These observations do not claim to be a review of the traveling exhibition “Lithuanian Jews behind the Iron Curtain,” which was mounted by the Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum in Vilnius (hereinafter “the state Jewish museum”) from 13 March to 31 July 31 this year. By and large, issues raised refer to the fate of Lithuanian Jewry during World War II and contemporary issues regarding some issues in Lithuanian history.
The design, composition and execution of the March-to-July 2014 exhibit at the state Jewish museum were all excellent, with state of the art utilization of both sides of exhibition boards. There was a wealth of material, particularly photographic, on spheres of life including individual, family, children and adults, group, duets, “before and after” photos of the prewar and postwar periods, official photos of events, documents, newspaper clippings, posters, quotes from academic papers of academics, quotes from letters and literary works, memoirs of the eye-witnesses to the events, cartoons and captions to them, correspondence of public officials, etc. One side of each stand presents the materials in the Lithuanian language, the other in English.
“Was it demanded by unnamed circles, standing over the National Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, in other words the requirements that the depiction of the history of Lithuanian Jews be ‘edited’ in accordance with the prostituted requirements of today’s ruling elite?”
The exhibition is mobile: it can be quickly assembled, prepared for inspection, quickly disassembled, folded and transported. This allows us to suggest that the exhibition can be (or is even meant to be?) exhibited not only in Vilnius or Lithuania, but also abroad: it has recently become a fashion among the Lithuanian academic community, while exploring the tragedy of Lithuanian Jews during World War II (the Holocaust issues), to arrange conferences, symposia and other scientific events on this subject and related Jewish questions, not only in Lithuania, but also for foreign tours in the UK, the USA, South Africa and further afield.
Use of the Notion “Iron Curtain,” the History, and the Politics
The cover of the booklet that goes with the exhibition bears the unusual name: “Lithuanian Jews behind the Iron Curtain.” The authors of the booklet, who are also authors of the exhibition are museum employees Milda Jakulytė-Vasil, Neringa Latvytė-Gustaitienė, Aušra Rožankevičiūtė, who have done a great job in search of historical materials. The foreword to the booklet is written by Markas Zingeris, the director of the state museum who is also a writer, poet, playwright, translator, journalist and politician.
The term “iron curtain” has traditionally referred to political, economic and humanitarian relations between states, but here there lurks a sensational surprise: it is neither a state, nor a block of states, nor a national group, which the creators of the exhibition have placed behind the “iron curtain” but the Jews of Lithuania. Before the exhibition with this name appeared, this original idea had probably never come to anyone’s mind – the idea to isolate as category in “iron curtain” terms the fate of a an ethnic minority within one of the states, which has close and unimpeded relations with fellow Jews in fourteen other republics on the same side of the curtain in addition to various foreign contacts in various periods.
Curiously, the name “Lithuanian Jews behind the Iron Curtain” isn’t mentioned on the first stand. Instead the words “Between Scylla and Charybdis: 1940 – 1941” occupy the name-of-exhibition slot. At first it seems that this Between Scylla and Charybdis is the title of the exhibition, so you feel confused: what does the ancient Greek legend have to do with Lithuanian Jews of 1940 – 1941? However, looking at the second stand, you see the word “Nationalization” at the top, written in the same font. Hence, it defines the topic of the second stand. As a result, the sign “Between Scylla and Charybdis: 1940 – 1941” is not the name of the whole show, it’s just the name of the first stand. Of course it is the words “Lithuanian Jews behind the Iron Curtain” that make up the title of the entire show, though for some reason don’t appear at all on the stands, but only in the booklet. If a visitor does not buy the booklet, he or she won’t even know the name of the exhibition.
The opening remarks on the first stand begin with a vigorous political-historical statement: “The Lithuanian State became a victim of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany’s secret protocols. On June 15-16, 1940, Lithuanian territory was occupied by the Red Army.” Further on, the history of “sovietization” of Lithuania is presented briefly: election of “the people’s seim” and the incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union. They point to the worsening relations between Lithuanians and Jews, but the reason for this is not specified. Continuing the text about the victims of the secret protocols, they say: “An intensive propaganda started in the press and social surroundings” [emphasis added].
