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LONDON—British author Peter Jukes, best known for his screenplays, literary criticism and political journalism, tweeted last week on the release in the United States of a new documentary film that heroizes certain postwar anti-Soviet “forest brothers” in Lithuania. The film, “The Invisible Front,” that premiered in Greenwich Village’s prestigious Cinema Village theater on 7 November, fails to even mention the view that various of the specific figures it glorifies for their post 1944 activities were in fact alleged recycled Nazi collaborators of 1941. That was the year when, in the days following the Nazi invasion launched on 22 June, the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) started butchering local civilian Jews, often elderly rabbis or young women, before the first German forces had arrived. Premeditation becomes evident from perusal of the LAF’s prewar leaflets.
The New York Times review of the film, that appeared on 6 November, failed to even mention that its primary hero might be controversial as an alleged Nazi collaborator. The film was directed by Jonas Ohman and Vincas Sruoginis (see Geoff Vasil’s reply to an earlier article by Ohman). It is narrated by Dr. Darius Udrys, vice rector of the European Humanities University (EHU) in Vilnius, also known as the Belarusian Humanities University, which has in recent years run one-sided series of events on Holocaust-related issues and then gone on to host a Judaic studies series strictly limited to compliant speakers approved by the local nationalist establishment (sometimes leaving lower level organizers fluttering frantically to fill lecture halls but with strange requirements for preregistration vetting). Udrys, after plunging into Jewish affairs in 2007 with complaints about the alleged exclusion from a Lithuanian festival in America of possibly non-existent “Yiddish dancers” somehow became part of the US board of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, where he tried to organize a one-sided Holocaust conference in Los Angeles in 2008 that was aborted after coming to the attention of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
But Dr. Udrys went on to win wide international acclaim for taking a valiant stand, in 2012, against the reburial with full honors of the 1941 Nazi puppet PM; his opposition was praised for coming on time (before the burial) and for being stated in the language of unequivocal moral clarity, on these and other pages. His stance at the time, in writing, is a courageous and permanent contribution to efforts to defend the history of the Holocaust against its numerous massagers, obfuscators and distortionists in this part of the world.
His 2014 narration of the film sanitizing another alleged Nazi collaborator — without even mentioning the statements in the British Parliament or the testimony of Holocaust survivors, is therefore all the more baffling. Statements by survivors about alleged atrocities of LAF militants and supporters in Kaunas in the week of 22 June 1941 are now a massively documented part of the history that cannot be whited out. Some observers of the Lithuanian “history scene” see yet another, wider, shambolic attempt to “save some” of the 1941 local Hitlerists by glorifying those against whom there is less solid evidence than others, and then proceeding with the glorification in the absence of any mention of such testimony as is extant.
The following is the text of Peter Jukes’s tweet:
Lithuanian partisan movie glorifies Juozas Luksa
The tweet’s first link is to a Lithuania Tribune / Delfi.lt article about the film’s debut in New York City. The second link in Mr. Jukes’s tweet is to a British Parliamentary motion from 2011 (screen-capture here), that reads as follows:
Early day motion 2161
LITHUANIA AND HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS
Date tabled: 08.09.2011
Primary sponsor: Mann, John
Sponsors: Bottomley, Peter. Russell, Bob.
That this House condemns attempts by the Lithuanian government to investigate 86 year old Kovno Ghetto Holocaust survivor Joseph Melamed for slander; welcomes attempts by Mr. Melamed to bring his document listing eyewitness accounts of thousands of war-time Lithuanian Nazi collaborators to the attention of the Lithuanian prosecutor general in 1999; notes that of the nine Lithuanians executed by the Soviet government for Nazi collaboration, whom Mr. Melamed is accused of slandering, one, Juozas Lukša, in 1941 used his sword to saw off the head of Rabbi Zalman Osovsky and then put it on public display; further condemns repeated attempts of the Lithuanian government to extradite Holocaust survivors such as 90 year old Lithuanian war hero, Rachel Margolis, from their homes to face war crimes charges; and commends the Holocaust Educational Trust for continuing to do good work in educating about the real evils of the Holocaust.
Lukša’s alleged crimes are summarized on the website of the Association of Lithuanian Jews (the world’s last active association of Holocaust survivors from Lithuania), where he is alleged to have participated in the Lietukis Garage Massacre (see also the text in Joseph Melamed, ed. Crime and Punishment, Tel Aviv 1999, p. 38). There is a more detailed account in Alex Feitelson’s 2006 book, Truth and Nothing But the Truth: Jewish Resistance in Lithuania 1941-1944.
The glorification of suspected war criminals who were “also anti-Soviet” resistance fighters, continues to plague East European efforts in the efforts, widely considered legitimate, to inform the outside world more fully about Soviet crimes and misdeeds. Defending History maintains a section on collaborator glorification with coverage focusing on Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine. In recent times, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office and the SWC’s chief Nazi hunter, has condemned the sanitization and glorification of perpetrators in a number of op-eds in various media, including i24, Defending History, Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and The Times of Israel.
The one East European country where glorification of Nazi collaborators has attracted international media attention is Hungary.
In Lithuania, the subject of J. Lukša has been controversial for years. An event for a book in his memory held at the Lithuanian parliament (the Seimas) in 2009 was shunned by the ambassadors of Austria, France, Germany, Ireland and Norway, among others, once the diplomatic community became aware of the full alleged biography of the “hero” being honored.
Peter Jukes, the British author whose tweet last week alerted the outside world to the American debut of “The Invisible Front” has previously reviewed a book which he believes contrived to hide the alleged Nazi past of Mr. Lukša and others. A similar view was expressed by Geoff Vasil in Defending History.
For many who followed the Lukša controversy in Lithuania, it was largely overshadowed by the 2012 reburial with full honors of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister.
It seems that the triumphant American tour of the new documentary is proceeding “under the radar,” without notice from human rights organizations or institutions committed to Holocaust remembrance.
There is no courtroom-grade evidence that Mr. Lukša is guilty of anything. But to make a documentary film about him that fails to even mention the statements by Holocaust survivors and by members of the British Parliament — none of whom had the slightest motive to make up a name to smear a phantom — can be seen as part of the wider effort to glorify suspected Holocaust collaborators without even mentioning the question-marks in their 1941 biographies, particularly during the Kaunas bloodbath of the week of 23 June 1941, when the LAF and its supporters were massacring Jewish neighbors en masse. Did Mr. Lukša ever express regret about the LAF’s actual “accomplishment” in Kaunas — in effect to launch the Lithuanian Holocaust —in the week of 23 June 1941?
In various cases in Lithuania of street names, public memorials and even a university lecture hall name, there are similar honors for persons whose Nazi collaboration is extensively documented.