Why has the US remained silent while European nations roundly condemn Holocaust
denial by a Lithuanian government official?
The resignation late last week of historian Petras Stankeras from
his post as a "senior
specialist" at the Lithuanian ministry of the interior received little attention in the
US, but the scandal that prompted his decision to give up his job
should set off a red warning light in Washington, and especially
in the state department and the US embassy in Vilnius.
The story began two weeks ago with the publication in the 8 November issue of
the popular news weekly Veidas of an article by Stankeras to mark
the 65th anniversary of the opening of the Nuremberg Trials in
which he described the proceedings as a "clearly wrong judicial investigation", and openly and unequivocally denied the Holocaust. According to the now former
government official, one of the major failings of the Nuremberg
trials was that they "provided a legal basis for the legend about 6 million supposedly murdered Jews,
although the court did not have a single document signed by Hitler
on the extermination of Jews (no one has found this document to
this day, if it even exists, although a million-dollar prize has
While such a blatant assertion of Holocaust denial has never
been the norm in Lithuania, a member in good standing of the
European Union and Nato, anyone closely following the policies
of the government on Holocaust-related issues over the years
could not have failed to discern a deepseated reluctance to honestly
confront its Holocaust past and especially the extensive collaboration
of local Nazi collaborators in the mass murder of Jews, primarily
inside Lithuania, but outside its borders as well. From an abysmal
failure to punish any of the Lithuanians who participated in
the annihilation of Jews to a clear tendency in history books
and textbooks to hide or minimise local complicity in Holocaust
crimes, to a total failure on the issue of restitution, Lithuanian
society has not even begun to tell the truth about its Holocaust
history and truthfully deal with its implications.
Worse, Lithuania has been the leader of a insidious
campaign to try to distort the history of the Holocaust by seeking
recognition that Communist crimes were just as terrible as those
of the Nazis. This false equivalence would unjustly rob the Shoah
of its universally-accepted uniqueness and historical significance,
turning the worst case of genocide in human history into merely
one of many tragedies.
All this has been going on with increasing intensity
in recent years, virtually unopposed and unchallenged, neither
within the European Union nor in Nato, but Stankeras' article has
now proved the catalyst for action in Europe. In a letter signed
by the ambassadors to Lithuania of six EU members – Britain, Estonia,
France, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden and Norway – there is not
only an unequivocal and strong condemnation of the Holocaust denial
and the lack of any public or official Lithuanian protest, but
for the first time, there is an open denunciation of Lithuanian
efforts to create a false equivalency between Nazi and Communist
crimes. The letter condemns the recent decision of a court in Klaipeda
to allow the use of swastikas "as a traditional Lithuanian symbol", and goes on to denounce "Spurious attempts … to equate the uniquely evil genocide of the Jews with Soviet
crimes against Lithuania, which, though great in magnitude, cannot
be regarded as equivalent either in their intention or their result."
These well-spoken words raise the obvious question of the US
stance on this issue. Why didn't the American ambassador sign
the letter as well? Does not the United States, a world leader
in Holocaust commemoration, research and education, also object
to Holocaust denial and distortion?
The question is of course rhetorical, but for
some reason, American diplomats have treaded very carefully when
it comes to Holocaust issues in this Baltic republic. During a
late April 2010 visit to Vilnius, Hannah Rosenthal, the US special
ambassador to combat antisemitism, did not publicly mention the
Lithuanians' promotion of the Communism equals Nazism canard, just
as the US has maintained silence on the Prague Declaration, the
manifesto of the false symmetry movement, since its publication
in June 2008.
Ironically, this week, the US embassy in Vilnius
is conducting a special Holocaust education seminar for Lithuanian
teachers, financed by a grant announced by Rosenthal during her
visit to Lithuania this past spring. Based on the published programme,
the Prague Declaration does not appear to be a subject of concern.
Why not? For Washington to ignore a blatant distortion of the historical
events of the second world war only emboldens those invested in
outright denial of the Holocaust.