What is “intensive propaganda” referred to? Had there been no “propaganda” before the Soviet troops arrived in Lithuania? Or was it just not “intense”? What could that propaganda have been like? Languorous, apathetic, indifferent, sleepy? Could the creators of the exhibition not have found more compelling and meaningful words describing serious political catastrophe in their country than this political-style runaround? After all, one would infer from the title boards that the loss of independence had been a result of conquest in bloody battles and that that alone was the national tragedy of the “Jews behind the iron curtain”?
Nothing is said about the changing by armed interventions of the European countries’ boundaries, which began in the late 1930s. Those were tragic circumstances, which touched not only Lithuania, but almost all the Eastern European states. Not a word is said on the internal inter-party struggle for power in Lithuania, which weakened the country on the eve of impending serious threats both from the West and the East…
In the authors’ view, Lithuania was a helpless orphan, lamblike victim of aggression, existing beyond particular time and space. The loss of state independence (without indication that it came about with any battles) is presented in such a sentimental style that it provokes confusion and distrust on the part of the casual visitor who has no particular axe to grind.
The events, including Hitler’s Germany seeking retribution for her defeat in the First World War and the ensuing settlements, were brewing in Europe in the late 1930s. In March 1938 Germany annexed Austria. Britain, France and Italy remained silent. In September the same year, those countries signed the Munich Agreement with Germany, in which it almost got their permission to occupy Bohemia and Moravia, parts of sovereign Czechoslovakia; it immediately implemented that permission. Thus, the United Kingdom, France and Italy undertook responsibility for the revision of European boundaries, established by the terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty, that has been signed by Germany and the Entente States in 1919.
On 19 March 1939, Germany, this time without looking back at the United Kingdom, France or Italy, sent an ultimatum to Lithuania, demanding return of the Memel region (the Lithuanian name of Memel is Klaipėda), which it had received by a League of Nations’ decision in 1923. On 21 March, during a meeting in Berlin of the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Juozas Urbšys and his Nazi Germany counterpart Joachim von Ribbentrop, the latter threatened that in case of not transferring this region to Germany Wehrmacht troops would enter Lithuania and “Kaunas would be razed to the ground.” On 22 March 1939 the Lithuanian government signed its non-aggression agreement with Germany. The next day, Hitler arrived in Memel on the destroyer Leopard, accompanied by a military squadron. He saluted a parade of Wehrmacht combat units, which had occupied the city, and went back to Germany. Lithuania lost both Memel and the Memel territory, and as a result, it was cut off from the Baltic Sea.
[Looking ahead, we would notice that after the war the former minister of the 1941 Provisional Government of Lithuania Adolfas Damušis touched the topic of redistribution of Lithuanian territories in his work “The victims and losses of the Lithuanian population during and after the war, 1940 – 1959” (original in Lithuanian). Damušis reminds his readers about another episode: “According to the third secret protocol of 20 January 1941, the Soviet Union agreed to pay Germany 7.5 million gold dollars as compensation for the part of Suvalkiya belonging to Lithuania,” that is, Suvalkiya was “sold.”]
In late January of 1945, thanks to the victory of the Red Army, including of course the heroic members of the 16th Lithuanian Division, Klaipeda, a seaport in Lithuania, was liberated from Nazi occupation. After the victory of the anti-Hitler coalition over Nazi Germany all of the Klaipeda region was ceded to the Lithuanian SSR. As well as all other territories annexed to Lithuania during the Soviet era, the Klaipėda region, annexed by Nazi Germany on 22 March 1939, remained without question or objection the property of Lithuania, when it declared its independence in March 1990, and when de facto independence was fully realized in 1991.
On 23 August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact, the main text of which was supplemented by a secret protocol about the division of spheres of influence between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It was signed by Molotov and Ribbentrop. On the first of September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, starting its occupation, and on the seventeenth of September the Red Army invaded the territory of eastern Poland. Contrary to international law, the results of the rapid defeat and dismemberment of Poland were enshrined in a new treaty “of friendship and border,” which was signed by Molotov and Ribbentrop on 28 September 1939. Since that time any form of anti-fascist propaganda was even banned in the Soviet Union. The ban remained in force until the German attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.
