In Vilnius we have a street named after a nazi collaborator, Kazys Škirpa, and as an elected City Councillor I asked the municipality to change the name.
The street is in the absolute centre of town, between the Cathedral, the National Museum, the Castle, and the Three Crosses. Škirpa wrote the Lithuanian equivalent of Mein Kampf*, and started an organisation to clear all the Jews out of Lithuania, men, women and children. He blamed them for Soviet atrocities just because they were Jewish.
I don’t think that’s the kind of person we should be celebrating on our walls. I asked the Names Commission to consider changing the name, to honour the Lithuanians who saved Jews from the Holocaust, instead of honouring a nazi collaborator who wanted to create a racially pure Lithuania with Hitler’s help.
On Wednesday, at 15:00, the Commission will debate my proposal. Already many intellectuals have written about this problem, including Donskis, Valatka and Venclova, and the state institution that investigates the Holocaust has agreed that K.Škirpa ran an antisemitic organisation which helped Hitler. But nothing has been done yet about the street name.
The problem is that some people fought for Lithuania as patriotic heroes, but then also collaborated with the nazis, betrayed their own citizens, organised violence and encouraged hatred, and in the end 95% of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered by their neighbours. I think this makes nazi collaborators’ names unsuitable for streets.
If you want to talk about heroes, I think we should talk more about the many heroic Lithuanians who hid Jews and fed them and kept them alive.
As a politician, sometimes it’s hard to argue for good ideas, to explain things to other people, to get support and to change something important. Hopefully, my proposal “let’s stop glorifying a nazi collaborator, let’s honour people who risked their lives to save their fellow citizens” will be accepted without the need for a huge discussion, and soon we will live in a city where Hitler’s helpers are not celebrated as heroes.
My official request is here:
The members of the Commission are here, if you would like to write to them with your opinion:
Mark Adam Harold
Vilnius City Councillor
*Correction: This bit has caused confusion because I worded it clumsily. Škirpa’s organisation spread the same propaganda as Mein Kampf, brainwashing people against the Jews and enabling the Holocaust. He wrote a memoir called “Fight! Efforts to rescue Lithuania, 1939-1941” in which he explained that his propaganda was intended to warn the Jews that “they would have no life in the New Lithuania”. After the war he wrote a book about the “uprising”, in which he denied having anything to do with the Holocaust.
The Names Commission didn’t reject the proposal, they deferred the decision and agreed to organise a City Council public forum to debate the issue, to decide if the current name is suitable, and to accept suggestions for a new name.
You can call this a win, because this very controversial issue will now be discussed properly for the first time, in a proper open forum, involving academics, community NGOs, residents, and anyone else who wants to have their opinion heard.
History and education is an ongoing discussion. Pirmyn!