VMU Held Presentation of Robert van Voren’s Book on Holocaust


On October 28, the book presentation of Undigested Past – the Holocaust in Lithuania by Robert van Voren was held at the Aula Magna of Vytautas Magnus University.

Undigested Past – the Holocaust in Lithuania is a 200-page study primarily directed at Lithuanian society as well as those who wish to try to find an answer to the question why Lithuania acted so ferociously. The main purpose of this work is to explain why these unbelievably tragic events took place and how they still influence Lithuanian society seventy years later.

In the study, the extermination of Lithuanian Jews is compared with the extermination of Dutch Jews, the psychological background of those involved in the murders is examined, as well as the factors that allow ordinary people to become mass murderers and also why it is so difficult for Lithuanians to accept the role of perpetrator in addition to that of victim. The book is written in such a way that it opens the discussion, puts it on a different, “higher” level and can help to provide a means for the country to come to terms with its past.

Psychoanalyst Levas Kovarskis had this to say about the book: "This is a most honest, balanced and tactful attempt to promote self-reflection and self-understanding in two nations involved in a brutal genocide. If you are a Lithuanian or a Jew, after reading this book you have no other choice but to redefine your personal identity in order to answer the questions: What does it mean to be a Lithuanian? What does it mean to be a Lithuanian Jew? I thought I knew the answers, but I was wrong."

According to dr. Linas Venclauskas, the Vice-Dean of the VMU Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy and the translator of Robert van Voren’s book, "in his work van Voren is analysing sensitive events of Lithuanian history – he reveals the tragic fate of Lithuanian and Dutch Jews and tries to answer the frequently asked question "Why?". The answer to that question is neither easy nor simple. The author rejects the common stereotypes of Lithuanian and Dutch mindsets and looks at the black-and-white nature of the narrative critically. The persecution and mass murder of Jews is analyzed in the book, but a lot of attention is also given to the situation of the perpetrators and the bystanders, which is often forgotten in our historiography. What caused such a high degree of indifference towards the hurt and murder of our fellow citizens? What were the murderers’ motives? Such and similar questions are raised and answered in Robert van Voren’s book."

"The author reveals the sad truth that murderers are not antisocial, blood-thirsty monsters, but rather that usually they are well-educated people with a good position in society. Also described are the mechanisms of dehumanization, which create a distance between one country’s citizens some of whom are considered to be executioners, while the majority are passive bystanders. The book could be of interest even to those who are not following Holocaust research, because this particular case served as a way for the author to introduce universal mechanisms which are used in dehumanization, disassociaton and justification of the mass murders. At the same time, he concluded that these mechanisms and processes are, unfortunately, not exclusive to the 20th century, and that they are still utilised and happening in our time as well," Linas Venclauskas explained.

"As Lithuanians, we need to face the deep and painful reflections of the events highlighted in this remarkable book. A great deal of work is needed on both sides to restore trust between Jews and Lithuanians and, for those not afraid to do so, reading this book is a very good first step," Dainius Pūras, psychiatrist, said.

The book’s presentation was followed by a round-table discussion on the complexities surrounding the Holocaust in Lithuania, involving Prof. Leonidas Donskis (European Parliament), Prof. Šarūnas Liekis, Dean of the Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy, Mr. Yaron Oppenheimer, Chargé d’Affaires of the Royal Dutch Embassy in Vilnius, and Robert van Voren, the author.

Musical and theatrical performances entertained the guests of the event. A monologue from the play When People Played God! produced by Vilnius Chamber Theatre (based on the play The Diary of Anne Frank by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett) was delivered by the actress Sima Tarvydaitė. Maurice Ravel’s "Deux mélodies hébraļques” was performed by Emily Šaras, with accompaniment by Šarunas Merkys.

Robert van Voren (1959) is a Sovietologist who currently teaches political science at the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania, and the Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia. He is also Chief Executive of Global Initiative on Psychiatry. Van Voren has written extensively on Soviet issues, the Second World War, and mental health and human rights.  Rodopi previously published On Dissidents and Madness (2009) and Cold War in Psychiatry (2010).

You are welcome to view the photo report by Jonas Petronis (j.petronis@vkt.vdu.lt).

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