Articles from the book

FOREWORD

Over half a century has passed since the Nazi occupation, which was so horrendous to the Jews of Lithuania. Because of Soviet policy in regard to the Jews, however, the generation that grew up in Lithuania during the postwar years knows essentially nothing about the Catastrophe that befell Lithuanian Jews during World War II. It should be noted that the topic of the Shoah[1] (Holocaust) was taboo for more than half a century during Soviet times (memorial plaques in the places where Jews had been massacred had inscriptions that “Soviet people” or “Soviet citizens” had been killed there).

Yet the whole truth about the Shoah in Lithuania should, it seems, be known to all the people of Lithuania. After all, this is a tragic page in Lithuanian history and a huge moral problem — all the more so because, until now, the events connected with it have often been willfully distorted and thus the development of normal relations between Lithuanians and Jews has been hindered.

Therefore, it is important to create an opportunity for the people of Lithuania to become acquainted with the Tragedy that befell Lithuanian Jews during the Hitlerite occupation — a Tragedy in which a centuries-old community, after participating in the battles for independence after World War I and helping strengthen the Lithuanian state and develop the economy, was (essentially in half a year, once war between Germany and Russia had begun) brutally destroyed.

With the beginning of Sąjūdis, the movement for national rebirth, Lithuanians also began to discuss, publicly and freely, what they had endured after their country had lost its independence. At that time, understandably, the grisly Tragedy that befell the Jews of Lithuania could not fail to emerge as well. The atmosphere of tolerance, goodwill, and compassion that then prevailed in Lithuania gave hope that the Catastrophe suffered by Lithuanian Jews would finally also be evaluated honestly and unequivocally. However, this hope slowly began to fade. Voices were heard, and forces appeared, that through the news media — the press, radio, and television — began attacking the Jews, at times causing an ugly anti-Semitic hysteria during which, along with the repetition of anti-Jewish myths that are no longer popular in the democratic world, there arose the so-called theory of the two genocides: a theory whose purpose was essentially to exonerate those Lithuanians who had helped the Nazis perpetrate a total massacre of the Jews — starting with newborn infants and ending with feeble old people — regardless of their political or religious convictions, their social status, origin, or activities. And this exoneration is still being attempted today, at a time when capital punishment is being abolished in the democratic world — and has already been in Lithuania — even for the most serious crimes.

Thus, today we encounter the so-called phenomenon of anti-Semitism without Jews, for by 1995 only about 5,000 Jews remained in Lithuania, and at present there are even fewer of them, and most of the people in present-day Lithuania have, most likely, never even seen a Jew with their own eyes (after all, except for the big cities of the Republic, almost nowhere will you find a single Jew). And in the economic and political life of Lithuania, Jews do not occupy any even somewhat more significant positions, and there is no real basis for any conflict of interests or competition of the sort that during the interwar years, especially the last one, had encouraged an often aggressive anti-Semitism in Lithuania.

What helped the theory of the two genocides flourish was that, for a considerable time after independence had been re-established, little could be found in the history textbooks used in schools about the Shoah in Lithuania. And the topic itself was taught in a very roundabout way without making clear the essence of the Shoah.

After the international Holocaust Forum in Stockholm in 2000, the newspaper Lietuvos rytas wrote:

“The Government could probably be more energetic in following the example of Sweden and introduce as quickly as possible new educational programs in which great attention is devoted to the subject of the Jewish genocide. This is no less relevant for Lithuania than for Sweden, where the educational level of society caused great concern when it was learned that as many as 72% of that country’s teenagers did not know the meaning of the word ‘Holocaust.’ After all, in our country, during the entrance exams for Vilnius University, one may hear even from future students that the Holocaust is some poet.”

Prof. Liudas Truska has also emphasized this thought in one of his articles. He has indicated that the most important reason for the persistence of myths and stereotypes, especially in the consciousness of younger people, is ignorance. That is why it is necessary to make knowledge of history more popular.

In “Kas išžudė Lietuvos žydus?” [Who Killed the Jews of Lithuania?] (Akiračiai, 1998, no. 4), which is a review of the book Kollaboration und Massenmord: Die litauische Hilfspolizei, das Rollkommando Hamann und die Ermordung der litauischen Juden, by the young German historian Knut Stang, Prof. Saulius Sužiedėlis writes:

“In Lithuania, the theme of the Jewish genocide is still a painful wound… Often enough, dialog about the Holocaust provokes irrational reactions that sometimes even reek with hatred. […] It is no secret that part of Lithuanian society remains allergic to Holocaust research… The theme of the Holocaust should interest every Lithuanian if only because the massacres during the summer of 1941 were a unique catastrophe in our history: never in the history of Lithuania have so many people been killed in such a short time and in such a systematic manner. Is it not finally time for us also to openly delve into those bloody pages of history, renouncing self-righteous arguments that invoke the theory of the two genocides (“Jews killed us, so we took revenge”) as well as other attempts to avert our gaze from the unpleasant facts of the past?”

After the international Holocaust Forum held in Stockholm, both the world and Lithuania became more active in their reflections about — and in their political and moral assessment of — the events of the Holocaust (Shoah). Notable are the honest, analytical articles about the Shoah in Lithuania published by the émigré monthly Akiračiai in the United States. For all practical purposes, however, this literature is not accessible to the mass of readers. In addition, there is a lack of popular literature on these questions.

The news media are slow to change their orientation. From time to time, one or another publisher or television channel will publicize scandalous material with anti-Semitic content.

***

Once the war between Hitlerite Germany and the Soviet Union had begun, the Nazis rushed with all their might to perpetrate the Holocaust as a state program. In those days, the cities and towns of Lithuania were enveloped by an atmosphere threatening to Jews. At once, the Jews lost the protection of the law. The Nazis and their local collaborators, who were incited by the propaganda of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), took drastic measures to break the Jews morally and physically so that, ultimately, they could more quickly dispose of them.

