O P I N I O N
by Evaldas Balčiūnas
I was surprised to learn that Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė appointed you ambassador to Belarus. She said Belarus is an important partner for Lithuania with many ties between our countries, and that cooperation should be on an equal footing, constructive and mutually beneficial. I invite you to think about whether you really are able to do this job, or whether you won’t make international relations worse because of certain matters of the past.
Let me remind you of one such thing. On 31 October 2002, you and then-president Valdas Adamkus signed presidential decree no. 1965 posthumously promoting Juozas Krikštaponis (Krištaponis) to the rank of colonel. The decree mistakenly gave his first name as Jonas, a mistake corrected in presidential decree 1K-849 issued by President Adamkus on 5 January 2007.
The problem is, Juozas Krikštaponis (Krištaponis) is suspected of grave war crimes in Belarus committed in October of 1941. Juozas Krikštaponis (Krištaponis) was then in command of a brigade in the 2nd Lithuanian Police Battalion (TDA) commanded by chief of staff major Antanas Impulevičius, the same battalion whose soldiers together with the Germans shot about 46,000 people (including about 9,000 Soviet POWs) and hanged 12 members of the Soviet underground in the fall of 1941. The absolute majority of victims were Jews.
I wrote about the crimes of which J. Krikštaponis (Krištaponis) is accused in the article The History of Three “Lithuanian Freedom Army” (LFA) Colonels Who Served the Nazis. After the Lithuanian original of that article was published in April 2011, chairman of the parliament’s National Security and Defense Committee A. Anušauskas asked the Center for the Study of Genocide and Resistance for clarification, which came in May of 2011 in a report called “Dėl LLA karininkų veiklos nacistinės okupacijos laikotarpiu” [On the Activity of Lithuanian Freedom Army Officers During the Nazi Occupational Time-Period] (see the Annual Operations Report of the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania for 2011). After receiving this report, the chairman declined to demand a retraction of the suspicions contained in my article, so I am inclined to believe they are well founded.
A certain daily chronicle testifies to the atrocities committed by the battalion which included Krikštaponis (Krištaponis). On 14 October 1941, this battalion shot 1,300 Jews in the town of Smilovich in the Minsk district. Moisey Gorelik, who miraculously survived the massacre, recounts how the ghetto of Smilovich was annihilated on the website Iremember.ru:
“On October 14th vehicles began turning into Smilovich from the direction of Dukory, one after another, trucks with canopies over them, and in several minutes the entire ghetto was surrounded by police and troops. My mama clutched her youngest daughter Malka close to her and ran out of the house. I never saw her again… Germans, police and Lithuanians surrounded the ghetto, they stood in a line ten paces apart from one another. It was impossible to break out of this ring. Police drove Jews out of their dwellings and herded hundreds of people like a flock of sheep to the Solominka neighborhood where there was a sand quarry next to the old cemetery. People went silently, knowing where they were being led. When they brought us to the quarry, some tried to break out of the column and flee, to get through the fence, but the police shot them in the back. The Germans placed a bucket at the edge of the quarry where the doomed were supposed to put their valuables: rings, money, Tsarist coins.
“And later… the police drove groups of Jews, bludgeoning them with the butts of their rifles, to the edge of the cliff, lining them up in groups of 50. [...]
“Then the Lithuanian troops shot the Jews with tracer-bullets while the local Belarusian police stood guard. The Lithuanians threw toddlers up to two years old into the pit alive, which quickly filled to overflowing with corpses.
“Then it came time for my group. I cannot portray in words the whole horror experienced at that moment. There are no words. Then a blow to the head, and I fell into the bottomless pit.
“I regained consciousness in the pit among the corpses and still-living wounded. [...]
“I heard the screams of women, a child crying, the moaning of the wounded. [...] I was covered in blood, my own and others’, and I didn’t know where I was and whether I was alive. I lay in the pit among hundreds of corpses until late at night. My three-year-old sister Maya lay dead on my chest. I tried to move my arms, but could not, my arms and entire body were pressed under the bodies of the dead. I began to squirm, trying to free my arms, and then to pull myself over the corpses to the top. Finally I broke free of that hell. I survived. The bullet just grazed my head. But my family and loved ones remained lying in the pit forever: my 19-year-old sister Ester, my 10-year-old brother Zisel, my 13-year-old sister Leya and my three-year-old sister Maya.”
Martynas Kačiulis, who served in that same battalion, testified that during the murder of the people of Rudensk in 1941, lieutenant Krikštaponis (Krištaponis), commander of the 2nd brigade, gave the order to go the edge of the pit and shoot. Jonas Rutkauskas testified that Krikštaponis (Krištaponis) gave the order “Fire!” during the mass murder of POWs at the Minsk POW camp in the fall of 1941. It is difficult to ascertain the precise extent of Krikštaponis’s involvement because he died before law enforcement could reach him, but there is a somewhat large body of information about his involvement and that of his subordinates in the mass murder of civilians.
Without ascribing any motives to your decision to posthumously promote war-crimes suspect Krikštaponis to the rank of colonel, I would like to remind you that this person committed his crimes in Belarus, in the country to which you are preparing to travel to represent the interests of the Lithuanian state.
So the question is quite logical. Is the fact that you several years ago awarded a person who took part in the mass murder of peaceful civilians of Belarus a matter which can make worse already tense relations between Lithuania and Belarus?
- Evaldas Balčiūnas
- 16 July 2012
Authorized and approved translation of the Lithuanian original that originally appeared in Antifa.lt on 17 July 2012