Lithuania’s Foreign Vice-Minister welcomes participants of international conference “Casablanca of the North: refugees and rescuers in Kaunas 1939-1940”
On 17 May, the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Mantvydas Bekešius welcomed participants of the international conference “Casablanca of the North: refugees and rescuers in Kaunas 1939-1940” that was held in the Valdas Adamkus Presidential Library-Museum.
Scholars from Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Sweden, Israel, Japan, the U.S.A., and Russia delivered speeches during the event. The former Japanese Consul in Kaunas Chiune Sugihara’s son – Nobuki Sugihara – also takes part in the conference.
“Academic research on this complex and painful for Lithuania period is especially important in order to identify all the heroes, diplomats, officials and ordinary people, who rescued or helped to rescue Jews and other people fleeing the inevitable war,” said Bekešius when opening the conference.
Lithuania’s Foreign Vice-Minister noted that history had a tendency to repeat itself, so we need to learn a painful lesson and let our choices be driven by our values – the same values that guided uncompromised choices of the Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara, the Dutch Honorary Consul Jan Zwartendijk and the Swedish diplomat Wallenberg, as they risked their own safety and that of their families.
Bekešius thanked the organisers of the conference – the Sugihara Foundation – Diplomats for Life and the recently opened Valdas Adamkus Presidential Library-Museum – for organising this first international event on its premises.
“This library was the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania before the Second World War. Therefore, it is an especially important and symbolic site for the history of Lithuania’s diplomacy,” said Bekešius.
The aim of the conference is to re-evaluate the crucial period of 1939-1940, when the country sheltered around 30,000 war refugees, mostly from Poland, as World War II broke out in 1939. The refugees received financial support and entire infrastructure was built to help sustain them. Thus, until the Soviet annexation in June 1940, the Lithuanian state took the responsibility and nobly helped all the war refugees.
Lithuania’s position was important also when the Soviet Union started undermining its independence. The refugees began to search for an escape route and requested the Dutch Honorary Consul Zwartendijk and the Japanese Consul Sugihara to help them. The conference focuses on a broader view of the context of these events.
Foreign diplomats in Lithuania played an important role at this crucial moment. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania supports this meaningful conference.
Photo: Bekešius and Nobuki Sugihara (left).