Jewish groups urge Lithuanian parliament to cancel honour for wartime activist and member of organisation that collaborated with the Nazis

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Lithuanian Jewish Community have released a joint statement calling on the Speaker of Lithuania's parliament, the Seimas, to stop a resolution honouring Juozas Lukša. Lukša, also known as Daumantas or Skirmantas, was a prominent anti-Soviet partisan during World War Two who was later likely killed by the soviets post-war, and a member of the antisemitic Lithuanian Activist Front. He was awarded the Order of the Cross of Vytis by the Lithuanian president posthumously in 1997. 

The Lithuanian Activist Frant collaborated with and supported the Nazis during World War Two, and expressed explicit and controversial antisemitic and anti-Polish views. The group is also notable for their active participation in the Holocaust, which historians believe enabled the particularly high percentage of Jews killed - estimated to be over 95% of the Jewish population of Lithuania - as well as other atrocities, including rapes and murders, committed by the group's paramilitaries. 

Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC Director of International Jewish Affairs, and Faina Kukliansky, Chairwoman, Lithuanian Jewish Community, wrote "we are deeply troubled to learn that the Seimas will entertain a resolution which would dedicate 2021 the Year of Juozas Lukša-Daumantas, an active member of the World War II-era Lithuanian Activist Front,"  in their letter to Seimas Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis.

Founded in Berlin, the Lithuanian Activist Front was an early ally of the Nazis in the occupation of Lithuania. Many of its members were directly involved in the persecution and murder of Lithuanian Jews. Its vision of an independent Lithuania was of an ethnically "pure" homeland with no place for Jewish citizens.

"We implore you to take no action which might give honour to any leader or prominent member of the Lithuanian Activist Front," wrote Baker and Kukliansky. "Instead you should defer such matters to the International Commission for Evaluating the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes appointed by the Lithuanian president for a clear and critical understanding of this tragic period in the country's history."

It may not be possible to provide irrefutable evidence that proves Lukša-Daumantas was guilty of war crimes in the persecution of Jews eighty years ago. But that is not relevant to the Seimas resolution, wrote Baker and Kukliansky.

"There is today a worldwide reckoning with history and growing recognition in all Western democracies that even past leaders of great accomplishment must forfeit any honour if they were also racists, bigots, or anti-Semites. Surely Lithuania should do no less," stated the letter to the Seimas Speaker.

Baker and Kukliansky, who also serve as co-chairpersons of the Lithuanian Goodwill Foundation, expressed appreciation for "the warm cooperative relationship" they have had with Speaker Pranckietis. "We know we share a common commitment to maintain the legacy and history of Jewish life in Lithuania and to build an inclusive and tolerant future. It is in this spirit that we write to you."