O P I N I O N
by Geoff Vasil (Vilnius)
According to a recent report on Delfi.lt, Lithuanian MP Gintaras Songaila, who has expressed support for the neo-Nazi marches through central Vilnius on Lithuania’s Independence Day, has recently begun disseminating a brochure to his fellow Lithuanian parliamentarians about alleged Polish atrocities against Lithuanians from before and during World War II. The brochure is based on a book by Algimantas Liekis called Black Pages in Lithuanian History.
This follows outrage among nationalist politicians over a small historic booklet issued by Poland’s Institute of Memory with aid from the Polish Foreign Ministry on atrocities during World War II at Ponár (Ponary, Paneriai), the mass murder site just kilometers outside the Lithuanian capital. Lithuanian nationalists were especially concerned by passages in the Polish booklet characterizing Vilnius as occupied by Lithuanians and German Nazis (the city was Wilno in the Polish Republic in the interwar period, until Stalin’s dismemberment of eastern Poland in September 1939 and subsequent transfer of the city to Lithuanian rule).
Liekis has written a number of pseudo-historical works including a 400 page apology for the Lithuanian Activist Front and the pro-Nazi Provisional Government that claimed to govern Lithuania from June to August of 1941. The LAF and PG initiated attacks against Jewish civilians before German forces consolidated control over Lithuanian territory. In Vilnius and its region, contested between Poland and Lithuania before WWII, Lithuanian pro-Nazi forces also targeted some Poles for extermination.
Post-Soviet Lithuanian nationalists have sought to rehabilitate the LAF and PG as anti-Soviet pro-Lithuanian forces. The Lithuanian parliament declared 2011 the Year of the Fight for Freedom in honor of the 70th anniversary of what is called the June Uprising, when Lithuanians turned on their Jewish neighbors and butchered them with hacksaws, crowbars and hammers.
Vilnius University historian Alfredas Bumblauskas is quoted in the Delfi article as saying that Liekis is deeply afflicted by a Soviet ideological outlook and isn’t considered a serious historian. Liekis’s son Professor Sarunas Liekis is the non-Yddish-speaking director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University, who has successfully purged the VYI of its last Jewish academic staff (and Yiddish-specialist staff), turning it into another ‘Jewish PR outpost’ of the nationalists’ network of ‘Jewish’ activities meant to cover for the Double Genocide movement and rampant state-tolerated antisemitism. Earlier this year, Liekis Jr. characterized the view of Holocaust survivors and Litvaks as one of two ‘Talibans’ (the other being the antisemitic establishment), in an interview in the Economist, where he described himself as a ‘Yiddish-Studies professor’. In a radio interview on September 23rd, Liekis Jr. patriotically denied, in a debate with Dalia Epshtein, that the LAF had begun murdering Jews in June of 1941, bringing him into line with Liekis Sr.’s ‘historiography’ on that issue.
MP Gintaras Songaila was recently castigated by Conservative Party coalition partners in the Lithuanian Parliament for his support for Lithuanian neo-Nazis and fascists. The ruling Lithuanian Conservative Party has sought to expel ultranationalist coalition partners following the neo-Nazi march in Vilnius on March 11, 2011.
Songaila’s tit-for-tat response to the Polish booklet on Lithuanian atrocities follows mention of Liekis Sr.’s apology for Lithuanian Nazis in London’s Jewish Chronicle last month in an article about Lithuanian attempts to prosecute yet another Jewish anti-Nazi partisan living in Israel for allegedly defaming now-deceased pro-Nazi Lithuanian partisans.
Songaila would do better to look the ugly truth in the face: Lithuanians murdered 96% of Lithuanian Jews during World War II and targeted numerous Poles for extermination as well.
During Lithuania’s bid for independence from the Soviet Union during Moscow’s economic blockade of Lithuania Gorbachev said the USSR should be paid for improvements and industrial development in Lithuania. Then head of the Sajudis independence movement Vytautas Landsbergis responded that Lithuania had her own bill to present the Soviets.
Songaila appears to believe it is possible to paper over real atrocities committed by Lithuanians before and during the Second World War by presenting counter-claims of alleged atrocities by Jews and Poles, in the same spirit as Landsbergis’s rejoinder to Gorbachev in 1990. Unfortunately for Songaila’s political future and the future of the nationalist revisionism of Lithuanian history, the facts of Lithuanians’ mass murder of Jews and Poles are well documented by vast numbers of documented eye-witnesses and in a plethora of documents, none of which figure much in provincial Lithuanian historiography.
While some Lithuanian politicians believe the status quo of 1942 is still in force and any opposition to Lithuanian Nazi forces is sheer Commmunist terrorism and banditry, the global view is that non-opposition to the Nazis was tacit support and thus complicity in Nazi crimes. Soviet liberation of Nazi Lithuania is not considered to have been necessary because the Lithuanian Nazis were doing very well, and any Jews who might have harmed a Lithuanian Nazi auxiliary police officer while attempting to save their own lives are guilty of war crimes, according to the Lithuanian pro-Nazi nationalist perspective. But as in Latvia and Estonia, the murder of Jews — mainly by local volunteer forces — continued right up until the few survivors were liberated by the Red Army.
