The title page of Rūta Vanagaitė’s best-known book contains two pictures of young men. “This one is a Jew,” she said, pointing at the picture on the left. “He was a bicycle-racing champion. Good enough to represent Lithuania in international competitions, but not good enough to live.” He was executed during the Holocaust. The man in the picture on the right was a Lithuanian executioner. “They are both us,” Vanagaitė explained. “But Lithuanians don’t like to think of them as ‘us,’ because one is a Jew and the other is a killer.” Her book is called “Us.” (The title has also been translated as “Our People.”)
I met Vanagaitė at a New York City coffee shop on Wednesday. After a few weeks in the United States, she was scheduled to return to Lithuania on Friday. As we talked, she sounded alternately cavalier and frightened at the prospect of going home. “I want to try everything,” she said at one point. “I’m supposed to go in to the prosecutor’s office for questioning next week. I’ve never experienced interrogation before. Life should be interesting.” In a less upbeat exchange, when I asked her about her next project, Vanagaitė said, “Trying to avoid prison.” It was unclear what Vanagaitė might go to prison for—she had not been formally charged—but it has something to do with desecrating the memory of one of Lithuania’s national heroes.
In hindsight, it’s clear that she had been hurtling toward this moment for a few years. In 2016, Vanagaitė, then sixty-one, was known as a theatre critic, a political public-relations consultant, an event organizer, and the author of popular nonfiction, especially a 2013 book for and about women in and past middle age. The book, which advocated living life to the fullest, was a phenomenal best-seller. Vanagaitė told me that her publisher asked her to follow up with a book about men. “I said I would do it, but first I have something else I want to write,” she said.
That project was “Us.” Vanagaitė had become obsessed with something she had learned from a historian: that the Holocaust in Lithuania was carried out largely not by German occupiers but by Lithuanians themselves. “It involved a huge number of people rather than a handful of freaks, as I’d always thought,” she told me. She set out to learn what her own relatives had done during the war. Her grandfather, a civil servant, had taken part in making a list of eleven undesirables, all of whom happened to be Jewish, and all of whom were executed. It was conceivable that he didn’t quite know what the list was for. The case of Vanagaitė’s aunt’s husband was less ambiguous: he served as a chief of police under the Nazi occupation.
Vanagaitė spent six months doing archival research and then set off to see the sites of mass executions. She cast about for an intern to accompany her on the road, and ended up with an unexpected companion: Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center—and the last of the Nazi hunters. “Us” has a subtitle: “Travels with the Enemy.” The meaning of “enemy” is as unstable as the meaning of “us”: the collaborators and executioners are the enemy here, and so are the Nazi occupiers. But Zuroff, who is a descendant of Lithuanian Jews, and Vanagaitė were also historical enemies. Together, they visited forty execution sites in Lithuania—about a fifth of the total number—and seven more in what is now Belarus.
As it happens, I interviewed Zuroff, in Jerusalem, for another story about five years ago. He told me that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, he had had high hopes for finding Nazi criminals in the three newly liberated Baltic states. He placed ads in local papers, offering a generous reward for information that would lead to the arrest of collaborators. He got a total of zero tips, and when we spoke he was still unsure about what had stopped people from coming forward. Was it a distaste for snitching, a sense of solidarity with fellow-citizens, or a fear of retribution? It was probably all of these things. Vanagaitė told me that, in her book, she didn’t thank the Lithuanian historians who helped her navigate the archives because they feared the attention that a popular book might bring.
Vanagaitė did little to protect herself, though. “My objective was to shock,” she told me. She looked for examples that would haunt her readers, like the story of a group of trade-school students who didn’t want to go home for the summer in 1941. They got jobs on the execution squads instead. When the summer was over, they returned to school.
“Us,” published last year, was a best-seller. Vanagaitė made new enemies, to be sure, but she kept her friends and family, and gained thousands of readers. She wrote the book about men that she had promised her publisher, and then she wrote a memoir, which she titled “A Chicken with the Head of a Herring.” This was an epithet that one of her online critics had used, and she thought that it communicated an appropriately ironic attitude toward the self-aggrandizing enterprise of an autobiography. Vanagaitė had achieved an exceedingly rare level of literary success: she lived off the royalties from her books.
The day before the launch for her autobiography, in late October, Vanagaitė was doing interviews. One journalist asked her about the government’s plans to declare 2018 the year of Adolfas Ramanauskas, a legendary Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance fighter. Ramanauskas led a guerrilla unit from 1945 to 1952 and lived under an alias for another five years before being arrested and executed. Vanagaitė had studied Ramanauskas’s K.G.B. file, and now she told the journalist what she had found in it: it seemed that Ramanauskas had at one point agreed to be a K.G.B. informant. She said that he may not have been the hero Lithuania holds him to be.
