Lithuanian Roots of Holocaust Denial and Distortion

Lithuanian Roots of Holocaust Denial and Distortion

by Evaldas Balčiūnas

Reading through the writings of various Lithuanian historians engaged in “historical memory policy” (an interesting term recalling totalitarian order in and of itself), texts which distort and even deny the Holocaust, I often wonder when it began. It began before the mass murder of Jews in Lithuania.

For instance, the Lithuanian Activist Front’s call to action “Dear enslaved brothers” appeared March 19, 1941, and was published in several versions. At least, two different versions have survived.

The two versions are different. One version contains the blood-curdling sentence, “There will only be forgiveness for traitors if they can truly prove they have liquidated at least one Jew.” Other variant is without this statement. This has become the basis for dispute by historians regarding the intentions of the LAF. There are even claims this sentence was an NKVD provocation (the NKVD became the KGB in the Soviet Union). They are trying, through their defensive speculations and reasoning and the informational noise raised, to obscure the well-known fact: fewer than one Jew out of 25 who lived in Lithuania before the war survived. The others died and were murdered. There isn’t enough information to determine whether the LAF released two different versions of the call to action on purpose, or whether it just happened that way. The Lithuanian Special Archive preserves the first version with the call to murder, while the Lithuanian State Archive preserves the second version without that sentence.

A second important step in falsifying the history of the Holocaust was made by the cabinet of ministers of the Lithuanian Provisional Government in their protocol no. 5 of June 27, 1941:

“Minister Žemkalnis reported on the extraordinarily violent torture of Jews at the Lietūkis garage in Kaunas.

“Be it resolved: that, despite all the measures which need to be taken against the Jews because of their Communist activity and harm to the German military, partisans and individual citizens, to avoid public executions of Jews.

“It was discovered that these actions were performed by people who have nothing in common, not with the Activist headquarters, neither with the Partisan headquarters, nor with the Lithuanian Provisional Government.

“It was learned from the German military leadership in Kaunas that permission was granted to establish a Defense Battalion purely on military foundations. This news was received with joy and it was resolved to support this battalion, to finance it and, if there are opportunities to do so, to expand this sort of security, especially in rural areas.”

Certain explanations are needed for this rather long quotation. Minister Žemkalnis was the father of Vytautas Landsbergis, who often styles himself the first president of Lithuania, and was the great-grandfather of current Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis. The resolution was the ideal position for falsifying facts: “to avoid public executions of Jews” and to deny any connection with the perpetrators of the pogrom at the Lietūkis garage. It’s crucial to remember that other pogroms were being carried out in those same days, in the Vilijampolė (aka Slobodka) neighborhood of Kaunas, taking the lives of several thousand Jews. On one hand they sought to suppress and avoid public knowledge of these murderous pogroms, and on the other they managed to avoid defining their relationship with insurgents who carried out these pogroms. This resolution laid the foundations for the position taken by the falsifiers of history. To avoid publicity and to distance themselves from, well, from who knows who. Today, those who carry out this “historical memory policy” in Lithuania adhere to these same principles when discussion turns to the responsibility of Lithuanians who engaged in the Holocaust. It is important to note: the battalion established in this meeting of the Lithuanian Provisional Government within one week “privately” shot Jews at the “Jewish concentration camp” the Government established at the Seventh Fort in Kaunas on June 30, 1941, in protocol no. 6. The murder of several thousand Jews there puts the lie to all attempts by that Government to distance itself and deny responsibility.

The LAF and the Provisional Government it formed set the tone for lies about preparations for mass murder and about the mass murders themselves. One might consider the close blood-ties between the Lithuanian elite then and now.

After the leaders demonstrated how to lie about this, lower-ranking officials took it on board and continued the lie. For instance, a report by the Vainutas police department of July 28, 1941, long known and published in volume II of the document collection “Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje (1941-1944)” [Mass Murder in Lithuania (1941-1944)], Vilnius, 1973, p. 280):

“Jewish management affairs are developing well; men of Jewish ethnicity aged 15 and above who are capable of physical work have all been transported to Germany for agricultural work, while those incapable of physical work–the ill–have also been transported to Germany for hospitalization.”

The truth is that about 40 Jewish men were taken from Vainutas to Šilutė (aka Heydekrug) as slave labor, and the rest were shot and left in pits at two locations near Vainutas. Note this falsified report by the police officer from Vainutas was repeated without commentary or explanation in the book, “Holokaustas Lietuvos Provincijoje 1941 metais” [The Holocaust in the Lithuanian Countryside in 1941, Vilnius, 2021] by Arūnas Bubnys, the general director of the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania (abbreviated to Center in the rest of this text). The lies spread in the summer of 1941 continue to circulate and become the foundation for Lithuania’s “historical memory policy.”

A similar document is the letter from the Šakiai district police chief to the head of the Lithuanian Police Department dated August 17, 1941, and incidentally also signed by the head of the Šakiai district (preserved in the Lithuanian Central State Archive), which reads, “Overall, Jews from the Šakiai district aged 15 and above were already transported for labor and now there remain only the infirm and women with children.”

