LF- International Lithuanian Federation www.IamLietuva.com
Interview with Grant Gochin
Conducted by: Alexandra Kudukis
Alexandra: Hello Grant, thank you for speaking to me today. Your recent article in the Jerusalem Report magazine - https://ggochin.wordpress.com/2017/11/27/jerusalem-report-article-11-29-17-dated-december-7-title-defective-heroes/ - has caused quite a stir. Various segments of the Lithuanian government and society have called you an “agent of the East,” a “Kremlin puppet,” a “useful idiot for Putin,” and other such descriptions.
Grant: Such ad hominem assertions reveal the utter absurdity of the Lithuanian government’s position on these matters. No matter how small an issue, everything is dismissively ascribed to Russia so that the government need not take responsibility for historical truth. It used to be that Jews were the ultimate source of blame, but now that Lithuania has virtually no Jews remaining, all ills are attributed to the Russians.
In America and, frankly, in all Western democracies, people acknowledge problems and actively seek solutions. By contrast, in Lithuania, it would seem the Government’s response is to say: “We have a problem, let’s find a way to ignore it or blame an external party.” You cannot fix a country’s problems that way, especially with the whole world watching. The outside world has long been aware of how Lithuania’s Jews were murdered in 1941 and that this preceded the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, when Nazi Germany decided to make mass-murder its state policy.
The Lithuanian government’s continued efforts to deny the truth – and to blame the messengers of truth – reflect negatively on the country, not on the messenger. Germany and Austria, which have honestly and thoroughly confronted the past, would never consider a monument honoring anyone who planned, promoted, or implemented the Holocaust. Lithuania’s excuses for continuing to honor war-crimes perpetrators simply make the country look ridiculous in the eyes of the world.
Alexandra: But aren’t Russians to blame for some things in Lithuania?
Grant: Without a doubt, the Russians ended Lithuanian independence, imposed collectivization, and sent “enemies” to the gulags. But that doesn’t explain how or why 95% of Lithuania’s Jewish citizens were murdered in 1941, at a time when even the Germans, who had occupied Poland since September 1939, had no such policy. Nor can Russian actions against Lithuania be grounds for refusing to look at the root causes of the only genocide that occurred in Lithuania during the Second World War.
Alexandra: The Lithuanian government has not released a list of Holocaust perpetrators. Recently, the government has said that instead of official investigations and determinations, the matter should be left to historians. What do you think?
Grant: I come from South Africa, where Apartheid governments long covered up state-sponsored crimes against part of the country’s population. The negative perception of the country was only changed after a truth and reconciliation process that was objectively open, thorough, and honest. Today, South Africa is now able to attract political allies and foreign investment. Other countries have also used this model to try to salve deep wounds from atrocious internal human-rights violations. If a government’s efforts are sincere and credibly acknowledge the truth, the outcome can enormously help a country lay the foundation for growth.
Alexandra: Your efforts for the past many years have focused on the monuments and honors given to Holocaust perpetrators. Since the monuments remain, do you see your efforts as being successful?
Grant: These honors do remain. However, the honors symbolize Lithuania’s official posture of enforced ignorance about the true nature of the Holocaust. From my efforts, people in Lithuania are learning the history of their country that is officially denied or obfuscated. Lithuanians increasingly recognize that those who are glorified as their national heroes are some of the worst monsters in the history of the world. While the Lithuanian government persists in embracing a false narrative, the population is increasingly asking questions. And from examining original source materials written contemporaneously by Lithuanian leaders themselves Lithuanians are learning what successive governments have concealed, namely, that the acts of these monsters is not fiction invented by Russians, Poles, Jews, Americans, or Martians. In this regard, they are following the suggestion made more than 15 years ago by Prof. Saulius Suziedelis, who urged anyone who doubted the plans and actions of the Lithuanian leaders in 1940 and 1941 to go to the Lithuanian archives and read the material themselves. He also recognized, however, that “some will continue to live in the never-never land of denial and fantasy, charging that these negative traits … are based on Communist fabrications.” (“The Burden of 1941,” fn. 4). As is clear, a succession of Lithuanian governments have continued to live in that “never-never land”.
