by Arkadijus Vinokuras
That was what U.S. congressman Brad Sherman told Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis in his letter. He asked the prime minister to provide evidence demonstrating Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, the head of the Lithuanian Provisional Government in 1941, was rehabilitated and acquitted by the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1974. Because this is something the Lithuanian Genocide Center has been claiming for about 10 years now. The congressman said this belief is baseless and contradicts U.S. law.
Sherman in the letter says without any doubt the Genocide Center’s findings on the exoneration and rehabilitation of the former LPG leader has no legal foundation at all. He says an investigation in 1974 was dropped because the man died and there was a lack of documents on Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis’s activities in Holocaust crimes. He said the U.S. Justice Department created a new section in 1979 which with the appearance of new information went on to investigate 60 Nazi criminals who had immigrated to the United States.
Why weren’t documents found? First, in 1944 Juozas Ambrazevičius changed his name to Juozas Brazaitis. In other words, he hid the fact of his change of surname from the U.S. immigration service. Second, the U.S. had a policy after the war of granting immunity to alleged war criminals who had information of use to the Central Intelligence Agency. Third, the section created by the Justice Department in 1979 had a staff of just three people who had no training or experience in investigating Holocaust crimes. Fourth, the Lithuanian archives only opened their doors after the fall of the Soviet empire.
Sherman in the letter to the prime minister cites Genocide Center historian Rytas Narvydas who in 2001 made public one LPG document which calls for the creation and financing of the TDA (Tautos darbo apsaugos batalionas, or National Labor Protection battalion) made up of 824 insurgents. Juozas Ambrazevičius signed this document. Between June 28 and July 6, 1941, the TDA actively participated in the murder of 5,000 Jews in Kaunas.
Based on these and other documents, the U.S. representative says, there is no doubt the LPG and Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis actively took part in creating a government policy of anti-Semitism and the persecution of the Jews. (The LPG operated from June 23 to August 5, 1941. During the life of the government thousands of Jews were exterminated throughout Lithuania — Arkadijus Vinokuras).
I want to stress the subject of this article is not the Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis case. The point of it is to show the leaders of the Lithuanian Genocide Center are interpreting events and people in a biased way. In such a way, it appears, that they would conform to the ethnic nationalist narrative of Lithuania’s freedom fighters. It doesn’t matter that the documents convincingly show some people’s collaboration with the Nazis in the persecution of the Jews of Lithuania.
The letter from the U.S. congressman reveals the Genocide Center’s flawed policy which is tireless even in counterfeiting U.S. congressional documents. Even though the Genocide Center has been presented numerous times findings by U.S. attorneys which deny the head of the LPG was exonerated and rehabilitated.
In this context, our most important allies could see the leaders of the Genocide Center trying to ruin the trust between our countries. The heads of the Genocide Center have to take responsibility for this game they’re playing with the facts based on ideological motivations, a game which does not bring honor and respect to the Lithuanian state.
And the Genocide Center has given birth not to just one or two such ideological findings. After this clear fiasco in front of our most important ally, the U.S.A., there’s no reason to consider the findings of the heads of the Genocide Center unbiased. So, like it or not, the question arises: for whom does this institution work?
Judging from their blind attempt to rehabilitate Nazi collaborators, to justify them, to present wishful thinking rather than reality, they are certainly not working for Lithuania. Perhaps the Genocide Center itself could explain why U.S. congressman Sherman is able to perform an objective investigation while the heads of the Genocide Center are not. As if that weren’t enough, they constantly repeat that their finding on the exoneration and rehabilitation of Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis does not violate any U.S. law. Many of the people who have written about the head of the LPG have based their work on this lie.
It clear that in speaking about the main events in Lithuanian history from 1941 to 1944 the Genocide Center is not seeking the truth, but a vindication of highly-tarnished heroes. Absurdly, they are defended using the argument they are innocent until proven guilty. (Hitler and Stalin also never faced trial). They aren’t above twisting words and fact around, and that’s what Genocide Center staff member Dalius Stančikas did, distorting a citation of the historian Ilja Lempertas taken out of context.
The passage revolves around knowing, for example, did Jonas Noreika, who worked for a half year as head of the Šiauliai district, know that Jews were being murdered in the Šiauliai district and throughout Lithuania? Did Noreika know what shutting Jews up in ghettos meant, ghettos they entered supposedly on their own volition? Did he not witness the extermination of the Jews imprisoned in the Žagarė ghetto in October of 1941? Did he not know to whom property seized from Jews belonged, property which it was his responsibility to divide up and distribute?
