For half a century, Soviet propaganda has been relentlessly telling lies, despising the June 1941 uprising, the commemoration of its participants, and politically persecuted them. They could not have done otherwise. They had to justify the occupation and its brutal domination. Otherwise, it would have been an admission that the Bolsheviks in Lithuania were only uninvited guests who had to hurry out from here as soon as they lost the armed backing of Moscow.
The totalitarian empire lived in seclusion from the world for 50 years. Discussions were not acknowledged. What authors living elsewhere wrote was just “bourgeois propaganda”. Because only one truth existed for them – “Leninist”. Therefore, they wrote what they wanted, how they tried to justify the crimes committed: the capture of the independent Baltic states, the destruction of their economy and political order, mass repression, deportations, imprisonment, sadistic torture, and the most brutal killings of innocent people.
They used an irrefutable argument stemming from the ideology of class destruction and hatred: “We can at every moment throw blame at anyone: ‘You are the enemy of the people!’ Let him prove that he is not!” – Vladas Niunka, the chief prosecutor of the first Soviet occupation, said proudly of his powers.
Confuses consequences with causes
The perpetrators of those crimes never confessed their crimes, did not apologize for them, did not even compensate the victims for moral wrongdoing. On the contrary, for many years, they have run a fierce propaganda campaign to blacken the most prominent resistance figures in Lithuania and abroad, deny the status of freedom fighters, and turn them into simple blood-stained thugs inciting crowds, ordering killings, or even personally and arbitrarily killing.
At first, it was “Soviet citizens”, and then, after Stalin’s death, convinced that the card of anti-Semitism could be manipulated successfully in the West, only “Jews” remained among the propagandizers. Moreover, the concept of the subject matter “Soviet citizen” was gradually discredited and became meaningless. And portraying the resistance fighters as fierce murderers with no other motives, only zoological anti-Semitism and unbridled thirst for a foreign property, is a more repulsive impression.
Such a deteriorating template of Soviet propaganda has been in continuous use for decades, hanging over the prominent figures of the Baltic states living in the West, who made more significant attempts to raise their voices against the illegal enslavement of their countries. The Soviets denied the existence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact until August 1989, calling it a “fiction” by the West. Just as for the murder of 20,000 Polish officers in Katyn, they blamed the Germans for half a century.
Not surprisingly, the efforts to compromise Lithuania, to portray it as a land of dark, fierce, and greedy Jew shooters, continue. Because interest and “the political order” remain. And in the East, and to some extent in the West. Accusing marginal perpetrators of major crimes results in the guilt of the primary assassins also seeming less.
A few years ago, Lithuania prudently refused to distribute the propaganda of the infamous Russian historian Alexander Dyukov. He published a series of real and supposed documents one after another: “On the Eve of the Holocaust: Lithuanian Activist Front and Soviet Repression in Lithuania, 1940-1941″, “Lithuania: Secret Cooperation with the Nazis and the Unrealized Scenario of Lost Independence, 1939-1940″, and “Grace to the Dead: Soviet Repression against Nazi Favorites in the Baltics”.
Documents, including fake Gestapo and NKVD forgeries, are orchestrated here so that the consequences are confused with the causes. It is not for nothing that the title of the book mentions the Lithuanian Activist Front first, and the repressions of the NKVD after it. Without knowing anything else, just reading Dyukov’s book, you would get the impression that the Bolsheviks in the Baltics set up a bloody sauna only to “protect the Jews” from total extermination.
But everything was the other way around! First, the Bolsheviks invaded a peaceful country, destroyed it, captured, tortured, and killed people who had not committed anything against them. Only then did the Lithuanians, who had been terrorized, abducted and abused, take advantage of the ongoing war between Germany and the Soviet Union to embark on a liberation march!
Value in confession
Colonel and diplomat Kazys Škirpa, one of the main organizers and leaders of the June Uprising, a resistance fighter particularly hated and cursed by the Soviets, wrote in an article “Why did we revolt?”, while Stalin was still alive, in 1951: “We, Lithuanians, we remember and will never forget how ten years ago the Soviet occupier in our homeland Lithuania managed to destroy the Lithuanian society: as over 12,000 people who had not committed any crimes – former men of the Lithuanian state, noble dignitaries of the Church, highly deserving public figures, idealists – cultural workers, scientists , press and education workers, independence war veterans, patriotic youth, etc – plunged into prisons, and – how this occupier crowned its rage, in the second half of June 1941, with the first massive attack on the peaceful population of Lithuania – about 40,000 people – men and women, young and gray-headed elderly and children, intellectuals, farmers and ordinary workers’ families – were ripped from our nation, thrown into cattle wagons, boarded them up in total darkness, and without a drop of water for fainting children, taken to the investigations and concentration camps of the Bolshevik Empire… (“Dirva”, June 21, 1951).
