Lithuanian Jewry Posts, May - June 2007

(The following is a string of posts from the old cysfilm blog. Some of the dates have been lost so I compiled all into one post. It's messy but interesting sutff.) Lithuanian Jewry, Entry #3, June 11, 07

May 29, 07 I wrote:

Thanks for the information Ann, its enlightening. Can you tell me more about the documents you're sourcing? I'd also like to learn more about the Kupiskis police officer/triggerman that was turned up in Chicago. I believe you followed that case? Best, Cy

June 2, 07 Ann Rabinowitz replied:

Dear Cy:

I believe that you are referring to the following person in Kupiskis: http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2002/January/02_crm_012.htm

Ann Rabinowitz

(The link Ann sent is to the following Dept of Justice document concerning Petras Bernotavius who participated in the murder of the Kupiskis Jews. To read the document click 'continue reading' below)

Department of Justice Seal Department of Justice FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE MONDAY, JANUARY 14, 2002 WWW.USDOJ.GOV CRM

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT MOVES TO REVOKE U.S. CITIZENSHIP OF FORMER DEPUTY TO NAZI OFFICIAL RESPONSIBLE FOR MASS KILLINGS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Justice today initiated proceedings to revoke the U.S. citizenship of a Lockport, Illinois man based on his participation in the persecution and murder of Jews and other civilians during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania in 1941.

The complaint, filed today in U.S. District Court in Chicago by the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, alleges that Peter John Bernes (a/k/a Petras Bernotavi ius), 79, worked during the summer of 1941 as the deputy to Werner Loew, a Nazi-appointed mayor and police commander assigned to Kupiškis, Lithuania.

The complaint alleges that Bernes participated directly in the process of removing condemned prisoners from jail so they could be taken to nearby killing sites. During those months, more than 1,000 Jewish men, women, and children – approximately one-fourth of the town's population – were murdered in Kupiškis by armed men under Loew's command. More than 300 other local residents, among them a nine-year-old boy, were arrested and murdered as political prisoners. Bernes worked in an office near the overcrowded jail where victims were held without adequate food and beaten before being shot to death.

Michael Chertoff, Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, said, "The case against Bernes demonstrates the Justice Department's commitment to ensure that individuals who participated in genocide and other crimes against humanity find no refuge in the United States, regardless of when those atrocities occurred."

OSI Director Eli M.. Rosenbaum added, "Although more than 1,000 Jews were living in Kupiškis when the Nazis arrived, not a single man, woman or child survived their murderous spree." During the Nazi occupation of Lithuania, some 190,000 Jews, approximately 94% of the Jewish population, were killed by the Nazis and local collaborators.

Bernes immigrated from Germany in 1947 and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in Chicago in 1954. The complaint states that he was not eligible to immigrate to the United States under visa regulations that barred the entry of any person who had "acquiesced in activities or conduct contrary to civilization and human decency" on behalf of the wartime Axis powers.

The proceedings to denaturalize Bernes are a result of OSI's ongoing efforts to identify and take legal action against former participants in Nazi persecution residing in this country. Since OSI began operations in 1979, 66 Nazi persecutors have been stripped of U.S. citizenship, and 54 such individuals have been removed from the United States.

Additionally, more than 150 suspected Nazi persecutors have been stopped at U.S. ports of entry and barred from entering the country as a result of OSI's watchlist border control program. OSI has nearly 200 U.S. residents currently under active investigation.

L i t h u a n i a n   J e w r y ,   E n t r y   # 4 ,   J u n e   1 1 ,   0 7

( G e r a l d   P e a r l m a n   w a s   a   P e a c e   C o r p s   V o l u n t e e r   i n   m y   g r o u p ,   L i t h u a n i a   0 0 - 0 2 )

O n   J u n e   1 1 ,   0 7   G e r a l d   P e a r l m a n   w r o t e :

