by Milan Chersonski
On 2 May 2012, the Lithuanian mass media reported that the mayor of Kaunas, Andrius Kupčinskas, in his capacity as chief of a special working group, announced that the remains of Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, chairman of the Lithuanian Provisional Government in 1941, who was buried in Connecticut in 1974, will be transported to Lithuania for a reburial with full honors.
Kupčinskas said that the remains of Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis will be brought to Vilnius Airport on 17 May 2012, honored in the capital, and then solemnly escorted to the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in Kaunas and placed into a columbarium in the church yard. Lithuanian Government officials have confirmed the announcement.
It was not however reported precisely who took the decision or precisely why the decision to rebury Ambrazevičius’s remains was taken. These are not the remains of an ordinary citizen. He was the leader of Lithuania’s 1941 Provisional Government (PG). Transporting his remains to the motherland is a state act, which carries with it the implication of immortalizing the memory of a historical figure in the solemn chronicles of the nation.
Kupčinskas concluded that “every state leader must be given certain state honors. The Provisional Government of Lithuania was trying to return statehood to Lithuania. Historians may assess this variously, but his attempts were noble.”
There would be so many more heroes in the history of nations and mankind, if people were assessed not by their deeds, but by their presumed “intentions.” It is after all clearly and definitively stated in the New Testament: “He will reward each according to his deeds” (Matthew, 16:27).
What deeds, then, are they going to ascribe to the chairman of the 1941 Provisional Government in Lithuania?
Before the Nazis’ occupation of Lithuania, Ambrazevičius had been a teacher of Lithuanian literature and language at Kaunas University and at a women’s secondary school called Aušra (“Dawn”). He could hardly have imagined that on 23 June 1941, on the second day of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, fate would exalt him to the post of chairman of the Provisional Government.
The former Lithuanian ambassador to Germany, Kazys Škirpa, had in fact been slated to head the Provisional Government. On 17 October 1940 in Berlin and later in Lithuania he founded an armed anti-Soviet armed organization, the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), which was to help Nazi Germany oust the Soviet army from Lithuania. He hoped to get from the Wehrmacht the post of head of government in return for his services.
The German invasion of Lithuania on 22 June 1941 was a prearranged signal for the beginning of the LAF uprising in Lithuania and the declaring of the Provisional Government’s coming into existence.
Škirpa’s antisemitic radio speeches, spurring crowds to violence, are well documented. Today there is a street in Kaunas named for him.
Škirpa hoped to preserve Lithuanian statehood under Nazi domination, similar to that of the Quisling government in Norway. But in the case of Lithuania, Hitler’s and Škirpa’s plans did not coincide. Lithuania, together with Belorussia, Latvia and Estonia, disappeared from German maps to be replaced by the name “Ostland.” At the moment the former Lithuanian army colonel and former ambassador Škirpa was going to declare his provisional government, his Nazi masters put him under house arrest in Berlin, where he remained until 1944.
Thanks to this circumstance, Ambrazevičius went on to head the PG, which existed for 43 days. Under his leadership the government adopted a number of documents, which give us both the right and the responsibility to look at its pro-Nazi and its antisemitic activities.
These include the following:
(1) On 24 June 1941, “The Word of the Independent Lithuanian Provisional Government to the Nation” was published, in which the PG claims:
“We greatly appreciate the unstoppable hastening of the German Army to the East. […] This has allowed us to proclaim the independent Lithuanian state.”
In this “Word” there is also praise given to
“the worldwide mission of Hitler and its importance.”
The Government warns the Lithuanians that Hitler’s mission
“should be well understood, judged positively and supported sincerely.”
(2) The ministers of the PG signed a telegram of greeting to Hitler, which included the following text:
“After the liberating hurricane, which has overtaken Lithuania, the representatives of the free Lithuanian community are sending You, the Fuehrer of the German people, the most profound and sincere gratitude for the liberation from the all-destroying and murderous occupation of the Jews and Communists, and for saving the Lithuanian people from outrage, extermination, wanton mass torments and murders, and express their hope that Your Genius will give the Lithuanians the chance to take part in the campaign that aims at the annihilation of Judaism, Bolshevism and plutocracy, protection of the human being, freedom, protection of the culture of Western Europe and the establishment of a New Order in Europe.”
The laws and regulations adopted by the Provisional Government made no attempt to obscure its underlying intentions.
(3) When the PG learned about the unusually cruel public torture of civilian Jews at the Lietūkis Garage in Kaunas, they didn’t stop it and didn’t demand that any punishment be meted out to those guilty of these crimes against their fellow citizens. Instead, they adopted this recommendation concerning the venue for mass executions (bold type added for emphasis):
“Though it is necessary to implement all means against the Jews because of their Communist activities and their inflicting harm upon the German Army, it is recommended that the partisans and individual citizens should avoid public executions of Jews.”
(4) By decision of the Provisional Government, a battalion of backup police was founded and headed by Colonel Jurgis Bobelis. The establishment of this police battalion is connected with the regulation concerning the creation of a Jewish concentration camp. The vice-minister of communal services Juozas Švilpa together with Colonel Bobelis were entrusted with implementing this regulation.
(5) On 3 July 1941, the Provisional Government adopted the inhuman “Regulations on the Situation of the Jews” which in fact became the Lithuanian version of the Nazis’ “Final Solution of Jewish Question” (proclaimed about a half year later at Wannsee).
Unfortunately, it often happens in Lithuania that politicians and officials dictate a given history, guided not by the aim of discovering historical truth, but by currently handy and self-serving considerations.
The reburying of Ambrazevičius’s remains has been hailed as follows by a famous philosopher and publicist, Professor Kęstutis Girnius:
“Lithuanians were the only ones among the Baltic states to rise up and to establish a provisional government. But because of the murderous German policy, events took a different direction. Though the Provisional Government couldn’t stop the killing of Jews, it might be reproached for not condemning it very energetically.”
Girnius is an associate professor of the International Relations Institute and lectures to future Lithuanian diplomats. Is this how future diplomats will learn the history of their country and how to discuss it internationally?
In September of 2000 the Lithuanian Seimas (parliament) adopted a law legitimizing the 1941 Provisional Government. But this meant that modern Lithuania would herself be taking on responsibility for the Provisional Government’s activities, and this might have become an obstacle for Lithuania’s joining the European Union and NATO.
That is why the then president of Lithuania refused to sign the measure that parliament had adopted.
But today Lithuania is a member of European Union and NATO. And perhaps that is why legitimization of pro-Nazi activities is in full swing. Lithuania is the only country in Europe where street names appear in major cities that honor Nazi collaborators, including Škirpa; a monument to him was erected at Petrašiunai Cemetery.
There is a street in Kaunas and a lecture hall in the city’s Vytautas Magnus University named after Ambrazevičius, complete with bas-relief.
The rewriting of history continues apace.
Milan Chersonski (Chersonskij), longtime editor (from 1999 to 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. His contributions to DefendingHistory.com are available on Chersonski’s Page.
This comment was translated from the Russian by Ludmilla Makedonskaya (Grodno), with the assistance of Geoff Vasil (Vilnius).