Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

Book Review - Our People: Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust

“A famous Nazi hunter and a descendent of Nazi collaborators team up on a journey to uncover Lithuania’s Holocaust secrets”

Graphic reading 'Our People - Discovering Lithuania's Hidden Holocaust', with sepia-toned faces showing through the letters Image credit: The Museum of Jewish Heritage video thumbnail

Many countries have a difficult and somewhat problematic relationship with the Holocaust, and their connection to it, Lithuania is one of these countries. In order to discover more about Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust and their personal connections to this, Rūta Vanagaitė, successful Lithuanian writer, and Efraim Zuroff, well-known Israeli Nazi-hunter, came together to produce, ‘Our People: Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust’.

The book exposes the role played by Lithuania in implementing the Nazis' Final Solution during the German occupation. It tackles the sensitive issue of what motivated thousands of ordinary Lithuanians to participate in the murder of their Jewish neighbours. It is issues like these, that Rūta and Efraim discuss, debate and analyze throughout their book, as they document their journey to visit dozens of Holocaust mass murder sites in Lithuania and neighboring Belarus. They searched for neglected graves, interviewed eyewitnesses, and looked for traces of the vibrant Jewish life that had existed in hundreds of Jewish communities throughout Lithuania before the Holocaust.

It is a fascinating insight into the country’s present-day relationship with its past. For Rūta, the work was motivated by a personal connection, having recently discovered that some of her relatives had played an active role in the mass murder of Jews in Lithuania, and that state officials engaged in efforts to hide and cover the complicity of these local collaborators. For Efraim, the connection was both personal and professional. His grandparents were born in Lithuania, and he was named after his great-uncle, who, along with other family members, was murdered there.

A black and white photo of a bespectacled woman, chin resting on hand, looking into the camera. To the right, a colour photo of a man wearing glasses, smiling for the cameraImage credit: The Museum of Jewish Heritage

Ambassadors were fortunate enough to hear from both Rūta and Efraim at this year’s Ambassador Conference, back in August.

Ambassador Emily Farley shared her thoughts on hearing them speak about their book and the problem of Holocaust distortion in Lithuania. She reflects on the overarching idea of Holocaust Distortion, and the dangers of letting it go unchallenged:

“Having had the opportunity to listen to several sessions hosted by the Holocaust Educational Trust, including a thrilling talk by Rūta and Efraim, I have truly realised how dangerous Holocaust distortion can be. Contemporary examples, such as the large following of the QAnon conspiracy, show us that though many people will not explicitly deny the Holocaust, they seem comfortable in their use of damaging antisemitic tropes.

“Combatting Holocaust distortion can be incredibly difficult, but being aware of common tropes and committing to education on the Holocaust and modern antisemitism are vital assets in challenging these ideas.”

A common misconception about the Holocaust is that it was perpetrated solely by Hitler and the Nazis. However, the incredible work of Rūta and Efraim reminds us of one overwhelming fact: that the Holocaust also happened on a far more local scale. In order to better understand the Holocaust, and how different countries relate to it, we must challenge our own ideas of the notion of the ‘perpetrator’, and who it involves beside Hitler: ordinary people, who aided the mass murder of six million Jewish men, women and children.

You can find out more about Rūta and Efraim’s journey in their book.

By Evie Robinson