S e r i a l   2   ‚ ¨     J e w s

E v e n   b e f o r e   I   c a m e   h e r e   t o   L i t h u a n i a   I   w o n d e r e d   a b o u t   m y   r e a c t i o n   t o   a   c o u n t r y   w h i c h   h a d   c o l l a b o r a t e d   w i t h   H i t l e r ‚ ¨!" s   G e r m a n y   t o   k i l l   o f f   a l m o s t   i t s   e n t i r e   J e w i s h   p o p u l a t i o n .   T h o u g h   I   h a v e   l i v e d   i n   C a l i f o r n i a   m o r e   t h a n   h a l f   m y   l i f e   w h e r e   t h e r e   i s   n o w h e r e   n e a r   t h e   e t h n i c   i d e n t i t y   p o c k e t s   t h a t   a r e   p a r t   a n d   p a r c e l   o f   e a s t   c o a s t   l i f e ,   I   s t i l l   w o n d e r e d .   O n c e   h e r e   I   n o   l o n g e r   w o n d e r e d .   I   t h o u g h t   l o n g   a n d   h a r d   a b o u t   w h a t   I   f o u n d   h e r e   a n d   I   d i s c o v e r e d   i n   m y s e l f   a   J e w i s h   i d e n t i t y   s u b m e r g e d   i n   t h e   a s p i r a t i o n   t o   f r e e d o m   t h a t   C a l i f o r n i a   s o   l o n g   r e p r e s e n t e d .

I t   b e g a n   i n   t h e   G e n o c i d e   M e m o r i a l   P a r k   o u t s i d e   t h e   c i t y   o f   A l y t u s ,   w h e r e   t h e   m a j e s t y   o f   t h e   m o n u m e n t s ,   e s p e c i a l l y   t h e   B r o k e n   S t a r   o f   D a v i d ,   s e t   i n   t h e   s o m b e r   b e a u t y   o f   t h e   f o r e s t   m o v e d   m e   t o   t e a r s .   H a n n a h   A r e n d t   w r i t e s   c o n v i n c i n g l y   a b o u t   t h e   p h e n o m e n o n   w h i c h   s h e   d e s i g n a t e s   ‚ ¨ S t h e   b a n a l i t y   o f   e v i l ‚ ¨ ù .   T h e   e v e r y   d a y   a c c e p t a n c e   o f   t h e   m o n s t r o u s   a c t s   t h a t   c h a r a c t e r i z e   s o   m u c h   o f   h u m a n   h i s t o r y   d o e s   s e e m   l i k e   a n   i n e s c a p a b l e   t r u t h .   G r e a t   m a s s e s   o f   i n n o c e n t   h u m a n i t y   h a v e   b e e n   e l i m i n a t e d   t h r o u g h o u t   r e c o r d e d   h i s t o r y   f o r   n o   f a u l t   o f   t h e i r   o w n   s a v e   b e i n g   i n   t h e   w r o n g   p l a c e   a t   t h e   w r o n g   t i m e .

A n d   t h e r e   i s   s o   m u c h   o f   t h i s   u n w a r r a n t e d   d e s t r u c t i o n   o f   t h e   i n n o c e n t ,   i t   l e n d s   i t s e l f   e a s i l y   t o   b e i n g   c o n s i d e r e d   ‚ ¨ S b a n a l ‚ ¨ ù .   E s p e c i a l l y   w h e n   r e g a r d e d   f r o m   t h e   p e r s p e c t i v e   o f   h i s t o r y   w h i c h   h a p p e n e d   l o n g   a g o   o r   g e o g r a p h y   w h i c h   r e m o v e s   i t   a   g r e a t   d i s t a n c e   f r o m   w h e r e   y o u   h a p p e n   t o   b e .   I   , h o w e v e r ,   w a s   s t a n d i n g   r i g h t   o n   t o p   o f   t h e   g r a v e s   o f   a t   l e a s t   1 0 , 0 0 0   i n n o c e n t   s o u l s   s l a u g h t e r e d   o n l y   b e c a u s e   t h e y   w e r e   b o r n   a s   J e w s .   T h e   e v i l   w a s   n o   l o n g e r   b a n a l   b u t   q u i t e   p a l p a b l e   a s   t h e   e n o r m i t y   o f   t h i s   c r i m i n a l   a c t   s u n k   d e e p e r   w i t h i n   m e .