Despite my efforts to ask the government to acknowledge facts readily found in Lithuania’s archives, no action has been taken by any political leader to alter the status quo, and the inaction of officials has been ratified by Lithuanian courts, effectively endorsing the honoring of monsters. This reveals Lithuania’s national values, in excruciating detail. Lithuania’s modern leaders, such as President Grybauskaite, Genocide Centre Chair Burauskaite, and Vilnius Mayor Simasius, cannot plausibly claim ignorance of the facts as an excuse for maintaining the status quo of honoring the murderers of her own citizens. They will be remembered as those who steadfastly sought to shore up the dubious reputations of Skirpa, Noreika, and others.
Alexandra: Are you condemning an entire generation of Lithuanians?
Grant. Youth is traditionally idealistic. The youth in every civilized country are taught to think and question. In Lithuania, the youth are also taught to fear a wide variety of people collectively called “foreigners.” This generation has been told that Russians are to be considered at the top of the “foreign” list of enemies and, therefore, that anything negative said about Lithuania must originate in Russian lies. However, Lithuanian youth are also inquisitive. When they leave Lithuania’s information “bubble” looking for jobs and to make friends in places such as Berlin, London, or New York, they are taken aback by the stares they receive when they mention the name of their native country. They do not get those all-too-familiar stares because of me, or Russians, or other “usual suspects” used to deflect blame. They get the stares because the Lithuanian government has created the appearance that Lithuanians are Holocaust distorters.
Another attack critics launch against me is to call me a “Lithuanian hater”. That is equally absurd. My family have lived in Lithuania for 700 years, we are Lithuanian citizens. It is often said that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. If we love our country, and I do, it is our patriotic OBLIGATION to point out defects and improve the situation.
Given the dozens of cemeteries I have restored in Lithuania, given my charitable giving there, my very many trips to Lithuania, and the many friends I have there, I feel very at home in my homeland of Lithuania. I am firmly Lithuanian and proud of it.
Alexandra: You have frequently criticized Teresa Burauskaite, who has been the director general of the Genocide Center since 2009.
Grant: The extreme contortions she has used to deny the active role of Lithuanians in the murder of nearly all of its Jewish citizens have reinforced the view that the Genocide Center is not designed to make informed, fact-based determinations. For example, she took the position that the leader of the guards at a concentration camp could not have known what was going on in the camp. Her pronouncements are then cited by others in government to create a pretext for denying the truth. Given her lengthy tenure and the reliance officially placed upon her positions, it is clear that the Genocide Center is a cynical political ruse. No Westerner finds her credible because she has forsaken her ostensible role as a fact-finder to become the chief defense counsel for murderers, advancing on their behalf spurious, ideologically based theories to distort facts. And, when all else fails, when facts are undeniable, she will assert that they facts were Russian inventions. To her credit, however, she has confessed that her findings are not factual but rather the product of political pressure – which, by the way, is a vintage Soviet strategy. For her service, certain hard-line elements in Lithuania may hail Burauskaite as a national hero, much like South Africa’s Verwoed, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, and Colombia’s Chavez have enjoyed support from “hard-line” elements in their respective countries. But history is not on Burauskaite’s side. Her statements simply remind the world that officially Lithuania still has not come to terms with its past.
Alexandra: What is your next step?
Grant: The record is established – despite facts found in its own archives, the Lithuanian government knowingly and openly considers Jew murderers as their national heroes. Again, the persistence of the monuments and of street names honoring the architects of the Holocaust must be understood to symbolize something greater – the national values of modern Lithuania.
I have been able to get the Seimas Ombudsman on record, the President, Prime Minister, Mayor Simasius and multiple levels of government. The public record shows that they were aware of the distortions at the Genocide Center, and they were aware of the honoring of monsters and they chose to protect the monuments and Burauskaite over truth and national dignity. One day, when the monuments eventually do come down, people like Simasius will try to claim it was his doing. President Grybauskaite might try to claim that she was seeking national reconciliation, but, the public paper trail of their positions exist. They have written their own record that future historians will be able to research.