The Jewish men of Šakiai were shot at the edge of the forest in Batiškiai village about 1.5 kilometers north of Šakiai… in July. Exact date. Josef Rosin wrote, “On Saturday, July 5, 1941 (10 Tamuz 5701), group after group of men was taken out of the barn and led to the trenches. There they were forced to pull off their garments and jump into the trenches. Men who did not hurry to obey the order were pushed into the trench by force. Then all were shot by the Lithuanians.”, see
Even in internal official documents the Holocaust perpetrators call the mass shootings transport for labor. There are numerous such documents about “transport for labor,” and only a very few which mention people shot to death.

So how did the propaganda publications in Lithuania at that time present these events? One such publication, Tėvynė [Homeland], published in Šiauliai and dated August 17, 1941, described the removal of Jews to a ghetto under the headline “Šiauliai Will Be Clean on August 15”:

“All Jews from Šiauliai are divided into three categories. The first category includes the so-called specialists. … They will remain in Šiauliai temporarily and will be housed in the neighborhood on Trakai street.

“The second group includes Jews who will be used as labor in Šiauliai. Fifty of these will remain by selecting the physically strong, the majority of them unmarried…

“The third category includes all the other Jews who will begin to be removed to Žagarė starting August 15. The move will take place by street: Jews living on Vilnius street on August 5 and 6, those on Tilžė street on August 7…”

A few observations here. Under this plan the ghetto in Šiauliai should have a tenth of the size it actually was. Initially the more affluent Jews living in the city center were removed. At that time the Žagarė ghetto only had enough space for Jews from Žagarė. The decision to establish a ghetto there to hold all the Jews from the Šiauliai district was made only at the end of August. Thus, the Jews who were transported to Žagarė in that initial move did not travel to Žagarė, but instead to pits in the forest near Kužiai and shot there. This Žagarė story is another propaganda myth. One which is used up to the present. The Center’s historians in discussion about Jonas Noreika like to repeat the decision to remove the Jews to Žagarė was made before Noreika assumed his post. The truth is much worse than this: before Noreika arrived in Šiauliai, “Žagarė” was used as an epithet for mass murder. And the Jews knew this. Some had been taken there to sort the clothes of the people shot there, and there were those who managed to escape the mass murder site and return to the ghetto.

Why wasn’t the detailed plan drawn up by Lithuanians, and perhaps also by the dozen or so members of the Einsatzgruppe in Šiauliai, ever implemented. There is no good explanation. It’s likely the installation of the German civilian administration changed the plan. Hanz Gewcke arrived in Šiauliai on August 13. He very quickly ascertained the Lithuanians were mismanaging the leather factory there, and that Jewish heads and hands were needed for that industry. Therefore, a higher number of laborers, 5,000 in fact, were placed in the Šiauliai ghetto (the newspaper said the original plan called for only 500), and many more Jews designated experts. And again here we have these legends that Lithuanians didn’t persecute Jews in Šiauliai. Vladas Pauža told the story after the war of how he rescued Jews with several thousand work permits. We also have this extremely dubious story about Jonas Noreika rescuing Jews.

The same issue of the propaganda newspaper Tėvynė [Homeland] contains a story about moving Jews into the ghetto under the headline: “Say, Who Will Clean the Homes of Jews?” It reports the hardships of the Lithuanians forced to move out of the area designated for the ghetto. Two poorer neighborhoods filled with shacks were allocated for the ghetto. The article, however, paints a picture of all the fine features of these slums. It turns out Lithuanians had gardens and garden houses there, and were now forced to leave them for the gray city paved in stone, to “dirty Jewish homes.” The writer thought it was difficult for the nationalists and anti-Semites to leave their shacks on the outskirts and move to the city center. The conclusion drawn in the propaganda newspaper is, “That means we, Lithuanians, must suffer because of the Jews!” The byline on the article is E. B-te and it is accompanied by an editor’s note. Editors write – apparently the Jews being removed had left their apartments a mess, with garbage, and in some cases with broken plaster and ruined ovens. Again, an explanation is in order. In those times people often hid their valuables in the wall or large ceramic oven. They might possibly have dismantled these in taking their valuables with them, but it’s equally likely if not more that the people who removed the Jews from their homes did this looking for loot. But the anti-Semites cite this as an example of Jews harming Lithuanians.

There are enough of these false narratives from the summer and fall of 1941 to fill a book. In fact the “creative” falsifiers of history have already filled an entire library with them. If we want to free ourselves of the lie, we should return to the beginning and performing a de-Nazification of member, or at least to learn how to differentiate lies spread during time of catastrophe.

Many false narratives were spread in the immediate aftermath of the war when a large number of people in the displaced persons camps thought up fairy tales so they wouldn’t be turned over to the Soviets and so that the other Allied countries would admit them. Not many people found the truth useful at that time. The USSR, for example, wanted the guilt for everything to fall on Germany. This justified reparations, and whatever else could be taken from the defeated “Nazi collaborators.” After 1948 when the Soviet Union abolished the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, the word “Jew” disappeared from stories about Nazi victims for a long time, replaced by the mendacious phrase “Soviet citizens.” When the US began cleansing itself of people who served the Nazis in the 1960s, the narrative of Lithuanian “anti-Nazi resistance” and the false narratives of Lithuanians “rescuing Jews” began. Lithuanian nationalists used these to rescue themselves from possible deportation. After Lithuanian independence all these false narratives appeared in articles by Lithuanian historians and Lithuanian history as a discipline has proved itself powerless to liberate itself from them. All of this became the huge problem known as the distortion of Holocaust history.