Origins of the Holocaust in Lithuania

Andrius Kulikauskas's picture

Greetings from Lithuania!

I share an article which I published at Dovid Katz's website, "How Did Lithuanians Wrong Litvaks?"

It's my English translation of an extended version of a talk that I gave in Lithuanian at the conference "Litvak Culture in Lithuania and Beyond" on December 11, 2014 at the Lithuanian Culture Research Institute in Vilnius.

I investigate the extent of Lithuanian responsibility for the Holocaust, but especially, the indiscriminate murder of roughly 80,000 Jews in Kaunas and the shtetls of Lithuania in 1941 as documented by the Jaeger report. The murder of women, children and the elderly was well under way even before September 1941, when Hitler made his decision to annihilate the Jews in his dominion, according to Christopher Browning.

The arrest of these Jews was organized by Vytautas Reivytis, the head of Lithuania's security police. This was undoubtedly done in the name of Lithuania, as otherwise large numbers of Jews would have been allowed to escape. Vytautas Reivytis was installed after the July 23, 1941 coup organized by the Voldemarists and their Lithuanian Nationalist Party. This coup was nominally against Lithuania's Provisional Government, which Nazi Germany never recognized. The real purpose was to replace Jurgis Bobelis, the Kaunas military commandant and leader of Lithuania's forces, some 1,000 people. He had allowed the Voldemarist officers and their two companies to execute 3,000 Jews at Kaunas VII fort on July 4-6 as ordered by Karl Jaeger. And yet Jurgis Bobelis freed some 60 Jewish veterans, and then put an end to the killings. The killings took off two weeks later after the Voldemarists overthrew him.

I have collected hundreds of documents from Lithuania's archives, memoirs, newspapers and others sources which point to the following conspiracies:
* Lithuania's representative in Berlin, Kazys Skirpa, promoted ethnic cleansing, the "scaring away" of Lithuania's Jews, as part of his plans for the Lithuanian Activist Front, Lithuania's rebellion at the outbreak of an upcoming Nazi-Soviet war. He first proposed this in July, 1940 to Peter Kleist and his goal of ethnic cleansing appears in a variety of documents, the originals of which are at the Library of Lithuania's Academy of Sciences. It seems clear that Skirpa proposed "ethnic cleansing" to the Germans and not the other way around. Skirpa depended on the Voldemarists who shared his position that neutrality had failed Lithuania, that Lithuania should ally itself with Germany of even be a part of it, and that Lithuania could gain Germany's respect by freeing itself of Jews.
* The Voldemarists parted ways with Kazys Skirpa in March, 1941 because of his insistence that Lithuania declare independence despite Germany having forbidden this. Skirpa thought that Germany would respect such audacity, whereas the Voldemarists believed it would infuriate Germany. Also, Skirpa held to LAF philosopher Antanas Maceina's concept of "Catholic morality" and the command "Thou shalt not kill", whereas the Voldemarists dismissed this as impractical. Jonas Pyragius made a personal vow to wage a war against Bolshevism (a war against Jews) in August 1940 and led the Voldemarists (in the refugee camp in Gleisgarben, Prussia) in writing a letter on August 23, 1940 to Skirpa asking him to lead a war against Bolshevism (=Jews) which made no mention of restoring Lithuania's independence. On June 14/15, 1941, the Voldemarists gave to the Germans a draft of their program in which "Jews are deleted from life".
* The Voldemarists and the Lithuanian Activist Front acted independently of the Nazi Germans. They avoided the Nazi agent Pranas Germantas-Meskauskas. He is the initiator of the June 1939 proposal to Heydrich asking for 100,000 LTL to organize a "Voldemarist" coup in Lithuania along with pogroms against Jews (I believe in the spirit of Kristalnacht).
* President Antanas Smetona grew concerned at the flight of Lithuania's capital when wealthy Jews started to emigrate to Palestine. As he later recounted in 1943 at the Cleveland Jewish Center, he had talked this over with the wealthy Jews and they had agreed that instead they would encourage poor Jews to emigrate. Heydrich approved of this trend, as he remarked in his dismissal of Germantas's proposal.

