Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Robert S. Gilchrist
Yom HaShoah Commemoration
Paneriai Memorial Park
April 18, 2023
Vice Minister of Culture Vilčinskas, Fellow Ambassadors, Chairwoman Kukliansky, Chair Star Jones of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad, Commission Member Ms Weiss, distinguished guests and friends:
I am honored to be here with you here to commemorate Yom HaShoah and to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
An estimated 6 million innocent Jewish men, women, and children were brutally murdered in Europe during the Holocaust. This included nearly 200,000 Lithuanian Jews – roughly 70,000 here in the woods of Paneriai – who were terrorized, tortured, and killed by Nazi invaders and their Lithuanian collaborators.
I applaud steps taken by the Lithuanian government and the Seimas to recognize these atrocities more fully. This includes recent passage of legislation to provide symbolic compensation for heirless and pending private claims for property seized from Jewish Lithuanians during the Holocaust. This also includes legislation for removing memorials and honors to individuals and symbols linked to totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.
With regard to this second law, I hope that it is fully implemented quickly when it goes into effect on May 1 to include Nazi collaborators who participated in and contributed to the Holocaust.
These collaborators are not only those who directly pulled a trigger. It includes those who issued orders; those who signed papers confiscating property or forcing Jewish Lithuanians into ghettos, where they faced daily degradation and starvation; and those who contributed to the dehumanizing philosophy that Jewish people should be stripped of their rights, excluded, or deported – which then led to the horrific conclusion that the Jewish population should be eliminated.
It is also time for Lithuania to reassess and have an open and honest conversation about who is in the national pantheon of heroes. Those who perpetrated and contributed to the Holocaust – no matter how strongly they fought for Lithuanian independence or against Soviet repression — have no place there. Krikstaponis, Noreika, Skirpa – we know the names, but there are others. It is time for plaques and statues to be removed and more streets to be renamed. This should be done for the memory of the nearly 200,000 Jewish Lithuanians brutally murdered and for the soul of Lithuanian democracy.
I would like to thank the Jewish Community of Lithuania, the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes, the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, and the local Jewish communities in Lithuania for all you have done – and continue to do – for education and careful preservation of the history of Litvaks and of the Lithuanian Holocaust. I look forward to the realization of your ambitious plans to do much more.
Every Lithuanian student, every Lithuanian, every visitor to your country should know about the vibrant Jewish life that once thrived in Lithuania and the horrors that nearly completely wiped it out.
And they should all come here to these sacred woods of Paneriai to learn, to remember, and to commit that the Holocaust must never happen again.
Aciu labai. Toda raba. Thank you to you all.