VILNIUS MARCHES | KAUNAS MARCHES | REGIONAL PRO-NAZI MARCHES | COLLABORATORS GLORIFIED | ANTISEMITISM | EVENTS | OPINION
Eyewitness Report by Defending History Staff with photos by Julius Norwilla. His photo gallery available here.
The city’s leaders now have a splendid opportunity to take the moral high road in dealing with a number of ghosts from the present and the past. To start with the present, will the city’s officials now act rapidly to avoid a public perception disaster by moving this year’s neo-Nazi parade away from the city center during the February 16th Independence Day celebrations? Previous years’ marches have on occasion glorified actual Kaunas Holocaust collaborators, causing deep pain to Survivors and their families, as well to so many of the city’s people.
JERUSALEM—The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel Office today issued a press release (text below), including a quote from its director, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, calling on Visvaldas Matijošaitis, the mayor of Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania’s second city, to ban weddings and other celebrations from the now privatized parts of the historic Seventh Fort, where thousands of Kaunas Jews were humiliated, tortured and murdered starting with the first week of the Lithuanian Holocaust in late June 1941.
KAUNAS—One month after this year’s infamous Independence Day march in central Kaunas that featured a banner glorifying a number of Holocaust collaborators, including those co-responsible for the fate of this city’s 30,000 Jews in the Holocaust here on its ground zero, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania HE Amir Maimon has paid a very public congratulatory call on the mayor and city council to praise them unreservedly for their Jewish remembrance policies. There was no public mention of the march or request that future events desist from publicly glorifying the city’s collaborators. The following report is from today’s edition of the official website of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Holocaust survivors and their families in both Kaunas and Vilnius who contacted Defending History were incredulous and “in shock”…
KAUNAS—For the fifth year running, the Defending History team was the only Lithuania-based monitoring unit on site to observe and record the neo-Nazi march in the center of Kaunas, from start to finish, on February 16th, the anniversary of Lithuania’s 1918 declaration of independence. (DH has monitored the March 11th marches in Vilnius since 2008.) Once again, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office was the only foreign partner to attend, monitor and participate in our annual silent protest. There was no sign of any of the many well-funded human rights monitors in the region.
Yet again, the center of Kaunas, the interwar capital and modern Lithuania’s second city, was gifted by the city’s authorities to the neo-Nazis for their event, which drew hundreds, and was kept orderly by a highly professional, and by now experienced, police and state security presence (which, as ever, took every care to keep the Defending History team secure throughout the day).
This year’s theme was a front-of-march We Know Our Nation’s Heroes banner featuring six figures who share the following unsettling common denominator: all were alleged Nazi collaborators and/or Holocaust perpetrators (from left): Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, Jonas Noreika, Povilas Plechavičius, Kazys Škirpa, Antanas Baltūsis-Žvejas, and Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis. It is as if the marchers are celebrating the murder of the 30,000 Jewish citizens of Kaunas, the more than 95% of the over 200,000 strong Lithuanian Jewish population on the eve of the Holocaust, and the resulting “cleansing” of Lithuania’s Jewish minority.
The following statement appeared today on the website of the Jewish Commnity of Lithuania:
The Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) Community, deeply upset and concerned by recent anti-Semitic attacks in the Kingdom of Denmark and France and by the rise in neo-Nazi tendencies all over Europe, calls upon the government institutions of the Lithuanian state to take stock of the situation in Lithuania at the current time. By identifying the problem of ethnic hate early, we can prevent possible tragedy in the future.
February 16th in Kaunas. The Kaunas municipal administration was asked by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Efraim Zuroff and Defending History’s editor Dovid Katz not to allow this march for a number of reasons. The Kaunas municipality saw no problem and allowed the march to go ahead. As in earlier years, a Defending History team observed the march. The Kaunas Antifa organization decided not to hold a protest this year, so I was at liberty to be present as part of the DefendingHistory team.
Below, (1) the text of DH’s letter to the mayor of Kaunas on 3 February, (2) the response received from his office on 11 February, (3) our response of the same date, and (4) the response from the mayor’s office received on 13 February and (5) our response of the same date. The correspondence relates to the annual neo-Nazi march planned for 16 February 2015 in central Kaunas. See also section on previous marches, and our 3 February 2015 correspondence with the Kaunas police. Note that a banner featuring a major Kaunas Holocaust collaborator, the Nazi puppet prime minister Juozas Ambrazevicius Brazaitis (reburied with full honors as a hero in Kaunas, in 2012), is depicted in a 2014 photograph used by the march’s organizers to advertise the 2015 event.
JERUSALEM—The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office here today released the text of a letter sent by director Dr. Efraim Zuroff to the mayor of Kaunas, Lithuania, Andrius Kupčinskas, concerning the neo-Nazi march scheduled for February 16th. See also Defending History’s correspondence with the mayor’s office and our background summary.
The text of the letter is as follows:
February 12, 2015
Meras Andrius Kupčinskas
Laisves al. 96 201 kab.
