Jews in the Baltics fear a series of disturbing events in the three-nation region of Eastern Europe may be signaling a revival of the Holocaust-era hatred that once nearly wiped out their numbers.
Across the countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Jewish leaders say their communities are feeling increasingly uncomfortable as anti-Semitism once again appears to be on the rise. An Estonian museum exhibition mocking the Holocaust, a stage musical celebrating the life of a notorious Latvian Nazi mass murderer and the repatriation of the remains of a Lithuanian leader long linked to Nazis have all contributed to a climate of hate that has Jews on edge.
“We have to say that the support of Hitler and rewriting history to turn Hitler into a liberator of this area is not a western value.”
- Dovid Katz, Yiddish scholar
“We have to say that the support of Hitler and rewriting history to turn Hitler into a liberator of this area is not a western value,” Yiddish scholar Dovid Katz, founder of the DefendingHistory.com website, told FoxNews.com. “If you’re repatriating Nazi war criminals to be re-buried and honored as part of national history, that is not behavior compatible with western ethics and values.”
Katz has been amongst the most vocal objectors to a growing list of questionable events in the Baltics, including the 2012 repatriation from the U.S. to Lithuania of the body of wartime leader Juozas Ambrazevicius Brazaitis. He was re-buried with full honors, endorsed by the Lithuanian government, despite having been a Nazi puppet during his brief tenure. Brazaitis was accused of overseeing the establishment of a concentration camp, and also signed off on the establishment of the Kaunas ghetto.
Although a 1975 U.S. posthumous investigation into Brazaitis’ wartime activities cleared him of Nazi activities, critics suspected his record was scrubbed to spare the U.S. of embarrassment for having granted him citizenship.
After complaints from Jewish groups, Lithuania’s much heralded Museum of the Genocide in the capital, Vilnius, only recently created a section acknowledging the annihilation of the once flourishing Lithuanian pre-war Jewish community of more than 200,000 that was very nearly wiped out, many at the hands of Lithuanians. March 11 marked 25 years of Lithuanian independence from the Soviet Union and a parade by far-right groups took place in Vilnius, prompting uneasiness on the part of Jews.
In Talinn, Estonia, a highly controversial Holocaust-themed exhibition caused outrage last month when, among its exhibits, was a picture showing the iconic Hollywood sign replaced by the word "Holocaust," which some perceived as a suggestion the genocide was an entertainment event. Another sick exhibit recreated a gas chamber and had 20 naked actors pretending to be Jews playing tag, seemingly suggesting there was humor in the gas chambers experience. The exhibits were eventually withdrawn.
In October 2014 a Latvian musical ‘Cukurs, Herbert Cukurs’ premiered celebrating the life of the ‘Butcher of Riga,’ Herbert Cukurs, who was tracked down and killed by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service in Montevideo, Uruguay, more than 20 years after he fled Europe. He had overseen the murder of many thousands of Jews in his native Latvia where he had been a pre-war national hero. He was witnessed personally shooting more than 500.
Last month’s Estonian general elections saw the far-right EKRE party break the electoral threshold and gain seven of the 101 seats in parliament. Considered by some to have Fascist-Neo-Nazi sympathies similar to many other flourishing nationalist parties in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, the EKRE’s leader Mart Helme is a controversial figure, especially after the party’s “If you’re black, go back” slogan was attributed to him.
Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter of the Simon Weisenthal Centre in Jerusalem, has been monitoring a series of “Nuremberg-esque” marches in the Baltics in recent weeks and has been dismayed by the fact that no western media have shown up to report on the worrying trend.
“The European Union… does not appear to be particularly perturbed by genuinely disturbing phenomena in the Baltic countries and elsewhere, which, of course, in no way would justify Russian aggression, but deserve to be handled seriously and promptly before they get out of hand,” Zuroff wrote in the International Business Times.
Zuroff accused Helme’s party of racism under its slogan ‘Estonia. For the Estonians’ but Helme flatly rejected that interpretation.
“This is a wrong translation of a slogan which was used during our demonstration,” Helme told FoxNews.com. “The slogan really is ‘For Estonia.’ A Russian TV channel mistranslated this because in Estonian it sounds very similar. They use this in their propaganda against us.”
Helme also rejects any accusation of anti-Semitism in his party, pointing out there are very few Jews left in Estonia, and “there is no hatred against Jews in Estonia today”. He admitted though that his party is generally against Muslim and African immigration. “We have seen what happened in France and in Sweden, in Malmo for example, so we don’t want similar slums in Estonia’s cities.”