May 30, 2018

Vilnius - "The Green House" Holocaust Museum

27 May 2018

Visiting the Green House Museum in Vilnius was very illuminating and provided important details about the Holocaust in the Eastern Territories. 

Much of the positive experience can be attributed to our tour guide, who was well versed in Holocaust discourse and had a passion for Holocaust studies. While we covered the Holocaust in the Eastern Territories in both the first and second semesters, visiting the the museum allowed for a more complete picture of the Holocaust in the East.

“During my visit to the museum, lifelike images arose before me. It would be wonderful if each of your visitors realized that every document is written not in ink, but blood.” 

-- Grigory Smoliakov, editor of Jerusalem Of Lithuania 

This quote encompasses this small museum very well. It focuses on the perspective of Lithuanian victims, with a focus on Lithuanian Jews. The displays are full of numerous photographs, maps, panels, and documents. There are also copies of newspapers from World War II, with titles about Germany invading France, Poland, and many more countries. There are also quite a few displays dedicated to people who helped victims of the Holocaust, like Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who kept on issuing transit visas to Jews, even after the Japanese government denounced his actions. 

After visiting the Green House Museum, our group was most impressed by the exhibit about citizens who chose to help the Jews. Our guide explained how a Wehrmacht soldier tried to help the Jews by hiding them in a warehouse. While his efforts were valiant, he was eventually caught and killed. Nonetheless, I was still astonished by his bravery. While this story was very impactful, our group was most moved by the story of Jan Zwartendijk, a Dutch businessman and diplomat, who realized the Jews were in danger and needed to be saved. He struggled to find allies to help him with his task, and after many failed attempts, he found a man who was willing to help the Jews. Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat also realized the Jews were in danger and worked together with Zwartendijk to find a solution. After issuing family visas that allowed Jews to travel through Japanese territory, Sugihara was able to save over six hundred Jews. Sugihara risked the his life and the lives of his family and friends to help the Jews.

This exhibit was complemented with a stone sculpture in the museum courtyard. The sculpture features a corner of a cube. This symbolizes that the Jews were cornered and had nowhere to go and that Sugihara and Zwartendijk gave the Jews “a corner”, or a place to live. This sculpture helps to preserve the memory of the Jews, while also honoring those who risked their lives to help save the Jews. This sculpture is an example of high art, due to its abstract and symbolic nature. This sculpture is also enhanced by a second sculpture, which is located at the front of the museum. This sculpture features a man holding a large stone on his shoulders. This sculpture is another example of high art and while there can be multiple interpretations, our group interpreted it as the massive responsibility and risk that was associated with saving the Jews. These two sculptures, together with the indoor exhibit help to preserve the the struggles of the Jews and the Heroism of Sugihara and Zwartendijk.

While visiting the Green House Museum, our group made sure to pay careful attention to the rhetoric of our tour guide. We then compared our Lithuanian tour guide to our Polish tour guide to determine the differences in rhetoric, framing and perspective. After analyzing the two tours, our group found a clear difference in Holocaust represntation. In the Polish narrative, there is a definite emphasis on the overpowering and dominant Nazi presence. The Poles avoid taking any responsibility for the Holocaust and place the entire blame on Nazi Germany. This narrative is mainly due to lingering anti-semitism and new legislation that prohibits education implying that Poles had any role in the Holocaust. In contrast, our Lithuanian tour guide was very open about the role of collaborators and the fact that they were Lithuanian. Our Lithuanian tour guide proposed an honest and upfront narrative about the Holocaust, taking ownership for the role of Lithuanians. 

 

Group 4: Lulu Feldman, Dan Vozza, Kally Xu (Author: Dan Vozza)