Was There a Different Kind of Holocaust in Lithuania?

Was There a Different Kind of Holocaust in Lithuania?

Photo: Šiauliai Jews lined up before being taken to Kužiai to be shot, July, 1941. About 8,000 Jews from the Šiauliai ghetto were murdered in the Luponiai Forest near the village of Kužiai.

[Note: Lithuanian Jewish Community member Geršonas Taicas responds here to an “explanation” by the Lithuanian Genocide Center issued several weeks ago which claimed the Holocaust was different, the ghettos were different and the Nazi regime was different in Lithuania than they were in other European countries. That controversial “explanation” has been criticized by the LJC, the World Jewish Congress and the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, among others. Presumably Genocide Center director Teresė Birutė Burauskaitė makes the claim–we don’t know, the “explanation” is unsigned–in the official apologetica for Lithuania’s native Nazis that Lithuania was the only country which pinned its hopes on independence on a Nazi invasion, among other falsifications of history (see Slovakia, Croatia, Estonia et al.). –translator]

by Geršonas Taicas, member, Lithuanian Jewish Community

1. The Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) was established by Lithuanian political refugees on November 17, 1940, in Berlin at the initiative of Lithuanian envoy to Nazi Germany Kazys Škirpa.

The LAF in Berlin was constituted of Voldemarists and other Lithuanian right-wing radicals who fled Lithuania following the failed military coup in 1934. Škirpa was in charge and he worked with the Germany Foreign Ministry and the Abwehr, the military intelligence agency. The Nazi government supported and supplied the LAF members in Berlin.

The LAF appeared in Lithuania on October 9, 1940, with a secret meeting of the nationalist underground in Kaunas which resolved to form a resistance organization throughout the country.

On December 5, 1940, intelligence from the LAF on the seven deadly sins of the Antanas Smetona administration increased, including that “the Jews and similar elements who horribly exploited the Lithuanian for their own profit were not restricted in independent Lithuania.” On March 24, 1941, Škirpa prepared secret documents which explained how to prepare for and achieve restoration of Lithuanian independence and in the process “to drive out all Jews of Lithuania, to there would be none of them at all in Lithuania.”

The German military and intelligence agencies coordinated and edited these documents.

The text was passed by reliable couriers to the underground centers repeatedly, on April 18 and on May 5, 8, 12 and 19. Two weeks before the outbreak of war they risked sending the same text, although it was shortened. A message of receipt was sent in the opposite direction. Thus the LAF chain of command in Berlin felt sure there could arise no misunderstandings and that the underground centers would know ho to carry on and what to do.

The LAF carried out anti-Semitic activities of the same sort and corresponding to the official fascist propaganda of the time. The LAF incited anti-Semitic sentiments, comparing Jews to Bolsheviks, calling them equal in the evil which had befallen Lithuania.

The LAF resistance organization was an intelligence agency with an operational network which covered Lithuania. Armed LAF units existed in all cities and towns and passed intelligence through the underground centers to German intelligence regarding the stationing and weapons capability of Red Army units in Lithuania.

LAF preparations for the extermination of the Lithuanian Jewish community [appears to have begun] at the end of 1940 and continued into early 1941 when the preparation of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi plan for invading the USSR, was complete. This is no coincidence: Barbarossa was the [Nazi] plan to exterminate the Jews of Eastern Europe.

The LAF leadership in Berlin had to know or foresee the wholesale extermination of the Jews of Eastern Europe and [know the date of] the invasion of the USSR because they remained in very close communication with high-ranking Nazi German military and intelligence officials.

The Holocaust in Lithuania began June 22, 1941, before Nazi forces had occupied Lithuania completely. In places in Lithuania there was no German administration for over a month, but LAF united carried out the extermination of Jews in the towns and countryside. The Voldemarists worked hand-in-hand with the SS and the einsatzkommando[s]. The LAF was instrumental in the establishment of the Lithuania TDA [the Lithuanian National Labor Security battalion], in appointing its commanders and in engaging it for the shooting of Jews at the Seventh Fort in Kaunas. The battalion and the Lithuanian police aided the Haman flying squadron [mobile killing unit] in the extermination of entire Jewish communities in the countryside. The [LAF’s] Lithuanian Provisional Government inspired by Nazi Germany set up ghettos in the Lithuanian towns which equated to concentration camps in terms of mass murder methods. The Provisional Government and Lithuanian diplomats Kazys Škirpa, Kazys Lozoraitis and Petras Klimas, failing to understand global events and swimming where the current carried them wanted to declare war on Great Birtain and the United States, while the civilized world exerted all its forces to fighting Nazi Germany and the Axis powers.

