November 1, 2017
A Lithuanian publisher pulls its author’s books, under questionable circumstances
by Sarah Healy
The books of bestselling Lithuanian author Rūta Vanagaitė have been recalled by her publisher. Cnaan Liphshiz of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Alma Littera, the largest publishing company in the Baltic states, started recalling Vanagaitė’s books on October 27th, in response to claims the author recently made to a journalist about Adolfas Ramanauskas, a general in Lithuania’s partisan resistance to the Soviet occupation that began in that country late in World War II. The publisher commented that “Rūta Vanagaitė’s statements are unacceptable to us and incompatible with the values of the Alma Littera publishing house.”
“Lithuania is the only country whose government officially branded Soviet occupation as a form of genocide,” Liphshiz reported last year. “That ‘Soviet-sponsored genocide’ is commemorated in Lithuania far more prominently than the Holocaust.” In this anti-Soviet mood, Ramanauskas is widely considered a national hero, and after Soviet rule over Lithuania ended in 1990, he was posthumously awarded the Cross of St. Vytis.
The comments for which Vanagaitė has come under fire concern Ramanauskas’s death in 1957. While the official story has long held that he was captured and executed by the KGB, Vanagaitė reportedly suggested to a journalist that he had in fact collaborated with the Soviet security agency to help them identify other Lithuanian independence fighters, and later committed suicide.
But in a nation where anti-semitism has proved persistant, there has been much speculation that the recall is partly a response to comments Vanagaitė made the day before her comments on Ramanauskas, in which she revealed her romantic involvement with controversial Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Liphshiz has described Vanagaitė and Zuroff’s co-written 2016 book Musiskiai (Our People) as “a travelogue about the Holocaust consisting of interviews with witnesses to the atrocities perpetrated by Lithuanians against their Jewish neighbors.” The book topped bestseller lists, sparked a nationwide debate about Lithuanian citizens’ role in the slaughter of that country’s Jewish community, and even prompted the government to make public records of German collaborators.
But that was over a year ago. Now, Russia is flexing its strength at the border, prompting a surge of nationalism among Lithuanians, and a suspicion of anyone daring to question nationalist heroes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has often come mixed with anti-semitism.
As Liphshiz also writes, when Vanagaitė and Zuroff’s book was first published, a TV interviewer demanded to see Vanagaite’s birth certificate to prove she wasn’t Jewish. The author responded, “Lithuanian involvement in the Holocaust is such a taboo that being a Jew or a Russian spy are the only explanations for wanting to talk about it.”
Liphshiz also reports that last Friday Vytautas Landsbergis, the first leader of post-Soviet Lithuania, wrote a damning op-ed in which he blasts Vanagaitė as a “moral scumbag” and pointedly refers to her by the name of a Jewish KGB officer who was among those to capture Ramanuskas.
Sarah Healy is an intern at Melville House.