A response to E. Zurof regarding A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas

Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas
Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, Genocido aukų muziejaus nuotr.

E. Zuroff’s comments on A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas have appeared on the BBC. It is important to analyse the Druskininkai episode in A. Ramanauskas’ biography in detail because the KGB strove to seek accusations for every single partisan leader, how they supposedly “murdered Soviet citizens.” They sought accusations for both the last highest Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters (LLKS) officer A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas and for the LLKS council presidium chairman J. Žemaitis-Vytautas. They failed. But a different detail is more interesting, wrote MP Arvydas Anušauskas.

The KGB archives also contained a notepad with the 1977 memoirs of one of A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas ’ main persecutors and torturers N. Dushanski. Its author, a KGB officer with a long career (1940-1971), was suddenly released from the Soviet Union in 1989 and emigrated to Israel.

His notes, of course, are interesting not because of supposed “openness.” The special operations and secret massacre specialist remained silent on these “heroics.” But he did write about A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas’ arrest, interrogation and supposed attempt at suicide. In his notes, he attributed A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas with office in Druskininkai, which was held by someone different, individuals, who have now been uncovered and named (this being proven by documents and testimony).

Dushansky’s lies

N. Dushansky wrote the lies about A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas supposedly being the burgomaster and comandante of Druskininkai, as well as “organising hilfswilliger groups, which murdered many people,” without considering the fact that he himself was one of the main authors of A. Ramanauskas’ file.

The notes filled with intentionally false statements were forgotten for almost three decades. In a 2008 interview for his crimes to humanity (and participation in torture), the 90 year old Nachman Dushanski, who was long sought by Lithuanian law enforcement, once more accused A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas and attributed the organisation of the massacre of a few towns’ Jews; a statement that E. Zuroff is likely using.

Already after the end of the Second World War, KGB lieutenant colonel N. Dushanski, who received all his awards for supposed combat “merits” (the destruction of the Lithuanian anti-communist resistance movement), willingly participated in a Russian backed anti-Lithuanian disinformation campaign. It appears that namely N. Dushanski’s false claims regarding A. Ramanauskas are the basis for Efraim Zuroff’s tweet on October 28, 2017, stating, “The role of a Lithuanian hero in the crimes of the Holocaust should not allow him to be called a state hero in 2018.”

With historians researching the Holocaust cases for the two South Lithuanian towns, their real organisers and perpetrators were uncovered, however this did not stop the falsifiers of Ramanauskas-Vanagas story. N. Dushanski’s accusations (which E. Zuroff is seeking to reanimate) are linked to clear denial of historic fact.

Lithuanian historians, have already investigated the Druskininkai, Liepalingis, Lazdijai and Merkinė Jewish massacre circumstances and have named specific organisers and participants. No one anywhere has named A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas for the simple reason that he did not participate in Holocaust crimes, neither directly, nor indirectly. Such things were unacceptable and foreign to him.

Lietūkis garage again

It no longer matters, what N. Dushanski sought because he “remembered” about yet another legendary partisan Juozas Lukša-Daumantas’ supposed participation in the Lietūkis garage massacre. Just ten years ago these claims were willingly postulated despite the fact that in 2006-2007, based on Lithuanian and German archives, the circumstances of the Lietūkis massacre have been investigated and its organisers and perpetrators were uncovered (Gestapo officer Richard Waldemar Schweizer and gestapo agent Juozas Surmas, with the conclusions being presented at the Holocaust Museum in Washington).

A little more detail. Adolfas Ramanauskas, upon obtaining the opportunity to work as a teacher in Krivonys (18km Southwest from Druskininkai) on September 1, 1940 (the appointment order states that in September 30, 1941 he was appointed the head of the primary school in Guronys, which is 500 meters from Krivonys), where he started working only after returning from military school and lived there for the first year of the Soviet occupation.

Adolfas did not belong to any organisations and thus did not become one of the first victims of the occupants’ terror. His colleagues, hundreds of senior teachers, were taken to exile and Gulags. All these impressions of the first Soviet occupation must have left a mark. What A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas thought and wrote then, we do not know, however at the start of the German – Soviet Union war, he did not stand aside. Many Lithuanian citizens had hopes at the time that independence can be recreated as in 1918, still in the midst of war. However, these hopes were not to come to fruition. The young teacher experienced it himself. In Druskininkai.

German troops in Druskininkai

During the first day of the war, German troops occupied Druskininkai and looted stores, appropriated food bases and restaurant reserves. War was underway and with the German army rapidly advancing to the East, food reserves were the most desired loot. On the other hand, food was also necessary for local residents caught in hard times caused by the whirlpool of war. Upon receiving a request from doctor Kviklys, who became the head of the resort’s board, to protect the resort’s property from looting and upon hearing that an interim Lithuanian government has already been formed, A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas agreed to protect the Druskininkai sanatoriums, warehouses and stores’ property from looters. Lithuanians visiting the household goods store were invited to join.

