The national scandal unleashed by the Lithuanian Rūta Vanagaitė and the Jewish Efraim Zuroff via their statements about Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, is gradually losing momentum. The Seimas (parliament) went right ahead and declared the incoming year, 2018, to be The Year of Ramanauskas-Vanagas. That is sad. Three years ago, I wrote about this person’s activities in Druskininkai in 1941. Society back then was silent about it. It was only the desire of some politicians to glorify this personage that led to the aforementioned Lithuanian and Jewish commentators to talk about him. They spoke loudly and an antisemitic bubble burst. Vanagaitė’s statement had some inaccuracies. The very statement was taken as an insult by the mainstream. Public details about Zuroff’s statement were scarce. My 2014 article was among those details.
I do not want to argue with the shouters, so I will just try to bring some order to the arguments that have already been articulated. I will simply skip altogether the nonsense question “Who is working for Russia?” and the screamers who talk about Russia and “info-wars” on this issue who are simply blowing smoke to try and obfuscate many unsolved issues of Lithuania.
There have been only two statements by actual historians that could be taken seriously; however, they too did not address the facts of the case. The German historian Christoph Dieckmann, a member of the (Lithuanian government sponsored) International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes, put it simply in his recent article on the subject: “She [Vanagaitė] did not incite violence or hatred, neither did she suggest killing anyone. What she did was simply publicize some data from the Lithuanian archives of the Soviet secret police about a famous postwar anti-Soviet ‘Forest Brother.’ There are also those who oppose her interpretation and claim that her sources are unreliable and not to be trusted. All in all, this is a completely normal public and historiographical discussion, part of public life in a democracy. Instead of demonizing and ostracizing Vanagaitė, we should rather clarify if she used her sources in historiographically appropriate ways.”
The main point of the second historian who entered the fray, Alvydas Nikžentaitis’ (habilitated doctor of humanitarian sciences; president of the National Lithuanian Committee of Historians since 2004) was that “the discussion is not about history, but about the national myth that is important to the Lithuanian community.”
He did not talk much about the facts, either. “The point is that the facts used by the writer in question are well known to historians. They analyzed the data of the Soviet security services and came to the conclusion that these sources are tendentious and the information presented is untrue.”
I can agree with both of them. At the same time, however, I cannot understand why the national myth should itself not be subjected to rigorous analysis, too.
Indeed, the scandal was not very rich in facts. One of the facts presented by Vanagaitė was wrong: she said that Ramanauskas was not tortured, but killed himself. Perhaps she did not know about the findings of the experts of modern independent Lithuania, showing that it would be humanly impossible to self-inflict the particular wounds and mutilations found on Ramanauskas’s body. Another statement of hers that was wrong was that Ramanauskas was recruited by the Soviet secret service during the first Soviet occupation (1940-1941). Apparently, he was only recruited after the war (after July 1944). In the patriotic version of things, the attempted postwar recruitment has to be the reason to join the partisans.
Vanagaitė said that during his interrogation Ramanauskas betrayed twenty-two people who had helped him hide out. The patriotic version says he was careful to only name name of people who were either dead or already arrested. This is allegedly proven by the failure of the authorities to start rrelevant new prosecutions.
Vanagaitė also mentioned that during his final speech before the court Ramanauskas talked positively about Communism. Patriotic sources claim that that was a consequence of torture and Soviet law enforcement agents’ dark creativity.
But then we come to his alleged participation in the persecution of the Jews of Druskininkai, a town in southeastern Lithuania. The patriotic versions do not provide many facts here, either. Nevertheless, some of them are worthy of our attention. For example, politician cum historian Arvydas Anušauskas, with whom I had a little argument on his Facebook wall, claims that Ramanauskas left the white-armbander pro-Nazi militants on 7 July 1941. He repeats the things said by Ramanauskas during his postwar interrogation: “The only members of the security forces who had weapons were those who were on guard that day.” It becomes even more interesting when Anušauskas mentions a witnesses: “Witness Visockas from the same squad, when interrogated by the KGB, confirmed that he had not seen Ramanauskas armed: ‘I have not seen Ramanauskas during marches of arrested Soviet citizens or during new arrests that were being made.’” What that means is that in general, at the time when Jewish citizens, as well as “Societ activists” were being cruelly persecuted in Druskininkai, Ramanauskas’ squad did indeed have weapons and members of his squad did see the persecuted being persecuted.
