B O O K S
by Geoff Vasil
Vytautas Landsbergis, Rezistencijos pradžia [“The Beginning of the Resistance: June 1941: Documents on the Six-Week Provisional Government of Lithuania”], Vilnius 2012.
MEP Vytautas Landsbergis, former speaker of the Lithuanian parliament and leader of the Lithuanian independence movement in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, unveiled his latest polemic at a ceremony cum press conference held on the first floor of the Signatarų Namai building in Vilnius’s Old Town on September 11, 2012, the historic site where Lithuanian independence was proclaimed from the balcony to the street below sometime around February 16, 1918.
This small book—there’s only 22 pages written by Landsbergis, the rest is a motley collection of supposedly historic documents—is an attempt to answer criticism of the Lithuanian Government and Catholic Church’s ceremonial reburial of Lithuanian Nazi puppet prime minister Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis and other concurrent celebrations in the spring of 2012.
Landsbergis uses a variety of rhetorical techniques not so much to answer that criticism directly, but to misrepresent that criticism, to misrepresent the historical truth about the pro-Nazi self-declared Lithuanian government and to provide enough intellectual “wiggle room” for dyed-in-the-wool Lithuanian true believers to maintain into the future the concocted mythology and martyrology painting ethnic Lithuanians as victims rather than perpetrators of the Holocaust in Lithuania (no real mention is made of Lithuanian contributions to the mass murder of Jews in other parts of Europe—at Maidenek and other camps in Poland, the Warsaw Ghetto and Minsk, among other venues—in Landsbergis’s book, of course). Landsbergis also attempts to lay out the path Lithuanian Holocaust Obfuscation scholarship should pursue in order to “explain” to the European Union member-states why Lithuanian propaganda should take pre-eminence over accepted Holocaust scholarship “at the European level.”
At the unveiling last autumn, Landsbergis appeared and sat in the central position at a table on the stage, flanked by other “boosters” of the Provisional Government (PG), including the newspaper-man Valiušaitis, who presided as master-of-ceremonies for an alleged academic conference held inside the Kaunas City Hall dedicated more or less to worshipping the pro-Nazi figure of Brazaitis (Brazaitis was an alias Ambrazevičius took during World War II and used in post-war Germany and during the process of becoming a naturalized US citizen). Landsbergis apparently received intelligence on the Kaunas City Hall love-fest, because he includes in his booklet claims made by a Lithuanian-American historian made at that time concerning the alleged true identity of Holocaust perpetrators in Kaunas in June and July, 1941.
Valiušaitis began this latest exercise in mass mind-control by opening with a small speech casting doubt upon the phrase “concentration camp” used by in PG resolutions and documents. Specifically, he—and Landsbergis does this in his booklet as well—claimed the members of PG who decreed the foundation of a concentration camp in Kaunas didn’t really know what “concentration camp” entailed, and were merely using language they felt would insinuate them with the Nazis.
In the booklet, Landsbergis explains they really meant to say “ghetto” but lacked the vocabulary. He goes on to claim Jurgis Bobelis, named military commander of Kaunas during the Nazi offensive in Lithuania, actually dragged his feet for a month and a half in instituting the ghetto set up in Slobodka/Vilijampolė, a Kaunas suburb, and thus bought that much time for the Jews of Kaunas at least.
In fact, Lithuanians began murdering Jews in Slobodka and throughout Kaunas as soon as they felt safe in doing so, as the Red Army was in retreat. Bobelis was instructed to set up a central point in Kaunas for the concentration and murder of Jews, and this happened almost immediately at the Fourth and Seventh Forts. The problem here and elsewhere in Lithuania was that the Lithuanians were moving too quickly and too openly even for the Nazis, who had no intention of revealing their Final Solution to their victims and the world at large until it was a fait accompli. The Germans preferred instead to employ a broad range of euphemisms in oral, radio and written communications concerning the mass murder of Jews. They used words like “transport” and “special handling” to talk about killing Jews. These euphemisms served more than one purpose; they cloaked the plan from outsiders, but they also provided the German public and even military with a sort of “plausible deniability,” the idea that Jews had tragically died during bombings en route to Madagascar, etc.