I   n o w   b e g a n   t o   c o n s i d e r   w h a t   h a p p e n e d   h e r e   i n   L i t h u a n i a   i n   e a r n e s t   i n   a   w a y   I   n e v e r   c o u l d   i n   A m e r i c a .   I   r e m e m b e r e d   i n s t a n c e s   o f   a n t i   ‚ ¨   s e m i t i s m   f r o m   m y   y o u t h   b u t   i t   w a s   a   h a l f   c e n t u r y   a g o .   A l t h o u g h   i t   i s   c l e a r   t h a t   s o m e   d e r a n g e d   g r o u p s   s t i l l   e s p o u s e   h a r d   c o r e   a n t i - s e m i t i s m ,   i t   i s   a n c i e n t   h i s t o r y   f o r   m o d e r n   A m e r i c a .   B e s i d e s   q u o t a s   i n   s c h o o l s   a n d   l a c k   o f   a d m i s s i o n   t o   t h e   l o c a l   c o u n t r y   c l u b   c o m e s   n o w h e r e   n e a r   t h e   m u r d e r   o f   h u n d r e d s   o f   t h o u s a n d s   o f   i n n o c e n t   p e o p l e .

A n d   i t   w a s   d e f i n i t e l y   m u r d e r   i n   m y   m i n d .   I   n o   l o n g e r   h a v e   a n y   u s e   f o r   t h e   t e r m   ‚ ¨ S a n t i - s e m i t i s m ‚ ¨ ù   b e c a u s e   i t   s e e m s   t o   r a i s e   w h a t   w a s   e s s e n t i a l l y   a c t s   o f   m u r d e r   a n d   t h e f t   t o   s o m e t h i n g   m o r e   i d e o l o g i c a l .   A   d o c t r i n e   p e r h a p s ,   a l b e i t   m i s g u i d e d ,   b u t   s o m e t h i n g   l a r g e   g r o u p s   o f   p e o p l e   c a n   e n t e r t a i n   a s   b e l i e v a b l e .   T h e r e   i s   b o t h   c o m f o r t   a n d   l a c k   o f   r e s p o n s i b i l i t y   i n   l a r g e   n u m b e r s .   I f   a   s i n g l e   i n d i v i d u a l   c o m m i t s   m u r d e r   a n d   s t e a l s   a n d   i s   a p p r e h e n d e d ,   c h a n c e s   a r e   t h e y   w i l l   b e   p u n i s h e d   ( m o r e   s o   i f   t h e y   a r e   p o o r   a n d   f r o m   t h e   l o w e r   c l a s s e s ) .   B u t   l e t   m a s s e s   o f   p e o p l e   b e h i n d   a   s t a t e   p o l i c y   c o m m i t   m u r d e r ;   l e t   t h e m   s t e a l   w h a t   i s   n o t   r i g h t f u l l y   t h e i r s ,   a n d   i t   i s   m o r e   l i k e l y   t h e y   w i l l   e s c a p e   p u n i s h m e n t .   A n t i - s e m i t i s m   w i l l   n o t   e x c u s e   t h e i r   a c t i o n   e n t i r e l y ,   b u t   i t   w i l l   s o m e h o w   r a i s e   t h e i r   a c t i o n   a b o v e   t h e   g r o s s   a c t s   o f   m u r d e r   a n d   t h e f t   t h a t   i n   t r u t h   t h e y   w e r e .

T h e   f a c t s   a r e   t h a t   t h e   J e w s   o w n e d   a   g r e a t   d e a l   o f   p r e w a r   L i t h u a n i a   d e s p i t e   a   h i s t o r y   o f   a n t i - S e m i t i s m   t h a t   g o e s   a s   f a r   b a c k   a s   L i t h u a n i a n   h i s t o r y   i t s e l f .   T h e y   c o n s t i t u t e d   t h e   m a j o r i t y   o f   t h e   p o p u l a t i o n   i n   a l l   o f   t h e   m a j o r   c i t i e s ,   r a n   m o s t   o f   t h e   b u s i n e s s e s   a n d   o p e r a t e d   m o s t   o f   t h e   f a c t o r i e s .   E t h n i c   L i t h u a n i a n s   l i v e d   b y   c o n t r a s t   m a i n l y   i n   r u r a l   v i l l a g e s   a n d   w e r e   e n g a g e d   b y   a n d   l a r g e   i n   a g r i c u l t u r e .   T h e   J e w s   d i d   n o t   s t e a l   t h e i r   w a y   i n t o   p r o m i n e n c e ,   t h e y   e a r n e d   t h e i r   p o s i t i o n   o f   w e a l t h .   A n d   i t   w o u l d   b e   a   g r o s s   m i s u n d e r s t a n d i n g   t o   b e l i e v e   t h a t   a l l   J e w s   w e r e   e q u a l l y   s u c c e s s f u l .