There is no direct evidence that they took direct part in the persecutions. However, when it comes to the historical truth, indirect evidence is also important. And the facts are these: Until the Lithuanian white armbanders militants were disarmed and chased out of Druskininkai by the Nazis, they were actively persecuting Jews and those considered to be Soviet activists. This is evident in the reports of the local policemen to their authorities in Alytus. I wrote about this in my 2014 article, so I will not repeat myself. The “patriotic version” has it that Ramanauskas’s squad served as an impediment to German plundering, and that was the reason why the Germans wanted to disarm and disband them. Well, this is a very nice and patriotic point of view, and perhaps Ramanauskas himself wanted to appear that way in the eyes of his Soviet interrogator. The police report also says: “We related the disarmament with requests from the Poles and their complaints to the German commander.”
In their report, the Lithuanian police of July 1941 mention: “26 Communists were shot in the city and county of Druskininkai, as well as one robber and one provocateur who was a informer; 28 people in total.”
I find it very strange that the fate of these people (people called “Communists” by the white-armbanders in the days and weeks following 23 June 1941) does not interest the politicians and historians building our present-day historical myths. Those who are ultra “patriotic” say that killing Communists was allowed during the “Uprising.” But was there an uprising in Druskininkai? Lithuanian militia only entered the resort once the Germans had occupied it, and they entered as steadfast Nazis. Nor is there any data that those who were killed had any kind of trial or investigation about their “Communism.” When it comes to Jews, at that moment of national hysteria along the lines of “All Jews are Communists and must be killed,” could any Jew expect any justice whatsoever upon being called “a Communist”? Those carrying the guns also carried the rhetoric that Jew and Communist were one and the same thing.
Excerpt from Adofas Ramanauskas-Vanagas’s Memoir:
“During the first Soviet occupation, I served in the army (from July 1939 to October 1940), and then worked as a teacher on the outskirts of Leipalingis County, so I didn’t have many opportunities to experience what Communism is. But even then I realized that it’s a great disaster to our homeland, and during the days of freeing ourselves from the Bolshevik occupation I led a squad of partisans in and around Druskininkai.”
Indeed, there is no clear data proving that Adolfas Ramanauskas, leader of a squad of armed white-armbanders in the days when the white armbanders were persecuting, humiliating, plundering, harming and murdering Jews in 1941, took part personally in such killings or persecutions. Indeed, I saw Arūnas Bubnys of the Genocide Research Center on TV, saying that there are no such documents in the archives in Lithuania. I have no grounds not to trust him, as he was among the people who compiled the lists of the Jew-killers and investigated respective documents. Of course, the lists are still secret and no one, except those employed at the Genocide Research Center, can check if they were compiled correctly. With no disrespect, if a researcher’s results cannot be tested and checked, and the methodology used is not clear to start with, no scholars or jurists could deem them reliable. When it comes to different disciplines, theology is the only one that makes an exemption, and that only for God himself. But neither the Genocide Research Center nor its doings have quite been deified yet. I am also interested what they mean by “the Holocaust” when they say that there were 2,055 persons who may have taken part in carrying out the Holocaust? Those who carried out the final lethal stage of the Holocaust had to take several steps before that: target the Jews, separate the Jews from other inhabitants, isolate the Jews in conditions of imprisonment, and only then bring them to the massacre sites and kill them. Different versions say that there were 200,000 to 250,000 Jews killed in Lithuania with more killed by the export of local shooters to Belarus, Latvia and beyond. The list of perpetrators may be short because there is no sufficient data in the archives, because people who took part in the early stages of the Holocaust, or even those who “only” took part in transporting Jews to the places of their death, are not included in these lists. There is no way to check this out. This particular Genocide Center list is fictional. It is this fiction that allows the leaders of the Genocide Research Center to spread the fiction that “no leaders of after-war Lithuanian partisans took part in the Holocaust.”
But let us come back to Druskininkai. Alongside direct links, there are the indirect links. Creators of the patriotic myth want to see police chief Bajertis and leader of the united white-armbander squad Jakavonis as the ones who are responsible for the persecution of Jews and the killing of the aforementioned twenty-eight people. It makes sense to remember the conclusions made by the (presidential) Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes, especially the part that defines which organizations were responsible for persecuting and killing Jews:
Responsible Organizations. There were plenty organizations that took part in identifying Jews, confiscating their property, rounding them up, and finally exterminating them. The main German organizations were these:
a) German Security Police and SD;
b) Wehrmacht, especially the 207th, 281st, 285th, and 403rd Security Divisions, and the Military Commandant’s Office (Feldkommendaturen);
c) battalions of the German police, first of all the 11th, as well as the 2nd, 9th, 65th, 105th, and 131st, that were operating in Lithuanian territory and took part in arresting Jews;
d) German Civilian Administration (Ziwilverwaltung) also took part in the process of extermination, as well as its departments of politics and economics, and the Labor Office (Arbeitsamt).