Lithuania’s officialdom realizes the harm they do to the country’s reputation and soul, and have chosen to continue it in the face of public disclosure. They therefore own the problem, now and in the future. The moral bankruptcy is clear for the world to see. Lithuania has to find a path forward. I would like to help Lithuania move forward but first Lithuania must be willing to acknowledge its past, honestly, openly, and comprehensively. That is why I believe that Lithuania ultimately must have a credible truth and reconciliation process.
Alexandra: Are you going to continue your efforts?
Grant: Despite the official condemnations and maneuvers used to discredit what I have said, it is clear from hundreds of e-mails and social media messages that ethnic Lithuanians in Lithuania and around the world want to learn the truth and, among other things, are becoming uncomfortable with the continued honors bestowed upon the monsters. I have great hope for the Lithuanian people, most of whom do not believe the Holocaust participants reflected Lithuanian values. I will continue trying to educate. I look forward to a new day in which a new Lithuanian government recognizes that the nation’s best interest lies in a credible and complete examination of the events of 1941.
Alexandra: Thank you for your time in speaking with us. We will watch your future activity with interest.
Grant Gochin is a Wealth Advisor in Los Angeles. He may be reached at
A Passion to Serve Born from the Destruction of 9/11By: Alexandra Kudukis September 11, 2001, a day eternally engraved in the hearts of every American. No matter where we were, and what we were doing, we all remember dropping everything, and being transfixed, watching with horror the devastation unfolding before our eyes. Pure shock, pain and suffering followed; submerging our hearts. Thousands of miles away sat a ten-year old boy in a tiny village on the outskirts of the small country of Lithuania. The boy sat stoically, also transfixed, by the images appearing on his TV screen. The scenes of devastation, the pain, suffering and torment imprinted themselves on his heart, and changed him forever. From that moment on, Aurimas Širvys dedicated his life to serving others. “Others destroy, I repair and rebuild. It’s what drives me continuously. You can’t prevent people from choosing to hurt and destroy, but you can choose to help and rebuild” he stated. We see negative reports every single day, everywhere across the globe, horrific attack after horrific attack, and devastation after devastation. This is one person who decided to use the pain and suffering he witnessed on 9/11- for good. Aurimas grew up over the course of the last 15 years; he studied diligently, and is now an architect. He travels around Lithuania finding tattered and broken synagogues and churches and helps to repair them, sharing their stories and restored beauty with others, using his now finely honed talents. There is good in all things woven into the worst, if we choose to seem. Aurimas used the impression the tragic events of 9/11 left on him to help his people and his country. Born in 1991, in the small city of Obeliai, in the district of Rokiskis, from the first time he picked up a pencil he loved to draw and sketch. With his mother’s encouragement he applied and was accepted to art school. Up to the age 10, he considered many professions including archeology, biology, even paleontology. All that changed for Aurimas on September 11, 2001. He returned home from school, and turned on the TV, his normal routine, expecting to watch the Simpsons at that time. As the first graphic images flashed in front of his eyes, he felt confused, not completely comprehending what he was witnessing. He turned the channel only to learn that on this day, all the channels were showing what had had just occurred in New York City. “At first, I simply didn’t understand, I was only in the 4th grade, it was just too much for me,” However, as he continued to watch, he became transfixed. The images drew him in. “I had never seen devastation of that magnitude. All I could do with the intense emotions I was experiencing was to draw. I sketched the towers with the American flag in front, the best job my shaky and overwhelmed ten year- old hands could manage. The images, the screams, the terror burned right though me. I still have that picture, I keep it to remind me of why I do my work.” From that day forward, a desire to help and repair was born in him. “As I grew, I began to explore, and to seek. I wandered throughout the Lithuanian countryside on my bicycle; I looked at things differently, with a new perspective. I became completely absorbed by the history of Lithuania’s architecture. All of it, the broken bridges, the buildings, the roofs with holes, some even entirely crumbling into the ground. I wanted to help; to repair all I saw.” He studied diligently and was accepted to and eventually graduated from the Vilnius Art Academy. “My work repairing the synagogues and churches began while I was in my second year of study. I began to work at a museum, while employed there I was asked to participate in a trip to Byelorussia.” He visited a synagogue there that needed repairs, assisting with 3D measurements. The beauty of the architecture took him in and the experience drove him to learn more, and with subsequent research he began to understand how much was lost in Lithuania. Inspired by what he learned, he created the 3D exhibition “Gone and Disappearing- The History of Wooden Synagogues in Lithuania”. Aurimas is currently enrolled in a Masters degree program at the university and is considering a doctorate program; he plans on creating more exhibitions in the future that he will share with the public. He has an upcoming project starting in 2017 involving Lutheran churches and subsequently one with Catholic churches in Lithuania. Aurimas Širvys- a man using tragedy in a positive way to share, help, to heal, and to restore his homeland’s rich and disappearing history.