This is how Stančikas distorts Ilja Lempertas’s text: “Let’s keep in mind that the people of that time didn’t know about the Holocaust, we know about it, having before us the entire picture of the events of World War II.” Lempertas says this citation was taken out of its larger context: “It was possible to save oneself at the beginning, the period of confusion was good for that, but before making the decision to go into hiding, one had to take stock of what was already going on. Let’s keep in mind that the people of that time didn’t know about the Holocaust, we know about it, having before us the entire picture of the events of World War II. The Jews saw that people were acting badly, but they didn’t know then that the Holocaust had begun.”
Lempertas says emphatically he was only discussing the first days of the war. The historian has therefore demanded the Genocide Center stop exploiting citations of his work taken out of context.
The Genocide Center likewise never tires of playing on double meanings. They claim in 1942 the Nazi coryphaei adopted a decision on the final extermination of the Jews and this was learned in Lithuania. Is this constantly pushed statement an attempt to gloss over the fact that from June 23 to November, 1941, 80 percent of all Lithuanian Jews were slaughtered?
For the sake of illustration, that equals almost all inhabitants of the city of Klaipėda, men, women, children and the elderly. So what does Noreika’s ignorance of the Final Solution change? Nothing. After all, Noreika became head of the Šiauliai at the very height of the massacres of Jews and worked for the Nazis from August 3, 1941, to the month of February in 1943. And he didn’t know anything? I guess he must have been bricked up in his office and sat there for a year and a half.
Have the heads of the Genocide Center not read the works by their workers, for example, “Holokaustas Lietuvoje” [Holocaust in Lithuania] by the professional historian Arūnas Bubnys? This immoral “he didn’t know” mantra has been etched deeply and widely distributed by Noreika’s nationalist defenders.
The Genocide Center has a new claim: “Noreika was authorized by the underground to continue for a half year his collaboration with the Nazis.” And again there are no written documents (which might be understandable given this is the underground) nor any reliable oral testimonies that any such authorization was given. So why speculate using baseless claims? As with this claim taken out of thin air: “He hoped to ease the suffering of Lithuanians by working as the head of the district.” To be truthful, only the suffering of one set of Lithuanians. Out of love for Lithuania, of course.
Yet another interpretation and criterion for heroization: “Noreika covered for Jewish rescuer Domas Jasaitis.” I will present the case of police unit chief Aleksandras Kerpauskas. In July of 1941 he was in command of the mass murder of Jews in Rainiai and the Geruliai ghetto. At the same time he was warning his brother, a rescuer of Jews, Righteous Gentile Juozas Kerpauskas and his wife Adolfina (they saved 26 Jews) of visits by the SS to their village. So did Aleksandras Kerpauskas thus become a rescuer of Jews? No. But Lithuania’s Supreme Court found there was no proof Aleksandras Kerpauskas had shot them himself, so the Genocide Center bestowed upon him the status of volunteer soldier. The main reason: “he didn’t shoot them himself.” So much for the immoral argument offered by the Genocide Center as a criterion in deciding whether a person is worthy to be called a hero.
The same thing goes in their use of the phrase “was drawn into” a criminal act. For anyone who doesn’t know already, it’s difficult to understand that the violent persecution of human beings hides behind these words. This state institution, responsible for an unbiased teaching of history, by using these sorts of empty phrases is, it seems, carrying out but one mission: distorting the truth.
It’s clear these manipulations of fact and use of absurd interpretations for vindicating Nazi collaborators by the directors of this institution, discrediting both the Genocide Center and the state, have now got the attention of the U.S. Congress. Incidentally, it was no accident that representative Sherman in his letter cited the findings of Lithuania’s International Commission for Assessing the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes, because the Commission’s findings are in line with international standards for historical research and criteria for making assessments. Unfortunately the Commission is floundering for want of financing.
How will prime minister Skvernelis answer representative Sherman’s letter? How will president Nausėda, who is responsible for Lithuania’s foreign policy and image abroad, react? A president for whom the most important thing is not dividing the nation. If the truth divides, then it seems one must ask the Genocide Center for help, or allow the infallible street [public] to accuse Jews of sowing division, right?
U.S. congressman Sherman holds out hope: “I hope you will take concrete steps to demonstrate your government’s commitment to accurate historical portrayal and recognize the darkest realities of the Holocaust..” He sent a copy of his letter to the special envoy for Holocaust issues of the U.S. Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism,
Full text in Lithuanian here.