To control the size and speed of the genocide, and to persecute and exterminate Jews, German organizations used help from many militarized Lithuanian police and administrative organizations. These include:
a) elements of the irregular military forces gathered spontaneously or quickly organized at the beginning of the war;
b) units of TDA (Tautinio darbo apsauga; National Labor Security), later named the Self-Defense Battalions, known as Schutzmannschaften, played a key role in the Holocaust and took part in the killings of Jews not only in Lithuania, but in other countries, too, especially in Belarus and Ukraine;
c) Kaunas Police Department and a number of local policemen around Lithuania;
d) agents and officers of the Lithuanian Security Police;
e) a number of units of the Lithuanian Civilian Administration.
How unpleasant. Ramanauskas was serving in one of these organizations in June and July of 1941. The facts are, that in June and July of 1941, Ramanauskas was a leader of a squad of armed people in Druskininkai (they say that only those who were on guard had weapons, but in fact the text means what it says: they were armed). At that time, in Druskininkai and around it, Jews and people that were deemed to be “Communists” by these armed rebels were being persecuted and even killed. The source here is the Lithuanian police report mentioning these twenty-eight people killed, more than ten incarcerated, and Jews in forced labor, all during the days of the outbreak of the Lithuanian Holocaust in June and July of 1941. People were selected, arrested, forced to work, and killed by Lithuanian partisans and police officers, whose names are in many cases wholly unknown.
So what does it all mean? That we need to talk openly about Ramanauskas as a potential Holocaust collaborator, and a possible Holocaust perpetrator. That he was at the time a Nazi collaborator is certain. These were the fascist, pro-Nazi militias we are talking about, one of whom he wrote himself that he “led.” What role he played is not clear. But as long as we do not clarify that, we will be in the minefields of perpetual info-wars, real and fictional, sincere and from assorted trouble-makers.
And here, by the way, we need to remember some other details of Ramanauskas’s biography that were brought to the surface by the recent scandal. I saw pseudonyms named by Vanagaitė, and others, after the scandal, of people from Soviet agencies who tried to recruit Ramanauskas. They say they were interested in him as a teacher. On the other hand, not all teachers were being recruited back then. Perhaps future agent Rimšelis was an easy target? His short service in Druskininkai was enough of a reason for long years in the Gulag… Here, the details of this alleged recruitment become very interesting and important; the main question is, though, if anyone is to investigate these claims after the recent scandal, and the ridiculous national “punishments” inflicted on Vanagaite, including a horrifically derisory attack from a former head of state, and the embargoing of all her published books by her publisher, including the 2016 Mūsiškiai on the Holocaust.
Sure it is a pity. Collaboration with the Nazis was a stain on many postwar Forest Brothers’ reputation that made them vulnerable, and the Soviets exploited this vulnerability brutally during the whole period of the guerrilla war. I can understand that it was not easy to clean your reputation while underground. But are there any reasons why it cannot be done now to the extent possible, when the facts so merit? There is the desire to appear noble and heroic. But how can we aim to be noble and heroic without facing the truth? Do these scandals, witch-hunts and campaigns of personal defamation against the messenger when any unpleasant information or possibility about our heroes appears really help anything? Are these myths really that necessary to us when it comes to potential collaborators and perpetrators of the Holocaust in our country?
While trying to answer this irksome question I stumbled upon Enrika Žilytė’s interesting monograph, “ Collective Biography of the Partisan Leaders,” published in 2016 in the series Lietuvos istorijos studijos [Studies in Lithuanian History journal, no. 38. One of the strong points of this paper is that the author gives us digital access to biographical resumes of the partisan leaders:
The resumes provide information about these people’s activities during the first Soviet occupation (1940-1941), as well as during Nazi rule (1941-1944). The author presents her methodology, including criteria that made her include (or not include) certain people in her list. To me personally, it was important that I was not the one to compile the list. Responding to such accusations as can accrue to those who challenged our “patriotic history” is very counter-productive, especially if one has to do it in court or the prosecutor’s office. It is pitiful to see that these institutions keep on taking an active part in the marketplace of ideas, as they had been doing throughout the Soviet period.
