In recent months, Lithuanian theatre critic, writer, journalist Ruta Vanagaite – author published last year the book «Nashi» («Mūsiškiai») about the participation of Lithuanians in the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust, which became a bestseller, but caused extremely contradictory and sometimes hostile reaction in Lithuania was several times in Israel and spoke before Israel.
This week’s Ruta Vanagaite answered the questions of the journalist NEWSru.co.il Paul Vyhdorchyk.
The Holocaust in Lithuania is quite well studied by historians, particularly by Alfonsas Eidintas. There are materials of the postwar trials, are works of fiction – just think of Grigory Kanovich. Why your book caused such an effect?
Historians of the subject investigated, but the General public did not know all this. We all turn a blind eye, all it was convenient. No one is forced to look the terrible truth in the face. In my education, and the education of my children, the Holocaust was given in the ninth-tenth grade for 45 minutes. Said that 200 thousand killed, said on local collaborators, and the rest of the time talking about those who saved Jews. Don’t talk about it as about the system, about the mechanism of destruction. It is about the handful of geeks. That’s what we knew. My interest began with the fact that two of my relatives were seemingly involved. They did not shoot, but when I found out how it all happened… People did not shoot, but they made lists, did the job in the government, was guarded. They were participants in the Holocaust.
But this does not explain the effect of your book.
The right choice was that I started writing from the point of view of a man who knows nothing. I stood on one level with his reader, he began to understand completely from scratch – how would the man in the street. Second – I wrote a shocking book. All sharp corners, all the shocking facts – they are in the book. It turned out to be a detective or a scary book, written by a simple man in the street. The same historians, they do not studied what the dreams were the murderers, what poem they wrote, what they did with the teeth torn from the victims. Historians are doing a very different – and their books uninteresting. Good, but uninteresting. And my book, as historians say, bad, but interesting.
The book is not yet translated into Russian, so I couldn’t read it. Where did you get the information that formed the basis of the book? About what people saw in the dream?
I had three sources. For me it was crucial that the stories of the survivors in the Holocaust or quotes from Israeli or American studies were not included in my book. Only what they say Lithuanians. And sources was three. The first books of the Lithuanian historians. Second – things that are in the special archive – tens of thousands of them. Lithuanian historians researched it and told me where to find interesting materials, the most hideous, the most scandalous materials. They led me by the hand. And the third Mr by Sarofim, the famous Nazi hunter, was in 40 locations in Lithuania and went to the hut and asked people and found those who saw it.
And people simply began to gush – just because you have found who to tell?
I think, Yes. It was difficult for them to say they never agreed to be photographed, did not want I recorded, didn’t name names. But all that they saw, they talked. For many of them it was the first time that they talked about this, maybe someone talked about it folks. But to some stranger came and started asking – this was not.
Center for the study of genocide says that no living witnesses. A lot of them. Murderers, probably, do not remain – after all, in 1941 they were at least 18 years of age. But those who were six or eight, they saw it. And people remember every detail – even what color was the sky, and both were wearing people.
In your opinion, what you have felt these people once poured your soul? What you are wakes them up, brought them relief or awakened old nightmares?
I didn’t bother. Just saw a man on the street and asked – often didn’t even go in the house. «What happened here, did you? – Yes, I saw.» And they told me that have seen or know from home. Some were crying, but it changed their lives.
And when the book came out, many young people began to buy for their grandparents. And when they read this book, they talk with their grandchildren. Before that, they thought that it was only them. It was such a nightmarish experience that they probably didn’t even want to talk about it – too scared.
But it turned out that this was happening with everyone. So, it is easier to talk to. And this is very important.
We are talking about Lithuania, which for several centuries was for the Jews a home. Vilnius became the new Jerusalem. How it all could collapse in a matter of days?
Lithuania 20 years were independent. Then there was the Soviet occupation, and the Germans came as liberators. The Lithuanian government was hopeful, very stupid, naive, childish hope that the Germans, having settled with the Soviet authorities, will give Lithuania or independence, or autonomy. Everything that happened with the Jews in Lithuania, occurred for an independent, free Lithuania. The main motive of killing other people was the love of his people, to his country.
It was a confluence of many unfortunate circumstances for a very short time. If my government tells me that the Jews are the Communists, when Nazi propaganda supported by my government, which wants to my country the best, if created by the state and municipal structures, if the whole pyramid of power, including police, involved in this. And the rest of the people when they realized what was happening, was terrified.
What percentage of Lithuanians participated in the Holocaust?
Now it is exactly calculated. If you count participants and those who made the lists, and those who guarded and those who were killed – about 18 thousand people.
And that was enough?
If this involved the whole pyramid, the whole civil administration In Lithuania in General, there was almost no Germans. All led by the Lithuanian government and the Lithuanian police. In August 1941, 90% of Lithuanian Jews were still alive. In November, they have already died. It happened about three months. Every day kill 5-10 thousand people. And only after that people began to hide Jews, began to save when they realized what was happening. And at first they did not understand. And people were afraid. So there weren’t any protests.
