Eyewitness Account of the Screening of ‘Uprising of the Enslaved’


The premiere of the Lithuanian-language film Pavergtųjų sukilimas, or Uprising of the Enslaved, was held in Vilnius in the early evening of 22 June 2011, timed to coincide with the anniversary of what is commonly called the “June Uprising”.

The event took place at the Pasaka Theatre, tucked into a corner of the city-block-sized building that is the Lithuanian Ministry of National Defense situated next to St Ignatius Church in central Vilnius.

Entry was by prior registration only. I was issued a small flyer and then greeted by several young men wearing Nazi uniforms, one of whom stamped my flyer with a Nazi rubber stamp with a swastika [see PAGE 1 for image]. Everyone who entered was invited to pose with an LAF type “insurgent” for photographs. Most people were happy to do so. Then the line moved toward some “Red Army” soldiers around the entrance to the screening room. Another young man in a Soviet military uniform stamped the flyer with something too blurred to make out at all.

The screening hall was a little too hot for comfort. I recognized several “famous” people in attendance, including former president Valdas Adamkus, Vilius Kavaliauskas who was the late Algirdas Brazauskas’s advisor and aid on a variety of issues when Brazauskas was last prime minister and several well-known historians and political scientists. The film’s producer, Saulius Bartkus, welcomed the audience, then former president Valdas Adamkus delivered an introductory speech, which included something close to the following text:

“I would say that this is for me not just an exciting opportunity but also a chance to return back in my mind to the day which you will see today. Although it has been said that this is in part a propaganda film, I am here in order to see historical facts from that period, events of that historical period, and I don’t know how many people there are in this room who experienced, who were living witnesses to those days. But before you stands a 15-year-old who was there at that time, that minute when these events arose, and they are alive in my memory after seventy years. I well remember that minute when the sounds of the Lithuanian national anthem issued forth from the Kaunas radio-phone and it is difficult to explain what made that high school student open the windows and turn that radio around as much as it could be turned so that the sounds of the Lithuanian anthem would ring out across the entire courtyard…  for the neighbors. And those first words which were announced on the restoration of Lithuania’s independence. This will never fade from my memory. And I remember well when I ran quickly from the house to be with those who went out to the street. The uprising began with the notes of the Lithuanian anthem. And today I can tell those, especially those who have only heard and read about this event, that those in the street were not political agitators or rent-a-mobs, they were mostly students, just five years my elder. They were the first ones on the street, they were the first ones to loot the military storehouse on the square, and from there they began to spread out over the entire city, and that wave overflowed its banks, of course, on the airwaves of Lithuanian radio, throughout Lithuania.

“I won’t undertake to go into all the different interpretations, and as we put distance between ourselves and those events perhaps there will be more realistic, truer interpretations. Today we hear all sorts of judgments on that period, on that period by those who hadn’t been born yet, those who today speak and even concoct different theories on whether this was necessary, whether it was realistic, whether it some special kind of nonsense that the declaration of Lithuanian independence and the thirst for freedom are unjustifiable by any arguments.

“And I tell you this not for myself , but today I was listening to the morning transmission of Lithuanian Radio and became shocked and worried about a certain meeting at the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences where no one else but certain people from our university spoke, people who probably hadn’t even been born at that time, and today they attempt to present this issue in a dubious light. I can assure you as a living witness that nothing else, no other thought for the uprising existed, except to be free. Because the deportations were still there hanging in the air, even today I see the neighbors led away to trucks, some of your grandparents, and some of your parents. When fear hung in the air, but the thirst for freedom broke through the clouds, naturally, not forced by anyone, not paid for by anyone, and that is confirmed by yet another thing: the Provisional Government barely managed to last from June 23rd to August 5th, because one occupation replaced another. But in my understanding it wasn’t vain to fight. … After fifty years of occupation, so that today we are free people and can order our lives as we like, and I believe that as those events recede further perhaps we will consider the historical circumstances and those people who took part there more objectively … But I think that history will judge this as a continuation of our statehood, our determination and desire to live as free people … And patriotism will acquire a different connotation today. I will admit that today my hand sometimes trembles too, seeing how we order our life which could really be different if we would just assess the historical opportunities and base our life today on that.

“Thank you.”

The film’s first half tried to document what happened in Lithuania between the summers of 1940 and 1941, leading up to the final mass deportations of Lithuanian citizens of all ethnicities by the Soviets just before the German attack on the USSR broke out in the second half of June, 1941. The structure was mostly a combination of people speaking as individuals to the camera  and reconstructions of the scenes they described. The people on camera were participants in the uprising and historians for the most part.

The second half covered the three-day uprising and the immediate aftermath, the failure of the Provisional Government of Ambrazevičius in Kaunas to secure Lithuanian independence, the Nazi seizure of power. One speaker said it wasn’t true that the insurgents fired on retreating Red Army forces, that they were happy to see the back of them, and were only concerned with well-armed Red Army units that were putting up a fight. He said the insurgents attempted to protect infrastructure from the retreating Russians, bridges and that sort of thing.

The soundtrack included music intended to stir patriotic feelings among the viewers. The film ended with graphic photographs of the corpses of people who had been tortured by the Soviets in Rainiai, Pravieniškes and other places. They were reputedly from mass graves discovered after the Soviets withdrew in 1941. They had a visible effect on the audience.

The film did not mention Jews at all or address the Holocaust in Lithuania. It did not mention that the  “rebels” carried out widespread assault, murder, humiliation and plunder of fellow-citizens who were Jews. It did not mention that this was the start of the Lithuanian Holocaust, which claimed the lives of around ninety-five percent of the country’s Jewish population, and that this “start” got underway before a single German Nazi soldier had arrived.

After the film, a woman spoke, inaudibly, to the audience. She was presented flowers. Audience members were then invited to some sort of discussion with complementary glasses of wine in the lobby.

This entry was posted in Antisemitism & Bias, Collaborators Glorified, Events, Film, Genocide Center (Vilnius), Human Rights, Legacy of 23 June 1941, Lithuania, News & Views, Politics of Memory. Bookmark the permalink.
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