Don’t Speak in Our Name, Mr. President of the Russian Federation

The statement of Emanuelis Zingeris (signatory to Lithuanian Act of Restoration of Independence) and Faina Kukliansky (chairwoman, Lithuanian Jewish Community).

We read the article “The Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of World War II” by Russian president Vladimir Putin in the American conservative magazine National Interest and reprinted by media representing the Russian opposition and pro-government position.

We feel the need to share our thoughts with readers on the fate of Jews, citizens of Lithuania, as red totalitarianism was replaced by brown totalitarianism in our country.

Many of my relatives, those of the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community and those of many citizens of Litvak origin were imprisoned in the Stutthof (liberated by the USSR) and Dachau (liberated by American forces) concentration camps. My mother and Faina Kukliansky’s mother miraculously survived Stutthof.

Almost all our relatives died. In the final months the Soviet military rescued the lives of our relatives. Western allies rescued by mother’s brother Mendel Tatarski and Faina’s grandfather Girsh, a miller from Šiauliai, from the horrific Dachau concentration camp. A large portion of the survivors from the concentration camps didn’t go to the USA or Palestine to live freely because they still believed they might find one or another loved one alive in post-war Lithuania. Yes, we who were born in the post-war years are indebted to those who perished fighting the Nazis.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, however, in the opinion of Russian and Western experts, apparently speaking in the name of the peoples of Poland and the Baltic republics including the Jews, didn’t just fail to mention the Winter War with Finland. He omitted the mass repressions carried out in the first Soviet occupation against the peoples of the countries annexed by the USSR, especially against the Jews. The massive fight later by the Soviet Union and its satellites against Zionism became the hallmark of the entire period of Communist rule. People hid textbooks in Hebrew in their homes and were persecuted for this. In the post-war period [sic] the refusenik movement became very widespread and often resulted in people’s incarceration. Those who wanted to flee the Soviet Union for the Promised Land, the state of Israel. The Jackson-Vanik amendment of 1974,, a set of sanctions against the Soviet Union still in effect [sic], was the response by the USA.

Many Lithuanian Jews as educated, active and inventive people were something like the phenotype or examplar of success in the Republic of Lithuania. The Jewish political parties which operated in Yiddish were less censored by the government than the Lithuanian parties. The Jewish People’s Bank (Yidishe Folksbank) thrived and had branches in every town and a strong network of gymnasia supported education in Hebrew and Yiddish. The rout of the Bolsheviks from Central and Northern Europe from 1918 to 1920 and the creation of non-Communist states [there] allowed for a powerful, modern ethnic and political Jewish culture to form in Eastern Europe. All of this was destroyed after the Nazis and their local collaborators carried out their barbaric extermination of European Jewry.

Mr. Putin “forgot” to mention a few pertinent details. Lithuanian Jews who had a guarantee of ethnic continuity in independent Lithuania became the ethnic group most persecuted by the Soviet occupiers. In terms of percent, representatives of the Jewish parties, the “bourgeois element” unfavorable towards the Soviet regime, were twice as repressed as people of ethnic Lithuanian origin. Deportations affected all ethnic groups equally painfully, but statistically the Jewish community suffered the most during the period of deportations, with 1 percent of members of the Jewish community deported (the figure for ethnic Lithuanians was about 0.5 percent). According to the Lithuanian Statistics Service in 1941, there were about 208,000 Jews resident in Lithuania before the Nazi occupation, constituting 6.86 percent of the population of Lithuania. So they weren’t just singing the Lithuanian hymn “Marija, Marija, skaisčiausia lelija” [Mary, Mary, Purest of Lillies] in the cattle cars en route to Siberia, there were also laments being sung in Yiddish. When Mr. Putin’s heart softens someday and he allows Misijos Sibiras participants [a Lithuanian television show, Mission to Siberia] to visit and repair the graves of their grandparents in the gulags, most likely they will also find grave markers there with the star of David.

Vladimir Putin claims the Baltic states joined the USSR based on a contractual basis with the support of the local government. It’s a pretty picture, Mr. President! Yes, a number of Jews along with representatives of other ethnic communities were enchanted by the Communist utopias of propaganda and the left (Lithuanian cultural workers especially) and additionally it was vitally important for Jews to save themselves from the followers of Hitler. The majority of Lithuania’s Jews didn’t want a Soviet government. They didn’t want Stalin, and Lezer Wolf, a Jewish poet from Vilnius, published a biting satirical poem about the pact between Stalin and Hitler, the USSR-German non-aggression pact, in the press at the time. There was a saying among Jews back then: “Russians mean nationalization, but Germans mean liquidation.”

Immediately following the entry of the Soviets into Lithuania, all the foreign embassies operating in Lithuania, including the Japanese embassy [sic, consulate] which rescued Jewish refugees from German-occupied Poland, were closed. Thousands of people who had still hoped to get visas to the free world and escape the closing jaws of the trap lost hope. Soviet repressions were directed especially against Jewish soldiers who had served in the Lithuanian military, who had fought in the battles for independence, and against schools teaching in Hebrew, the Zionist, Bund and Beitar parties and groups and people of all social status. Mr. Putin’s lie was well thought out about the first disaster, the Soviet occupation and the forced extinguishing of Lithuanian independence, proclaimed only so that it could be used for the imperial aims of the current undemocratic Russia. We, the descendants of the Jews of Lithuania, oppose this falsification of the history of the enslavement of our independent Lithuania. So Mr. Putin shouldn’t lie and shouldn’t say the occupation of Lithuania adhered to all international law and internal national laws of the period. This was the planned seizure, occupation and annexation of independent countries and a violation of international law. It wasn’t a coincidence that the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nation on December 14, 1939, during the Winter War with Finland

Mr. President of the Russian Federation! In the name of the group of Lithuanian citizens who suffered the most during the first Soviet occupation, we ask you not to “lend support” to the Jews of Europe through backdating. Neither should you wrap up and present as candy the agreement with the Baltic states on their “voluntary accession to the USSR.” The invasion by Stalin’s army of the Baltic states and the creation of Soviet puppet leaders at the time was the end of the free history of all the peoples of the region.

Incidentally, the best witness to the fact the entire world understood the seizure and enslavement of the Baltic states is the declaration promulgated by US under secretary of state Sumner Welles exactly 80 years ago on June 23, saying the United States would never recognize the occupation of the Baltic states. And the West, with minor exceptions, adhered to this position in principle until the restoration of our independence in 1990.

Emanuelis Zingeris, signatory to Lithuanian Act of Restoration of Independence
Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman, Lithuanian Jewish Community