On 20 September 1939, Germany produced a draft agreement with Lithuania on the basic principles of defense. Article 1 states: “Without any harm to the independence of Lithuania it gives itself into the care of German Reich.” It was agreed that from then onward Lithuania should coordinate the quantity, location and equipment of its country’s army with the High Command of the Wehrmacht. And on 25 September Hitler ordered the sending to East Prussia of armed forces sufficient for the invasion of Lithuania.
All those events are not mentioned in the exhibition “Lithuanian Jews behind the Iron Curtain.” Another event, directly related to the further history of independent Lithuania, also remains unmentioned. On 10 October 1939, the Republic of Lithuania and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of mutual assistance. It pointed out that in order to ensure mutual security and fair resolution of the question of statehood of the city of Vilna and Vilna area, presumed to have been illegally seized by Poland, the city of Vilna and the Vilna region were transferred to the Republic of Lithuania. In exchange, with the signed contract, Soviet troops were introduced into Lithuania with the Lithuanian government’s formal agreement. Thus, Vilnius and entire Vilnius region with their very significant Polish and Jewish population, as well as some areas of western Belorussia were attached to Lithuania. According to some sources, Lithuania’s Jewish population increased by more than eighty thousand people by virtue of the Soviet transfer of the Vilna region to Lithuania. Neither the United States nor the European countries subjected the Soviet Union to any sanctions for changing the borders of Lithuania, Poland and Belarus and for the introduction of Soviet troops into Lithuania. No question of any “iron curtain” was mentioned by anybody.
On 15 June 1940, the Soviet penetration of Lithuania continued not according to the 1939 agreement between the two countries, but on the basis of a new Soviet ultimatum to the government of independent Lithuania. Lithuania accepted the terms of the Soviet ultimatum. On the eve of this event, the President of Lithuania, Antanas Smetona, unable to convince his government to bolster defenses of the country, fled to Germany and then to another continent. Additional units of the Red Army took over Lithuania without a single shot being fired. No state protested on this occasion and there was no “iron curtain” established.
It is reported in the panels of the exhibition “Lithuanian Jews Behind the Iron Curtain” that in an election was held in Lithuania. Modern Lithuanian historiography calls the results of that election rigged, but nobody ever presented the documentary evidence to either legitimize or to falsify the election results. The election results were disavowed not in 1940, but fifty years later, in 1990, when Lithuania, supported by the European Union and the United States, became the first of the republics to secede from the Soviet Union and declare its independence. At that time no documents on the illegality of the 1940 election were presented either. Time is running out, and the bearers of personal memory of the election are disappearing at a rapid rate.
On the basis of the 1940 election a friendly-to-the-USSR, but non-Communist government headed by Justas Paleckis was formed in Lithuania. Lithuania became part of the Soviet Union as the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, one of the sixteen national republics.
The Exhibition’s Proportions and their Implicit Reasoning
One is struck by the disproportionate distribution of the overall space of the exhibition “Lithuanian Jews Behind the Iron Curtain” depending on the implied importance of the touched-upon periods of time and perceived importance of issues.
♦ Seven panels constituting 33.3% of exhibition space are allotted to a single year, the year of establishment of Soviet power and the so-called “socialist reforms” in pre-war Lithuania from mid-1940 to mid-1941.
♦ Only one panel, accounting for 4.76% of exhibition space is provided for the three years of World War II in Lithuania (1941 – 1944), the period of the Holocaust, when the Lithuanian Jewish community was brutally destroyed.
♦ The remaining thirteen panels, accounting for 62% of the exhibition space are provided for coverage of Jewish life in Lithuania for the forty-five years from 1945 to 1990.
So, one year of the so-called Soviet reforms is assigned to seven times as large area as three years of Nazi occupation, when thousands of local Nazi collaborators annihilated between 200,000 and 235,000 Lithuanian Jews. Isn’t the destruction of the Lithuanian Jewish Community during the Nazi occupation a phenomenon that deserves more attention than it is given at this exhibition?
Disproportionate distribution of the exhibition space, which is contrary to the historical logic, can hardly be attributed only to its founders’ personal initiative. It is possible that that was demanded by unnamed circles, standing over the National Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, in other words the requirements that the depiction of the history of Lithuanian Jews be “edited” in accordance with the prostituted requirements of today’s ruling elite. Of course, people holding high office and managing policy do not want to remember the genocide committed against the Jews in Lithuania during the war. And as it is impossible to find excuses for the murder of non-guilty people, someone is eager to bury the memory of the most massive and most brutal crime committed in Lithuania in its history, the murder of Jewish people, who had lived peacefully in Lithuania for many centuries, who loved this country and contributed to its development.