The Day Lithuania Became a Culture of We
By Alexandra KudukisNearly three thousand participants walked this day to pay tribute to the over 2,000 Jewish Lithuanians -- 700 adults and 1463 children -- who were murdered here on August 29, 1941. This historic day, 75 years after the tragic event, heralds an era of renewed respect and unity for the Lithuanian people and the country at large. For many years, Lithuanian historians have urged Lithuanians to come to terms with the events of 1941 that suddenly ended Jewish civilization in their country. A change in public awareness, however, began with two recent publications. The first, Rūta Vanagaitė’s book „Mūsiškiai,“ looked unflinchingly at the role of Lithuanians in the deaths their Jewish fellow citizens. The second was May 2016 article written by Molėtai native Marius Ivaškevičius entitled, “The Jews [and] the Curse of Lithuania,” which, among other things, observed how Lithuanians are often perceived by those in the West who are quite familiar with Lithuania’s past. The Molėtai march does not overcome Lithuania’s years of selective ignorance of the events of 1941. However, quite significantly, the majority of the participants were ethnic Lithuanians. This represents a major change in the public conversation about the Holocaust in Lithuania. By closing the “information gap” about the Holocaust, the Lithuanian people may, slowly, confront what Lithuanian historian Saulius Sužiedelis referred to as “the greatest single atrocity in modern Lithuanian history” (“The Burden of 1941,” http://www.lituanus.org/2001/01_4_04.htm ) and, hopefully, the West will see a new Lithuania in a better light. In his May 2016 article, Ivaškevičius encouraged Lithuanians not to be mere spectators at the August 29 march, “Imagine: Several dozens of Molėtai’s Jews will walk the same way their relatives walked 75 years ago, and 6,000 citizens of Molėtai will watch them from their homes. This is the worst thing that can happen. My town cannot or does not want to understand the importance of this event. It should be helped. So I call for everyone to join us. You will not need to do anything, just go—together with our Jews. The march will take place anyway, but the question is will the Jews go alone again or shall we go with them. May the 29th of August become the day of our reconciliation.” http://azjewishpost.com/2016/memory-of-holocaust-in-lithuania-saved-from-oblivion-by-israeli-soccer-agent-and-lithuanian-writer/ And, quite happily, over 3,000 ethnic Lithuanians answered his call. Moreover, as one man in attendance noted, a viable energy was palpable, heavy, clinging in the air and to every participant. This attendee, Aurimas Širvys, was asked by the event organizers to contribute to the success of the march after they learned of his exhibition “The Lost and Disappearing Architectural Heritage - Lithuanian’s Wooden Synagogues.” Širvys is a young architect who works to positively effect change and to help his country heal. He has spent several years visiting Lithuania’s towns and cities helping to identify the images of local churches and synagogues and to restore these buildings, even in the face of recurring vandalism, noting “while others may destroy, my place in this world is to repair”. Širvys, along with 3000 of his countrymen, marched the 2.2-kilometer route over which the Jewish population of Molėtai – 700 adults and 1463 children – were herded to their deaths on that devastating day on August 29, 1941. It was reported that a few drops of rain fell on the marchers as they walked, as if they heavens cried with them. “A miraculous event occurred,” Širvys recalled of the procession. “As we began to march, the local residents simply started to leave their homes and joined in. It was almost surreal to watch; it was an amazing occurrence. And those who did not join, stood. They stood outside their front doors erect, as a sign of respect. Širvys recalled the intensely somber feeling among the participants, heaviness. “As I walked shoulder to shoulder, I got the sense, looking from person to person, that we all could sense how the Jews of Molėtai must have felt when they walked this road 75 years ago. For me, and no doubt for the others, one could imagine the enormity of what occurred here. For the first time in many years, Jews and Christians once again walked together to pay to tribute to fallen fellow countrymen. Today, those who walked, and who watched, finally began to understand the events of 1941 as not simply a Jewish tragedy, but as one that we all collectively share.” In her address, President Grybauskaitė mirrored the sentiment of the day, stating that we as Lithuanians see, comprehend, and mourn these events as a shared Lithuanian tragedy. The President’s words were moving, but of greater significance was participation of ordinary Lithuanians, who, individually, chose to publicly show respect and, thereby, made the Molėtai commemoration a turning point in Lithuania’s memory of 1941. Hopefully, August 29, 2016, will be written down a generation from now as the day Lithuania stopped being a country of “them” and “us” and became, once again, a country of “we.”
