But the historical facts dictate a different conclusion. First of all, Col. K. Škirpa’s service to Lithuania is not limited to raising the Lithuanian flag over the tower of Gediminas Castle in 1919, and more importantly, Col. Škirpa did not call for the removal of the Jews, as the Mayor now alleges. Finally, the “discussion,” which Mayor Šimašius holds as definitive, was anything but that. I know, since I was there. This discussion took place at City Hall on November 29, 2016, at the behest of Vilnius Council member, Darius Kuolys. At that time, cogent arguments were not heard, and the historical facts were not considered. It was more of a forum for political grandstanding and hardly an objective analysis of historical events and their honest evaluation. Political statements were made, and then it was over. A video of the event confirms that to be the case.
Nonetheless, some of the assertions call for a response. A case in point is the time period June 24 and 25, 1941, when the German army had not yet fully arrived in Kaunas and the Lithuanian resistance forces were fighting in the streets with a vengeful and brutal retreating Red Army. During this time, Chicago’s Lithuanian daily paper Draugas (The Friend) published reports received from Stockholm, Helsinki, and Berlin. It carried headlines such as: “Independence proclaimed in Lithuania” and “Lithuanian Army captures Kaunas.” Front-page stories announced that “A new government of Lithuania was formed”, “Col. Škirpa – Premier”, “Jews will not be persecuted”, and “Col. Škirpa has forbidden persecution of Jews in Lithuania.”
Perhaps Honourable R. Šimašius can explain why in 2017 the Mayor of Vilnius asserts that Col. K. Škirpa called for action “to get rid of the Jews”, when in 1941, contemporaneous and uncensored public statements in June, unlike the censored press in Occupied Lithuania and Nazi Germany, clearly reflect Col. Škirpa’s stand on the issue? His position is documented black on white: that Jews in Lithuania will not be persecuted and the papers unequivocally announced “Col. Škirpa bans persecution of Jews in Lithuania”. This is a fact. One must deal with it. One cannot dismiss it out of hand and pretend that it does not exist.
A second question logically follows: did Col. K. Škirpa have the power to effect his stand? He declared it. But practically speaking, the stark reality controlled the situation. Amidst the same reports of the uprising, it is published that “the Lithuanian Army rebounded and, after the bloody battles, took the provisional capital of Lithuania to Kaunas”, that “the independence declared in Lithuania and rebels are taking over wider control every time”. The restoration of an independent Lithuania was also reported by the press of the free world, as documented in a Swiss Journal de Geneve article. Unfortunately, there are no reports that the insurgents finally “took over” complete control and were able to establish their own rules of hegemony and jurisdiction in Lithuania. They tried to accomplish this, to turn it away from the retreating Bolsheviks and to put the Germans before a declared de facto Independent Lithuania. However, the military power of the Nazis was insurmountable, the political will of drang nacht osten (drive to the east) could not be deterred. German Army units were already in Kaunas on the afternoon of June 25. Even though the city met them with the tri-coloured flag and the declaration of the Provisional Government of Lithuania that the constitution of the Republic of Lithuania was restored, the following day advertising columns were plastered with the text of the declaration of the supreme commander of the German Army:
The invincible troops of Great Germany come as your FRIENDS AND LIBERATORS FROM THE BOLSHEVIK UNION. <…> FOR THOSE WHO BEHAVE CALMLY AND COMPLY WITH ALL THE COMMANDS OF THE DEPARTMENTS OF THE GERMAN MILITARY ENTITIES, THERE IS NOTHING TO FEAR (deletions by the German military Commander – V.V.). Weapons, ammunition, and all military materials, as well as the property of the defeated Red Army and Soviet institutions, must immediately be transferred to the nearest German army unit or nearest Commandant, or their whereabouts communicated. <…> It is also necessary to immediately report the location of Soviet military officers, soldiers, and Bolshevik commissars in hiding. Anyone hiding Soviet troops or arms, ammunition and other property of the Soviet Union, or comes in possession of them, will be shot (deletions by the German military Commander – V.V.). Anyone who resists or attempts to contact the enemy will also be shot.
The Lithuanian uprising ended on June 28 as the insurgents were disarmed by the Germans. However, the massacre of innocent people continued. Armed Soviet commissars, political hacks, and Bolshevik soldiers, lagging behind the main forces of the retreating Red Army, continued to terrorize, plunder, and kill the local populace.
