exonerated several Lithuanian nationalists who had collaborated in the Holocaust and had been convicted by Soviet military courts after the war. The right-wing paramilitaries who had carried out the mass murder of Lithuania’s Jews were now hailed as national heroes on account of their anti-Soviet bona fides.
posted by Rustic Etruscan (52 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I pressed her on her Soviets-were-worse-than-the-Nazis assumptions, the most she would concede was a post-modern gloss that it was all a matter of perspective. “It depends who you were: the Nazis were worse for Jews, the Soviets were worse for Lithuanians.” The blithe, implicit assumption was that Lithuanian Jews were not Lithuanians.
There it is.
posted by griphus at 12:50 PM on July 30, 2015 [48 favorites]


Since 1991, the chief guide at the Museum of Genocide Victims told me, 700,000 people have left the country seeking greater opportunities in the West. “In a country of 3 million people,” he asserted, “that is a genocide.”
Christ, what assholes.
posted by Etrigan at 12:54 PM on July 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


#notallpostsovietnationalists
posted by griphus at 12:55 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


well this is terrible.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:04 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Since 1991, the chief guide at the Museum of Genocide Victims told me, 700,000 people have left the country seeking greater opportunities in the West. “In a country of 3 million people,” he asserted, “that is a genocide.

Well, the population probably would be larger had Lithuanians and Nazis not murdered 200,000 Jews.
posted by maxsparber at 1:13 PM on July 30, 2015 [23 favorites]


.
Part of my family came from Lithuania, fleeing from 19th century pogroms. I find it difficult to manage that history, and I was not a happy supporter of including the Baltic nations into EU. I can't help but think they are contributing to the current atmosphere of xenophobia.
But I make it my business to welcome modern Lithuanians here and show how inclusion and tolerance can build prosperous societies.
posted by mumimor at 1:21 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bloodlands has an eye opening take on this. Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine got a triple-whammy. First the Russians came west and killed everybody who looked at them sideways. Then the Germans went east and the Germans killed a bunch and the natives killed everybody who collaborated with the Russians in round one. Third the Russians came west and the Russians killed a bunch and the natives who were left killed all the natives who were left who collaborated with the Germans in round two. These poor people got it thrice-over and then all anybody heard was what the Russians reported until 1991. They write casualty estimates or casualty wild guesses which are 14 - 46 million dead. Hence the title of the book. It is so horrifying I will never read it again.
posted by bukvich at 1:25 PM on July 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


You left out the bit where Germans and Christian local people killed Jews because they hated Jews, bukvich. Which is kind of the whole fucking point of the article.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:35 PM on July 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


Timothy Snyder op-ed in The Guardian / NYRB Blog, 2011: Lithuania neglects the memory of its murdered Jews
posted by Going To Maine at 1:35 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


An academic paper published on the Genocide and Resistance Research Center’s website went even further than Burauskaite or the court, questioning whether the Holocaust meets the standard for genocide since “although an impressive percentage of the Jews were killed by the Nazis, their ethnic group survived” and later flourished.

This is so gross that it actually caused me physical pain. On the plus side I think I remembered some excellent hungarian swears that I haven't heard since I was 10.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:39 PM on July 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


Well, it was the Nazis (with, in the east, the German Army) who killed Jews en masse, along with 5-6 million more people. But anti-Semitism and willing cooperation -- and sometimes the eager willingness by local populations to do all the slaughtering of local Jews without any German help at all -- certainly made that mission a whole lot easier for the Third Reich.

The deeper I dive into this the more really awful the history is. And we are by no means done with the hateful attitudes that make mass murder happen.
posted by bearwife at 1:42 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a lot of talk about how outlawing Holocaust revisionism in Europe is anti-free speech and yet it often seems like things like are all that's keeping anti-Semitism on the continent from boiling over.
posted by griphus at 1:44 PM on July 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


More cynically, I think those laws are masking the extent of anti-semitism, and it could still boil over. Hell, it may be that the only thing keeping it from boiling over is that there aren't enough Jews around anymore to make them satisfying targets.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:48 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, it was the Nazis (with, in the east, the German Army) who killed Jews en masse, along with 5-6 million more people. But anti-Semitism and willing cooperation -- and sometimes the eager willingness by local populations to do all the slaughtering of local Jews without any German help at all -- certainly made that mission a whole lot easier for the Third Reich.

