THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Opinion: Darius Udrys
If there’s one thing civilized people should all be able to agree upon, one would think that it would be not to make heroes out of Nazi collaborators. Yet here in Lithuania we are about to witness just such a moral travesty.
Somebody apparently decided it would be a good idea to move the remains of Juozas Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis, acting prime minister of Lithuania during the first months of the Nazi occupation, from the United States to Lithuania. Buried previously in Putnam, Connecticut, he has been exhumed and will be reinterred in Kaunas this Sunday with as much fanfare as can be mustered among the clueless and the callous.
Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis is no hero. As prime minister he took responsibility over the short-lived Provisional Government that sprang up in 1941 as the Germans pushed the Soviets out of Lithuania. That government was formed by an organization in collusion with German authorities from the start—the infamous Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF).
The LAF hoped to take advantage of the German advance to restore some semblance of Lithuanian independence and, as stated in one of its publications, “carry out an immediate and fundamental purging of the Lithuanian nation and its land of Jews.” Lithuania’s own International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania puts it plainly: "The anti-Semitic views of the Provisional Government and the Lithuanian Activist Front are well-documented.”
The Provisional Government (PG) was populated with officials who sympathized with the Nazi worldview. Historian Saulius Suziedelis notes in particular its “public alignment with the Reich” and “its fawning rhetoric of gratitude to Hitler and ‘Greater Germany’.” Even worse: according to Suziedelis, newly discovered protocols of PG cabinet meetings make plain that “while it had no plan to kill the Jews en masse, it was ready to enact anti-Jewish economic measures modeled on the Third Reich's infamous Nuremberg Laws of the 1930s.”
Those Lithuanians who glorify the PG and the anti-Soviet uprising that spawned it go to great lengths to downplay its association with the Nazis. This contributes to a general lack of understanding among ordinary Lithuanians of what went on during that period and who was responsible.
When pressed, PG apologists excuse the Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis government by claiming that it only collaborated with the Nazis pragmatically and for noble reasons (to restore Lithuania’s sovereignty), that not every member of the LAF sympathized with the hard-line views of the Berlin leadership, that the PG “self-disbanded” as soon as it realized it would be no more than a Nazi puppet, and, anyway, there was nothing the PG could have done to prevent the Holocaust. Some have gone so far as to suggest that when the LAF instructed Jews to “get out of Lithuania,” perhaps it was simply warning them to take measures to protect themselves. Needless to say, this flies in the face of copious evidence in the LAF’s own words that its aims were far more sinister.
Whatever the moral casuistry, the bottom line is that there is no reasonable way to decouple the Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis government from the words and deeds of the LAF and the Nazis. The Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis government never publicly distanced itself from the killings of Lithuania’s Jewish citizens and signed off on orders approving their dispossession, isolation, and other measures that facilitated the Holocaust.
All of this notwithstanding, and for reasons impossible to comprehend, the Government of Lithuania as well as the Mayor of Kaunas Andrius Kupcinskas and Archbishop of Kaunas Sigitas Tamkevicius have lent their support to this week’s ill-conceived commemoration of Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis’s legacy. The Government provided 30,000 Litas or about $11,000 in funding for the reburial and the Mayor is head of the organizational committee. Archbishop Tamkevicius had particularly warm words for Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis, who will be reinterred in a place of honor at the Church of the Resurrection of Christ—this from the same ecclesiastical leadership that refused former Lithuanian prime minister Algirdas Brazauskas a Catholic burial because, according to Archbishop Tamkevicius, he showed no remorse for his communist past.
This is not only deeply hurtful and offensive to the families and the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, many of which were rounded up and murdered by LAF activists. To allow this travesty to proceed gravely compromises our country morally and confirms the already widespread perception that Lithuania is unwilling to face its own history honestly and sincerely.
Whether or not one holds Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis responsible for what was perpetrated under his Provisional Government, it does no one a service to hold up as a hero a man who utterly failed the test of a good leader: standing up for what is right and for the innocent.
Someone should have had the wisdom and the courage to say no to the request for public funding and support for this reburial when it was first made. The Government, Mayor of Kaunas and the Catholic Church should cancel and publicly distance themselves from any events resembling a commemoration of Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis’s legacy.
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