The Nazis and their local collaborators exterminated Jews neither for crimes nor for their view of the world. The only “fault” of each of the six million murdered European Jews, the only reason they were killed during World War II was the biological fact of their birth. From the point of view of Nazi doctrine, they didn’t have the right to be born. Even if they verbally renounced belonging to the Jewish people, even if they do things against the Jews, they cannot change the fact of their Jewish origin. The Nazis and their collaborators exterminated Jews because Jews are Jews.
In recent years, a so-called “theory” of double genocide was invented, according to which Stalin’s repressions against dissidents are equalized to the crimes of the Holocaust. This “theoretical” fabrication has been a success in some Eastern European countries, formerly part of the Warsaw Pact.
Communist regimes were international everywhere. The main objective of the communist parties’ activities was establishment of Communist rule worldwide. It would be enough to recall that until 1944 the Soviet anthem was called the “Internationale.” And the union of the Communist parties of different countries was called the Third International. The Communists persecuted people not for their national identity, but for freedom of thought, dissent, for negative attitudes toward the Communist regime, for opposing Communist order and rule. If necessary, a Communist may recant his views and beliefs. A Jew can not change the biological fact of his origin.
Article II of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in accordance with resolution 260 (III) of the General Assembly on 9 December 1948 clearly states that “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Repressions for political dissent cannot be equated to the crime of genocide. But it is precisely this “equating” of political repression with genocide that some of the modern right-wing and far-right high-level European politicians are engaged in.
Historians, forced to carry out politicians’ orders, turn research institutions into a notorious “Ministry of Truth” whose activity is well described by George Orwell in his novel 1984. One of the characters in the novel explains the purpose of the ministry:
“… if everyone takes in all the lies imposed by the party, if there is one and the same song in all the documents — then this lie is settled in history and becomes truth. He who controls the past, as the party slogan says, controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
(emphasis added – M. Ch.)
There is someone in Lithuania, who is trying to control the past, monopolize the future, turn the Holocaust into an event equal to Stalin’s repressions against dissidents.
Inventing history on the model of the ruling elite leads directly to rejection of actual academic study of events, to the composition of the “past,” its “fictionalization” and explaining fiction as existing reality. Such methods are used to “change” the past, in the spirit of donning a disguise.
How the Exhibition Regards the Annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry
In this respect, particular attention is drawn to the eighth panel of the exhibition called “Lithuanian Jews behind the Iron Curtain.” There is neither an invented story nor falsification. Its peculiarity lies in the fact that it is the only one of the twenty-one panels dedicated to the most tragic history, the destruction of the Jewish community during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. Instead of its name there are two numbers: “1941 – 1944” on the panel. It’s clear that these are dates. To which event, what history and geography should a high school student (because it is clear that the exhibition is intended for the high school student) relate these figures? What happened? What do these numbers have to do with Lithuania and with the theme of the exhibition?
Do the following poetic lines under the mentioned dates answer the question:
“Such a long night stayed here,
that you could count all the stars”?
(translated from Yiddish)
The poem was written by Hirsh Osherovitsh. How do the visitors know who Hirsh Osherovitsh is?
Not so many in today’s Lithuania know the name of the remarkable Jewish poet who was born in Panevėžys (Yiddish Pónevezh). What do the specified dates on the stand (1941 –1944) have to do with the line about the sky studded with bright stars that can be counted during a long night? There are no such long and starry nights in Lithuania. How would the visitors know that these two poetic lines do not speak of World War II, indicated at the top line of the stand, but about 1949 – 1956? How would they know that the poet was not speaking about a Lithuanian night, but precisely about a long polar night in the Far North? The words of the poem themselves are great, imbued with deep sense, however, they have nothing to do either with Lithuania, war, or the Holocaust. The long starry night in H. Osherovitsh’s poem is an image of a northern Siberian night, not a Lithuanian one. On the decision of the Lithuanian SSR’s court the poet served a ten year prison sentence in a Siberian camp.
