How a Single Remark Stole a Lithuanian Writer’s Livelihood

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.

READ MORE!
The Thanksgiving Day and the Native Americans
Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest. 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.
READ MORE
U.S Military Bases Worldwide: 682 Military Bases in 63 Countries
The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists — Ernest Hemingway Military spending is the second largest item in the US federal budget after Social Security. It has a habit of increasing significantly each year, and the proposed 2019 defense budget is $886 billion (roughly double what it was in 2003). US military spending exceeds the total of the next ten largest countries combined. Although the US government acknowledges 682 military bases in 63 countries, ...
READ MORE
A Biography of Kurt Waldheim (Austria) – A Fourth U.N. Secretary-General
The U.N. Organization was established in 1945 for the very security reason – to preserve the peace in the world. We believe that the governmental bodies and administrative structures of the U.N. have to be composed by the proved democratically oriented politicians and magistrates but above all this requirement has to be applied to the post and function of the U.N. Secretary-General. Nevertheless, in the history of the U.N. there is at least one (extremely) problematic appointment to the post of the U.N. Secretary-General: Kurt Waldheim from Austria. On the official website of the U.N. about its fourth Secretary-General one can ...
READ MORE
Here’s How the US, Israel, al-Qaeda and ISIS Work Together in Syria
The Syrian battlefield is now witnessing an escalation of the war. This is despite the fact that it is supposed to be a time of cessation of hostilities brokered by the US and Russia. The Syrian war has two major fronts. The first and most important is in southern Syria, on the borderline with Israel and the occupied territories of the Syrian Golan Heights.  This area is divided into two areas:  the liberated area of Al-Quneitra, and the occupied area of the Golan Heights where Jabhat Al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda’s base their fighters. Israel has been attempting to drive the Syrian army out ...
READ MORE
If NATO Wants Peace and Stability it Should Stay Home
A curious op-ed appeared in The National Interest, penned by Hans Binnendijk and David Gompert, adjunct senior fellows at the RAND Corporation. Titled, “NATO’s Role in post-Caliphate Stability Operations,” it attempts to make a case for NATO involvement everywhere from Libya to Syria and Iraq in fostering stability in the wake of a yet-to-be defeated Islamic State. The authors propose that NATO step in to fill what it calls an impending “vacuum left as the caliphate collapses,” heading off alternatives including “chaos or Iran, backed by Russia, filling the void, with great harm to U.S. and allied interests in either case.” The op-ed never explains why ...
READ MORE
US Imperialism Wages Permanent Warfare to Prevent its Inevitable Collapse
The US has always been a warfare state. However, the character of US imperialist warfare has changed dramatically. For over two centuries, the US regime’s purpose for war, whether on indigenous peoples, Black people, or nations all over the world, was to expand the productive forces of capitalist exploitation. War preceded the vast profits accumulated from chattel slavery, land grab, and resource extraction in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The foundation of white supremacy and capitalism allowed the US regime to consolidate its expansion despite episodes of periodic crisis. Recent events, alongside a steady fall in the rate of capitalist profit, indicate ...
READ MORE
De-Recognition of Kosovo: US Tries to Stem the Tide
The international community is accustomed to the so-called “checkbook diplomacy” that has been used by China and Taiwan to pilfer each other’s diplomatic allies by exchanging diplomatic recognition for generous financial assistance packages. However, this same battle for diplomatic recognition and de-recognition is being played out between Serbia and its breakaway province of Kosovo. The United States and much of NATO has not only granted Kosovo diplomatic recognition over the objection of Serbia but has also pressured other countries to recognize Kosovo’s independence. This process has hit a major stumbling block amid charges from various parties that fake diplomatic letters ...
READ MORE
Democratizing the US Constitution: An Idea Worth Considering
The grandees of the Republican Party are on the ropes. Donald Trump has them by the balls, but, even without Trump, they would be in what Bush the Father would call deep “do-do.” Any Republican candidate for President whom two-thirds of the electorate could abide would be anathema to the one-third that Republicans have recruited into their rank and file. Mitt Romney was the final straw. The establishment’s situation is so pitiful that even Chris Christie is starting to look good to them. If his candidacy survives into the Spring, late night TV comedians will rejoice; others, not so much. Ted Cruz remains ...