S o   t h e r e   y o u   h a v e   i t .   I f   t h e r e   w a s   a n y m o r e   t o   t h i s   p i e c e ,   I   c a n ' t   f i n d   i t .   " n e v e r   a g a i n "   t u r n s   o u t   t o   b e   " h e r e   w e   g o   a g a i n "   a s   g e n o c i d e   c o n t i n u e s   t o   w a x   m i g h t i l y   i n   a l l   p a r t s   o f   t h e   w o r l d   a n d   u n d e r   d i f f e r e n t   n a m e s .

T r i e d   t o   a c c e s s   t h e   v i d e o   y o u   d i d   o n   M a l a w i   b u t   c o u l d n ' t   q u i t e   m a n a g e   t h e   p r o c e s s .

B e s t

G e r a l d   P e a r l m a n

On May 1, 2007 Sally Mizroch wrote:

Hi Cy, Long time no e-mail. I've been doing some databasing of some translated Lithuanian vital records, but I still haven't had a chance to write up details of my trip last August. I have a "deadline" looming, somewhat, because my brother will be visiting Lithuania next month and I want to give him some background to our family's ancestral places.

I have some questions for you, though. I've been e-mailing with an Israeli cousin (our grandmothers were cousins from Kedainiai). She is also researching family history.

I'm trying wrap my head around the events of 1941 (as best as I can, it's impossible, really). My cousin thinks that the Germans had many Lithuanian collaborators, more than in other countries. She thinks this is why such a large percentage of Lithuanian Jews were killed.

As an additional example, her mother was on good terms with a German family (she studied German with the father). Her mother was even invited to a party at their house. Then, afterwards, her mother found out that this German was one of the first collaborators with the Nazis.

I know you've done a lot of research on what happened in 1941. Can you give me (us) your sense of the magnitude of the Lithuanian collaboration, what the locals knew while the genocide was happening, etc?

Best regards, Sally

On 5/7/07, Cy Kuckenbaker wrote:

Hi Sally, good to hear from you.

Well, I guess my short answer is that there was substantial assistance from Lithuanians, but the active participation was not necessarily in large numbers. In the village I'm most familiar with, Kupiskis, there were only about five or six Lithuanians collaborators out of the approximately 6000 people in the town. From what I've been able to learn so far, this is what I've come to understand:

Some Background:

Lithuania's short period of sovereignty from the end of WWI to 1940 was an intense period during which the nation worked very hard to rewrite and reform its identity. Like other nationalist movements, the basis for national identity emphasized ethnicity, language and the motherland. This left the Jewish community out since they were (sometimes) different in appearance and spoke Yiddish in their community. It also may be noteworthy that during this time in Lithuanian literature, there was an intense connection to the land of Lithuania as a basis for identity. The Jewish literary tradition had much less emphasis on nature, and as a traditionally stateless people, didn't really need it. There is also a linguistic element, in the Lithuanian language usage; a man is almost always 'a Jew' not 'Jewish'. The objectification is subtle enough, but something I always feel when I speak with people. This usage seems to be an artifact of the grammar rather than an expression of bias, but the logic within it feels divisive to my American/English speaking sensibility. Likewise, the noun Lithuanian describes the ethnicity as well as the nationality. So Jews were not necessarily considered Lithuanians.

There is a long tradition of blood-libel stories in Lithuania against Jews that is emblematic of a general mythology that casts Jews as outsiders and competition to Christianity. The standard version is that the local Jews would kidnap a Catholic baby, wrap it in a sheet, then put it in a barrel full of nails or glass and roll it down a hill. Then the blood soaked fabric would be cut up and distributed as an ingredient in flat bread during Passover. I've heard this story, or variations of it multiple times. When it was told (its no longer common) it was told in a very similar context as a ghost story. The first man I met who told me about the stories was 83 and he heard it from his grandmother in Skapiskis.

In pre WWII Lithuania, Lithuanians were the farmers and Jews were the traders and shop keepers. There was an economic divide. Among Lithuanians, there was a the notion that the Jews worked together against them. If you ask a Lithuanian today why the Jews were killed, some will say: because the Jews weren't good to Lithuanians. This perception was propagated by plenty of politicians through out history toward one end or another and even today is a convenient excuse. In fact Jews probably held more capital, but there were plenty of poor Jews as well.