Škirpa notes from secret Soviet documents that fell into the hands of Lithuanians during the uprising that it became quite clear that the Moscow government had prepared for this ‘highest degree of criminal work against humanity and its civilization’ from the moment it conquered Lithuania with the October 10, 1939, agreement with Soviet Russia, as if making a mockery of the ‘Friendship and Mutual Assistance’ treaty.”
This deception of the Kremlin, at that time, became apparent only gradually. On June 15, 1940, Soviet Russia, broke all its solemn obligations not to violate Lithuania’s sovereignty and the integrity of its territory, by force and deception. According to Škirpa, “undermined Lithuania’s independence, recklessly, and without mercy, wantonly and endlessly, arrested innocent people, destroyed the country’s economy, desecrated the shrines of our nation, and destroyed all cultural and social life. They rushed to tear our country and our nation out of civilized Western Europe and push us into the material and spiritual poverty of the Union of Soviet Social Republics.”
The tolerance shown by the Lithuanians to refrain from active resistance, avoiding to annoy and cause the wrath of the Soviet occupier, did not deter them at all from the trenching works that devastated the country and created a real social catastrophe.
Col. Škirpa writes: “Only after the prisons were already crowded with innocent people when it became clear that prisoners were forced to admit to crimes they had never committed, and when it became increasingly clear that they were being brutally tortured and sadistically killed, only then did everyone begin to understand what that Soviet system was. It is nothing more than a savage system devised and planned by Kremlin forensics to destroy human freedom, and man as such, from which it would be futile to expect even fundamental human rights, or to wait for simple human mercy for an innocent man. It became self-evident that where the Soviet regime is rampant, there is no life for a person who loves his homeland, is attached to Western culture, believes in God, and desires freedom but only endless suffering. Therefore, the idea matured in itself that it would be better to die the death of a freedom fighter than to give in to despair and allow the Soviet sadists to brutally murder or deport to the Soviet Russian concentration camps for systematic torture, leaving no trace.”
Unforgiving up to now
That is why the more determined people of Lithuania decided on the extreme means of rescue – uprising!
Historian Augustinas Idzelis wrote: “Many have claimed that the uprising was the result of German and anti-Semitic propaganda. That is nonsense! You do not need propaganda to take up arms and participate in an uprising when yesterday’s co-workers and neighbors disappear before your eyes, when you see deportations, when your own family is loaded into wagons, and when you learn about sadistic torture and killings. I cannot understand historians thinking so superficially and primitively, that propaganda and not living conditions lead to such a risky decision to take up arms! Only the one who has nothing to lose does it! But certainly, not the one who sneaks and reads an illegal announcement.”
In Škirpa’s words, that is why the rebels, “no longer cherishing their lives, resorted to tearing the rifles from the shoulders of the Russian Red Army with their bare hands, armed themselves, and on June 23, 1941, managed to wage an uprising of the Lithuanian nation.” <…> By tearing the Soviet yoke off its shoulders with a gun in its hand, restoring the independence of the Lithuanian state, and building a new national government, the Lithuanian Nation exposed Moscow’s lies about the supposed free accession of Lithuania to the Soviet Socialist Republics in 1940. On the other hand, in its march, Lithuania warned Hitler’s Germany that it was an independent state again. In our time, with the blood of the uprising, we showed everyone once again that we are no slave nation, that we cherish Western civilization and democratic freedoms not just on paper, and that we are determined to fight for our national ideals.”
For this humiliation, when the Bolsheviks fled Lithuania in disorder, shattering their myth about Lithuania’s “voluntary” accession to the Soviet empire, the people of imperialist ambitions and the audience supporting them have not forgiven us even up until now. They are very interested in portraying that episode not as a glorious hour of the Lithuanian struggle for freedom, but as a blood feast, which “regularly” breaks out after its “host” left Lithuania. Because the subtext is as simple as two kopecks: it must confirm that a “convulsively anti-Semitic” nation is too immature to govern a state and incapable of managing itself, it requires a “guardian” to oversee it, to ban it, to establish “rules of conduct.” Then, their “educator’s stringency” becomes as if justified.