IMO that's a bit backward. The rounding-up and execution of Jews in Europe was a time-honored tradition that the Nazis exploited and systematized into the Final Solution. The states which eventually became the Soviet Union took something of a break from it for the Revolution (in which Jews were instrumental) but otherwise pogroms were the status quo. It's less that they were eager to help the Nazis and more that they had already been doing it when the Nazis showed up.
posted by griphus at 1:51 PM on July 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


tbh I think the thing that keeps it from truly boiling over is the fact that Israel exists and has nukes. And I hate that this is the case.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:51 PM on July 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Bloodlands has an eye opening take on this. Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine got a triple-whammy. First the Russians came west and killed everybody who looked at them sideways. Then the Germans went east and the Germans killed a bunch and the natives killed everybody who collaborated with the Russians in round one. Third the Russians came west and the Russians killed a bunch and the natives who were left killed all the natives who were left who collaborated with the Germans in round two. These poor people got it thrice-over and then all anybody heard was what the Russians reported until 1991. They write casualty estimates or casualty wild guesses which are 14 - 46 million dead. Hence the title of the book. It is so horrifying I will never read it again.

I haven't read the book, though I'd like to, and I'm by no means an expert in the field, but this piece from Jacobin is an interesting critique. The sections "The Origins of Anti-Semitism" and "The Partisans" are of particular relevance to this thread. Forgive the long quotation:
Puffing up the two super-tyrants, Snyder downplays the social forces behind them and exculpates the political actors in between. Since Hitler and Stalin are alone responsible, others are not; violence is not something that arises from within the borderlands, but is visited on them from outside. “In eastern Europe,” Snyder writes, “it is hard to find political collaboration with the Germans that is not related to a previous experience of Soviet rule.” If Poles, Balts, and Ukrainians engaged in massive anti-Jewish pogroms following the German invasion, in other words, it is not their fault but that of the Communists.

But anyone remotely familiar with East European history knows that the region has a rich history of anti-Semitism all its own. Although Snyder refers blandly to Joseph Pilsudski’s “great rival” Roman Dmowski, the Polish nationalist who successfully argued for Polish independence during the post-World War I treaty negotiations at Versailles, he fails to mention Dmowski’s fierce anti-Semitism or note how far back it extended. “[I]f all society were to succumb to [Jewish] influences, we would actually lose our capacity for societal life,” Dmowski wrote in 1913, evidence that Polish anti-Semitism did not follow on the heels of the Bolshevik Revolution four years later.

Anti-Semitism was in fact far fiercer in Poland than in Germany from the early 1920s on and built steadily throughout the interwar period — before the non-aggression pact, in other words, rather than after. Where the Nazis were disappointed by the tepid public response to the Kristallnacht pogroms in November 1938, for instance, Poland saw major outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence in some ninety-seven towns and cities between 1935 and 1937 alone. Polish anti-Semitism clearly had a life of its own.

Snyder struggles to get the borderlands off the hook in other ways, as well. He writes that “anti-Semites in the [Polish] Home Army were a minority” and says of the Polish peasants viewing passing trainloads of Jewish deportees that “[t]he gesture of a finger across the throat, remembered with loathing by a few Jewish survivors, was meant to communicate to the Jews that they were going to die — though not necessarily that the Poles wished this upon them” — a remarkable assertion that he makes no effort to substantiate.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:52 PM on July 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


oh, ha, an even more relevant bit appears toward the end:
The reductio ad absurdum occurred in 2006 when the Lithuanian daily Respublika labeled Yitzhak Arad, the long-time director of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, an “NKVD storm trooper” because, as a young man in the Vilnius ghetto, he was able to escape and join the partisans. Local prosecutors launched a formal investigation and then, two years later, followed up with an investigation into the wartime activities of two elderly Jewish women, Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky and Rachel Margolis, who had also joined the partisans. As Arad points out it, such prosecutions flow from the concept of a double genocide, which holds that there was a “brown holocaust” that was the work of Nazi Germany and a small number of Balts and an equal and opposite “red holocaust” that was the work of the Soviet Union and its local collaborators.