ILF- International Lithuanian Federation www.iamlietuva.com Interview with Syrian Journalist Redwan Eid
The following is an interview between Grant Gochin and Alexandra Kudukis, ILF www.iamlietuva.com Senior Correspondent. Grant is a well-known Litvak engaged in Lithuanian society.
Alex: Grant, thank you for meeting with me and agreeing to be interviewed. Grant: Thanks Alex, I very deeply care about our common heritage and moving our common cause forward in a progressive and constructive fashion. Alex: When and how did you become involved in Lithuania? Grant: My Grandfather taught me stories when I was a small child, I grew up with it in the home. When Lithuania was still occupied by the Soviets, I engaged with the then Lithuanian Diplomats who were still accredited, even though Lithuania no longer existed as a sovereign nation. Before independence, I attempted contact with the remnants of the Jewish Community, and in 1992, I made my first visit to Lithuania to begin to engage. I claimed heritage citizenship in Lithuania for the first time in 1991, while it was still Soviet. I have returned to Lithuania many more times since, I feel very at home there now. Alex: You are very well known among Lithuanian society, often with a poor image as an agitator. Grant: Yes. I have been an agitator in Lithuania since 1991. It was an interest of mine as a young child, and it has continued throughout my life. I was involved in the South African liberation movement in the 1980’s, and paid a heavy personal price, but those were the values my Grandparents taught me, and I live according to those values. So too, must we work on righting and recording history, and walking towards future reconciliation. If that makes me unpopular, so be it. Alex: But, why would citizenship be a criteria for you? Grant: It is a legal tie, connecting the generations and people. With a legal tie, it becomes tangible and necessary to walk the path to a better future. Jewish survival has been so random, so fragile, people have been murdering Jews for a few thousand years, we are no longer victims but a proud people that stake our claim in society, and so we need to build bridges and connect. Jews lived in Lithuania for about 700 years, to lose that tie would be tragic for both Jews and Lithuanians, so we must walk the path together to truth and ultimate reconciliation. Alex: Do you now have Lithuanian citizenship? Grant: Yes, I first applied in 1991 and was denied. I then applied in 2004 and was denied, I then applied a third time and was denied. I knew that the rejection was based upon my Jewishness, and I was not going to allow bureaucrats to dictate the future of Jewish Lithuanian relations, so I pursued it. I wrote a book about my experiences titled: “Malice, Murder and Manipulation” and a blog with some of my writings at www.ggochin.wordpress.com. I have also been extensively quoted on the subject which has become quite contentious. Alex: Recently, Lithuanian Parliament has passed new legislation on Jewish citizenship. Grant: Actually, the legislation does not even address Jews, it applies to all Lithuanians, Jews and non Jews alike. Unfortunately, a few disingenuous people have termed it as “Jewish legislation”. It is because they simply do not know the history or the background of the subject. This particular situation was created by bureaucrats at the Interior Ministry who created a dishonest environment and denied Jewish applications based on their own ideological platform. It was one new tactic they created, after having applied many more different tactics in the past. This legislation came from very many years of hard work by people like Faina Kukliansky, Andrius Kubilius, Gediminas Kirkilas, Vydas Gedvilas, Emanuel Zingeris, Sergey Kanovich, Darius Udrys, Dr. Leonidas Donskis, and myself, dedicated, hard working, deeply concerned Lithuanians and Litvaks alike that have worked together for the betterment of all Lithuanian society. Ex-Lithuanian Ambassador to Israel, Darius Degutis, and current Lithuanian Ambassador to Israel, Edminas Bogdonas have also been invaluable in their assistance. Alex: But I have read claims from others that they were responsible for this legislation. Grant: There are always 1,000 parents of every success, and every failure is an orphan, the record is replete with articles and agitation from the people I mentioned; ask those claiming parentage of this legislation to show their public record of actions, otherwise it is mostly a few insecure people trying to make themselves look important or to turn this into business opportunities for themselves. There is a great difference in selfless