A visitor will learn about that only when, forgetting Osherovitsh and his long night, he will go past four more panels and come to number 13. Here post factum the view sees H. Osherovitsh’s prison photo, he or she learns that the poet was arrested by Soviet authorities for anti-Soviet and Zionist activity, and sentenced to ten years of imprisonment in Siberian camps for “anti-Soviet and nationalist-Zionist” activities. That was the night of his life. In 1956 Hirsh Osherovitsh was released early, rehabilitated, and in 1971 he left for Israel.
Returning to the panel no 8, we see information resembling an accounting report under H. Osherovitsh’s lines:
“About 200,000 Jews lived in Lithuania before World War II.In the period from 1941 – 1944 more than 90 percent of the members of the community were killed.”
Just think about the numbers of this murderous account: about 200,000 Jews lived in Lithuania. How much is “about”? More or less than two hundred thousand? Who “killed” them, when and why? It (the mass murder of people exclusively for being Jews) was a deliberate, planned, carefully prepared crime, implemented with great enthusiasm They were killed. We are talking about the worst crimes against humanity on the territory of Lithuania in its entire history. After all, there were masterminds, developers and committers of the crime. Can the exhibition be silent about that?
Well, and one of the most painful questions: how many Jews were killed by the Nazis’ local henchmen? “About” 200,000 people? How many exactly? The absence of a clear answer is a signal of a modern humanitarian malaise: they have not been able to calculate the actual number of murdered Jews for seventy years, for 24 of which Lithuania has been an independent state. However, the quantity and even the names of the murderers was much easier to count, they have already been counted, first in Israel and eleven years later in Lithuania. Though Israel published not only numbers, but also the names, nature and location of their crimes, Lithuania could list only the number of murderers; their names remain secret. Why? They do not want to offend the murderers’ closer or more distant relatives? Should killers’ descendants not know about their ancestors’ crimes, which they cannot take any responsibility for (and nobody blames them)! We are reminded of Hamlet’s words: … “Something is rotten in the kingdom of Denmark!” The Danish prince was right, something is rotten… in Denmark.
Use and Abuse of Old Photographs
There are about fifty prewar photographs under the title about the murder of “more than 90% of the members of the community” on panel no. 8. Thus, the founders of the exhibition, not paying attention to such “trifles” as the reasons and motives for that heinous crime against humanity, without specifying the names of the theoreticians, managers and executors of the crime, are hurrying to turn the audience’s attention to the photos.
What can the photos on this panel tell us about? About the fact that Jews in Lithuania disappeared and there are only pictures left? What do we know about the people in these photographs? Or about the owners of the photos? Who found these photos? Are those the scenes from the life of Jews in Lithuania before the war or in the ghetto?
Perhaps that is why the line “Photos found in the ruins of the Vilna Ghetto after the war” is written in small print and positioned in a very inconspicuous place at the bottom of the eighth stand somewhere at knee level. A lot of visitors pass by not paying attention to this line of text… The exhibition’s visitors are left to guess that these are pre-war photographs, and some will walk away with a misimpression.
The authors of the exhibition keep silent about the fact that the Jews of Lithuania were evicted from their homes and apartments and herded into ghettos. What is known about household life in the ghetto? Deprived of basic human rights, they continued resisting death, believed that they would return to life. They saved pre-war photos and documents, organized a library and reading room, created underground schools and medical establishments, and managed to find medications. Doctors treated people, and made efforts to enhance the personal hygiene of each prisoner. They created a theater and a symphony orchestra, staged performances, concerts and art exhibitions. Jewish doctors fined ghetto residents who violated the basic sanitation standards mandated for the community’s survival. Therefore, there was no spread of infectious diseases in the Vilna Ghetto. Ghetto prisoners obtained weapons and set up illegal courses where they taught fellow prisoners how to use those weapons, they got ready to fight for their freedom should they be able to do so. Torn from life, doomed to destruction, the people did their best to preserve human dignity, being continually balanced on the brink of life and death.
What is the History Implied?
Can all these topics be deleted from history? The authors of the exhibit have silently bypassed the main questions. Why and for what infractions were the Jews isolated from the population of Lithuania and herded into ghettos? Why did the Nazis and their local collaborators create in Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai, Švenčionys, Oshmiany and Svir de facto prison camps with barbed wire and locked gates for the temporary residence of the local Jewish citizens in an agonizing wait for an agonizing death from the hands of the Nazis and their local perpetrators? Who exactly rooted the Jewish population out of Lithuania?
