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CLEVELAND – Controversial Lithuanian author Ruta Vanagaite, who is currently on a book tour in the USA and Canada, spoke at Case Western Reserve University’s Lifelong Learning Center in Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday, Dec. 3.
Vanagaite talked for an hour to an audience of around 40 people, mostly Litvaks and Russian Jews, about the controversy surrounding her book Musiskiai (Our People: Journey with an Enemy), which she co-authored with Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In her book, Vanagaite wrote how she discovered that her own relatives were complicit in the murder of Lithuanian Jews during World War 2, along with her attempt to uncover other war-time atrocities in Lithuania.
Vanagaite also talked about the scandal made by her comments about Lithuania’s anti-Soviet resistance commander Adolfas Ramanauskas aka “Vanagas”. The writer, who is also a public relations specialist, had come under heavy criticism in Lithuania after saying that, based on KGB documents, Ramanauskas aka “Vanagas” was not tortured, but tried to commit suicide, a statement rejected by historians as incorrect. Because of the scandal, Vanagaite’s publisher cut ties with her and pulled all of her books off of store shelves.
During her speech in Cleveland, she never mentioned that her comments about Ramanauskas were not true, nor did she mention that she had publicly apologized for her comments.
During the Q & A period after her speech, LTnews asked Vanagaite if she was sincere with her apology, to which she replied: “Yes, very much so. I was very arrogant at the time and my comments about “Vanagas” were wrong.”
LTnews then asked her if she was planning on correcting the factual errors in her book along with changing an incorrectly published photo?
Vanagaite responded: ” It’s not about accuracy, I’m only interested in the truth”. Some in the audience seemed a little perplexed by that answer.
After the event, Dr. Viktoras Stankus of the Cleveland Lithuanian Archive Center told LTnews that during her speech, Vanagaite made several questionable historical comments like “nobody was forcing Lithuanians to kill Jews” and “Lithuanians only suffered by deportation (during WW2)”. She also stated that it was mostly Lithuanians who killed Jews in Lithuania saying “there were not many Germans there”.
“According to her, she’s not a historian and it would be better if she was, because accuracy would be more helpful for the Jewish and Lithuanian communities” said Dr. Stankus adding “this is a fiction writer writing non-fiction”.
When asked by LTnews if there were plans to release her book in other countries, Vanagaite said that Musiskiai will be released in Russia and Israel. She also said that her book has been translated into English, but that she cannot find a publisher to publish it.
LTnews also asked Vanagaite who was financing her book tour of the USA and Canada since her publishers in Lithuania have dropped her. Vanagaite responded that her plane tickets were being paid for by the Wilson Center in Washington DC and that she was staying at people’s private homes and not hotels.
At the conclusion of the event, Vanagaite told the audience that she does not know what to expect when she returns home to Lithuania after this book tour stating “I don’t think I’ll be safe in Lithuania”.
After the event, Vanagaite told LTnews that she was not going to write any more historical books in the future.
By: Linas Johansonas / LTnews
Ruta Vanagaite speaking in Cleveland on Dec. 3 – photo by: Linas Johansonas / LTnews