(JTA) – Lithuania’s parliament passed legislation that is expected to simplify the naturalization of Litvak Jews abroad and their descendants.
Under amendments passed Thursday by the Seimas in Vilnius, Lithuanians who left before 1990 and their direct descendants may be naturalized without renouncing their other nationalities.
The legislation passed with 96 its 141 lawmakers voting in favour, the Baltic News Service reported. President Dalia Grybauskaite must ratify the amendments for them to go into effect.
They lift a stipulation based on case law that voided such eligibility for many Jews whose ancestors left Lithuania during its brief pre-Soviet period of independence, from 1919 to 1940. The courts had ruled that those who left during those years are not considered political refugees and therefore cannot benefit from a naturalization policy that aimed to restore Lithuanian nationality for dissidents who fled communism.
Critics of the policy argued that because 95 per cent of Litvak Jewry was murdered in the Holocaust, those who left in the two decades leading up to the genocide should be considered political refugees because they were fleeing a dangerous environment.
Under the policy, “today’s Litvaks must be punished because their ancestors did not voluntarily throw themselves into the hell of the Holocaust, waiting to see if they make it into the 5 per cent who came out of the death pits alive,” Daniel Lutrin, a South Africa-born Jewish accountant who lives in London, wrote earlier this month in an op-ed published on the News24 site.
Tens of thousands of Litvak Jews immigrated to South Africa. A Lithuanian passport is desirable to many of their descendants because Lithuania is a member of the European Union, making it possible for its citizens to work and live anywhere in the bloc.
Out of Lithuania’s 168,000 Jews who remained in the country when the Germans invaded, 141,000 were murdered in the Holocaust. Many of those who had left previously did so amid fears of the rise of fascism in Germany and its more Eastern allies.
Many Lithuanian nationals welcomed the German occupiers, seeing them as liberators from Soviet occupation. In the days prior to the German occupation of Lithuania, local paramilitary groups initiated pogroms against the Jews, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.