The pro-Nazi Provisional Government of Lithuania was formed in Berlin to serve as the governance or political organ of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) The plan of the LAF was to stage—and that’s the correct word in more than the military sense—an uprising in Lithuania the moment the Nazis invaded the USSR. This implies they knew there would be a war, not surprising since they were in contact with the Abwehr, German military intelligence. The problem was knowing exactly when that invasion was scheduled to take place. LAF cells inside Lithuania were sent instructions from HQ in Berlin on how to conduct themselves, including instructions to be ready to kill Jews in their localities. This is attested in survivor literature, one child warning another what was to come. It is also implied in the LAF missive saying Communist collaborators could redeem themselves by killing at least one Jew.
While there appears to have a false start in early spring, 1941, when the LAF in Berlin felt the Nazi invasion was imminent, there’s no real reason to doubt the Abwehr passed the approximate schedule for Barbarossa to their LAF friends in Berlin during the final days before it transpired, so that the LAF could prepare their cells inside Soviet Lithuania. This was clearly in Nazis’ interest and served their interests during the initial phase of overrunning the Baltics. In fact, it was the reason for the entire exercise in futility called the Lithuanian Provisional Government, whose function was to co-opt any possible Lithuanian nationalist resistance to the Nazi invasion to ensure a relatively peaceful transition to Nazi rule, with the fewest possible losses of German lives. And once the PG had served this purpose, whether as dupes and lackeys or willing accomplices or a bit of both, the operation was complete, and they were sent home.
Again, there’s very little reason to suppose the LAF and PG, especially at their HQ in the Lithuanian embassy in Berlin, did not know how to use Nazi terminology correctly. The problem seems to be they used it too correctly, when the Nazis wanted to maintain some discretion in carrying out what became the greatest crime in history.
Landsbergis’s best argument for the naïveté of the PG is unintentional: he includes the text (taken from a book by Kazys Škirpa, the initial head of the PG and founder of it and the LAF, former Lithuanian ambassador to Berlin and most definitely pro-Nazi) of a telegram sent to von Renteln, Nazi commander of Ostland, which the PG asked him to forward to Hitler. The telegram, if it hasn’t been as heavily edited by Škirpa as the PG resolutions he published were, is a fantastic “wall-o-text” collection of ad hoc arguments meant to convince Hitler to grant Lithuania independence. Nowadays you might call it “spam” if it turned up in your email. I suspect Hitler probably regarded it less kindly. For all his literary success, he was a man of few words who respected action much more. It probably served to confirm the view in Nazi leadership circles that the Baltic states were really only “countries on paper” which could be easily assimilated into the Reich. It displays a rank lack of understanding on the nature of the “New Europe” the PG continually praised in their letters to “the genius” Adolf Hitler.
Whatever Hitler’s initial reaction, if he even read it, there is something very strange about current efforts to celebrate the collaborationist PG, besides their willingness to concentrate and murder Jews wholesale and seize their property. What sort of a supposed national government calls upon its citizens to aid a foreign invader in taking over their country? That’s exactly what the PG did. Why? Well, as Landsbergis points out somewhat correctly, the PG wasn’t about restoring the old kind of Lithuanian independence. What he doesn’t say is that they saw their and their countrymen’s future (not Jews of course, ethnic Lithuanians) benefiting in the Nazi race wars, because they saw themselves as members of the master Aryan race. This was the “new Lithuania” in Hitler’s “New Europe” they strove for, one where their ethnicity was advantageous and granted them the right to rule. Of course the Nazis had radically different ideas about the Balts, and planned to kill and disperse them so that Aryan colonists from Germany and the Netherlands could use their land.