Dear Mayor Kupčinskas,
Below, (1) the text of DH’s letter to the mayor of Kaunas, (2) the response received today from his office, and (3) our further response, in connection with the annual neo-Nazi march planned for 16 February 2015 in central Kaunas. See also section on previous marches, and our 3 February 2014 correspondence with the Kaunas police. Note that a banner featuring a major Kaunas Holocaust collaborator, the Nazi puppet prime minister Juozas Ambrazevicius Brazaitis (reburied with full honors as a hero in Kaunas, in 2012), is depicted in a 2014 photograph used by the march’s organizers to advertise the 2015 event.
KAUNAS—As in previous years (for example, 2013), the Kaunas District Police Department today informed Defending History that it has issued no permits for a march on February 16th, referring us instead to the body that would have issued the permit — the Kaunas City Municipality, which has not (yet) responded to our queries. The letter received (image below) states “We inform you that Kaunas County Police have not issued a permit for organizing a march / rally” on 16 February 2015, and suggests “you refer to Kaunas City Municipality.”
Iam proud to be a Litvak, and I am proud to be a citizen of independent and democratic Lithuania. I very much enjoy walking in our city’s delightful Vingis Park, as well as downtown in the beautiful city center area.
However, I feel suddenly both sad and shocked, when I see neo-Nazi parades with swastikas and other fascist symbols along Gedimino Boulevard on our independence day repeating the yelled chants of “Lithuania for [ethnic] Lithuanians.”
(Reposted from today’s Jerusalem Post)
Three events took place this weekend which reflect the ambiguities of contemporary Jewish life in the Baltics and particularly in Lithuania, the largest of the three new democracies. In reverse order, on Sunday, ultra-nationalist groups staged an Independence Day march, which included anti-Semitic themes, in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania’s interwar capital and the country’s second largest city.Continue reading
JERUSALEM—The following statement was issued today by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office.
16 February 2014 KAUNAS, LITHUANIA—The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel Director and chief Nazi hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff yesterday afternoon led a protest against an ultra-nationalist neo-Nazi march in honor of Lithuanian Independence Day, held here, in Lithuania’s inter-war capital, whose large and important Jewish community was virtually totally annihilated during the Holocaust by the Nazis, with highly significant participation of Lithuanian volunteer collaborators.
Lithuanian TV interviews with Efraim Zuroff and Dovid Katz:
В соответствии с законом о памятных днях Литовской Республики, 23-е июня провозглашено национальной памятной датой – днём Июньского восстания 1941-го года. Как известно, уничтожение Еврейской общины Литвы началось в тот же день, что и восстание. Continue reading
Editor’s note: This adapted translation from the Lithuanian original, by Geoff Vasil, has been approved by the author.
On February 16 I visited Kaunas. I heard the neo-Nazis would try to desecrate the nation’s freedom, for which people of the country of all ethnicities had struggled. Sadly, the neo-Nazis are now shouting loudly: “Lithuania for Lithuanians…”
One of the organizers of the march boasted the vanguard of the march would be carrying a portrait of Ambrazevičius.
It’s worth recalling what sort of person he was. In 1941 Ambrazevičius led the Provisional Government formed by the LAF (Lithuanian Activist Front), the Provisional Government which called Lithuanian policemen to serve the Nazis, set up a concentration camp (at the Seventh Fort, where it all ended in the murder of several thousand Jews), and even while realizing the Nazis no longer needed their service, this gang went on to promulgate the “Regulations on the Situation of the Jews,” which legally deprived their neighbors of human rights, while on the ground armed people were already murdering Jews throughout Lithuania.
Readers and supporters of Defending History likely realize there is a diversity of opinion and views held by contributors (made explicit on the About us page), and in that spirit I’d like to share my own impressions of the neo-Nazi march on Lithuanian Independence Day 2013 in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania’s second-largest city and the provisional capital in the interwar period.
First, Kaunas was colder than expected. The breeze contributed to the chill. There seemed to be half as many police as protestors at the staging area, Ramybės Parkas, next to the bus station in central Kaunas. The police wore three uniforms: green, grey and, I was told by someone representing himself as being from Interpol, a large number of plain-clothes officers dispersed among the crowd, presumably meaning the marchers, since the number of protestors was paltry, just a handful of people.
NOTE: A personal word of thanks to journalist Nerijus Povilaitis for graciously facilitating communication with Kaunas police to ensure the security of the small Defending History team monitoring/protesting the event, and to the Kaunas police for their excellent work.
[UPDATE of 19 Feb: I later learned from Lithuanian colleagues that this protection and respect seem to have been extended only to Dr. Efraim Zuroff and myself, not to the Lithuanian-citizen protesters.]
The estimates of the crowd ranged from five hundred to a thousand depending (in part) on whether the march’s many supporters who stood outside its bordering police cordons were counted. Following yesterday’s Vilnius press conference led by Dr. Efraim Zuroff, who flew in from Israel for the event, and the earlier denunciation of racist manifestations by the new prime minister — these being possible rather than proven factors — the event was rather milder than last year’s (eyewitness report here). The major difference was the lack this year of visible swastikas (whether “classic” or “Lithuanian with added lines”), the more perfected police performance in keeping order, and the lack of overtly racist slogans. But there was no lack of graphic ingenuity in coming up with symbols that bring to mind the swastika (which was in fact made legal in Lithuania in 2010) and there was no lack of adulation of Holocaust-era fascist icons; the lead banner glorified the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister who was earlier this year reburied with full honors; he had signed the papers for the first murder camp for the Jewish citizens of this city, Kaunas, during his first week in office. Moreover, the Kaunas police had confirmed in writing beforehand that the 2013 march was proceeding with full authorization from the municipality. All this “patriotism” rooted in 1941 genocide of the Jews is proceeding with the blessings of the state and the silence of its foreign partners.