Although Lithuanian Jews had heard a great deal about the vicious anti-Jewish campaigns of the Nazis, most of them could not believe that the German nation, which had given the world Goethe, Kant, and Beethoven, would tolerate the destruction of human beings, of an entire people. The Jews did not believe that from among the Lithuanians, with whom they had lived for many centuries, there would appear so many who would raise their hand against their neighbors, and only because they were Jews. Thus, when the war began, only a small number of the Jews withdrew from Lithuania, also partly because their way was often blocked by the White Armbands (baltaraiščiai, i.e. participants in the Lithuanian uprising against the Soviets). Suddenly trapped, the Jews found themselves in the clutches of the powerful terror and destruction machine of the Nazis and their local collaborators. The persecution of the Jews and the plundering of their property began immediately. The Jews were closed up in ghettos. Sadistic torture, starvation, the cynical undermining of human dignity, the rape of women, unbearable work while constantly awaiting death — that was the fate of ghetto inmates. Marched to mass grave pits through violence and trickery, cut down by bullets, hundreds, thousands fell. They were often still alive when they were covered with soil. For the victims of this violence, death often became a kind of salvation because it meant the end of horrifying, unimaginable cruelty and suffering.

Less than half a year after the beginning of the Hitlerite occupation, there were no Jews left in Lithuania except for those whom the Nazis left alive to work in the ghettos of Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai, and Švenčionys. However, their fate is well known. Of nearly a quarter of a million Lithuanian Jews, some 6% survived — those whom the Nazis and their local collaborators were unable to reach or did not manage to kill.

As Commanding Officer of Einsatzkommando 3 of the Security Police and Security Service, Karl Jäger was the executioner-in-chief of the Jews of Lithuania. In his report to Berlin, “Comprehensive Statement of Executions Carried Out in the Field of Operations of Einsatzkommando 3 up to December 1, 1941,”[2] he wrote:

“Today I can state that the goal of solving the Jewish problem for Lithuania has been achieved by EK 3. In Lithuania there are no longer any Jews, except for the work-Jews and their families. […]

The goal of making Lithuania Jew-free could be achieved only by setting up a Rollkommando with elite men under the leadership of SS-Obersturmführer Hamann, who fully and completely adopted my goals and knew how to secure cooperation with the Lithuanian partisans and the competent civil authorities.”

The Catastrophe that befell the Jews of Lithuania is a component part of a global crime — the Shoah — which the Nazis began to perpetrate in Lithuania, for all practical purposes, with the assistance of local collaborators: ideological followers who expected political dividends, political favor, for their “services” and who, believing that the Nazis would triumph and that their own crimes would go unpunished, participated in one way or another in the mass murder of Jews, plundered and seized their property.

***

The purpose of the book The Shoah (Holocaust) in Lithuania is to provide a broader audience of readers with the opportunity to become acquainted with what really happened during the Shoah in Lithuania and to grasp its terrible consequences, scale, and the role of individual factors in it.

Various types of material are presented here — documents, articles, memoirs, studies of events, testimonies, etc. Their sources and circle of authors are diverse and wide. These are people who lived through the Shoah, who were fated to survive and publish their memoirs in the press and in books, including Yahadut Lita [The Jews of Lithuania].[3] These are people from Lithuanian cities and towns, witnesses of those events, who also published their memoirs. These are historians who have researched those events. These are criminals who participated in one way or another in the massacres and gave testimonies to law enforcement agencies. These are authentic documents that have survived from those times.

The first part of this book, “And Events Began and Unfolded Thus,” begins with documents from the early days of the war about the pursuit, organized by a band of partisans, of the Jews who were attempting to retreat from the town of Petrašiūnai (now part of the city of Kaunas), about the pogrom against the Jews in the Vilijampolė district of Kaunas, and about the grisly, widely known slaughter at the garage of the then defunct Lietūkis Cooperative Association. Further on, diverse sources are used to reveal the Shoah in all its breadth as it unfolded in the various cities and towns in which two-thirds of the Jews of Lithuania lived.

The second part of this book, “Documents Speak,” presents documents from the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF)[4] as well as from various administrative levels (at first, the Provisional Government and, later, autonomous institutions), the police, and the organs of the occupation. These documents directly or indirectly determined the course of the Shoah in Lithuania and help the reader grasp its “mechanics.” A survey is also included of the Lithuanian press of that time (1941-1943), which played the role of catalyst in those events.

Other parts of this book cover the position of the hierarchy of the Lithuanian Catholic Church on the Jews during the Shoah and on the question of the restitution of Jewish property as well as the struggle of the Lithuanian Jews against Nazism and the self-sacrificing activities of those people who rescued Jews and are known as the Righteous Among the Nations.

A separate part is devoted to revealing and assessing the essence of the theory of the two genocides, and this book concludes with a series of articles about the positions of the Roman Catholic Church and of Lithuanian social, cultural, scientific, and political figures on the Shoah in Lithuania.

This book was published in Lithuanian in two volumes[5], which appeared in 2001 and 2004. It was intended to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Catastrophe that befell the Jews of Lithuania — the Shoah in Lithuania.

This book should help promote an understanding of the nightmarish outbreak of brutality — and of the scale of the violence — that occurred during the Shoah in Lithuania. It should also serve as a constant reminder of the horrifying consequences of a cannibalistic ideology of chauvinism and racism and of a policy that confers on its followers the exclusive right to determine the fate of other nations and their right to live in the world.

The Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum is publishing this book, The Shoah (Holocaust) in Lithuania, in English in order to provide readers in other countries with an opportunity to become acquainted with the Catastrophe that befell the Jews of Lithuania — the Shoah.

The following sources were used in this book:

  • documents from
    • the Lithuanian Central State Archives (Lietuvos centrinis valstybės archyvas — LCVA),
    • the editorial office for publishing archival documents at the Manuscript Department of the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences (Lietuvos mokslų akademijos biblioteka, Rankraščių skyrius — LMAB RS),
    • the Lithuanian Special Archives (Lietuvos ypatingasis archyvas — LYA);
  • the document collections
    • Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje (1941-1944) [Mass Murder in Lithuania (1941-1944)] (MŽL),
    • Lietuvos Laikinoji Vyriausybė. Posėdžių protokolai [The Provisional Government of Lithuania: Minutes of the Meetings] (LLV Pos. prot.);
  • the books
    • 1941 metų birželio sukilimas [The June 1941 Uprising], by Valentinas Brandišauskas,
    • Yahadut Lita [The Jews of Lithuania];
  • papers read at scholarly conferences;
  • baccalaureal projects defended at Vilnius University;
  • articles from the Lithuanian and foreign press;
  • other sources (indicated in connection with individual articles and documents).

Some of the articles, taken from the foreign press, that were included in the two-volume Lithuanian original of this book have been omitted or abridged in this English translation.

Photographs are from these above-mentioned sources as well as Skausmo knyga [The Book of Sorrow] (Vilnius: Vaga, 1997).

Joseph Levinson



  1. Shoah means catastrophe. This Hebrew word (instead of the more common holocaust) was used in the encyclical by Pope John Paul II, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah. In this way, he emphasized the exceptional nature and circumstances of this genocide.
  2. Karl Jäger, “Suvestines žinios apie operatyvinio būrio 3 teritorijoje iki 1941 m. gruodžio 1 d. įvykdytas egzekucijas” [Gesamtaufstellung der im Bereich des EK. 3 bis zum 1. Dez. 1941 durchgeführten Exekutionen], in Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje (1941-1945) [Mass Murder in Lithuania (1941-1944)], ed. G. Erslavaite and K. Rukšėnas, Part I (Vilnius: Mintis, 1965), pp. 131-140. Hereafter – Karl Jäger, “Tabulation.”
  3. Yahadut Lita was published in Tel Aviv in 1959-1984. It is an encyclopedic publication whose fourth volume (comprising over 500 large-format pages) is devoted to the Catastrophe that befell the Jews of Lithuania during the Hitlerite occupation. It covers the course of these tragic events in Lithuanian cities and towns.
  4. As indicated by the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania (GRRCL) in a note to the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania:

“The Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) was an anti-Soviet resistance organization that was active from November 1 7, 1940, to September 22, 1941. Its activities can be divided into two stages: (1) the organization of an anti-Soviet underground and preparation for an uprising and (2) participation in the June 1941 uprising and activity during the German occupation. Kazys Škirpa was proclaimed the leader of LAF. […] In Berlin, in pursuit of its political goals, LAF cooperated with German military intelligence… and with the supreme military command… LAF liaisons were supplied with German weapons, radio transmitters, maps, etc., gathered and relayed reconnaissance information to German military intelligence and the LAF leadership in Berlin, and informed and organized underground reconnaissance and resistance groups in occupied Lithuania,” (Akiračiai, 2000, no. 9)

  1. Šoa (Holokaustas) Lietuvoje, part 1, (Vilnius: Valstybinis Vilniaus Gaono žydų muziejus, 2001); Šoa (Holokaustas) Lietuvoje, part 2, Vilnius: (Valstybinis Vilniaus Gaono žydų muziejus, 2004).

Introduction to the second part of Lithuanian edition

For people who follow historical literature at least to some extent, publications in Lithuanian about the Holocaust (Shoah) are no longer a novelty. Since the restoration of independence, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of articles, monographs, and works by scholars as well as students, both undergraduate and graduate, discussing the sources of anti-Semitism in Lithuania, relations between Lithuanians and Jews, the attitude of the Catholic Church toward the Jews, and finally the Jewish genocide during the German occupation. One may even conclude that the most significant research analyzing these sensitive issues, especially during the last few years, is taking place in Lithuania itself. This is an especially important phenomenon because not so long ago historiography about the Jewish genocide in Lithuania was crippled by the strict requirements of Soviet ideology, while the writings of Lithuanian emigres in the free world on the subject of the Holocaust were mainly limited to assertions of Lithuanian innocence. Israeli and western scholars were hampered by their ignorance of Lithuanian archives and, usually, of the Lithuanian language, but if Lithuanian sources are not included in the scholarship, it is not possible to comprehensively research this problem. Objective, well-argued works should help supplant the apologetics, the denial, and the generally shoddy journalism that keeps recurring, not to mention the anti-Semitic rubbish of extremists. In the future, two important initiatives should help promote society’s dispassionate assessment of the painful past: one is the recently created Holocaust education program, and the other is the research, already half completed, of the international historical commission established in 1998 by the President of Lithuania, especially its subcommission for the evaluation of the crimes during the Nazi occupation.

This collection of readings about the Shoah (Holocaust) is truly outstanding both in content and in purpose. Increasing numbers of scholarly works about the Holocaust, however valuable they may be for the academic sector, will not, by themselves, be able to overcome the indifference and ignorance of the general public about the significance of the Holocaust. Even more difficult to overcome, in the words of the well-known historian Dr. Egidijus Aleksandravičius, is the simple refusal of some Lithuanians to know.

