Sergijus Staniškis Litas: Who’s Hiding the 1941 Gaps in His Biography — and Why?



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by Evaldas Balčiūnas

Authorized translation from the Lithuanian original by Geoff Vasil.


Today Sergijus Staniškis Litas is presented as a noble partisan commander who concentrated his unusual skills on battling the occupiers. At least that’s how the writers of the Lithuanian Center for the Study of Genocide and Resistance present him on their webpage at http://www.genocid.lt/datos/stanisk.htm.

Sergijus Staniškis was born in the village Geležiniai, Padovinis rural district, district of Marijampolė on September 17, 1899 to a well-to-do family of farmers. He completed Marijampolė’s Real Gymnasium. He entered the Kaunas War College in 1920. He was part of the Klaipėda Uprising and was awarded a medal which he received upon completion at Kaunas War College on October 15, 1923. He had the prospect of an attractive post in the cavalry. The first posting of the young junior lieutenant was to 2nd Ulan Division of Lithuanian Grand Duchess Birutė, deployed in Kaunas, subsequently in Vilkaviškis, and then in Alytus from 1926 onward. Still later he was transferred to the 1st Hussar Division of Lithuanian Grand Hetman Janusz Radvila, in Kaunas.

Here the talented officer quickly climbed the military career ladder. His fellows and subordinates liked him and neither did his superiors offer reprimands. In 1938 he was appointed cavalry lector at the War College of the First President of Lithuania and squadron commander. But was released from military service in 1940 as unreliable and moved to Šatijai village in Kaunas district. He fled deportation on June 14, 1940. As far as can be ascertained from stories by his brother Antanas, he wasn’t politically active under the German occupation, although he followed the underground press and was informed of VLIK’s plans [Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania—trans].

A female relative who was an active resister hid from the Gestapo on his farm in 1942 and 1943. He followed radio reports from abroad on a continual basis and followed the course of the war around the world. He never trusted the Germans, and was angered by their brutality, and especially the mass murder of Jews.

As the front drew closer, each had to worry about his own well-being. For the soldier, the way of the refugee meant dishonorable withdrawal from the field of battle, breaking the sacred oath to the Homeland. Staniškis was resolved to serve Lithuania. After the second Soviet occupation, he hid in Bukta Forest and the Žuvintas flooded meadows. Here he called together the first partisans and, it is believed, commanded them at the Battles of the Meadows in summer of 1945. In 1945 Staniškis was appointed the head of the A, then of the Dainava Military District. In January, 1946, after the merger of the Tauras and Dainava Military Districts and the establishment of the Southern Lithuanian Partisans District, Staniškis was appointed April 9, 1946, head of the operations department of this command, and chief of staff in July of the same year. As such, under extreme conditions he issued new mobilization orders. On April 23, 1946, he took part in releasing a declaration of the leaders of the Southern Lithuanian Partisans District in the Punia Woods. In September of 1947 he was appointed chief of the Dainava district and head of the Dzūkai troops in December. On May 19, 1949, at a meeting of Dainava district chiefs he was elected to the Supreme Command and became a member of the council of the Lithuanian Freedom Fighters Movement. He took over the post of commander of the Southern Lithuanian Partisans/Nieman District from Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas on January 19, 1950, which he held until his death. He drafted the Lithuanian Freedom Fighters Movement disciplinary regulations in 1951. Up until summer of 1952 he was in control of the situation in his district and maintained contact via the Tauras district with the leadership of the Sea District, and received correspondence from the Lithuanian Freedom Fighters Movement leadership.

On January 29, 1952, LFFM chairman Jonas Žemaitis-Vytautas appointed Staniškis his deputy commander, but due to actions by MGB agents contact was lost with the district leadership as well as LFFM headquarters. Arrested and turned, Dainava district headquarters official Albinas Stanaitis-Briedis showed MGB agents the way to Staniškis’s bunker. On February 3, 1953, MGB troops formed three rings around the bunker and demanded surrender. Staniškis destroyed all documents and communications equipment, cut up his shoes and shot himself. The body of the fallen soldier was taken to the Kaunas MGB.

On December 17, 1997, Staniškis was awarded (posthumously) the status of Military Volunteer. On May 19, 1998, he was promoted to the rank of colonel and awarded the Order of the Cross of Vytis, 3rd degree.

