Lithuanian University Calls Off Memorial for pro-Nazi Head of State

In a letter to parliament, university's rector says political events should not take place on university grounds; it is still unclear if the rest of festivities will take place as scheduled.

The Lithuanian University in Kaunas on Tuesday decided to cancel a commemorative conference planned for the "prime minister" of Lithuania's 1941 Nazi puppet government.

In a controversial move, causing anguish among Holocaust survivors, Lithuania's Jewish community and the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, the remains of Juozas Brazaitis Ambrazevicius, who died almost 40 years ago in the United States, will be reinterred from Connecticut  to the Church of the Resurrection in Kaunas. En route, he will be honored in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, in a ceremony slated for Thursday.

A memorial conference in the Vytautas Magnus University of Kaunas was originally scheduled for Saturday.

Following a Haaretz report, the university’s rector and his deputy had decided to call off the event, explaining they wish to “save the honor” of the institution. In a letter addressed to Lithuanian parliament, Rector Prof. Zigmas Lydeka and Vice Rector Prof. Aukse Balcytiene wrote that political and memorial events should take place in the parliament, and not on university grounds.

Lithuanian European Parliament member Prof. Leonidas Donskis, who led the battle against the decision, said that “the final position of the university sends a clear message: such an event would have been a disgrace.”

Donskis, a former dean at the university, added: “we reject any attempt to glorify individuals and groups who symbolize the suffering and the catastrophe of Lithuanian Jews.”

Donskis also said that since the idea came up, he “couldn’t believe that this would be possible at Vytautas Magnus University,” an institution he described as “the most liberal university in Lithuania and in the Baltic region.”

The conference was just one of many events planned for this week in Lithuania in Ambrazevicius’ honor, whose government was involved in the persecution and murder of Jews in Lithuania in 1941. Jewish organizations were outraged by the decision to pay respects to Ambrazevicius, and it was also condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Kaunas ghetto