MOSCOW (Dec. 2)
A top Lithuanian official has hinted that he may investigate Jews suspected of genocide.
The prosecutor general of the Baltic nation pledged last week that his office would create a new department to probe cases of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during World War II.
But he alarmed local Jewish leaders when he said the office would not only study the massacres of Jews committed by both Germans and Lithuanians during the war, but also crimes committed by Jews against Lithuanians when the country was under Soviet control.
“Of course, there were Jews who suffered from Lithuanians. But there were also just the opposite cases, and we all know that,” Kazys Pednycia said.
Simonas Alperavicius, chairman of the Jewish community of Lithuania, described the prosecutor general’s logic as “absolutely false,” adding that it was “non- ethical” and “historically wrong.”
“If we are to follow his logic, Jews were killing Lithuanians exactly the way Lithuanians were killing Jews,” Alperavicius said in a telephone interview from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
Alperavicius admitted that there were high-profile Jews serving with the Soviet secret police during and after World War II, but said they were acting as Soviet officials, not as Jews.
The presence of Jews in the Soviet secret police has prompted many Lithuanians to share the sentiments expressed by the prosecutor general.
Soon after Lithuania gained its independence from the Soviet Union six years ago, nationalism flourished along with a desire to settle historical accounts for the 50 years of Soviet occupation.
As part of that process, Jews were often scapegoated. One particularly convenient accusation was that Jews had collaborated with the communists, especially during the 1940-1941 Soviet campaign to exile thousands of locals to Siberia.
While the wave of nationalism has diminished during the past few years, the accusation continues to serve as a thinly veiled justification for the collaboration of local residents with the Nazis.
During the Nazi occupation of Lithuania from 1941-1944, approximately 94 percent of Lithuania’s prewar Jewish community of 240,000 died in the Holocaust.
Historians say ordinary Lithuanians helped with the killings.
Jewish officials continue to question Lithuania’s willingness to move against suspected war criminals living in the country, charging that the country’s officials are reluctant to make the move because it would dredge up the issue of local collaboration with the Nazis during the war.
Last week, 30 members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas urging him to stand by his 1995 pledge to put suspected war criminals on trial.