READ MORE
Why didn’t Washington Dissolve NATO after Collapse of USSR?
NATO has expanded dramatically after the collapse of its primary rivals, the USSR and the Warsaw Treaty Organization, Canadian Professor Michael Jabara Carley notes, posing the question whether NATO was founded as a defensive or an offensive alliance. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance aimed against the Soviet Union, was established on April 4, 1949; and only seven years after the formation of NATO the Warsaw Treaty Organization was established bringing together eight nations (versus 15 NATO member-states). So, who was the real “aggressor”? What alliance was an offensive one? “There has been much discussion recently of NATO in the mainstream and alternate media. Why was ...
READ MORE
NATO’s “Drang Nach Suden”
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 ...
READ MORE
Israel’s Money Machine: Jewish Oligarchs Fund Crimes Against Humanity
The stars came out in Hollywood on November 2nd, or at least some of them did. The gala event celebrated the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and raised funds to support its mission in Israel itself and on the occupied West Bank. The organization being fêted was the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), which has fourteen regional offices in the United States and operates under the slogan “Their job is to look after Israel. Our job is to look after them.” In attendance were Arnold Schwarzenegger and actor Gerald Butler. Entertainment was provided by the singer Seal. Hollywood Jewish royalty ...
READ MORE
Gavrilo Princip’s Grave: The Interwar Years, 1920-1939
Gavrilo Princip was first buried in secret in an unmarked grave at the Theresienstadt or Terezin prison following his death on April 28, 1918. His remains were exhumed and transferred to Sarajevo on July 7, 1920. This was Gavrilo Princip’s grave until 1939 when a Chapel was built to replace the grave. The other conspirators were also interred in this grave. Bogdan Zerajic’s remains were also reburied here. The assassination occurred on the Orthodox holiday, Vidovdan or St. Vitus’ Day, Sunday, on June 28, 1914. For this reason the conspirators were called the “Vidovdan Heroes” and the Chapel memorial was named “The ...
READ MORE
Washington’s War Crime in Afghanistan
The massacre of 22 people—12 doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, along with 10 patients, three of them children—in Saturday’s airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical center in Kunduz, Afghanistan is an appalling war crime for which the US military and Obama administration are responsible. On Monday, the top US commander in Afghanistan admitted that a US warplane carried out the deadly attack, while seeking to shift the blame onto Afghan puppet troops for calling it in. “An air strike was then called to eliminate the Taliban and several civilians were accidentally struck,” Gen. John Campbell told a ...
READ MORE
Africa, Russia, United States Imperialism and the Bankruptcy of the International Criminal Court
As defections continue from the Rome Statute the Netherlands-based group says Washington may have engaged in torture A recent article published in the New York Times appears to suggest that the United States will be investigated by the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for committing torture against captives in Afghanistan. Surprisingly enough the ICC has almost exclusively focused its attention on alleged war crimes and acts of genocide taking place in Africa. Many of the cases have in effect served the interests of U.S. imperialism where governments which are targets for destabilization and regime-change are indicted by the prosecutorial institution in order ...
READ MORE
Bismarck’s System of Continental Alliances
In an interview for the German news magazine Zuerst! (April 2015) Srdja Trifkovic considers the significance of Otto von Bismarck’s legacy, 200 years after his birth. Dr. Trifkovic, how would Bismarck react if he could see today’s map of Europe? Trifkovic: He would be initially shocked that the German eastern border now runs along the Oder and Neisse rivers. Otto von Bismarck was a true Prussian. In his view, cities such as Königsberg, Danzig or Breslau were more properly “German” than those in the Rhineland. His first impression therefore would be that Germany has “shifted” to the West, and that an important social and ...
READ MORE
The Cold War and Its Origins: The Inception of the Soviet Union (1917-1950)
The media is currently in the midst of an anti-Russian hysteria that many have dubbed Cold War 2.0. Of course the first cold war never really ended as the wars in Yugoslavia, Chechnya, and even Afghanistan were aimed at Russia as was the relentless NATO expansion. This manufactured panic is a form of psychological warfare that went into high gear during the Sochi Olympics in 2014 as the US was working to launch a fascist coup in Ukraine. Since most ordinary people would be shocked to discover that Nazis had been installed in power in Ukraine an anti-Russian hysteria was ...
