Our People: Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust

English Edition
Lithuanian Edition

Our People is the story of a quest for historical truth about the Holocaust in Lithuania embarked upon together by two persons, whose lives were impacted by those events, but in totally different ways. Ruta Vanagaite, the best-selling Lithuanian author, was motivated both by her recent discovery that some of her relatives had played a role in the mass murder of Jews, as well as by the efforts of Lithuanian officials to hide the complicity of local collaborators in Holocaust crimes. World famous Israeli Nazi-hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff’s motivation was both professional and personal. He has worked for years to bring Lithuanian Nazi war criminals to justice and to get the local authorities to tell the truth about the events of the Holocaust. The fact that his maternal grandparents were born in Lithuania, and that he was named for his great uncle who was murdered with his family in Vilnius with the active help of Lithuanians, made this quest personal as well.

Our People exposes the highly-significant role played by local political leaders, as well as the prewar Lithuanian administration which remained in place during the Nazi occupation, in implementing the Nazis’ Final Solution, but also tackles the sensitive issue of the motivation of thousands of simple Lithuanians in the murder of their Jewish neighbors.

These issues are the heart of the book which uses exclusively Lithuanian material: books written by Lithuanian historians, testimonies of the murderers, interviews with eye witnesses and local residents, including those currently living in close proximity to the mass murder sites, as well as visits to local museums to investigate how the Holocaust and the history of the Jewish communities are being presented in contemporary Lithuania. And it is these themes which Vanagaite and Zuroff discuss, debate, argue about, and analyze as they crisscross the country and seek out more than thirty sites of the mass murder of Lithuanian Jewry, approximately 212,000 of whom were annihilated, out of the 220,000 who lived under the Nazi occupation, the highest percentage among the large European Jewish communities during the Holocaust.

Our People is a very bold call for historical truth, which hopefully will mark a turning point in official Lithuania’s attitude to its bloody Holocaust past. If Jan Gross’ book Neighbors, about a single village where Poles murdered Jews without any Germans present, led to serious soul-searching in Polish society, imagine the impact and importance of Our People which deals with an entire country full of Jedwabnes.

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Reviews and Interviews

“Our People: Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust” Book Talk (Interview with Rūta Vanagaitė and Efraim Zuroff), Museum of Jewish Heritage

Digital Event: Our People, Museum of Tolerance

Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust and the Writers Who Revealed It, Jewish Journal, by Michael Berenbaum

Our People: Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust (Review), Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, by Michael Shafir

Hitler’s More Willing Executioners, Literary Review, by Donald Rayfield