OPINION | GLORIFICATION OF COLLABORATORS | POLITICS OF MEMORY
by Evaldas Balčiūnas
Five years ago, I wrote about the alleged connections of Adolfas Ramanauskas to the persecution of Jews in Druskininkai. Following publication of the Lithuanian version, the English version appeared here in Defending History in 2014. The connections are based in the first instance on Ramanauskas’s own memoirs, published in post-Soviet independent Lithuania, where he boasts that he served as leader of “the rebels’ squad” during the precise days and weeks of June and July 1941 when these “rebels” of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) were in fact unleashing humiliation, plunder, violence and indeed murder against Jewish neighbors (the Soviet army was escaping Hitler’s invasion, not these white-armbanded LAFers). Following upon Ramanauskas’s own memoir and boast came research into the actual police records of the summer of 1941, as well as the postwar Soviet war crimes trials’ transcripts.
When writing that first article in 2014, my goal was not to find or prove something directly compromising. I was simply disturbed by the obvious collision of this heroic myth and its historical circumstances. It was part of my series of articles in Defending History, starting in 2012, that was launched by my essay “Why does the State Commemorate Murderers?”.
Algemeiner; BBC; Independent; Simon Wiesenthal Center; Telegraph.
RAMANAUSKAS: A FIVE YEAR SAGA
But then, in late 2017, the Seimas (parliament) of the Republic of Lithuania declared 2018 to be the Year of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas. Indignant at the uncritical worship, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s department of East European affairs, brought a copy of my article to the members of the Seimas and was condemned without them even attempting to read it. During that period, I published a second, follow-up article focused on the moral issues.
Successful resistance to the plans of the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania to erect a monument to Ramanauskas in his native city of New Britain, Conn., were enabled exactly by the facts mentioned in the 2014 piece (that saga can be followed in Defending History). One year ago, the City Council of New Britain “just said No.”
Rejected by the democratically elected town council of New Britain, Conn, the Genocide Center moved the monument to private property of the Lithuanian-American Community in Chicago: the monument is no longer in public space though it graces the grounds of the World Lithuanian Center which is visited by many people each year, and the Genocide Center could, it seemed, put the fiasco of New Britain behind it (“fiasco” that a state-sponsored history institution would even try to erect monuments to alleged Holocaust collaborators on American soil). Since last Saturday, May 4, the monument, the first in the United States of America to an alleged Holocaust collaborator and proven leader of a Hitlerist militia in the early days of te Holocaust, stands on the grounds of the World Lithuanian Center, graced by the flags of America and Lithuania.
Rejected last year by the city council of New Britain, Connecticut for erection on public land, the Ramanauskas monument now stands on the private grounds of the Lithuanian World Center in Chicago.
Lithuania’s foreign minister flew in for the event adding the stamp of approval of the highest levels of government of an EU and NATO member. Not a very happy day for my country. Or for America.
On the occasion of the unveiling of the monument in Chicago on May 4, I decided to review the documents in the penal case of state Soviet institutions vs. Ramanauskas-Vanagas. The most interesting among them is named “Record of the Freedom Fighter Partisan’s Duties to the Homeland”. Page 2 mentions Ramanauskas’ service in Druskininkai:
“IV. Activities in the movement during the first Bolshevik and German occupations.
Location and name of the organizational unit in which one started their partisan activities.
From June 22, 1941, to August, 1941, as Commander of the Company in Druskininkai, Varėna County.”
(LYA F. K-1 ap. 58 b. 44618-3 T. 1 0 l.111-113)
The document was compiled on December 30, 1949. The document is interesting in several aspects: service during the Nazi occupation is considered to be among the “Duties to the Homeland”, and this is written in a document created by the partisans themselves, not in some Soviet attempt to connect the partisans to the Nazis. The interpretation of this part of the document presented by Ramanauskas himself during his interrogation on May 22, 1957, is even more interesting:
“…the period of me serving as the commander of the company in 1941 is recorded incorrectly in the document. In fact, I was the commander for about two weeks, starting from June 22 or 23, 1941, and not until August, 1941, as is specified in the document. I exaggerated this information to demonstrate a broader nature of my anti-Soviet activities.”
