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Interview with Grant Gochin

LF- International Lithuanian Federation www.IamLietuva.com

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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

grant.gochin@raymondjames.com

ILF- International Lithuanian Federation www.iamlietuva.com Interview with Syrian Journalist Redwan Eid

I had the outstanding opportunity to speak with Redwan Eid, the Syrian journalist currently residing in Lietuvą. Many of us can relate to the refugee experience being the children or grandchildren of refugees from Lithuania. Take a moment to learn of the experiences of a refugee who was taken in by Lietuva. Thank you Redwan Eid for taking the time to speak with me. I learned so much from you as a person and about the modern day refugee experience. Interview with Journalist Redwan Eid Redwan Eid is a Syrian journalist who currently resides in Lithuania. He has recently been featured in a multi-part series in the Lithuanian Tribune. I was immediately drawn to his story. Perhaps, initially, because we both are journalists, a superficial commonality, and then as I learned of his struggles, on a more basic more human level, I felt a growing connection to his story and his struggle. I loved the Lithuanian Tribune articles. I thought they were insightful and well written. But I wanted to know more; my curiosity was increasingly piqued with every subsequent article. I wanted to know more about Redwan as a person, about Syria as it once was, and what the experience of leaving absolutely everyone and everything behind you to start again was like. So, with all these unanswered questions gnawing at me, I reached out to Redwan. He graciously agreed to an interview. I learned so much more than I had hoped: about the man, the journey, and the refugee experience. It’s easy to view people as statistics, until you learn about the person himself or herself, that every statistical number in actuality has a beating pulse, fears, hopes and dreams. Thank you Redwan, you were more candid and honest than I had expected, and I thank you for sharing part of yourself with me. ………………………………………………. Could you share a little about Syria- what it was like for you as a child, and how did it change in the past few years? Well, to answer this question, I need to flashback in memory to the very early times of my childhood. Syria as a child didn’t hold a special meaning, since a child would not realize that the land they are on can be different from other places. If the child even realizes that there are many lands with different names, all I could know about my country as a child is that “this is where I am, I live here”. I am a child of two patriot parents, I can still remember how strongly my father expressed his emotions toward Syria and never chose to go abroad for a job in spite of the many, many tempting chances he had. Still, as a child, a negative side about my country in my memory maybe took over. The prejudice I witnessed as a pupil in elementary school, where I, with others, could see how those children of people in authority, including the army and other high ranks in the regime, were given advantages over us. These ‘others’ were treated way better than the other pupils, and for nothing. They were tolerated for any mistakes they committed and were given all they wanted and desired in the school. To an extent, for them, the school was as a club to only hang out in. Now, as an adult, I can say the domestic rules of Syrian schools were tailored for their sizes!! They didn’t have to do homework, nor study for exams. They would pass the exams whatever their efforts and, sometimes, with far superior grades. I, with others, were still well-treated, but for our good manners and achievements in our studies only. Meanwhile the spoiled children of the people in authority were given the same treatment as we were, if not even sometimes better, despite their bad manners and low grades they achieved in reality. We were always surprised that eventually they were “the high-grade achievers”. So that was a starting point for me in realizing that this country, “Syria”, has those issues, without being aware as a child that they are “issues” or what is the meaning of such a word! Such stories affected our memories as children in schools. As we grew up, we realized that the prejudice of teachers and school headmasters in favor of those “privileged” spoiled children had another reason: our sectarian origins, as those children belonged to the same sect Hafiz Al-Assad and his men belonged to. Facts like these are not understood by children at their age, nor would their families provide clarity, since parents would not willingly plant such ideas in the minds of their kids. But life can’t hide it for long and, with time, they learned for themselves! Hence, as we grew up we learned that the regime was totally corrupt! Otherwise, all the love I have towards my country is for the land in its moral meaning, as a country that I adore and wish to come back to later when the war is over, and to participate in reconstructing it. For sure, to talk about my whole love for my country, Syria, I would need books and books to tell the people about, and cannot be summarized in mere lines. How was the ability to live a normal life altered? Did you always want to pursue journalism? The credit for me leading a normal life goes to my parents, and my parents only. I am a child of cultivated, well-educated parents who brought me up, alongside with my brother and sisters, on the basis of love and respect for our land and all people regardless of where they come from or what religion, race or colour they are, as well as other