O P I N I O N
by Geoff Vasil
In an interview posted on the Delfi website on June 21, 2013, Lithuanian government historian Arūnas Bubnys, head of department for the Orwellian- or even Kafkaesque-sounding Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania, once again lent support to the pro-Nazi Lithuanian Quisling government that seized power on June 23, 1941.
What follows is my commentary on that interview.
The theme that runs throughout the interview is that Professor Bubnys “doesn’t know”: he doesn’t know if Lithuanians began killing Jews before German troops arrived at a number of towns. Normally such an admission, especially by an academic/bureaucrat, would be laudable. In this case, not so much. Why not? Because this excuse has been used ever since the Third Reich was defeated. “We didn’t know,” German officials, soldiers and civilians all told the Allies. The question then became: why didn’t you know? Was it perhaps because you didn’t want to know? Was it because it was too dangerous to know? Is such cases, ignorance is no excuse, a citizen is required to know, and if he or she doesn’t, he or she is expected to seek out knowledge of the truth, the crimes against humanity committed in his or her name, the nature of the society one inhabits and whose benefits and privileges one enjoys. Unfortunately, just as Nazi propaganda from ca. 1933 still has currency in Lithuania, so, too, do 1945-era Nazi excuses seem to pass muster.
While Dr. Bubnys hesitates to totally dismiss the survivor testimonies which clearly show Lithuanians did in fact begin the mass murder of their Jewish neighbors without waiting for the Nazis to actually arrive, he effectively does just that: he dismisses them all. What he says sounds reasonable, on the face of it: witness testimony has to be supplemented with documentation, archival documents demonstrating some sort of chronology. One wonders if Dr. Bubnys even went to the trouble of reading the testimonies, which he claims have been collected by “Israeli historians.” After all, his colleague, the director of the secretariat of the equally Kafkaesque-sounding International Commission (founded, totally funded and, in practice, directed by the Lithuanian president, parliament and government) for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania (ICFTAOTCOTSANORL for short!), R. Račinskas, said exactly the same thing at a show-seminar/“international forum” held at the Lithuanian parliament two years ago, claiming he didn’t know of any instances of Lithuanians taking up arms against Jews before Germans arrived and that there were no such data in the Lithuanian archives. He told an Australian documentary on the subject that he didn’t know of any instances of killing on a “racial basis” before the Germans arrived (in other words, only Communist Jews were killed, presumably—an utter historical deception). Incidentally, Dr. Bubnys has recently been announced as a member of the revived “International Commission” but his primary affiliation, to the Genocide Center, is omitted for some reason.
If Dr. Bubnys couldn’t be bothered to actually read the works of those “Israeli historians,” is it too much to ask whether he talked to any Lithuanian eye-witnesses to the fact that Lithuanians did start murdering Jews before the Germans arrived, say, in Rokiškis, or Obeliai? Did he confine his search of the relevant historical documents to the very limited Lithuanian archives, edited, administered and conserved lo these 60 years by ethnic (nationalist?) Lithuanians, and the meager Special Archives, comprised of the documents the KGB didn’t see fit to shred or burn when they quit Lithuania in 1991? Did he bother to consult any German archives? It seems a little strange he demands documentation for this fact, while he doesn’t appear to in the case of Lietūkis garage, where, he says, “we know exactly how many Jews were killed: 27.” How do “we” know, doctor? Because we have multiple eye-witnesses, of course.
While assuming the feint of innocent ignorance, Bubnys demands, in a “we must” type of construction, that the Holy Lithuanian Uprising of June 23 be considered as an event separate and distinct from the Nazi invasion and the Holocaust. In effect, Dr. Bubnys is “laying down the law,” prescribing what is acceptable thinking domestically, providing intellectual-sounding cover for the maintenance of an almost total ignorance of the events of the Lithuanian Holocaust among ethnic Lithuanians. Bubnys insists, incorrectly, that the Holocaust (small H throughout the interview) began in Lithuania when Tilsit Gestapo forces crossed into Lithuania from East Prussia (to which Lithuania had ceded Memel/Klaipeda without so much as a shot fired, incidentally: Hitler was on his way in a German Marines cutter, after all, and the Lithuanian diplomats in Berlin, probably including the Quisling Nazi Kazys Škirpa, signed over the territory within hours of it being demanded) a few days after June 21.
