O P I N I O N
by Geoff Vasil
Years ago, when I first started doubting the veracity of certain propaganda intended to diminish the culpability of local forces in the Holocaust, I interviewed an elderly woman who was an eye-witness to what happened in late June of 1941 in Rokiškis (in Yiddish: Rákishok) in northern (or northeastern) Lithuania.
She told me how a bunch of young men turned savage, rounded up Jewish men, stuck them in what amounted to a pig sty surrounded by barbed wire in the center of town, and then tortured and humiliated them until they murdered them. She said this gang of savages went by the name of Savisaugos batalionas, which is Lithuanian for self-defense battalion. Were they led by Germans? No, she said, there hadn’t been a single German to be seen.
Recently I came across a series of press promotionals masquerading as straight reporting intended to rally public support and donations for reconstructing a monument built in 1942 to eight “Lithuanian partisans” who died in June of 1941. The monument was built in Obeliai (Yiddish Abél), which means “apples” in Lithuanian, a few kilometers to the east of Rákishok. The articles all said the Soviets tore it down, but apparently they had a queer way of doing it, and took several decades to complete the demolition. The articles or advertisements for the reconstruction job said the Soviets even stooped to pressing school children into service to finally erase all traces of the small monument, which of course causes a critical reader to wonder if perhaps “the Soviets” weren’t very serious about desecrating grave markers even of the most bourgeoisie nationalists and if perhaps the monument wasn’t merely vandalized over the years and decades following World War II.
The instigator of the project is described as a Lithuanian partisan himself in the booster articles. The state-funded Center for Research on the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania (I call it Fake Genocide Center for short) has donated funds. Historian Arūnas Bubnys even gave a rousing speech at yet another quasi-academic conference held, it seems, to raise funds for the monument reconstruction project several years ago. And now there is a new monument for the fallen “partisans.”
None of the articles contains any real information on who the eight fallen partisans were, how they died or what they did in the first days of Soviet-Nazi hostilities. The monument was, according to descriptions and photographs, a concrete edifice, bunker-like, with a large bas-relief face supposed to represent Jesus in the center and two helmeted Lithuanian soldiers flanking him on both sides, with Lithuanian military symbols on their helmets, not, apparently, swastikas or the SS logo.
One searches almost in vain for any mention of Jews in connection with the partisans of Obeliai / Abél and Rokiškis / Rákishok and the monument to their memory on the official webpage for the project, and completely in vain in the promotional newspaper articles (in effect advertisements masquerading as journalism). Deep into a long page lauding the partisans there is a brief mention that “some of the LAF partisans went on to become auxiliary police,” who were called upon for “special assignments,” and some of whom participated in the murder of Jews. The brief sentence contains a footnote indicating a file containing interrogation material held in the Lithuanian Special Archive dating from the 1950s.
The problem is the “partisans” began killing Jews in the Rákishok area immediately, initially leaving dozens of bodies of men, women and children by the side of the road, then organizing a more systematic mass murder of the entire Jewish population of the area. The partisans of Rokiškis and Obeliai have nothing about them to lionize, indeed, the best the monument boosters can come up with is that they—or perhaps “some of them?”—shot at the backs of retreating Red Army soldiers. Furthermore, since the original monument was built in 1942, there is every reason to believe it was part and parcel of the Nazis’ project to demonize “Judeao-Bolsheviks” through atrocity exhibitions, such as were held in Riga at the exhumation of a mass grave in the courtyard of a main police station there used by the NKVD before the Soviet withdrawal, despite claims in the recent slew of articles and advertisements claiming the people of Obeliai built the entire thing themselves out of pocket for no other reason than to honor their fallen. The Nazis did put together an atrocity exhibition in Vilnius at around the same time to showcase “Jewish Red terrorism.”
Beyond those two glaring problems—Holocaust crimes and the context of Nazi propaganda projects following the occupation of the Baltic states—there is also the problem of modern nationalists claiming the right to edit history for what they perceive as benefiting the ethnic majority. Create a fantastic narrative, then talk about competing narratives and the need to build bridges between peoples by “reconciliation of histories” and similar doubletalk. But Jews weren’t a minority in and Obeliai /Abél or Rokiškis / Rákishok, they had a population roughly equal to the Lithuanian population and a commensurate stake in the local economy, owning about half the businesses. They established cultural organizations and a People’s Bank, and were there at the dawn of the movement to return to Israel, even if the Jewish residents didn’t make aliyah in great numbers.
This very active Jewish presence makes me wonder if the eight fallen Lithuanian “partisans” didn’t in fact get challenged when they came to kill certain of their Jewish neighbors. Speculation on my part.
Here’s a translation of one of the articles, a representative one, placed as straight news in the Lithuanian media. This project and the accompanying pseudo-academic efforts don’t stop at Lithuania’s borders, and go on to be picked up by the young and naive in the West who can rationalize for themselves “a kinder and gentler Holocaust” or just one of two equal effects of similar totalitarian regimes or other versions of the so-called historiography developed by nationalistic academicians and technicians. Similar propaganda efforts in Romania and Ukraine have been exported successfully to the young and the senseless ambitious academics and politicians, among others, in America and Europe already.
From delfi.lt, part of a trivium of nationalistic Baltic websites masquerading as news including delfi.lt and delfi.ee:
Obeliai [Lithuania] to Reconstruct Monument to June Uprising Insurgents Desecrated by Occupiers The Soviets Even Forced Students to Destroy the Huge Monument [sic]
By Mindaugas Jackevičius
March 25 2013
[photo:] The monument in Obeliai built in 1942. photo: www.obeliupaminklas.lt
Over fifty years ago the occupational Soviet regime desecrated and razed a monument to the June Uprising insurgents at the Obeliai cemetery in the Rokiškis region. The Soviets even forced children to destroy the monument. The residents of Obeliai, determined to rebuild the historical monument, consider it a matter of our national and ethnic historical honor and are calling upon society to contribute.
