of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Efraim Zuroff says he’s worried
by the growing influence of nationalists in Lithuania. He
thinks politicians aren’t even trying to control this element
The man called the last Nazi hunter shared these insights in an exclusive interview
with the kaunodiena.lt webpage. Zuroff said the march on
March 11 and the acquittal of Petras Stankeras for possible
holocaust denial are serious signals showing that there is
a lack of political will in Lithuania to fight expressions
The head of the Wiesenthal Center
also believes soviet repressions in Lithuania can’t be called
genocide. He says Lithuanian politicians could just as well
successfully call our basketball losses genocide.
Let’s start with the latest events. On March 11 the march of so-called patriotic
youth took place which caused indignation among ethnic minority
organizations and public-minded people. The Wiesenthal Center
earlier called on the Vilnius municipality to annul permission
[the license] to organize this event, but was not heard.
What do you think about this march?
I react to it with great pain and
regret for the ethnic minorities living in Lithuania, especially
for the Jewish community. I also feel anger because of the
delayed reaction by government officials. They only expressed
their opinion after their silence was criticized beyond Lithuania’s
borders. Can you imagine how a person who survived the holocaust
feels, seeing swastikas ceremoniously carried on the main
The Government and main political
parties condemned the events of the march. Prime minister
Andrius Kubilius stated it discredits the concept of “patriotism”
in Lithuania. Are these sorts of statements sufficient?
[large quote text box: E.Zuroff: “If the Parliament of Lithuania
has the resolve to rewrite the definition of the concept
of ‘genocide,’ I believe they will soon call genocide as
well any loss by the Lithuanian national basketball team.”]
The reaction by the Prime Minister
and the President was very weak. This opinion was stated
only because of pressure from abroad. I want to praise non-governmental
organizations and the seventeen intellectuals who spoke up
and signed an important letter of protest to the President.
These marches take place in Lithuania
every year, the number of participants is rather stable,
perhaps it is even growing gradually. What do you think might
happen if they are not banned in the future?
There is no doubt that such movements
threaten Lithuanian democracy. I want to remind you that
the nazi party only had seven members at the beginning.
Another event for which the Wiesenthal
Center has criticized Lithuania is the case of the historian
P. Stankeras. Prosecutors withdrew a pre-trial investigation
on possible holocaust denial in his publication, and Stankeras
himself said he hadn’t tried to belittle the crimes of the
nazis. What do you make of these events?
I think that many have not noticed
the title of Stankeras’s article, which clearly shows what
he wanted to say. The title sounds like this: “The Nuremberg
War Crimes Tribunal: The Biggest Legal Farce in History.”
So if anyone has any doubts about Stankeras’s opinion, this
headline, I think, answers any questions. Lithuanian laws
clearly say that denying nazi crimes is a crime.
What do you expect from Lithuanian
government institutions if in the future a scandal on possible
holocaust denial arises again?
I expect the Lithuanian government
will follow Lithuanian laws. I expect that from every democratic
The Wiesenthal Center has been watching
the situation in Lithuania for a long time. How has it changed
over the last few years?
There is no doubt it has worsened.
When in 1991 I began to work with Lithuanian representatives,
striving for nazi criminals to receive justice, I didn’t
think that Lithuania is a country with serious problems of
anti-semitism. Today I can’t say that. Currently Lithuania
has serious problems with antisemitism. This is demonstrated
by the hunt for jewish partisans, and justification of the
swastika as an “historical symbol of Lithuanians, and the
marches by neo-Nazis and ultranationalists, and the firing
of professor Dovid Katz, who defended jewish partisans attacked
for “war crimes” that never happened, from Vilnius University.
The same thing is demonstrated by the campaign in the country
attempting to equate falsely communist and nazi crimes. The
sad truth is that things in Lithuania have gotten much worse
after it was accepted into the EU and NATO.
You have often condemned Lithuania
for not being able to punish nazi criminals or to control
expressions of nationalism. Is the current Government making
any sort of progress?
