“I know it will be very controversial,” said Vanagaite of the book, speaking before Our People was published. “I have lost already a couple of friends because…because they think I’m betraying my people, betraying my country, and [they say] maybe Jews are paying for this [project].” Some members of her family are angry that she wrote about relatives and have refused to read the book.
It may feel like “shock therapy,” she says, “but I think it’s a healing book.”
The book bolstered Zuroff’s vile reputation in Lithuania, and in some quarters, it made Vanagaite the country’s most despised daughter. She was giving an interview to a TV crew at her home one day when they suddenly demanded to see her birth certificate to prove she was, in fact, Lithuanian (and not Jewish), she says. She’s also been told to “go back to Israel,” and she had to explain to a concerned taxi driver that she doesn’t carry a weapon to protect herself, despite the many vitriolic comments about her and the book on the internet.
Some suggested the book was funded by Jews or the Kremlin. Others claimed it discredits the Lithuanian partisan movement and serves Putin’s propaganda machine as a spokesman for the Lithuanian State Security Department insinuated, Vanagaite says. Vanagaite was particularly incensed by critics who faulted the book for not including more positive elements of Lithuania’s actions during the war, like the Lithuanians who saved Jews. “I was so pissed off that I said, ‘OK, you know, this book is about the Holocaust, about the murder of the Jews. I’m very sorry that it’s so negative. I’m sorry the Jews didn’t smile when we were killing them.’”