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High affinity for communism and open support for the Soviet Union are the commonly held views as why Jews in Lithuania were exterminated. Karen Sutton, however, is of quite a different opinion. In her piece “The Massacre of the Jews of Lithuania”, she provides other reasons that she feels that contributed to the Massacre. Her arguments are based on primary research and although many may see reasons advanced by this author as controversial, the evidence she presents no doubt holds water. Her arguments show that Lithuanians were not at all innocent of the holocaust but took active role in it. She has noted that they (Lithuanians) were not mindless puppets of the Nazi Germany. Many have agreed with her while others have found her work to be controversial. I must admit from the outset that I agree with Sutton. In the sections of the paper that follow, arguments and evidence provided by Sutton will be discussed in as much detail as possible.
Instead of supporting affinity of Jews towards communism and their complicity for Soviet rule, Sutton brings in new details that many may have not known about. History had made people believe that these were the two reasons that native Lithuanians supported the mass killing of Lithuanian Jews. However, according to Sutton, these are MAY be some of the reasons but the there are other issues that Lithuanians may not be quick to admit. Sutton argues that there is a string of factors that led to the genocide one of them being anti-Semitism. Lithuanians were striving for “de-jewinification”. They wanted a pure Lithuanian nation and if this cause was to be achieved, Jews had to be got rid of as they were incompatible. But that’s not all. Author’s findings indicate that at the time of genocide Lithuania as a nation was going through tough economic times.
The economy of this country was at an all time low. Jews being more “wealthy” compared with native Lithuanians, these Lithuanians thought that it was time they robbed property from the Jews. The best way they could have done this, or so they thought was through mass killings. Sutton notes that there are some other factors that are way naive but this equally led to the genocide. The author notes that Jewish Lithuanians were blamed for every misfortune that befell the Lithuania. All social, cultural and political woos that Lithuanians suffered were blamed on the Jews who were after all very different (in race and cultural) in many aspects compared with those who were not natives.
Sutton notes that Lithuanians massacred Jews on their own accord even before the German invasion. She cites cultural incompatibility as one of the reasons that led this. As already noted, Lithuanians felt that Jews culture was hard to be incorporated into the natives culture if their country was to acquire “pure” national status. It is true that Jews culture was somehow isolated from that of the other nations that lived in Lithuania. Jews accounted for a major minority community with 7.2 percent and the Germans coming in second with 4.2 percent. Other communities accounted for an insignificant percentage. 7.2 percent was quite a large proportion of the whole population and for a country that wanted to be homogenous in cultural terms, something had to be done. Elimination was the best way that these could be done. Jews thus found themselves on the receiving end.
Economic hardships that befell Lithuania in 1940 and a few years later, according to Sutton were also holocaust contributors. The author observes that around 1940 most Lithuanians were affiliated to the church and peasant farming was the best they do offer. Commercial activities were left to the Jews. This means that anything that could be considered valuable belonged to Jews. The author argues that this earned the Jews envy against the natives.
Lithuania was among the last countries in Europe to accept Christianity. They only accepted this religion just a few years before 1940 but at the time just before and during holocaust, the country would be described a totally religious. Everything was controlled by the church. Political administrators also received directions from the church leaders. It must be noted that Jews are not by Christians and so when Lithuania accepted Christianity they (Jews) remained religiously isolated. Sutton, in her book has described comprehensively how the church leaders spread the message anti-communism. The church, as per Sutton’s arguments, printed brochures that wanted school going children against reading any soviet or Jewish material. Utterances by church leaders to a great extent fuelled the crisis that led to the genocide.
In the early 1940s, anti-Semitism sentiments were being all across central Europe. Lithuania being part of central Europe was not to be left behind. When other nations were condemning those associated with Semitism, Lithuania followed suit. Lithuania was contested and dominated by three powers; Russia, Germany and Poland. Its demography was equally divided with more than five ethnic groups. Jews constituted the major minority group but its views were incompatible with those other groups whose native languages were either Polish or German. Jews always found themselves in the middle of every contest especially because they were seen as pro-Russians while other communities were pro-Germans and Polish.
Sutton is armed with detailed information to support every claim that she makes. For instance, she gives a detailed situation of how the economic situation of Lithuania was before the holocaust. She vividly shows the reader that the economy of Lithuania was in the woods in the 1940s. She describes what the occupation of occupation of different communities that coexisted together just before the genocide was. She is able to show that only the Jews were engaged in commercial activities while others were either in religion or were involved in peasantry. From this, she is able to show that Lithuanians were envious of what Jews had rightly earned. When she brings up the argument that Lithuanians wanted to rob Jews of their property, the reader is very convinced having been made to understand what the situation was like. While assessing the author on this issue, one must totally agree that this was a major reason why Lithuanians on their own accord wanted to eliminate the Jews. They were not puppets of the Germans but they had their own selfish interests1.
The author has further convinced readers that Lithuanians were not acting under duress from the Germans. According to the author, Lithuanians had their personal and selfish interests at heart. To show this, she gives the example of Germans demanding for mobilization of Lithuanians for military and civilian labour which Local leaders are said to have said no. To the author, Lithuanians were not following instructions from the Germans but did everything on their own will. Sutton demystifies the myth that everything that was done by Lithuanians was because they were under pressure to do it. Those who argue for innocence of Lithuanians argue for this myth but Sutton has shown the world that this is actually not true.
The author has also shown that local political and church leaders played a significant role in making the Germans work easy. She has shown how anti-Semitism sentiments and other sentiments made by the church leaders aggravated hatred against the Jews. Sutton has also shown that thousands of Lithuanians were directly involved in killing the Jews while a few good Christians risked their lives trying to protect the Jews. She notes that only 1,600 Jews survived the holocaust but the number would have been a bit bigger if the Lithuanian Populace had not collaborated with the Jews.
Sutton presents all her evidence in statistics and dates. She understands that these are important tools to support any kind of evidence. She is able to give us the number of people she believes were killed by the Lithuanians themselves and those that were killed by the Germans. She further provides detailed information on how an event occurred and all that followed.
Some may consider Karen Sutton’s book as controversial mainly because it disapproves what is held as a common view. Other authors who have written about Lithuania Massacre argue that Jews were being killed because of their affinity towards communism and active support for Russia. Sutton comes in and says no on this and provides quite different arguments which she takes her time to support. Her argument that political, religious and cultural differences were the cause of holocaust in Lithuania may spark a controversy among critics who hold other views.
I think she makes an effective and convincing argument. From the beginning of her book, she makes it clear that she is against what is initially held as the real cause of holocaust in Lithuania. In the chapters that follow after the preface, she makes a detailed argument showing us why it was not communism but; economic, political, cultural and religious differences that can be blamed for the genocide. After making an argument, she takes us back to Lithuania and shows how the situation was just before the holocaust. Step by step she describes that events that surrounded the killings and thus convinces us that whatever she is arguing for is, to a large extent real.
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