Holocaust education

Probing Lithuania’s dark side

Students in Australia will learn about Lithuanian paramilitaries which collaborated in murdering some 220,000 Jews, 96 per cent of the country's Jewish population.

A Lithuanian Jewish school before World War II.
Photo: Cape Town Holocaust Museum
A Lithuanian Jewish school before World War II.Photo: Cape Town Holocaust Museum

SCHOOLS in Sydney and Melbourne will participate in J’Accuse!, a Holocaust education project about Lithuanian paramilitaries which collaborated in murdering some 220,000 Jews, 96 per cent of the country’s Jewish population.

The initiative’s launch coincides with an Australian visit by Grant Gochin, a US descendant of Lithuanian Shoah victims; American Silvia Foti, who discovered her Lithuanian grandfather was a Nazi collaborator; and Michael Kretzmer, UK producer of the documentary J’Accuse! (I Accuse!).

Coordinator Sharon Wahlhaus said the project has been formulated for senior secondary students by Sydney’s Moriah College, with participation by Emanuel School, Masada College and BJE, and Melbourne’s Mount Scopus, Leibler Yavneh and Beth Rivkah colleges and the King David School.

Kretzmer told The AJN that J’Accuse! was his second project on the subject, after an earlier film based on official information was criticised by Gochin, who is battling Lithuania’s courts to expose “whitewashing” of Lithuania’s wartime Jewish history.

After visiting the site of his grandfather’s shtetl in the 1990s, Gochin faced “a wall of lies” about Jewish deaths. He reached an impasse with the state-funded Centre for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania.

Gochin initially launched legal action over a plaque in Vilnius venerating General Jonas Noreika, who had been executed in Soviet custody in 1947. Lithuania conferred on him the status of an anti-Soviet “hero martyr” in 1991 when it regained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

However, research by Foti revealed he was a Nazi-backed leader in Siauliai. According to the centre, Noreika’s “writings” encouraged the Siauliai townspeople to transfer Jewish possessions to social institutions. “Historical documents show otherwise,” said Gochin, alleging Noreika’s “writings” were in fact orders – and “the property and funds obtained were used for the Nazi war industry … The centre in its finding omits these circumstances and documents.”

Foti described her grandfather as a “desk killer”, whose signature on documents dispossessing Jews began the process of extermination.

Although the Vilnius plaque has been removed, courts have stonewalled on Gochin’s other efforts to end public celebration of Nazi collaborators, citing “technicalities”. Said Gochin, Lithuanian authorities are committing “an inversion of memory”.

A screening of J’Accuse! will be held in Sydney on Sunday, July 16, 6pm (venue to be confirmed) and Sunday, July 23, 7pm, at the Classic Cinema in Melbourne.
Bookings at events.humanitix.com/j-accuse-screening-of-documentary-in-melbourne.
Screenings will also be held in Brisbane and Perth.

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