The Beginning of Antisemitism in Independent Lithuania
In Lithuania pogroms were carried out in the first decade of the twentieth century. Following the German occupation in 1915, many Jews were deported without the Lithuanians raising a finger to help them. Following the February Revolution in Russia in 1917, the Jews in Vilna opposed the separation of Lithuania from Russia and campaigned for full autonomy of all Lithuania’s nationalities. The Germans hoped the Poles would support annexation of Lithuania to Germany. The Poles, interested in their own independence, refused to cooperate with the Germans who mistakenly hoped the Jews would agree to their overtures. The Germans responded by instituting cruel antisemitism. In the summer of 1917, the Germans decided to base their presence in Lithuania on cooperation with the Lithuanians. Simultaneously, their attitude to the Jews changed for the better. Lithuanians, Poles, White Russians, and Jews were invited to serve on a National Council run by the Germans. The Poles and the White Russians and later the Jews refused, demanding full democracy for election of delegates for each nationality. In the spring of 1918, Lithuania was granted full independence. Germany requested religious, cultural, and educational rights for the Jews. National rights were lamely added some months later. The return of Jews deported by the Poles and Germans was blocked as much as possible. Furthermore, Germany was considering handing over Vilna, Grodno, and Bialystok to Jew-hating Poland, leaving a much reduced Jewish nationality in Lithuania. Eventually, their nationality having been recognized, the Jews joined the National Council. On December 30, 1919, the Germans evacuated Vilna and the Lithuanian government moved to Kovno. Vilna was occupied by the Poles. The Jews of Lithuania were accused of not supporting Lithuanian independence and antisemitism flourished unabated. In 1919 a pogrom occurred in Ponevezh, which was followed by similar incidents over the coming months.