O P I N I O N
by Milan Chersonski
At Taxpayer Expense
Memorial funeral events, dedicated to the moving of Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis’s ashes, were held in Kaunas for a week and a half from May 17th to 27th. He was the acting prime minister of the summer 1941 Provisional Government of Lithuania (PG); his ashes were moved to the former provisional Lithuanian capital, Kaunas.
His ashes were delivered by airplane from the distant state of Connecticut to the current Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, and then escorted with honors to Kaunas, where the ashes, originally buried in 1974, were re-buried, this time with full state honors.
Apparently, those who initiated the reburial were pursuing three goals of importance to them:
1. To rehabilitate forever yet another World War II “hero,” Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, a person with a very dubious reputation;
2. To bestow state honors upon Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis’s remains and ipso facto confirm state recognition of his service to the Lithuanian state, denying all allegations of his complicity with the Nazis.
3. In Connecticut, very few people were interested in the site of Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis’s burial, but in Lithuania, after such grand funeral ceremonies with all of the attendant hero worship, noisy protests, academic conferences, and so on, people will be drawn to his burial place if only out of curiosity. There will be those who want to believe in someone, in anyone, in something. It is to these people that the ruling elite passes off its invented heroes, who supposedly defended the freedom and independence of Lithuania during the Nazi occupation, although in reality they collaborated with the Nazis, directly or indirectly (in this case, rather directly).
At the same time the authorities chose for themselves an ambiguous role: all the events and ceremonies were financed at the expense of the taxpayers ostensibly for their own good, but none of the country’s high-ranking leaders were present at the events. The celebrations were attended by former high-ranking state officials, however, who don’t appear to have risked anything, but who through their presence at the commemoration ceremonies guaranteed the national importance and legitimacy of what took place and piqued the public’s curiosity.
Instead of spending taxpayer monies effectively on fighting poverty, unemployment and homelessness, politicians are plunging the country deeper into poverty and spending a great deal of money thinking up pseudo-heroic deeds for pseudo-heroes and arranging lavish ceremonies to distract people briefly from unhappy thoughts about the present.
The reburial of former PG prime minister Ambrazevičius and accompanying ceremonies to honor him as well as the outpouring of articles seeking to justify the PG’s actions is not the first attempt to legitimize the PG that was led by Ambrazevičius.
Back on 12 September 2000, the state’s supreme body, the Seimas or Lithuanian parliament, voted to legitimize the actions of the PG, which existed for 43 days from23 June to 5 August 1941, with 48 votes in favor, 3 abstentions, and the remaining 90 MPs all absent from the parliament!
During that month and a half the PG managed to ruin its reputation with pro-Nazi antisemitic statements, resolutions and regulations, so much so that no one will ever be able to wash away that shame with any number of ceremonies. There is reason to believe that as World War II documents pertaining to Lithuania are researched further, the true nature of the PG will become even clearer.
In September of 2000 the only thing lacking for the final legitimization of the PG was Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus’s signature. He refused to sign the legislation, but he also refused to veto it, saying: “I want to speak plainly, it is impossible to correct the mistake made by the Seimas just by using a veto. This can only be done if the public and political parties understand this mistake and call it such.”
In this case, the president was forced to condemn the resolution passed by parliament because some of the regulations and resolutions adopted by the PG are defined as crimes against humanity in international law.
In 2009 President Adamkus himself went on to bestow Lithuania’s highest distinction, the Order of the Cross of Vytis upon Brazaitis, posthumously.
But back in 2000, when Lithuania was seeking accession to the EU and NATO, the legitimization of the pro-Nazi government would have ruined Lithuania’s image internationally as the first republic which dared secede from the Soviet Union. It also would have undermined Adamkus’s standing internationally.
According to the Lithuanian constitution, the speaker of parliament in 2000, Vytautas Landsbergis, could have signed the legislation into law instead of the president, under certain circumstances. He did not sign it into law. His father was a minister of the PG, complicating his post as speaker of the parliament considerably. It is possible, of course, that he chose not to sign the legislation for the same reasons stated by President Adamkus.
In this way the resolution legitimizing the PG adopted by the Lithuanian parliament was left without the requisite signature to make it law. For a dozen years now it has been gathering dust in an archive, not yet law, but neither simply a piece of paper. It is an historical document.
