“I am a former Lithuanian soldier myself and have a personal remark to make. Nobody will ever force me to wear the uniform of another country’s armed forces, because I am a Lithuanian patriot. I will not wear the uniform of Russia or of Mozambique.”
One of the main Lithuanian dailies Lietuvos žinios (Lithuanian News) reported in an article on 24 November 2015 that the council of the celebrated Sajūdis organization (famed for its role in resisting the USSR and helping to achieve Lithuanian independence), had now, in 2015, decided to apply to prosecutors to take legal action over an article that had appeared in the 13 October 2015 edition of Laisvas laikraštis (Free Newspaper).
Sajūdis “decided” that the author had violated the law because he mentioned that Lithuanian postwar militants Vytautas Žemaitis, Jonas Noreika (Vėtra), Antanas Baltūsis-Žvejas and others might have been personally involved in Holocaust atrocities. [Editor’s note: See articles by Evaldas Balčiūnas on the alleged Holocaust involvement of Žemaitis, Noreika, and Baltūsis -Žvejas.]
In my previous article in Defending History, I paid particular attention to Baltūsis-Žvejas, and how he has been “sanctified” by our country’s “Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania.” Its director general Birutė Burauskaitė has stated that Baltūsis-Žvejas together with the Lithuanian Police with which he worked belonged to the “outer security corpus” (trying to deny that they were de facto part of Nazi forces), and did not kill anybody. But even here in Lithuania, children can learn from their own textbooks that Majdanek, where the gentleman served, was a death camp.
Balys Sruoga, a great writer and a professor, who himself suffered in the concentration camp Stutthof wrote a book Forest of Gods, where he says (p. 8): “The fifth category of lagers were those outside Germany, especially, in Poland, for example, Majdanek. Lagers of the fifth category remained till the end closed utilization camps.” But for some reason it is popular, when discussing Baltūsis Žvejas in “adult” history contexts, such as Genocide Center materials, to regard Majdanek is something that sounds like a kind of vacation spot for the “outer security forces.” It is very popular here in Lithuania to introduce Majdanek as a “normal” concentration camp, where Baltūsis Žvejas, the Genocide Center implies, took some such sort of vacation with the outer security forces.”
“The only charge against him is that he had secured that Majdanek camp. But it was only outer security. The very honorable men say, that maybe Lithuanians led prisoners to the gas chambers. That is all fairy tales and lies.”
But, whether you pressed this button or shot that gun or “just” helped others do these things, you are part of the war-criminal apparatus of the death camp and not a national hero of a modern European country. But on many occasions, Burauskaitė and her Center have tried to make a case, effectively, that the international set of standards that applies makes an exemption for Lithuania.
As a proud and patriotic Lithuanian, it pains me to say that nowhere in post-Soviet Europe have world mass murderers and collaborators have been so glorified by the state as in my own country. The Sajūdis council has applied to the prosecutors not only demanding the prosecution of the author of the article but of the newspaper itself. Perhaps, in other words, the newspaper is committing a crime by publishing such articles.
Let me try to put this another way. What would happen if I applied to the prosecutor pointing out that the Genocide Center’s director general, Birutė Burauskaitė, writing in her official capacity as a government official, that Baltūsis-Žvejas’s being part of a Nazi force at a death camp does not incriminate him merits their urgent investigation because she is contradicting the firm view held by international law? Or, if I were to point out that her claim that Lithuanian police working under the Nazis were not working under the Nazis is mendacious and the kind of untruth that damages the Republic of Lithuania. What would they say?
Instead I have been speaking to a number of Lithuanian citizens of various backgrounds (mostly ethnic Lithuanian!) whose grandparents suffered from the postwar guerillas (the “Forest Brothers”).
But the announcement in a major daily newspaper that a self-proclaimed group of patriots (speaking about today’s 2015 Sajūdis), applied to the prosecutor for a citizen to be charged with a crime for having published an article with his opinion surprised many people. After all, it was not a long time ago that censorship of the mass media was banned not “only” by the Lithuanian Constitution (since 25 October 1992), but also by the Lithuanian Supreme Court (see Drižius vs. Lithuania, Lithuanian Supreme Court, 01/10/2015, case No. 2K-7-205-222/2015). And now a group of right-wing nationalists has said in effect that the court has no jurisdiction upon us. They are higher. You must condemn and prosecute a newspaper, because it does not respect the myths of a guerilla war that do not permit revelation of the Holocaust backgrounds of some of its leaders.
I cannot forget the recent propagandistic film, Šimtmetis Lietuvos ir Švedijos diplomatinių santykių (One Hundred Years of Swedish-Lithuanian Relations) in which it was clearly shown that guerillas were prepared in Sweden where they were told that they should hold out for say half a year and the Americans will come. The director, Jonas Ohman, screened his film at an international conference in Šiauliai, in September 2012.
If its premise is true (and this is all separate from the film’s failure to even discuss the Holocaust allegations against its “heroes”), it would mean that Sweden and/or America deceived these people, leading to their deaths and to nothing else. To follow that through to its logical conclusion, well, our grand patriots of the right should be seeking redress from Sweden and the United States, rather than persecuting or prosecuting writers and publications whose opinions boil down to simple public revelations of things well known to scholars and specialists for decades.
It is shameful to use our hard-earned taxpayer euros continue to be used to finance a Genocide Center that sanitizes and glorifies Holocaust collaborators who brought and bring and will forever bring only shame to Lithuania. The Center’s behavior, and that of its director, resembles a dogmatic religious community rather more than a professional modern Western state-sponsored research center.
There were real Lithuanian heroes of this period, as all periods. They are those who helped their fellow citizens who were Jewish to survive in the years 1941 to 1944.