work for betterment of society, and other people turning our decades long, hard work into their business opportunities. Alex: Do you expect Litvaks to claim citizenship? Grant: I hope so. This should not be a matter of convenience, but a re-kindling of ties. There is an entire passport industry in the world, our work will create a new cottage industry for lawyers who will make all forms of claims to generate business opportunities, but the purpose of our work has been to create opportunities for reconciliation, to open paths of dialog, to begin to have history and rights recognized. We cannot bring back the murdered, we can remember them and honor them. This is one way. Alex: Why would applicants need a lawyer to claim citizenship? Grant: They do not. They can do it at their local Embassy. If people feel the need to hire a lawyer, they should hire a lawyer inside Lithuania. A South African, Israeli, Mexican or American lawyer would only add layers of cost and time to the process. In all likelihood, a non Lithuanian lawyer would be more of an impediment to the process than a benefit, but people are free to do as they wish. Alex: What other activities are you involved in inside Lithuania: Grant: I was Chair of an organization called Maceva where we restored over 40 Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania and collaborated on another 20. We have worked on documenting the history of Jewish life in Lithuania, we are working towards the re-writing of school text books to include the history of Jewish Lithuanians and the contributions of Jews to Lithuanian society. Much of Nazi and Soviet propaganda still is accepted “truth” within Lithuania, it is a false narrative which needs to be corrected. The youth of Lithuania are by and large fine people who are not responsible for the actions of their Grandparents, but they do not know what the facts are. We need to ensure that truth is in the public domain, and objective truth is told, that is why one of my goals is correcting school textbooks to give an accurate reading of facts, not repeating of fiction. We are also working to take down monuments and memorials to Holocaust perpetrators. In 2012, the Lithuanian State re-buried a perpetrator named Brazaitis with State Honors. It is a stain of shame that will stand over Lithuania for generations to come. They also re-buried other perpetrators with honors. Lithuanian society needs to recognize historical truths, face them, and then move forward. How could there be reconciliation without truth? One of the biggest current obstacles to truth is a Lithuanian Government Institution called the “Genocide Center” which is staffed by some disingenuous people with ideological agenda’s to obfuscate truth. Unfortunately, they speak with the authority of the Government, and are therefore destructive towards attempts at reconciliation. Their damage will need to be undone in the future, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. It is very unfortunate. Alex: But isn’t the new citizenship legislation an act towards reconciliation? Grant: I am not an authorized representative of the Jewish community to speak about future reconciliation, I can only give my personal thoughts. Citizenship for Jews was originally denied to Jews in order to avoid property claims. It was then denied by ideologues within the Migration Department. Lithuania faces a demographic crisis, and an economic crisis. Leaders in Government view Litvaks as a possible escape path for both of these crises, so, now becoming more open to Jewish heritage citizenship is self serving for Lithuania. The Foreign Ministry is touting this as an act of reconciliation, but there is nothing in the law specific to Litvaks, so, no, I do not see this as an act of reconciliation. For reconciliation to happen, there has to be raw truth telling. The youth of Lithuania are ready to hear the truth and face the truth, it is the older generation that do not want to face truth. The young will be able to walk the path to reconciliation, then friendship, and ultimately, brotherhood. The single biggest requirement is truth. Alex: Grant, thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for Lithuania, one day, we hope that all Lithuanians, Jews and non Jews alike, can walk that path to reconciliation, together, in friendship. Until then, your agitation has brought us far along the path, and Lithuania owes you a debt of gratitude for your dedication.
Grant Gochin is a Wealth Advisor and Financial Planner in Los Angeles. He is the author of “Malice, Murder and Manipulation”. Mr. Gochin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org