Lithuanian President Names Liaison to Jewish Community

The president of Lithuania has named his chief adviser to also serve as the government’s liaison to the Jewish community.

Simonas Alperavicius, chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish community, expressed cautious optimism in a telephone interview that the appointment of Julius Smulkstys could have a positive effect on Lithuanian-Jewish relations.

During the Nazi occupation of Lithuania from 1941 to 1944, approximately 94 percent of Lithuania’s prewar Jewish community of 240,000 died in the Holocaust. Historians say the scale of the tragedy could have been smaller had ordinary Lithuanians not helped with the killings.

Jewish groups around the world have charged that the Lithuanian government has not adequately addressed that tragic period, including prosecuting alleged war criminals.

Indeed, the newly appointed presidential aide made a surprise announcement that the trial of Aleksandras Lileikis, originally slated to begin in March, had been postponed for the third time. Lileikis, 91, is accused of having given Jews over to Nazi death squads during the war.

Smulkstys gave no explanation for the delay, but said he and President Valdus Adamkus “regretted” that the case was “stalled till the fall.”

Smulkstys also called for a full investigation of what happened in Lithuania during the Nazi occupation. Such an investigation would help counter the belief of Lithuanians that their countrymen did not participate in the mass killings during World War II.

The investigation, he said, also should help end the widespread belief in Lithuania that Jewish citizens collaborated with the Communists when the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic nation in 1940.

“The best way to solve the problems is to tell the truth,” even if it is unpleasant,” said Smulkstys, a former professor who taught in the United States. His academic interests include the history of the Holocaust in Lithuania.

Smulkstys is a longtime friend of the Lithuanian president. They both recently returned to Lithuania after having lived in the United States since the end of the war.

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