The other documents in Landsbergis’s collection include World War II and post-war writings by Brazaitis, who could reasonably be expected to try to exonerate himself after the Nazis lost. In a speech given when the PG was disbanded, Brazaitis laments his so-called government was not able to affect the execution of Jews in Kaunas and the countryside “in a positive sense” because his so-called government lacked real power. He includes this mass murder under “excesses.” Given what we know from the one surviving PG document on the Lietūkis garage massacre, wherein Landsbergis’s father, a member of the government, brings news of the massacre to the other ministers and the general decision is that such executions should not take place in public, we could interpret Brazaitis’s meaning here, “in a positive sense,” in different ways. Were these “excesses” because they took place openly? Would affecting them positively mean organizing a better means of execution, a more humane method of killing Jews, a more orderly procession to mass graves? Unfortunately it is impossible to take Brazaitis at his word in the post-war documents, because his past made it imperative he not confess to anything and avoid implicating himself in any way in Holocaust crimes and war crimes.
Instead of providing any new information or even a critical look backwards, Landsbergis says simply that it’s preposterous to call Brazaitis a Holocaust perpetrator, but that it’s “our own fault” because Lithuanians haven’t done the research necessary to refute that accusation. In other words, it’s an appeal to authority invested in the person of Brazaitis, followed by a call for the production of new propaganda for foreign consumption.
Using a series of qualifiers, Landsbergis also puts forth the idea the Lietūkis garage massacre was actually a conspiracy by the Gestapo and the NKVD to implicate Lithuanians in atrocities. Much is made as well of the phrase found in a report by a Nazi commander that it was difficult to get Lithuanians to carry out pogroms, but that tireless effort bore fruit in the end. Obviously this is the sort of thing a young Nazi commander would report back to enhance his own career prospects—“it was hard, but I accomplished it, aren’t I good”—but it is exactly the sort of thing Lithuanian Holocaust obfuscators seize upon to say, “look, the Nazis had a hard time getting Lithuanians to kill Jews… That means Lithuanians didn’t, the Nazis did.”
Landsbergis includes some documents from the archive of his father, a minister within the PG. He closes the book with three speeches by himself, all homages to Brazaitis made last spring and summer.
I have to wonder how people such as Landsbergis get away with writing trash such as this. It’s as if they really don’t know anything about what happened to the Jews in Lithuania, or don’t care to know. I remember when Lithuanian MP Kazys Bobelis kept claiming his father, Jurgis Bobelis, hadn’t really collaborated with the Nazis, despite the known facts in his father’s biography. Landsbergis’s father was of course also part of the PG, so that might provide some explanation for the attempted justification of a Nazi puppet regime whose purpose was to ease the conquest of the Baltics by the Nazis, but beyond that loyalty to one’s father, and even beyond the mythologizing religion of Lithuanian suffering and redemption current in some circles, there must be more at work.
Given that the US embassy in Vilnius has been actively opposing real Holocaust education in Lithuania (see the article about SLS excluding Efraim Zuroff at the request of the US embassy), it seems reasonable to conclude a deal has been made. I imagine it goes something like this: in exchange for X, the US will do what Emanuelis Zingeris promised the Lithuanian conservatives to do but which he was unable to deliver: fix the Holocaust for Lithuania. Rewriting history and spinning and twisting the truth is almost a pastime for some. But what’s X? What could Lithuania possibly offer the US to induce the US to exert pressure to “fix the Holocaust” for Lithuania?
Speculating again, it is curious that the Lithuanian attempt to uncover the full story of CIA “black sites”—torture sites/illegal prisons for holding victims kidnapped by the CIA around the world—turned up so little. There wasn’t even a “limited hang-out,” partial disclosure. One could reasonably assume that means the black sites could even still be in operation in Lithuania. If one wanted to speculate further, one might imagine that following a certain presidential directive barring the use of such sites, the CIA might find it very convenient to “sub-contract” such black sites out to local authorities.
If such thinking were correct—and I’m the first to call it open speculation—Lithuania might having something to offer the CIA perceived by the CIA as valuable. It would also bring events full-circle: collaboration in violations of human rights to cover up collaboration atrocities. Fulfilling the truism, never truer than in the Holocaust and its aftermath, that those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.
Perhaps not verbatim, or, as one radio talk show host puts it so well: “history does not repeat, it rhymes.”