Why Does the State Commemorate Murderers?

by Evaldas Balčiūnas

Probably every mature person living in Lithuania has heard about the mass murder of people at the beginning of World War II. During the first months of the war ― in a period of less than half a year ― more than 100,000 people were murdered, most of them Jews. 

“Evil deeds uncondemned often end up idolized.”

It is sad, but there are more than enough facts corroborating that Lithuanians — regular officers of the Lithuanian military — took part in the mass murders of civilians, women and children.

We have written previously of the mass murders carried out by the First Battalion of the TDA [Tautos darbo apsauga, or National Labor Security Force, a military force created by the Lithuanian Provisional Government (PG) of 1941 to serve the Nazis] at the Seventh Fort in Kaunas, together with the Hamann squadron. There were those who acted exceptionally.

It was Dr. Arūnas Bubnys who wrote in his study called “Lithuanian Police Battalions and the Holocaust (1941-1943)”:

“From statements made by convicted TDA battalion soldiers to Soviet security, one can conclude that the first and third units of the TDA battalion were part of the mass murder of Jews at the Seventh Fort. The third unit under the command of B. Norkus, J. Barzda and A. Dagys usually took part in later Jewish extermination operations.”

So these three officers were covered in the blood of old people, women and children. Who were they?

This is how the semiofficial Lithuanian webpage Genocid.lt characterizes them:

“Barzda, Juozas, lieutenant, commander of the 2nd tracer-bullet unit of the Second Infantry Platoon at the beginning of the Soviet occupation; transferred to the Ninth Infantry Platoon on July 24, 1940; on September 24, 1940, was appointed commander of the intelligence platoon unit of the 179th Division of Sharpshooters; placed in the reserves at end of 1940; lived in Kaunas, worked as assistant to the manager of the university agricultural department; organized an insurgent group of students at the university dormitory when the German-Soviet war broke out; accepted into the TDA battalion of the Kaunas Command on June 28, 1941; named commander of the Third Unit of the TDA Battalion on July 3, 1941; dragged into the Germans’ mass murder of the Jews from July, 1941; later the Third Unit under his command was used specially for mass murder at the Kaunas forts and outside Kaunas; on August 25, 1941, transferred to the 2nd PPT Battalion, named commander of the Third Unit; in October, 1941, went to Minsk with the battalion where the Second PPT Battalion (later the Second Security Battalion, the Twelfth Battalion) was again used for the mass murder of Jews, Soviet POWs and others; later placed in the reserves; named head of the Third Unit of the 302nd Battalion being formed by the Ukmergė [Military] Command of the Local Team [pro-Nazi Lithuanian partisan group, Vietine rinktine, fighting rear-guard action for retreating German forces against approaching Soviets]; member of the LLA [Lithuanian Freedom Army]; commander of the Vanagai Partisans of Telšai from August 19, 1944; drowned in Plateliai Lake in December, 1944, during a drop of a unit of parachutists, body was collected and identified on January 15, 1945. Born in Kavoliai village in Zarasai district.”

“Norkus, Bronius, lieutenant; military pilot of the Fifth Squadron at the beginning of the occupation; transferred to the aviation squadron of the 29th Unit on October 4, 1940; fled during weekend leave to Kaunas when the German-Soviet war broke out; raised the Lithuanian flag above the Church of the Assumption in Kaunas on June 23, 1941, during the Uprising; appointed commander of the Third Unit of the TDA Battalion on July 3, 1941; dragged into the mass murder of Jews by the Germans; died in 1943 in an accident in Russia (while serving in the Thirteenth Battalion).”

“Dagys, Anatolijus, lieutenant; commander of the Mortar Unit of the Second Infantry Brigade at the beginning of the occupation; transferred to the 259th Sharpshooters’ Brigade on September 7, 1940, and made commander of the Third Tracer-bullet Platoon’s Mortar Unit; transferred to the 215th Marksmen’s Brigade on October 21, 1940; named assistant to the commander of the Third Unit of the TDA Battalion on July 3, 1941; dragged into the mass murder of Jews by the Germans; appointed commander of the Third Unit on August 25, 1941; senior police lieutenant (on the lists of the Thirteenth Battalion) from January 1, 1943; when the Thirteenth Battalion went to the Pskov region, stayed in Kaunas where he was on official duties with the headquarters of a communications officer of the LSD; lived in the USA after war.”

It seems none of them were tried for their crimes. On the other hand, the information is rather sparse. The phrase “dragged into mass murder by the Germans” probably doesn’t adequately characterize the actions of officers who led in the the murdering of tens of thousands of people.

