With great civic and religious fanfare, the Government of Lithuania re-buried the remains of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas on October 6, 2018. Russia impolitely noted that Vanagas was, (to state it mildly), a human rights violator, which was predictably denied by Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This is yet the latest example of the conflicts that continually arise when Lithuania’s carefully contrived historical narrative of the country’s Second World War history is examined in the disinfecting light of historical fact. In the summer and fall of 1941, nearly 200,000 Jews in Lithuania were gruesomely butchered, in nearly all instances by ethnic Lithuanians. As a result, many regard Lithuania as a vast crime scene, with the crucial difference being that the sovereign republic of Lithuania has never punished a single Lithuanian for war crimes against its own Jewish citizens. Instead, Lithuania has engaged in the behavior pattern typical of criminal and sexual perpetrators – seeking to avoid accountability. Sociologists have an apt acronym for this pattern, “DARVO,” which stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.”
The chief curator of the Lithuania’s DARVO strategy is the so-called “Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania,” which engages in logic-defying semantical acrobatics not only to absolve the culpability of the Lithuanians who plundered, raped, tortured, and murdered Jews, but also to transform them into gallant martyrs.
The Lithuanian pantheon of heroes includes Kazys Škirpa, the architect of the Holocaust in Lithuania (who was also reburied with national honors), and many of those who created and implemented the program to segregate the Jews, plunder their property, and ultimately murder them, such as Jonas Noreika, Juozas Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis (another who was also re-buried with national honors), Izidorius Pucevicius, Antanas Baltusis-Zvejas, Povilas Plechavicius, Krikstaponis, and so many more. Whenever the fable spun around such a hero is confronted by the inconvenient historical facts of the individual’s depravity, the matter is usually referred to the “Genocide Centre” and its reserve of revisionist historians to craft a plausible prevarication.
The mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust did not begin in 1939, when Hitler and Stalin divided up Eastern Europe. The mass murder did not begin in 1940 – Even though the Nazis held an absolute grip on the western half of Poland, it did not engage in a program of murdering the more than one million Jews who lived there. The mass murders began in Lithuania, in 1941, and were perpetrated by ethnic Lithuanians themselves. Moreover, the mass murders were not conducted in remote locations but close to the towns into which the Lithuanians herded the Jews and held them temporarily until execution.
And the murders were quite public: There are many accounts of Lithuanians who came to watch and distribute the clothing and other belongings taken from the victims. In some cases, the proceedings concluded with the singing of patriotic Lithuanian songs. Lithuanians showed the Nazis that some societies would have no moral compunction about slaughtering tens of thousands of Jews. These are historical facts and they have been known in the West for decades.
Unlike the Germans, who were forced by the Allies to confront their history and objectively evaluate those whom the Nazis had made into heroes, no such reckoning has occurred in Lithuania. Begrudgingly, Lithuanians will publicly express “regret” that Jews died but will not hold Lithuanian perpetrators to account, be they dead or alive. Privately, they cling to the notion that they, rather than the Jews, were the victims.
This perceived victimization is an essential component of Lithuania’s contemporary view of “patriotism,” which in reality is,, little more than deep-seated ethnic nationalism. Indeed, it is not much different than the pro-Nazi ideology espoused by the Lithuanians who enthusiastically slaughtered most of the country’s Jews in 1941. An editorial in the Lithuanian press in the Fall of 1941, for example, called for “racially based patriotism,” racial consciousness, and Aryanism.
Lithuania wants to be seen in the West as a country that embraces the values of Western civilization. However, the country’s refusal to credibly and comprehensively study, acknowledge, and come to terms with the Holocaust leaves many in the West with the understandable impression that the country supports the willful denial and obfuscation of historical facts, and that this denial is a statement of the moral values of contemporary Lithuanians.
Lithuanians are aware of this Western perception of them and have adopted several strategies to avoid confronting the truth. One popular psychological salve is a book published by the Genocide Centre entitled, “Mes nežudėme” (“We did not kill”), which argues that modern Lithuanians should not be held to account for their ignorance of the actions of their parents and grandparents. This, of course, side-steps the question of whether contemporary Lithuanians should be held accountable for failing to acknowledge the truth about the Holocaust in Lithuania.
Another salve is a relentless quest for anecdotes about ethnic Lithuanians who might plausibly be characterized as rescuers of Jews. This campaign seeks to mitigate the otherwise harsh reality that the perpetrators were not the “dregs of society” but everyday Lithuanians from all walks of life who eagerly participated in killing their Jewish neighbors. As one Lithuanian historian noted, in the context of the Lithuanians who were part of paramilitary forces supporting the Nazis in June 1941, the “main organizers and future participants” were members of the “Riflemen’s Association (Šaulių sąjunga), … [and] officers and non-commissioned officers of the Lithuanian army, policemen, local government officials, teachers and patriotically inclined farmers.” Lithuanian-American historian Saulius Sužiedelis candidly observed in his 2001 article, “The Burden of 1941,” that the units that perpetrated the mass murder of the Jews in Lithuania “were not manned by Martians: these were young Lithuanian men who had been raised in a country which was, after all, predominantly Catholic and oriented towards the West. (Of course, many Nazis came from a similar culture.)”
And, consistent with the “reverse victims and offender” component of the DARVO strategy, the Genocide Centre usually understands the term “genocide” to refer to Soviet efforts to repress ethnic Lithuanians, an outlook that has been specifically rejected by the European Court of Human Rights.
Finally, there is the constant assertion that any fact about the Holocaust must have been “invented” by someone who “hates” Lithuania. Professor Sužiedelis, who found the original first person evidence of the actions of the perpetrators in archives and libraries in Lithuania and elsewhere, recognized that notwithstanding the historical facts about these individuals, there would always be those who would simply refuse to accept those facts. In his 2001 article he wrote that those who doubt the genocidal program of Lithuania’s 1941 leaders “should go to the archives and read the material themselves. Obviously, some will continue to live in the never-never land of denial and fantasy, charging that these negative traits of the anti-Soviet resistance are based on Communist fabrications.” And so, it was natural, in 2018, that when historians broached Vanagas’ possible inglorious past, Lithuanian nationalists preferred to dismiss such charges as being “fabricated” rather than attempt to honestly examine the individual’s culpability for war crimes.
There is no indication that the pattern of denial, attack, and reverse-victimization will be replaced by a program of truth and reconciliation. The country’s “Genocide Museum” continues to magnify the Soviet actions in repressing Lithuanians (including prosecution of Holocaust perpetrators) and to largely ignore the only genocide that ever occurred on Lithuanian soil.
This is, of course, an on-going public relations problem for Lithuania, which desperately wants U.S. military power to protect Lithuania from Russia’s centuries-old desire to occupy Lithuania. And so it falls upon Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to publicly contradict those outside the country who note that its Nazi-era heroes were deeply involved in planning and implementing the Holocaust. The Ministry’s efforts, however will be largely ineffective since Lithuania cannot control the information about its history that is widely known outside of the country. Americans are ethically diverse and would find little in common with the “racially conscious” nationalism of modern Lithuania. If Lithuania wants to be better accepted by the West in the future, there first must be a fundamental change within Lithuania regarding its past.
In 1770, future American president John Adams famously noted that “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Lithuania cannot reasonably expect to be accepted as Western-oriented state worthy of the support of Western nations so long as it denies, and fails to come to terms with, the role of Lithuanians in the Holocaust.