Panel no. 8 is the only one among more than twenty illustrating the events of the Lithuanian Jews’ life in the years 1941 to 1944, and it does not provide or does not dare to provide the answer to important questions. It’s a mirror of the restricted area, in which the history of the destruction of the Lithuanian Jews dares appear here. Hence the paradox: the most tragic period in the history of Lithuanian Jews — World War II — is presented on a single panel. Someone might object: The exhibition is after all devoted to a broader topic: “Lithuanian Jews behind the Iron Curtain.” But this Iron Curtain, behind which the Jews of Lithuania disappeared, was not the symbolic Iron Curtain from Winston Churchill’s world-famous speech in Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, USA on March 5, 1946.
A diary entry by Zenonas Blinas, Secretary General of the Nationalist Party of Lithuania, testifies as to how Jews were killed. It didn’t find its place in the exhibition:
“Nine thousand Rokiškis Jews were to be shot this morning. A three-meter ditch is being dug, 100 Jews are driven in, placed in the pit, warned that those who rise will be shot, a string of machine gun bursts goes over their backs, then 20 to 30 cm of sand is sprinkled and … then it’s the turn for the next group of Jews to be put down. Once 100 Jews were driven in, the order came to withdraw them from the city. They went away with bundles of things, but after a few kilometers they were ordered to put down their things and take off their outer clothing. Jews realized what their fate was. There were tragic scenes, which touched the executioners. Another 2,000 people (elderly, women, children) remain a second party. A humane consideration, no need to take care of children. Next, healthy young guys are brought into order.”
(Blynas, Zenonas. Karo metų dienoraštis, 1941-1944 m. / LII; parengė Gediminas Rudis, Vilnius: LII leidykla, 2007).
The panels numbered 9 through 21demonstrate the consequences of the Holocaust in Lithuania after liberation from Nazi occupation, including the exhumation of the corpses in the mass murder fields, attempts to rearrange their household, to return to pre-war community life, to resist peacefully the Soviet regime, to fight for returning to their historic homeland, etc.
Is it accidental that the most tragic period in the history of Lithuania and the history of Lithuanian Jewry — the destruction of 96 percent of the Jewish residents of this small European country — is not presented in the exhibition called Lithuanian Jews behind the Iron Curtain?
On November 6, 1998, the elected chairperson of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel (hereinafter: ALJI), Joseph Melamed, sent a letter to the President of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus with proposals concerning the issue of studying the history of the Holocaust. As J. Melamed later said, he didn’t receive any response to the letter. In January 1999, the ALJI published Crime and Punishment, which includes Melamed’s letter to Adamkus and the lists of alleged perpetrators of the massacres of Lithuanian Jewry organized on a regional basis. There were 4,268 names in the lists. President Adamkus did not respond.
Eventually, after not receiving any offers from Lithuania on cooperation in investigating the thousands of alleged perpetrators, the ALJI posted the same lists on its website. It was noticed in 2009 and a scandal broke out in Lithuania. There were showers of demands to rebut the list, to open proceedings. One of the positive effects of this scandal was a decision of a state institution, the Center for the Study of Genocide and Resistance of Lithuanian Residents, to form a group of researchers and to start studying the issue of participation of Lithuanians in the extermination of Jews during World War II. Apparently, one of the purposes of their work was a desire to refute the allegations of the ALJIn and calm down some anxious citizens, who knew what a terrible abyss might result from serious investigation of the “activities” of the Lithuanian police battalions. It is a well-known fact, that they acted so effectively in Lithuania that the Nazi chiefs sent them to murder Jews in Belarus and Ukraine. In Poland they were entrusted an “honorable mission”: they not only guarded camps, but also shot Jews and other concentration camp prisoners.
Probably the two-year effort by this group of Lithuanian researchers affiliated with the Genocide Center would have elicited more legitimacy more trust if a unified Lithuanian-Israeli commission were established, to which each side could delegate experienced historians and lawyers, and present their own arguments. However, apparently, the Lithuanian establishment did not need truth or academic cooperation with the descendants or relatives of murdered Jews.
