Historian, Author Timothy Snyder Balzekas Museum 2020 Man of the Year

The Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture is proud to announce that this year’s Balzekas Museum Award of Excellence recipient is acclaimed author and historian Timothy Snyder, a specialist in Central and Eastern European history. Prof. Snyder is the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He receives the award for his outstanding scholarship and defense of democracy and truth. Customarily, the Balzekas Museum Award of Excellence is presented at the Museum’s annual Award Dinner. Due to the pandemic, this year’s banquet has been postponed. Instead, in tribute to the Museum’s founder, the Museum is launching a new initiative, “The Stanley Balzekas, Jr., Memorial Lecture”, with the intention of making this event an annual tradition at the Museum. The first lecture is planned for 2021, although the exact date has yet to be determined. The Balzekas Museum Board of Directors is delighted to announce that Prof. Snyder has agreed to serve as the inaugural speaker for the series. Stanley had met Prof. Snyder when he spoke at the Balzekas Museum in September 2011 during the

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

“Hope and Spirit” series of exhibits and events on Soviet deportations. Stanley admired Prof. Snyder and would enthusiastically recommend Bloodlands for its comprehensive and nuanced view of Central and Eastern European history.

A prolific author, Prof. Snyder is perhaps best known for his seminal work and bestseller, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010), in which he reframed the analysis of World War II and the Holocaust to include the murderous decade leading up to the War and the relationship between Hitler and Stalin’s mass killings. Prof. Snyder’s command of five European languages, including German, French, and Ukrainian, and his ability to read ten, including Russian and Polish, enabled him to access and research original source material, including survivors’ memoirs and archives in Germany and former Soviet republics after the fall of the Soviet Union. In his subsequent book on the Holocaust, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (2015), Prof. Snyder asserts that the systemic changes and destabilization unleashed by Stalin and Hitler’s totalitarian regimes—the erosion and destruction of government, laws, and institutions—intensified the violence perpetrated against Jews and others.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017), Prof. Snyder’s handbook for modern times, reminds us that democracy is not assured and the onus to defend it is on us. He instructs us to use the vantage point of history, just as the founders of the U.S. did, to expand our perspective, learn from, and avoid others’ past mistakes. History is not a sentence, but a “bracing,” a way to pause, take stock, and reconsider our trajectory, he told Trevor Noah in 2016. “Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom,” he cautions. “If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so.” The attack on truth is a tactic that Putin has used to consolidate wealth and power and one which he has now weaponized and turned on the West, Prof. Snyder writes in The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (2018). He sounds the alarm on Putin’s territorial aspirations and accuses him of stoking distrust of authority and division among and within democratic nations by spreading lies on social media and meddling in elections. Prof. Snyder warns: “Without truth there is no trust; without trust there is no law; without law there is no democracy,” an important message for these times.

The Balzekas Museum Award of Excellence
The Award of Excellence is given to individuals who have distinguished themselves in their respective careers. Former recipients include Lithuanian presidents Valdas Adamkus and Dalia Grybauskaitė; Ambassadors, including Gintė Damušytė, Vygaudas Ušackas, the late Stasys Lozoraitis and Stasys Sakalauskas, U.S. Ambassador Anne Derse, and most recently, the former Lithuanian General of Chicago, now newly appointed Ambassador to Ireland, Marijus Gudynas. Recent honorees include Senator Richard Durbin, philanthropist and journalist Jūratė Kazickas, “No Home To Go To” exhibit curator and artist Irena Brokas Chambers, author Rūta Šepetys, and Balzekas Museum Board Member, Eileen Mackevich, founder of the Chicago Humanities Festival and former executive director of the Abraham Lincoln History Museum. Last year’s recipient was Museum founder and president, the late Stanley Balzekas, Jr. who passed away in June of this year. Balzekas was the only honoree to receive the award twice: in 1993 and 2019.

Prof. Snyder is the winner of numerous prizes, including the Emerson Prize in the Humanities, the Literature Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Václav Havel Foundation Prize, the Foundation for Polish Science Prize in the social sciences, the Leipzig Award for European Understanding, the Dutch Auschwitz Committee Award, and the Hannah Arendt Prize in Political Thought. Prof. Snyder was a Marshall Scholar at Oxford, has received the Carnegie and Guggenheim fellowships, and holds state orders from Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland. He currently lives in Vienna with his wife, Marci Shore, a professor of European cultural and intellectual history at Yale University, and their two children.