The Lithuanian government administration which was created was loyal to the Nazi occupational regime and enthusiastically served the Nazis, carrying out all orders and directives until 1943. The civilian administration did not carry out any armed resistance operations or sabotage against the Nazis while young people printed anti-Nazi proclamations, intellectuals sought to soften and humanize the Nazi occupation and people of goodwill rescued Jews. Lithuanian farms supported the Nazi war machine with food, lumber and so on. The factories produced products needed at the front, sewed warm clothes for the German troops and so on. Tens of thousands of able-bodied young people were sent as slave labor to Germany.

In 1943 it became clear Nazi Germany and the Axis had lost the war.

2. Germans Seek to Show Lithuanians Responsible for Mass Murder of Jews

High-level Nazi officials from civilian and military institutions never made any promises to Škirpa regarding the restoration of Lithuanian independence. The Lithuanian aspiration for independence was dashed in Berlin in 1941 and the entire leadership of the LAF knew about that. Škirpa had no illusions about Lithuanian independence.

The Germans attempted to blame Lithuanians for murdering Jews, whereas the Germans had been in charge the entire time except for the brief period of about one month following the invasion of the Soviet Union when some 40,000 Lithuanian Jews were murdered.

As I understand it, Nazi Germany fought the Soviet Union until May 8, 1945. In a memorandum by Kazys Grinius, the [Catholic] prelate Mykolas Krupavičius and professor Jonas Pranas Aleksa to Theodor von Renteln dated November 9, 1942, there is only one sentence which mentions Jews at all: “The Lithuanian people with great anxiety is hearing of the mass eviction of Lithuanian and Polish farmers from their farms and homes. The Lithuanian people cannot approve such measures, just as they cannot approve of the measures applied to peaceful Jews of Lithuania.” I’d like to point out that in November of 1942 there were only 35,000 Jews left alive in Lithuania, or about 17% of the population before June 22,1941.

Von Renteln gave a very informative reply to the memorandum on November 18, 1942: “I may remind you of the fact that not just the German civilian administration in Lithuania but also the entire German people express to the Lithuanian administration and the Lithuanian people the same friendly feelings which the Lithuanian administration and the inhabitants of Lithuania express to the Germans. The great support by Lithuanians for the German military leadership against the Bolsheviks and especially the fulfillment of obligations by Lithuanian farmers are the best witness to these feelings of friendship, despite the fact that all of us must, in these times of war, bear many difficulties.”

Former Lithuanian minister and [later Catholic] prelate Mykolas Krupavičius with former Lithuanian president Kazys Grinius and former minister Jonas Aleksa also made a protest in the name of the Lithuanian people to the Nazis on the extermination of Jews, noting: “Jews were killed during that period [the uprising] as a reaction by the people, but they didn’t kill them as Jews, but as Bolsheviks. More Lithuanians suffered because of the vengeance of that people than Jews suffered. There were Lithuanians with corrupted morals who helped the Nazis murder Jews and loot their property, but there were relatively few of them compared to other nations who found themselves in equal circumstances.”

What a heavenly blessing it is to those Jews, children, parents and grandparents (in Ukmergė, for example), who were, burned and hanged to learn they were not murdered as Jews but as Bolsheviks. I believe after this sort of admission they will be resurrected as a Jewish Jesus who was accused but innocent. Krupavičius surely knew of this.

There were Lithuanians with corrupt morals who helped the Nazis murder and rob the Jews, but these included people such as Škirpa, Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, Prapuolenis, Damušis, Girnius, Maceina, Impulevičius, Noreika, Krikštaponis and many other criminals.

They were morally corrupted by the twin bacilii of anti-Semitism and Nazi ideology, and the desire to profit at the expense of the Jews murdered. There were truly few of them living in occupied Lithuania, from 0.5% to 1%. …

Historian Arūnas Bubnys says: “Of the 26 Lithuanian [auxiliary] police battalions, ten had various connections with the Holocaust, ten whose soldiers permanently or occasionally guarded the locations of arrest and mass murder, transported the condemned and did the shooting. Of these ten battalions, only Lithuanian Police Battalion 1 (13) and Battalion 2 (12) systematically killed Jews in Lithuania and Belarus. Lithuanian Police Battalion 3 (11), 4 (7), 252, Vilnius 1, 2 and 3, Šiauliai 14 and Panevėžys 10 occasionally took part in this process.”