In summary, patriotic Lithuanians who were dismayed by the acceptance of Soviet occupation and annexation of Lithuania, and who believed that Lithuania should instead ally itself with Nazi Germany, tried to ingratiate themselves by planning and executing a "war on Jews". They were taken surprise by the declaration of Lithuania's independence by LAF in Kaunas. Several thousand Jews arrested by LAF activists (in response to Skirpa's propaganda) were yet available to be executed by Voldemarists on the orders of the SS Einsatzkommando (which had but 120 personnel for all of Lithuania). Jurgis Bobelis stopped the killings for the remainder of his tenure with the support of the German commandant of Kaunas, Pohl. Cramer, Engels and other German officers also acted against the killings. Even Jaeger objected to the Voldemarist coup, which however led directly to the renewed killing of Lithuania's Jews. Thus it is possible that without the initiative of the Voldemarists in Lithuania, the Nazi Germans might have thought it not feasible (or even desirable) to annihilate entire Jewish populations, and would have continued the policies they had in place in Nazi-occupied Poland.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have presented my research to the Litvak community. They are likewise grateful for my work. I have been touch with the leading Lithuanian historians including Arunas Bubnys, Saulius Suziedelis, Vygantas Vareikis, Liudas Truska whose important work has guided me to conclusions that go beyond what they may have imagined. In private, they have been supportive of my work. In public, Lithuanians have so far been silent.

My original concern was to understand the scope of Lithuanian responsibility. This grew out of online discussion with Grant Gochin. Ultimately, I developed a theory of moral responsibility which allowed me to zone in on those (such as Jonas Pyragius, Richard Schweizer, and Vytautas Reivytis) who personally wished for, and even risked all they had to develop and achieve their goal of killing off all of Lithuania's Jews, including women, children and the elderly. These people had a variety of moral pathologies, but overall, they were people of remarkable achievement, of strong character, idealistic and principled, and not in any way "dregs of society".

I have made the moral point, which has satisfied my Litvak readers, the few who remain. As for the future, I do wish for a renewed friendship, respect and even love between Lithuanians and Litvaks. Currently, the main problem is that Litvaks are going extinct. There are only 3,000 Jews in Lithuania and only half have roots here. Most of them are quite elderly. There are about 10,000 Litvaks in Israel, and I don't know how many in the US and South Africa. Litvak culture is based on a dialect of Yiddish as well as a long history and identity with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. I have spoken with Dovid Katz that it is possible, in theory, that Lithuanians could help respect, absorb and sustain Yiddish culture until there might come a time when Litvak descendants or others might revive the culture, certainly if they feel welcome in Lithuania.

Lithuanians are also going extinct, if we look at the big picture. We have joined the European Union, NATO and the eurozone, and we have a thriving cultural scene, but demographically we have lost about 15% of our population due to emigration since 1990, and deaths outnumber births. We need to look honestly at our past so that we could talk meaningfully about our future. Litvaks have impacted world culture in many ways that Lithuanians have not. There is a lot that we might claim, for likewise, I believe that Litvaks have drawn a lot from Lithuanian culture, perhaps even such renowned traits as rationality, down-to-earth, philosophical thinking and even tolerance.

I have opened the door to a lot of potential research. I have made photographs of some 25,000 pages. I could explain what could be found in which Lithuanian sources. I do not know Russian or German but could point to sources in these languages. Also, there are still people alive who probably have relevant knowledge, first-hand or second-hand, including Benediktas Vytenis Maciuika, Valdas Adamkus, Aleksandras Bendinskas and Viktoras Asmenskas.


Andrius Kulikauskas
Eičiūnai, Lithuania (near Butrimonys)
+370 607 27 665
skype: minciusodas