But the times, they are a-changing. In 2004 Lithuania became a member of NATO and the European Union, and since then much has changed in Lithuanian politics. Today few are surprised by paradoxical statements such as “the political aim of the June rebellion was rebellion against the retreating and attacking invader!” Yes, yes! Even that far! It is completely forgotten that in June, 1941, Lithuanians were ordered to greet the attacking invader, that is, Nazi troops, with flowers and joyous smiles. Despite the fact that the newsreel footage preserves these “exciting” scenes of the joyful meeting of Nazi troops with flowers on the streets of Lithuanian cities, some of today’s scholars and influential non-scholars say that the uprising of the white-armbanders was directed not only against the retreating Soviets, “but also against the impending Nazi occupation of Lithuania.”
Nowadays, no one is surprised any longer by the statement that the PG’s activities were supposedly “anti-Nazi”: in today’s Lithuania numerous propagandists in various social organizations, the media and public research institutions are engaged in reshaping, redrawing, rewriting, repainting and turning inside out the history of World War II. Moreover, some of them write monographs and textbooks as historians. In order to assist these propagandists who are engaged in making up the modern history of Lithuania, article 170-2 appeared in the criminal code of the Republic of Lithuania on 15 June 2010, strictly regulating what may and may not be said about the history of World War II and its consequences in Lithuania, and what must be kept a secret, with two years’ imprisonment or a heavy fine to be paid for any deviant word not in conformance with the statute. This is the sort of freedom of speech that exists today in Lithuania: one is free to express one’s opinion openly inside a prison cell.
Škirpa and the White Armbanders
In Berlin, former Lithuanian army colonel and former Ambassador of independent Lithuania to Germany, Kazys Škirpa, was preparing to set up and lead a provisional government for Lithuania. A person with a sparkling career, at the age of 30 he was promoted to colonel in the Lithuanian army and appointed one of the chiefs of staff. In 1926 he was one of the opponents of the coup d’état in Lithuania and had to resign.
In 1927 Škirpa began a successful diplomatic career, but in 1940 the Soviet government in Lithuania recalled him from his post as ambassador to Germany and demanded that he return to Lithuania. Škirpa and his family remained in Germany.
As former ambassador, he knew the political situation in Germany well and was acquainted with Hitler. It wasn’t just ties of friendship that connected him with the chiefs of the special services in Berlin. With his friends’ blessings he began organizing an armed uprising against the Soviets, which opened the way for him to attain supreme power in Lithuania.
In November 1940, the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) was established under his direction in Berlin. Later, in addition to LAF headquarters in Berlin, LAF underground headquarters were established in Vilnius and Kaunas. They were engaged in organizing clandestine partisan groups, spreading anti-Soviet, anti-Communist and antisemitic propaganda and organizing the uprising against the Soviets.
On the night of 22June 1941, at the appointed time, Germany began bombing Lithuanian cities, German troops crossed the border and the occupation of Lithuania began.
For the Lithuanian insurgents (the “partisans”) this was the signal for revolt. In order for the partisans to recognize one another, the rebel symbol was a white armband. Lithuanian people gave the rebels the nickname “white armbanders.”
According to detailed planning beforehand, white armbanders began gathering at select locations in Kaunas and provincial towns, taking control of Red Army armories and strategically important facilities and randomly attacking retreating Red Army units.
In the wee hours of the war, separate partisan groups began the manhunt which had been called for in propaganda leaflets coming from Berlin LAF headquarters to Lithuania before the uprising started. The goal of the hunt was the annihilation of Jews and Communists. They were denounced as bitter enemies of Lithuanian independence, and their “punishment” was demanded.
In the early days of the war in Lithuania, there was a wave of pogroms and massacres of Jews with their families, from newborns to the very old. The white armbanders’ uprising lasted for a week from June 23 to 28 and over five thousand Jews were murdered during that time.
In Kaunas events were unfolding according to plan. Among the important sites the partisans captured was the Kaunas radio station Radiofonas, over which Škirpa’s representative Leonas Prapuolenis announced the restoration of the independent Lithuanian state and named the members of the Provisional Government on 23 June 1941. Then the Lithuanian national anthem was played.