“In order to justify the participation of Lithuanians in the mass murder of Jews,” he writes, “there was a perceived need to invent Jews who similarly killed Lithuanians.”

The way was thus prepared for a Yale professor to turn out a veritable ode to the concept of a double genocide, one equating partisans with storm troopers and blaming anti-Jewish pogroms on the Soviets. When Jews protested the ceremonial re-burying of Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, the Nazi puppet prime minister who in 1941 issued the order consigning Jews to a ghetto in the town of Vilijampolė, a Lithuanian academic exclaimed, “It’s great that there are historians such as Timothy Snyder, who is helping the West to comprehend what happened here.” Bloodlands’ success, as the sociologists say, was over-determined.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:56 PM on July 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I've actually met one of the people featured in this article, Fania Brantsovsky. She's in her nineties now, and is still extremely active-- not only is she the librarian of the Yiddish library at Vilnius University, but she also leads extensive tours of both Vilnius and the forests outside of Vilnius where she was a partisan. The fact that she was charged with war crimes for, essentially, managing to escape the Nazis and remain alive throughout the war is sickening.

In general, the denial of the Jewish history in the country is just...depressing. I went with a group to see one of the very few remaining wooden synagogues in Lithuania. This was one of the more "structurally intact" ones, despite the building's general dilapidated condition-- walls leaning over, the balcony completely collapsed, etc. The guide took us over to the nearby cemetery which was literally, next to a cow field, and overgrown with weeds. She told us that she could've taken us to a town with a more intact cemetery, but the synagogue there was nearly gone, so... It just seemed like the locals just didn't care, really. And, at least in terms of the synagogues, the Jewish communities outside of Lithuania are content to let everything go over there.

Luckily, the situation is a little bit better in Poland and some other places (if sometimes disconcertingly covered with a weird veneer of philosemitism and borderline cultural appropriation). But that's another story.
posted by damayanti at 1:58 PM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


otherwise pogroms were the status quo.

That's not so. I just toured the (excellent) museum of Jewish history in Poland in Warsaw, and it is a good example of the fact that although there were certainly anti-Semitic periods, there were also very long stretches of tolerance and integration.

In addition, killing 6 million Jews plus 5-6 million more in a lot less than a decade beats any collection of pogroms by miles in terms of impact and numbers.

Having said that, anti-Semitism and collaboration were big, big helps to the Nazis and hateful attitudes like that assist any genocidal agenda greatly.
posted by bearwife at 1:58 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


... additional factors, such as severe economic problems which led to the killing of Jews over personal property.[8] Finally the Jews were seen as having supported the Soviet regime in Lithuania during 1940–1941.[d][2][8][12] During the period leading up to the German invasion, the Jews were blamed by some for virtually every misfortune that had befallen Lithuania.[2][12]

The involvement of the local population and institutions, in relatively high numbers, in the destruction of Lithuanian Jewry became a defining factor of the Holocaust in Lithuania.[1][2][12]

Not all of the Lithuanian populace supported the killings.[16] Out of a population of close to 3,000,000 (80% of it ethnic Lithuanians),[17] a few thousands took an active part in the killings while many hundreds risked their lives sheltering the Jews.[8] Israel has recognized 723 Lithuanians as Righteous Among the Nations for risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.[2][8][18][19] In addition, many members of the Polish minority in Lithuania also helped to shelter the Jews.[16] Lithuanians and Poles who risked their lives saving Jews were persecuted and often executed by the Nazis.[20]
posted by Postroad at 2:00 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


That 2014 Jacobin op-ed is a little rich, given the 2011 op-ed by Snyder that I linked above.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:02 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


> The way was thus prepared for a Yale professor to turn out a veritable ode to the concept of a double genocide, one equating partisans with storm troopers and blaming anti-Jewish pogroms on the Soviets. When Jews protested the ceremonial re-burying of Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, the Nazi puppet prime minister who in 1941 issued the order consigning Jews to a ghetto in the town of Vilijampolė, a Lithuanian academic exclaimed, “It’s great that there are historians such as Timothy Snyder, who is helping the West to comprehend what happened here.” Bloodlands’ success, as the sociologists say, was over-determined.