(LYA F. K-1 ap. 58 b. 44618-3 T. 2 l.117)
From the interrogation, this interpretation was moved into the indictment part of the Soviet case against Ramanauskas and then into the works of patriot historians denying his cooperation with Hitler’s henchmen. What interests us is that the factual Head of State (he was awarded the title posthumously in 2018!) was glamorizing his own biography. However, I would not dare to guess whether he did it in 1949 or 1957. The interrogators revisited the period once more. During the interrogation of June 17, 1957, Ramanauskas extended his testimony:
“After the Great Patriotic War broke out in June, 1941, on a date I cannot precisely recall, I went to Druskininkai to see what the city looked like after the battle passed through it. While I was walking on the street, an acquaintance (whose name I cannot recall at the moment) exited one of the houses, stopped me, and explained to me that there were many warehouses in the city with state property in them that could be plundered by the locals, therefore we should organize and guard them. The acquaintance brought me to a house which, according to my guess, was the headquarters of this guard unit being organized. Here someone, I think it was the Burgomaster (I do not recall his name), talked to me about organizing the guard, and I agreed to stay and protect the property. Later on, I somehow naturally became the commander of this guard squad. During the time of my leadership, I would allocate the members of the squad to various warehouses and shops where some property was remaining. This squad or company, whatever you call it, carried out no other activities. In addition to myself, Antanas Suravičius was in the squad, as well as Jonas Visockas from Krivonys village in Veisiejai district. I did not know any other members of the squad. The squad did not carry out any punitive action, as the police force had already been organized in the town. About two weeks after I joined the squad, a group of German soldiers arrived in Druskininkai and plundered the warehouses and the shops. I tried to resist them, but they would not listen. Later on, the Germans searched my home. I was not at home at the moment, since Suravičius, who was my roommate at the moment, had somehow managed to inform me that the German soldiers were coming. Sensing trouble, I escaped. Suravičius told me later that the Germans had searched my room. After this event I did not come back to the guard unit and got a job at the resort administration, directed by doctor Kviklys, whose name or patronym I do not know. During my time as a guard, I had neither a weapon nor an armband. Weapons would only be issued to those guards who stood sentry. They had no armbands, either.”
(LYA F. K-1 ap. 58 b. 44618-3 T. 2 l.239-241)
To be fair, this adjustment of facts does not seem sincere, but that is natural for a testimony to the enemy by an obstinate partisan leader. Ramanauskas made more adjustments on July 9, 1957, after having already acquainted himself with the indictment.
“…indeed, after the Great Patriotic War broke out in 1941 and the Germans occupied the territory of the Lithuanian SSR, for about two weeks I was the commander of a so-called “guard” company established in Druskininkai. Naming this unit “company” was only a formality, as in fact there were not enough people in this guard unit to call it a company. A squad would be a more appropriate name, as there were moments when only 18 people belonged to the “company”. Who exactly was the organizer of the company I do not know, personally I was the commander of the company as long as protection of state property was concerned; the squad under my command carried out no punitive actions against Soviet citizens. Later on, when I noticed that German soldiers kept plundering the property without paying any attention to the guards of my unit, I resigned from my duties and started working in the administration of the Druskininkai resort.”
(LYA F. K-1 ap. 58 b. 44618-3 T. 2 l.284)
Looking at Ramanauskas’ position on this episode of his activities during the investigation, a desire to diminish his own role is visible. At first he shortens the period, then downplays his duties, and finally shrinks the unit. The interrogators do not try to expand on this episode. It is not clear why, but it could be because the case was already massive. But there was indeed data in the case to support the suspicion that Ramanauskas downplays this episode consciously.
Ramanauskas mentions Jonas Visockas from Veisiejai district. The interrogator was not specific about it, but in the case file, there is a testimony of Boleslovas Visockas from Veisiejai district on the Druskininkai events, taken on June 29, 1957.
“Some time around the beginning of July, 1941, inhabitant of Krikonys Kazys Lazickas, who is now somewhere in the far away regions of the Soviet Union, and I went to Druskininkai to buy some household goods. In one of the shops, an unknown man in civilian clothes started persuading us and other men in the shop to stay in Druskininkai and join “self-defense squads”. Lasickas and I talked about it and decided to join the “self-defense squads”. The unknown man who persuaded us to join the “self-defense squads” took us and other men, whom I do not know, to a building next to the shop where some girl, whose name I do not know, gave us white armbands with black letters on them. I do not remember what the letters were. The aforementioned “persuader” issued each of us with a German rifle and five bullets. I was in the self-defense squad for about two weeks, then, by my own request, I was discharged from the squad and continued to work as a custodian in one of the Druskininkai sanitariums. My enlistment into a “self-defense squad” was not recorded in any documents. The squad that I was in guarded food warehouses and shops, and had no other functions. I do not remember who was the commander of our squad, as it was all a long time ago.”
