|Rumbala Massacre Memorial. One of the murder sites.|
Just outside of Riga are the two memorials to the Rumbala Massacre- where over 25000 Jews were slaughtered in the space of a few days, the second largest mass killing after Babi-Yar in the Ukraine- until the death camps came online. The Latvians are slowly coming to terms with the fact that a portion of their population was complicit with the Germans in eradicating the Jews from Latvia. It is still an issue, and their official history says, "They made us do it! and we were not bad people." Gotta love revisionist history. But at least they are trying to talk it out. Hopefully, eventually, they'll admit that yes, members of our population were just fine with the Final Solution, without being coerced.
The Latvians are ahead of the Lithuanians. While in Latvia, they are coming to grips with what happened from 1941-1944 by setting up multiple museums and memorials, Lithuania is still trying to figure it out, as these articles shows. Written in 2017, 76 years after the majority of the massacres took place in Lithuania, the idea that people are still trying to acknowledge the fact that, yes, you and your countrymen were complicit in the murder of tens of thousands of people should not be that hard. But it is.
People forget that, percentage wise, Lithuania was the most successful country at killing their own Jews in WWII. That Lithuanians did indeed help Germans round up and kill Jews. That they held the guns shooting the Jews.
|Catholic Church in Utena|
The perfect example of that is Utena, Lithuania. Chris and I visited it this past week, just after Christmas. We first were drawn to the town by this magnificent Catholic Church. There was a picture of Pope Francis on the side of it. He, at least, gets it. The irony of this magnificent Catholic Church being built in 1880-1884 in a Jewish town where 75% of the population was Jewish in 1897 was not lost on me after I started my research.
Chris managed to find the Jewish Memorial site. There are three but we were only able to find this one. This is the physical location of the massacre of the Jewish population of Utena and surrounding area. Thousands of people. Over 1/3 of the town and almost all of the Jews in the Utena District were executed. Men, women and children. There is documented evidence that the Lithuanian community voluntarily marked the home of the Jews for the Germans and then looted their homes. The Germans were in Lithuania less than three months before the Utena Jews were dead.
|The Central Memorial|
|The site of the killing.|
|The site of the killing.|
Pope Francis said it best. Until Lithuanians and Latvians confront their brutal past of xenophobia, murder and collaboration these countries will continue to wrestle with the ghosts of WWII and the Occupation. Let's hope for their own sake that they acknowledge the blood on their hands and can move forward productively.