1941:

By 1941 the Lithuanians were already a heavily traumatized society. They had learned to rely on passive aggression to survive under the Tsar and other occupiers. They had very little tradition of public protest and had rarely succeeded in resisting occupation except by clinging to their language and traditions. During the first Soviet occupation (40-41), the Lithuanian social and political leadership was completely removed, so in the political vacuum of the Soviet retreat in June 1941 you can imagine how easily chaos reigned. It's also important to note that Lithuania was not an armed country. Very few private citizens owned firearms, and the small militarization that took place between wars, was just that, small.

The politics of 1941 are sticky. When the Russians reoccupied in 1940, they expanded the rights of Lithuanian Jews to participate in public life and politics. That compounded resentment among the Lithuanians. Lithuanians, in general, preferred a German occupation. They'd been suppressed by the Russians for a hundred plus years under the Tsar and certainly didn't want to go back. When I talk with old folks who remember the gossip, one standard rumor concerns Lithuanian Jews learning to speak Russian 'too quickly'. In my opinion this social compression and polarization during Russian occupation is the real set up for the horror that follows the Russian retreat. Imagine a tiny nation dead center between Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia, in a time when people had to choose a side.

When the Germans invaded in 41, it was still very early in the war and Hitler's final solution hadn't even been made policy yet. The Nazis used Lithuania as a testing ground, so their methods are inconsistent over time and place. In general, machine gun bullets are what killed almost everyone. I don't know a whole lot about this, but I do know that there was a group called Rolling Commandos, among the Nazi units assigned to Lithuania. In the larger cities like Vilnius and Kaunas they used a ghetto system, but in the country it was different. With the help of locals they would simply round up the Jewish community and march them out to a preselected area (often for cover and soft soil) and machine gun one group at a time. In Kupiskis, a small jail was used to centralize people before being walked to the mass grave and killed. What's impossible to comprehend is how they killed children. The Kupiskis memorial that was just put up in the synagogue in 2004 lists the names and ages of each person killed. There were many very small children and babies. I've been able to figure out a lot about those events, but I can't fathom how anyone did that. When the killing was done, the Jewish property was centralized and redistributed. An eye witness in Skapiskis described seeing one of the local Lithuanian triggermen walking through the square with two fur coats on and a machine gun over his shoulder.

So now about Lithuanian participation. Yes, absolutely, many of the triggermen and much of the organization was carried out by Lithuanians collaborating with the Nazi's. In Kupiskis I don't think there was more than a hand full of Nazis even present. According to an eyewitness, two Nazi officers over saw and photographed the four to five Lithuanian perpetrators. They took the photos as 'proof' that the killing was taken out by Lithuanians and not Germans. The Lithuanians who helped included local police and the police chief. So it's very odd that so few men, probably less than ten in all, were able to kill nearly every Jew in the town (the pre-war Jewish pop was app 1400), but they did. Bigots did the killing, but it was made so easy because of fear, complacents and a more passive form of bigotry on the part of average Lithuanians.

I don't know exactly why the percentage of Lithuanian Jews killed is so high, but I suspect a couple things. First, it's a very small country, you can cross it in a day and there are virtually no geographic barriers. Second, the Jewish population was large, well defined, and they were essentially the first. Though very few Jewish communities anywhere had any idea what was really coming, the Lithuanian communities had no time what so ever to react. The German attack on Russia was so fast and so successful, Lithuania was in German hands almost instantly.

Today:

Today's dialog about the Lithuanian Jewish holocaust has a very unusual character. Where we see the German national psyche has struggled for 60 years now to rectify itself, and establish an open dialog about the event, no such thing exists yet in Lithuania for two reasons. The first is that Lithuanians claim their own holocaust under the Soviets in which 130 – 300 thousand people were deported to the Gulag. Because this 'Lithuanian Holocaust' is generally unrecognized world wide, there are no museums, few memorials etc; there is a sense of competition and again, resentment, that Lithuanians should have to recognize the Jewish holocaust when no one is recognizing theirs. Rationally, it doesn't make any sense because the events were based on completely different dynamics, one was internal, one was external, etc, but emotionally, to the Lithuanians it's the same thing.

The second reason is because under 50 years of Soviet rule, the history was scrubbed clean so to speak. The Russians reoccupied in 1944 after the defeat of the Wehrmacht, put the perpetrators of the Jewish holocaust on trial, executed those they could find, built memorials then tucked the whole matter away. Many Jews who survived or returned were required to abandon their religious practices in the new atheistic Soviet Lithuania; so many of the Jews in today's democratic Lithuanian community have forgotten the old traditions. During Soviet times there was no rigor, no real research on the holocaust, so you could say that Holocaust studies only really started in Lithuania during the 1990s, and its way behind.

