KAUNAS, Lithuania — Pope Francis on Sunday warned against historic revisionism and any rebirth of the anti-Semitism that fueled the Holocaust, as he marked the annual remembrance for Lithuania’s centuries-old Jewish community that was nearly wiped out during World War II.
Francis began his second day in the Baltics in Lithuania’s second city, Kaunas, where an estimated 3,000 Jews survived out of 37,000 during the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation. He ended it back in the capital, Vilnius, to pay his respects to Lithuanians who were deported to Siberian gulags or were tortured, killed and oppressed at home during five decades of Soviet occupation.
Francis also honored freedom fighters at the former KGB headquarters where anti-Soviet partisans were detained and executed, solemnly touring the chambers that have now been turned into a haunting museum of the occupation.
Francis also recalled that Sunday was the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the ghetto in Vilnius, which had been known for centuries as the “Jerusalem of the North” for its importance to Jewish thought and politics. Each year, the Sept. 23 anniversary is commemorated with readings of the names of Jews who were killed by Nazis or Lithuanian partisans or were deported to concentration camps.
Francis prayed in the former ghetto and warned against the temptation “that can dwell in every human heart” to want to be superior or dominant to others.
The pope’s remarks came one day after the Vatican said it had reached a provisional deal with China to end a decades-old power struggle over the right to appoint bishops in the country.
Francis is traveling to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to mark their 100th anniversaries of independence and to encourage religious faith in the Baltics, which experienced five decades of Soviet-imposed religious repression and state-sponsored atheism. Lithuania is 80 percent Catholic; Lutherans and Russian Orthodox count more followers in Latvia and Estonia, where Francis visits on Monday and Tuesday.
Francis’ trip changed its schedule three weeks ago to allow him to acknowledge the slaughter of around 90 percent of Lithuania’s 250,000 Jews at the hands of Nazi occupiers and complicit Lithuanians.
The issue of Lithuanian complicity in Nazi war crimes is a sensitive topic. Jewish activists accuse some Lithuanians of engaging in historical revisionism by trying to equate the extermination of Jews with the deportations and executions of other Lithuanians during the Soviet occupation.
Many Lithuanians make no distinction between the Soviets who tortured and killed thousands of Lithuanians and the Nazis who did same with Jews.
Until recently, the Vilnius KGB museum was called the “Genocide Museum” but changed its name to the “Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights” since it focuses on Soviet atrocities, not Nazi German ones.
SOURCE: The Associated Press