Proof of feeling guilt
When I asked Vytautas Landsbergis to comment on the Russian historians’ allegations that the Bolsheviks did not kill or deport innocent people, only “potential Nazi helpers”, including children, women, and grandparents, the politician said:
“This is an admission. A confession to conceal the crime, which now needs to be obscured by some type of action. Darken the bloody traces, sweep them with a dirty tail. There is nothing else here. Those old men would have become “enemies of the people”. And those who went to shoot political prisoners, or those who organized those shootings, such as Domas Rocius, the Deputy Chairman of the LSSR Supreme Soviet to J. Paleckis, were “defenders of the people.” D. Rocius and P. Raslanas organized the massacre in Rainiai. However, Raslanas’ and Rocius’ explanations that those people “would have gone against Soviet rule” and therefore had to be killed can have no justification. The orders from Moscow were the same. Evacuation. If evacuation is not possible, then “after the first category” of evacuation: shoot everyone. It was the same in Pravieniškės. The rebels did not reach them in time or were not able to defend them, even though they saved thousands of others. In some places, depending on personal inclinations of Chekists or some other feeling, there was a horrible, sadistic killing instead of a simple shooting. Done with pleasure. Even not fearing the German army, who was already not far away. And the “pleasure” of torturing people in Rainiai all night was so great that they did not merely shoot those people in the head and run away as quickly as possible. No. They were still having fun. The suspect is, therefore, guilty! This is a Stalinist concept. How many times have we listened to it! Even now, some still philosophize that not deporting farmers and teachers was “unnecessary”. New conclusions by Moscow historians are proof that it matters to them and that they feel guilty. And they confess it in such a distorted way.”
The most prominent individuals of the June Uprising and the Provisional Government of Lithuania (LLV) are relentlessly attacked with such anger and astonishing perseverance for this reason. There are still attempts to belittle the memory of Kazys Škirpa’s memory, attributing non-existent anti-Semitic sentiment. Škirpa was a member of the peasant populist party, an associate of President Kazys Grinius, who had left-wing views. Their roots go back to the traditions of the Russian Revolution, i.e., those leftist groups that were not anti-Semitic. According to Prof. Kęstutis Skrupskelis, the peasant populists “in some respects, perhaps understood anti-Semitism even more deeply as evil than the Catholics did.”
The real “fault” of Škirpa, of course, was that he was a straightforward man, a man of determination and action, as befits a Colonel. He defended Lithuania’s interest and did not indulge occupiers. And he acted reasonably under the historical circumstances, in which Lithuania then found itself. There was no other force at the time that could have ousted the Bolsheviks and helped Lithuania break free from the hell they had begun – only Germany.
A symbol of freedom
Well-known businessman and philanthropist Juozas Kazickas (1918-2014) was a rebel in Vilnius. Juozas Brazaitis, a leader of the Provisional Government, uncommitted to the Nazis, refused to become the Advocate General, even though offered the position but instead chose risky anti-Nazi underground activities. When asked why, in some commentators’ opinions, he appeared more guilty than those, who collaborated with the Nazis, the contemporary of those events replied:
“J. Brazaitis was a symbol that needed to be destroyed. The others were secondary players. And he was the primary one. I would not say that Adolfas Damušis, Pranas Padalis, Vytautas Vaitiekūnas, or many others were less important personalities. Not at all. Still, they were not the ones that had symbolic meaning. And the personality of J. Brazaitis had exactly that meaning. One needs to see the human intellect, all its so-called dignity. He was precisely the one who was a symbol of freedom. An uncompromising symbol of freedom. And because of that, he had to be destroyed. For everyone. For both Germans and Bolsheviks.”
There is an allegation that J. Brazaitis was unfavorable to the Jews. Were there any shadows in the nature of his personality due to anti-Semitic moods, sympathy for pro-fascist views? J. Kazickas:
“Absolutely none. Absolutely. I knew him in Lithuania even before the formation of the government. I then knew him as the Prime Minister. Later in the underground, hiding from the Gestapo. We interacted very closely here in America. He is the godfather of my son. He was my close friend. He spent quite a bit of time with me. So I knew him very well, I can testify. No no. Not the slightest shadow! Nowhere. In no way. It would be absolute contempt to accuse him of hostility to Jews or sympathy for the Nazis. He was a deep man, an intellectual, humanist par excellence. In the sense that for him, every human being was a creation of God. Indestructible, inviolable. He believed that every man had to stand before God and give an account. A report to God, not to man. Whether black, or white, or Catholic, or Jewish, or other religions, or no religion at all. That was his attitude.”
