I know that the topic of Holocaust education and memorialization in Lithuania is both complex and controversial, and I certainly have no answers to the many painful questions about the degree of Lithuanians’ responsibilty for the Holocaust in that country. Alfonsas Eidintas, a historian and former Lithuanian ambassador, addresses this issue in his book Jews, Lithuanians and the Holocaust, in which he lays out the various arguments for and against reconciliation between present-day Lithuanians and Jewish communities and organizations locally and internationally (see the link under “Of Interest” on this page).
Yes, I think it possible that some present-day citizens of Skuodas may have relatives who participated, directly or indirectly, in the mass murders of the Shkud community. I have no doubt there are anti-Semites there, and just plain ignorant people. But as an educator, I’m also sure (or at least hopeful) that one of the best ways to address racism is through the admittedly imperfect process of education. In that regard, I’m encouraged by activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, established to research and teach the history of the Canadian residential school system (which has been likened to genocidal in its impact on First Nations children and subsequent generations) “in a process of truth and healing leading toward reconciliation and renewed relationships based on mutual understanding and respect” (from the TRC website).
Last August, when I met with educators in the Skuodas schools, museum, and library, we discussed some steps to further Holocaust education in the town. This is what has been done so far:
Book buy: I’ve obtained a list of Jewish-themed books, published in Lithuanian, from the Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon State Museum and am in the process of buying books for the gymnasium, the pro-gymnasium, and the public library. I’m considering including a book plate in each book, indicating it is a donation from a Skuodas Jewish family – a small way of letting students know we are still around! This project is also keeping me in touch with local educators.
Contact with local student: I’ve maintained contact with a Skuodas gymnasium student and have sent her material to use in her school video project on the Jewish history of Lithuania. She is a really nice kid who recently reciprocated by sending me pictures of this year’s Holocaust Memorial day on September 23rd. They are stunning photos, and I want to highlight them in a posting of their own.
A small start … we’ll see where it leads!