O P I N I O N
In my recent article about the war criminals buried at Tuskulėnai Memoral Park in Vilnius I provided a list of Nazi collaborators convicted by the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union on April 19, 1943, and May 24, 1944 of murdering civilians during the Holocaust. This does not mean, however, that those convicted under other laws are guiltless.
According to criminal case materials and archival material examined by Lithuanian historians, there are rabid Nazi collaborators buried at Tuskulėnai Memoral Park. Despite the facts, today falsified, but very “patriotic,” biographies for these people are being crafted and disseminated, according to which they are portrayed as fearless warriors who battled for a free Lithuania.
I have written about one of them, Jonas Noreika, nicknamed General Vėtra, convicted under sections 1a and 2 of article 58 of the criminal code of the RSFSR, but who was recently decorated posthumously by Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus, so I won’t repeat that here.
There are 257 Holocaust perpetrators, 157 Soviet army deserters, 77 German security police officers, 43 “June Uprising” insurgents, 132 Armia Krajowa soldiers and 8 criminals buried at Tuskulėnai Memoral Park. Several dozen further case files have not been discovered.
In spite of the mixed and dishonorable list of victims (including many Lithuanian Holocaust perpetrators and Nazi officials), the Lithuanian government went forward with plans to set up a memorial at Tuskulėnai. Some believe that decision was made based solely on the presence of the body of Telšiai bishop V. Borisevičius and the June Uprising insurgents there.
I would like to discuss the details of the life of one of them, Ignas Vylius-Vėlavičius, whose biography is being rewritten today to make him very “patriotic.”
Currently, Ignas Vylius-Vėlavičius is being presented as a rescuer of Jews and member of the anti-Nazi resistance. His daughter Jūratė Sofija Vyliūtė has done much to popularize this man’s patriotic acts in her book Kapitono Igno byla [Captain Ignas’s Case]. It probably isn’t even worth noting that of course his daughter is not impartial. The problem is that her very dubious accounts are taken up and repeated as fact by other “patriots.” Antanas Navaitis, for example, who presents himself as a lieutenant colonel, also propagates the same kind of uncritical biography of Vylius-Vėlavičius.
Vylius-Vėlavičius was known before the Soviet occupation as a conspirator in the pro-German Valdemarist camp. He was demoted to private and thrown out of the military for his part in the attempted coup of June 7, 1934, but president Smetona later restored his rank. On May 29, 1940, he was arrested and charged with planning an uprising. He spent the first days of the war in prison in Kaunas, after which he escaped along with other prisoners. And this is where the “patriotic” interpretations commence. Navaitis says:
“On the second day of the German-Soviet war, Vylius left captivity. The Lithuanian Provisional Government made him head of the Kaunas Hard Labor Penitentiary. As prison warden Vylius released 30 Jews from prison who had been captured and were condemned to the firing squad…”
“In July, 1941, still believing the Germans would allow Lithuanians self-rule, he formed the Lithuanian Nationalist Party. The majority was made of former Valdemarists. After the Germans arrogantly began to interfere in the running of the prison, Captain Vylius, having been warden for a month and a half, withdrew from service and began to lead the military wing of the LNP and the Iron Wolf organization. After the Lithuanian Provisional Government was closed down, he staunchly rejected the cooperation [given] by Pyragis, Sliesoraitis and Taunys to the Germans, but didn’t cut ties with the LNP because this was the only organization during the German occupation which legally had means of communication through which it was possible to reach the countryside [“provinces” in the original—trans]. Furthermore, under cover of the LNP, printing equipment was being collected for use in the underground press.
“In December, 1941, the underground organization Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters was formed. Captain Vylius began command of the military wing of the Union in April, 1942.
“In July, chief of staff Lieutenant Colonel Motiejus Naujokas, Captain Ignas Vylius and Captain Klemas Martinkus discussed actions in the event the Communists occupied Lithuania. They considered the creation of Lithuanian units and their command. They decided to make use of German offers to train and arm [Lithuanian] Vanagai [units] with guns and ammunition.”
These several paragraphs are full of unbelievable misinterpretations, omissions and outright untruths. The episode about how Ignas Vylius became warden of the Kaunas Hard Labor Penitentiary and how long he “worked” in this post is described by the historian Dr. Arūnas Bubnys:
“Around June 28 or 29, 1941, he and lieutenant Ignas Taunys went to the Kaunas Hard Labor Penitentiary and found about 10 or 15 guards, some of whom had worked as such since the Soviet occupation in 1940. Vylius told Audronis Krasnickas that from then on, the prison warden would be he himself [Vylius]. Krasnickas didn’t contradict Vylius’s demand and soon left to live in Alytus, Lithuania. By order of the advisor general on justice of October 15, 1941, Vylius was named officially to the post of Kaunas Hard Labor Penitentiary warden and Taunys became deputy warden of the prison. Vylius was warden until March 15, 1943. He was replaced in that post by the former head of administration of the same prison, Zigmas Stančiauskas.”