Apparently, Škirpa hoped to show up in Kaunas on the evening before the German troops’ arrival in the provisional capital, where they would be met joyfully with flowers and smiles.
At the last moment, when Škirpa only had to get himself to Kaunas and lead the provisional government, his friends and the leaders of the Nazi secret services in Berlin decided to finish off the game of “the restoration of the national government of Lithuania.” The establishment of a Lithuanian government was not among Hitler’s plans: Poland, Belarus and the Baltics were listed as a single, indivisible German territory called Ostland in all his blueprints for the region. There was no place for an independent Lithuania there. Former colonel Kazys Škirpa’s bosses in Berlin placed him under house arrest. He fulfilled the role assigned him and his Nazi masters no longer needed his services. Shortly before the final defeat of the German Nazis, he was transferred to a camp for internees. That guaranteed him protection against accusations of collaboration with the Nazis. This was his opportunity to exit the stage gracefully.
Acting Prime Minister of the Provisional Government (PG)
The future ministers of the future Lithuanian government met at the appointed place at the appointed time, “X hour.” They were waiting for Škirpa to arrive. Naturally, there was no information about the reason for his absence. They could scarcely conceive the prime minister of their government, with strong connections among Nazi upper circles, might be sitting at home in Berlin under arrest, with no communication with the outside world, and that this was the climax of Škirpa’s career, as well as the beginning of the end of the project to supposedly restore Lithuanian independence under Nazi supervision.
The absence of the head of the government was a bad sign, but the government had to act according to the plan: to restore the local administration councils destroyed by the Soviets and to make important decisions. That required appointing another prime minister, at least temporarily, until Škirpa’s arrival. In this situation they chose Ambrazevičius to act as head of the PG (he changed his name to Brazaitis several years later).
The fact that he was selected to be prime minister apparently came as a surprise even to him. A 38-year-old senior assistant of the chair of the history of literature at the University named after Vytautas the Great, a teacher of literature at the Aušra gymnasium, an editor of several literary publications, he likely had never even entertained the idea of occupying the post of Lithuanian prime minister. Lithuanian intellectuals, including Ambrazevičius, nourished the illusion that Hitler would free Lithuania from the Soviet Union and would grant the country independence. Ambrazevičius had agreed to be minister of education in the provisional government if Lithuania was proclaimed independent. Suddenly he was asked to occupy temporarily the post of prime minister instead!
It is hard to explain why this man who had no experience in political, administrative or public management, who did not have any ambitions of leadership, was appointed to act in the most powerful position in the government. The reason for this, most likely, was “internal”: none of his more experienced colleagues wanted to take this responsibility upon themselves, in the complete absence of any reliable information and the many difficulties attending Škirpa’s absence, and simply foisted it off upon the least experienced among them, as sometimes happens in life. At that time no one knew that the acting prime minister would not be acting for more than two or three days. Almost no one imagined that Škirpa would never return to Kaunas for the rest of his life and the full responsibility for the PG would rest upon the shoulders of Ambrazevičius, who was selected almost accidentally. Neither did anyone imagine back then that the mortal remains of both of them would be returned to the provisional capital, Kaunas, many years after their deaths.
The Word of the Provisional Government
Was the LAF, which was in command of the white armbanders’ rebellion, capable of acting as an organization independent of both the Soviets and Nazis? Was this organization capable of being an independent “third force,” achieving its own goals? The LAF was established under the patronage of Nazi Germany and acted on its side. Therefore the actions of the LAF can be construed as aiding Nazi Germany.
In the “Word of the Independent Lithuanian Provisional Government to the People,” published on June 25, 1941, on the front page in issue #2 of the daily LAF newspaper “Į Laisvę” (“To Freedom”), which had just began publication, the PG said: “With special gratitude we consider the irresistible march of German troops to the East. It has helped our people to rid themselves of sadistic physical and moral slavery. It gave us the opportunity to declare an independent Lithuanian state.”