On June 30, 1941, the commander of the Kruonis Rifleman’s Association J. Jenkevičius with his supporters wrote to the military Commandant of the city of Kaunas and its district, Jonas Bobelis. In their message they noted that “Local Communists are still raging in the vicinity of Kruonis and together with fugitive Russian troops are terrorizing the local residents. They recently shot about 30 activist Lithuanians – members of the Rifleman’s Association. Please allocate as many weapons as possible to the Kruonis Rifleman’s Association-partisan group. There are extensive forests in the Kruonis area, so the communist bandits have ideal conditions for hiding in the woods during the day and killing Lithuanian activists at night.” These reports are from “the front line”. Following the “hot trail” of immediate events, you cannot fabricate history here. It is fixed reflecting the actual situation at that given moment. The words that were spoken have been attested to, as well as the actions taken. THEN.
When we discuss the people who acted THEN, sacrificing everything, including their lives, with their all-or-nothing commitment to free themselves from the chains of tyranny, do we, sitting on cushioned seats and with narcissistic capriciousness, have the moral right today to judge what they have “not done”? What they could have or even should have “done better”? Or what more they could have done?
Perhaps the Mayor can answer another question: why was the alleged “Nazi collaborator” Col. K. Škirpa, having made a public statement about the Jews published in the uncensored American press, manifestly contradicting the policies of the Nazis, was interned on that very day in Berlin? After all, a diplomat who allegedly wanted to “get rid of the Jews” would have been a very useful tool in Lithuania!
In the very early days, the Nazis were not very successful in their attempts to organize pogroms against the Jews, and they themselves admitted that such was the case.
Henry A. Zeiger, the editor and comment author of The Case Against Adolf Eichmann, cites General F. W. Stahlecker’s October 15, 1941 report to Heinrich Himmler, the German Minister of the Interior: “Considering that the population of the Baltic countries has suffered very heavily under the government of Bolshevism and Jewry while they were incorporated in the USSR, it was to be expected that after the liberation from that foreign government, they (i.e. the population themselves) would render harmless most of the enemies left behind after the retreat of the Red Army. It was the duty of the security police to set in motion these self-cleansing movements and to direct them into the correct channels in order to accomplish the purpose of the cleansing operation as quickly as possible. It was no less important in view of the future to establish the unshakable and provable fact that the liberated population themselves took the most severe measure against the Bolshevist and Jewish enemy quite on their own so that the direction by German authorities could not be found out.” (Zeigler, pg. 66) (emphasis by V. V.) In the report, Gen. F. W. Stahlecker complains further: “To our surprise it was not easy at first to set in motion an extensive pogrom against Jews.” (ib.).
Another American author Dr. Philip Friedman, a former lecturer of Jewish history at Columbia University and author of Their Brothers Keepers, cites Franz Stahlecker, commander of a special-purpose SS group A operating in the Baltic countries (“SS Brigadeführer Franz Stahlecker, commander of Einsatzgruppe A): “On the basis of our instructions, the Security Police has initiated the solution of the Jewish question with all possible dispatch. However, we deemed it advisable that the Security Police should not put in an immediate appearance, as the extraordinarily harsh measures pursued might have a negative reaction, even in German circles. It is our purpose to show the world that the native population itself undertook to suppress the Jews.” (Emphasis by V.V.) Dr. Friedman adds: “However, Stahlecker, who proceeded to recruit his mercenaries from fascist partisan units, jobless police, and the underworld, discovered to his surprise and chagrin that Lithuanians, as a rule, shied away from the opportunity offered them by the Thousand-Year Reich.” (Emphasis V.V.) ‘‘It was not a simple matter,” Stahlecker lamented, ”to organize an effective action against the Jews.” (pg. 136)
Thus it was this German force, which on June 25, 1941, confronted the Provisional Government of Lithuania, whose Prime Minister Col. K. Škirpa, was interned in Berlin, and the members of the Cabinet just a few days ago on June 22, were in hiding evading persecution by the Soviet NKGB or incarcerated by the Bolsheviks in hard labour prisons in Kaunas. Today it is difficult for us to comprehend the spirit of these individuals – the courage, the determination needed to take upon themselves such responsibility at the hour of deadly danger, during those days marked by rampant chaos and terror.
