by Geoff Vasil
Somewhere in his voluminous correspondence, correspondence that far surpasses in quantity any of his literary endeavors, H. P. Lovecraft mentions what he sees as the almost arbitrary adoption of Christianity by northern European peoples, and comments that another religion might work just as well. That sense of another religion operating in parallel runs heavily throughout his stories, and nowhere is his notion better illustrated than in his short piece The Festival, roughly centered around an “I’ll be home for Christmas” motif in an unknown village of New England that turns terribly strange but somehow familiar for all its strangeness.
This arbitrariness regarding the nature of the dominant belief system was a large feature of the Nazi revolution in Germany, which happened large after Lovecraft had passed away (he died in 1937, the Nazis took power in 1933, but in the four intervening years Lovecraft’s correspondence does not dwell upon them at all). The Catholics and Protestants who created and staffed the Third Reich evinced an enthusiasm for restoring paganism, and especially a pre-packaged neo-paganism featuring canned ideas of Indo-European government and the leadership principle, but always pulling on ancient threads of ancestor worship as well.
For me, Naziism is and has always been a religious cult, first and foremost. It’s about worship, worship of a dictator, worship of a constructed race as an idol, worship of the state as an idol, and the naked worship and fetishizing of power as a value in its own right. In other words, something not very far away from modern attempts to reconstruct Satanism. This definition also informs my understanding of what it means to be a neo-Nazi. For me, this is not someone who necessarily wants to restore the Third Reich, build a Fourth Reich, or even create a “racial sanctuary” somewhere on earth. For me, it’s someone who is fascinated and even carried away by the religion the Nazis created to replace the two competing Christian monotheisms and Judaism in Europe and around the world.
The cooption of paganism by the followers of Naziism was of course no more authentic than most attempts to reconstruct paganism, and there’s weight to arguments it was much less successful, since of course it was an intentional propaganda ploy, a utilitarian attempt to draft religion to the cause of power, domination and racial superiority. The aspect of cooption that concerns me here is ancestor worship.
In regards to ancestor worship and neo-Naziism, one Nazi apologist and neo-Nazi–under my conception of what a neo-Nazi is–Arunas Bubnys, head of the Lithuanian state’s Center for the Study of the Genocide of the Residents of Lithuania under the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes, besides his recent efforts to rehabilitate Lithuania’s self-declared prime minister but actually Nazi puppet Ambrezavicius-Brazaitis and his booster efforts to have a Nazi-style Nazi-era monument to fallen Nazi collaborators rebuilt in Abel (Obeliai), Lithuania, has also recently published several booklets (with state financing) on the ghettos of Shavl (Siauliai) and Kovna (Kaunas), Lithuania. This is what is known in the field of journalism as giving both sides of the story, apparently.
Consider the rebuilding of the Abel Nazi memorial and the chants of the idiots of Maidan and the neo-Nazis in Kiev: “glory to the heroes.” Which heroes are they talking about? The neo-Nazi revolution in Western Ukraine is talking about Nazi collaborators who murdered Jews and sought a space for a Ukraine outside of the Soviet Union, of course. But this slogan really harkens back to a much earlier period in the region, to the time when Christianity was actually quite slowly replacing native paganism with all that that entailed, including an Indo-European pantheon and ancestor worship. The Ukraine is in this case to be understood as inheriting the Lithuanian Grand Duchy experience of baptism, not the much earlier adoption by the princes of Kievan Rus of Orthodoxy, so we’re roughly in the area of the early 15th century, as the sun was setting upon the pagan Lithuanian empire which included most of the Ukraine.
Although idol worship and ancestor worship were forbidden by new Christianizers in the cities and the hinterlands, such things hardly ever pass away without a fight, a murmur or a trace. Neither did they in Lithuania and the lands under Lithuanian control. The ancient slogan of the Lithuanian grand dukes, “Change nothing established, introduce nothing new” has a corollary in the ancient formulae on honoring, which means both respecting and worshipping, the ancestors: “Either speak well of the dead, or say nothing at all.”
This sensibilité is what is at work behind the Ukrainian neo-Nazi jingoism, “Honor to the heroes.” The Nazi collaborators of World War II are made to assume the place of all the ancestors of the “race” per se, a place they have supposedly earned, according to neo-Nazi sensibilities, for defending the “race” itself. The same sort of supposedly (but not actually) conservative sensibilities leads Lithuania’s current head-of-state Dalia Grybauskaite to make public nonsensical defenses of the Lithuanian neo-Nazis, saying such things as “if they’re encouraging debate about patriotism, that’s always a good thing,” or, “it’s only hate speech if they don’t smile when they say it” (to paraphrase but only slightly). The same set of sensibilities applied to the geopolitical realm lead to calls by Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius to somehow ratchet up the pressure on Russia for allegedly attacking the neo-Nazi revolution in Russia, which of course Russia hasn’t done, because it would be an afternoon’s work for Moscow to invade and occupy what’s left of the Ukraine. Linkevicius’s sensibilities are informed by regional sensibilities which see Nazis not as Nazis–despite obvious Nazi actions and tactics, such as burning down buildings with all their inhabitants and staging the shoot-down of civilian aircraft to blame on Russia–but as “nationalists, in a good way,” who smile as they tell the foreign correspondents the Ukraine really ought to be racially pure, whatever that means to them personally.
