Lithuanian Activist Front

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Lithuanian Activist Front or LAF (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Aktyvistų Frontas) was a short-lived resistance organization established in 1940 after Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. The goal of the organization was to liberate Lithuania and re-establish its independence. It planned and executed the June Uprising and established the short-lived Provisional Government of Lithuania. The Government self-disbanded and LAF was banned by Nazi authorities in September 1941. LAF remains controversial due to the part of its members anti-Semitic and anti-Polish views, however the Provisional Government that was formed by LAF and other high-ranking Lithuanian officials related with LAF, including President Kazys Grinius and Bishop Vincentas Brizgys, actively tried to protest against the Nazis' Holocaust activity and protect the Jewish population at their power, which was sadly very limited after the German occupation of Lithuania during World War II.[1][2][3]

Under the USSR[edit]

LAF was established on 17 November 1940.[4] Kazys Škirpa, former Lithuanian military attaché to Germany, is often credited as the founder.[4] LAF was meant to unite people of various political beliefs[citation needed], who wanted to see Lithuania as an independent country, rather than as part of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. The Berlin unit, formed by Kazys Škirpa, united mainly former Lithuanian expatriates and diplomats in Germany. It gathered representatives of most major pre-war Lithuanian factions and parties, and within LAF, the most influential were the Nationalist Unionists and the Christian Democrats.[4]

As time passed, local LAF units were formed in various Lithuanian cities. The local LAF units were organizing espionage networks.[4] The local LAF units in Lithuanian cities maintained more liberal political views than the Berlin headquarters. Lack of correspondence between the Berlin unit and Lithuanian units prevented discussions of ideology. In Germany, LAF had contact with Wilhelm Franz Canaris and Abwehr, but not the Nazi party.[citation needed] LAF expected that Nazi Germany would attack the Soviet Union and planned to use this occasion for their own rebellion and establishment of independent Lithuania.

On 22 April 1941, representatives of Vilnius and Kaunas branches of LAF formed the Provisional Government of Lithuania, i.e. established a list of its members.[5] LAF formed the Lithuanian underground government planning to take over the country when the Soviet army would be pushed out by the German army. The Provisional Government was mainly formed out of Vilnius and Kaunas sections of LAF. However, two of its members, including the prime minister Kazys Škirpa, were in Germany and were later detained there. Over time, many people from this government, as well as other LAF members, were arrested, executed, or exiled by Soviet authorities.

June Uprising[edit]

Germany declared war on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and the same day LAF started the June Uprising. LAF partisans aided the Germans. The next day, June 23, independence of Lithuania was declared. Short-handed Provisional Government took power on June 24. On June 21 four members of the government were arrested by the Soviet authorities, supposed prime minister Kazys Škirpa was put under house arrest in Berlin, and another minister was also unable to come. Juozas Ambrazevičius became the prime minister. During this time, LAF called for creation of Ghettos for Poles, Polish identification badges similar to those required for Jews as well as lower food rations. Statements by LAF proclaimed that under the Soviets they managed to kill 50% of all Poles in Lithuania, and that under the Nazis they would kill the remaining 50%.[4]

However, the negotiations with Germany over the recognition of Lithuania failed, as Nazi government had no interest in an independent Lithuania. The German authorities did not use brutal force against its members. Rather, they established their own administrative structures (Reichskommissariat Ostland) and slowly deprived the government of its powers. The government lost all of its power in a few weeks, and seeing no more reason to continue work, dissolved itself in August 1941. LAF as an organization remained. In September it sent a memorandum to Germany protesting against the occupation of Lithuania. In response, the Lithuanian Activist Front was banned on September 26; many of its leaders were arrested and sent to concentration camps[citation needed].

Controversy[edit]

LAF is a controversial organization because of its anti-Semitic[6] and anti-Polish[4] views and overall collaboration with the Nazi Germany. For example, LAF's manifesto-type essay "What Are the Activists Fighting for?" states: "The Lithuanian Activist Front, by restoring the new Lithuania, is determined to carry out an immediate and fundamental purging of the Lithuanian nation and its land of Jews ...".[7]

