OPINION | LATVIA | BELGIUM | COLLABORATORS GLORIFIED | HISTORY | POLITICS OF MEMORY | LEGACY OF JUNE 23rd 1941
by Roland Binet (De Panne, Belgium)
Just close your eyes and imagine. It is a warm June summer day, you have suffered more than a year of tyranny under the Soviet regime and now the Germans have invaded your country of birth. You are being led with some sixty other fellow Jews into a large garage courtyard. Around, a row of spectators, Lithuanians, even children, and German soldiers of all uniform colors. And, in front of you, thugs armed with batons, cudgels, bludgeons, and metal bars. Then, you can see it clearly: by small groups of around 10 men, your fellow Jews are led to the center and bludgeoned to death, slowly or savagely. They are the luckier ones. Others have high-pressure hoses inserted into their bodies to cause them to explode, to the delight of the adoring audience. This happened in the Lietukis garage in Kaunas on June 27, 1941. And 100% of those who carried out the actual violence, with unfettered enthusiasm, were local Lithuanian nationalists (now glorified in some museums and history books as “anti-Soviet freedom figfhters”).
Just close your eyes and imagine. You live your quiet little life in Lithuania. Then, at night, even before the arrival of the of the first German troops, from the 23rd of June 1941 onward, civilian antisemitic thugs force their way into the homes and dismember, decapitate and kill all inhabitants just because they happened to be Jews. This started on June 23, 1941.
Just close your eyes and imagine. You fled Lithuania and sought refuge from the genocidal mob in a synagogue in Riga when flames suddenly appear and suddenly you realize that all exits have been cordoned off. Mothers who try to save their children by putting them out of windows are shot at as well as their children. This happened on July 4, 1941 in Riga in the Great Choral Synagogue.
Just close your eyes and imagine. You have lived during twenty-one months in a Polish city having become a Soviet city on September 17, 1939, when, after the German invasion, the population discovered thousands of corpses killed by the retreating NKVD. But you, as a Jew, become a prey and anyone can seize you, beat you, even kill you, in all impunity because you are an enemy of Hitler and Germany and because Jew-killers have never needed any excuse in order to do some Jew-killing. And after the arbitrary slaying of Jews, there was an equal number of Jews killed as there had been by the NKVD. This happened in Lvov (now Lviv, once Lemberg), starting June 29/30, 1941.
Just close your eyes and imagine. You live at home in Riga and you are at home with your husband, when, on the evening of July 2, 1941, a group of adolescents and the janitor burst in your city apartment. They taunt, they steal, they threaten, and, finally, they disappear with your husband and you have become a widow, a Jewish widow. This happened to Mrs. Medalye on July 2, 1941 and later she barely escaped death in the Rumbula forest.
Just close your eyes and imagine. You are led with other members of your Jewish family into a forest, you have to take off your clothes and then naked and ashamed, you have to wait your turn in front of open pits already swarming with bodies, some of them still living, still in agony. And the thugs in uniform fire at you, at the members of your family. This happened in July 1941 in the Bikierniki Forest as in the dunes of Liepaja, in Latvia.
From the very start of the war on the east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line (the then USSR), it was as if a demiurge had authorized and unleashed a wave of Jew-killing violence because in less than thirty days, more than fifteen thousand Jews would be killed. And the collaborating Jew-killers as well as the Einsatzgruppen East of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line did not wait for the go-ahead to be decided in the far future at the Wannsee conference on January 20, 1942. By that time, over one million Jews, including virtually all the women and children had already been killed in the East.
And barely anyone among the autochthonous population protested against these monstrous crimes. And today, in some of these countries, the perpetrators are glorified by street names and plaques and museum exhibits calling them “glorious rebels against the Soviets” (who had of course fled Hitler’s invasion, not them…). It is time to speak out on the cruel perversions of history underway.