The Bolsheviks left behind a dysfunctional administrative apparatus, which practically speaking had to be rebuilt. Everything needed to be recreated. And at the same time –
beginning with June 22 – every day was marked by terror and slaughter which scarred the nation: the massacre of priests in the Budavonė Forest, that of doctors in Panevėžys – in the county hospital, that of political prisoners – in the Panevėžys Sugar Factory, the Forest of Rainiai, the colony of Pravieniškės, Zarasai, Rokiškis, and elsewhere. These were the sadistic crimes of the Bolsheviks which they perpetrated until June 26. Then on June 27, the massacre of Jews took place in the “Lietūkis” garage. Those were days of chaos, which the Provisional Government of Lithuania did not have the theoretical or actual ability to curb. Because there were no structures that could have prevented that course. Mainly spontaneously formed partisan-insurgent squads were operating in Lithuania. But they were only partially able to protect the people and property from the revenge of the retreating Bolsheviks and the indiscriminate destruction of property.
“I testify that the 1941 insurgents and the Provisional Government of Lithuania were the freedom fighters and enemies of the Nazis, not Nazi supporters, as Lithuania’s non-friends would have us believe,” attested Juozas Kojelis (1916-2010), well-known émigré journalist and activist, during his distinguished speech delivered on the occasion of his 90th birthday on December 9, 2006, at the Kaunas officer’s quarters. “I admit that during that time there were many horrific crimes, but they were outside the realm and control of the Provisional Government and the organized insurgents. The fact that during the German occupation Lithuania had one of the most-organized anti-Nazi underground in Europe and that a large number of Lithuanians, especially intellectuals, found themselves in German prisons and concentration camps speaks volumes.
Gerardas Binkis, an eyewitness to the events of that time and a representative of a
distinguished family which helped save Jews, shares the following recollection: “There was a clear point of confrontation, especially regarding the Jews. But might was on the German side. It was only temporarily possible to drag on, push away, but it was not possible to radically resolve these things. The Nazis began to demand that the Jews be herded into the ghetto. The Germans wanted to act in the name of Jurgis Bobelis, the Commandant of Kaunas. He was absolutely opposed to this. A Jewish family was hiding in his home on Aguonų Street. Jurgis Bobelis was manoeuvring as best he could, trying not to jeopardize the situation for the Jews, although this was extremely difficult for him. There were no doubts about confidence in this government. On the contrary, no one doubted that this was ‘our government’. The only doubt was whether it could survive, whether it would remain. The Germans worked together with the National Socialist Party…to attack the Provisional Government. Pressure began mounting from the Lithuanian side, not from the German side. Ultimately, the Nationalists organized a putsch in July against the government of (acting prime minister) Juozas Ambrazevičius and did away with Jurgis Bobelis; and everything was then taken over by the German-sanctioned administration of general counsels. Repressions against the Jews intensified.”
Maybe Mayor Šimašius has the answer to a third question: how did it happen that in Poland, where there was neither Col. K. Škirpa nor the Provisional Government of Lithuania, there were, in the words of the Mayor, three million Jews “disposed of”? And all over Europe – six million? Could it be that you would concur, as one journalist asserts, that Col. K. Škirpa “inspired” the Nazis to commit this evil deed? I do not believe that you could be so gullible.
I have written about this on more than one occasion, pointing out that even well-known and accepted historians operate on erroneous facts about Col. Škirpa, for example, Timothy Snyder, who alleges that Col. Škirpa “spoke on the radio” in Kaunas and “encouraged the crowds to commit murder”. Actually Col. Škirpa’s legacy is virtually unknown in Lithuania – his writings have not been published, his personal archive has not been explored, an opinion about his person is formed from templates construed and exploited for decades by Soviet propaganda and its biased interpretations, but not from actual facts.
Therefore, the precipitous initiative to eliminate K. Škirpa Street, without sufficiently delving into this subject, causes unnecessary tension. Vytautas Landsbergis rightly pointed out: “It is necessary to pay homage to The Righteous Among the Nations, but it is not appropriate to do anything to undermine what already exists, and thereby incite a confrontation in society.” But the mayor of Vilnius, ranks Petras Cvirka, a talented writer who willingly went to serve the Soviet occupier and become a grave-digger of Lithuania’s independence, along with Colonel Kazys Škirpa, a prisoner of the Nazis, who at the end of the war was liberated by Americans.
Remigijus Šimašius ought not forget that his evaluations will also be subject to an evaluation. And accordingly it will establish to which ranks he will be consigned to.