Lithuanian MP Valdas Rakutis from the ruling conservative Homeland Union party has drawn rebukes from ambassadors as well as fellow party members for his op-ed published on Wednesday, where he claimed that "there was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves".
The country’s foriegn minister and head of the party, Gabrielius Landsbergis, expressed outrage over Rakutis’ claims.
"I [...] am very angry at the lack of adequacy and understanding," the minister said in a comment sent to BNS. "The parliamentarian's opinion has nothing to do either with my position or with the principles that the party I represent or the government I work in adhere to."
Rakutis, a historian by education, has in the past lectured at the Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania and served as an adviser to the Lithuanian Armed Forces. He also chairs the parliament's Commission for the Cause of Freedom and the National Historical Memory.
His fellow party member, Emanuelis Zingeris, has announced he would withdraw from the commission in protest. Other politicians and public figures have spoken out publicly against Rakutis’ claims.
In the op-ed published on LRT.lt on Wednesday, the International Holocaut Remembrance Day, Rakutis wrote that some Jews were also complicit in the atrocities.
"But what about these helpers? Who are the people who adopt terrible ideas? Are they the leaders of the Lithuanian people such as the first volunteer Kazys Škirpa or Generolas Vėtra [Jonas Noreika]? Or maybe Antanas Smetona?" he wrote.
"No, these are completely different people, often uneducated, inclined to feel important with a gun in their hands, sometimes severely affected by the 1941 Soviet repression, sometimes blindly following orders," the MP wrote.
"After all, there was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves, especially in the ghetto self-government structures. We must name these people out loud and do our best to ensure that there are no people like them again."
"But [we] also [have] to answer the question of what were the views of the Jews themselves, what ideas led some Jews to collaborate with the Soviet authorities [and] hold important positions in repressive Soviet structures. Sometimes the understanding of the causes allows one to understand the consequences, although it does not justify the actions."
Later on Wednesday, Rakutis said he wanted to broaden the debate surrounding collaboration in the Hollocaust.
In a comment on BNS, Rakutis said he wanted to understand the Holocaust as a phenomenon.
Jews "were driven into ghettos, and ghettos had their administration", he said. "Of course this was no Jewish self-governance [...]. It was a tool for the German nation [...]. Naturally, the ghetto administration is not the most attractive thing and, naturally, [the Jewish people] had to survive in these conditions and had to make various decisions."
According to Rakutis, these and other examples of collaboration with the Nazis for the sake of survival "form a significant meaning in the Holocaust mechanism".
German, Israeli, US ambassadors react
Robert Gilchrist, the US ambassador to Lithuania, said Rakutis' remarks were "shocking" and "shameful".
"It is shocking that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, of all days, a member of Seimas should espouse distortions regarding Holocaust collaborators in Lithuania and shamefully seek to accuse Jews of being the perpetrators," Gilchrist tweeted.
German Ambassador to Lithuania Matthias Sonn wrote to LRT.lt that "it is deeply shocking to see this common understanding distorted on Holocaust Remembrance Day, of all days, from within the Parliament of a European sister democracy".
"To even insinuate that the victims were to blame in any way for their own murderous persecution under Nazi German occupation is utterly unacceptable," he said, adding that he is grateful that Landsbergis has distanced the government and the political party from Rakutis’ comments.
Meanwhile, Yossef Levy, the Israeli ambassador, described Rakutis' remarks as "insensitive" and "disturbing".
"This is sad for me after so many great people made such personal effort to show respect to the victims!" the ambassador said, referring to the attention shown by the speaker of the Seimas, the prime minister and the foreign minister.