historical factors that have played a role in forming prejudice among nations. This was the base and, regarding my domestic life, my parents gave us all what we wanted. They were simple employees for governmental departments and used to earn a low monthly income from their jobs, but they did their best to please us and bring us up in a moral way. At home, under their supervision, we might have been the most spoiled children ever, we had everything we ever wished to have. Regardless of how expensive it was, they just brought it to us the second day we asked for it, even if they would need to borrow money from friends to afford it. They just didn’t want us to feel like we wanted for anything: a doll, an electronic gadget and we couldn’t have it. They made birthday parties every year on a regular basis, not only to celebrate our birthdays and make us happy, but to teach us how to behave on such occasions when we got invited to friends’ homes for such parties. I can still remember that, all the time, my father worked overtime at his job to afford the “luxurious life” we lived. Compared to many people I knew, we lived well. My mother also worked tirelessly, she used to tailor dresses for ladies in the afternoon and evenings to gain more money to afford the life she and my father wanted for us. She is a brilliant mother, and has very beautiful, modernized taste. She studied the arts, so she cared about artistic things and tiny details, and paid serious attention to etiquette and other related details in our upbringing. Although rarely, she even painted pictures at home in her free time. My parents indulged us a lot, but they would never tolerate two things: if we did badly at the school, or someone (mostly a neighbor) would complain about us misbehaving. At those points, they would firmly discipline us, and had no mercy in that regard! As for my career in journalism, I am going to give you the very typical answer that we hear from actors and well-known celebrities, which is “it all happened by chance”. Personally I had always thought that such answers were made up. I would think: “come on… how can such things happen by chance. Look at those people who don’t belong to the ground”. Then it happened to me. I never planned to pursue a career in journalism specifically, but I wasn’t far from that. Instead, I always fancied being a news anchor, or an actor. But especially a news anchor. I always dreamt of getting such a job in a TV, but it was just a dream that I didn’t actively try to fulfill. I like languages very much, and I have been fond of English since the first lesson I took as a child. Here I would again like to mention my mother, since she was the one who taught us English at home and helped us revise for the exams. Later, when I finished high school, I felt like I wanted to have a job using my English skills and that’s why I studied tourism, through which I hoped to get a job in the flight industry. However after I finished my studies, I did not work as a flight attendant or tour-guide. As it happened, at that time, a local newspaper launched in my city and they needed employees from different specialties. I applied there. I remember that my teachers always paid me compliments on my gift in writing and expressing myself about the situation I was discussing. So I can say that I was always gifted in composition at school, which is “writing” in general. Although I acknowledge that “writing” is not “journalism”, I am a good news reader and follower of current affairs in general, so that helped me in doing my job as a journalist. So, the whole matter happened “by chance”. How did you end up coming to Lithuania? I arrived in Greece, making my way from Turkey, where I had stayed for a year and a half. In Turkey I worked as an English teacher first, due to the lack of journalistic opportunities. Later I continued my job as a journalist for some Syrian news websites and a radio station, where I could feel like my dream came true as I was a news anchor, though only partially, as it was not on TV! So after I made to Greece, I registered in the relocation programme, which allocated me to Lithuania. At the beginning, I was rather scared of going to a country that I did not know, nor its people and culture! What are your impressions of Lithuania and Lithuanian people? The answer to this question seems to be a continuation of the previous one; so honestly, I would say that I now feel comfortable here in Lithuania. I have many Lithuanian friends of various ages and they have been very welcoming and really tried to ease things for me and lessen the feeling of “isolation”. I initially felt isolated as a newcomer to the country who definitely felt strange at the beginning. Lithuanians are nice and lovely, and, as I am starting my life here, and would for sure need help from some friends. I really cannot say enough about the generosity and courteousness I have been met with by my Lithuanian friends, even going so far as to offering to host me at their homes until I find an apartment in Vilnius. I think I can confidently say that I love the Lithuanians and they are good-hearted people. Still, I was met with some rejection and prejudice by a few Lithuanians, on the basis of my nationality or religion. However this small number never truly represents the majority of Lithuania. Secondly, I can understand that Lithuanian society is not yet prepared to receive refugees and still has fears in that regard, which is understandable. I am sure, with time, there is going to be a good relationship between the Lithuanians and refugees. Thank you Redwan- it was both insightful as well as a pleasure learning more about your early life, your experiences, and your goals.