On Tragic Characters and Armchair Murderers

On Tragic Characters and Armchair Murderers

by Sergei Kanovich, poet and essayist

I began to write about General Vėtra and collect signatures regarding him with 16 other people who were not reactionary and did not seek to annoy Lithuania about four years ago. As I attempted then to warn high-ranking Lithuanian officials (as did the late Leonidas Donskis), the little songs sung by the Genocide Center and their rewriting of history hands all the aces over to the Dugins of the Kremlin.

Therefore the preamble to the article about reactionary figures who are annoying Lithuania is not acceptable to me, because the causal relationship is being confused, since nothing compromises Lithuania more than the anonymous finding issued by the Genocide Center which basically denies the Holocaust.

About the title: let’s imagine a title in which some Soviet NKVD or MGB agent who has compiled a list of people to be deported is portrayed in this way: “Comrade X Was Not an Executioner, but Siberia Wasn’t a Health Resort.” It doesn’t really work.

About stolen property: we’d have to be naïve not to understand who got it. And there are lists. Not for everywhere, but they exist. Stolen Jewish property is another topic overall.

On Jonas Noreika, this “person of tragic fate.” This pathetic rhetoric and cliché has become quite boring, and, contrary to what is imagined, should at least also be applied logically to other people such as [Lithuanian Communist Antanas] Sniečkus, [Lithuanian Communist Justas] Paleckis and all those other who “worked for Lithuania then.” In the case of Noreika, he and his colleagues perceived a better Lithuania without Jews, while in the cases of the Sniečkuses and Paleckises, they saw Lithuania as better off without a large portion of their deported brothers and sisters.

“A character of tragic fate” implies a sort of sympathy, that is how the game is played, such that yes, Jonas Noreika was caught up in some sort of vacuum pump and resisted, and well, the Jews were being murdered even before the establishment of the ghettos, and well, they were sent there to be murdered later, and well, their property was divided up, but this is after all tragic, because Noreika was imprisoned at Stutthof (under privileged conditions, incomparable with those of Balys Sruoga), and took some part in some sort of anti-Soviet resistance, although he was a Red Army soldier for a little while, and was murdered by the Soviets… Let’s forgive this tragic figure his sins and let his achievements stand.

Satan is Satan, whether he’s red or brown. And everyone who serves him are his altar boys… “They Weren’t Henchman, but Neither was the Ghetto [Siberia] Hell.” Whose tongue wouldn’t twist calling a compiler of lists of people to be deported a hero because he had later joined the partisans in the forest?

The best and worst examples of this are the debates moderated by Lithuanian public television hostess Nemira Pumprickaitė between Arkadijus Vinokuras and LAF apologist and pseudo-historian Vidmantas Valiušaitis from the Lithuanian National Library center named after Lithuanian Activist Front commander A. Damušis. Asking Valiušaitis whether Noreika contributed to the extermination of Jews or not is that same thing as asking [LAF founder and leader] Kazys Škirpa to provide a favorable assessment of himself.

It’s all much simpler than this, as Hanna Arendt said, because evil is banal, and I would add: uncomplicated.

There was a man named Jonas Noreika. He signed papers and supervised how his orders were being carried out to send the Jews into ghettos. These documents are publicly accessible. He did this for two years (“was drawn into” doing this). According to the anonymous finding by the Genocide Center, during the day he helped exterminate Jews, but in his free time he rescued them (there is no evidence of this, by the way).

This man “of tragic fate” was commemorated by people of non-tragic fates on the walls of the Vrublevskiai Library with a plaque dedicated to and honoring him, erected without any permission. Primary schools are also named after him.

Now comes the Genocide Center, saying putting Jews in ghettos is not participating in the Holocaust (is the compilation of lists of people to be deported the job of a postal worker?). Living Jews (the Lithuanian Jewish Community) do not agree, and the murdered will never agree either. Memory recalls blood. And there will always appear those who are not poking at Lithuania, but people who love Lithuania who sincerely desire Lithuania rid herself of this inferiority complex, honor the real heroes, and, instead of talking about these people “of tragic fate” on memorial plaques, would instead talk about the stories of their achievements and their shameful actions which negated these achievements in the schools.

Last but not least. So why can’t Vėtra be compared with the executioners? Only because he didn’t pull the trigger? Neither did Eichmann, Hitler or Skirpa pull the trigger. These types are armchair murderers.

Furthermore, I am sincerely sorry for the profession historians working at the Genocide Center who are now being manipulated in the name of ideology. A flawed and shameful ideology. I have written earlier and I here repeat that this Genocide Center which exists now either needs to be reformed or shut down. Because what the Center has released to the world in the form of its findings on Vėtra and Škirpa compomises the Center, but also every self-respecting upstanding historian, and the entire country.

I will return to simplicity. The truth, as my Father says, only needs be said once. It only takes conscience and political will. If there is neither one nor the other, we will continue to drown.

And one more question: if Noreika suffered “a tragic fate,” how do we describe the fates of Yitzhak Rudashevski and his brothers and sisters? More tragic? Jonas Noreika is tragic, and the murdered Jews more tragic? The moral choice cannot be complicated. Either you are on the side of the victims, or, even if only a little, you justify the executioners. Those who sat in their armchairs and signed orders on the further tragic fate of the victims. It’s a matter of personal conscience and choice.

And finally the last question, connected with Lithuania’s international reputation: such evil people as Noreika and Skirpa have been rehabilitated postmortem. The Genocide Center has presented the indulgences for their rehabilitation to the office of president. If they are hiding “the achievements” of these people from the leaders of the nation, that means they are lying and therefore compromising the highest leaders of the country who confirmed these rehabilitations with their signature.

If they found out later (in Jonas Noreika’s case), they had to request the presidential rehabilitation be rescinded. That which the Genocide Center does at its own discretion is the fabrication of history. And it must stop.