So Vylius was warden not for a month and a half, but for several years. He was also warden in the fall of 1941, when the Ninth Fort, a separate part of the same prison complex, was the venue for the mass murder of Jews.
Where does Bubnys get his information? He indicates his sources: Vylius’s interrogation records. Those who reject out of hand Soviet interrogation documents could take a look as well at surviving documents from the German occupational period. In January of 1942, for example, prison director Vylius sent several letters to the Senior Health Service and the Department of Prisons. These documents clearly show Vylius remained in charge of the prison long after the Provisional Government was dissolved.
Bubnys’s article lists prisoners released from the Kaunas Hard Labor Penitentiary based on the prisoner registration log. While it is true more than 30 were released, there is no claim they were rescued because “as of August 15, 1941, all Kaunas Jews were imprisoned in the ghetto and therefore there was no point in placing them in the already overcrowded Kaunas Hard Labor Penitentiary,” and:
“On July 9, 1941, German security police officials inspected the Kaunas Hard Labor Penitentiary and ordered 147 Jews imprisoned there released. Based on a letter from the chief of the German security police dated July 11, 1941, 329 Jewish women and 104 Jewish children were freed from Kaunas Hard Labor Penitentiary. No short-term Jewish arrestees remained in the prison. After the Jews were freed the population of Kaunas Hard Labor Penitentiary was reduced significantly. On the morning of July 12, 1941, there were 1,251 prisoners and 109 children, but by evening there were only 935 prisoners and five children.
“According to a report by the German security police, on August 2, 1941, 254 Jewish prisoners were released from the Kaunas Hard Labor Penitentiary. It is known, however, that 205 Jews and 4 Lithuanian Communists were shot at the Fourth Fort that same day. Almost certainly a portion of the ‘freed’ prisoners were taken to the fort and shot there.”
The attempt to portray the formation of the nationalist party “patriotically” is also strange. It is widely known this party openly collaborated with the Nazis and agreed not to raise the question of Lithuanian independence among patriots until the end of the war! It is hard to understand why captain Vylius is given credit for recruiting Lithuanian people into the Vanagai units formed by the Abwehr, Nazi military intelligence. Incidentally, Smersh arrested Vylius along with one of these units.
Navaitis’s epic lionizing Ignas Vylius is certainly not the only one. The Samogitian Bishopric Museum provides a report from July 1, 2007, on a festival during which a memorial plaque commemorating Vylius was unveiled at Pavandenė village in the Telšiai region. Worse, the Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters tried to nominate him to receive a state award.
In order to understand just what sort of “hero” they wanted to receive a national award, I will provide a few excerpts from Ignas Vylius’s own testimony given to Soviet law enforcement and published in late May, 1959, in the newspaper Tiesa [Lithuanian for “Truth,” i.e., Pravda] (as quoted in Hitlerinė okupacija Lietuvoje [Hitlerite Occupation of Lithuania], Vilnius, 1961).
“On November of 1941, I don’t remember the day really, a place was set up for new arrestees at the Ninth Fort under a Kaunas Gestapo directive. For that reason all earlier arrestees at the Ninth Fort were transported to the central Kaunas prison. The next day Gestapo staff and a special unit of ‘activists,’ commanded by major Kazys Šimkus, took hundreds of elderly, woman and children and shoved them into the overcrowded prison. Several days later, in November of 1941, there were more than 10,000 people in the Ninth Fort prison, half of whom slept outside in the courtyard of the prison. The prisoners were given absolutely no bread. They were fed a thin soup [made] of unwshsed potatoes once a day. At that time I received a directive from prisons director Bronius Aušrotas to immediately come to the Ninth Fort for several days and, while the mass murders were being carried out, to maintain order and provide security. Technically I was the most senior-ranking during the mass murders at the Ninth Fort and all of the fort’s staff, including fort director Slesoraitis, were under my personal command.
“Several days before this shooting, 200 POWs were brought in who dug four large trenches on the grounds of the Ninth Fort… about 300 meters to the west of the prison. These trenches were 50 meters long, 2 meters deep and 2 meters wide. There was 20 to 30 centimeters of water at the bottom of the trenches. When everything was ready, on November 25, 1941, early in the morning, a unit of 80 Gestapo staff arrived at the fort, commanded by Gestapo chief Jaeger [Jaeger was SS–Standartenführer (colonel) and Einsatzkommando leader]. Together with them arrived a unit of about 50 ‘activists’ commanded by Major Šimkus and Lieutenant Barzda.