The current official position of the Baltic States is as follows: «We were occupied, we didn’t have national governments. In terms of occupation of our Nations stood on the side of evil»…
Not part of the people. «A handful of geeks». But it really was part of the people, and not the worst part. Since father Landsbergis, who was the Minister, to my family, who were Soviet activists. And the fact that Soviet activists were Jews and through the day they were shot – so it’s just coincidence.
The husband of my aunt worked as a chief of police in Panevezys. What was he doing? They were told from above that we need to protect, you need to do… He did it all. And then fled and hid under a false name all my life. And sent me jeans. Or the father of our President Adamkus. He was chief of the transport police at the railway station of Kaunas, where the huge convoys with the Jews. From Czechoslovakia, Austria, And France. He didn’t know?
The same Adamkus came to Ponary, to ditches, and said that these crimes can not be forgiven.
There is no forgiveness. But when asked what did his father in the transport police, Adamkus replied: «at home We never spoke about it». And maybe said. Involved-that’s all. Maybe someone in the family was not uncle… But what happened to the property of Jews?
200 thousand people died. Left 50 million homes. Things, dishes, towels, mattresses. Where it vanished? The Germans didn’t take. Every family has some antique. And everyone should ask how this thing? Answer he will not, but the question itself will make him a better person.
This tragedy was a tragedy of the Lithuanian people. For me, this was the discovery of a historian Christoph Diekmann. He said that in Lithuania, in principle, there was the German occupation. The number of Soviet army we had 150 thousand people. And when the Germans came, then they went for the Soviet army to the East, and in Lithuania throughout the occupation the Germans were 600-900. And the Lithuanian municipal infrastructure – 20 thousand people. And the second thing he said, even if the person was not an anti-Semite, took the Jewish thing, it it becomes.
Esprit de corps?
Yes. «The Jews have deserved. They drank blood and all.»
You raise the question of the banality of evil. The first time it spoke of Hannah Arendt. Continued with this theme, Daniel Goldhagen. How can this be: a man gets up in the morning, going to work, his wife collects food with them – and it from eight in the morning until five in the evening, with a break for lunch, is the final solution of the Jewish question?
We decided this question before the conference was held in Wannsee. By the beginning of the 42-year Jews have already been killed.
It’s been happening. People came to punitive battalions, because the government told them to be independent Lithuanian army. It would be the poor. There was no work, no food… They said, «we Will fight with the Soviet activists». Well! First, they, say, protect some plants, then airport, then a synagogue, where the activists gathered. Then these activists have to lead somewhere. And when they come to the pit…
You know what’s interesting? In all interrogations of these killers, these guys are called Jews not Soviet citizens, not Jews, and «doomed». In their minds there was no other way. Someone has already rendered the verdict, it’s already been decided for them. Go to the shooting father with a young son, the father embraces the son… «We are not beasts of some kind to the eyes of the father of the son to kill». Killed first his father, and a child he knows nothing about . Even in inhuman conditions, they tried to stay human. As paradoxical as it may sound.
You repeatedly speak about the Lithuanian government. This is contrary to the official version, according to which Lithuania was occupied, and the government she was not. Obviously, this is one of the main reasons that Lithuania is to you a complex relationship.
Yes. After all, if we say that it was done by the Germans is one thing. And the fact that it was done by the Lithuanian government to please the Germans, hoping to gain independence, which the Germans never promised – you need to rewrite the whole story. Our story, the story of the victims, the hero’s story is also a story of killers. Historians say about it in closed conferences: to go with Hitler was a fatal mistake of the Lithuanian government. And to go to such an extent that even to send battalions to Belarus to kill their Jews.
But Lithuania caught between a rock and a hard place. Was there another way out?
You could choose neutrality. All state organizations that existed in independent Lithuania, he returned to work. Without them, to the extent this would not have happened. The Germans had no resources, no people – they were all in the war. Only the locals knew where to dig holes, only they could make the list. Only the cooperation of local authorities allowed the Germans to do what was done.
During the Soviet occupation, the Holocaust was taboo. The process of understanding in the Baltic countries started after independence. The feeling that we are at a turning point – we may recall the March in Molėtai, and thousands of candles lit at the monument of freedom in Riga on the anniversary of the shootings in Rumbula. How do you see the continuation of this process?
Lithuania split into two parts. In principle, there are two of Lithuania. One my age, who misses Soviet Union, the Soviet films, of security, of free sanatoriums… This generation is, of course, also loves Lithuania and very Patriotic. But it nedouchtennoe generation educated in Soviet universities. They do know something, learned something, but I think that they know everything. My girlfriend: «Well, what about these Jews? Well, killed them, killed the Germans, Lithuanians were killed. How much you can talk about it?» They are not interested. No one wants to get into it. This inferiority complex, and anti-Semitism.
