(JTA) — The Simon Wiesenthal Center accused the Lithuanian government of facilitating the glorification of Holocaust-era war criminals.
The accusation followed a march earlier this month by nationalists in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, also known as Kovno. The marchers carried portraits of the pro-Nazi former ruler Juozas Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis. His government helped German troops send 30,000 Jews to their deaths. The marchers on Feb. 16 also carried signs reading: “Lithuania for Lithuanians.”
Efraim Zuroff of the center’s Israel office told JTA that attendance at the annual Feb. 16 ultra-nationalist march increased dramatically after Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis’ reburial in Kaunas in 2012, which was financed by the Lithuanian government. His remains were previously interred in Putnam, Conn., in the United States.
“Last year there were 600 participants in this march. This year there were 1,000,” Zuroff said. “This is a direct consequence of the government’s complicity in his glorification.”
Zuroff was in Kaunas to protest the rally with Dovid Katz, a Vilnius-based American Jewish academic who is part of the Lithuanian Holocaust remembrance Defending History group. Several dozen anti-fascist demonstrators also came to protest the march.
Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis moved to the United States after the war and died there in 1974. He won recognition in Lithuania in 2009 when then-President Valdas Adamkus awarded him with the highest state award, the Grand Cross of the Order of Vytautas the Great, for his government’s efforts to restore Lithuanian statehood after Soviet occupation.
Between 1941 and 1944, up to 95 percent of Lithuania’s 200,000-strong Jewish community died at the hands of the Nazis and local collaborators.