years ago, on June 15, 1940, the Lithuanian state was occupied.
For five decades the Lithuanian nation suffered the lot of
the enslaved and experienced something that, it seems, 20
years of independence has not been able to erase. Will Lithuanians
need 100 years to erase the shadow of the holocaust?
Russia, ignoring the agreement of July 29, 1991 which confirms Lithuanian independence,
has actually refused to recognize that the Soviet Union
The remaining effects of the Nazi
occupation are no less complicated. Recently CNN, one of
the most influential television channels in the world,
published an article on their webpage called “The Holocaust
in Lithuania: One Man’s Crusade for Justice.” Nazi hunter
Efraim Zuroff here announced that Lithuania will require
100 years to throw off the burden of holocaust guilt.
But really, did Lithuania of her
own free will choose the suffering of loss of freedom,
and later enthusiastically jump into the role of executor,
exterminating her own Jewish citizens? This was the theme
of the talk and debate show Anatomy of the Press at the
Ziniu Radijo studio with historian, diplomat and former
Lithuanian ambassador to the United States then Israel
Alfonsas Eidintas; philosopher and docent of the International
Relations and Political Science Institute of Vilnius University
Kestutis Girnius; lawyer and former investigator for the
Prosecutor General’s office of special investigations Kestutis
Milkeraitis; and philospher interested in history and professor
of South Carolina and Vytautas Magnus universities Kestutis
Skrupskelis. The moderator was Vidmantas Valiusaitis.
Valiusaitis: Mr. Eidintas, how
can one explain that over 20 years of independence Lithuania
remains in a strangely continuing situation: it seems that
there is no strength to answer logically and convincingly
grave charges ruining Lithuania’s reputation in the world
and causing annoyance domestically?...
Eidintas: In the West since the
1950s serious works have been published on the holocaust:
monographs, studies, memoirs . Meanwhile in Lithuania for
five decades a warped understanding has been crafted. The
mass murder of Jews, or, as it was called then, “the mass
murder of Soviet citizens,” was spoken of ideologically,
just as was the collaboration of the Lithuanian “bourgeois
strata” with the Nazis. This led to a warped understanding.
During independence we have mainly rallied around studies
of Soviet repressions, crimes carried out by the Soviets,
including war crimes, mass deportations, battles against
the partisan movement. They are necessary. But the knowledge
we provide the West of this is insufficient. The West still
lacks information about this. Only those people who are
deeply interested or who come from countries where Communist
repression took place know about this.
Valiusaitis: Even so, 20 years
have passed. What of significance have Lithuanian historians
Eidintas: Materials from one and
another conference have been published, 5 or 6 volumes
of the research of the president’s international commission
for studying Nazi and Soviet crimes have been published.
But this isn’t enough. Serious monographs by foreign authors
have only begun appearing in the Lithuanian language recently,
work needs to be continued. It is time to think about how
to present our [version of] the problem to the West. There
are clear signals from Jewish authors as well. Recently
I read Barry Rubin’s article about unused opportunities.
He says that holocaust victims have been accustomed to
speak just about the holocaust, they haven’t been able
to free themselves from that terror and are unable to see
other crimes, namely, of Communism. Efraim Zuroff’s explanations
from those positions are presented. He doesn’t raise the
question of why Lithuanians welcomed the Germans with flowers.
What happened in summer of 1940, in June of 1941? There
isn’t even mention that at that time there were also deportations of Jews. And this is not just the drama of Lithuania, but of all Central
Europe, including the holodomor of the Ukrainians.
Valiusaitis: The German weekly
Der Spiegel last year published a provocative article that
said Lithuanians “transformed the orgy of killing Jews
into a national tradition [ritual].” Lithuanians are portrayed
as total lowlifes: “To the Germans, 300 Jews meant 300
enemies of humanity; to the Lithuanians they meant 300
pairs of pants and shoes.” Mr. Girnius, what does this
have in common with the standards of professional behavior
of journalists and the honesty of presenting a topic?