Some partisans of the LLA (Lietuvos laisvės armija, Lithuanian Freedom Army) planned to kill rescuers of Jews whom they considered Soviet collaborators. In the summer of 1944 bishop Vincentas Borisevičius at his own initiative met with LLA partisans and asked them not to pursue rescuers of Jews and rescued Jews.

The LLA included collaborators and criminals, including captains Juozas Krikštaponis and Albinas Karalius-Varenis and major Jonas Semaška-Liepa. These people were noted and issued awards by decree of the Lithuanian president [after 1990].

3. Most of the Lithuanian Administration Engaged in Anti-Nazi Resistance Although There Were Also Collaborators

(see part 1)

The newspaper Į laisvę was published in Kaunas between June 24, 1941, and December 31, 1942. The Lithuanian Activist Front published it. Jonas Virbickas, Antanas Strabulis and Petras Gailiūnas were in charge of its production and propaganda. On June 23, 1941, the publication and propaganda team occupied a printing press operation. The first issue of Į laisvę was produced by Valaitis, Verbickas, Strabulis and others. Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, Zenonas Ivinskis, Jonas Grinius and Jonas Virbickas were the editors. They printed the first issue overnight and it appeared on the morning of June 24, before the Germans had entered Kaunas. It announced: “Now that a provisional newly reborn Lithuanian Government has formed, [we] herein announce the restoration of the Free and Independent State of Lithuania.” It also spread hate against Jews: “Very suddenly as well the Jews are fleeing, that gang of friends of the Bolsheviks, for whom Communism was the best way to exploit others and to rule, because Bolshevism and Jews are one and the same indivisible thing.” This issue was distributed in [the Kaunas Jewish neighborhood] Slobodka as well during the pogrom there.

More than 1,500 Jews were murdered in Slobodka in the period from June 25 to June 27.

When the German occupational government banned the Lithuanian Activist Front, the company Spaudos žodis under the directorship of Kazys Bauba published the newspaper. The editor was Jonas Virbickas. The print-run in 1941 was 200,000 copies and in 1942 100,000 copies.

General secretary of the Lithuanian Nationalist Party Zenonas Blynas was also very dissatisfied with the Nazi occupational regime and wrote in November of 1941 (language uncorrected): Lithuania twice–in Vilnius and Kaunas–proposed to the German military leadership to allow the then already separate remnants of the Lithuanian volunteers/partisans/Lithuanian Army to join the march on the East and the battle against Communism. These requests were not satisfied. In the non-satisfaction of these requests the Lithuanian people could only see the lack of desire to allow the liberated state of Lithuania to participate in the historic battle for the future of the New Europe and thus recognize her [Lithuania’s] right to have her place in that Europe.”

I don’t understand what Blynas is writing about here. Is he possibly writing about established SS battalions based on ethnicity?

In his memoirs Haim Lazar Litay wrote that by paying a lot (in gold) it was possible to come to some sort of terms with Lithuanian police.

And this is what is being presented as anti-Nazi resistance.

The Genocide Center totally fails to understand what they’re writing about and so much of the erroneous information comes from the media of Lithuanians abroad who until now don’t really understand what happened and continue to glorify the “heroic actions” of their parents and grandparents.

4. The Occupational Government Managed to Draw Noreika into Organizing Matters Related to the Isolation of Jews

The memoires of Aleksandras Pakalniškis, an employee at the Plungė kommandatura, were “written of his own free will in a democratic country, so as they say, his conscience finally spoke up.” The testimonies of other witnesses were obtained through physical torture and psychological violence.

The Zaks family of Šiauliai murdered in 1941. Khaya Zaks (1932-1941), Aba-Abraham Zaks (1909-1941), Masha Zaks-Levin (1911-1941), Šiauliai, Lithuania.

There comes a practical moment if you testify Noreika contributed to the Holocaust when the question immediately comes up: “How do you know? Did you contribute to the Holocaust as well, if you know?” It’s better to say “I don’t know, I didn’t see or hear anything, we remember how ‘democratic’ the USSR was and the ‘independent’ Soviet courts.”

The documents presented by representatives of Grant Gochin are totally sufficient to demonstrate Noreika’s guilt as a Holocaust perpetrator in Lithuania. Presumption of innocence shouldn’t apply to the LAF, just as the Nazi SS was declared a criminal organization after German capitulation.

