Myths About Lithuania #4: Lithuania Had the Highest % of its Jews Killed in the Holocaust
I'm not going to quote a Lithuanian-authored site (one that has an amazing amount of interesting, helpful and and accurate information, as well as many highly personal observations about yesterday's and today's Lithuanians that masquerades as facts) that says: "Another myth born in anti-Lithuanian propaganda is the claim that, supposedly, more Jews percentage-wise were killed in Holocaust in Lithuania than anywhere else."
You don't win such an argument by saying, as that author does, that estimates vary and that it's all just an example of anti-Lithuanian propaganda. It's certainly true that just about wherever you look online, you see statements such as:
"During the Holocaust, the Germans murdered about 90 percent of Lithuanian Jews, one of the highest victim rates in Europe." https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/lithuania
"More than 95% of Lithuania's Jewish population was massacred over the three-year German occupation—a more complete destruction than befell any other country affected by the Holocaust." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust_in_Lithuania
"By the end of the war, the percentage of Jews killed in Lithuania -- 90 to 96 percent -- was as high or higher than anywhere else in Europe." http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/06/03/lithuania.nazi.prosecutions/index.html
Such statements are not supported by the two most respected and reliable sites about the Holocaust: the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Israel's Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. They both now say that Greece and Poland had the highest percentage of a country's pre-war Jewish population murdered during the Holocaust:
https://www.ushmm.org/ https://www.yadvashem.org/about.html (The Holocaust Museum has yet to align its verbiage about the Holocaust in Lithuania with its own data.)
Dropping from first to third is no cause for celebration, but it does deflate the myth that anti-Lithuanian propaganda is the driver of Lithuania's reputation regarding the Holocaust. No pity-parties at this site -- just information supported by facts or by best independent estimates.
So why was the death rate for Greece -- where the Jewish community had the longest continuous presence in Europe, beginning in the 6th century BC -- so high? Germans defeated the Greek army in the spring of 1941 and occupied Greece until October 1944. But they weren't the only occupiers: Bulgaria annexed Thrace; Germany occupied Macedonia, including Thessaloniki, Piraeus, and western Crete; and Italy occupied the remainder of the mainland and the islands, as the map below shows:
Cplakidas, on wikipedia
"The Jewish population of Greece was nearly eradicated..." Those who survived did so "...either by joining the resistance or being hidden. Most of those who died were deported to Auschwitz, while those in Thrace, under Bulgarian occupation, were sent to Treblinka. The Italians did not deport Jews living in territory they controlled, but when the Germans took over, Jews living there were also deported." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axis_occupation_of_Greece#:~:text='the%20occupation')%20began%20in,was%20occupied%20by%20June%201941
Unsurprisingly, Greek anti-Semitism and collaborators played a role: historian Katherine Elizabeth Fleming has said that some Greeks did act heroically in rescuing Jews, and Yad Vashem recognizes 362 as "Righteous Gentiles," against a 1940 population of 7,188,300 ethnic Greeks. (wikipedia) 918 Righteous Gentiles have been recognized in Lithuania, whose population of ethnic Lithuanians was 2,550,000 in June 1941. https://www.lituanus.org/1957/57_1_04Pakstas.html ). More on them in a bit.
Fleming says that "at times, Greek Christians were complicit in the destruction of Jewish lives; many more were unmoved by it; and no small number welcomed it." Academic research into the Holocaust did not begin until decades afterwards and is still minimal. Investigation of Greek collaborationism was taboo for scholars and only began to be examined in the 21st century.
Guess who's been financially supporting heroic Lithuanian rescuers of Jews for many years? (Heroic because, in doing so, they put their own lives, and their families' lives, at risk of death.) Not the Lithuanian government, or an ethnic Lithuanian patriotic organization, but a Jewish organization, one that I have supported for many years: The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (https://jfr.org/ ), where, if you so choose, you can direct your donation to the support of recognized Lithuanian rescuers and their families.
I'll end this post by saying that Lithuanian efforts to equate Russian deportation of Lithuanians to the gulag (where, in the first, 1940 deportation, the percentage of Jews deported relative to their population was higher than that of ethnic Lithuanians), and the hunting down and torturing of Partisans, to the Jewish Holocaust, is an embarrassment to anyone who actually does the research. Whereas the aim of the Holocaust's Final Solution was to murder every Jew, every Roma, every Gay, and to euthanize the disabled and mentally ill, the implementation of Russia's focus was to eliminate dissent and anti-communist action. Yes, Mikhail Suslov once threatened to eliminate all Lithuanians, but that threat was never acted upon.
An ethnic Lithuanian site offering supposedly "true facts" states: "Soviets undertook a genocide aimed at certain groups in the Lithuanian population: the religious Christians, the Lutherans, the rich, the intellectuals, the patriots." What group is conveniently ignored in this summary? Jewish Lithuanians. Equating all Lithuanian Jews with communists is just plain ignorant. Please read this research by noted Lithuanian historian and diplomat Alfonsas Eidintas: "A Jew-Communist Stereotype in Lithuania: 1940-41." https://www.tspmi.vu.lt/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2000.pdf
And I'm proud to say that I have met and attended an educational session chaired by Professor Saulius Sužiedėlis, a prominent scientist, historian, professor emeritus of history at Millersville University, and Lithuanian Holocaust researcher. Read his paper "Lithuanian Collaboration During the Second World War" to get an unbiased and intelligent assessment of what happened in Lithuania during WWII. https://yivo.org/cimages/suziedelis_collaborators.pdf
And let's not forget that "There were 850 Jews in the Lithuanian partisan movement. An additional 450 Lithuanian fighters in the Belorussian partisan movement and another 350 Lithuanian Jews in other groups brought the total to 1,650 Lithuanian Jews who fought as partisans." https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/resistance-during-holocaust/jewish-partisans-lithuania