Lithuanian conservative MP Valdas Rakutis on Friday resigned his chairmanship of the parliamentary Commission for the Cause of Freedom and the National Historical Memory, following widespread criticism of his statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which went: “There was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves, especially in the ghetto self-government structures. We need to name these people out loud and try not to have people like them again.”
So next time Lithuanian Jews are gathered into ghettos by the invading Nazis they’ll have much better leaders?
Rakutis issued a statement on Friday saying he had been pressured to quit by his colleagues at the leadership of the Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats. He added a magnanimous note about his own selfless acts, saying, “I hope that this step will help to eliminate unnecessary tensions both at home and abroad […] and will allow further discussion to develop in a more constructive direction.”
A martyr, I’m telling you, an absolute martyr.
It should be noted that Rakutis became an embarrassment only after the American ambassador to Lithuania Robert Gilchrist accused him of anti-Semitism, tweeting: “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.”
Efraim Zuroff, director of Eastern European affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, issued a statement saying: “Rakutis has clearly demonstrated that he is totally unsuited to head the Seimas committee on national memory, unless lying about Lithuanian history is the main requirement for the post.”
Rakutis, a historian, explained that he wanted to say that the occasion of Holocaust Rememberance Day required not only paying tribute to the victims, but also analyzing the causes and manifestations of the phenomenon. Which makes his statement on Jewish (and Communist) responsibility for the Holocaust even more infuriating, presented by him as “analysis.”
“The statement that I, a political novice, made with this intention on International Holocaust Remembrance Day has unfortunately had the opposite result,” the MP said. “Instead of encouraging people to delve into the essence of the phenomenon and understanding its complexity, the text caused great dissatisfaction and international uproar, and hurt and disappointed many people who are dear to me.”
“I admit that several carelessly chosen words and generalizations were not accurate and appropriate in today’s context, and also gave a basis for interpretation and speculation,” Rakutis added, and apologized “to all people who felt offended, to my colleagues and party leaders and members, and to diplomats and citizens of friendly countries.”
It should be noted that in his by now infamous essay, Rakutis also defended Lithuanian Christians who were engaged in hunting Jews: “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 Skirpa or Generolas Vetra (Jonas Noreika)? Or maybe Antanas Smetona? Despite the great uproar of recent years, it was never proven that they organized the Holocaust. 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,” he wrote.
“Let’s get to know them; let’s understand why they did so,” he continued, and launched into his anti-Semitic tirade: “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.”
Clearly, this faux pas has allowed us a glimpse into the mind of a modern-day Lithuanian anti-Semitic politician which, I venture, is representative of the state of mind of the people who elected him, on Holocaust Remembrance Day and on the rest of the 364 days of the year.