Hastings College senior Olivia Perez of Lincoln, Nebraska, will present the annual Sara Jane Gardner Memorial Lecture at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, April 25, in Wilson Auditorium; it is free and open to the public. The presentation, titled “Nationalism, Nazis and a Crowbar: An Analysis of the Kaunas Pogrom in Lithuania,” begins with a gruesome moment — the Lietukis garage massacre in Kaunas, Lithuania, on June 23, 1941, which marked the beginning of the mass extermination of Lithuanian Jewry.
As Nazi troops began to take over the town, local Lithanian militias such as the Lithuanian Activitst Front, joined the invaders in rounding up the town’s Jewish population. Fifty Jewish men were brought to an auto shop garage where they were humiliated and beaten to death by a single man with a crowbar. It was even too much for the Nazis: one officer said, “I had to leave the square because I could not watch anymore.” A photographer at the scene reported that the communal killing included an accordionist who would climb on the bodies and play the Lithuanian national anthem…the people would clap and sing….”
Perez’ presentation will put this singular, horrible moment into some kind of context.
The Lietukis garage massacre was the beginning of the Pogrom of Kaunas and foreshadowed the total destruction of Lithuianian Jews in the six days to come. It is one of the many instances of mass antisemitic violence that plagued Eastern Europe in the 1940s. The Kaunas pogrom stands out due to both the symbolic nature of the heinous acts committed against Jews and for the hate that influenced such actions.
It appears that the pogrom in Lithuania was especially violent because of the dangerous cocktail of three ingredients: belief in the Judeo Bolshevik myth, Lithuanian Nationalism and the Nazification of Lithuania.
The Sara Jane Gardner Memorial Lecture is an annual tribute to the late Sara Jane Gardner, professor of History and English at Hastings College from 1965 to 1990. Since 2011, the Alpha Gamma Sigma chapter of the national history honorary society, Phi Alpha Theta, has chosen one of their members to present a lecture of original research in Gardner’s honor.
Perez, this year’s presenter, is president of the chapter and will graduate with honors in History in May. She is an emerging scholar of the Holocaust, and has presented papers at the college’s academic showcase and the Texas A&M University History Conference in College Station, Texas. She has accepted the Graduate Scholar Award to enter the master’s program in History and Museum Studies at Southern Illinois–Edwardsville in the fall.
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