While looking ahead to the future, it is our responsibility to remember and evaluate the past, especially the tragic events that took place in the prewar and postwar Lithuania, particularly at Vilnius University. Thus we have launched on the historical scientific research based long term project Grįžtanti atmintis - Recovering Memory, whose aim is to commemorate and pay respect to members of Vilnius University community, both staff and students, who were expelled from the university, losing ability to continue their academic careers or studies, because of the actions of the totalitarian regimes and their local collaborators.
The stimulus to rethink the University's relationship with its past was a short electronic letter that the University received from Israel professor of medicine Moshe Lapidoth in the summer of 2016. He requested to honor symbolically the memory of his uncle Chlaunė Meištovskis, who had been a student in the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Vilnius University. After successfully completing eight semesters of study of physics and chemistry, his scholarship was terminated and he was expelled from the University on 1 July 1941 for the reason of Jewish nationality. During the national-socialist occupation of Lithuania, on 27 June, the order of Justinas Vaičaitis, head of the Higher Education Department of the Education Board for Vilnius City and Region was implemented. Following that order the rector of the University began dismissing staff members of Jewish origin, as well as those who took an active part in the University's sovietization.
In September 2016 a commission was established to carry out a historical research, to formulate evaluation criteria for nomination, to identify the names of those expelled from the University, assess their biographical facts, and to return them symbolically to the field of historical memory of Vilnius University. A closer look into the destiny of the members of the academic community revealed that more than one event scattered them in different directions, or even took their lives: the start of the first soviet occupation on 15 June 1940, Nazy occupation and the Holocaust, followed by the second soviet occupation, which lasted more than five decades. These events dramatically changed Lithuania and the University community. Assessing the impact of the totalitarian regimes on Vilnius University community, paying tribute to victims are the main objectives of the long term project Grįžtanti atmintis - Recovering Memory.
This long term project is a great incentive to learn more about the history of the most famous University in Lithuania, to fill in some of its blank pages or rewrite others and an opportunity for the academic community to look back at a very painful periods that affected so many lives. Understanding and recognizing unretouched history in a responsible way creates a foundation for a strong, open academic community. The symbolic Memory Diploma of Vilnius University has been established in commemoration of those who were forcibly denied the opportunity to be members of the University academic community. We expect that the Memory Diploma award ceremony will become a traditional event of Vilnius University.
Today, after some preliminary research, we can say that there will be about a thousand candidates for the Memory Diploma. At the beginning of the Nazy occupation, about 650 Jews, 80 Poles, and one German professor whose wife was Jewish were expelled from Vilnius University. Several hundred Lithuanians were also denied the opportunity to work or study at the University during the first and second soviet occupations. All of these people deserve the Memory Diploma. This symbolic diploma will not be awarded to those who were expelled for reasons not related to the activities of the totalitarian regimes, to those who collaborated with the political or police organizations of the totalitarian regimes, or committed crimes against humanity.