An investigation found nothing
To the question of why has it all turned out this way, Vytautas Landsbergis replies: “The gap in the logic is that those were not our actions. There is a lack of historical research. We must illuminate all the activities of the Provisional Government. It should be visible not only through the prism of the fate of the Jews. Their fate was tragic. And some easily throw accusations: why didn’t the Provisional Government defend the Jews? That is unrealistic. After all, the government had no intention of persecuting Jews. Its goal was quite different – restoring the state of Lithuania. Maybe we can have the state of Lithuania again? To establish the concept: the German army came to Lithuania, not to the Soviet Union. <…> In light of all this, it is unfair to accuse the government itself of allegedly pursuing a policy of extermination of the Jews. Or some people know nothing and don’t want to know. He writes a story not from facts, but some rumor. A rumor that spreads becomes a false fact.”
And the facts are such that we do not delve into the facts. Especially those that contradict the original accusatory provisions – based on the Soviet practice of interpreting events.
In 1970, the Soviets released a set of documents, “Documents Accuse,” into which were inserted delicately prepared falsifications, related to accusations of the Provisional Government. Based on these real and alleged documents, the Soviets succeeded to the extent that in 1974, the New York Times published a list of 38 individuals living in America suspected of contributing to Holocaust crimes during World War II. Among them were the surnames of two Lithuanians – the head of the LLV Juozas Brazaitis and the Minister of the Interior, Colonel of the General Staff Jonas Šlepetis. Congressman Elizabeth Holtzman raised the issue in the United States Congress on that basis.
A broad investigation began. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service made inquiries of more than 100 U.S. agencies and Jewish organizations around the world investigating Holocaust crimes. The allegations were not substantiated. On January 13, 1975, Joshua Eilberg, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and International Law of the Judicial Committee of the United States Congress, wrote the following. “I am sending a copied letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service stating that J. Brazaitis and J. Šlepetys have been removed from the list of Nazi war crimes suspects living in the United States and that their investigations have been suspended. The basis is a decision by the Immigration and Naturalization Service that there was no evidence of anti-Semitic or pro-Nazi activity by these individuals. I hope that this document will help the two men and their friends to break free from the oppression and despair of the charges against them.”
According to the documents submitted, the investigation was conducted, in the words of the Immigration and Naturalization Service Representative, “by highly qualified officials from each unit of our service responsible for the supervision and evaluation of all Nazi war crimes suspects living in the United States.” It was they who stated that “the investigation did not find any factual evidence to substantiate the allegations made.”
The military commandant demanded isolation
In the American Lithuanian Cultural Archive (ALKA), Putnam, I found some significant testimonies of contemporaries in connection with this case, who do not figure in the circulation of historiography to date.
Mečislovas Mackevičius, the Minister of Justice of that Provisional Government, as well as a man of the Peasant Populist political current, left a significant testimony concerning the situation of the Jews during the Provisional Government, which is now most exploited in an attempt to blame the LLV, without delving into the historical context and circumstances.
In a three-page typewritten document, the author notes that shortly after the German army occupied Lithuania, an LLV cabinet meeting “was attended by Colonel Bobelis, who reported Col. Pohl’s [battlefield commandant – V.V.] demand, namely: the war continues, it is very important for the German army that the back of the front is safe. The Reich government considers Jews to be unreliable, an element of the opposition. They must be insulated. In short, locked up in a ghetto.”
Kazys Palčiauskas, the mayor of Kaunas at that time, testifies to the same: “Kaunas Commandant Col. J. Bobelis arrived at City Hall and informed the mayor that Gen. Maj. Pohl requires the City of Kaunas to evict the Jewish population to a separate part of the city for reasons of population security [highlighted by Palčiauskas – V.V.]. The Jewish community is heavily infiltrated by fleeing communists who could shoot German soldiers marching through the city and thus provoke revenge-punishment against innocent city dwellers. Under the circumstances at the time, the motive seemed convincing. The concentration of the Jewish population would have a preventive effect: excesses against German soldiers would pose a direct threat to the Jews themselves. Therefore, the municipality should offer part of the city to which the Jewish population should move. Vilijampolė was chosen because Jews have lived there the longest.” (K. Palčiauskas, Notes on the Eviction of the Jewish Population to Vilijampolė in 1941, appendix to the author’s letter of August 30, 1974, to J. Brazaitis.)
It should be noted that during the war, the German practice to ensure rear-line security was unexceptional. Other warring parties did the same. The Soviets arrested and deported the Germans of Pavolgi to Central Asia, the Crimean Tatars. The Americans gathered and imprisoned 112,000 Japanese in “resettlement centers” from all the States on the Pacific Coast – Califonia, Oregon, and Washington. Two-thirds of them were born in the United States.
