Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte acknowledged his country’s role in the Holocaust for the first time and extended an apology to its Jewish community. Despite Lithuanian leaders doing so some 25 years ago, why is Holocaust complicity still a recurring topic in the Baltic country?
Rutte’s apology on Monday “on behalf of the government for the actions of the government at the time” was long sought by the Dutch Jewish community, according to the BBC.
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It was the first such admittance in the Netherlands despite the country having “the highest amount of murdered Jewish people in Western Europe,” according to Dutch historian Jan Bank who is specialising in the Second World War.
Yet the Netherlands never faced the same level of external pressure to recognise its role in the Holocaust as Lithuania or the other Baltic states, despite waiting 75 years to extend an apology.
Preceeding Rutte’s admittance by some 25 years, Lithuania’s first post-independence president, Algirdas Brazauskas, while on a visit to Israel in 1995 apologised for Lithuanian people that collaborated with the Nazis and took part in the Holocaust.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda on Monday once more invoked the apology by Brazauskas as a sign of Lithuania admitting “the truth”. With the apology, according to Nausėda, “everything changed” once the Soviet occupation’s “wall of silence” had been lifted.
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Still, Russia uses the Holocaust controversy to maintain the ‘fascist Baltic states’ disinformation narrative, even if it’s catered for the domestic audience, according to the Carnegie Moscow think-tank.
It saw a comeback this year when in the backdrop of Russia’s history revisionism spat with Poland, Russian President Vladimir Putin underlined Lithuania’s role in the Second World War.
Given a podium in Jerusalem during the World Holocaust Forum on January 23, Putin scorned European “accomplices” that resulted in most of the Jews “in the [Nazi] occupied territories of the Soviet Union” being killed.
“220,000 people were killed in Lithuania. I draw your attention, friends, to the fact that this is 95 percent of the pre-war Jewish population of this country,” said Putin.
Holocaust history in the Netherlands bears the same echoes as in Lithuania. Some 75 percent of the 140,000 Jews were murdered by German Nazis and their local collaborators during the Holocaust.
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“‘Members’ of our peer group should be Belgium and France. The legacy of the Holocaust in Lithuania is in many aspects totally different from the persecution in the Netherlans,” Jan Bank told LRT English in a written comment.
“The so-called ‘Russian experience’ in Lithuania is a very important part of the difference,” he said, adding that “there are no signs of a Russian disinformation [and] on the contrary, the [Holocaust] has a long history of internal debate” in the Netherlands.
The apology "should be heard as necessary for domestic audience," he added, and not as a result of external pressure.
Tackling the issue domestically
In Lithuania, historians and critics have repeatedly said that if the society – and not necesarily the politicians alone – understood and accepted the country's complicity in the Holocaust, the historical aspects would no longer be exploitable by outside forces.
Western European leaders acknowledging the Holocaust is the result of "long-term maturing, education, and awareness, and not some external pressure or being told" to do so, historian Nerijus Šepetys from Vilnius University told LRT.lt. He added that the process is natural, and it will take time for Lithuanian politicians to respond out of genuine concern and not "inertia".
In a post on Facebook, Nausėda said he "bows down to the memory of over 200,000 victims of our nation," adding that Lithuania couldn't "say the truth and acknowledge the injustices during the Soviet occupation".
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"Truth, even though it is difficult to admit it, was said out loud. Let's cherish it, understand it, and let's learn the lessons of history,” Nausėda wrote on Monday.
However, as the protests last year and the political fallout surrounding the memory of Jonas Noreika, a Lithuanian military officer allegedly complicit in the Holocaust, has shown, Lithuanian society has a long way to go.
An MP from the ruling Farmers and Greens Union in Lithuania is planning to present a resolution before the parliament claiming that the Lithuanian state and people did not take part in the Holocaust.
The motion represents historical revisionism “somewhat along the lines of the Kremlin's methods of rewriting history,” Andžejus Pukšto, the head of the Political Science Department at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, previously told LRT.
It’s difficult to see how the proposal won’t be picked up by Russian propaganda and other external actors as another sign of ‘fascist Baltic states’.
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