That's revolting. It's hard (talk about an understatement!) to write anything about the modern history of Eastern Europe that doesn't ignore important factors, and it's flat-out impossible to write anything that won't offend partisans of one side or another; to treat Snyder, who's done more than any English-language historian I know of to open people's eyes to the complex and horrifying history of the region, as though he were some kind of Nazi apologist... well, fuck Jacobin, is all I can say.
posted by languagehat at 2:06 PM on July 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


It is interesting that the Finns were caught in a very similar situation and yet they refused Nazi demands that Jews be handed over so they could be murdered. Poland's record of collaboration isn't much better, and Ukraine's might even be worse. Poland, at least, seem seems to be coming to grips with what some Poles did during the war, and realizing that things were not so cut-and-dried as either the Soviets or the denialists claimed. But then again, the Poles were very nearly sub-human according to Nazi race theory and were treated a such. Maybe the Lithuanians identified with the Nazis more because by Hilter's reckoning they were racially superior. In the contest between the Soviets, who were trying to erase the Baltics, and the Nazis, who blew smoke up their asses about how racially pure they were, the Nazis prevailed.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:10 PM on July 30, 2015 [5 favorites]




Sze poffin_boffin

An academic paper published on the Genocide and Resistance Research Center’s website went even further than Burauskaite or the court, questioning whether the Holocaust meets the standard for genocide since “although an impressive percentage of the Jews were killed by the Nazis, their ethnic group survived” and later flourished.

This is so gross that it actually caused me physical pain. On the plus side I think I remembered some excellent hungarian swears that I haven't heard since I was 10.


The paragraph you quoted goes on:

The Soviet repression, it argues, was indisputably genocide since the Lithuanian intelligentsia, eliminated by Stalin, has never regenerated.


A point the paper seems to buttress quite nicely.
posted by ocschwar at 2:18 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, in case people aren't aware: the Holocaust was a lot more local, shall we say, in Lithuania.

From Wikipedia:

The majority of Jews in Lithuania were not required to live in ghettos nor sent to the Nazi concentration camps which at that time were just in the preliminary stages of operation. Instead they were shot in pits near their places of residence with the most infamous mass murders taking place in the Ninth Fort near Kaunas and the Ponary Forest near Vilnius.By 1942 about 45,000 Jews survived, largely those who had been sent to ghettos and camps.

To reiterate: the Jews who were sent to the ghetto were the lucky ones.

The Lithuanians didn't even really have the excuse of "Well, they were carted on trains to we-don't-know-where or what happened to them". Paneriai/Ponary is quite close to Vilnius, as you can see here.
posted by damayanti at 2:21 PM on July 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Bloodlands: It is so horrifying I will never read it again.

Yup. It's the only book that ever gave me nightmares. The mass graves, the cannibalism, the sheer desperation of people pushed beyond all imaginable limits. Even just this reminder may keep me from sleeping tonight. I read it once, that is enough to establish in my mind the fragility of civilized society. I can't imagine picking it up again for any reason besides self-flagellation.
posted by sapere aude at 2:31 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Interesting reading a more public, popularized recounting of the fate of my family. My extended Jewish family were all Vilna Litvaks; with, I think, three exceptions now in South Africa and Israel, everyone not in the USA by the end of WWI didn't survive past 1943. We have never found out exactly what happened to them; the letters stopped coming and there are no Nazi, Soviet, or Yad Vashem records about them or their disappearance.

After I visited Lithuania and the other newly-independent Baltic states, Jew-hatred made me believe for the first time that my family might have been killed by their neighbors (or at least the local paramilitaries).