5. People Didn’t Understand Ghettos as Part of the Holocaust in Occupied Lithuania in 1941

Kristallnacht on November 9 and 10, 1938, marked the beginning of the Third Reich’s policy of exterminating Jews. As far as we know, Lithuania in 1938 was independent and democratic, and these events were widely described and discussed in the media [sic, interwar Lithuania’s flirtation with democracy ended in 1926. –translator].

That means all Lithuanian citizens able to read or listen to the radio already knew about all of it, and it should also be noted that many future LAF executive board members and LAF unit commanders knew several languages well.

The Gargždai Jewish community was murdered en mass on June 24, 1941. On June 25 the Jewish community of Kretinga was exterminated. On June 27 the Palanga Jewish community was annihilated (Jews were murdered after being imprisoned in the Small Synagogue on Palanga by being burnt alive).

The mass murders included the participation of executioners from the Klaipėda region, the Lithuanian border police and local police. Members of the leadership of the LLV and LAF and LAF unit commanders were well informed of the mass murder operations in Western Lithuania. Jews were the victims of the Holocaust and knew about the extermination of the Jews throughout Lithuania, but clung to the hope of survival.

J. Zupavičius was an engineer, an active member of the Beitar Zionist organization and a retired officer in the Lithuanian army. He was also one of the leaders of the Kaunas ghetto police and the underground resistance there. He saved numerous lives in the Kaunas ghetto during World War II. He was horribly tortured and murdered at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas in 1944.

Chaim Elkes was a doctor, a medical PhD and a Jewish thinker. He was selected to head the Jewish Council in the Kaunas Jewish ghetto. He died in a concentration camp in Germany in 1944. Comparing Noreika to people such as Elkes and Zupavičius is sacrilege. You cannot compare perpetrators and victims. This is nothing other than Holocaust denial and an anti-Semitic attack. And to the present time the Genocide Center fails to understand what is a Jewish name and what is a Jewish surname…

6. Noreika’s Actions Shouldn’t Be Considered Collaboration Because He Was an Active Member of the Anti-Nazi Underground

By 1943 it was clear Nazi Germany and her allies would lose the war. Many collaborators realized they had put their money on the wrong horse, that they had made a great mistake and the time had to come to thinking about fleeing to the West.

Noreika was incarcerated at the Stutthof concentration camp as an “honored prisoner.” He received the title of honored prisoner for his impeccable service to Nazi Germany with just a small mistake committed. Honored prisoners lived in sturdier, heated buildings, didn’t have to work, were allowed to receive food packages from relatives weekly and to write letters. They also received a parcel of clothing monthly. There were more than 150 sections at Stutthof and Noreika was in the labor section, not the extermination section.

7. Noreika Belonged to the Anti-Nazi Underground in Šiauliai Which Rescued Jews, Noreika Aided Rescuers

Noreika immediately authored an anti-Semitic booklet which when circumstance allowed progressed from a theoretical section to a practical one. Noreika “rescued” Jews [by having them murdered] in pits and ditches throughout Žemaitija: Kaušėnai village in the Plungė district, Rainiai manor in the Telšiai district, at Kužiai village and in the town of Šeduva in the Šiauliai district and at the Naryškinas park and in the Vilkiaušis forest in the Žagarė district.

8. Noreika Sacrificed His Life for the Freedom of His Homeland, He Was Oppressed by Both the Nazi and the Soviet Occupational Regimes

Noreika was a collaborator and a perpetrator of the Holocaust in Lithuania. He lived in the home of a murdered Jewish man in the city of Šiauliai which he purchased for a song, and also bought for almost nothing luxury furniture which had belonged to Jews who had been murdered. Noreika has brought indelible shame upon his homeland and has harmed all of Lithuania.

9. Gochin’s Research Cannot Be Considered Objective Nor Academic

The documents presented by Grant Gochin’s representatives fully demonstrate Noreika’s culpability as a Holocaust perpetrator in Lithuania. The Genocide Center’s complaints regarding methodology, objectivity and analysis are baseless.

The Genocide Center’s position is deeply disappointing to the Jews of Lithuania. Sadly, since its very inception the Genocide Center has been much too dependent on politicians, anti-Semitic intrigue and politics in the worst sense of the word. Holocaust history demands a very strict academic approach, academic methodology and a high level of morality.