As for the issue of the postwar “Forest Brothers,” in addition to the need to identify which (of course not all!) were recycled Holocaust perpetrators, there is the need to at least admit that Lithuanian society has different views and opinions, as do scholars. For many of us, it was Lithuanians murdering other Lithuanian and economic migrant civilians sent here by the Soviet authorities. They murdered some twenty-five thousand people of our country. They were not killing Soviet leaders who sat ruling our people from their safe havens in Moscow and elsewhere.
There are many other nuances. Amnesties were offered to those who would come out of the forests. And then there is the question of how many of the “heroes” were themselves attached to Soviet security organs.
By contrast, there are real heroes from that time and place. There were some who infiltrated the Soviet system and rescued fellow Lithuanians from being sent to Siberia. One man, Bronius Deimandavičius, until an offer of amnesty hid his brother in the cellar, in Rokai, in the Kaunas region, where I live. Still I can interview his nephew Kastytis and his niece Irena Zita, who were also rescued by this brave man. He falsified documents within the deportation lists to save people from being sent to Siberia. And then, when he learned of an offer of amnesty for the “Forest Brothers” he brought his own brother to the police, where his brother was registered and given a job in a collective farm (kolkhoz).
There are many such stories in Lithuania. But were people like Bronius Deimandavičius ever made posthumously into heroes for rescuing people’s lives? I think not.
The same Genocide Center that invests resources in trying to turn alleged Holocaust perpetrators who became postwar guerillas into national heroes ignores the real national heroes of the same era and even area (Rokai was in the Tauras district, commandeered by Baltūsis-Žvejas…). Those who saved someone from being murdered in the Holocaust, or saved someone from being sent to Siberia are the real heroes.
In 1940 Lithuanian Army officials effectively agreed (i.e. peacefully and without a fight) to change their uniforms to Soviet uniforms and became the so-called Lithuanian Folk Army (openly recalled in the War Museum’s permanent exhibition in Kaunas). A year later, following the Nazi invasion of June 1941, they changed their uniforms again, this time to Nazi attire. After a few years, some were stationed at Majdanek. But others, like my relative Vytas Apanavičius, simply left the services not to become involved in Nazi atrocities. Nobody forced anyone to serve. Why then did the postwar guerillas choose the forests? In some cases, they had committed war crimes and knew they would be tried and possibly imprisoned or sentenced to death, most clearly so after the Nurnberg Trials. It was a way for some to try to get to the West and start a new life.
I am a former Lithuanian soldier myself and have a personal remark to make. Nobody will ever force me to wear the uniform of another country’s armed forces, because I am a Lithuanian patriot. I will not wear the uniform of Russia or of Mozambique.
If somebody takes over the country, there are sundry ways to resist. One way is of course guerilla warfare against the occupying forces (not against civilians), from the outset for the right reasons, rather than to escape the justice coming to alleged war criminals. One could try to infiltrate the state structures of the occupiers and save lives, the choice of Bronius Deimandavičius. Lo and behold, it turns out on reading history, that even very negatively evaluated personalities like Justas Paleckis, the first vassal head of Lithuania under the Soviets, managed to save two hundred children, many of them children of the ministers of prewar independent Lithuania, from the Arctic (Zigmas Toliušis. Mano kalėjimai [My Jails], p. 241).
Let us not as a nation glorify traitors and murderers, whether it is those who participated in the Holocaust from 1941 to 1944 or those who committed crimes against civilians in the “Forest Brothers” context from 1944 onward. Speaking of the latter, many Lithuanian people, not only Russians and Poles (and some of the few surviving Jews) suffered from the extreme criminality perpetrated. Both my grandfathers were attacked and the victims of attempted murder: Zigmas Apanavičius, in 1948 in Rokai, and Alfredas Kligys in 1956 in Kazlų Rūda, where he had built a school and worked as a principal. Of course the school was a “Soviet” school because there were no others!
The long and short of it is that the prosecutor’s office is not the right place to search for the truth of history. Everyone knows that powerful individuals and institutions can easily “arrange for a case to be opened.” Just look at the scandal of the attempts to prosecute Jewish Holocaust survivors who joined the anti-Nazi partisans [Editor’s note: see more here; that initiative came from a Genocide Center official, who was later rewarded with membership in the “red-brown commission”].
Does today’s supreme council of Sajūdis have a right to say that I have no right to speak about murderers of either the Holocaust or the postwar era? Does the Genocide Center want to say that many thousands of Lithuanian families who have family memories directly or passed down of the brutality of the “Forest Brothers” are all liars? That they are not patriots of our modern democratic Lithuania?
My own conviction is that the people of Lithuania are good people and they do not want to be made into forced representatives of some tiny percentage of our population who engaged in mass murder or in murder of civilians whether genocide during the Holocaust or the targeting of civilians for murder in the postwar Soviet period. Incidentally, the European Court of Human Rights decided, in fact, that the postwar Lithuanian guerilla movement was not supported by the most of people (Vasiliauskas vs. Lithuania, application No. 35343/05, 20/10/2015).
It is true that many of our intelligentsia who follow these things felt aggrieved by this decision. But I ask my countrymen to consider the simple truth that to terrorize and murder peaceful civilians is a form of terrorism. Evil, undemocratic, autocratic and totalitarian as it was, the Soviet government did the right thing when it punished people for Nazi crimes and when it punished people for terrorizing civilians. In neither case is “ideology” or “grievance” any kind of defense for murder of noncombatants, period. Murder is not decriminalized with the collapse of the wretched Soviet authority. Murder is murder!
And ideology or commitment to x or to y, no matter how popular x and y are, is no excuse for murder. Can this be taught to Birutė Burauskaitė and her colleagues at the Genocide Center, an institution that does our country’s good name so much damage in the world.