The author cites a few scenarios related to the 1941 “Uprising” and the Nazi occupation in the chapter 5: “Activities during the first Soviet and the Nazi occupation” and it can be illuminating to quote from them.
“Eighteen people (35% of all [postwar] partisan leaders) were related to Nazi military structures at some time: four people served in the public police, nine served in various battalions, two served in the Vilnius Garrison of Lithuanian Soldiers, and one person each in the fire department, as head of the war prisoners’ camp, and as military commandant.”
“Future partisans were quite literate, which may have been one of the reasons why many (ten) of them worked in various agencies, cooperatives, and branches of municipal institutions.”
“…Underground organizations during the Soviet occupation started relating themselves to the LAF. Three eventual leaders of the partisans were in such organizations.”
“The Lithuanian Freedom Army (LFA) is one of the underground organizations that is said to have fought the Nazis, but this definition asks for clarification. The LFA was established in 1941, at the beginning of the Nazi occupation, and it started communicating with the Germans in 1944 as the latter were retreating from Lithuania and, in order to strengthen the resistance against the Soviet army, offered to train some members of the LFA in Germany. Authorities of the LFA accepted the offer. Three future leaders of the partisans had such short training (several months) in the Nazi military schools, and came back to Lithuania as paratroopers.”
Many of the facts, except those that divulge the critical mass of those related to Nazi military structures (35%), are not of high importance in and of themselves. The resumes, on the other hand, allow us to gather the data and see what was the percentage of partisan leaders that were “allied” with the Nazis at some point. The result is staggering. I was able to find only ten names that had no data relating them to Nazis (and the absence of such data is not a final “answer” in such circumstances). All the others served either in military structures or the civil administration, or were members of the LAF or the LFA. There is absolutely no data about two people out of the ten, and there is no data about the activities of two more during the Nazi occupation. In other words, we have blanks for them, “data missing” notices rather than an explanation of what they were doing right in the midst of the Nazi genocide of a few hundred thousand Lithuanian Jews. That leaves us with six people. Two of them were young students, two were farmers, one was a school manager, and one was a bookkeeper. Which means that the Soviets could indeed accuse an absolute majority of partisan leaders of collaborating with the Nazis.
Of course this does not mean that all of them took part in carrying out the murder phase of the Holocaust. I have investigated some their “relationships to the Holocaust” in other articles in Defending History, and I will not come back to those now. The point is that such an empirical composition of their leadership left the postwar Forest Brothers little chance for proving the wartime innocence of those who were indeed innocent. To the Soviets, they were all indiscriminately known as “fascists.” And, as the list in question shows, there were grounds for that in a high proportion of cases. (Even in the West at the height of the Cold War, the punishing of Nazi war criminals and collaborators was considered one of the very few positive aspects of postwar Soviet rule.)
Some parts of the resumes about posthumous military ranks and orders awarded by the current democratic Republic of Lithuania show the relation of these people to the present. Seven names have not been honored. These are the two who have no data about them, and the three that were found to have collaborated with the Soviets. In other words those with no relationships with Nazi activity during the Holocaust have in general not been honored.
It is staggering to behold how some “details” were not seen as obstacles by the current Lithuanian state to glorifying with posthumous honors certain “partisan heroes.” These “details” include taking part in the massacres in Belarus, serving the Nazis as guards in Majdanek, or serving the Nazis as commander of a Nazi POW camp for captive Red Army soldiers (we know what took place at such camps).
That, in turn, brings us to a clear conclusion. There are no signs yet of a genuine desire to cleanse the intensively-promoted partisan myth by de-glorifying those who took part in the Holocaust or collaborated with Hitler.
It is pitiful to see elites of the powers that be in modern Lithuania only seeing “sin” in collaborating with the Soviets, when collaborating with the Nazis, including taking part in the genocide of the Holocaust, seems of little or no importance to them when a person is named as a hero and is presented to our youth as a role model, or has the year 2018 named for them. This is state policy.
Where will it lead us? I think it has already led us to an embargo (or, according to some reports, pulping) of all of Vanagaitė’s books, including, as noted, her 2016 book on the Holocaust (some think that was perchance the underlying point of the whole book-banning action taken ostensibly by her publishers alone).