When the June uprising began in the Polish-majority Vilnius Region, the LAF committed many atrocities (rapes, murders, pillage); even the Germans referred to their "allies" as "organized robbers".[4] Also, a number of LAF government acts discriminated against Jews, one notable example being "Žydų padėties nuostatai" (English: Regulation on Status of Jews), which by some authors is described as never actually accepted and only considered.[8] Furthermore, LAF however did not supported the violence against Jews and unsuccessfully attempted to stop a pogrom organized by Algirdas Klimaitis in Vilijampolė.[9] Upon hearing that Klimaitis was to start a pogrom in Vilijampole suburb on June 25, the LAF staff in Kaunas unsuccessfully attempted to stop him. Later, the Lithuanian Provisional Government detailed Generals Reklaitis and Pundzevičius of the LAF Defense Committee to confer with him. Wearing a Lithuanian flag draped across his chest, Klimaitis met the two former Lithuanians generals and unsuccessfully attempted to justify his actions. The generals succeeded in convincing this upstart that his actions were darkening the Lithuanian name and that he was doing the Nazis' dirty work for them.[9]

Nazi Germany authorities also actively tried to present publicly that the local population was attacking Jews. These tactics are well disclosed in the Schutzstaffel General Brigadeführer and Security Police Chief of the Occupied Eastern Territories Franz Walter Stahlecker 1941 X.15 report to the Reich Minister Heinrich Himmler. In his report to Heinrich Himmler about his tasks (the extermination of Jews in the Baltic states) execution, Franz Walter Stahlecker states that the extermination of Jews in the Wehrmacht occupied territories should be performed in a way that the Nazis would remain "clean" in front of the history and that there would be no sign of Nazis actual inspiration, organization or conducting, and it should look like that the local population and its institutions in their own initiative performed the execution of the Jewish population.[10][11][12][13]

"Considering that the population of the Baltic countries has suffered very heavily under the government of Bolshevism and Jewry while they were incorporated in the USSR, it was to be expected that after the liberation from that foreign government, they (i.e. the population themselves) would render harmless most of the enemies left behind after the retreat of the Red Army. It was the duty of the security police to set in motion these self-cleansing movements and to direct them into the correct channels in order to accomplish the purpose of the cleansing operation as quickly as possible. It was no less important in view of the future to establish the unshakable and provable fact that the liberated population themselves took the most severe measure against the Bolshevist and Jewish enemy quite on their own so that the direction by German authorities could not be found out"

— Henry A. Zeiger, citing the General Franz Walter Stahlecker report 1941.X.15 to the Reich Minister Heinrich Himmler.[14][11]

"On the basis of our instructions, the Security Police has initiated the solution of the Jewish question with all possible dispatch. However, we deemed it advisable that the Security Police should not put in an immediate appearance, as the extraordinarily harsh measures pursued might have a negative reaction, even in German circles. It is our purpose to show the world that the native population itself undertook to suppress the Jews"

Philip Friedman, citing other words from the same SS Brigadeführer Franz Stahlecker, Commander of Eisatzgruppe A, operating in Baltic countries report.[14][12]

"However, Stahlecker, who proceeded to recruit his mercenaries from fascist partisan units, jobless police, and the underworld, discovered to his surprise and chagrin that Lithuanians, as a rule, shied away from the opportunity offered them by the Thousand-Year Reich. "It was not a simple matter", Stahlecker complained, "to organize an effective action against the Jews."

Philip Friedman, describing the Lithuanians cooperation with Nazis.[14][12]

The LAF established Provisional Government of Lithuania strongly opposed the Holocaust carried out by the Nazis and its main goal was to protect the citizens and declare the Independence of Lithuania. It also tried to rescue the situation and protest, the meant Lithuanian Minister of National Defence General Stasys Raštikis (former Commander of the Lithuanian Army) even met personally with the Nazi Germany Generals to discuss the situation.[1] He approached the Kaunas War Field Commandant General Oswald Pohl and the Military Command Representative General Karl von Roques by trying to plead the Jews, however they replied that the Gestapo is handling these issues and that they cannot help.[2]

"I explained that the Lithuanian Provisional Government, like in many other issues, is totally helpless and cannot do anything. They themselves knew that well. I promised the delegates to raise the Jewish affair in favorable terms to them in the German Military Leadership, because I had no business with the Gestapo."

— Lithuanian Minister of National Defence of the Provisional Government General Stasys Raštikis, about his conversation with the Jewish delegation, which consisted of the Former Chief Rabbi of the Lithuanian Armed Forces Samuelis Sniegas and Reserve lieutenant Goldberg (who was previously imprisoned by the Soviets due to his relations with the Lithuanian Army), during their visit to his house asking to facilitate their situation in the ghetto.[14][15]

"I began telling to him that the Lithuanian Government and society is very concerned about the German action against the Jews. Gen. Pohl declared that he cannot do anything with this matter, but he offered me to speak with the General von Rocques. I asked von Pohl to take a trip to that General. He accepted and we traveled to the former Palace of the Lithuanian Army Chiefs, where gen. von Rocques headquarters were established . . . Von Rocques accepted us. In the conversation Gen. lt. von Rocques, Gen. mjr. Von Pohl, General Rocques headquarters Chief of Colonel General Staff Kriegsheim, General adjutant and me participated. Adjutant stenographed the whole conversation. I began narrating about the Lithuanian society and Government dissatisfaction and concern about the persecution and extermination of the Lithuanian Jews started by the Germans.