As for numbers, in 1939, right after my parents were born in the USA, there were approximately 210 living members of my family in the USA and Europe (my parents are distantly related). In 1948 when Israel was founded, there were about 25. There are around 35 of us now, but neither I, nor my sister, nor our only 1st cousin have kids or are married. Fortunately my other cousins have been more conventional and more prolific.
posted by Dreidl at 2:46 PM on July 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


Instead they were shot in pits near their places of residence with the most infamous mass murders taking place in the Ninth Fort near Kaunas and the Ponary Forest near Vilnius.By 1942 about 45,000 Jews survived, largely those who had been sent to ghettos and camps.

I studied in Estonia in the mid-90s and we took a field trip across the Baltics that included Fort Nine (as I think it was translated to us as visiting students). Needless to say, pretty horrific.

One thing that stuck with me was how a lot of the photographs in the exhibition before you entered the camp itself were labelled in Lithuanian, and unreadable (by us), so you'd been looking straight into someone's eyes, knowing they were connected with what had happened there, and yet have no idea whether they were murderer or murdered.
posted by penguin pie at 3:54 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


An academic paper published on the Genocide and Resistance Research Center’s website went even further than Burauskaite or the court, questioning whether the Holocaust meets the standard for genocide since “although an impressive percentage of the Jews were killed by the Nazis, their ethnic group survived” and later flourished.
In case anyone isn't already sufficiently disgusted, the worldwide Jewish population has almost made it back to what it was in 1939. That's in absolute numbers (16.5 million), by the way, and the world's population has more than tripled in that time, from 2.3 billion to around 7.3 billion.

Apparently, the Lithuanian word for "flourished" doesn't translate well.
posted by Etrigan at 3:57 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is kinda symbolic: Radar uncovers Great Synagogue of Vilna remains

This huge structure was destroyed by the Nazis and its remains were then erased by the Soviets, to the extent that any remaining trace could only be identified using ground-penetrating radar.

The same thing happened to lots of other synagogues, of course. The explanation my father got (decades after the Holocaust) was that the buildings had fallen into disrepair since no Jews were looking after them. That doesn't explain why the buildings were so thoroughly erased, or what happened to all the Jewish tombstones.

Jews? What Jews?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:15 PM on July 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think the suffering under Communism v the Nazis for Eastern European populations is a lot more complex than I, a Jew of Polish and Litvak heritage, am usually willing to really really consider. That said, the BIG gross (out of all the gross-es) in the Slate piece are that the current government is specifically going after ONLY the Jewish partisans. Arad mentions that his non-Jewish partisan commanders are flourishing public officials. And that's why I feel a big GROSS f-you about the whole thing. I very much can bet that Jewish partisans sometimes did some horrible shit to sometimes innocent people. But, this is bullshit.
posted by atomicstone at 4:20 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


In my many interviews with Europeans who survived the war, a women from Lithuania who welcomed the Germans as saviors always stood out. When I mentioned the soviets, she became livid and said the soviets killed the Jews, which I did not ask her. I confronted here with the Germans setting up ghettos, she responded it was the "Ghestpo".

"You mean the Einstanzgruppen?"

"No the soviets killed the Jews and the Einstanzgruppen..." She stopped because I asked her in German...her German was excellent.
Chilling that look.
posted by clavdivs at 4:29 PM on July 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


One branch of my mother's family emigrated to the UK around 1905, settling in Leeds. They had regular correspondence with those who stayed in Kovno (Kaunas) and Riga until WWII. I have some fading photocopies of their postcards in Yiddish myself. Then the letters stopped. Nothing was ever heard from those Segals, Shrednitskys or Hasmans again.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:11 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


My German is non-existent, so can you be a bit more direct, clavdivs? Was she suggesting that the Gestapo and the Einsatzgruppen weren't working towards the same ends? Or was it just that she slipped and was going to say that the Soviets killed the Jews and the Einstazgruppen helped? (And she was fine with that but knew that was a terrible admission?)
posted by gingerest at 5:18 PM on July 30, 2015


One thing that stuck with me was how a lot of the photographs in the exhibition before you entered the camp itself were labelled in Lithuanian, and unreadable (by us), so you'd been looking straight into someone's eyes, knowing they were connected with what had happened there, and yet have no idea whether they were murderer or murdered.