Nice, patriotic, and no blemishes. Initially he appeared to the Soviets unreliable. During the Nazi occupation he wasn’t involved in politics, but supported resisters and was angered by the mass murders, and the during the second Soviet occupation he fell in with the partisans and paid for his love of country with his life. That’s the official patriotic working biography.

But May We Now Take a Second Look?

Of course now we live in a free country and there is a variety of opinions, although all sorts of “enemies of freedom” are never idle. According to official patriotic propaganda, one of the targets of these tireless enemies is the good name of the partisan leaders. So what do the non-patriotic sources have to say about Sergijus Staniškis?

On the list provided by the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel (http://archive.is/2epg) next to the entry for Sergijus Staniškis is written “forts.” But didn’t the official researchers of Lithuanian genocide say he didn’t take part in political activity during the Nazi occupation?

If we take a look on the internet, it’s easy to find the list called “TDA battalion (1st Auxiliary Police Battalion; 1st Security Battalion; 13th Self-Defense Battalion) officers”: http://www.genocid.lt/Leidyba/7/tautinio.htm.

There, next to the surname Staniškis, we find the following biographic details:

Staniškis Sergijus, captain — … accepted into the TDA Battalion of the Kaunas kommandature June 28, 1941, appointed TDA Battalion treasurer July 3, 1941; appointed battalion head of finance August 7, 1941; …

It is interesting that the Genocide Research Center provides these biographical details as well. Apparently the facts, that captain Staniškis entered the TDA battalion on June 28, 1941, became battalion treasurer July 3 and head of finance August 7, don’t serve the purpose of lionizing him well, for every sane historian would immediately harbor questions concerning Staniškis’s participation in the Holocaust. Including the disposition of victims’ property, and etc.

So the formula “As far as can be ascertained from the stories of his brother Antanas, he wasn’t active politically during the German occupation” appears intended to exonerate him, but what might be lurking beneath that screen?

The Association of Lithuanian Jews says “forts.” The biography provides dates, let’s take the period from June 28, 1941 till August 7, 1941, when the man began service in the TDA and when he became treasurer. There is a webpage with an atlas of the Lithuanian Holocaust (holocaustatlas.lt) which accepts searches, and when we enter Kaunas and the time period we just defined, we see (and how unexpected!) that there were 5,000 victims at the 7th Fort in Kaunas from June 28 till July 19, 1941, and 2,555 victims at the 4th Fort in Kaunas on August 18, 1941. Well, we’ve gone outside the chronological boundaries there, but Mr. Staniškis didn’t after all, leave the battalion on August 7, 1941, he stuck around and did financial things instead of being treasurer.

Here’s what the Holocaust Atlas webpage says about the mass murders at the 4th Fort:

“On August 2, 1941, the first mass murder operation was carried out at the Fourth Fort in Kaunas. That day 209 people were shot, including 170 Jewish men, 33 Jewish women, one Jew from the USA and 4 Lithuanian Communists. TDA Battalion troops under the command of Lieutenant Juozas Barzda and Jurgis Skaržinskas led the condemned Jews from the prison on A. Mickevičiaus Street to the Fourth Fort. About 10 German officers and soldiers waited for them there. Ditches longer than ten meters and several meters across were dug into the slopes. Those about to be murdered were undressed to their underwear and led in groups to the ditch. Several dozen TDA troops and Germans shot the Jews. Barzda gave the order to shoot. The mass murder operation lasted for about two hours.

“A larger mass murder took place August 9. At that time the entire 3rd division led approximately 500-600 Jewish men from the prison on A. Mickevičiaus Street. Lieutenants Barzda and Anatolijus Dagys were in command of the division. The men and women were separated inside the fort. Soviet POWs had exhumed several large pits earlier. Before the shooting, sergeant Zigmas Arlauskas gave the soldiers vodka. The women were shot first. They were led to the pit in groups and shot in the back. Then they brought the men to the edge of the pits. They were undressed to their underwear, positioned on the edge of the pits and shot. After a group of Jews was shot, the Soviet POWs were ordered to put some dirt on top of them, and then the next group was shot. According to Karl Jaeger’s report there were 534 Jews shot at the Fourth Fort on August 9, 1941, including 484 men and 50 women.