"You (Lithuanians) are not yet used to it, but you will have to get used to it", the host interrupted in my narration.

"No, Mr. General, we will not get used to it", I replied.

"But it is performed not by the German Army, but by the Gestapo".

"Yes, Mr. General, but our Government and me myself think that now, during the war, and especially in Lithuania, which currently is in the closest military actions back, the military authority has not only the biggest, but also the highest power . . . That is why I arrived to You to express our greatest dissatisfaction and concern in this matter and to demand that the campaign against Jews in Kaunas and in the province now be stopped".

I saw that the general did not liked my statement, but he quickly have taken hold and started to make excuses that it is Gestapo workspace . . . General von Pohl agreed to my thought that this Gestapo action is exciting for the local Lithuanian residents. After a longer conversation, the host declared that about the Lithuanians moods and my statement he will inform the higher institutions. The conversation finished in this way . . . But by saying goodbye, gen. von Rocques all unexpectedly poured cold water on my head. By saying goodbye and giving his hand to me, he declared:

"Mr. General, do not worry and don’t be concerned, this action will end soon."

It means, the senior military commander in Lithuania was speaking not about the suspension of the action, but about its ending . . .

I was not able to report the Prime Minister about anything joyful, because of the General von Rocques sentence that slipped from his lips that the Gestapo action against Jews will end soon. It did not said anything good, because it was possible to understand that the provided number of Jews will soon be destroyed . . .

After a few days, during the visit of the Rabbi Samuelis Sniegas, I was only able to tell that I tried to win something in this matter in the German Military Command, however from what I was able to experience, we cannot do any optimistic conclusions."

— Lithuanian Minister of National Defence of the Provisional Government General Stasys Raštikis, about his visit to the Nazi Generals due to the Jewish people situation.[14][16]

Furthermore, in the beginning of the occupation, Prime Minister of the Provisional Government of Lithuania Juozas Ambrazevičius convened the meeting in which the ministers participated together with the former President Kazys Grinius, Bishop Vincentas Brizgys and others. During the meeting, the Nazis were condemned for their actions with Jews and it was decided to help them. Although, the participants of the meeting understood that the help will be very limited, because already in the beginning of the Nazi occupation it was announced that the Jews are crossed out from the competence of Lithuanian institutions.[2][3]

Participants of the last session of the Provisional Government of Lithuania, who signed a protest for the Germans actions of suspending the Lithuanian government powers

The Reichskommissariat Ostland, German Civil Administration (Zivilverwaltung) was established on July 17.[17] Instead of using brute force, the Civil Administration slowly removed the government's powers (for example, did not allow to print its decrees in newspapers or broadcast radio announcements) and supplanted its institutions, forcing the Provisional Government to either self-disband or to become a puppet institution.[18] Willing to cooperate if that meant recognition and some semblance to autonomy, the government did not agree to become an instrument of German occupation.[18] The government self-disbanded on August 5 after signing a protest for the Germans actions of suspending the Lithuanian Government powers. Members of the Provisional Government then in corpore went to the Garden of the Vytautas the Great War Museum, where they laid wreath near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the presence of numerous audience. Sicherheitsdienst confiscated the pictures of the wreath-laying ceremony, thinking that it could be dangerous for the German occupation policy in Lithuania.[19]

The Lithuanian TDA Battalions were soon taken over by Nazi officials and reorganized into the Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalions (Lithuanian version of Schutzmannschaft).[20] The original TDA eventually became the 12th and the 13th Police Battalions. These two units took an active role in mass killings of the Jews in Lithuania and Belarus.[21] Based on the Jäger Report, members of TDA murdered about 26,000 Jews between July and December 1941.[22]

Later Juozas Ambrazevičius actively participated in the anti-Nazi underground, four members of the Provisional Government were imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps.[23]

