Dr. Arūnas Bubnys
Certain peculiarities are characteristic to the genocide of the Jews in Lithuania. For example, in other countries occupied by Nazi Germany – especially those in Western Europe – the persecution of Jews was gradual and took place in stages. In Lithuania, the killings of Jews began on the first days of the war and the Nazi occupation. In Western and Central European lands overrun by the Nazis, the persecution began with limitations on the Jews’ civil rights, later they would be transferred to ghettos and only afterwards would their physical extermination begin. Each stage lasted 1–2 years. The total extermination of the Jews was the last stage of a longer process. In Lithuania, there was no clear distinction between those stages. All the stages – legal discrimination, foundation of ghettos, physical extermination – essentially took place at the same time. The Jews of Western Europe were not usually killed in their homeland, but rather in concentration camps in Germany or occupied Poland. Most of the Lithuanian Jews were shot near the place of their birth. Lithuania is also where some Jews from Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia and France were brought to be killed. (1)
The reason why the Holocaust was so fast and intense in Lithuania can be associated with the plans of the Third Reich government to colonise and germanise the Baltic states. According to the Nazi racial policy, all Jews had to be exterminated as the ultimate enemies of the Aryan race. Since Lithuania had a border with Germany, and had to be colonised by the Germans immediately after the war, the Lithuanian Jews were to be killed off without delay. In other words, by the understanding of the Nazis, the strategically important territory had to be cleared of undesirable elements and prepared for colonisation. In addition to that, Nazi Germany saw it as a key step in securing the front, because, in their understanding, the Jews were the primary source of unrest and upheaval against the occupation government. This also encouraged the Nazis to exterminate Lithuanian Jews in the shortest amount of time.
Another specific feature of the Holocaust in Lithuania is that the Nazis managed to involve a relatively large number of Lithuanian administrative agencies and local population in the execution of the Holocaust. This can be partly explained by the fact, that unlike Western and Central European nations, Lithuania was first occupied by the Soviets and only later by the Nazis. The wrongdoings suffered during the period of Soviet occupation turned a large part of the society against Bolshevism and created a sympathetic view of Germany. The Nazi-Soviet war was associated with the hopes to end Soviet occupation and to restore the state of Lithuania. Anti-Semitic propaganda from the Nazis and the anti-Soviet Lithuanian underground movement amplified anti-Jewish sentiments and stereotypes (“Bolshevism is the rule of the Jews”, etc.) Because of all this, Hitler’s policies (including those concerning the Jews) gained more support in Lithuania than in Western European states. Yet another time in the history, the Jews became a convenient target for revenge, a scapegoat for the misfortunes of the Lithuanian nation. These factors considerably expanded the scope of the Jewish catastrophe and made it easier for the Nazis to commit genocide in Lithuania. The percentage of Jews killed in Lithuania (90–95%) is probably the largest among all the nations occupied by Germany. Even though the Holocaust was organised and initiated by the Nazis, it would not have been carried out with such haste and intensity, had a part of the Lithuanian administration and local people not participated as actively as they did. The nationalist Lithuanian administration had its own interest in liquidating the Jews, whom they imagined to be an enemy of the nation and a potential rival, and therefore not only did not they resist, but essentially supported the Nazi Holocaust policy.
(1) D. Porat, “Katastrofa v Litve – specifičeskije aspekty”. Vestnik Moskovskogo evrejskogo universiteta, Moskva, 1993, No. 2, s. 22–23.