For some two weeks (from June 23 or 25 to July 5-7), as the head of an 18 man squad, he organised the protection of state property. These activities were not established via any documents. Only those standing guard hard firearms (a German rifle and five rounds). The windows of looted stores were boarded up and they patrolled the streets. The resort’s management also paid wages for protection.

Based on squad member testimony, A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas was unarmed (initially talking to KGB interrogators about a white ribbon with black letters, they later stated such a ribbon did not exist). The KGB described Ramanauskas-Vanagas ’ protection squad as a “platoon.” But this was amended – 18 men is too little to be a platoon. Protection of state property from looting was done during wartime. Groceries, warehouses, resting areas do not contain much property, but it is nonetheless necessary for locals. Now E. Zuroff is trying to claim that all this is untrue and that “we do not wish to know history.”

Of course, later on the KGB sought to accuse that he was the head of the “self-defence platoon” up to August 1941. However, during 1956-1957 interrogations, A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas (and a witness found by the KGB, member of the same squad Boleslovas Visockas, who voluntarily left the squad after two weeks) confirmed that this was no platoon and just a squad of 18 men (based on other data on the head count and other leaders, the platoon truly did have to protection squads of 18-20 men, one of which was led by A. Ramanauskas) requested to protect remaining state property. A police force was formed from completely different individuals and was subordinate to the city’s commandant.

From Vanagas’ interrogation materials

From A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas’ interrogation materials: “Within the span of some two weeks, I was the head of a so-called protection platoon formed in Druskininkai. But the name platoon was just a formality […], it was 18 people. […] Who exactly organised the platoon, I do not know, I was just the leader of it to the extent that it touched upon protecting remaining state property. My squad did not perform any punishing actions […] While participating in protection, I did not have a firearm or ribbon. Firearms would only be issued to the members of the security squad, who would stand guard. They also did not wear ribbons.” However, Druskininkai police station documents did not confirm words supposedly recorded by KGB interrogators from A. Ramanauskas-Vangas: “I was the head of a protection platoon formed in Druskininkai.” A few months later he clarified to the courts himself that it was not a platoon, just a squad.

“Resort board chairman, doctor Kviklys requested to protect the resort’s property from looting. I held doubt on whether I should go help, but on visiting the communications department, I heard that an interim Lithuanian government had been formed and then I agreed to form a squad to protect the property of the resort and shops for Lithuania. Armed men stood guard at the warehouses. We would board the windows in looted shops. I was not the leader, Jakavonis was.

We did not do anything to people, only protected property,” this statement by A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas was also confirmed by archival documents, which were held by the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic Ministry of Interior (LSSR VRM), however when fabricating accusations against A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas, the KGB did not seek them out. Failing to find evidence that he had in any way aided the German occupying forces or having been in protection for more than two weeks, the Soviet interrogators did not delve any further because the squad also contained future secret agents of theirs and even an employee of the Soviet prosecutor’s office.

“One Lithuanian SSR prosecutor’s office prosecutor Gasiliauskas Petras was a squad member and he could be a witness that I did not perform any criminal acts,” testimony briefly brings up the name of an official loyal to the Soviet occupation government. This was yet another indirect piece of evidence that A. Ramanauskas’ property protection squad did not perform any arrests or repressions against communists. When questioned by the KGB, member of the same squad B. Visockas confirmed that he did not see A. Ramanauskas with a firearm: “When moving arrested soviet citizens and participating in arrests, I did not see Ramanauskas.” Doctor Kviklys, who requested the property protection, continued to work during the soviet era (based on other documents, the resort’s board chairman was dr. Gylys until the Germans dismissed him in July).

Vanagas’ betrays, one more

Namely in Druskininkai, A. Ramanauskas encountered State Tax Inspectorate employee Antanas Urbonas, who was appointed Druskininkai county tax inspector in May 1, 1941. The same Urbonas would betray A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas in fifteen years. However, at the time they were simple acquaintances – a former and current cadet at military school (they were never schoolmates, despite some mistaken sources).

On December 17, 1996, former KGB agent “Žinomas”, A. Urbonas was questioned by Kaunas prosecutor Z. Leonavičius and stated the following circumstances: “In Druskininkai, when the Soviet army withdrew, two squads from the residents of surrounding villages were formed, they also had firearms. I led one such squad, while the other – Adolfas Ramanauskas.

We led these squads at the behest of Druskinikai burgomaster Lobikis [Luobikis].” To A. Urbonas’ (who also went on to work in the resort board) knowledge, “When the Germans arrived, these squads were dismissed because Druskininkai was already in the hands of the German authorities.” The only accurate part of his statement is that A. Ramanauskas led only one of the two squads. A. Urbonas did not cease cooperation with the occupational government, later on becoming the translator of the Merkinė commandancy.

The protection of state objects also hampered the new occupants to “freely” act in them. In the first days of July, A. Ramanauskas withdrew from these activities because he saw “that the Germans are looting anyway”: “After some two weeks following my joining the protection squad, a group of German soldiers arrived in Druskininkai, who looted warehouses and stores. I tried to oppose this, but they did not listen. Later on, the German raided my house. At that point, I withdrew because Suravičius, with whom I lived in the same room, somehow managed to report that German troops are coming to our house. I felt that something was wrong here and withdrew. Later on Suravičius told me that the Germans raided my room. After this event, I did not return to the protection squad.”