But it may also be that the collective portrait of the postwar Forest Brother partisans is different from the collective portrait of the partisan leaders. The percentage of those who collaborated with the Nazis would be smaller among the rank-and-file, there would be more of those who were simply avoiding serving in the Soviet army, or those who were recruited by other partisans, but this does not change the very troubling and sad point, that the “national myth cherished by the ‘patriotic’ elite Lithuanian community” has some bright pro-Nazi hues in it.
The right thing to do for our country is to abandon such myths before they do even more damage to Lithuania, three quarters of a century after the massacre of its Jewish minority.
List of the partisan leaders’ names and pseudonyms [with the English translation of Lithuanian noms de guerre in brackets]
Adolfas Kubilius–Balys, Šilo Velnias [Forest Devil], Vaišvila
Jonas Semaška–Liepa [Linden], Rikis [Bishop], Gaučas [Gaucho]
Fortūnatas Ašoklis–Pelėda [Owl], Silkoša, Jonas, Vilkas [Wolf]
Kazimieras Antanavičius–Tauras [Aurochs]
Kazimieras Juozaitis–Račkauskas, Juozaitis, Meteoras [Meteor]
Juozas Ivanauskas–Vygantas–no data found
Aleksandras Milaševičius–Ruonis [Seal], Radvila
Vladas Montvydas–Etmonas [Hetman], Dėdė [Uncle], Žemaitis [Samogitian]
Petras Bartkus–Žadgaila, Alkupėnas, Dargis
Leonardas Grigonis–Užpalis, Krivis [Druid], Kalnius, Danys, Žvainys
Povilas Morkūnas–Rimantas, Ežerietis
Juozas Paliūnas–Rytas [Morning], Saulė [Sun], Rimgaudas
Juozas Kasperavičius–Visvydas, Angis [Viper], Šilas [Forest]
Jonas Žemaitis–Vytautas, Tylius, Žaltys [Grass Snake]
Henrikas Danilevičius–Vidmantas, Danila, Kerštas [Revenge], Žinys, Algis
Aleksas (Aleksandras) Miliulis–Algimantas, Neptūnas [Neptune]
Antanas Bakšys–Klajūnas [Vagabond], Germantas, Senis [Old Man]
Krizostomas Labanauskas–Justas–no data found
Jonas Vilčinskas–Algirdas, Svajūnas
Juozas Krikštaponis (Krištaponis)
Danielius Vaitelis–Briedis [Moose], Atamanas [Ataman]
Mykolas Šemežys–Putinas [Guelder-Rose]
Bronius Karbočius–Algimantas, Bitė [Bee]
Antanas Starkus–Montė, Blinda
Jonas Kimštas–Dobilas [Clover], Žalgiris, Žygūnas
Vladas Algirdas Mikulėnas–Lubinas [Lupine], Liepa [Linden], Storulis [Fat Man]
Bronius Zinkevičius–Artojas [Plougman], Kalvis [Smith]
Vincas Kaulinis–Miškinis [Forest Man]
Bronius Kalytis–Siaubas [Horror], Liutauras
Jonas Misiūnas–Žalias Velnias [Green Devil]
Mečislovas Kestenis (Mykolas Kareckas)–Serbentas [Currant]
Alfonsas Morkūnas–Plienas [Steel]
Leonas Taunys–Kovas [Rook]
Zigmas Drunga–Mykolas Jonas, Šernas [Boar]
Antanas Baltūsis–Žvejys [Fisherman]
Jonas Petras Aleščikas–Rymantas, Margis, Gintautas, Gediminas
Viktoras Vitkauskas–Karijotas, Saidokas
Juozas Jankauskas–Demonas [Demon]
Adolfas Ramanauskas–Vanagas [Hawk]
Benys Labėnas (Benediktas Labenskas)–Kariūnas [Soldier]
Lionginas Baliukevičius–Dzūkas [Dzūkian]
Juozas Gegužis–Diemedis [Southernwood]
Vincas Daunoras–Ungurys [Eel], Kelmas [Stump]
Vytautas Gužas–Kardas [Sword]
Bronius Liesys (Liesis)–Naktis [Night], Kaukas [Goblin], Ėglis [Juniper]
Juozas Šibaila–Merainis, Diedukas [Grandpa]
Vaclovas Ivanauskas–Gintautas, Leonas, Vytenis
Sergijus Staniškis–Litas, Viltis [Hope], Antanaitis, Tėvukas [Dad]