If it’s moving at all, it’s moving
You mentioned that Lithuania is attempting
to falsely equate the crimes of nazism and stalinism. You
have also said many times that soviet repressions of the
lithuanian nation cannot be called genocide. That hurts the
feelings of many people of Lithuania. So why, in your opinion,
are the repressions experienced by the lithuanian nation
I have to stress that the term “genocide”
is very well defined. That is a campaign or plan which seeks,
I underline, to totally destroy a certain ethnic group [=”nation”
in Lithuanian]. It does not include other crimes, however
horrible or disgusting they are.
So while I do sympathize with the
victims of communist repression, conscience does not allow
me to call those crimes genocide, because they simply weren’t
genocide. Of course, if the Lithuanian Parliament has the
resolve to rewrite the definition of the concept of “genocide,”
I think they soon will call genocide as well any loss by
the Lithuanian national basketball team.
I have said clearly many times that
I condemn the crimes of communism and support the prosecution
of their perpetrators. But not because they committed genocide.
Believe me, they are sufficiently bad [evil] even if they
don’t fall under the concept of “genocide.”
Many Lithuanian politicians and public
figures call your statements about Lithuania biased or incorrect.
Others say you chose Lithuania as an easy target, because
our country is criticized much more harshly than most European
states. So do you have a special position regarding Lithuania?
Lithuania will be special as long
as questions connected with the jewish community are touched
upon. Also, because of the history of the jews of Lithuania
and the horrifying past of the holocaust. Those who accuse
me of bias regarding Lithuania ignore the work I’ve done
over 30 years in Germany, Austria, Poland, Romania, Great
Britain, Canada, Australia, Latvia, Estonia, Croatia, Hungary
and many other countries. I have always tried to be fair
regarding all countries, to praise good works and to criticize
failure. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to praise in Lithuania
and there were many reasons to criticize.
The name Efraim was given to you in
honor of you grandfather’s brother. He was one of many holocaust
victims in Lithuania. Don’t you feel a special desire for
Revenge would mean that I would have
to take justice in my own hands and physically deal with
people, rather than attempt [to make sure] they are punished
according to law. I can’t allow personal feelings to become
mixed with my work, because then I couldn’t be objective.
When I try to make sure that German, Austrian, Croatian,
Hungarian or Latvian nazi criminals answer for their crimes,
I feel the exact same sympathy for their victims that I do
for my grandfather’s brother, his wife and their two young
Are you planning to visit Lithuania
I plan to come in summer to a wonderful
literature seminar whose program will be mostly devoted to
litvak (Lithuanian jews –editor) history and heritage.
Are you perhaps planning on meeting
with government representatives?
When Algirdas Brazauskas led the country,
I did meet with the president himself several times. But
when Valdas Adamkus was elected, everything changed. I am
always ready to meet with high government officials and to
discuss issues causing concern to both sides.
Do Lithuanian jews support the criticism
I consider the Lithuanian jewish community
my own family. But everyone knows that members of the same
family don’t necessarily agree on everything. From the very
start, since 1991, I’ve maintained relations with the jewish
community. They have provided very much support on certain
issues, especially when dr. Simonas Alperavicius began to
lead the community. On the other hand, some jews left the
community or were expelled. They deeply harmed jewish interests
for their own profit or careers. I don’t want to associate
with such jews.
What changes in Lithuanian policy
could soften the Wiesenthal Center’s position regarding our
First of all, the Lithuania government
has to stop the incitement of antisemitism and incitement
against the local jewish community. Second, to tell the truth
about the role of lithuanians in holocaust crimes, to prosecute
and punish the holocaust perpetrators who still can be, and
to stop spreading the lie of the Prague declaration (referring
to a document signed in 2008 which condemns the crimes of
communism and calls for equal judgment of the crimes of all
totalitarian regimes –editor). The education system has to
teach the truth about the holocaust: it has to talk about
not just happened in Germany, Austria or Hungary, but also
about the crimes which lithuanians committed in Lithuania.
If the government is planning to glorify the LAF (the Lithuanian
Activist Front that operated in nazi occupied Lithuania in
1940 to 1941 –editor), I would suggest they change [their]
Whether these changes are made or
not, only the leaders of Lithuania will decide. Not Efraim
Zuroff, not the Simon Wiesenthal Center and not the Lithuanian