Vanagas’ withdraws from security

As such, upon seeing the looting and disregarding of guards, A. Ramanauskas withdraws from security. Already withdrawing from the position on July 7, 1941, he moved on to work at the Druskininkai resort board and worked there till autumn. This withdrawal was timely because the occupation government later sought to make maximum use of the armed Lithuanian squads and police later to move Jews in local ghettoes.

However, it is clear from documents that everyone, who held firearms in Druskininkai (and the Lithuanian police) were disarmed a week following A. Ramanauskas’ withdrawal. Finally, the German military commandant had started his work. He made the decisions of who should be armed and who should be disarmed. There is and never was any data that A. Ramanauskas would have been involved in prosecution of Jews and shootings of communists.

In September, when under German occupation teachers’ wages were once more paid, A. Ramanauskas returned to Krivonys primary school, where he officially worked up to October 1, 1941.

On July 12, the German occupational government dismissed the local Lithuanian administration and established commandancy and on July 16, directed to establish Jewish ghettoes (some 800 local Jews were sent to Gardinas, Kolbasin concentration camp in 1943, where they would later be murdered). 

Jewish population of Druskininkai

Jews were moved to a separate quarter by Lithuanian police and reserve lieutenant Jakavonis’ squad. On the same day (July 16), the German commandancy disarmed the Lithuanian police (15 individuals) and protection squad (38 individuals) and put burgomaster Luobikis in charge of everything. These facts show that A. Ramanauskas, who left the security squad by July 7, could not have participated and did not participate when moving the Jews to the local ghetto.

The specialty of Druskininkai is its resort, which on September 7, 1940 was handed over by the Belarussian SSR to the Soviet Lithuanian administration. The local Communist Party branch primarily featured Russians and Belarussians sent here after 1939 (comprising up to 80% of local communists). Due to this region (Alytus district) Communist Party secretary being uninclined to accept Jews to the party, there was only a handful of Jew nationals in the local communist party.

There were 26-28 communists in Druskininkai itself (5 Jews, 14 Russians, 6 Belarussians, 1 Ukrainian, one of so far undetermined nationality), at least 9 of whom managed to withdraw (resort deputy board director and committee secretary Ivan Bučnev, resort board director Boris Samarin, county executive committee secretary Anufriy Zhuravliov, executive committee chairman Ivan Zychkov, Druskininkai militsiya head Semion Krot, sanatorium director Aleksandr Volkov and others). On July 18, 1941, the Druskininkai police reported to Alytus that in Druskininkai county, 26 communists, 1 thief and 1 “provocateur” were shot.

The repressions were aimed against communists, who were notable when exiling local Poles and Jews (some 20 families were exiled, some Lithuanians were also arrested). Who could have shot the communists performing exiles? Police station head V. Bajerčius wrote “mostly provocations and accusations against Lithuanians are made by Poles, one such provocateur having been liquidated by the Germans.”

Thus, the individuals shot to death by the Germans were also included in the Lithuanian police chief’s report. The city was completely controlled by the Germans and was to be joined to the Balstogė district (and East Prussia) and in the second half of July 1941, nothing was ever done without the permission and participation of the German military.

A few hundred holiday goers remained in the city, thus among the communists shot to death, there could have been non locals as well. According to the Alytus district Communist Party rosters, among more than 200 communists, there were 10 of Jewish nationality, with the rest being mostly Lithuanians. When the war started, at least 63 Alytus district communists (five Jews among them) managed to withdraw to Russia. In any case, there is no reliably data, based on which you could discern, who the 26 remaining in the resort or arrived from elsewhere and arrested or unable to withdraw in time communists were.

Also, there is no data whether the five, mostly not local, Jewish nationality communists Nabatov Mark Mojsejevich, Bujanovkiy Eizer Leibovich, Gorochov Josif Monusovich, Garelik Josif Davidovich, Plipelson(?) Chaim Jankelevich were left (their names are not in the evacuated communist lists) by the local communist leadership fleeing from Druskininkai. There is also no data on A. Ramanauskas, who headed the 18 man protection squad up to July 7, 1941, would have personally contributed to the perpetration of the repressions – having moved arrested communists or even more, having participated in their executions.

On the contrary – witnesses and the aforementioned evidence confirmed what A. Ramanauskas said during interrogation – he led a resort property, store and warehouse protection squad for 11-14 days, which was necessary under wartime conditions. A police report from the time testifies to this: “Upon the Germans taking over, during the first days the soldiers looted much from the stores, taking for themselves and giving to the local citizens. There is a lack of food and especially bread and meat, there is sugar and butter for a few days.” That’s historic data with specific sources. E. Zuroff of course can and does ignore all of it because in this case to him historical truth matters the least.

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