Despite this, as well as the gruesome experience of Lithuanians due to the brutal behavior of the retreating Soviet administration (only two weeks had passed since the mass arrests and deportations, and a week since the sadistic massacres in Pravieniškės, Rainiai, Panevėžys and elsewhere), Lithuanians tried to resist the Nazi demands. Commandant Col. Bobelis told General von Pohl that “Jews are Lithuanian citizens and their rights, according to Mackevičius, can only be restricted by law. Gen. Pohl replied that the matter should be resolved immediately. “
M. Mackevičius further testifies that the Cabinet considered a project prepared by the Ministry of the Interior. But it was only a draft – a proposal to the German military commandant Gen. Pohl. “I remember well,” the LLV minister continues, “that the project was under discussion for a long time.” There were different opinions. I remember that we were stuck on the question: what kind of property could Jews take with them. I know, I remember there was a question about luxuries, e.g., a piano. Otherwise, the opinion was that Jews should take everything with them, although administratively, locally, and in terms of premises, it was not so simple and easy.”
According to Mackevičius, the draft was approved by the government and immediately “presented to prominent members of the Jewish community.”
The issue was not within the competence of the LLV
“I remember it as if it happened today,” the author of the testimony writes. “My former professor (under whom I wrote my law degree thesis) and a good, close friend of my father-in-law Mykolas Sleževičius, came to my office at the Ministry of Justice, with the attorney, Prof. S. Bieliackinas, who was a Jew. I spoke to him informally. I invited him to sit in an armchair, off to the side, in the way I received those who are honorable and significant to our nation. After exchanging words about the current tragic situation, Prof. S. Bieliackinas took the draft out of his pocket, stood up, came over to me (and I stood up), and said the following. “Colleague Mackevičius (and unnecessarily immediately corrected himself “Sir, Minister”), if the project passes and is implemented, then Lithuania will be free, we will have our government leaders, government [italicized by Mackevičius – V.V.].” He was very satisfied with the project because he understood well. and knew the attitude and treatment of the Jewish minority by Nazi Germany.”
Mackevičius notes that Col. Bobelis presented the project, discussed and approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, Col. To the staff of Gen. Pohl. Commandant Gen. Pohl, at that time the chief representative of the Reich in Lithuania, until the German civilian government settled here, did not maintain direct contacts with the LLV, only with the Kaunas commandant. Col. Bobelis, as Mackevičius writes, “at his first visit to Gen. Pohl, at his headquarters, found two or three senior S.S. officers. Col. Bobelis moderated the project. It was translated into German and he started reading it. And after reading the introductory paragraphs of the project, one of the S.S. officers interrupted Col. BobeIis and stated, “I see that you will not settle the Jewish matter. We will take care of it [italicized by Mackevičius – V.V.]. Our project remained only on paper. The German civil authority soon came over, with Dr. von Renteln at the forefront, and the German Gestapo took over the horrific case of the Jewish segregation and genocide.”
Another LLV member, Minister of Industry Dr. Adofas Damušis, confirmed the course of events. “As far as I remember, the Interim Government did not adopt any resolution on the ghetto. The question arose but was not discussed since it was not within the competence of the Provisional Government.” (A. Damušis, May 10, 1974, letter to J. Brazaitis).
Mackevičius adds that when the Provisional Government debated the project mentioned above, “there was no pronounced odiousness, hatred, and even more so, no aspirations to destroy the Jewish minority. And it was not easy to push back against sporadic anti-Jewish manifestations, as their representatives provided many examples of Jewish manifestations during the first occupation. Those manifestations were obvious and cruel. I was arrested by two Jewish – NKVD tools, to me, who terrorized me, while I was still at home, who found a lot of empty candy boxes during their shake-down. Their opinion and understanding were that I was a peoples’ enemy, an exploiter, and an oppressor. I am happy that I did not form general conclusions about the entire Jewish society. And not I alone thought that way. Unfortunately, there are now Jews who only see sporadic negative instances but do not want to understand the animus of the Lithuanian nation, in the historical plane (spiritual – V.V.). But, it is politics, a conjunctural outlook, and philosophy. I understand that there is a need to respond and speak out.”
What happened to that project later? Mackevičius points out that Gen. Petras Kubiliūnas’ office-bureau, thought of the idea of publishing a set of Provisional Government and other decrees. It was printed, as far as I can remember, by rotarium. Among that set was the aforementioned Jewish bill as a law passed. The Bolsheviks are riding on that pony now. It is a pity that we do not have the text of that project here. The Bolshevik opinion, interpretation of events and facts, is well known: lies, various falsifications of facts, and subversive thoughts are the goal.”
For a thoughtful person – that’s sufficient.