The Provisional Government told the Lithuanian people that it was Germany who had freed the Lithuanian people “from sadistic physical and moral slavery”:
“This campaign of the brave army, conceived by the German leader Adolf Hitler, inspired by National Socialism, is of great importance in the destruction of the barbarian, uncivilized, anti-human invasion, which steeped nearly 200 million people in poverty. We, … who have been ravaged by Bolshevism for more than a year, should understand very well, sincerely appreciate and positively support this global mission, carried out by Hitler, as well as its value.”
Thus, it was not only the LAF but also the Provisional Government who called upon the Lithuanian people to aid the Nazis.
Hoping that Germany would help restore the independence of Lithuania, the Provisional Government sent a telegram to the “great leader of the German nation” Adolf Hitler with the expression of boundless love and sincere gratitude for the liberation and salvation of the Lithuanian people from the Bolshevik occupation and “Jewish yoke.” The telegram expressed the belief that Hitler’s “genius” would make accommodation for the participation of the Lithuanian nation in the campaign led by him aimed at the destruction of Jewry, Bolshevism and plutocracy and for the implementation of “the new European order.”
Barely a week after the war broke out in Lithuania, when German troops had occupied the entire country, the situation shifted suddenly, and not in the PG and LAF’s favor. Lithuanian flags disappeared everywhere and the press and radio operated under full Nazi control. Nazi commanders demanded disarming the “partisans.” By that time pre-Soviet local governments had been restored almost completely throughout Lithuania. They collaborated with the Nazi military and civilian administrations actively and diligently. The Nazis didn’t need the services of the provisional government as mediator anymore. In effect the PG became an extra stair in the Nazi administration’s staircase.
The “Word of the Provisional Government of Independent Lithuania to the People” appears to be the only PG publication in the newspaper “Į Laisvę” during the entire 43 days of its existence. Even on 5 August 1941, when the Nazis closed the Provisional Government down, not a word appeared about it in the Lithuanian press.
The Truth about the Provisional Government
As far as policies for the mass murder of Lithuanian Jews go, the PG’s position was exactly that of the LAF leaders. As clearly stated in one of LAF’s propaganda leaflets which circulated before the white armbanders’ uprising,
“No Jew will have civil rights or the means to earn a living in the newly restored Lithuania. In this way the mistakes of the past and Jewish treachery will be corrected. In this way will firm foundations for a happy future and the creative work of our Aryan people be laid.”
(Liudas Truska, Vygandas Vareikis in “Holokausto prielaidos: antisemitizmas Lietuvoje. Margi raštai,” [“Origins of the Holocaust: Anti-Semitism in Lithuania. Diverse Writings”] Vilnius, 2004, p. 269)
Currently some historians are trying to represent the PG’s attitude toward the Jews as gentler than that of the Nazis. They do this in order to assure the eventual legitimization of the PG. It is sufficient, however, to browse through the protocols of the PG’s proceedings (see “Lietuvos laikinoji vyriausybė. Posėdžių protokolai,”[“The Provisional Government of Lithuania. Protocols of Sessions”] edited by Arvydas Anušauskas, Vilnius 2001), for the read to get a real picture of the PG’s attitude toward their fellow Jewish citizens.
It is well known that Lithuanian atrocities against the Jewish population organized by white armbanders/partisans began on the very first day of the Nazi invasion, and the PG did not find it necessary to take any measures to stop the murder of Jews. On the contrary, in protocol #2 from the June 25, 1941, meeting, the PG suggested “expanding partisans’ activities in the provinces where there are still gangs of Bolsheviks, Communists and Jews.” By this decision, the life and fate of Lithuanian Jews were given over into the white-armbanders’ hands and they solved the “Jewish problem” in the way outlined in the LAF appeal. It couldn’t have happened differently: the PG could rely only upon the LAF and no one else in Lithuania.
On 27 June 1941, in protocol #5 of the PG session, it is written: “Minister Žemkalnis reported unusual atrocities committed against Jews at the Lietūkis garage in Kaunas. Resolved: Despite all the measures that must be taken against the Jews for their Communist activities and the damage they are inflicting upon the German military, partisans and individual citizens should avoid public executions of Jews.” (emphases added).