Some of the documents presented in this book as testimony to the course of the Holocaust in Lithuania are probably new even to those Lithuanians interested and conversant in history. The Soviet document collection Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje (1941-1944) [Mass Murder in Lithuania (1941-1944)] is perhaps the most valuable work in this genre to be published before the restoration of independence, but it is nevertheless incomplete, limited in scope, and ideologically slanted. Clearly, the testimony taken from the collection Yahadut Lita, which was published in Israel, has been completely inaccessible to Lithuanians. The collection The Shoah (Holocaust) in Lithuania: Readings not only includes already known material but is also supplemented with documents, testimonies, and memoirs that have been uncovered during the last few years. This book will help even nonspecialists, those interested in their country’s past, to understand the most terrible pages in the modern history of Lithuania.

Many Lithuanian readers will doubtless be shocked by the various documents of the German occupation that attest to the collaboration of police precincts and local governments in the destruction of the Jewish community of their country. Undoubtedly, this is a bitter pill for those accustomed to the cliché that those who participated in the destruction of the Jews were barely a handful of people, the dregs and scum of society. Shooting and gassing were only the final stage in a complex, step-by-step process of genocide. Successful mass destruction involved an integrated process of dehumanization, which required logical and ideological preparation (anti-Semitic propaganda, or why is the Jew guilty?), a legal and administrative definition of the people to be destroyed (who is a Jew?), and the separation and concentration of the victims (where is the Jew’s place?). As can be seen from the documents presented here, the local organs of Lithuanian administration were drawn into this work quite successfully, and in some places local partisans and police officials outdid themselves in carrying out the wishes of the occupiers.

Recognizing this sad fact does not mean giving in to an image of Lithuanians as a nation of Jew-shooters and to the demagogy of collective guilt. Naturally, many Lithuanians feel defenseless in the face of these cruel facts and grasp at any means of psychological self-defense that are sometimes reminiscent of breaking down an open door. Yes, the Jewish genocide in Lithuania was organized and planned by the Third Reich, and it is clear that the Holocaust is unimaginable without the German Nazis and Hitler himself. Yes, there were also other Lithuanians, people of noble spirit, who rescued Jews (according to the latest data of the Vilna Jewish Museum, there were rather more of them than the small handful, often mentioned with bitterness). Yes, there were Jewish Communists (but who claims that all Jews are moral and all Lithuanians bad?). Finally, as every historian knows, in historical and personal testimonies, in the records of investigations, and especially in memoirs there occur inaccuracies, categorical assessments, and sometimes even vexing errors (all of which expand the areas of operation for those fond of apologetic dilettantism). The historian’s job is to explicate the sources, sometimes even to harmonize contradictory data. Of course, researchers themselves do not always agree in their assessment of events and the significance they give to them, all the more so because a phenomenon as complex as the Holocaust provides many opportunities for different scholarly interpretations (here, I do not mean the squalid exploitation of this subject or the opportunistic manipulation of facts). In all probability, disputes will continue for a long time about how many Lithuanians participated, how many Jews perished, the identity of the most important culprits, the motivations of the killers, etc. In a free civil society historiographical disputes like these are conducted with goodwill and in a civilized manner.

And yet no disputes about interpretations (or details) can deny the fact, as the poet Tomas Venclova has written, that “in late June 1941 Lithuanians, in the presence of a Lithuanian crowd, destroyed defenseless people and even that during the 20th century many nations, perhaps even all nations, did something similar. And I, as a Lithuanian, am obliged to speak about the guilt of my own people.”[1] However, the problem of Lithuanian participation in the Holocaust can also be approached objectively. Some will ask: were there many or few such Lithuanians? In attempting to answer this question, the historian Solomonas Atamukas acknowledged that correctly determining the number of culprits is hampered not only by the intricacies of arithmetic but also by the problem of defining guilt. Nevertheless, one must suppose that his conclusion is logically acceptable: “[T]he entire process of persecuting the Jews — pogroms, plundering, forcing into ghettos, guarding, relocating, marching-transporting, and shooting — involved thousands of local people. Although that was a tiny part of a population of roughly 2.7 million, it is at the same time a large number of people who committed crimes against humanity.”[2] But why on earth, as one can often hear the question, pick at the wounds of the past? Lithuanian society will hardly be able to climb out of the post-Soviet spiritual pit without assimilating into its consciousness the lessons of this tragedy, one so great that it is without precedent in modern history. It is precisely the Holocaust that shows us most clearly where race hatred, political demagogy based on ethnic stereotypes, a lack of tolerance, and disregard for moral and civic values lead.

The fact that part of society is already beginning to grasp the significance of the Holocaust as well as the need for openness to history in developing civic consciousness among the people of Lithuania, can be seen in the second volume of this book. This process received an important impulse from the documents presented here: the Pope’s reflections on the Shoah, the letter of contrition from the bishops of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, the critical research of Lithuanian scholars, and the statements of intellectuals. All of this shows that indifference is being overcome more and more often, as well as the fear that a critical look at the past will be understood as cosmopolitanism, and it seems that there is a growing determination to publicly condemn open and covert anti-Semitic attacks. These developments give hope that arguments denying manifest historical facts will continue to be marginalized both socially and intellectually and that people are beginning to grasp that the Holocaust is not only a Jewish concern. The tragedy that we call the Shoah was a horrible loss for all the people of Lithuania. What perished was Litvak culture, which had flourished for long centuries, a unique Lithuanian-Jewish civilization, which is mentioned with pride throughout the world. Its tragic death is reflected in the pages of this book.

Prof. Saulius Sužiedėlis

Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Member of the International Commission for the Evaluation

 of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania



  1. Tomas Venclova, “Žydai ir lietuviai,” in Lietuvos žydų žudynių byla, ed. Alfonsas Eidintas (Vilnius, 2001), p. 409.
  2. Solomon Atamuk, Lietuvos žydų kelias: Nuo XIV amžiaus iki XX a. pabaigos (Vilnius, 1998), p. 254.