“At about 7 in the morning on November 25, 1941, the mass shootings began. Units of Gestapo guards, of about 10 people, came [frequentive sense, i.e., “would come”] over to me in the prison yard, were I handed over 100 people at a time, elderly, women and children, without regard to their names or surnames. They were lined up in a column in ranks of four people, led from the prison gates about 150 meters in the direction of the trenches, ordered into the trenches and ordered to lie face-down, then shot. The first rows lay down in the water on the bottom and whoever protested was beaten with sticks and rifle butts and violently forced to lie in a line. More than 10,000 people were shot in this way on November 25, 1941 [a possible reference to the “Great Action” of 28 October 1941 which led to roughly this number of murders the following day].
“In the evening, after dark, the mass murder ended. The three trenches were completely filled. Those shot were not buried, [and] there were still living children, men in the trenches among those shot. They lay under the corpses and wailed. As I watched, many wounded, bloody men and women climbed out of the trenches and tried to flee. But the guard and the Gestapo soldiers caught them, beat them and ordered them to lie down again on the corpses in the trenches, and then they were shot again.
“When the shooting was over, some of the Gestapo soldiers preparing to leave and the soldiers from Šimkus’s unit packed the good clothes into automobiles and drove away with them for themselves. The next day National Party workers took the remaining clothes away in automobiles.
“On November 26, 1941, 30 people were brought from the Gestapo to the edge of the ditches at the Ninth Fort and ordered to select for themselves from the bloody shoes and clothes, to dress themselves, and then they were given shovels and forced to bury the dead. After they finished this work, the Gestapo soldiers shot them all, left them unburied on the grounds of the Ninth Fort and drove away.”
Vylius’s testimony says he took part in several more mass murder operations at the Ninth Fort: on December 11, 1941, when 3,000 people were shot, and on December 17, when 1,800 people were shot. Also noteworthy is the addition Vylius provided to his testimony:
“I forget to say that before shooting, the soldiers took golden rings from fingers and bracelets, took purses and took for themselves all valuables. Occasionally women would resist and wouldn’t let them take the rings. In those cases the Gestapo soldiers and ‘activists’ took the rings off violently, pulling the skin off fingers along with the rings. The disobedient were beaten to death along the way, and the remaining people were forced to carry their corpses to the trenches.”
Vylius also took part in the mass murder of Jews brought to Kaunas from abroad. This is what himself says about it:
“At 5 o’clock in the morning on December 11, 1941, I arrived [by car] with my guard Bardauskas at the Ninth Fort, were they were preparing to shoot 3,000 people transported from Austria. There were only the elderly, women and children of two years of age and older, most of them were invalids.
“Again, the same Gestapo unit did the shooting, commanded by Gestapo chief Jaeger, and the ‘activists’ unit, commanded by Šimkus and Barzda. The shooting equipment was the same as during the first mass shooting. In the cells a German soldier and I announced that 100 people must get undressed to their underwear and go into the yard to go to the sauna. But actually these people were forced to run in the cold to the trenches, to get into them and to lie face downwards. Then they were shot. To keep [the other prisoners] from hearing the sound of shooting, screaming and wailing, a truck motor without a muffler was started up next to the prison.
“I have to admit that during this mass shooting Austrian and German political prisoners were exterminated. Before their shooting, a Gestapo official warned all of us, all Ninth Fort staff, that we couldn’t tell anyone about this, and if we did, we would be shot as well. These political prisoners, more than a 1,000 people, were kept under strict supervision at the prison and it was forbidden for any of the staff to speak with them.”
Of course one may doubt Soviet interrogation documents, but the fact that Ignas Vylius- Vėlavičius was in charge of the Kaunas Hard Labor Penitentiary and its auxiliary the Ninth Fort during the mass murder of Jews there is not in any doubt. Today there is a memorial plaque dedicated to him and a memorial set up and funded by the state at the Tuskulėnai Memorial Park to just these sorts of “heroes.”
Of which country was Ignas Vylius-Vėlavičius, a participant in coups, uprisings and conspiracies against the independent state of Lithuania, a Nazi collaborator and a perpetrator in the murder of tens of thousands of people, of which country exactly was he a patriot? It seems as if the Republic of Lithuania has forgotten to remind the admirers of this Nazi lackey that there is a law in force in this country making it a punishable crime to deny the crimes of the [Nazi and Soviet] occupational regimes.
This is an authorized English translation by Geoff Vasil of the original which appeared in http://antifa.lt/post/32512556580/ignas–vylius–velavicius–patriotas–ar–kauno-ix-forto.