Furthering the cause of obfuscating history and providing Lithuanians “plausible deniability,” Dr. Bubnys then claims the first Jews who were murdered in Lithuania were political targets, killed for acting in association with or within Soviet formations, and thus were not ethnic murders, and should not be considered the onset of the Holocaust (small H) in Lithuania. He also says there might have been some unfortunate incidents or even crimes committed by the more irregular of the irregulars, in isolated locations and of limited number. This is ahistorical. From the start, Barbarossa was intended as a race war against the dregs and subhumans of the East, and the Jews were categorized as a race slated for extermination, but Communists were also painted in racial terms, either as part of a Central Asian horde, or dupes and lackeys of internationalism Jewry. The Nazi propaganda newsreels from Lithuania show long columns of Soviet POWs and Jewish and other civilians captured and being sent west, with comments from the narrator on the subhuman and racial characteristics of the prisoners, and never a word about politics or ideology. The same newsreels from the first days of the war show Nazi offensives against “Jewish commissars” (and the shelling of Lithuanian towns and shtetls as strongholds of snipers). The Nazis and Lithuanian followers of their cults were involved from the start in what they saw as a race war, not an ideological struggle between Communism and anything else, and not as a struggle for toy republics in the Ostland to preserve independence and impede the march eastward of the Aryan master race. This was the plan of the Nazis, and their subordinates the Lithuanian Activist Front and its self-proclaimed Provisional Government (all invented by the Lithuanian ambassador to Berlin mentioned above, Kazys Škirpa) pretended ignorance at times for domestic Lithuanian consumption but in reality knew their role was to ease the entry of the Wehrmacht across the Baltics, the first leg within the Soviet Union on the march to Moscow and Leningrad. The role of the LAF and PG was to coopt any nationalist resistance to the Nazi invasion, a role they fulfilled very well, so well, that there was never any Lithuanian anti-Nazi resistance to the bitter end, when the Red Army advanced toward Berlin and occupied the three Nazi Baltic Republics.
Dr. Bubnys claims that the PG and the LAF rebels could not have known, in June of 1941, the true intent and goals of the Nazis. This, again, isn’t borne out by history. The Nazi invasion of Norway had already taken place, the Lithuanian political elite had to know of the Quisling government there, and the documents from the period testify to certain of those Lithuanian political elites longing for a Slovakian-style protectorate status under the Nazi regime. If Bubnys is engaged in double-speak here—relying on different audiences to fill in the blank spot in his statement, so that Lithuanians think, “Yes, they didn’t know the Nazis didn’t intend to grant Lithuania independence,” while possible Western readers say to themselves, “Yes, they couldn’t have known the Nazis intended to murder all the Jews of Europe”—it is incorrect on both counts.
The real situation, the historical truth, is that the LAF and PG (the same thing) arose as a network of underground Nazi cells in Soviet Lithuania organized by Lithuanian Nazis in Berlin in cooperation with the German intelligence services. This Abwehr network was cultivated long before the German-Soviet break. They were organized on the basis of ethnicity and they were instructed months before the execution of Barbarossa they would be called upon to murder their racially-inferior Jewish neighbors the moment hostilities commenced. The Lithuanian Nazis in Berlin, Škirpa and his colleagues, were kept apprised of possible dates for the launching of Barbarossa by German intelligence, because they had a “need to know”: the LAF “uprising” was an operation in concert with the entry of the Wehrmacht and other Nazi troops into the northwest USSR. It was part and parcel of the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, and never anything more, except for those stupid enough to cling to Nazi propaganda, even seventy years on.
Why is my version of history so at odds with that of Dr. Bubnys? I take my information from the testimonies of survivors, from other sources outside Lithuania, and by viewing Nazi and Nazi Lithuanian propaganda critically (some sources provided here). I feel my scenario fits the known facts, while Dr. Bubnys receives a salary from the Lithuanian government to maintain plausible deniability of the Holocaust among Lithuanians. He is, in effect, Lithuania’s chief bureaucrat-historian. Now, though, he appears—to me, at least—to be fighting a rear-guard action, much as the Lithuanian partisans under Nazi command, including Nazi veteran and former Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus, did in the Courland Gap in late 1944, attempting in vain to hold back the tide of the Red Army sweeping towards Berlin and final victory against the anti-human Nazi empire. Judging from the statements he made in this latest Delfi interview, his positions are all susceptible to abandonment on a moment’s notice, to instant denial if the need arises. His logistics lines all seem provisional, tenuous, and if the forward positions fail, he’s prepared to fall back to more entrenched ones in the rear. Until the final battle, when the forces of obfuscation enlist prepubescent boys and toothless old men to absorb bullets in front of the Landsbergisbunker and called upon to preserve the holy myths and ideals of Lithuanian innocence, martyrdom, blood self-sacrifice (and the sacrifice of unwilling victims, too, apparently) and exceptionalism. Innocent of Holocaust crimes, martyred by the vengeful Jews as Christ was, exceptional and geopolitically unique in a way the West can never understand, despite the experience of the West with Vichy, Quisling, Franco and a host of other thuggish fascist collaborators, an experience that both pre- and post-dated Lithuania’s flirtation with and entry into the Third Reich.
Dr. Arūnas Bubnys needs to look harder, to search further afield and to rethink the position he has been hired to take. As an honorable historian first, and bureaucrat only secondarily, he can surely be counted upon to quit his support for the thugs of yesteryear and concentrate on the facts in the case, criminal and ugly though they be. As with many things, inside politics and out, the shame isn’t so much in what happened years ago, but in trying to keep everything covered up right here and now on a salary coming from a NATO and European Union state. Dr. Bubnys could not have been born when the Holocaust was perpetrated upon humanity, and as a disinterested historian he has the intellectual freedom to say things that might be controversial to a modern Lithuanian audience, even if in line with the mainstream of international historical thought. Perhaps that certain document will turn up one day, perhaps he’s only seeking confirmation and will do the right thing when he has it. One can hope.