It is interesting that all of them continued to serve among other regular officers dressed in German uniforms, having torn off the Lithuanian flag sewn to the sleeve. As much as I look in Lithuanian sources, I can’t find anywhere that one of their colleagues condemned them for taking part in war crimes. I didn’t find any information that any of the so-called Lithuanian anti-Nazi underground figures condemned them either.

“Juozas Barzda-Klevas made important contributions in creating the fighting force of the LLA [Lithuanian Freedom Army]. He wasn’t just an average person in the organization but an important one: the commander of the Vanagai unit of the LLA in Telšiai. He negotiated with the Germans for weapons to fight the ‘red saboteurs’ and received two hundred rifles and the promise of training for 50 saboteurs at Abwehr schools (he later made use of that training himself). He was in charge of the LLA Vanagai camp ‘which was established in the Plateliai-Sateikiai forest (6 km from the eastern shore of Lake Plateliai)’ (427, 12). This was where not just the Telšiai Vanagai unit, who on August 2 received the order to come for ten days of training, were based, but was also whither the partisans of the LLA eastern districts and units as well as newcomers withdrew 9427, 12).

Initially there about 400 to 500 people concentrated at the camp, later up to 250 people, divided into units, brigades and departments.”

As LLA representative, Juozas Barzda-Klevas participated in the so-called Kaltanenai Conference on September 5, 1944, where there were discussions on how to oppose the approaching Red Army. Later he trained at an Abwehr school and became a parachutist. Actually, his jump ended unsuccessfully: he landed in Iešnalis Lake and drowned. More on this event at http://partizanai.org/.

Well, a despicable person died, so we could place a full stop at the end of the story. Unfortunately, we can’t. This story has a continuation.

Evil deeds uncondemned often end up idolized.

In 2008 at Iešnalis Lake, near the place thought to be Juozas Barzda-Klevas’s grave (no one knows exactly where that is), Plungė District Council member from the Law and Order Party Albinas Klimas erected a stone monument to this murderer on the territory of a national reserve. Government agencies didn’t even attempt to punish the willful individual. On the contrary, the commission for Commemorating Freedom Battles led by Plungė region Municipal Council Member Albinas Klimas has often considered the problem of this monument. It seems the monument stands, although it was illegally erected, in a place where pedestrians can’t reach it. The road goes through private property and the owners aren’t inclined to allow walking across their land. There was consideration on how to build a road on the territory of the reserve leading to this monument of questionable worth and legality. I don’t have an answer on why law enforcement isn’t punishing these politicians causing natural destruction and erecting monuments to murderers.

Of those three, the murderer of women and children and Lithuanian Air Force Lieutenant Bronius Norkus, who fell from a horse in Russia in 1942 and died, is buried in Lithuania. It is painful to see how the merits of this person are exalted in certain specific sources. Yes, on June 23, 1941, he raised the Lithuanian flag over the Church of the Assumption in Kaunas, but there is silence on the fact that this person only a few days later took command over the murdering of thousands of innocent people at the Seventh Fort in Kaunas.

A bloody orgy lasting many days is exchanged for a one-time patriotic act. On June 29, 2001, at a meeting of cultural heritage protection experts held at the Kaunas Heritage Center, where Bronius Kaselionis, Loreta Kazlavicikienė and the experts Dr. Romas Batura and Dr. Algirdas Antanas Baliulis took part, they approved the idea of proclaiming the grave of Bronius Norkus a cultural monument. Participants at the meeting felt that Bronius Norkus should be placed among “Lithuanian soldiers who perished for Lithuanian freedom, created the independent state, and made important contributions to the science of war and national defense” (see the end of the article, Paminklas No. L101 1).

It is curious that the decision was made exactly sixty years after the start of the mass murders at the Seventh Fort in Kaunas, mass murders where the executioners led by Bronius Norkus killed more than six thousand people.

Even the SS commanders were even annoyed; they said they had killed three thousand more than they were ordered to. Pathetic are such “contributions” to the military, and pathetic is the state which protects and preserves the memory of such “soldiers”.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the blood works committed by the threesome. There has been an attempt to commemorate two of the “soldiers” at state level.

Isn’t it time to stop mocking the memory of their victims?

Translation from Lithuanian by Geoff Vasil, published here with the author’s permission.

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This entry was posted in Bold Citizens Speak Out, Collaborators Glorified, Debates on the Postwar "Forest Brothers", Evaldas Balčiūnas, Genocide Center (Vilnius), Human Rights, Lithuania, Opinion, Politics of Memory. Bookmark the permalink.
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