The government did not condemn the murder of Jews, monstrous in its cruelty, at the Lietūkis garage. Essentially, the government confirmed that the Jews would be dealt with shortly, but that it should not be done publicly. So what is the difference between the attitudes towards Jewish Lithuanian citizens held by the PG and LAF members, and that of the Nazis?
In protocol #6 of the PG meeting of 30 June, the issue of the maintenance of a new Lithuanian battalion is merged with the question of the creation of a Jewish concentration camp:
“Having heard Kaunas city commandant colonel Bobelis on the formation of an auxiliary police battalion and a Jewish concentration camp, the Cabinet resolved: 1. To provide advance payment for the maintenance of the battalion for 10 days, calculating this at 7,492 rubles a day; later, to allocate funds for this purpose in accordance with estimates to be provided. 2. To approve the establishment of a Jewish concentration camp and to assign the direction of its creation to vice-minister of public works Mr. Švilpa in cooperation with colonel Bobelis.”
Does anyone really need further commentary here?
The provisional government adopted several resolutions on the return of property nationalized by the Soviet government to its former owners, though property seized from Jews was to remain state property.
On 1 August 1941, the PG approved their “Regulations on the Status of the Jews.” It is quite consistent with Nazi laws and regulations against Jews. These Lithuanian “Regulations” obligated Jews to live in ghettos established in the cities and towns across the country, to follow particularly discriminatory rules, to wear distinctive badges identifying their ethnicity, six-pointed yellow stars, over their outer garments, and so on. The “Regulations” were an attempt at legislating the complete incapacitation of Lithuanian Jews.
On 5 August, the Provisional Government of Lithuania, after 43 days of work, quietly disappeared. Lithuania turned into Ostland, the Lithuanian general district of the German Reichskomissariat, where power belonged to the Nazi civilian administration, which had nothing to do with the now-disappeared Provisional Government of Lithuania. The white armbanders-partisans and the LAF failed to protect the PG. This is how the Provisional Government of Lithuania quietly and ignominiously ceased to exist.
The remains of former head of the Lithuanian Provisional Government Ambrazevičius were delivered to Lithuania under the name of Brazaitis. Who was Brazaitis? Who knows him by this name in Lithuania? Under the name of Ambrazevičius he is a known historical figure (in other words, he has name-recognition, without prejudice toward his role in history), as the man who headed a government at an extremely complex and difficult time. Did he change his name of his own free will, under the pressure of circumstances, or for some other reason? Who gave him new identity documents?
Some sources present the fact of the name-change without providing any explanation of the specific reasons: they allege he became known as Brazaitis during the war to avoid arrest. Is one supposed to infer the Nazi regime was trying to arrest him? In that case, who was it in Lithuania who gave him a valid passport, with which he was able to leave Lithuania for Germany with his family, bypassing all Gestapo checks? It should be noted as well that this document did not arouse the suspicions of the American immigration authorities, either. Why did he come to the United States not as former head of the PG Ambrazevičius, but as Brazaitis? Why did he remain Brazaitis till the day he died, and was buried under a grave marker bearing this name?
There are many questions for which nobody has given any plausible answers as of yet. In response to questions about Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis’s pro-Nazi activities, you will be shown a letter which was sent to executive vice-president of the American Lithuanian Community Gečis by the Legal Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1975. In this document, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service says Juozas Brazaitis and Jonas Šlepetis have been removed from the active list of suspected Nazi war criminals living in the United States, and the investigation against them has been halted because they found no evidence of anti-Jewish and pro-Nazi activities. Removed from the “active” list… Does that mean there is also a “passive” one? Furthermore, a man named Brazaitis was removed from the list. What about Ambrazevičius? It was, after all, Ambrazevičius, not Brazaitis, who headed the Provisional Government.
Friends, we no longer live in 1975, but in 2012! A lot of things have happened in the world during the past 37 years. Specifically, there is now access to documents, of which nothing has been seen before, including the protocols of the Lithuanian Provisional Government. If you look, you might find Ambrazevičius’s signature (not yet Brazaitis) on the documents . Check to see whether there are any documents signed by Ambrazevičius which may be considered falling in that class of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, for which no statutes of limitations apply.
Translated from the original Russian by Ludmilla Makedonskaya (Grodno). Edited by Geoff Vasil. This English translation has been approved by the author.