While ethnic Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians were not slated for rapid extermination by the Soviets, many Poles were, by both the Soviets and the Nazis. Polish underground forces understood this and made common cause with, for example, the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. This same Polish solidarity with condemned Jews is illustrated in the diary of Hermann Kruk, a Polish Jew who found himself trapped in Vilnius, and eventually in the Vilna Ghetto.
Lithuanian revisionists maintain the fiction that anti-Soviet (pro-Nazi) forces came around and eventually became an anti-Nazi resistance, but there is no evidence of any ethnic Lithuanian resistance to the Nazis on any noteable scale at all, only isolated incidents of individual moral Lithuanians rescuing Jews, and occasional slight verbal reservations concerning some Nazi directives. By contrast, the only truly serious anti-Nazi resistance in Lithuania was provided by the Soviet partisans who were for doomed Jewish ghetto inmates the only hope of survival, once the local elites had determined to help the Germans kill every last Jewish man, woman and child.
The LAF and PG in Lithuania intended to preserve Lithuanian statehood for the purpose of entering World War II on the side of the Axis. They initiated the Holocaust in Lithuania before German hit squads arrived to “liquidate commissars” which meant Jewish civilians.
The Axis lost the war. If it is a truism that the victors write history, in some cases, and certainly this one, it is right that they are given this privilege. Far from preserving the dream of Lithuanian statehood, the LAF and PG so demoralized the surviving population of ethnic Lithuanians that any effective resistance to the ensuing fifty years of illegal Soviet occupation was impossible. The PG and LAF also handed the Soviets the best possible pretext for reannexing Lithuania as a sort of no-man’s-land following the war. There was much quiet sympathy in Washington for the Soviet position on the Baltic territories precisely because the Balts, for the most part, sided with Hitler and were the most faithful lackeys of the Third Reich, believing themselves to be racially pure and not knowing that German policy was actually to exterminate them as peoples once the Jews and Poles had been destroyed.
Nevertheless, Lithuania actually lost more population to Nazi forced labor repatraition to Germany policies than to Soviet deportations. But none of the modern Nazi sympathizers in the government, parliament and courts seem to know the Nazis actually imported Dutch colonists to Lithuania to appropriate farmlands and use Lithuanians as slave laborers.
This is the lie of comparisons between the numbers of people murdered by Stalin and Hitler. Anti-Communists (and pro-Nazis) tend to aggregate “millions” of dead and lay it at Communism’s feet, as if Communism were ever anywhere a monolith, but the Third Reich was only active in Germany from 1933 and in Europe at large from late 1939 till early 1945. Given 70 years, the Nazis would have killed orders of magnitude more than the Russian Communists ever did. The anti-Communists (pro-Nazis) also use questionable statistics, and this is nowhere better seen than in Lithuania, where victims of the “Soviet genocide” include abortions, children deprived of the Roman Catholic faith (“spritual genocide”) and a number of other categories of people who perhaps suffered material deprivations, but not — genocide.
Under the concocted and ‘fix-the-deck’ Baltic conception of genocide, Lithuanian prosecutors could even be issuing international arrest warrants for members of the Danish political elite and royalty (for the alleged genocide in Greenland), Swedish politicians, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and the rest of the world’s countries. But Lithuania will never do that, because the country is a conformist polity ruled by conformists, by people who see national salvation in latching onto a preferably Western power able to provide security and then toadying and kowtowing to that power in an effort to make themselves seemingly indispensible.
Thus Lithuanian obeisance is easily transferred to any current administration in Washington. The mechanism of subservience remains firmly in place despite, or enhanced by, 50 years of Soviet life. Just as in 1940, there is a fundamental miscalculation about the distribution of power in the world, and Lithuania is perfectly willing to sacrifice relations with Poland in the cause of perceived greatness, while maintaining, for example, that concerns over CIA torture sites inside Lithuania are interference by Brussels in Lithuania’s internal affairs, or at least of no concern to Lithuania because the USA is a “strategic partner” whatever that really means.
In the “separate but equal” world of Lithuania’s Red=Brown Equation, just as in the American South before the civil rights movement, there is no equality. The Lithuanian parliament passes a law banning public displays of Soviet and Nazi symbols, but an exception is made for “just the swastika” by the courts. Lithuania bans the Nazi and Communist parties, but neo-Nazis contend for office in elections, while there are no Communists to speak of (nobody wants the Soviet Union back). Lithuanian law bars from the presidency those who served in foreign intelligence agencies, but an exception — one of many exceptions in his case — is made for Valdas Adamkus, who incidentally reported for duty under a Nazi German commander in Lithuania in late 1944, from his family’s refuge in Nazi Germany. Adamkus served in US military intelligence, and this year reemerged from retirement to be the guest speaker at the premiere of a parliament sponsored film honoring the LAF as ‘freedom fighters’, without mentioning their one ‘accomplishment’ — launching the Lithuanian Holocaust in dozens of towns around the country.
In other words, we’ll make our own laws and interpret them to fit what we want at any given time. Or: we make it up as we go along.