Lithuania’s genocide studies center engages in Holocaust denial, local Jews say

A boy playing soccer at the entrance to the former concentration camp known as the Seventh Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania, on July 12, 2016. (JTA/Cnaan Liphshiz)

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Lithuania’s state body for preserving the memory of the Holocaust broke the country’s laws against denying that genocide, local Jews said.

The controversy surrounding the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania is the latest in a series of actions that the country’s critics say is a government-sponsored campaign to exculpate its people from its substantial complicity in the murder of 85 percent of the country’s 170,000 Jews.

Last month, the center published a text claiming that “the Lithuanians operated against the will of the Germans” during World War II and that “the residents of occupied Lithuania in 1941 didn’t understand ghettos as part of the Holocaust.”

On March 28, the Jewish Community of Lithuania published on its website a harsh condemnation of the center’s claims, threatening to take legal action unless they are retracted.

The community said the text “contains features which are crimes under the Lithuanian criminal code, namely, denial or gross belittlement of the Holocaust.”

The text was a defense of Jonas Noreika, the wartime governor of the Lithuanian Šiauliai district under the Nazis. Many historians believe he oversaw and profited personally from the dispossession and murder of the district’s Jews.

Last month, a Lithuanian judge dismissed as “ill-based” an American Jew’s lawsuit against the center, demanding it take down a plaque commemorating Noreika.

“Noreika belonged to the anti-Nazi underground of Šiauliai which rescued Jews. Noreika helped those who rescued Jews,” the center’s text also said.