On October 26th, Vanagaitė’s memoir was launched with a lavish party. There was chicken, herring, and bubbly. The following morning, Vanagaitė got a call from a journalist asking for her reaction to her publisher’s announcement that it was withdrawing all of her titles from all bookstores. Thousands of copies would be pulped. Vanagaitė’s source of livelihood was gone.
Gone, too, was her ability to venture outside her home. She tried—after the initial barrage of phone calls, she went out, accompanied by her nephew, and was immediately accosted by passersby. “They called me a pro-Putin Jewish whore,” she said. What does Vladimir Putin have to do with it? The post-Soviet Lithuanian narrative centers on othering all the horrors of the twentieth century: in this story, Lithuanians are a good, pure, and freedom-loving people who suffered under the Soviet occupation of 1940 to 1941, the German occupation of 1941 to 1944, and the Soviet occupation of 1945 to 1991. In its broad outlines, the story is undoubtedly true, but, like any historical myth, it’s an oversimplification: thousands of Lithuanians collaborated with the occupations. Some Lithuanians are willing to accept the fact that their countrymen collaborated with the German occupation, but the Soviet occupation—which lasted nearly half a century, and still hasn’t been acknowledged by Russia—is a story that tolerates no challenge.
Like most European states, Lithuania legislates memory. In a new book called “Memory Laws, Memory Wars: The Politics of the Past in Europe and Russia,” Nikolay Koposov, a Russian exile who teaches at Emory University, in Atlanta—and who has some sympathy for the project of setting legal boundaries of historical discourse—calls the Lithuanian law “an extreme example of the tendency to use memory laws to promote national narratives and shift the blame for crimes against humanity to others.” The law, enacted in 2010, was used the following year to prosecute Algirdas Paleckis, a Lithuanian diplomat who suggested that Moscow authorities who cracked down on Lithuania in January, 1991, had been aided by Lithuanian collaborators. Paleckis paid a fine, and his political career was effectively ended. If there have been other prosecutions since, none has been as high-profile as Paleckis’s—or as Vanagaite’s will be, if she is charged.
Vanagaitė stopped going outside; she had food delivered. After about two weeks, she left the country, assuming that, after a few weeks, the controversy would die down. It did not. Vanagaitė issued a public apology, and when she talked to me she sounded if not contrite then at least understanding. “I realize that I’ve crossed a line,” she said. “When I was writing my book, I thought everything through. But in this interview I was very arrogant. What I should have phrased as a question I said as an affirmative statement. I should have asked if Ramanauskas is the hero we think he is. Instead, I said, ‘He is no hero.’ ” The distinction is not merely grammatical. K.G.B. archives are notoriously unreliable—Ramanauskas may indeed have been an agent, or the person who claimed to have recruited him may have been lying. Vanagaitė’s sources among historians believe that Ramanauskas went into the forest, where he became a guerrilla fighter, immediately after agreeing to be an informant.
“I’ve destroyed everything,” Vanagaitė said. “I’ve destroyed my career as a writer, because no publisher will sign me now and no bookstore will agree to distribute my books.” She said that none of her friends will publicly support her now; her family stands by her, but she is afraid that the association will harm them. “Every country needs its positive myth. Ours was that we had the longest-running resistance movement in the world,” she said. Ramanauskas, who is said to have stayed in the forest, fighting, for seven years, embodied this myth. “Now I’ve destroyed that, too.”
But then she added, “When I’m on my deathbed, I’ll write about that resistance movement.”
Originally published on 2017-12-15
Author: Massa Gessen
Source: The New Yorker
Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!
Donate to Support Us
We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
Study: Joel Beinin & Lisa Hajjar, "Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. A Premier", Published by the Middle East Research & Information Project (MERIP), February 2014, pp. 16
The 2015 dataRead our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!Donate to Support UsWe would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.SaveSave
During the final years of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the US reached a verbal agreement whereby Moscow would allow for the reunification of Germany in exchange for the US agreeing to never expand NATO further East. As history attests, the US shamelessly reneged on its guarantee the moment the Soviet Union collapsed and was powerless to effectively stop it, swallowing up almost the entirety of Eastern Europe (save for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine) and all the Baltic States by 2004. What’s less studied by observers is NATO’s “Drang Nach Suden” (Drive to the South), which represents one ...
