A number of acclaimed films have shone a spotlight on the Holocaust in the Baltics. But Latvia and Lithuania have responded with Holocaust distortion

By Dr. Efraim Zuroff

(*First appeared in The Jerusalem Post)

During the past half year, three new documentary films devoted to the Holocaust in the Baltics, and especially in Lithuania, have been screened in numerous venues all over the world, except in Lithuania and Latvia, which are the subjects of these films.

One, titled How the Holocaust Began, was produced by the BBC and focuses on the use of new forensic archeological technology to discover unknown mass graves of Holocaust victims in western Lithuania, where indeed the systematic mass murder of European Jewry began following the Nazi invasion of Lithuania, on June 22, 1941.

Truth behind ‘Ordinary People’. A chilling reminder that the Nazis did not act alone is James Bulgin’s BBC 2 documentary ‘How the Holocaust Began’ containing horrifying footage, showing how ordinary people – the civilian population – facilitated the Nazis in murdering Jews sometimes carrying out themselves, the mass killings of men, women and children. 

A second film, J’Accuse, focuses on the mass murder of the Jews of northwest Lithuania and the highly-significant role played by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators, and especially national hero Jonas Noreika, who, during the Holocaust, was the liaison between the Nazis and the Lithuanians, and was responsible for the annihilation of many thousands of Jews. After World War II, he was a leader of the local opposition to the Soviets.

The heroes of this movie, created independently by former BBC journalist Michael Kretzmer, are Noreika’s granddaughter, Silvia Foti, and American Litvak Grant Gochin, dozens of whose relatives were murdered in that part of Lithuania and who has unsuccessfully tried to sue the Lithuanian government numerous times to cancel the honors awarded to Noreika.

Silvia Foti’s biography of her grandfather, which began as an attempt to glorify him, ultimately exposed his role in Holocaust crimes, shocking Lithuanian society.

The third film, which is called Baltic Truths, deals with the Holocaust in Latvia and Lithuania, and emphasizes the failure of both Baltic republics to admit the highly-significant role played by local Nazi collaborators in the mass murder of their Jewish communities.

Digs up the Dirt on Latvia. Eugene Levin’s ‘Baltic Truth’ reveals how national memorials to murderers lie only feet away from the graves of their victims. “The glorification of so-called war ‘heroes’ with Jewish blood on their hands is in full swing across the Baltic States.”

Produced by Eugene Levin, a Soviet-Jewish emigrant from Latvia living in Boston, whose grandfather was the sole survivor of the Latvian shtetl of Akniste, it tells a similar story about his country of birth, as well as about Lithuania.

So far, these films, especially J’Accuse, have won many awards at film festivals all over the world, but have not been widely shown in the countries to whom the messages of the films are directed. Nor has there been any official government response to the harsh accusations. Instead, these countries have launched charm offensives, which are directed at potential Israeli tourists.


Thus two weeks ago, a lengthy article was published in the Dyokan weekend magazine of the staunchly-right wing Israeli weekly Makor Rishon by senior correspondent Ariel Shnebel, about his visit to Lithuania and Latvia at the expense of the Lithuanian and Latvian governments.

He was invited to promote the two countries as wonderful destinations for Orthodox tourists (who are the overwhelming majority of the readers of Makor Rishon), due to the numerous sites connected to the lives of leading renowned Orthodox rabbis, such as the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski and Rav Kook, as well as sites of famous yeshivas, such as Slobodka, Panevitch and Telz.

But what about the elephant in the room? Shnebel mentioned to his host, Vilna Deputy Mayor Tomas Gablinas, that Israelis think that the Lithuanians occasionally collaborated too closely with the Nazis, as if this was just an opinion of some and not an established fact.

Gablinas totally ignored it and proceeded, according to Shnebel, to tell his guest about the contemporary efforts of the government to combat antisemitism and their success in changing the name of a street previously named for a Lithuanian political leader who supported Hitler. Ever the polite guest, Shnebel dropped the subject and missed an opportunity to deliver an important message.

More recently, this past Friday, The Jerusalem Post devoted two pages of its Magazine to an interview with Latvian deputy chairman of the Riga City Council, Linda Ozola, who had come to Israel to attend the 17th International Conference on Innovation Crisis Management hosted by the Tel Aviv Municipality.

From the interview, we learned important facts about Latvia, all of which were patently false. First of all, the number of Latvian Jews murdered in the Holocaust was not 25,000, but 67,000, out of the 70,000 who lived in Latvia under the Nazis occupation, among the highest percentages of victims.

And that does not include the more than 30,000 Jews deported to Riga from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, only 4% of whom survived, and the thousands of Jews murdered in Minsk by the notorious Latvian Arajs Kommando murder squad.

Murder on the Beach. Members of the Latvian SD Police assemble a group of Jewish women for execution on a beach near Liepāja in December 15, 1941.

According to the article, Latvia did not fight during World War II, a mistake that Ozola claimed would not be repeated in the future. That was not the reality, however, as there were two divisions of Latvian Waffen-SS created in 1943, which fought alongside the Nazis for a victory of the Third Reich, among whose men were former Latvian police who had actively participated in the mass murders of Latvian Jews.

A few months ago, in fact, Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks claimed that those Latvians “are the pride of the Latvian people and the state,” and books praising the Legionnaires are on sale in Riga International Airport. Unfortunately, Ozola was not challenged on any of these facts, or on her assertion that there is no antisemitism in Latvia, or about the rampant Holocaust distortion in Latvia.

Defense Minister Defends Indefensible.   At a military cemetery, Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks referred to his countrymen that had served in the Latvian Waffen-SS fighting alongside the Nazis  – some of whom had actively participated in the mass murders of Latvian Jews – as “the pride of the Latvian people and the state.”

Hopefully, the film J’Accuse, which was screened in Israel this past Holocaust Remembrance Day, as well as the other two films, will be shown here again and given wide publicity, to help educate the Israeli public, regarding the truth about what happened in the Holocaust in Lithuania and Latvia.

About the writer:

The writer, Dr. Efraim Zuroff a Holocaust historian, is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel office. His most recent book (with Rūta  Vanagaite) is Our People: Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust, published by Rowman & Littlefield.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


  1. loved reading your post.
    This is what I love in your post
    This article sheds light on the importance of documentaries that bring attention to the Holocaust in the Baltics, and the need for recognition from the governments of Latvia and Lithuania regarding local Nazi collaborators. It serves as a reminder of the importance of understanding the truth about what happened during the Holocaust to prevent distortion and educate people. [Result-end]
    Ely Shemer

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