I guess because I'm of both Jewish and (non-Jewish) Lithuanian ancestry, that resonated with me.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:35 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Einsatzgruppen. I'm pretty sure that she didn't mean the Einsatzgruppen worked with the Soviets, because that just doesn't make any sense. Maybe she'd just been caught out in an inconsistency: she had just admitted the presence of the Einsatzgruppen, but if they weren't killing Jews then what were they doing?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:41 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Organizing is what they were doing. I surmised that "gestapo" was the word most Americans knew for "bad nazi". I used that word (Einstazgruppen) to see if she her self looked into who participted after the fact. I doubt she knew the word then or didn't speak it. The guy I was with mentioned an Civilan police unit involved and at that point she shut down, again cursing the soviets.
But no, she accused the soviets even after the facts were in, classic deniability.
What I find gruesome is the Civilan police killing in order to appease the nazis.
posted by clavdivs at 6:30 PM on July 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Sorry joe, yeah, I think she wanted to say the gestapo was just setting up protection centers or some such nonsense. I might have felt for her but I suspect she knew and saw more then she wanted to let on. It's that look of dead eyes and rage. Dr. Ngnor saw the same thing in the eyes of an extra whilst shooting 'The Killing Fields'.
posted by clavdivs at 6:38 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd like to recommend the film Partisans of Vilna. A great, harrowing documentary.
posted by orrnyereg at 9:49 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


languagehat: "It's hard (talk about an understatement!) to write anything about the modern history of Eastern Europe that doesn't ignore important factors, and it's flat-out impossible to write anything that won't offend partisans of one side or another; to treat Snyder, who's done more than any English-language historian I know of to open people's eyes to the complex and horrifying history of the region, as though he were some kind of Nazi apologist... well, fuck Jacobin, is all I can say."

You can feel positive about Snyder's contribution to history whilst being pretty nervous about his concrete suggestion that the Jewish partisans were nothing but Soviet pawns, that they only exacerbated and worsened the conflict, causing countless unnecessary deaths.

I suggest you read the Jacobin piece. The title may be jarring, but it's an excellent piece of historical thought, well-argued, and I don't think it's wrong. Snyder has some great points, and he does us some service by going over them, but in his rush to mash Hitler and Stalin together he muddies some important ethical and political distinctions.
posted by koeselitz at 10:25 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I haven't got Snyder's book, and I'm wondering about this excerpt:
Snyder informs us that, as of the late 1930s, about “forty percent of high-ranking NKVD officers had Jewish nationality recorded in their identity documents, as did more than half of the NKVD generals”
I don't know if that figure is accurate, but in the late 1930s surely means before the "Great Purge" of 1936-1938, after which I understand hardly any Jewish officers remained. So why does Snyder mention the number of Jews at that time? It was well before the Soviet invasions.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:10 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


This sucks to read. My grandfather was Lithuanian, and I grew up being really bothered how because the US was an ally of Stalin, no one seemed to know about how one third of the Baltic population, much of them specifically targeted for being educated or deemed influential, were rounded up in the night, put In cattle cars, and shipped to slavery and death. This was the context in which I heard about the Other Genocide -all the pople Stalin killed. Whether you agree with using that term or not, arguing about it seems so horribly dismissive towards the suffering endured by all the people in WWI. Now, apparently instead of blaming the actual culprits for that history, we go for Antismitism. I don't understand why. There is a lot of pain in Lithuanina and other former Soviet States that was necessarily suppressed while the Soviet Union was in power. But why the scapegoating and Antisemitism? It seems like it is burgeoning all over Europe, too?
posted by branravenraven at 1:21 AM on July 31, 2015


Culprits being Stalin and Hitler, but the Lithuanian people too. I had no idea so much of the Jewish population was killed specifically by Lithuanian citizens. So just totally horrific.
posted by branravenraven at 1:39 AM on July 31, 2015


