REVIEW: Holocaust education in Lithuania: community, conflict, and the making of civil society by Christine Beresniova

Holocaust education in Lithuania:community, conflict, and the making of civil society, by Christine Beresniova, Lanham, Lexington Books,2017, 189 pp., $90.00, ISBN 978-1-4985-3744-5 (hbk), 978-1-4985-3745-2 (e-book)

In the 2017 BBC biographical drama,’Victoria and Abdul,’ about the real relation­ ship between the British Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim,there is a comic scene about Britain’s understanding of those from outside the Western orbit, those it considers culturally, economically,and polltically inferior – people from the Orient, or the East. As Karim arrives in Britain to present the Queen with a gift from her Indian colony, he is given Indian attire, sewn for the occasion based on drawings from the British Museum. The Indian, of course, is not con­ sulted on the matter. On the contrary: when the perplexed Karim suggests to the royal tailor that a sash has never been part of traditional Indian clothing, he is told,’The Indian drawings did not look very Indian, so we made some innovations The important thingis to look authentic.’ In the West, he is told,one knows better what is authentically Indian.
An anthropological study of Holocaust education in post-Soviet Lithuania written by Christine Beresniova, a US scholar of education and anthropology, does not follow this age-old West-centered pattern of interpretation of the East, or,in this case,eastern Europe.After World War II,Lithuania became incorporated into the Soviet Bloc and, over more than 50 years that the Cold War lasted,was assigned the label of ‘the East’ and subject to attitudes and sentiments simila r to those expressed in the BBC drama. As recently as this year, for instance, the exhibition of Baltic art at the Museum d’Orsay in Paris opened with the title, ‘Wild Souls:Symbolism in the Baltic States’ (Ames sauvages: le symbolism dans Jes pays baltes). One can only wonder what is wild or wilder about the Baits than the French or the English who used to colonize and enslave.Yet, it appears that those cultures that lived through Soviet rather than Western modernity continue to be deemed ‘Eastern.’ Beresniova’s book, in contrast, goes against this western tradition that, to this day, tends to exhibit a lack of nuanced, deeper under­ standing of non-Western cultures and, often, a hidden sense of condescension toward what it sees as the ‘savage,’ ‘uncivilized,’ and ‘backward’ East.
Through the different aspects of her ethnographic fieldwork, Beresniova offers a refreshing perspective on the discourses that inform the policies and practices of Holocaust education in Lithuania, a fledgling democracy since 1991 and an EU member state since 2004. She attempts to bring to the surface the multiple and often confusing influences surrounding international, US, and EU Holoca ust edu­ cation. Beresniova’s book discusses the roots of the failures and successes of various Holocaust-related agendas and educational programs promoted in Lithuania by US political elites and hence the acceptance or rejection of these initiatives by Lithuanian teachers, politicians, and various Holocaust education