The Politics of History



O P I N I O N

by Evaldas Balčiūnas

Translated from the Lithuanian by Geoff Vasil. Final version approved by the author.

 

Much has been said about recent history policy in Lithuania. What this means, different speakers understand differently. It probably isn’t wise to dwell long on the concept. Let’s just say “history policy” is the interpretation of historical events provided by state institutions and officials.

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The truth is specific. I will give one example of how this appears in our and neighboring states and how that illuminates the history of our state.

We’ll begin with the facts: in 1945 a Soviet court convicted a group of ten men. The verdict was the same for all ten, sentenced to death. They were killed in Vilnius and buried at Tuskulėnai Peace Park [a former manor house and estate on the outskirts of Vilnius]… The story is brutal…

Here’s what the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania, a state-funded agency carrying out “history policy,” says about these events. I am looking at their webpage and type “Tuskulėnai mass grave” [in Lithuanian] into the search field. I receive a result, http://genocid.lt/tuskulenai/lt/1456/a/, informing me the site now houses an exhibition of Soviet repression:

“[The exhibit] shows the process of being condemned to death by the totalitarian Soviet regime: from the delivery of the verdict by the military tribunal, to execution in the KGB internal prison and burial on the Tuskulėnai estate. The Soviet Union occupied Lithuania a second time in 1944. As during the first occupation (1940-1941), the Soviets continued mass repressions against residents of Lithuania. The main executors of repressions were military tribunals and Soviet [state] security (KGB). Starting in September of 1944, [they] began to execute armed anti-Soviet resistance freedom fighters, members of underground organizations and supporters, farmers, teachers, intellectuals and clerics convicted by military tribunals at the internal prison of the KGB in Vilnius. By the spring of 1947 when the death penalty was abolished in the Soviet Union, 767 executions were carried out at the KGB internal prison. The corpses of the murdered were buried at the Tuskulėnai estate. Facsimile documents of the KGB and military tribunals on display illustrate this process. Modern interactive means [interactive computer exhibits] give details about those killed. Finds found during archaeological digs in the grave pits and objects given to the condemned by their friends and relatives are on display.

“Documents showing the process of the death penalty [meted out] by the courts of the Soviet occupational regime and efforts to conceal the burial sites of those killed are on display.

“Objects found during archaeological digs given to the condemned by their friends and relatives are on display.”

That group of ten indeed were armed. All of them served in the 11th Battalion of the Latvian Legion.

This presents an opportunity for officials from our neighboring state to have their say:

President of Latvia Valdis Zatleris has said he’s absolutely certain the world community has failed to understand all the nuances of history and has made a major error in calling Latvian legionnaires who served in Waffen-SS units of the Third Reich Nazis. “Not even one Latvian legionnaire was a Nazi and [none] belonged to the Nazi Party,” the leader of Latvia said in an interview on the radio station SWH+.

Back in February 2012 the former Latvian president, Andris Berzins, spoke out very clearly on the topic of Latvian legionnaires, saying: “It’s crazy to think they are criminals.”

I don’t want to appear crazy… but I have the names of those ten legionnaires.

No, they were not Nazis, they were worse… In August of 1943 the Vilnius Ypatingas būrys [Special Unit, sometimes called Ypatingasis or Ypatingoji in Holocaust literature] became the 11th Battalion of the Latvian Legion. The Ypatingas were called khapúnes [kidnappers, grabbers] by their victims, the Jews of the ghetto. This Sonderkommando was formed by the Nazis specifically for murdering, and this they did over the entire period of their formal existence. The Ypatingas būrys first appears in surviving Nazi documents on July 15, 1941, when they were issued ammunition for their “needs.”

This unit murdered tens of thousands of people in Vilnius, the Paneriai (Ponár) mass murder site outside Vilnius, and many other locations in eastern Lithuania. It is incredible that a group of several dozen murderers were even capable of doing this. Back then they weren’t yet “Latvian legionnaires.” But when they did become legionnaires, they continued their work: in autumn of 1943 the 11th Battalion of the Latvian Legion carried out at least 20 mass shootings at Paneriai. In 1944 they served at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas [Kovno] as guards. As they withdrew from Kaunas they shot about 100 prisoners at the Ninth Fort. Later they served at Stutthof concentration camp, they transported about 1,200 Jews to Toruń in Poland. Their last assignment, to march columns of Jewish women towards Bromberg, went unfulfilled. The front caught up with them, the unit scattered, some Jewish women remained alive…

The Lithuanian(ized) names and surnames of these Latvian legionnaires buried at Tuskulėnai are known: Jonas Oželis-Kazlauskas, Juozas Macys, Stasys Ukrinas, Mikas Bogotkevičius, Povilas Vaitulionis, Jonas Dvilainis, Vladas Mandeika, Borisas Baltūsis, Juozas Augustas, Jonas Norkevičius.

I haven’t seen any attempts made to deny that these people served in the Ypatingas būrys, neither that they carried out mass murder of civilians in their military service, nor that they became legionnaires after the Latvian Legion was set up… Only dyed-in-the-wool neo-Nazis would dare claim that these characters who murdered so many people didn’t deserve their sentences… And the only way to explain the fact that the Soviet and Polish courts only managed to convict less than thirty members of this criminal unit is to point out the law had very short arms.

But how things change, when politics replaces a quest for truth in the consideration of history.

Convicted Nazi war criminals are transformed into “anti-Soviet armed resistance freedom fighters” and victims of Soviet repressions, while those who maintain war criminals are murderers are called lunatics by some president.

This mendacious politics of history is frankly revolting.

Posted in Bold Citizens Speak Out, Celebrations of Fascism, Collaborators Glorified, Evaldas Balčiūnas, History, Latvia, Lithuania, Museums, News & Views, Opinion, Politics of Memory | Comments Off on The Politics of History

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