READ MORE
Déjà Vu in the Balkans
An eerily familiar sense of regional unease has crept over all the former republics of Yugoslavia. Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar echoed the Balkan zeitgeist when he warned at a press conference this week that: “If the migrant crisis is not adequately controlled as agreed at the summit in Brussels there is a possibility of conflict situations between the states of the Western Balkans. It is possible that a small conflict would initiate a wider reaction because of the very difficult recent history (of the region), which is why it is very important that we solve this crisis together as no country can solve this problem by itself.” It seems like everybody knows that ...
READ MORE
A “Greater Israel” to Control Mediterranean from Beirut to Gaza?
With the recruitment of novice French President, Emmanuel Macron, the US Israel lobby can now boast a powerful political agent inside the corridors of power of the Élysée Palace, to liaise with those agents already resident in the British Parliament and at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington. It is, of course, no small achievement to have managed to recruit half of the European Union as well as the United States Senate to support the dispossession of five million indigenous Arabs who have populated the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Gaza for over a thousand years. No small achievement of the powerful minority Zionist movement ...
READ MORE
The Geopolitics of Targeting Russia
The escalation of tensions between the United States, Britain and France, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other, should not surprise anyone. In the last few years, the US leadership and mainstream British media have presented Russia as a major threat to global peace and the international order. Russian president Vladimir Putin in particular has been demonised as a ‘war-monger,’ an ‘aggressor,’ an ‘unscrupulous politician’ hell-bent on restoring Russia’s past glory’ at whatever cost. This projection of Russia as a threat to world peace has intensified in recent days partly because of Putin’s unveiling of Russia’s cutting edge military ...
READ MORE
The Criminal Roadmap Towards “Greater Israel”?
The concept of a “Greater Israel” according to the founding father of Zionism Theodore Herzl, is a Jewish State stretching “’From the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates.’ Rabbi Fischmann, of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, stated to the UN Special Committee on 9th July 1947 that: The Promised Land extends from the River of Egypt up to the Euphrates, it includes parts of Syria and Lebanon’”, wrote Michel Chossudovsky. (1) Thus “from the Nile to the Euphrates.” Herzl’s detailed thesis was written in 1904. Quoted in the same article is Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya on The Yinon Plan (1982) “ … a continuation of ...
READ MORE
The Thanksgiving Day and the Native Americans
U.S Military Bases Worldwide: 682 Military Bases in 63 Countries
A Biography of Kurt Waldheim (Austria) – A Fourth U.N. Secretary-General
Here’s How the US, Israel, al-Qaeda and ISIS Work Together in Syria
If NATO Wants Peace and Stability it Should Stay Home
US Imperialism Wages Permanent Warfare to Prevent its Inevitable Collapse
De-Recognition of Kosovo: US Tries to Stem the Tide
Democratizing the US Constitution: An Idea Worth Considering
Why didn’t Washington Dissolve NATO after Collapse of USSR?
NATO’s “Drang Nach Suden”
Israel’s Money Machine: Jewish Oligarchs Fund Crimes Against Humanity
Gavrilo Princip’s Grave: The Interwar Years, 1920-1939
Washington’s War Crime in Afghanistan
Africa, Russia, United States Imperialism and the Bankruptcy of the International Criminal Court
Bismarck’s System of Continental Alliances
The Cold War and Its Origins: The Inception of the Soviet Union (1917-1950)
Déjà Vu in the Balkans
A “Greater Israel” to Control Mediterranean from Beirut to Gaza?
The Geopolitics of Targeting Russia
The Criminal Roadmap Towards “Greater Israel”?
Policraticus

Written by Policraticus

SHORT LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The website’s owner & editor-in-chief has no official position on any issue published at this website. The views of the authors presented at this website do not necessarily coincide with the opinion of the owner & editor-in-chief of the website. The contents of all material (articles, books, photos, videos…) are of sole responsibility of the authors. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not morally, scientifically or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the contents of all material found on this website. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not responsible for the content of external internet sites. No advertising, government or corporate funding for the functioning of this website. The owner & editor-in-chief and authors are not morally, scientifically or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the text and material found on the website www.global-politics.eu

Website: http://www.global-politics.eu