The Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania (hereinafter Genocide Center) makes a number of controversial claims in their historical finding on Jonas Noreika (see http://genocid.lt/UserFiles/File/Titulinis/2019/20190327_noreika.pdf ). One occurs in the chapter called “A Different Nazi Occupational Regime Operated in Lithuania Compared to Other European Countries [Lietuvoje veikė kitoks nacių okupacinis režimas, nei kitose Europos šalyse]:
“During the June Uprising of 1941 and after fully restoring the governance system which had existed in independent Lithuania, Lithuanians operated against the Germans’ will, their objective being to serve Lithuania rather than the Third Reich.” Genocide Center historians derive this “objective” from post-war memoirs.
This assertion is interesting and difficult to confirm. In the documents preserved in the archives, this “objective” isn’t emphasized. On the contrary, the goal of standing with Germany is emphasized, based on orders from German officials. The Provisional Government strived to harmonize their directives with orders from German officials. These constitute a rather tendentious historical source. Insurgents in the June Uprising and Lithuanian government figures tended to make their motives appear more noble than they were. Moreover, these propaganda specialists who lionize the murderers use the category “unreliable source” to which they assign all testimonies and memoirs which don’t correspond to the narrative they want. A well-known example of this is the rejection of the testimony of A. Pakalniškis regarding Noreika’s involvement in the mass murder of Jews in Plungė. His testimony, written and published in Pakalniškis’s books the West, is rejected simply because it does not fit the narrative selected by the historians of Lithuania’s Genocide Center.
There is another source, however, which Lithuanian historians rarely employ, namely, diaries. Many people kept diaries in the mid-20th century. Even during the Holocaust as thousands of people living next to them were being murdered, the human individual’s need to record their thoughts on a daily basis continued. Today, after more than 80 years since these events, these texts continue to document those horrific times. They are valuable, especially when it’s possible to cross-reference the thoughts and testimonies of people who found themselves in different and even opposing situations.
Sadly, many of the diaries remain unread. And those which have been published as books are read only rarely, and even more rarely are they compared to one another. This sort of cross-referencing offers us a good opportunity to reconstruct the facts of history and insight into the positions of different groups of people.
We propose comparing two people’s diaries. One is Zenonas Blynas (1908-1946), the secretary-general of the Lithuanian Nationalist Party. Before the first Soviet occupation in 1940, he worked at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, spoke Italian and promoted Italian fascism. The Voldemarists who came together to form the Lithuanian Nationalist Party criticized the Provisional Government of 1941 for insufficient collaboration with the Nazis, and organized a coup against the Lithuanian Kaunas kommandatura and the Provisional Government’s Foreign Ministry for at end of July, 1941. Many of the LNP’s party activists were actively engaged in Holocaust crimes. Blynas’s diary was published in Lithuanian under the title “Karo metų dienoraštis 1941-1944” [War-Time Diary, 1941-1944] [Karo metų dienoraštis 1941-1944] in Vilnius in 2007.
The other diarist is Hermann Kruk (1897-1944), a Bund activist and librarian who worked during the Holocaust as secretary for the Vilnius ghetto Judenrat and as the librarian of the Vilnius ghetto library. His diary was published in Lithuanian as “Paskutinės Lietuvos Jeruzalės dienos” [Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania] in Vilnius in 2004.
Both men were in Vilnius in early July of 1941. Both were murdered. Kruk was killed at an Estonian concentration camp after the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto. Blynas was sentenced to death by a Soviet court and was executed in Arkhangelsk in 1946. It’s surprising how differently they describe the looting of Jewish property and the capture of Jews in entries for early July, 1941:
“The street is screaming. During the night-time raids they took everything they could carry, took the men away and beat them fatally. The people whose homes were invaded began screaming. Soon the neighbors did likewise and this baleful screaming passed from neighbor to neighbor, from courtyard to courtyard. It often seemed the entire street was screaming.”
“There have been two such incidents over the past 24 hours. In one, people were captured on Šv. Stepono street around 4 o’clock in the morning. The other incident took place at 7 o’clock in the morning when they captured the residents of Šopeno street no. 4. In fact this screaming spread everywhere, and the louder the yelling, the more it irritated the kidnappers and drove them out of their minds” (p. 54 in the Lithuanian translation of the Kruk diary).
So what did Zenonas Blynas make of this wailing? On July 10 he wrote:
“V. Lukauskas ‘bought’ a large carpet for 50 rubles the other day. Did it come from an apartment… abandoned by Jews?
“Now he has brought in a table and two sofas, in the old style, also from Jewish apartments. Probably from the apartments of the Jews who fled. Probably a gift for Buska-Jesaitis.”
“I wonder who much Lukauskas ‘paid’ for all of that? Apparently no one is selling the property of the Jews who fled and it’s supposed to be property of the state.”
Blynas’s entry for July 11 is more specific:
“So Lukauskas (a public servant at the Communal Utilities Ministry and the new director of some sort of communal transportation or something) brought home last night, as Jesaitis and I calculated:
1-6. Empire-style sofa for three people, five chairs all with ‘copper lines’ and green silk padding, worth (at a minimum): 500 litas
- An Empire table with ‘copper’ lines and red polished surface, worth about 200 litas (the table had a card on top with the number 242)
- Sofa (seating 2.5 people), frames and mattress (a card was attached underneath with a number and the name Sara Girki (or Gitkin) and an address I don’t remember), worth about 500 litas.
- Large round table, massive, worth about 200 litas
- Woven carpet about 31 square meters. Calculating at 150 litas per square meter, worth about 4,650 litas.
- Rug on sofa, red, about 3.5 X 2.5 meters, about 9 square meters, at 150 litas per meter worth about 1.350 litas.
- Carpet (for which he said he paid 50 roubles), about 1.2 X 2.2 meters, or about 3 square meters, worth about 400 litas
Total: about 7,800 litas.
“So, property taken from some storehouse (since the furniture had numbers) or from a Jewish apartment was worth nearly 8,000 litas. Not a bad catch, Lukauskas. He said he’s bringing more stuff home. He’s from the Communal Utilities, some sort of director of transportation” (pp. 59-60 in Blynas’s diary).
The diaries portray the terror of early July, 1941. It’s difficult to say whether the Lithuanian regime described in the diaries really differed from Nazi regimes “in other countries.” What really comes to mind is the pogroms. From Blynas’s diary it becomes clear Jewish property was looted, not for the benefit of the Third Reich, but also not with Lithuania in mind. These people only seemed to find time to talk about a free Lithuania after the property had been divided up, and when they needed to justify their own actions. At the onset of the Nazi occupation, however, Blynas’s sort of “nationally conscious” Lithuanians, even if they didn’t kill, seized the property of the Jews who were killed and sent to ghettos, and competed for posts in government service. The Jews had a different agenda: they sought only to survive.
Efforts today by institutions of the Republic of Lithuania to lionize the murderers and thieves belittle the struggle of those who simply tried to survive. The various decorations and commemorative symbols bestowed on “the insurgents” truly show how little Lithuanian politicians value human life and the memory of those so brutally and horrifically murdered.
This article was co-authored by Evaldas Balčiūnas and Grant Gochin.