“On August 18, 1941, the Altesrat of the Kaunas ghetto received an order from ghetto commander SA hauptsturmfuuhrer Fritz Jordan to call up male Jewish intellectuals and bring them to the ghetto gate for work at the Kaunas municipality’s archives. Five hundred and thirty-four Jews showed up. All were taken the same day to the Fourth Fort and shot. The Jaeger Report indicates 1,812 people were shot at the Fourth Fort in Kaunas on August 18, 1941, including 698 Jewish males, 402 Jewish females, 1 female Pole and 711 Jewish intellectuals from the ghetto. These mass murders were most likely perpetrated by German Gestapo officers and troops from the 3rd Division of the TDA Battalion.”

There is no mention of Staniškis, but this is the very same TDA Battalion whose treasury was the responsibility of our “hero.”

Going back to the 4th Fort, let’s consult a more patriotic source:

In a study by Christoph Dieckmann and Saulius Sužiedėlis for the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania formed by the president of the Republic of Lithuania, there is a chapter on the 7th Fort: “Organized shootings at the end of June and beginning of July took place at the 7th Fort.” This chapter is further divided into sections: “Shootings at the 7th Fort from June 30 to July 5, 1941,” “German and Lithuanian Shooters,” “Reactions by Germans to the Mass Murder at the 7th Fort,” “The Hamann Unit and the Establishment of the TDA.”

What it comes down to is that the Nazis and the Provisional Government of Lithuania set up a concentration camp for Jews at the 7th Fort. Kaunas military commandant Bobelis and deputy minister of public services Vladas Švipas were placed in charge of accomplishing this. The date of the decision by the Provisional Government coincides with the onset of the mass murders, June 31, 1941. Both German and Lithuanian units did the killing, including the TDA of Kaunas. The unfortunate souls who ended up there were kept there by TDA guards. The guard obeyed the Nazis and Bobelis. But they were undisciplined. They robbed. Because of that, TDA Battalion commander colonel Andrius Butkūnas issued a strict order on July 11. The Germans were annoyed the corpses weren’t disposed of after the mass murders, which they felt might lead to epidemics. Jaeger, one of the Nazi leaders, said during interrogations after the war that one TDA commander, Bronius Norkus, murdered 3,000 people at the 7th Fort without being ordered to do so.

It is known that the Nazis and collaborators stole everything of value from their victims before killing them, not just at the 7th Fort, but at every opportunity. It would be naive to think that not even a little of that stolen property passed through the hands of the treasurer of the military unit doing the murdering. It is much more likely that the post of treasurer itself was established on July 3 exactly for the diversion of confiscated goods for the needs of the military unit.

Exactly what TDA treasurer Staniškis’s role was at the 7th and 4th Forts has never been investigated. Why not? Can a historical institute whitewash it all away with the claim that he didn’t involve himself in “politics”? The facts say he was appointed to a position where he had to be involved in material goods… It is also a fact that neither his service in an occupational regime within the TDA Battalion nor his manifest involvement with material goods during that period were ever evaluated and that this posed no barrier to granting him the rank of colonel and bestowing state awards upon him posthumously…

Even so, post-war partisans for some reason associated the name of Staniškis with material goods. For one thing, the most prominent nickname given him was Litas, the name of the Lithuanian currency. I’ll allow myself to guess why: what if not all of the stolen property he administered in 1941 went to the treasury which he ran, what of some of it went to armed underground after the war? If so, that would be a major blemish on the bright image of the man painted by the patriotic movement, not to mention the tired old mantra of the heads of the Lithuanian Center for the Study of Genocide and Resistance, “partisan leaders did not take part in the mass murder of Jews,” also disproven by a number of biographies of other partisan leaders.

The puzzle of Staniškis’s biography undoubtedly has to do with a relationship to Holocaust crimes. We don’t really know whether he was directly involved, as a shooter, or just bureaucratically involved in administering property seized from the people murdered and providing for the murderers and guards.

Although it would be nice to find some of the missing pieces to the puzzle, I don’t really think the historians employed by the Lithuanian state are interested. It might become obvious that the rank of colonel and Order of the Cross of Vytis, 3rd degree, were granted because the man hid from justice in order to avoid answering for what he did under the Nazis… Or, even worse, that he remained behind in Lithuania while the Nazis fled not out of love of country, but because he was bound by stolen property from 1941 still hidden there… I don’t have a basis for claiming this, but such things would undoubtedly threaten the ultra-patriotic conception of Lithuanian statehood. I believe it is that threat that forces historians kept by the Lithuanian state not to notice the 1941 questions, 1941 problems and 1941 gaps in the biographies of one and another partisan leader.

 

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