The ruler of the Lithuanian Empire, Vytautas the Great, invited Jews to settle Lithuanian lands in the early 1400’s, and so Jews did. Despite intermittent pogroms and a genocide of Jews on Lithuanian territory in 1915, Jews by and large, lived peacefully in Lithuanian territories.
On October 17, 1940, in Berlin, a group of Lithuanians, headed by Lithuania’s ambassador to Germany Kazys Skirpa, established the “Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF). The LAF formed a Provisional Government of Lithuania, in which Skirpa became Prime Minister.
In June 1941, the LAF, headed by Skirpa, announced that the invitation by Vytautas the Great, to Jews, was rescinded, and encouraged Lithuanians to murder Jews, and so, 220,000 Jews were slaughtered, initially by Lithuanians, and then later, assisted by Nazi’s. Lithuania had the highest murder rate of Jews in all of Europe, it was safer for a Jew to be inside Nazi Germany, than it was to be a Jew on Lithuanian territory.
Lithuania regained independence in 1990, headed by Vytautas Landsbergis, the son of Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis, a cabinet member of the interwar Provisional Government. On Sep 12, 2000, the Lithuanian Parliament voted for the legitimacy of the 1941 Provisional Government of Lithuania. The rescission of the welcome mat for Jews by Skirpa and his Provisional Government was validated by the new, independent Lithuanian Government.
Landsbergis and his new Government (and successive Lithuanian Governments) began a program of honoring their national heroes, these included Skirpa, his own father, and Holocaust perpetrators such as Noreika, Brazaitis, Baltusis and others. It mattered nothing to them that Skirpa and his cohorts had committed mass genocide of Jews, in 1995, they had Skirpa’s remains exhumed from the United States and re-buried with State honors inside Lithuania. They did this again with another Holocaust perpetrator in 2012 when they re-buried Holocaust perpetrator Brazaitis with state honors, the ceremony attended by Vytautas Landsbergis.
A determined group of activists have objected to the Lithuanian honoring of murderers of Jews. For this, a Lithuanian Government agency, the Genocide Center, publically labeled the activists “enemies of the State”, “agents of the Kremlin”, and “Jews”. The Government, municipalities and leadership of Lithuania have actively resisted the removal of honors for Holocaust perpetrators, clearly identifying the welcome mat Jews should expect in current day Lithuania.
Lithuanian citizenship law allowed former citizens and their descendants to claim Lithuanian citizenship. The Lithuanian Interior Ministry identified applicants that are Jewish, and had an active program to deny those Jewish applicants citizenship, this was supported by the Lithuanian Courts and Government. Exposing Lithuania in the international press for their specific selection and treatment of Jews has helped to ameliorate this situation, along with Lithuania’s desire for Jewish investment and tourism. The welcome mat is open for Jewish money, just not for Jews.
Monuments for the murderers continue to litter the country. Appeals for their removal have met with deaf ears. Years of agitation has finally resulted in the Vilnius City Council agreeing to hold public hearings on changing a street named for Skirpa; the City Council was unable to determine the morality of the situation on their own. Notice of the hearings were issued only a few days prior to the hearings, without much opportunity for external input. Please add your input here:
Skirpa’s rescission of the welcome mat for Jews is alive and well. To Lithuania, he is a hero.