Introduction to the first part of the Lithuanian edition

We often hear complaints that the Holocaust is being mentioned too much and too often, that the subject of the Jewish Catastrophe is simply being forced on educational and public institutions and on national society as a whole. And these things are said not only in Lithuania. At least in part, this phenomenon can be explained by human nature — the unwillingness to think, to speak, to assess cruel events of unprecedented scope in Lithuania, all the more so because many Lithuanians participated in these crimes. Undoubtedly, this response motivates hostility to reflections about the Jewish genocide. In addition, as the editor of this collection has noted, “the subject of the Jewish Catastrophe and everything connected with it was taboo during Soviet times.” One should, at the same time, emphasize that among postwar emigres the Holocaust (Shoah) was also enveloped in a thick fog of denial and oblivion, through which only occasionally there broke through a more sober, self-critical voice open to history, for example, during the discussion that took place at the Santara-Šviesa convention in 1978 (published in Akiračiai, 1978, nos. 9-10). Both in Lithuania and among emigres, this tendency toward indifference was further promoted by the image of Lithuanians as the victims of Soviet terror. If one accepts this view, it is difficult to acknowledge that one’s nation also contains some monstrously cruel criminals who do not necessarily belong to the so-called “dregs” of society.Published in 2001, the first volume of readings in Šoa (Holokaustas) Lietuvoje presented several historical sources and historical commentaries to help readers understand the course and scale of the mass killing and persecution of the Jews in 1941 during the German occupation. At the end of this collection, several documents were included that reflect the attitude of today’s Lithuanian Catholic Church toward the Holocaust. This second volume of readings draws attention to the discourse taking place in Lithuanian society on the subject of the Jewish Catastrophe. Let us understand that the Holocaust is not only history. Whether in a scholarly study or at a round-table discussion, a view of history is determined by a multitude of so-called contextual factors: the educational level of society, the openness of the educational system, the alignment of political forces, and — what is most important, perhaps — traditions of tolerance and democracy as well as the civic maturity of society.Unfortunately, Holocaust research in the post-Communist space encountered some unique problems that greatly complicated public discussion of the Jewish genocide. After the restoration of independence, as a counterbalance to the Soviet mentality, works published during the 1930s were often simply and quite uncritically reissued (this collection mentions Maceina’s Tauta ir valstybė [Nation and State] and Tarvydas’ Geopolitika [Geopolitics]). Lithuanians forgot that prewar ethical and scientific values (the principles of eugenics, for example, and the racial and national stereotypes that were prevalent in Europe at that time) had been rejected during the postwar decades by western democratic societies as unnecessary and even dangerous relics which must be renounced in order to avoid future genocides. It was understood that civic tolerance must be fostered, as well as intolerance toward manifestations of racism and anti-Semitism. One must acknowledge that during the postwar years this new spirit and understanding almost completely bypassed Lithuanian society. For a long time, both the people of Lithuania and the greater part of the older emigre generation remained cut off from developments in the West. The former suffered from Soviet censorship, and the latter remained secluded in their emigre cultural ghetto.

During this same period, a new understanding of the Holocaust as a unique genocide became established in the west. In the early postwar years, there did not exist any notable, exhaustive scholarly studies of the Jewish genocide, and even the concept of the Holocaust (Shoah) was still only taking shape. There was a shortage of qualified scholars. In public discourse, the victims of Nazism were often lumped together — Jews, Catholic priests, prisoners of war, etc. For a while, many (by no means all) Jewish survivors of the Holocaust kept silent; some were even ashamed of the image of the Jew as helpless victim. With difficulty, the state of Israel was being established.

Growing western interest in the Jewish Catastrophe can be traced back to the publication in 1961 of the American professor Raul Hilberg’s major work The Destruction of the European Jews. This was perhaps the first comprehensive study of such a scope which revealed the apparatus of destruction and the methodology of genocide as practiced by the Nazis and their collaborators. soon, there was an outpouring of numerous scholarly studies, films, and literary works on the subject of the Jewish Catastrophe. This growing abundance of material enabled people to understand that the Holocaust was not only mass killing, repressions, and unusual cruelty, but also constituted a unique historical tragedy, perhaps the only attempt by a developed and supposedly civilized Western state to totally destroy a nation by using the most modern technology of killing, while justifying this process with the supposedly scientific principles of a thorough and comprehensive political ideology. Not only the Germans but also all other nations with a Christian heritage had to confront the past and their consciences. Before the late 1970s, however, these processes had very little effect on the Lithuanian world.

The sudden loosening of censorship and the transition to Lithuanian freedom and independence coincided with a new openness to history. what was already familiar in the west, that is, an understanding of the Holocaust as a unique crime of global scale and the greatest degradation of the much-idolized high civilization of Europe, gradually penetrated Lithuanian academic society as well. However, because of the above-mentioned reasons, it was difficult for a Western understanding of the Holocaust to make headway. Discussions about Lithuanian involvement in the Holocaust came up against feelings of national defensiveness and the conviction of many Lithuanians that this confrontation with the historical events of 1941 was mainly instigated by world Jewry, that it was due as well to pressure from various Western institutions, perhaps even to intrigues from the secret services of unfriendly states. A Lithuanian scholar interested in the genocide of Lithuanian Jews was often regarded with suspicion. Some Lithuanians were convinced that raising the question of the Jewish genocide unnecessarily opened old wounds. Thus, it is no wonder that anti-Semitic myths re-emerged and thrived in the heads of some Lithuanians. Inevitably, public debates about the Holocaust in Lithuania became an important subject not only for historians but also for public figures, people active in culture, and politicians.