Girnius: Several things need to
be mentioned. Mr. Eidintas mentioned that the Germans have
taken an interest in the holocaust since the 1950s. That
isn’t exactly right. At that time many Nazis still held
very important posts in the Adenauer government. They only
began to take an interest in this theme in the 1960s or
mid-1970s. It took some time.
On the other hand, for some time
now there has been an attempt to portray the holocaust
as if it were some sort of very widespread expression,
and the most important role here was allegedly played by
Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Latvians, in other words, the
“savages” of Eastern Europe. And thus the Germans seemingly
fall out of the picture. The quote about 300 shoes, if
I’m not mistaken, is [by] one Polish witness who saw the
events at Paneriai when the usurpation [theft] took place.
One senses a trend: to ignore the general context of events,
to place responsibility on these “savages,” at the same
time keeping quiet the fact that the holocaust industry
was managed and organized by no one other but the Nazis
In Lithuania the largest pogroms,
led by Algirdas Jonas Klimaitis, began when the Germans
had already arrived. The garage massacre in the middle
of Kaunas was filmed by Germans. It surprises me that a
German is often quoted who saw and heard a Lithuanian playing
the national anthem on an accordion during the execution.
How would a simple soldier know what the anthem sounds
like? One senses a rather consistent attempt by Germans
to place responsibility on those “savages.”
Having said that, one still needs
to admit that the Jews in Lithuania were murdered en mass
and that too many Lithuanians contributed to this. There
were, sadly, also responsible [important] officials who
took part in those massacres. They were not exclusively
lowlifes or those seeking revenge.
In the Zuroff article, too, one
senses that tendency: the Germans, supposedly, have already
“taken care of” that problem in a nice way, while Lithuanians
will need 100 years. If the Germans accomplished this in
50 years, why can’t Lithuanians also in 50 years? Why will
they necessarily need 100?
Valiusaitis: Mr. Milkeraitis,
the CNN article quotes MEP Leonidas Donskis, he says that
Lithuanian prosecutors supposedly drug their feet on purpose
and waited for the accused to die or for disease to make
them unable to attend trial or be subject to punishment.
You were involved in this process as an attorney and were
in charge of several cases. Could it really be true that
prosecutors strived to keep people connected with the holocaust
Milkeraitis: I’m not going to
justify current prosecutors. What has happened in the Lithuanian
prosecutor’s office over the last 20 years needs to be
the subject of a separate study. It has come to this, that
already society itself has begun analyzing these questions.
In order to keep this from happening, I believe a special
investigation is needed.
But let’s return to 1993. That
year the Prosecutor General’s Office filed criminal charges
against Antanas Mineikis, former driver of the 13th Self-Defense
Batallion, according to material given by the Office of
Special Investigations of the US Justice Department. Mineikis
lived in Florida and had an automobile service business.
One evening as he was returning from work, OSI agents caught
him on the way home. Without notifiying his family, they
put him on a plane, flew him to Vilnius and released him
here. They passed case material to the Prosecutor General.
The material, unfortunately, looked
very poor, there were no documents showing Mineikis took
part in mass murders. As a soldier and driver of the aforementioned
batallion, he was ordered together with the entire group
to Minsk and Slutsk, where Jews were killed. His personal
complicity was nowhere reflected in those documents.
I tried to collect material independently,
I began with the Lithuanian archives. It became clear that
some topics have been completely “cleansed” from the archives.
“Cleansed” by the KGB. This was confirmed by the then-head
of the archives, ???? Pavilionis [???? in original].
I had another case, the so-called
“Klugeriada” case. I investigated its economic component.
It was in connection with some mentioned by Girnius, namely,
Klimaitis. At the beginning of the war he organized a group
of people for carrying out pogroms. As he himself said,
he organized by order of Franz Walter Stahlecker. This
person (1900-1942) led the secret police of Reichskommissariat
Ostland (occupied Eastern European countries), and the
German chain [hierarchy] of strikers and murderers, so-called
Einsatzgruppe A, were subordinate to him.
