This text of the editor of Christian internet daily Bernardinai.lt. was dedicated to the International conference in Vilnius “Totalitarianism and Tolerance. Challenge to Freedom”.
It is only possible to accept one’s painful past, once one finds the courage to face it. It is not easy. It would be much easier to hide behind the lines from the Messiah, “Let the dead bury their dead" and step forward without looking back. The problem is that wounds that are disregarded tend to fill with puss, which poisons the present and holds us back like chains.
The Vilnius Ghetto was liquidated on September 23, 1943. Officially the Jews were gone – only those saved by people who managed to retain their humanity and those who joined the Soviet partisans survived. The Jerusalem of the North was strangled and we all suffered an irreparable loss.
Sometimes there is an attempt to estimate the damage of the Holocaust to World culture. Before WW2, Jewish musicians, composers, and artists actively expressed themselves in the cultures of many European countries. It is claimed that we have lost hundreds of thousands of artworks. One of the most vibrant human sources filling the world with beauty has dried up.
Yet what matters the most is not statistics or the number of victims. The fact that this tragedy could take place in Europe, proud of the richness of its civilization, means that we have to admit we are not immune from evil and it is illusive to comfort ourselves that we can let the genie of hatred out of the bottle and be able to control it. Unfortunately, it isn’t so. Hatred spreads like a virus and expands like yeast dough. Thus today we shouldn’t be indifferent towards disrespect to human dignity, ratiocinations as to who deserves to live and who doesn’t, and various manifestations of aggression aimed at somebody who’s different.
Nowadays we often hear people saying – it happened a long time ago, we have nothing to do with it. Hence, we should just turn a new page and look only ahead. It’s self-deceitful. If we don’t accept the past without embellishments and don't share this terrible historical guilt that tens of thousands actively participated in the crimes of the Holocaust, our historical consciousness will continue to be poisoned by this fester and the tragedies caused by hatred will be bound to repeat.
Christians know very well that a resurrection is impossible without a crucifixion. To place the history of the Holocaust on the cross of our memory, first of all means to admit with our hearts that it is not THEIR, but OUR pain and tragedy. It isn’t a story of a harmed nation, which seeks revenge. It is a story of man’s fall, a tragedy of humanity; and those who need to restore their memory are not the Jews who miraculously survived the atrocities of history, but us – Lithuanians, Poles, Germans etc. If we want to testify to the possibility of a different choice and to commit ourselves to defending the life and dignity of every person, we should, first of all, stop counting who died, from what nation, and how did they die?
The Holocaust is not a tragedy of the Jewish people; it is a tragedy of humanity. This fact is especially obvious in Lithuania, which has lost the absolute majority of its Jewish sons and daughters. Nothing will ever compensate us for the loss of this cultural and social part of our being.
What can we do today? First of all - to accept the past and not to turn away from our share of humanity’s guilt that made this possible.
To admit that hatred is a dead-end, no matter what theories it’s based on.
To firmly state – never again, although there are new temptations, although the individual’s life is once again being devalued, although there are new attempts to stand in the place of the Creator and decide who deserves to live and how long and how, and although the conviction that the love of one’s own motherland means to despise all people with a different nationality is gaining strength.
Before WW1 the prevailing opinion was that an era of eternal peace and flourishing had come. Hitler’s “final solution” of the “Jewish question” would have seemed absurd in the Weimar Republic. Hence, today we shouldn’t fool ourselves and think that the cruelest crimes of humanity are in the past. History gives us a number of examples that it doesn’t take much for evil to flourish – just “good” people who do nothing and passively stand by thinking: it’s not my business.
We should be alert and not fear the trials that the future might bring as well as our past guilt. Only then we shall be able to live responsibly as people rather than puppets of the genie of hatred.
Sometimes in Lithuania there are attempts to diminish the horror of the Holocaust by saying that another tragedy – deportations and occupation – took place at the same time. To me personally, this latter tragedy could be seen as even more painful, because many people close to me were either deported or killed and I have known of this pain since I was little. I didn’t learn about the horrors of the Holocaust until much later. Only after meeting people who had been through it and hearing their stories did I begin to think of this tragedy as a tragedy for all of us and realize what we all have lost.
I understand it is impossible to weigh and compare who has died a more terrible death. But St. Augustine has said that the biggest evil of war is not that it brings death, as we are all temporary on this Earth. War and violence are dangerous because of the rage and hatred they unleash. With this respect, the biggest horror of the Holocaust is not the number of the people murdered, but the fever of sin that it sucked people into. Not only those who became perpetrators, but also those who didn’t resist, those who were indifferent and silent, maybe even indignant, but afraid to do anything. Innumerous people transformed into a mob similar to that which two thousand years ago demanded the crucifixion of Jesus.
I don't mean to belittle the tragedy of Lithuania’s occupation or the deportations. Yet, I believe it was the true Way of the Cross, which revealed the executor’s incapability to break the victim. My grandfather died in Siberia and I never met him. Just like my mother’s brother who got lost in the taiga. Deportations changed the lives of people closest to me, but along with the sign of Mourning, there was also were a sign of Hope, the hardening of the Saints.
The Holocaust also has a quality of Sanctity. There were people who sacrificed themselves ignoring all dangers. But I dare say it was the triumph of sin, the echo of the words that Jesus said on the cross, "Father, why hath Thou forsaken me?”