The reader of this volume will find interesting texts about the relationship of Lithuanians and Jews to their painful past. In addition to containing sections about people who rescued Jews and about the struggle of Lithuanian Jews against Nazism, this collection of readings can also be considered a kind of anthology of the discourse between Lithuanians and Jews about the Holocaust. These texts were written mainly during 1989-2001.

* * *

After leafing through this collection, many readers may ask: why on earth is it necessary to publish these polemics, various texts reflecting controversies that have been going on for years, that have even perhaps been forgotten, and, moreover, that people are tired of? Why is it not possible, once and for all, to thoroughly study this problem, publish the conclusions, and end this difficult dialog between Lithuanians and Jews? All that would be possible if the Holocaust were only history. But it is not. Let us remember that the Jewish genocide was the largest-scale massacre in the history of Lithuania. Never were so many people, citizens of the Lithuanian state, killed in such a short time. And for this reason, any discussion of the Holocaust cannot remain only in the sphere of scholarship. Our attitude toward the Jewish Catastrophe reflects the moral sensitivity of our society, the maturity of our civic consciousness, and our ability to objectively assess the crimes of our countrymen. In the simplest terms, when we speak about the Holocaust, we show ourselves and the world what we are.

The reader may notice that the authors of most of these texts are Lithuanians. Indeed, today’s critics of Lithuanian anti-Semitism are usually the older and younger generations of the liberal intelligentsia. One of the characteristic features of Lithuanian anti-Semitism is the so-called theory of the two genocides. No matter how much this theory is prettified and with what sophistication, it is in truth nothing other than an attempt to exonerate Lithuanian murderers on the basis of the principle “they did it to us, we did it to them” (see the texts about Jonas Mikelinskas’ “study”). In essence, this is an anti-human, anti-Christian, unjust, and immoral or, as Tomas Venclova put it, a “troglodytic” viewpoint (that is, one held by cavemen). It is precisely the thought that the Jews themselves are guilty for the Catastrophe which befell them that probably forms the essential ideological link in Lithuanian anti-Semitism. Sometimes this is expressed as an insinuation, and sometimes as a blunt retort. It is disquieting that most intellectuals and government officials continue to remain silent while such thoughts are being disseminated to the public, that these ideas have not yet been marginalized. It is vitally important, therefore, not to let the problem of the Holocaust (Shoah) out of our field of vision and to respond in a principled manner to every attempt to deny the Jewish Catastrophe or exonerate criminals with crude evasions or learned sophisms.

As an historical lesson, the Holocaust has painfully demonstrated to future generations what people can do when they have lost their spiritual equilibrium and sense of moral responsibility. Therefore, in the words of the German philosopher Karl Jaspers, who survived the Nazi epoch, the Jewish Catastrophe “should constantly be remembered. It was possible for this to happen, and it remains possible at all times. Only through knowledge can it be prevented.”

Prof. Saulius Sužiedėlis

Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Member of the International Commission for the Evaluation

of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania

 


  1. Introduction to the second volume of this publication in Lithuanian: Šoa (Holokaustas) Lietuvoje, v. 2 (Vilnius, 2004).

THE LAF AND THE FIRST ACTS OF THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT

Information about how the government institutions of the Nazi occupation in Lithuania – district commissars, the Security Police and Security Service, the offices of the military commandants – enthusiastically carried out the Nazi program for the extermination of the Jews is, in essence, not new. Therefore, most of the documents in this chapter are about the role of the LAF (Lithuanian Activist Front) and the collaboration of Lithuanian administrative bodies and the police with the Nazis in perpetrating the Shoah in Lithuania – matters that are almost unknown to the general public.

As indicated by the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania (Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras – LGGRTC) in a note to the Seimas of the Lithuanian Republic, “part of the LAF program drawn up in Berlin (mainly by Kazys Škirpa, Antanas Maceina, who was chairman of the ideological commission, and Antanas Valiukėnas) was notable for its anti-Jewishness. Its sixteenth article announced that: ‘The Lithuanian Activist Front revokes the hospitality accorded to the Jewish national minority in Lithuania,’ i.e. ‘proclaims it to be outside the bounds of the law.’”[1]

The appeals intended for Lithuania (and prepared mainly by Kazys Škirpa, who was leader of the LAF, and Bronys Raila, who was chairman of the propaganda commission) were saturated with National Socialist ideology and racist slurs concerning the Jews. The Jews were unconditionally identified with the Communists. They became the objects of appeals, posters, and caricatures full of the ugliest anti-Jewish insinuations, absurd accusations, and threats which spewed malice and hatred for the Jews.

That this agitation and propaganda reached Lithuania and that it was undoubtedly inspired by the LAF is even attested by the fact, indicated in the above-mentioned LGGRTC note to the Seimas of the Lithuanian Republic: “that the insurgents implemented the recommendation made in ‘Chapter VII: Carrying Out the Uprising’ of Instructions for the Liberation of Lithuania:

‘So that the Germans may distinguish the insurgents from the rest of the civilian population and not mistake them for armed local Communists, once the uprising has taken place, its participants shall put on their left arms white (cloth) bands with the letters T.D.A. (Tautinio darbo apsauga [National Work Guard]).’ White armbands were worn by most of the insurgents in various Lithuanian localities.[2]

Soon after the uprising, in a directive sent in July to the heads of districts and cities, to district boards and city mayors, the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Provisional Government, Jonas Šlepetys, gave instructions “to issue the appropriate decrees so that all literate partisans, riflemen… take pen in hand and describe the deportations of the people, the beginning of the war, the activities of the partisans, and the Communist-Bolshevik-Jewish terror [emphasis added].” As can be seen from this information, during the early days of the war an anti-Jewish mood was already dominant in some places, and violations of the elementary civil rights of Jews had begun. Naturally, this directive from a minister stirred up even greater anti-Jewish feeling and activity.