In response to a letter from the editor of this journal, expressing concern at various internet and other threats against those who would dare oppose the neo-Nazi march scheduled for 16 February 2013 in the center of Kaunas, a reply has been received from the police in Kaunas which does not address the direct issue of safety, but makes it clear that the march is approved by the powers that be in the municipality.This is important because of the various rumors spread by various organizations that ultranationalist youth have decided to march through central Kaunas with or without permission. The letter reads, in translation:
Holocaust survivors Shlomo Cheskov (left, from Shavl/Šiauliai), and Joseph Melamed (from Kovno/Kaunas) at the Tel Aviv demonstration. Mr. Cheskov’s sign says (in Yiddish) “With our partisan heroes, against neo-Nazism. We are here!” Mr. Melamed’s (in Hebrew) addressed to the South African businessmen diners at the gala dinner: “Dear Diners! Where is your conscience? Your solidarity with Holocaust survivors and resistance fighters and partisans?” Photo: Bella Bryks-Klein.
With attention focused on the government-permission-granted central Vilnius neo-Nazi march slated for Lithuania’s March 11th independence day — now the subject of an international petition on Change.org — there was minimal foreign interest in today’s independence day neo-Nazi march and demonstration in central Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city. The March 11th independence day marks the date in 1990 when Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union. Today’s holiday is on the date of the 1918 declaration of independence which heralded the rise of the modern Lithuanian state in the twentieth century. Both dates are revered by the country’s diverse minorities and factions. They represent freedom from oppression and foreign domination, and celebrate the building of a free and democratic state.
But in recent years, both dates have been hijacked by neo-Nazi groups in the heart of the country’s major cities, with the support of some members of parliament and leading political figures. There is, moreover, the proverbial blind eye of much or most of the elite classes, which serves as a contributing catalyst.
In a decision with a surreal touch of a topsy-turvy world, Kaunas municipal authorities have announced that they are on “security grounds” revoking the permit for a pro-human rights march with a maximum of one hundred people. The march had been permitted for 4 PM this Thursday, 16 February, in the center of Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city. It was conceived in part as a response to the neo-Nazi march which has a permit for a maximum of one thousand people at 1 PM the same day.
Milan Chersonski (Chersonskij), longtime editor (1999-2011) of Jerusalem of Lithuania, quadrilingual (English-Lithuanian-Russian-Yiddish) newspaper of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, was previously (1979-1999) director of the Yiddish Folk Theater of Lithuania, which in Soviet times was the USSR’s only Yiddish amateur theater company. The views he expresses in DefendingHistory.com are as always his own. Authorized translation from the Russian original by DefendingHistory.com.
The twentieth of January 2012 made it precisely seventy years from the day when a conference of ministries and agencies of Hitler’s Germany was held at the Marlier Villa by Lake Wannsee. It went down in history as the Wannsee Conference. Nazi officials in a business-like manner in ice blood, discussed the problems of the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, the euphemism for genocide of the Jews in Europe.
Fulfillment of the Wannsee Conference decisions, which became directives, continued until the last days of the Nazi state. Not even the approach of the Red Army in the east or the successful landing of the anti-Hitler coalition in the west resulted in German leaders abandoning the project to annihilate the Jewish people. In the face of a string of crushing defeats, acute shortages of transport, ammunition, fuel and even food, the Nazis went on sending Jews to their death with a maniacal consistency.
But it would be a very serious mistake to think that the Wannsee Conference directives per se played the main role in the Final Solution of the Jewish Question here in Lithuania. In this part of the world the Nazis and their many accomplices had been quick to rob and massacre the majority of the Jewish population by December 1941. Before the Wannsee Conference.
This year Lithuanian neo-Nazis organized by Marius Kundrotas, Ričardas Čekutis and Julijus Panka with Lithuanian MP Kazimieras Uoka as their mascot marched in Kaunas on February 16 and through central Vilnius on March 11. February 16 is the old, pre-World War II national day of independence while March 11 is the date in 1990 when the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet voted to restore national independence and exit the Soviet Union.
Neo-Nazi marchers in Kaunas today, Lithuania’s February 16th Indendence Day celebration, carried a banner reading (in translation): ‘Today in the Street, Tomorrow in Parliament’. The reference was both to the general goal of the movement, and in reference to a neo-Nazi employed as an assistant to a prominent member of parliament (the Seimas), herself formerly the head of the antisemitic Genocide Center, who has announced his own candidacy in forthcoming municipal elections.
By apparent agreement with authorities, the marchers brandished swasticals rather than classical swastikas.
Report and images on Lrytas.lt.