Not about Lithuania, but to anyone interested in this stuff I highly recommend the forthcoming book Pioneers and Partisans: An Oral History of Nazi Genocide in Belorussia, by Anika Walke (which—self-link!—I copyedited). It's about "how Soviet Jews, born between the mid-1920s and the early 1930s, experienced the Nazi occupation and genocide in Belorussia, and how they remember it" and emphasizes the point that many of them were especially devastated by the war because it destroyed "the lived reality of a prewar world where social equality and peaceful interethnic cohabitation seemed possible"; the Soviet regime, for all its glaring faults, did combat traditional Russian anti-Semitism for years (until Stalin decided that, like Orthodox Christianity, it would be a useful thing to revive). Even after experiencing the awfulness of postwar anti-Semitism in the USSR, these Jews were grateful to Soviet power for defeating the Nazis and were reluctant to talk about its faults. So many people have had such tragic choices to make...
posted by languagehat at 7:36 AM on July 31, 2015 [11 favorites]


For those who read German, here's a 2008 article from Telepolis that covers the same ground and corroborates Brook's report to a large degree. It does a better job of describing the magnitude crimes of Soviet groups in Lithuania though and does a better job at truly impartial reporting. (It mentions e.g. that Arad has admitted to being present at the Koniuchy massacre, making the investigation more plausible.)
posted by tecg at 11:59 AM on July 31, 2015


Timely:
Yad Vashem marks diversity, bravery of Red Army Jews
A new, online exhibit recounts the histories of 100 Jewish soldiers who fought during the Holocaust
[...] Lithuanian Vulf Vilenskii, a member of the socialist Zionist movement, Hashomer Hatzair, was called to serve in the Lithuanian army in 1940, and went into the Red Army when his country was annexed by the Soviet Union. He became an officer and was sent to the front lines in 1941, first fighting in Belorussia before being placed in a Lithuanian infantry division.

Ethnic Lithuanian and Latvian military divisions were up to 23 percent Jewish and soldiers commonly spoke Yiddish. Vilenskii was wounded four times during the war, and most of his family was killed by the Nazis. He received several military commendations, including the Hero of the Soviet Union award after halting a German offensive near the Lithuanian city of Klaipeda.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:37 PM on August 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


the Soviet regime, for all its glaring faults, did combat traditional Russian anti-Semitism for years

Kind of, officially. At ground level, they did so inconsistently and more often harassed Jews and other ethnic minorities into assimilation. The Jewish Bolsheviks often rejected their own cultural and religious Jewishness in the pursuit of a communist internationalism that they hoped would eventually render racism and prejudice obsolete. Religious Jews and Jews who just weren't on board with the assimilation program generally had a real problem even before the post-war antisemitic thing.

The region had been a terrible place for Jews generally ever since the Cossacks and later Russians conquered it in the 18th Century. For the Jews who didn't join the massive wave of emigration, their access to international news was so limited under the Soviets that some viewed the invading Germans as potential liberators. After all, Germany had been one of the best places in the world for Jews to live just a generation before.
posted by snottydick at 1:34 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is interesting that the Finns were caught in a very similar situation and yet they refused Nazi demands that Jews be handed over so they could be murdered.

To be fair, Finland was not occupied by Nazi Germany and therefore received requests, not demands. Italy and Bulgaria also denied such requests to the extent that they were free to do so, despite instituting their own antisemitic laws.

I very much can bet that Jewish partisans sometimes did some horrible shit to sometimes innocent people.

It's well documented that they did, and I can kind of understand why they would. Vengeance is a tempting, if ultimately unsatisfying dish.
posted by snottydick at 2:13 PM on August 14, 2015


> Kind of, officially. At ground level, they did so inconsistently and more often harassed Jews and other ethnic minorities into assimilation.