Valiusaitis: Let’s return to the
question: is it really true that Lithuania has not convicted
[=sentenced as well] even one person guilty of crimes against
Milkeraitis: The Mineikis case
was dropped for lack of evidence of his criminal activity.
In the name of Prosecutor General Arturas Paulauskas, I
approached the Simon Wiesenthal Center, E. Zuroff personally,
requesting additional material if it existed. Neither the
OSI nor Simon Weisenthal Center provided evidentiary material.
At the same time [we] asked about Klimaitis. There was
sufficient evidence showing that his person was the main
Nazi collaborator in Lithuania.
When we asked Zuroff, he recommended
prosecutor general Paulauskas ask prosecutors in Hamburg.
They had sorted this question out earlier with Soviet prosecutors.
The KGB cleaned out the archives and covered up everything
concerning Klimaitis. Zuroff knew of the activity of this
person, his location, but didn’t take any action against
him. He also knew that the KGB scrubbed the archives.
Girnius: How did the Aleksandras
Lileikis case end?
Milkeraitis: The Lileikis case
ended with his death during the trial.
Eidintas: Kazimieras Gimzauskas’
case ended with a verdict. He was pronounced guilty, but
was already incapable of understanding the verdict. And
for Lileikis Lithuania even changed the law to allow for
trial “in abstentia” [sic]. He couldn’t take part because
of illness, the trial took place with communication via
television. Zuroff, of course, doesn’t mention these sort
of things. But the fact is that there were lots of things
[we] wanted to do, but were impossible because of the time
It needs to be noted that the
biggest criminals in Lithuania were convicted during the
Soviet period. The last large processes took place in 1962
when so-called sonderkommando members were tried in Vilnius
and Kaunas. There were two main groups, of about 100 people
each, who shot most of the Jews. Those cases were, of course,
permeated with politics and propaganda, an empty chair
was set up for battalion leader Antanas Impulevicius. He
lived in America. So a certain propaganda blow against
America was sought: they’re hiding [harboring] war criminals.
Literature was distributed, also in English. So, the main
criminals were already convicted. According to my information
more than 200 people from the sonderkommando were shot
during the Soviet period. In independent Lithuania, such
clear-cut, directly involved in crimes, people simply were
no longer present.
Valiusaitis: Professor Skrupskelis,
you delved into the actions and documents of the 1941 provisional
government. Donskis says that Lithuania won’t be able to
come to terms with her history until “the elite of the
country admit [recognize] that the provisional government
of 1941 collaborated with the Nazis and operated against
their own citizens.” Well, but, Vytautas Landsbergis-Zemkalnis,
the father of MEP Vytautas Landsbergis, was the communal
economics minister of the provisional government. He as
well as his wife have been announced as Righteous Among
the Nations because during the Nazi occupation they rescued
Jews. How can this be understood: the provisional government
operated against their own citizens, but its members rescued
Skrupskelis: The provisional government
operated under very difficult conditions and for a very
short time, barely 5 weeks. And it operated when the main
massacres of the Jews had not yet begun. For example, the
liquidation of the Kaunas ghetto took place that autumn
[?], while the provisional government halted [its] activities
on August 5, 1941.
Girnius: I’d like to interject.
When the provisional government halted its activity, 95%
of Lithuanian Jews were still still [sic] alive.
Skrupskelis: I am impressed by
Juozas Brazaitis’s (Ambrazevicius) careful observations
that the provisional government “did nothing to make the
situation of Jews worse.” It was clear that they couldn’t
do anything positive, but they did nothing that would make
that situation worse. I have followed the press. For example,
from the very beginning of the occupation the Germans clearly
announced that they were in charge of the Jewish question.
Initiative didn’t flow from the provisional government.
Its main concern, and Brazaitis clearly emphasizes this,
was to restore order in the country.
Brazaitis’ speech at the funeral
of fallen insurgents is very clear. Calm, soothing, not
encouraging revenge. Brazaitis understand that the situation
is out of control, he’s trying to calm people. A large
part of the provisional government’s activity truly was
economic. If Lithuania doesn’t put economic relations in
order, she is threatened with famine. The end of June in
Lithuania is a comparatively late time to take care of
The August 1, 1941 Regulations
on the Situation of Jews [document] is ascribed to the
provisional government. But there are several telling facts.
When I investigated these documents in the physical sense,
it became clear that these regulations shouldn’t be considered
as conforming to other [provisional] government documents.
They came into the archives through some other route. There
is also the fact that minutes of meetings that would confirm
that these regulations were provisionally adopted are also
lacking. It also causes me wonder that our historians have
not given attention to the fact that the [provisional]
government began to consider this document after the German
military occupational government had turned over administration
of Lithuania to the civilian Nazi government, and the latter
had already promulgated the Regulations on the Situation
of Jews. If the [draft legislation] of the provisional
government had been implemented 9it was never implemented0,
the situation of Jews in Lithuania would have improved. The draft regulations on the situation of Jews is gentler than the
ones already announced by gebeitskommissar Kramer back
on July 28.
Valiusaitis: Mr. Eidintas, do publications like the CNN
piece have some sort of consequences for Lithuania’s reputation?
Do you sense that, say, in the diplomatic arena?
Eidintas: The article is written
from the positions of a Nazi hunter, he is not concerned
with the general picture, it’s unimportant what the Soviets
did here in 1940-1941. I think the time has come to talk,
as many Jewish authors have already suggested. [We] need
to begin teaching about the crimes of Communism in the
[primary] schools of Western Europe. Not exclusively about
Nazi [crimes], but also about Communist [crimes]. Then
an open dialogue is possible. It’s necessary. Then we will
better understand one another. This is not saying anything
about justifying war criminals. But there also cannot be
accusations against an entire nation. There can be accusations
against individuals who contributed to massacres, arrests,
transporting [prisoners]. Just as in the Soviet Union’s
administration there were people of Jewish ethnicity who
committed crimes. But this doesn’t cast a shadow over the
entire Jewish nation. Within this scope it is possible
to discuss and communicate.
Girnius: Most Jewish historians
now admit [recognize] that there have been many different
cases of genocide, but that the holocaust is an exception.
Donskis’s observation that the genocide of Lithuanians
was impossible because Lithuanians held important posts
in the Communist Party is strange. One of the worst genocides
was in Cambodia, and it was led by the local Khmer Rouge.
If the henchmen of one nation carry out such actions, that
doesn’t mean that it can’t be genocide.
One problem in Lithuania is clear:
there is Lithuanian history, and there is Jewish history.
But there is no common history. When we consider the holocaust,
only the Jewish perspective is visible: how many Lithuanians
took part and so on. When we look at what happened in 1940,
these questions are not integrated either. It’s similar
in Poland, but this country has tried to overcome it. There
needs to be a Lithuanian history with room for different
views, but the [historical sets of] problems of 1940 and
1941 need to be integrated [unified].
The problem would be easier if
there were historians studying the Lithuanian history of
the 1935 to 1945 period. There are hints made that great
anti-Semitism dominated Lithuania. I don’t know how much
there was, I believe there wasn’t much, but it’s completely
clear that it was much safer for a Jew to live in Antanas
Smetona’s Lithuania than it was for a black man to live
in the American South at the same time.
Skrupskelis: Many of the accusations
against Lithuanians are erased by what Mr. Eidintas has
stressed, namely, the difference between the guilt of individuals
and collective responsibility. From the very beginning
Brazaitis and others recognized that there were Lithuanians
who were taking part in this process. Germans who weren’t
yet born during the holocaust take part in collective responsibility,
because these were German institutions, a German government,
German power structures which organized all of that. There
was nothing similar in Lithuania. I do not find any data
which would place a common collective responsibility on
Lithuanians. There are guilty individuals. But no one has
ever denied that.
Milkeraitis: A document called L-180 was found in the American
occupation zone right after the war. This is Stahlecker’s
account to interior minister Heinrich Himmler on orders
he carried out. And his orders were to create the impression
that people were rising up spontaneously, carrying out
pogroms against Jews and Communists, in territories occupied
by the Wehrmacht. Among other things, Stahlecker notes
that “despite all our efforts” they had very little success
in Lithuania. And if not for journalist Klimaitis (written
in the Klaipedia [Memel] style as Klimatis), they wouldn’t
have accomplished anything. Here’s a man who is even mentioned
in the Nuremburg Process documents, and Zuroff isn’t looking
for him?!? Even though he knew that he lived in Hamburg
until 1988 and died peacefully there. Most likely he was
a multiple agent of several intelligence agencies, including
the KGB. His job was to convince people repatriating from
the Soviet Union not to make statements against the Soviet
Union. This is what he did.
And Zuroff didn’t look for him, although, I believe, he
had sufficient information about him.
Valiusaitis: The Israeli political
scientist mentioned by Mr. Eidintas, Rubin, notes that
“it’s never good to hide history.” He raises an extremely
interesting question: how do people living under the pressure
of totalitarian regimes chose one side or another? And
what can we learn from all of that in order to attain a
common, deep understanding of history? In order to be able
to reach conclusions from it [common history], in order
for it to speak [to us] today? Not to inflame society,
but to help understand the scope of the tragedy that occurred?
Eidintas: I am convinced that
we won’t require 100 years. We have already begun a lot.
Since 2000, when we joined the international Holocaust
education, study and victim commemoration working group,
much has been done. There are 65 Tolerance Centers at Lithuanian
schools, public organizations and in several former synagogues.
These topics are taught, students are included, publication
of holocaust studies has begun, teachers are traveling
to take courses in Israel and so on. WE have published
around 80 books in Lithuanian about the holocaust, ranging
from serious monographs to memoirs and diaries. And if
we truly understand the tragedy of the Jews, if we feel
the pain of those 150,000-160,000 Jews shot in Lithuania,
if we visit the mass murder sites on August 23, if we show
our sincere attitude toward what has happened, then we
will always find a common language with Jews. These were
two occupations which left us with difficult consequences.
I will recall [for you] the apt observation of Pulgis Andriusis
[?]: both the Nazis and the Soviets plundered and murdered uniformly, but the Nazis
didn’t demand [we] kiss their hands in exchange.
Girnius: Much work has been done,
there is a lack of talented historians. There is not to
be seen who might write a good book in English that would
integrate the abovementioned [historical sets of] problems
and cause international discussions. There are valuable
works, but in fact they have not been listed on the main
register of academic literature either. In the most important
journals about the holocaust published in English, very
few articles by Lithuanians have been published.
Skrupskelis: We really lack specific,
concrete studies. But it is surprising that [we don’t]
avoid making wide generalizations. Like the pre-war anti-Semitism
Girnius mentioned. I have rather intensively studied the
pre-war press, I tried to find out how much of that anti-Semitism
really existed. An interesting fact. From autumn of 1939,
when we recovered Vilnius, all Lithuanian officials stressed
what an important contribution the Jews made to Lithuanian
life. Also the fact that the most important Lithuanian
leaders—Stasys Salkauskis, Mecislovas Reinys, the leaders
of the peasant peoples [a political party]—all condemned
anti-Semitism. A certain kind of anti-Semitism is clearly
to be seen in the countryside [rural locations]. But when
you know what Smetona, Salkauskis, Reinys and other politicians
and leaders of society said on this question, it’s clear
to see that they fought this. But no one wants to know
Also, we haven’t studied the documents
of the provisional government as physical facts [forensically?].
We don’t know how they arrived in the archive, how they
were drafted. Not all documents were released, there are
important texts that haven’t been released, and there are
lost documents. It would be crucial at this stage not to
try to come to general conclusions, but to concentrate
on very concrete, specific studies and investigations in
order to know who did what, how they did it, and why.