(JTA) — Approximately 250 Lithuanians attended a march commemorating nationalists who are accused of complicity in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.
The march Tuesday in Kaunas, a city 65 miles east of Vilnius, was organized on Lithuania’s independence day by the Union of Nationalist Youth of Lithuania under the banner “We Know Our Nation’s Heroes.”
The so-called heroes celebrated at the march were all involved in the Holocaust or in fighting alongside Nazi Germany, according to Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Israel branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who monitored the march in Kaunas along with a team of observers affiliated with defendinghistory.com — a website that reports on extremism in Lithuania.
Organizers named at the beginning of the march Jonas Noreika, who is believed to have helped murder Jews, and Juozas Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis, the leader of a local pro-Nazi government. The others recognized were Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, Povilas Plechavicius, Kazys Skirpa and Antanas Baltusis-Zvejas.
Tuesday’s event was the first time that Holocaust perpetrators and collaborators constituted the main theme of the Kaunas annual march, which in previous years was focused on current news events, Zuroff said. He added it was a reaction to the publication last month of a groundbreaking book about Lithuanian complicity in the Holocaust that he co-authored with novelist Ruta Vanagaite.
Following the book’s publication, the director of the state-run Genocide and Resistance Research Center pledged to publish this year the names of 1,000 suspected Holocaust perpetrators. Her organization has had the names since at least 2012.
The head of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, Faina Kukliansky, was initially quoted by the local media as saying the names should be reviewed by prosecutors before they are published, but has since published a statement demanding the names be published at the earliest date.
The nationalist march in Kaunas is one of several such events planned in the coming weeks in the three Baltic states — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — where many regard Nazi collaborators as patriots because they fought against Russian occupation.