Who exactly are you talking about when you say "they did so inconsistently"? Of course there were lots of antisemites in the Soviet Union; they didn't all magically disappear with the change of regime. Of course Jews and other ethnic minorities were harassed—but they weren't harassed by the Soviet regime, which is what I was talking about. (Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, were.) The Soviet regime was officially, and strongly, anti-antisemitic, and Jews not only knew that but did not consider it, as you seem to, some kind of fig leaf to fool foreigners; hence the nostalgia for prewar times felt by the Jews studied in the book, and their stubborn affection for a regime that had changed greatly since those days. I'll take their opinion over yours on the matter.

> Religious Jews and Jews who just weren't on board with the assimilation program generally had a real problem even before the post-war antisemitic thing.

Generally, just as all religious people did, but not automatically. There was a Hasidic rabbi who lived pretty much unmolested until he died in old age of natural causes somewhere in Ukraine between the wars; I'm having trouble locating the information, but if I find it I'll share it.

> For the Jews who didn't join the massive wave of emigration, their access to international news was so limited under the Soviets that some viewed the invading Germans as potential liberators.

Cite, please?
posted by languagehat at 2:59 PM on August 14, 2015


Ah, found it; it's from Kate Brown’s A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland, and I was exaggerating about his being pretty much unmolested, but the story is basically as I remembered it. The rabbi in question was Shlomo Bentsion Tverskii, who moved from New York to Kiev in 1929:
At the time of the rabbi’s return circumstances were difficult. Because of the antireligious campaign, Rabbi Tverskii was categorized as a “leader of a cult,” and city authorities threatened to evict the family from their state-owned apartment. One of the rabbi’s disciples wrote a letter to Stalin in the name of the tsadik, protesting that in America Reb Tverskii had praised the civil rights of the first socialist state, only to return and find his existence in Kiev squeezed from all sides. Miraculously, the letter was answered. A letter from Stalin’s office arrived at the Kiev city council telling the Kievan officials to leave the rabbi alone. And they did. Throughout the thirties, the rabbi continued to hold court, to teach, study, and pray with his followers as he always had, as had his father and his grandfather before him, down through the long line of Tverskii sages. [...] For the Sukkoth festival, the Hasidim built a hut of pine branches and straw on the balcony of the apartment. When the moon was new, the rabbi and his Hasidim descended from the third floor apartment onto the street and there they prayed, danced, and met the new month — on the street, in full view, in central Kiev, in the midst of the Great Purges.
He died a natural death on September 17, 1939, “the night the Red Army invaded eastern Poland.” Obviously an exceptional case, but still significant.
posted by languagehat at 3:11 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Who exactly are you talking about when you say "they did so inconsistently"?

Well, mainly the Hebrew Section of the CPSU, whose stated purpose was the "destruction of traditional Jewish life, the Zionist movement, and Hebrew culture." It was the primary arm of the type of well intentioned self-inflicted antisemitism of the Jewish Bolsheviks. It wasn't just religion that was persecuted. Jewish communal life of any non-Soviet kind was frequently disrupted and the use of the modern Hebrew language was suppressed as part of the anti-Zionism stance of the Soviets.

Cite, please?

I confess that I don't remember where I read this, and it was a long time ago. I've read a lot on the subject since my family is from what's currently Ukraine and lived through this stuff. As the old joke goes, if I had to remember how I knew everything that I know, I wouldn't have room in my brain to remember the stuff that I know. From what I recall, this was a phenomenon among older, rural people and not a widespread or long-lasting one.

Obviously an exceptional case

Obviously, because he needed a special dispensation from Stalin to avoid the normal treatment of rabbis in that era. I agree that it was never automatic. If nothing else, Stalin was reliably inconsistent and often had "favorites" among groups that he was otherwise persecuting (Lazar Kaganovich being the oft-cited example). As for the detail about him publicly worshiping during the Great Purges, it's worth noting that this author likely mentions that detail because Jews were over-represented among the victims of the Great Purges. Whether they were targeted as Jews is a matter of some debate, but it is worth noting that this happened during the great shift towards Russification generally.
posted by snottydick at 8:03 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older 1,000 rockers just sent the Foo Fighters a message...   |   Greenpeace vs. Shell Oil: the Portland edition Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments