June 21, 2010
Lietuvos Zinios (translation of Lithuanian original)
The Burden of the Legacy of Occupation

Seventy 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 occupied Lithuania.

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 accomplished?

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 themselves.

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 from justice?

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 humanity?

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 factor.

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 Jews?

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 agricultural matters.

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 these things.

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.