The consequence of the publication of the Israeli list on the internet was an attempt of Lithuanian prosecutors to “invite” Joseph Melamed, an Israeli citizen, to Lithuania for questioning (with an eye to accusing him of “slandering national heroes”). At the request of the prosecutor’s office of Lithuania, Mr. Melamed was interviewed by local (Israeli) Interpol officials in August 2011. Is the case ultimately closed? The prosecutor’s office has not apologized.
During the Genocide Center’s two-year investigation, Lithuanian experts proved 1,034 people to have been “real participants” in the mass murder of Jews, that is four times less than the ALJI had named in their published lists of perpetrators with exact names and with the sites of the crimes listed. This number can be regarded as a step forward from a complete denial of the fact. Maybe someday the Israeli list will be specified and no longer remain a mystery. (See: http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/lietuvos-istorikai-nustate-per-tukstanti-zydus-zudziusiu-lietuviu-tarsis- su-prokurorais.d? id = 58792743).
There is another number that is not certain. How many Jews were killed in Lithuania during the Nazi occupation? There is a significant discrepancy in the figures: from 180,000 to 200,000 Jewish citizens according to the current official history of Lithuania up to 240,000 to 250,000 according to unofficial estimates. According to the official government version about 90% of the Jewish residents of Lithuania were killed; according to international scholars, 96% or 96.4% of the prewar Jewish population of Lithuania (including the Jews living in the areas added to Lithuania on the eve of World War II). Besides, there is absolutely no information about the number of Jews killed by Lithuanian police battalions in Belarus, Ukraine and Poland.
History Suppressed, History Inverted
Giving their version of the number of Jews murdered during World War II, the organizers of the exhibition “Lithuanian Jews behind the Iron Curtain” did not say a word about who prepared and implemented the greatest crime against humanity in the history of Lithuania. Are there no academic articles or monographs on this subject?
Do they not know that a very significant role in the “final solution of the Jewish question” in Lithuania was played by an underground “rebel” organization called the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), founded in Berlin in November 1940 in the run-up to the Nazi invasion of Lithuania. Kazys Škirpa (1895 – 1979) was its founder, ideologist and leader.
Škirpa, the ambassador extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of Lithuania to Nazi Germany in November 1940 refused to fulfil the order of the Soviet Lithuanian government to return home and he remained in Germany. With the support of the German secret service, he founded a Nazist Lithuanian military ultra-nationalist organization, the Lithuanian activists Front with the main headquarters in Berlin. The main task of the headquarters was to prepare an uprising against Soviet power and assist the coming Nazi troops in the defeat of the Red Army. For immediate organization of work in Lithuania local LAF headquarters were established in Vilnius and Kaunas. In January-February 1941 LAF combat groups were opened in all settlements of Lithuania. The day when the Nazis would carry out the bombing of the Lithuanian territory was appointed as the beginning of the uprising. The identification mark for the rebels was a white armband, so people called them by a nickname, baltaraiščiai, or white arm-banders.
In an interview with the Lithuanian press an American lawyer of Lithuanian origin Augustinas Idzelis testified that Škirpa “had connections with the Head of the Berlin Office of the occupied territories in the East Peter Kleist, Joachim Ribbertrop’s subordinate. […] Of course, K. Škirpa handed him various documents. He shared his grandiose projects of uprising, invasion and the role of Lithuanians with Germans. (See: http://www.alfa.lt/straipsnis/11610150/Tautos.atsakas.sovietams..sukilimas=2011-06-13_10-02/).
The Berlin headquarters headed by Škirpa developed and distributed a most important document under the imprint “Top Secret” — “Guidelines for the liberation of Lithuania” (original Lithuanian see: Liudas Truska, Vygandas Vareikis. Holokausto prielaidos. Antisemitizmas Lietuvoje. Margi raštai. Vilnius, 2004, esp. “Lietuvai išlaisvinti nurodymai” on pp. 245 – 263 ).
Unequivocal instructions are given in the “Guidelines”:
“When approaching the hour of liberation from the Soviet Communist terror and Jewish exploitation the movement of the Lithuanian activists must be invoked by all possible means to prepare the Lithuanian people both ideologically and legislatively for the decisive act, which the future of Lithuania will depend on. For ideological maturation of the Lithuanian people anti-communist and anti-Jewish actions need to be strengthened.”
