The best news to come out of Lithuania lately was the resignation of Valdas Rakutis as chairman of Lithuania’s parliamentary historical commission. He tendered his resignation a few days ago, citing his desire to “reduce tensions between home and abroad.”
He had no alternative but to step down from his post after stupidly suggesting on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that Lithuanian Jews had themselves to blame for the virtual destruction of Lithuania’s Jewish community during the Nazi occupation.
The Holocaust in Lithuania exacted a particularly fearsome toll, claiming the lives of 195,000 out of 210,000 Jews in just a few short years. In plain language, the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators murdered 95 percent of Jewish Lithuanians.
In no other country occupied by Nazi Germany was the murder rate so murderously high.
A Jewish community renowned for its stellar contributions to Jewish scholarship and Yiddish language and literature was all but wiped out by a band of bloody-minded fascists.
In Lithuania and elsewhere, the Nazis set up Jewish Councils to administer ghettos into which Jews were forcibly crammed. Managed by Jewish elders, the councils were tasked with the responsibility of running the ghettos in an orderly fashion until the Germans liquidated them and deported their inhabitants to extermination camps.
As one can well imagine, council leaders were compelled to do the bidding of the Germans on pain of death. Jewish policemen in ghettos worked exactly under the same soul-crushing conditions.
One can safely assume that Rakutis, a historian by training, was aware of the Nazis’ operational methods when he uttered his infamous words on January 27.
“There was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves, especially in the ghetto self-governing structures,” he said in a reference to the councils. “We need to name these people out loud and try not to have people like them again.”
The suggestion that the chairmen of the councils were “Holocaust perpetrators” is preposterous and grotesque. How can they possibly be equated with cold-blooded Nazi murderers and their local accomplices?
These beasts oversaw the killing of Jews on an industrial scale so that Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution could be completed in a timely manner. They fulfilled their duties with remarkable callousness and efficiency, which accounts for the fact that the Holocaust consumed six million Jews.
Jews conscripted into Nazi bureaucracies, such as the councils, tried to save Jewish lives by cooperating with the Nazis, hoping that the deportations and killings would stop. Nazi-appointed officials like Chaim Rumkowski, the head of the Lodz ghetto, did not realize that their efforts were in vain. The Nazis were determined to kill Jews en masse, regardless of their economic value.
It seems clear that Rakutis had only the foggiest understanding of these tragic events. But the Lithuanian foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, and U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, Robert Gilchrist, immediately knew that Rakutis’ ill-informed and insensitive comments were unworthy of the position he held.
Distancing himself from Rakutis’ comments, Landsbergis expressed anger about Rakutis’ “lack of understanding.”
And in a post on Twitter, Gilchrist wrote, “It is shocking that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, of all days, a member of Seimas — Lithuania’s parliament — should espouse distortions regarding Holocaust collaborators in Lithuania and shamefully seek to accuse Jews of being the perpetrators.”
Faced with such scathing criticism, Rakutis had no choice but to resign. One can only hope that the person who replaces him will be wiser and not repeat his egregious mistake.