My Personal Perspective:

Being neither Jewish nor Lithuanian, I think people need to get past the specific labels if they're going to understand it constructively. The Israeli dialog can be extremely aggressive, and Lithuanians are very defensive and would rather stick their heads in the sand than look at reality straight. What everyone needs to figure out is that genocide is not about good and evil. Genocide, as far as I'm concerned, is a human behavior and unfortunately, it happens all the time, though rarely on this scale. In the generic western version of the Jewish holocaust, the Nazi's are evil and they used a giant mechanized system to murder on in incomprehensible scale. So how do we extract meaning from this version of an event? The character of the Lithuanian Jewish holocaust is such that I think enormous understanding can be drawn from it, constructive understanding. The motivations that stoked it, which drove it along, don't come from monsters, we all have them and we've all felt them. The abstraction of the holocaust into the realm of myth, of monsters and evil, seems enormously problematic to me, a long hard look at what happened in Lithuania and anyone can see, it's a tragedy full of average people on both sides who are just like us.

Hope this helps Sally, I"ve struggled to get a grip on what happened there. Sometimes the only way for me to understand it, is by thinking about the L.A. riot. First there's a long compression, then a spark. The difference is, in Lithuania the official effort was to keep it going rather than stop it.

Take care, Cy

Thanks, Cy,

I think it's important to get this information (and perspective) into people's heads. It's instructive and horrifying that this type of thing can happen anywhere there's a oppressed population. The scale of what occurred in Lithuania is outrageous, but I don't think people saw it coming. I wonder what they could have done, if they'd figured out what was in store for them.

The Lithuanian nationality thing is interesting to consider. My relatives were at least tri-lingual. My father and his family grew up speaking Russian, Lithuanian and Yiddish (though he never spoke those languages here in the US). My great-grandfather was a 2nd guild merchant in the Russian system and I think he was quite a wealthy man. My grandfather and siblings were rich kids, well dressed and well educated. They lived in Svedasai, then Kupiskis, then Panemunelis. I imagine the kids went to school in Panevezys and Kaunas. My grandmother's brother was an eye doctor in Kedainiai and my grandfather's sister was a dentist in Panevezys (married to a doctor). They were well settled and contributory members of their society.

Do you think that the young Lithuanians would be fearful if Jews tried to establish a presence again in Lithuania?

Is it OK to forward your e-mail to my cousin Tami in Israel, the one who first raised the issue about her mixed feelings about Lithuanians? Her aunt Dina left Lithuania in the late 1930s as a young woman, and maybe Tami can gently get Dina's perspective on the relationship between the Jews and the Lithuanians (i.e., the Litvaks and the Lithuanians) as she remembers it.

My brother works for the US Dept of Energy and will be traveling to Latvia and Lithuania next month. I'm hoping to write up some of the family history for him before he goes, in case he has some time to visit the old villages. Is there anyone in Kupiskis (or elsewhere) he should meet?

Sally

On 5/15/07, Cy Kuckenbaker wrote:

Sorry for the long delay Sally,

Yeah, please do forward this on to Israel, I'd be really interested to hear her perspectives.

About Lithuanians being fearful today if Jews reestablished themselves, I'd say yes, probably and unfortunately. Today's Lithuania has a brand of anti-Semitism that's purely mythical. Unlike their grandparents who, bias or not, probably knew a lot of Jewish people, today's kids don't really know anything about Jewish society, but a lot of the old feelings and myths are still apparent. The product is pretty aggravating since a lot of young people are bias toward a people they've never seen or heard.

In 2005 Israel released a list of (former) Jewish properties in Lithuania and it was all over the papers. It was presented as a kind of assault on Lithuania and was also a demonstration of the enormous presence that community had. Every town and village had properties on the list, most had several including Kupiskis. One of the properties there is now the vice mayors home, so you can imagine the tension that created. Capturing the momentum are a few politicians including a nut in Siaulai who established a political party based on anti-Semitism. The group is small but because they're controversial and aggressive, they were catching front page attention regularly in 2005. In the vacuum, with few counter points, these things have a disturbing amount of sway. All this said, in general, Lithuania is not a hostile place. Any person identifiable as a Jew like some of the Orthodox rabbi that have visited can expect to be cat called, but that's about it.