The problem here is that the Nazis and their modern followers in the Ukraine, Lithuania and apparently Ottawa, London and Washington, D. C., never really spoke for the ancestors, just as they never defended anything which might be called race, tradition or purity. They weren’t conservatives, they were radical innovators, making the shit up as they went along, in large part. Brazaitis-Ambrazevicius, for all the Lithuanian conservatives and apologists want to paint him as a “Faustian figure” (their words) locked into a bargain with the devil from which he was unable to withdraw (their words), was a run-of-the-mill Nazi opportunist and careerist who gave not a whit for all the real tragedy he encouraged, the mass murder of the Jews of Lithuania and Eastern Europe. He didn’t represent Lithuanian tradition or opinion, he represented a narrow, racist, ethnicist agenda coming out of a clique of Lithuanian Nazis holed up in Berlin and funded by the Third Reich for the sole purpose of easing their invasion of Lithuania during Operation Barbarossa. That he spent the rest of his life writing under a pseudonym doesn’t mean he was somehow a high intellectual trapped in an impossible geopolitical situation, it means he was on the run and used a fake name, and was on the losing side of history.
Lithuanians didn’t vote to join the Third Reich, they had it imposed upon them by self-declared leaders such as Brazaitis. Lithuanians didn’t have a dark history of pogroms and anti-Semitism, they had a long history of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. What the German and Lithuanian Nazis did was to usurp and destroy that legacy. When it came down to it, the only way to defeat those Nazis was militarily, they were and are insusceptible to reasoned argument and appeals to the higher nature of human beings. And those who heeded that noble call to kill the Nazis, to physically annihilate them to save humanity, were not terrorists, bandits or criminals, they were the people who truly inherited the heroism of old, the nobility of the ancestors who were able to say, “there are more important things than survival.”
One of those people was my Lithuanian grandfather who died just before his birthday this time last year. He was about to turn 97. Born to two Lithuanian parents in Boston who married before there was a Lithuanian republic, named something awful by his parents who were enthusiastic about adopting English culture, Shakespeare Darwin Oscar, but renaming himself George as soon as he was legally old enough to do so in court, grandpa George joined the Army to fight the Nazis in Europe and soon went into the Army Air Corps, and soon after found himself supporting the RAF mission out of England. Shot down on a bombing run, he bailed out and was taken prisoner, and placed in the famous Stalag Luft III, which was featured in several films, the best known being The Great Escape, but also serving as inspiration for the film Stalag 13 and the American color television series Hogan’s Heroes, a program generations of Americans grew up with.
My grandmother used to say someone played grandpa in the movie, but he denied it, saying there was one actor who played a composite character which included him. He was part of the Great Escape, in that he helped dig the tunnels and dispose of the dirt, but he was an American flier and was separated along with all of the Americans from the Brits there after one tunnel was discovered. They had at least two more. Grandpa said it was good thing he didn’t escape, because the damned Nazis rounded up everyone who did and shot them, against all law, convention and human decency. He also knew some Lithuanian pilots there who were flying as part of the Polish government-in-exile force out of England, if I recall correctly.
The worst thing about the camp was the hunger and the boredom, he used to say. They ate snails and tried ants. The stupid Germans let them grow flowers in beds outside the barracks, but not potatoes or any food plants. They used to smuggle the dirt from the tunnels out to the flower beds and mix it up with that soil so the Nazis wouldn’t notice a bunch of fresh dirt lying around the camp yard.
Towards the end of the war, the Nazis began trying to recruit Allied soldiers to their cause, and distributed propaganda fliers claiming they had a bigger common enemy now, the Soviet Union. Nobody really paid that effort much attention, it was obvious they were simply doing what Nazis do, lying and murdering as usual. In Stalag Luft III and the other camps, there were 50 ghosts to remind anyone just in case they did start believing the Nazi crap.
My grandfather used to tell me pirate stories, but as a child I was fascinated by World War II, and used to draw terrific panoramas of crashing jets and battles. My grandfather quickly began to tell me real stories about what he went through in place of the pirate yarns. Many years later I did a little internet research on how the US reacted to the Nazis under Brazaitis seizing power in Lithuania in 1941. The internet didn’t have much about such an obscure topic, plus I suspect it was considered somewhat sensitive by US State and the Lithuanian government, but I did manage to tease out rumors Roosevelt wanted to declare war on Lithuania as well, but bowed to pressure from Lithuanian-American constituents who asked him to go easy, probably arguing not all Lithuanians were Nazis, and not even half of them. I imagine this led to the formula after the war as well, the little notice that appeared on maps, “The United States does not recognize the incorporation of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia into the Soviet Union, pending a comprehensive peace settlement. The United States will recognize these states as independent as soon as they are governed by a democratically elected government.” I am paraphrasing, but only slightly. Roosevelt ended up on the right side of history, meaning Bubnys is defending the wrong side, and I have serious reservations as to whether the last three elections to the Lithuanian presidency were even close to being free or fair, placing the Roosevelt/Truman formula for diplomatic recognition in serious danger. Why Cameron, Obama and Harper are supporting rabid and murderous neo-Nazis in the Ukraine, I have no idea.