Lithuanian Officials Skip Local Commemoration of Kaunas Pogrom, Lietūkis Garage Massacre
A somber memorial was held last week to mark the 74th anniversary of the Lietūkis Garage massacre and the Kaunas pogrom in Lithuania, in which thousands of Jews were killed in just a few days.
The ceremony was held in a courtyard in the center of the city last Friday and attended by Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon as well as staff from the recently inaugurated Israeli Embassy in Vilnius, which opened its doors in March.
But no Lithuanian officials bothered to attend the commemoration, despite the fact that it was Lithuanian volunteers who by eyewitness accounts largely committed the slaughter.
“For me, a native of Kaunas (Kovno), it is obvious that the Lietūkis Garage massacre is the blackest page in the entire history of my native city and country as well,” wrote Julius Norwilla, a local who attended the ceremony. “But where are the discussions about its significance? Instead of discussion, it is increasingly a sort of public secret, the details of which are made available only for experts of our newest history.”
The Lietūkis Garage massacre was carried out by local Lithuanian “patriots” wearing the white armbands of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), who “butchered dozens of Jewish passers-by at a garage on Kaunas’s Vytautas Avenue, using a variety of execution methods, including clubbing to death with crowbars, and particularly, forcing water from high-pressure hoses into bodily orifices of the victims until they burst. A growing crowd, including women holding up their young children to get the best views, cheered them on.”
Norwilla described a memorial plaque at the site as “shy and slight” and shrouded in pine branches. He said well under 100 people attended the ceremony on Friday.
“There were no official representatives of the Lithuanian government, despite its many and expensive efforts to project an international sense of seriousness about commemoration of the Holocaust and a supposed determination to finally tell the whole truth about the local participation,” he wrote.
“Ambassador Amir Maimon had a very clear message, and if I am not mistaken, he was the only speaker to make the point that the people who carried out the massacre were citizens of Kaunas. He went on to acknowledge some recent improvements to the site by the Kaunas municipality to honor the memory of the innocent victims, also citizens of Kaunas,” wrote Norwilla.
The pogrom was encouraged by Nazi officers during the first few days of the Nazi occupation in Lithuania. It was launched on June 25, 1941. According to eyewitness accounts, Lithuanian volunteers were mostly behind the slaughter of the city’s Jews, whose community in the area dated back as far as 1410. According to Nazi records, some 1,500 Jews were killed that night alone, and another 2,300 over the next few days.
Around 95% of Lithuanian Jewry was wiped out during the Holocaust.