Since putschists usurping power in Ukraine launched war without mercy in April 2014 against freedom fighters in Donbass rejecting fascist rule, Washington provided political and military support.Under Obama, National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) funding included hundreds of millions of dollars to Kiev for weapons and other material support, along with training by US special forces.Trump may increase support for escalated aggression. A Pentagon and State Department proposal calls for supplying Javelin missiles, possibly along with anti-aircraft weapons.Claiming these and other US-supplied weapons are only for defense, not offense, ignores where they’ll be deployed – along the contact line, separating armed ...
Israel has played an increasingly provocative role in the destructive conflict unfolding within and along Syria’s borders since 2011. To many observers, it appears Israeli policy borders between opportunistic and unilateral aggression. In reality, Israel’s role in the Syrian conflict fits a much larger and long-term pattern with Anglo-American plans not only for Syria but for the entire region.A more recent row between Israel and Syria was the reported incursion of Israeli warplanes into Syrian airspace, including attacks near the eastern Syrian city of Palmyra. Palmyra hosts an ongoing battle between Syrian forces and the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (ISIS) terrorist ...
As the U.S. and NATO casualties rise from the war in Afghanistan, with 2010 being the deadliest year of the nine-year war for the U.S., the question needs to be asked of how we got involved in that interminable and unwinnable conflict? The Afghan war has been dubbed Barack Obama’s War but its origins go back much earlier. Is the U.S. military disaster in Afghanistan an instance of blowback?What is the standard definition of “blowback”? The U.S. intervenes illegally in a volatile and unstable scenario and over time the consequences of that criminality come back to reek havoc on U.S. ...
Within 40 years, given current demographic trends, the white population in France and the rest of old Europe will recede, creating a Muslim majority, a French researcher says.Charles Gave, an economist, fund manager and political commentator, published his conclusions this month on the webpage of his think tank, Institute des Libertes. He writes of the “disappearance of the European populations” as native populations shrink and Muslims continue to exhibit a robust fertility rate.Mr. Gave, president of Gavekal Research, acknowledges that his decidedly unpolitically correct view may bring him scorn and possibly censorship. The political left generally protects Islam from criticism. ...
In regard to international relations (IR), power is understood as the ability of state or other political actors to impose its own control or influence over other state(s) or other political actors, or at least to influence the outcome of events on the local, regional or global level. Power politics as a phenomena has two dimensions: internal and external. The internal dimension is applied in the inner policy of the state and the external in the foreign affairs or outside of the home politics. The powerfulness of a state depends on its real independence or sovereignty from outside influence on ...
If Pentagon chief James Mattis was seeking to reassure the world of American restraint in the North Korea crisis, he clumsily did the opposite. The US Defense Secretary was speaking after intense discussions with President Trump and other senior military officials in the White House Situation Room following the sixth nuclear test carried out by North Korea on Sunday.Mattis emerged from the meeting to say that any threat from North Korea to the United States and its allies would be met with an «overwhelming military response». He then added – with a weirdly presumed ethical tone – that the US «was not looking to ...
Although the 2016 presidential election is still in the primaries phase, contenders have already brought up America’s failed foreign wars. Hillary Clinton is taking flak over Libya, and Donald Trump has irked the GOP by bringing up Iraq. But what of Kosovo?The US-led NATO operation that began on March 24, 1999 was launched under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine asserted by President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. For 78 days, NATO targeted what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – which later split into Serbia and Montenegro – over alleged atrocities against ethnic Albanians in the ...
The opposition in Montenegro unanimously decided to boycott the local elections in Niksic, scheduled for March 12. This decision was made in protest against the political trial against the deputies from the Democratic Front (DF) Andrija Mandic and Milan Knežević. DF, Democratic Montenegro, Demos, civil movement URA, the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party refused to participate in the elections after the Mandic and Knežević were deprived of parliamentary immunity.Andrija Mandic said that the prosecution was launched in order to weaken the Democratic Front. He added that he wants to raise the question about the legitimacy of the removal ...
Yet again, a conference here in the Lithuanian capital dedicated to combating fascism and antisemitism is announced, without there having been a public call for papers, without a single speaker from among those who actually combat fascism and antisemitism in the country, with nobody from the democratically elected Vilnius Jewish community (not even the long-time editor of Jerusalem of Lithuania who has exposed and combated antisemitism for decades). No Holocaust survivors. None of the nationally relevant questions of the day can be found on the conference program. As ever, outstanding academic personalities from abroad are recruited to lend the gravitas and provide serious papers ...
Americans are outraged by allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an intelligence service to hack email accounts of the Democratic National Committee. How inexpressibly heinous that one country, Russia, would try to influence elections in another sovereign country, in this case the United States! How unprecedented! How diabolical! How uniquely Russian!In response, the Obama administration has expelled Russian diplomats, hinted at economic sanctions, and promised further retaliation using America’s “world-class arsenal of cyber weapons.” (NYT Dec. 16, 2016) Obama’s Republican opponents, for their part, have demanded “rocks” instead of Obama’s “pebbles.”But does the USA meddle in the presidential elections ...