But the younger generation is much more open to the world. They have friends in America, in other countries. These friends sometimes ask about the fate of the Lithuanian Jews. The youth also likes Lithuania, but it is not going to live there. It’s very important to dissociate themselves from the older generation of his village thinking. Educated on anti-Semitism and the Catholic Church. New generation to that otherwise applies. But it also will not be in this thing so deep. For them it is like the Crusades or the first world war are ancient history. But for them, it’s true. For the older generation – a long time ago, and for the younger long time really.
And what to do with this truth?
When you come to power the younger generation, when I die Landsbergis and all its Patriotic staff, it’ll take what you wrote to Lithuanian historians. It will be in the textbooks, people will know. I think 10-20 years even.
I would like to know how you felt when marching in Molėtai came and Vytautas Landsbergis, and Dalia Grybauskaite…
She didn’t come!
Isn’t she arrived in Moletai?
She people will not go. She arrived separately, by itself.
However, she arrived in Moletai. And the army commander arrived. What is the connection of two of Lithuania, of which you spoke?
No. Politicians are always doing what is interesting for the electorate. They felt that there is a critical mass of young people for whom this is important. But basically, they came there, laid a wreath and all. They did not say that the whole Lithuania participated – just tribute to the victims. All. What’s next? Then nothing happened. I was not invited to any school. In school libraries there is my book. Continue no. But it will be. As my children said to me, «Mom, this book will not be read. Maybe in ten years».
How many copies will be published, by the way?
Initially printed 2,000 copies, but it sold out in two days. And now from afar 19.000.
For Lithuania this is a huge draw.
In Lithuania, the bestseller – a book with a circulation of 5,000 copies. So people read. Read, crying. Government position does not change. The center for the study of genocide does more of what I was doing. But if the book is published with a circulation of 19.000, and every book I read four, five, six people…
What is the explanation?
The book is scandalous about it, everyone had their opinion without even reading it.
This scandal was planned?
In any case. I many people questioned: who is going to read? Even my children said that they are not particularly interesting. My girlfriends and friends also said: «How can the Jews? It does not interest us». Was wondering if I pay the Jews. And that’s all. Yes, if paid, would be published in large quantities.
What languages is it translated? I know that preparing a Russian translation of the Hebrew. Will there be an English translation?
It has been translated into English, but only in the computer. Now it is published in Hebrew – will be released in winter in the publishing house «Yediot Ahronot». In Poland, too, from a distance first. Wanted to show the poles that the Lithuanians were worse.
When, in your opinion, the process that now is in Lithuania, will begin in Russia? The leaders of Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine have become ditches, and say that some of their people sided with evil. On the territory of Russia were killed 400 thousand Jews. They were killed mainly by local collaborators. When will we see Putin in Zmievskaya beam?
When will a critical mass of people who will him to wait. As was demanded by the young generation in Lithuania. Which goes, talking. Russia is still more closed country. While there is a critical mass of the electorate, this will not happen. Politicians say what they want to hear from. If no one wants to hear it.
I have a very popular book, read by women my age. I was told that I will lose my audience, say, those women that are reading this, hate Jews and will not forgive this book. «Well, okay!» I said.
And so it happened?
No. They just don’t read it. In my meetings with these readers I was asked the organizers «not only about the Holocaust.» But I still can’t tell. They cry.
Your book is as if «superimposed» on the complicated relations between Russia and Lithuania. You made several statements about Putin, which are poorly perceived in Lithuania. Why did you decide to enter politics?
When I decided to write this book, knowing what it is, the executives of the publishing house said to me: «You what? Know what the current geopolitical situation?» In Lithuania no one ever goes out into the streets, not satisfied with the demonstration even in the case of the most serious corruption, because it will immediately say: «You Putin pays.» And I even friends said, «How old are you Putin paid for this?» Because Putin is beneficial to the Lithuanian Lithuanians called fascists. But I’m not going to say. Don’t want the Russians used a my book for propaganda purposes.
Good would the headline: «Putin, I do not pay».
(Laughs) Yeah, I say that the Jews paid, and Putin pays. No!
And who pays more?
All the money in Switzerland. I don’t even know where they come from.
The number of righteous among the Nations in relation to population size Lithuania occupies one of leading places. Yad Vashem has awarded the title 891 citizen of Lithuania – a country whose population did not exceed two million people . For you who are mostly «our» – those who were killed, those who are saved, those who were killed?
I do not share. All the people that lived in my country – «our». And murderers, and righteous, and the Jews. We want our people to be clean: the players, the actors and the righteous. And our history is very simple: was Prince Vytautas, who reached the Black sea, and then were partisans fought against the Soviet power, and eventually joined NATO. Here is all of our history. And it is not all so. Not all of it.
Interviewed By Paul Vyhdorchyk.
Photo: Vasiliy Yuriev. Photos taken may 3, 2017, during a speech Rue Vanagaite at the tel Aviv bookstore «Babel».
To discuss visit NEWSru.co.il in Facebook