During the early days of the uprising in June 1941, efforts had already begun to re-establish the administrative apparatus that had functioned in Lithuania before the occupation, the organs of local government, and the police, all of which immediately became involved in the anti-Jewish actions being perpetrated by the Nazi occupational structures.

As soon as the Provisional Government began to function, it enacted the Declaration on Economic Affairs, which provided that Jewish property nationalized by the Soviets would “remain the property of the Lithuanian state,” i.e. that the Jews would lose their property in every branch of the people’s economy, that their bank accounts, securities, etc. would not be returned to them.

Soon the Provisional Government approved Regulations on the Status of the Jews, whose introduction is a collection of the most vicious stereotypical anti-Jewish accusations. According to this act, the Jews were placed outside the bounds of the law. They lost elementary civil rights, were forced to wear badges degrading to human dignity and honor, and – most importantly – were removed from where they lived and resettled “in separate places intended for this purpose.”

All of this was in complete accordance with the Nazi strategy for the extermination of the Jews. Robbed, deprived of their rights, and forced into ghettos, the Jews became easy prey for murderers.

The above-mentioned LGGRTC note to the Seimas of the Lithuanian Republic states:

“While the Provisional Government was in power, the Sonderkommandos of the German Security Service and Gestapo used the re-established local governments to implement most of the orders discriminating against the Jews and to begin the process of setting up ghettos, and they used their own forces and those of the TDA battalion to begin the mass destruction of the Jews (preparations for these actions also involved the local police and the heads of some districts, cities, and civil parishes).

By August 5, about 38,000 Jewish citizens of Lithuania had become victims of the Holocaust. Zenonas Ivinskis, who was responsible for relations with

German institutions, urged the Provisional Government to condemn these massacres, but that was not done. […]

It can be stated that during the entire six weeks of its existence the Provisional Government not only failed to prevent the destruction of the Jewish community in Lithuania but also did not make an official protest. On the contrary, provisions discriminating against the Jews were enacted in decrees concerning denationalization and the restitution of property. […] In its session of June 30, the Government approved the financing of the National Work Guard (Hilfspolizeidienst) battalion and did not take steps to stop this financing when some of the soldiers in this battalion were used in the mass killing of Jews. During this same session, the Government approved the setting up of a concentration camp… […]

The Provisional Government very quickly lost any real chance of controlling the situation in Lithuania… Nevertheless, the enactment of discriminatory laws, the establishment of concentration camps, and indifference to the destruction of the Jews (no public resolutions condemning these acts were adopted, and Lithuanian military units that participated in the Holocaust were not brought under control) encouraged, in the Lithuanian society of that time, anti-Semitic attitudes and the participation of individuals and groups in the Jewish Holocaust. All this had a direct and real influence on the fate of the people of Lithuania – both the perpetrators and the victims of the Jewish Holocaust.”

Joseph Levinson



[1]     Akiračiai, 2000, no. 9.

[2]      Loc. cit.

APPEALS DISTRIBUTED IN LITHUANIA BEFORE JUNE 22, 1941

Read and Pass On

AWAY WITH THE JEWS

[…] After centuries of slavery, OUR FELLOW LITHUANIAN, join the struggle for freedom. The hour of reckoning has come. Someone is on our side.

Let us wreak hundredfold vengeance on the Jews and Communists for shedding the innocent blood of our countrymen.

Enough of the Jews baking their matzos in Lithuanian blood. […]

OUR FELLOW LITHUANIANS, IF YOU ARE AMONG THE LIVING, JOIN THE STRUGGLE AGAINST JEWRY.

OUR FELLOW LITHUANIANS, LET US LIBERATE OUR FATHERLAND FROM ENSLAVEMENT BY THE JEWS.

LYA, f. K-1, ap. 58, b. 12949/3, vokas 63,1.17.

Read and Pass On

TO THE JUDASES OF LITHUANIA

[…] THE PEOPLE SEE YOUR TREASONABLE WORKS. At the hour of reckoning all degenerates, traitors, sellouts, Communists, and Jews will be repaid at the price they themselves have set. […]

Judases, your days are numbered. The final hours of enslavement by Jews and Bolsheviks are approaching.

After being ravaged and mauled by you, LITHUANIA IS READY TO RISE UP. Freedom will come to us over your corpses.

AWAY WITH THE JEWS, COMMUNISTS, AND LITHUANIAN JUDASES.

ALL HAIL AN INDEPENDENT NEW LITHUANIA.

THE SONS OF THE PEOPLE

LYA, f. K-1, ap. 58, b. 12949/3, vokas 63,1.15.

Read and Pass On

OUR FELLOW LITHUANIANS

[…] After centuries of enslavement to foreigners, OUR FELLOW LITHUANIAN, join the struggle for freedom. The hour of reckoning is coming with gigantic steps. Someone is on our side.

In one year the Jews and Communists have not yet managed to cut from our hearts the thirst for freedom. Let us pay the Jews back in kind – in blood. Let us not let them out of our sight so that not even one of them may escape. Let us not make any distinctions among them; all of them rejoiced during our days of woe.

Let us pull up by the roots for all time the most hateful parasite of our nation and our exploiter – the Jew.

Let us swear to wreak hundredfold vengeance on the Jews and Communists for shedding the innocent blood of our countrymen.

[…]

OUR FELLOW LITHUANIANS, if you are still among the living, COME FORWARD IN THE STRUGGLE AGAINST JEWRY.