There are allegations by certain journalists that, in 1973, a Committee of the United States Congress made conclusions that there is no Prime Minister of the Provisional Government Juozas Ambrazevičius' and Jonas Šlepetys' guilty in the Holocaust in Lithuania.[24][3][25][26], however no original document is available on the website of the Congress or elsewhere. None of references to the supposed document includes a precise date, number, or even a name.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Kuo reikšmingas 1941 m. birželio 22-28 d. sukilimas?". LLKS.lt. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Jančys, Artūras. "Birželio sukilėliai: didvyriai ir žudikai viename asmenyje?". lrytas.lt (in Lithuanian). Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Pukenis, Robertas. "The Tragedy of Holocaust and Possibilities for Reconciliation in the Society of Lithuania" (PDF). Davidpublisher.org. Vytautas Magnus University. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Tadeusz Piotrowski, Poland's Holocaust, McFarland & Company, 1997, ISBN 0-7864-0371-3, Google Print, pp. 163-168
  5. ^ Sigitas Jegelevičius. 1941 m. Lietuvos laikinosios vyriausybės atsiradimo aplinkybės (Circumstances of establishing provisional government of Lithuania in 1941), Voruta, No. 11 (557), June 11, 2004 Archived May 7, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Sakowicz, Kazimierz (2008). Ponary Diary, 1941-1943: A Bystander's Account of a Mass Murder. Yale University Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 9780300129175.
  7. ^ "The Murder of the Jews in German-Occupied Lithuania." Paper by Yitzhak Arad delivered at the international conferences in Nida (1997) and Telsiai (2001) on "The Vanished World of Lithuanian Jews." https://books.google.com/books?id=mdXRKbcyi5oC page 191
  8. ^ "Dokumentas: Lietuvos žydų persekiojimas ir masinės žudynės 1941 metų vasarą ir rudenį". Bernardinai.lt. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
  9. ^ a b Budreckis, Algirdas Martin (1968). The Lithuanian National Revolt. Boston: Lithuanian Encyclopedia Press. pp. 62, 63.
  10. ^ Balčiūnas, J. V. "LAIKINOJI VYRIAUSYBĖ IR ŽYDAI - Sovietinė propaganda tebesinaudoja nacių talka". www.aidai.eu (in Lithuanian). Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  11. ^ a b Zeiger, Henry A. (2015). The Case Against Adolf Eichmann. Pickle Partners Publishing. p. 66. ISBN 9781786254481.
  12. ^ a b c Friedman, Philip (1957). Their brothers' keepers. Crown Publishers. p. 136. ISBN 9780896040021.
  13. ^ Friedman, Philip (1978). Their brothers' keepers. Holocaust Library. p. 136.
  14. ^ a b c d e "Lietuvos žydų likimas ir Laikinoji Lietuvos Vyriausybė". Partizanai.org (in Lithuanian). Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  15. ^ Raštikis, Stasys (1990). Kovos dėl Lietuvos (II tomas). Lituanus. p. 306.
  16. ^ Raštikis, Stasys (1990). Kovos dėl Lietuvos (II tomas). Lituanus. p. 307.
  17. ^ Anušauskas, Arvydas; et al., eds. (2005). Lietuva, 1940–1990 (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras. p. 177. ISBN 9986-757-65-7.
  18. ^ a b Misiunas, Romuald J.; Rein Taagepera (1993). The Baltic States: Years of Dependence 1940–1990 (expanded ed.). University of California Press. p. 47. ISBN 0-520-08228-1.
  19. ^ Škirpa, Kazys (1973). Sukilimas Lietuvos suverenumui atstatyti. Highland Blvd., Brooklyn, N. Y., 11207: Franciscan Fathers Press. p. 502.
  20. ^ Knezys, Stasys (2000). "Kauno karo komendantūros Tautinio darbo batalionas 1941 m." Genocidas ir rezistencija (in Lithuanian). 7 (1). ISSN 1392-3463.
  21. ^ Atamukas, Solomonas (Winter 2001). "The Hard Long Road Toward the Truth: On the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Holocaust in Lithuania". Lituanus. 4 (47). ISSN 0024-5089.
  22. ^ Bubnys, Arūnas (2004). "The Holocaust in Lithuania: An Outline of the Major Stages and Results". The Vanished World of Lithuanian Jews. Rodopi. pp. 209–210. ISBN 90-420-0850-4.
  23. ^ "Kaune perlaidojami 1941-ųjų Laikinosios vyriausybės vadovo Juozo Brazaičio palaikai". 15min.lt. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  24. ^ Sinica, Vytautas. "Istorijos perrašymas: būtina skubiai pasmerkti Vincą Kudirką". LZinios.lt. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  25. ^ Lukšas, Aras (2009). J. Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis—Vienų Vienas (J. Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis—Purely alone).
  26. ^ Meidutė, Aistė. "Vanagaitė įkvėpė Kremlių: aukština NKVD smogikus ir vėl šmeižia partizanų vadus". DELFI.lt. Retrieved 23 July 2018.