(LYA F. K-1 ap. 58 b. 44618-3 T. 4 l.36-37)
In this excerpt, we see a clear contradiction to Ramanauskas’ testimony about a squad without weapons and armbands. Visockas reinforces this contradiction when speaking about Ramanauskas:
“Adolfas Ramanauskas also served in the Druskininkai ‘self-defense squads’. He also wore a white armband with letters on his left arm, but I did not see him carrying a weapon. I do not know what was Ramanauskas’ position. Other members of the ‘self-defense squads’ addressed him as lieutenant. I do not know for how long he served in those units. I did not see Ramanauskas guarding arrested Soviet citizens or taking part in their arrests.”
(LYA F. K-1 ap. 58 b. 44618-3 T. 4 l.38)
The witness did not have any reason to downplay Ramanauskas’ participation in these activities; although he did not say anything concrete, he did outright deny some of the versions with which Ramanauskas supplied the interrogation. The interrogator, however, was not interested. Yes, there was enough evidence in the case to prove Ramanauskas’ anti-Soviet activities and there was no doubt about Ramanauskas’ participation in the “self-defense squads” in Druskininkai, as the accused himself admitted that.
“Not a very happy day for my country. Or for America.”
Another question remains unanswered: why Ramanauskas found it important to emphasize that he had only served in the squads for two weeks, and not until August, as is noted in his duty records. In my opinion, it is because the intensive persecution of Jews in Druskininkai started in mid-July, 1941 Druskininkai (see my aforementioned article), and he wanted to avoid questions about that. Of course, it is only an assumption. Ramanauskas stayed in Druskininkai until August. There is a document (LCVA F.R-1346, a.1, b24, l.4) at the Lithuanian Central State Archives (LCSA) that confirms it: minutes of the meeting of the Druskininkai City and County Committee in which he, together with several other persons, was appointed to the board of a cooperative. It is surprising that A. Urbonas, at whose home the partisan leader stayed right before his arrest in Kaunas, was appointed to the same board as Ramanauskas in the minutes. It is strange, but there is no testimony by Urbonas in the case file. They say that Urbonas is the person who betrayed the partisan leader by giving him in to the Soviet institutions. In that case, his testimony should be recorded in some other file. We have no knowledge of that.
What conclusions can be made about Ramanauskas’ service in Druskininkai from the documents in his case file? As to the length of Ramanauskas’ service in a TDA battalion in Druskininkai, there are two versions. The first of them is two weeks, which is doubtful, since the aforementioned Visockas saw Ramanauskas at service with an armband in early July, when Visockas started his service there. Further doubts of the truthfulness of Ramanauskas’ testimony are raised by other contradictions between Ramanauskas’ and Visockas’ testimonies.
The second version is that Ramanauskas served in Druskininkai until early August. It is noted in his Duties’ Record; there are no serious reasons why the partisan leader would have wanted to forge this document. He shortens the alleged length of his service while being interrogated, already with clear motive to downplay his participation in the matter. By the way, as it comes to participation, there is another document that has not been discussed, a letter of the “Security Commander of the Alytus County” to the Alytus Commandant (LCVA fR1436, a.1, b.29, l.12-14). It is a plan to establish security battalions all over the Alytus County; in Druskininkai, 80 partisans would have been needed for this task. Point 10 of the “Rules for Organizing Partisans” is very interesting:
“10. When enlisting into the partisans, each new member signs a pledge: “I, Jonas Kondrotas, enlist into the partisans. I pledge to battle the Bolshevik soldiers in hiding as well as other Bolshevik supporters, Communists, Communist Youth, Pioneers, and all pillagers and enemies of the public order with all my strength and no fear for my own life; I pledge not to take personal vengeance and solemnly carry out all the duties that the commanders and chiefs assign to me. Long live Lithuania, long live our liberator Germany and its leader Adolf Hitler.”
Did Ramanauskas give such or similar oath? Both the “duties of the partisan” and the person who ought to “live long” in the pledge are peculiar… The Soviet interrogator did not find this question important.
I, citizen of the Republic of Lithuania, the factual Head of State of which Ramanauskas was declared by the Seimas in 2018, find it very important.
On the legacy of Ramanauskas, see Evaldas Balčiūnas (in 2014 and 2017); Efraim Zuroff and the Simon Wiesenthal Center; and Dovid Katz. Defending History documented the entire 2017-2018 New Britain, Conn. saga. Sampling of survivor testimony on “what it was that the LAF ‘rebels’ were doing” in the last week of June 1941.
SEE DEFENDING HISTORY’S SECTION ON ADOLFAS RAMANAUSKAS