Would you mind if I blogged our exchange? There are some other people I like to invite to weigh in on all this.

Cy

Hi Cy, I'm happy to have our exchanges blogged. There desperately needs to be more discussion about these issues.

My family was settled in Lithuania for at least a couple hundred years and they must have loved their home country. And they must have co-existed peacefully with most of their neighbors. When my grandmother and her 4 little kids returned home to Keidan in 1922-1923 after their exile (starting in 1915) into the Ukraine, they visited Lithuanian homes to get back some of the belongings they had to leave behind. My aunt told me the story of going to visit Lithuanian families and getting their stuff back. I had the impression that these people were their friends and they were holding family stuff for safekeeping. It had to be. My grandfather was already in the US and my grandmother couldn't have gotten the stuff back by force.

I'll send along your e-mail to my cousin and cc you and she can be part of the discussion.

Sally

Cy Kuckenbaker :: 05.28.07 :: Permalink

comments (1) dalia venckuviene:

Hello Sally and Cy , nice to hear from you both , its amazing how you Cy understand our nations mentality and other feathures of ours , we agree with your opinions about holocaust , and we really see in our nation , that we are not people of city or town , we belong to farmers , villages mentality , this is one of the main reasons why we dont want to see the reality of our history , not just connected with holocaust but in other spheres as well.But what we really are afraid of that yoth will not remember and want to hear these things , its a very painful topic , now almost everyone is involved in their material world. Well , Sally your brother is welcome to Kupiskis , we will stay in Kupiskis all June , so dont hesitate please , just write when he is coming , we will try to help as much as we can . We will be in touch .

Lithuanian Jewry, Entry #2, May 2007

On May 29th, Ann Rabinowitz wrote:

Thanks for your note.

One of things I learned from materials I have had translated from the Lithuanian is that there was a pervasive envy and underlying dislike of the Jews in the towns and villages. Why you may ask?

Due to their being restricted from the countryside and farming occupations by the Tzar, their only choice was to form the basis of the economic life of the towns and villages. This is where they usually centered themselves around the communities main squares where their businesses bloomed.

The Lithuanians felt that they were not in the same league as equal competitors in this urban economy. As a result, restrictive laws were passed that prevented the Jews from participating in a growing number of occupations.

It was not until WWI that this issue of economic competition really became apparent. For the most part, during the War, Jews were sent into Russia for several years leaving behind an economic vacuum.

The Lithuanians eagerly filled this vacuum and took over the businesses. They found that they liked being in charge and having the upperhand.

When the Jews returned, of course, they took over their businesses again. This caused much ill-will amongst certain groups of Lithuanians and one finds in the nationalist and/or anti-semitic magazines articles regarding this.

Combine this with the turmoil caused by the ebb and flow of various armies in Lithuania and the imposition restrictive laws of one sort or another and then the great changes brought about by Russian occupation, you have a significant situation for blaming someone one else for your troubles.

After WWI, the economy languished and things were tough for everyone. With the formation of various cooperatives with which Jews could not compete and additional restrictive laws on what professions Jews might be involved, this helped to further distance the Jews from competition with Lithuanians. The Jews were being compressed into a smaller and smaller segment of the economy.

Due to this, there was a mass exodus of young people during the 1920's and into the 1930's of Lithuanian Jewry to South Africa and America. It was also a time when Lithuanians also left to seek better conditions.

All this was a prelude to 1941 and what was considered to be payback by certain segments of the Lithuanian population for their long-held grudges and appetite to take over Jewish property.

In Kupiskis, the destruction of the community followed the same general pattern as was found throughout most of Lithuania. There were German agents provocateurs who came into the communities, sussed out the lay of the land and then used their connections to carryout the killings.

Those killed first were the Jewish intelligensia, professionals, leadership and the male population. This was done in various sadistic ways such as enclosing people in buildings and setting them on fire and shooting them in the forests or the outskirts of the town. After the men were killed, the women and children who had been held all the while in very poor conditions were then disposed of.

During this time, the Lithuanian population was either watching the destruction or participating in it. There were those who were children then who were affected deeply as they watched their playmates and friends killed and heard their screams of terror.

Many have never discussed their feelings or what they saw until recently when approached by Jewish visitors to their towns.

Ann Rabinowitz