See photo evidence here: Manchester terror act on 2017-05-22 © “Free Media Group” 2017Save
On 10 August 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump accused president Barak Hussein Obama and Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of co-founding the jihadist rebel organization ISIS (Islamic State) operating mainly in Syria and Iraq but with operative in many Middle Eastern countries and around the world. Trump used Obama’s full name to provoke a racist-xenophobic response from the public about the Arabic-sounding name rooted in East Africa. Immediately, critics insisted that Trump made outrageous and ignorant comments about complex foreign affairs matters he does not fully comprehend.The following day Trump clarified that he meant exactly what he said and ...
The new US National Security Strategy released this week and the speech delivered by President Donald Trump Monday to introduce it constitute a grim warning to humanity that US imperialism is firmly embarked on a road that leads to a nuclear third world war.While the document has largely been passed over in silence by the president’s ostensible political opponents in the Democratic Party and given relatively short shrift by the establishment media, more thoughtful ideologists of imperialism have noted the far-reaching changes presented in the document.Writing in the Wall Street Journal, the historian Arthur L. Herman declared Trump’s National Security Strategy ...
With the recent failed bid by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Arab League at the UN security council, to try and end Israelis’ occupation of Palestinian land and to create a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders, it seems an appropriate moment to review the situation for Palestinians since 1915.What is the background to the demonization and brutalization of Palestinians? Most of all, why is the international community was assisting properly and why has it not assisted the Palestinians in protecting or restoring their inalienable rights over decades? Why is their situation so brutally upside-down almost a century after ...
Post-colonial empires are complex organizations. They are organized on a multi-tiered basis, ranging from relative autonomous national and regional allies to subservient vassal states, with variations in between.In the contemporary period, the idea of empire does not operate as a stable global structure, though it may aspire and strive for such. While the US is the major imperial power, it does not dominate some leading global political-economic and military powers, like Russia and China.Imperial powers, like the US, have well-established regional satellites but have also suffered setbacks and retreats from independent local economic and political challengers.Empire is not a fixed ...
The chronic want of food and water, the lack of sanitation and medical help, the neglect of means of communication, the poverty of educational provision, the all-pervading spirit of depression that I have myself seen to prevail in our villages after over a hundred years of British rule make me despair of its beneficence. — Rabindranath TagoreIf the history of British rule in India were to be condensed to a single fact, it is this: there was no increase in India’s per-capita income from 1757 to 1947.Churchill, explaining why he defended the stockpiling of food within Britain, while millions died ...
(JTA) — Amid a divisive debate in Ukraine on state honors for nationalists viewed as responsible for anti-Semitic pogroms, the country for the first time observed a minute of silence in memory of Symon Petliura, a 1920s statesman blamed for the murder of 50,000 Jewish compatriots.The minute was observed on May 25, the 90th anniversary of Petliura’s assassination in Paris. National television channels interrupted their programs and broadcast the image of a burning candle for 60 seconds, Ukraine’s Federal News Agency reported.A French court acquitted Sholom Schwartzbard, a Russia-born Jew, of the murder even though he admitted to it after ...
Study “Palestine, Israel And The Arab-Israeli Conflict. A Premier”, 2014
NATO’s “Drang Nach Suden”
US Helping Ukrainian Putschists Wage War on Donbass
Israel: America’s “Mad Dog” in Syria
Blowback: Afghanistan and Bosnia
New World Order: Muslims to be Majority in Europe within Two Generations
The Western Russophobic Paranoia after the Cold War and Global Security
An Isolated Tyrannical Regime – Not Pyongyang, It’s Washington
Kosovo: An evil little war (almost) all US candidates liked
Democratic Front of Montenegro will continue to fight against NATO membership
Real or Rigged “International Conference on Fascism and Antisemitism” in Vilnius on 9 November?
US Meddling in 1996 Russian Elections in Support of Boris Yeltsin
Manchester Terror Act on May 22nd, 2017: Photo Evidence Not Presented on the Mainstream Global Mass-Media (Euronews, CNN, DW, BBC, ABC…)
Obama and Clinton Co-Founders of ISIS?
Trump’s National Security Strategy: The Return of “Great Power” Military Conflict
The Harvesting of Palestine. The Zionist Project Prevails?
America’s Imperial Empire: The Sun Never Sets But The Mote Remains In The Emperor’s Eye
British Colonials Starved To Death 60 Million-Plus Indians, But, Why?
Ukraine Honors Nationalists Whose Troops Butchered Jews