OUR FELLOW LITHUANIANS, LET US LIBERATE OUR FATHERLAND FROM THE JEWS.

LONG LIVE INDEPENDENT LITHUANIA.

THE FIGHTERS

 LYA, f. K-1, ap. 58, b. 12949/3, vokas 63.

LITHUANIAN INFORMATION BUREAU IN BERLIN

FIGHT!

To our Countrymen in Occupied Lithuania

March 19, 1941

OUR BELOVED ENSLAVED BROTHERS!

The hour of liberation is approaching for Lithuania. The results of several months of our diligent work and of your suffering under Asiatic oppression are at hand. It is our duty to quickly announce and inform you about these matters:

[…]

2. As already mentioned, for Lithuania the hour of liberation is at hand. Once the campaign from the west has begun, you will be informed about it that very minute by radio or other means. At that point, in the towns, villages, and hamlets of occupied Lithuania local uprisings must take place, or more precisely put, the taking of the government into our own hands. Local Communists and other sorts of traitors to Lithuania must immediately be arrested so that not even one of them may avoid retribution for his actions.

3. We are sure that you are organizationally prepared; wherever preparations have not been made, organize into small secret groups. You have already learned that even among Lithuanians there are many traitors, so even at this fateful moment be very careful.

[…]

5. Once the actions have begun, occupy bridges, important railroad junctions, airfields, factories, etc. Do not destroy them, and do not let the Russians do so. They have great military and economic importance.

6. Inform the Jews today that their fate is sealed. Whoever can, therefore, let him get out of Lithuania in order to avoid unnecessary victims. At the decisive moment, take their property into your own hands in order to avoid unnecessary losses.

[…]

LITHUANIAN INFORMATION BUREAU

P.S. This announcement must, in spoken or written form, reach the most remote corners of Lithuania.

LMAB RS, f. R-54, l. 226.

Published in MŽL, part 1, pp. 49-50.

[No later than June 22, 1941]

OUR LITHUANIAN BROTHERS AND SISTERS![1]

[…] The fateful hour of final reckoning with the Jews has come. Lithuania must be liberated not only from Asiatic Bolshevik slavery but also from the age-old yoke of Jewry.

In the name of the entire Lithuanian nation, the Lithuanian Activist Front most solemnly declares:

[…]

1. The ancient right of refuge in Lithuania, granted to the Jews during the times of Vytautas the Great, is completely and finally revoked.

2. Every Lithuanian Jew without exception is hereby sternly warned to abandon the land of Lithuania without delay.

3. All those Jews who exceptionally distinguished themselves with actions of betraying the Lithuanian state and of persecuting, torturing, or abusing our Lithuanian countrymen will be separately held accountable and receive the appropriate punishment. If it should become clear that at the fateful hour of reckoning and of Lithuanian rebirth especially guilty Jews are finding opportunities to escape somewhere in secret, it will be the duty of all honorable Lithuanians to take their own measures to apprehend such Jews and, if necessary, carry out the punishment.

[…]

The new Lithuanian state will be restored through the efforts, work, hearts, and wisdom of the people of the Lithuanian nation itself. The Jews are to be expelled completely and for all time. If any one of them should dare to believe that in the new Lithuania he will nevertheless find a refuge of sorts, let him learn today the irrevocable judgment on the Jews: in the newly restored Lithuania not even one Jew will have either the rights of citizenship or the means of earning a living. In this way, we will rectify past mistakes and repay Jewish villainy. In this way, we will lay a strong foundation for the happy future and creative work of our Aryan nation.

Thus, let us all prepare for struggle and victory – for the freedom of the Lithuanian nation, for the cleansing of the Lithuanian nation, for an independent Lithuanian state, for a bright and happy future.

THE LITHUANIAN ACTIVIST FRONT

LCVA, f. 1398, ap. 1, b. 1, l. 102-104. A copy.

Published in MŽL, part 1, pp. 50-51.



[1] From an appeal issued in Berlin.

A DECREE ON THE COLLECTION OF DOCUMENTARY MATERIAL ABOUT THE ACTIVITIES OF THE PARTISANS

A Directive from the Minister of Internal Affairs to the Heads of Districts and Towns, to District Boards and Town Mayors About the Collection of Material About the Activities of the Partisans

Kaunas, July 1941

L. R. Ministry of Internal Affairs

Kaunas, July 1941

Received by the Precinct of Dusetos

July 14, 1941, No. 55

TO THE HEADS OF DISTRICTS AND TOWNS, TO DISTRICT BOARDS AND TOWN MAYORS

DIRECTIVE

Since June 22, partisans, riflemen, and other more active and conscious Lithuanians have carried out rather significant campaigns in various parts of Lithuania, have fought hard against the Bolshevik terror, against Communist-Jewish excesses [emphasis added - J. L.] and the executions of our unarmed population. […]

All these campaigns are extremely significant for the Lithuanian nation, and so that they may not pass into oblivion, we must undertake to record them, to collect all the material that relates to the bloody terror of the Bolsheviks and the campaigns of the partisan riflemen against them.

Therefore, I ask the heads of districts and towns, district boards and town mayors to issue the appropriate decrees in order to extensively inform all literate partisans, riflemen, teachers, local and other civil servants that they should take pen in hand and, in every place, describe the events since June 13 of this year – the deportations of our population, the beginning of the war, the activities of the partisans, the Communist-Bolshevik-Jewish terror – giving the precise names of the civilian victims [emphasis added - J. L.]. […]

Jonas Šlepetys

(signature)

Minister of Internal Affairs

LCVA, f. R-1106, ap. 2, b. 18, l. 263. Original typescript.

Published in 1941 m. birželio sukilimas, pp. 28-29.