O P I N I O N
by Evaldas Balčiūnas
Defending History reported earlier on the attempt to restore a monument in Obeliai (Abél in Yiddish), a town in northeastern Lithuania, not far from the Latvian border.
It is an unpleasant story and one that is still developing. Although seven decades have passed since the mass murder of the Jews of Abél, some people think that everyone has forgotten who carried out that mass murder.
There is even a webpage dedicated to the Obeliai monument. It reports that over the three or so years since the Rokiškis (Rákeshik in Yiddish, a larger nearby town) municipality’s decision on October 29, 2010, to restore the monument, more than 75,000 litas (about 25,000 euros) have been raised. About half the funds, 30,000 litas, were allocated by the municipality itself and the so-called Genocide Research Center came up with another 3,000. Estimated costs for the project come to 167,000 litas. They had planned to complete construction by the autumn of 2011. Now they’ve said October of 2013, but there is no news yet of any ceremony to celebrate completion of the work.
Why is so much attention devoted in writing to this project of dubious worth, and why so much about money? The answer is quite simple: the initiators of the project claim that people who donated their money to build the monument in 1941 and people who are doing so now to restore the same monument are demonstrating their patriotism and support for the initiators of the project. The thing is, though, that that support, judging by the amount collected compared to the amount required, appears modest at best.
Is that how things stood in 1941 as well? Let’s take a closer look.
Gintaras Dručkus has written a long article in Lithuanian about the construction of the original monument that appeared in Bernardinai.lt.
“Guriy Kateshchenko, who worked at that time at the Obeliai railway station as a road-worker and repairman, drew up the plans for the monuments and was in charge of construction. He said he drew up the plans and built it on instructions from the Obeliai police chief and Leonas Virkutis, the Obeliai [church] deacon. Kateshchenko’s niece Galina and Aleksas Garbauskas recall the creator made parts of the monument—the heads of Christ and the soldiers—in the sauna formerly at the Obeliai railway station, which was taken over briefly as a workshop. Requested to do so by Virkutis, Guriy’s brother Ivan also contributed much to the construction, acquiring the construction materials needed, including cement, gypsum, railroad tracks and other things. The machinist Petrauskas’s wife actively collected funds needed for the construction.
“It is thought the monument was built very quickly. Under interrogation, Guriy Kateshchenko stated he built the monument in the autumn of 1941. The unveiling was rather ceremonial; we know that deacon Virkutis, June Uprising commander in Obeliai Mataušas Kurklietis, Kazimieras Ramanauskas and Ivan Kateshchenko delivered speeches.”
Who exactly were the people Dručkus is referencing? The Obeliai police chief is a reference to wachsmeister Jonas Vaitkus. He was sought after the war in connection with the mass murder of Jews.
Deacon Virkutis was able to harmonize sacred and temporal matters in an interesting manner. His behavior in the bloody summer of 1941 was all over the map. The murderers of the Jews set up weapons in and around the church and they shot at retreating Red Army soldiers, Soviet police officers and civilian refugees fleeing the war with tracer bullets from the church belfry. The priest was almost shot by retreating Soviet soldiers because of this. He didn’t learn, though. He continued to serve the “insurgents” as “judge.”
Guriy’s brother Ivan… One wonders how a railroad worker had enough money in 1941 during the chaos of war to afford to pay for all the construction materials required. Some of the documents referenced below, however, show that he was not hurting for money, and neither was “Obeliai uprising commander” Mataušas Kurklietis. In 1941 they murdered the Jews of the district.
It is intriguing that the creator of the monument, Guriy Kateshchenko, did not take part in the “uprising.” He was not in Obeliai at the onset of war. The refugee of war Guriy only arrived at his brother’s place in Obeliai after the Nazis had occupied Lithuania.
Somehow, though, he still managed to be there in time to contribute to the actions of the armed maniacs of the village. Here’s what he himself says about his “baptism by war”:
“After two or three weeks had passed since I had arrived at the Obeliai station, Bukauskas met me outside my apartment and suggested going with him to shoot Jews. I answered that by saying I didn’t know how to shoot, since I hadn’t served in the military. He told me not to think about it, and took me off to his apartment, where he issued me a rifle. After I got the rifle, I joined up with other bandits who had come to Obeliai village to shoot. There in Obeliai they divided us into groups and assigned a task to each group in which it was to engage itself. I ended up in a group guarding the shooting site. There were 30 of us in the group which guarded the shooting site, and there was the exact same number of people in the group that guarded the road which led to the shooting site, and the shooting was done by 60 people. The total number of people participating in guarding the shooting site, transporting, road security and shooting was 120 to 160. In total 600 to 800 people were shot that day in the village of Antanašės.”
The Bukauskas referenced by Guriy is the deputy chief of Obeliai police. Neither did Guriy’s brother Ivan deny his part in the mass murder. One might ask: what has that to do with the construction of the monument? Ivan Kateshchenko in his testimony to Soviet law-enforcement said:
“After that, when the Jews had been shot in Antanašės, Vitkus carried out the seizure of property which had belonged to the Jews who were shot.”
The Obeliai “insurgents” didn’t just shoot Jews in their own village, they did so in Rokiškis, too. There were 2,000 Jews shot there with their participation. They seized property there as well. That’s what Vincas Jurkevičius says. One of the Obeliai commanders, Mažeika, lived at his home at that time. He says Mažeika said:
“If I had such work every day, shooting people, that would be good.”
That “good” took a very material form.
According to the same witness,
“When Mažeika returned from Rokiškis, a citizen with whom I was not acquainted accompanied him, who was transporting in a cart the property which had belonged to the Jews who were shot. There were men’s suits, women’s dresses, leather jackets, shoes and many other kinds of things.”
Mažeika told Jurkevičius he had also brought home for himself a cart-full of things after the mass murder in Antanašės.
This is the blood-covered origin in 1941 of the wealth of the monument builders. Seven decades have passed and Lithuanian government institutions have begun to call these people honorable and noble. The only thing possibly more absurd than this would be for the Rokiškis municipality and the Genocide Research Center to declare the murdered Jews had freely and voluntarily contributed these funds in 1941 for the construction of the monument…
Incidentally, I am grateful to the so-called Genocide Research Center for a document they published about the killers of Jews from Obeliai.
Authorized translation by Geoff Vasil.