In May 2012, the Lithuanian government organized and supported the solemn reburial of Juozas Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis, prime minister of the Provisional Government (PG) of Lithuania. This short-lived cabinet restored Lithuania’s independence in 1941, yet it did not last long, although Ambrazevicius and his colleagues did their utmost to please Nazi Germany. The cabinet itself was the outcome of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), which voiced an anti-semitic agenda on the very first day of the June 1941 Uprising and which envisaged Lithuania as a Jew-free country.
The trouble is that Juozas Ambrazevicius, whether we like it or not, was a Nazi puppet head of Lithuania. The adoption of the disgraceful pro-Nazi and anti-semitic legislation, which excluded Lithuanian Jews from their fellow citizens of Lithuania and paved the way for their robberies and massacres, cast a shadow over the whole heroic narrative of postwar Lithuania.
Another trouble is that the Jews appear in this tale as some sort of obstacle, hindrance, an annoying detail appearing in the wrong place, disallowing the construction of the heroic narrative of Lithuania and her aspirations to freedom. It is simply disappointing that they appear there. After all, History itself is against the Jews. The great military and political power coming after the (first) brutal Soviet occupation, then the sole power able to liberate Lithuania and restore her independence, left the Jews no chances for survival and even threatened to turn upon us if we hindered their plans.
One must choose: (a) to separate from oneself a portion of the citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, to place them outside the category of citizens, to approve Germany’s Nuremburg laws on the seizure of Jewish property and their separation from other citizens, to renounce them as citizens, in no way to associate the justice system and the entire state with them and, finally, to give them over for destruction; or (b) to act the way the King of Denmark did, refusing to separate the Jews from other citizens and the state, and therefore to wear upon one’s breast, as the King did, the Jewish Star of David – even if it was something out of the Italian proverb Se non e vero, e ben trovato (Even if it’s not true, it’s well conceived).
There is no third way. Either you give up some of your citizens for humiliation, robbery and death, or you protect them in the same way you would protect all of your other citizens, without regard to their origins and views. That’s all. Full stop. No compromise is possible in this ethical and political situation. Unless, of course, you want to say that not all people have the same right to life, but then that’s a concept of the Nazis. The theory that there are those unworthy of life laid the foundations for the adiaphorization of the consciousness of Europe.
Or, one can claim (as is often done in Lithuania) that, allegedly, one must act cleverly with Satan, i.e., with the Nazis, for the sake of a noble goal: the restoration of Lithuanian independence. For now let’s leave for the interpreters of Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky the question of whether it is allowable to sacrifice for the sake of the state the lives of those less worthy to live, or the life of even one innocent person (unless that person chooses to lay down his life for his country, but in that case this is his own free decision, not a matter for military bureaucrats and their social engineering), and let’s instead ask if a political elite who turn over some of their citizens for annihilation, or merely place them outside the category of human beings, are heroes, or whether they are traitors to their state and its citizens.
Lithuania’s real tragedy was that it was liberated by the Soviets instead of the British or Americans: after the first horrible trauma and degradation of Lithuania, when not a single shot was fired in reply to occupation, and after the attempt to wash away this shame with one’s own blood and the blood of others, the second historical blow hit Lithuania. If Lithuania hadn’t been “saved” by the Soviets, but instead liberated by the West, the political elite of democratic Lithuania would have tried the Provisional Government and the Lithuanian Activist Front as Nazi collaborators and traitors. This needs to be said and understood once and for all.
There is no doubt that the documents of the LAF and PG would be found to be proof of criminality. They would be interpreted as treason against the Republic of Lithuania, including Leonas Prapuolenis’ address in the name of the LAF over the Kaunas “Radiofonas” radio station in which he clearly stated the need to get rid of Jews, to cleanse Lithuania of them and (in a passage worthy of Goebbels) to rescind the rights of settlement that Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas the Great granted to Jews because of their treason against, and lack of loyalty to, Lithuania.
This did not happen, of course, and so Lithuania is still trying to battle against her historical humiliation, and this is characterized by the thinking that everything that is against the Soviets and the entire Soviet past is in and of itself good. It isn’t. This idea of “heroes by default,” heroes resulting from omissions from the historic record, or more precisely the suppression of history, sooner or later must come into conflict with both the West’s political-historical narrative of the Holocaust and with Lithuania’s own prominent personalities, with their courage, nobility and conscience.
Who needs heroes? Happy are those individuals and nations that have their heroes? Or unhappy and troubled are those who need them at any cost?
Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D., is a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament.
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