In 2002, Lithuania became a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated on January 27. Every year, the presidentially appointed International Commission for the Evaluation of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania (the Commission) organizes 10 to 12 conferences for students to present projects about the Holocaust and the role of Lithuanian Jews in their local communities. The Commission stresses the importance of students learning local history, as well as providing the students with an opportunity to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland or Yad Vashem in Israel. Although still a sensitive issue, the Lithuanian government has begun to openly discuss the roles of both Nazi collaborators and Lithuanians who saved Jews during WWII.
Since 2002, the Commission has implemented a teacher training program entitled, “Teaching the Holocaust, Prevention of Crimes against Humanity, and Tolerance Education.” The program helps teachers incorporate the Commission’s research into their curriculum, design programs to discredit stereotypes about Jews, promote tolerance and mutual understanding between Lithuanians and Jews and other minorities, and increase contact between schools, teachers, and students from Lithuania and other countries. The Commission has also established a network of 152 tolerance centers, which are small research libraries in classrooms to provide teachers and students with peer-reviewed resources about the Holocaust and lesson plans for monthly activities. Much of the work of the Commission was performed by international scholars from outside of Lithuania, including from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Commission is also engaged in Holocaust research, aiming to fill gaps in Lithuania’s modern history, publicize new research, and inform citizens about Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust and the impact of the Holocaust in Lithuania and abroad.
There are several memorial sites in the country. The Paneriai Memorial is located outside of Vilnius at the site where the Nazis and local collaborators murdered 70,000 Jews during WWII. Every year on September 23, government leaders, diplomats, and local and international Jewish communities visit the Memorial to recognize Lithuania’s Holocaust Memorial Day, which marks the anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto. From 2015 to 2017, researchers conducted a three-part excavation of the Memorial, discovering new massacre sites, guard posts, sites of former buildings, and trenches for prisoners. Researchers also found additional information about Paneriai in Lithuania’s archives, as well as in archives of the United States, Israel, and Germany. In 2019, the Ministry of Culture agreed to invest €3.4 million (approximately $3.7 million) to implement a multi-year Paneriai Memorial project, which will include additional archaeological studies.
Beginning in early July 1941, German Einsatzgruppe detachments (mobile killing units) and their Lithuanian auxiliaries began systematic massacres of Jews around the Kovno Ghetto (present-day Kaunas, Lithuania), according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Today, the Ninth Fort Museum and Memorial at this location commemorates the victims of the Nazi and Soviet occupations. The museum features a reconstructed cell, as well as a detailed timeline of the Nazi occupation, including the mass murder of Jews in the Kovno Ghetto. There is also a memorial to the diplomats who saved more than 2,000 Jewish lives, notably the Japanese Consul in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara.
Lithuania requires primary and secondary schools to include lessons about the Holocaust in the history curriculum. Instructors may also incorporate Holocaust topics in their ethics, religion, civic education, and literature classes. Students are tested on their knowledge of the Holocaust during state exams, including the national history exam. In addition, the Ministry of Education encourages schools to develop Holocaust-related activities for students, including essay competitions, extracurricular activities, projects that require students to collect information about Holocaust events, and volunteer days to care for local Jewish cemeteries and memorial sites.
As noted above, the Lithuanian parliament dedicated the year 2020 to the legacy of the Vilna Gaon and the history of Lithuanian Jews. The government is communicating with the Jewish Community of Lithuania and cultural institutions to design a year-long schedule of commemorative events, public lectures, and exhibitions to highlight the contributions of Lithuanian Jews and raise public awareness of Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust.
There are several research centers dedicated to studying the Holocaust in Lithuania, including the Genocide and Resistance Research Center, the Lithuanian History Institute, and the History Department at Vilnius University.