The impressive cement monument to members of the June 1941 Uprising who perished appeared in Obeliai cemetery in 1942. There was a bas-relief of Christ in the center with bas-reliefs of two Lithuanian soldiers on the sides.
The people of the Obeliai area sacrificed their own money during the difficult period of the German occupation for the approximately 8 meter long and 3 meter high cement monument. The monument was extremely important to them: while it commemorated the uprising against Soviet rule, it also commemorated the victims of the first Soviet occupation [1940-1941]: the people of the country who perished and were deported. The monument symbolized freedom and Lithuania unconquered. Guri Kateshchenko, a rail repair worker at the Obeliai train station, drew up the plans for the project and led the work. For this, he was later sentenced to 20 years in the gulag.
The insurgents Kazys Petrauskas, Petras Putra, Algis Stankevičius, Juozas Šnioka, Konstantinas Seibutis, Jonas Baltrušaitis and two unknown soldiers are buried here.
The monument was destroyed during the second Soviet occupation, in the 1950s. Ever since Lithuanian independence the residents of Obeliai have cherished the hope of rebuilding the monument.
On October 29, 2010, the Rokiškis regional administrative council adopted the decision to reconstruct the monument in Obeliai, in consideration of a request by the Rokiškis chapter of the Union of Lithuanian Political Prisoners and Deportees and the Obeliai Community Center.
It Took Ten Years to Tear it Down, They Even Invited Students to Volunteer
“The monument erected by the efforts of the residents of Obeliai was one of the largest in Lithuania, there was no others of this kind. A framework of railroad ties was even used to build the enormous monument. When Lithuania was occupied a second time, the monument began to be destroyed [pay attention to the language here: while Delfi.lt is very careful to equate the Soviet and Nazi regimes as “occupational,” this speaker is saying the second occupation was by the Soviets, and thus the Nazi presence was a liberation rather than an occupation –gv]. They tried to blow the monument up with grenades, later they pounded on it. They were tearing it down for ten years. It seems they didn’t have the manpower, because they even forced students and workers to tear down the statue,” Andrius Dručkus, a former partisan, director of the Obeliai History Museum and instigator of the project to restore the monument, told Delfi.
All that remains of the monument today are the foundations and the graves of those buried there. According to Dručkus, the June 1941 Uprising had great significance for the entire Lithuanian nation, which hoped to regain independence.
“This is first of all a matter of state honor, of our people’s historical honor. People sacrificed their lives to we could live free, and we unable even to thank them, to commemorate them. The reconstruction of the monument would do honor for all of Lithuania,” Dručkus said.
Hoping to Rebuild This Year
Visualization of the Obeliai monument. from: www.obeliupaminklas.lt
© Obelių paminklo vizualizacija, www.obeliupaminklas.lt
The initiator of the reconstruction of the monument is now Donatas Smalinskas, the director of the State Language Inspectorate who comes from Obeliai.
“This monument is important personally to me, because among those killed was my grandfather Konstantinas Seibutis. The small children were orphaned, my momma and her brother. In my children my grandmother and I used to maintain the graves of those buried here, we used to light candles. I remember well the half of the ruined monument, the big bas-relief of Christ was set next to it,” Smalinskas said.
Smalinskas said that during that difficult time the monument was built in a year. All the necessary documents have been prepared, and the administration of the Rokiškis region has approved it, adopting a decision in October of 2010 to reconstruct the statue and allocating 30,000 litas for the project. In September of last year during a conference held in Obeliai the collection of donations began.
“I’m glad people understand the importance of the June Uprising and the restoration of this statue, and are giving. I would like very much to invite business and society to contribute as much as they are able to the construction of this historic statue,” Smalinskas said.
He says it would be good if the cost of setting up the construction cost between 60 and 70 thousand litas. They have managed to collect 23,215 litas since September of last year. The Victim Support and Commemoration Fund of the Lithuanian [Center for the] Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania allocated another 3,000 litas at the end of January. The plan is to start and finish construction this year.
You may transfer funds for reconstructing the monument to the Obeliai Community Center’s special account No. LT847300010105682663 (Swedbank). The internet webpage is www.obeliupaminklas.lt
Obeliai Insurgents Took Out 7 Occupiers
The Lithuanian Activist Front organized the June Uprising which took place June 22 to 28, 1941. The attempt was made to restore Lithuanian independence during the uprising. The insurgents formed the Provisional Government of Lithuania, which announced over the radio a declaration of Lithuanian independence and an address to the Lithuanian people on June 23 in Kaunas. The composition of the Provisional Government of Lithuania was also confirmed.
There were battles against withdrawing Red Army units and Communist activists in Kaunas, Vilnius and throughout Lithuania.
It is known the Obeliai insurgents shot at withdrawing Red Army units and Soviet Party activists [code for “Jews” –gv]. Six Red Army soldiers and one Soviet police officer were defeated. There is talk the insurgents hid weapons in the church before the uprising, and when the uprising began they took up a position in the cemetery next to the church, where they shot guns and tracer bullets at withdrawing Red Army troops, Soviet police and activists.
A tracer-bullet gun nest was set up in the belfry of the church. During the uprising the cleric Leonas Virkutis was arrested and [they] wanted to shoot him, but he managed to flee.