Rūta’s Vanagaitė’s Speach at the Awards of Wiesenthal Center (in USA)

Posted: November 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

Good evening everybody. It is a great honor and privilege for me to be here tonight to receive the Medal of Valor from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. I could never have even dreamt that I would be standing here at such an event, as the recipient of this important award. First of all, because I never ever even thought of writing a book on the Holocaust, secondly because I myself am the descendant of people who played a part in the murder of Jews in Lithuania 75 years ago.
Until very recently, like most Lithuanians, I knew very little about the Holocaust. My personal journey from total ignorance to deep compassion took over a year. But it would not have been possible to go on this journey alone. There was almost nobody in my country who would support me. The trip and the book were made possible by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and most of all by the director of its office in Jerusalem, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, who is my co-author and with whom I took a journey to hell – to over 40 mass murder sites of Holocaust victims in Lithuania and Belarus.
After the book was published in January and took Lithuania by storm, something wonderful has begun. After 75 years, the wall of lies and ignorance has finally been cracked. Tens of thousands of Lithuanians have read this book and thus they have begun a very painful and at the same time deeply rewarding journey to the hell of Lithuanian history, a journey from ignorance to empathy. I hope this is a journey that will never come to an end.
Today the 227 mass graves of the more than 200, 000 Holocaust victims scattered in the forests of my country are more important to me than the graves of my grandparents. When I think of my relatives, I know that they lived a long and happy life and died peacefully when their time expired. Their individual graves are beautifully decorated. When I think of the mass graves of the more than 200 000 Holocaust victims, I don’t see the numbers: I see a Jewish mother laying in the pit on the top of dead bodies holding her child and being shot by a Lithuanian. I think of the entry wound in her skull that is 0.8 centimeters wide, and the exit wound which is 8 centimeters wide. The skull of her child is intact. He was buried alive. I know that after 75 years she is still holding this child. She will hold him forever. I can promise you I will never abandon them as long as I live.
Thank you for the award.

Rūta Vanagaitė

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