(emphasis added – M. Ch)
The need for the most brutal measures is repeatedly confirmed in the “Guidelines”:
“It is very important to get rid of the Jews on the occasion […], therefore such a hard atmosphere should be created against the Jews in the country so that no Jew would dare to cast a thought that he will still have any rights at all, or even the opportunity to live in new Lithuania. […] The more of them disappear from Lithuania on this occasion, the easier it will be to get rid of them after all. The welcome for the Jews in Lithuania, provided by Vytautas the Great in olden times is abolished forever for their constantly repeated betrayal of the Lithuanian people to their oppressors.”
(emphasis added – M. Ch)
The text of the “Guidelines” is dated March 24, 1941. Thus, from the end of March 1941, the LAF headquarters intensified the spread of extremist, eliminationist antisemitism in Lithuania. It was a kind of order to prepare for total physical extermination of the Jews.
Ideological tenets of these secret “Guidelines” were distributed in the form of leaflets. For example, in the spring of 1941, a leaflet was illegally distributed, signed by “Lithuanian Activist Front” which contained an appeal “to Lithuanians brothers and sisters”:
“A crucial hour has come to pay off the Jews, Lithuania must be liberated not only from Asians-Bolsheviks’ slavery, but also from years of Jewry yoke.”
At the beginning of the “uprising” against the Soviets (who were fleeing the Nazi invasion), the white arm-banders captured the Kaunas radio station and announced the establishment of the Provisional Government of Lithuania headed by K. Škirpa. But according to Hitler’s plans, the territory of Lithuania was to become part of the German province of Ostland with a limited volume of Lithuanian population, fit only to do agricultural work and serve in German houses.
Nazi leaders skillfully used the white arm-banders’ uprising, prepared by Kazys Škirpa. Thou well aware of his claims to be the supreme leader of Lithuania, on June 22nd, 1941, on the first day of military operations in Lithuania, they placed Škirpa under house arrest in Berlin, depriving the Provisional Government (hereinafter: PG) of their leader.
The crazed frenzy of brutal massacres of Lithuanian Jews began in the first days of the white arm-banders’ “uprising.” This is testified to by the reports of Lithuanian municipalities, memoirs of Lithuanian citizens, and the numerous at post-war trials. Memoirs of Jewish survivors have also been published and translated into many languages in many countries.
None of the exhibition’s panels even mention the Provisional Government which stayed in power for one and a half months and was dissolved by the Nazi command, though the government played a considerate role in the preparation of legislative framework for degradation and annihilation of Jews, and created the conditions for transition from disparate and spontaneous “actions” to legitimize and make “legal” the murder of Jews.
In anticipation of K. Škirpa’s arrival, a 38 year old philologist Juozas Ambrazavičius (1903 – 1974), a lecturer at Kaunas University (Vytautas Magnus) and a girls’ school “Aušra,” was appointed interim prime minister of the Provisional Government. There is not a word about J. Ambrazavičius in the materials of the exhibition although his role in the destruction of the Jews of Lithuania is very significant: under his leadership a legal framework for the final solution of “the Jewish question” was developed and adopted. During the month and a half of its existence the Provisional Government adopted a number of antisemitic laws and regulations constituting theLithuanian version of Hitler’s “Law of a Reich citizen” and the “Law on Protection of German Blood and German Honor” Under J. Ambrazavičius’s leadership and bearing his signature the provisional government adopted a resolution on the establishment of a special camp at Kaunas’s “Seventh Fort” for the destruction of the Jews, as well as the establishment and financial support of a special militarized police unit, which exterminated more than three thousand Jews there in the course of a month and a half.
In Lithuania, the world of Lithuanian Jewry was destroyed, which had been evolving for over six centuries. It was a unique world with its features historical features, including the specific variety of the Yiddish language developed, originality of cultural heritage, and the Jewish relationships of Jews internally as well as with the various non-Jewish parts of the population
In the years since Lithuania won its independence, both Kazys Škirpa and Juozas Ambrazevičius were posthumously awarded the highest orders of the Republic and their remains transported from America and reburied with full state honors. Streets in cities were named after them and memorial plaques testify to their activities. This is the way that a history is created with examples that educate the younger generation.
Authorized translation from the Russian by Ludmila Makedsonkaya (Grodno)