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Bizarre History in Lithuania

Fania Brantsovskaya, 86, Rachel Margolis, 87, and Yitzhak Arad, 82, were teenagers when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. As Jews, they were herded into the Vilna Ghetto, but escaped and joined the Communist partisans. Now the Lithuanian government has been investigating their involvemnt in war crimes. In Margolis' 2006 memoirs, she wrote about an incident in January 1944 when her partisan colleagues attacked the village of Koniuchy (or Kaniukai).

The Lithuanian partisans, who operated under the aegis of the Central Partisan Command of the Soviet Union, had information that there was a German garrison in the village. After the fact, it turned out that the Germans had abandoned the place. In the battle that ensued, 38 villagers were killed, including women and children. Now Lithuania has declared this attack as a "massacre," and a special prosecutor opened an investigation. The idea is to equate Nazi and Communist persecution.

Dr. Yitzhak Arad is a Holocaust historian and one-time partisan, a former brigadier general and a chief education officer in the Israel Defense Forces, and the chairman of the board of Yad Vashem. Dr. Rachel Margolis is a retired Vilnius University biologist who helped set up a Holocaust exhibit in that city. She had also rediscovered, transcribed, and published the lost diary of a Polish witness to the murders at Ponar (Paneriai), the mass murder site outside Vilnius. librarian of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. Brantsovsky was honoured by the American Embassy in Lithuania with a certificate of achievement last April, and in August, the British Embassy organized a walking tour of the former Vilna Ghetto, led by Brantsovsky, in which fifteen Western alliance embassies participated (but none from the Baltic States).

Reopening Lithuania's old wounds



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
28th Jan, 2009 23:15 (UTC)
I can't say that I have much to add to the comments in the link. It's just an investigation, with questions asked that would have been asked of any person of any religion under the same circumstances. The woman who wrote the memoir's has been questioned and assured that she is not a suspect. This doesn't sound like unjust persecution to me.

38 people killed is indeed a massacre. If that number includes children, that makes it quite probable that it was indeed a war crime. The Lithuanians may not be perfect (far from it), but that doesn't mean they should tiptoe around the sensitivities of those who still like to hang on to the role of victims, and cry foul at the merest hint of accusation.
29th Jan, 2009 20:35 (UTC)
I agree with most of what you say (especially the icon!). But 38 people killed (which does include some women and children) may or may not constitute a massacre; it depends on the circumstances. I'm still not sure. The problem is that unlike Western Europe where the resistance was organised along political lines, in Eastern Europe, it was organised along ethnic lines. So the partisans in Lithuania were largely Jews and ethnic Russians. That Jews preferred the partisans to the Nazis should surprise no one. It also seems that survival prospects were better than in the Kaunas or Wilno ghettos.

Apparently, a small local self defence unit was created to defend the village of about 60 households and 300 inhabitants against repeated Soviet partisan raids. The village was not fortified but the villagers were armed. The 38 villagers were killed in the fighting between the local self-defence unit and the partisans.
30th Jan, 2009 08:43 (UTC)
If I understand both you and the story under the link correctly, this is about a village getting attacked (did they do anything to provoke the attack?) in the course of which 38 people were killed. In peacetime circumstances, the fact that they were able to put up a defense would make little or no difference in any court I've ever heard of and this would certainly be called a massacre in every newspaper reporting the event. I gather it's different in wartime, but I find it hard to understand why.

The story seems to imply that the attack was organized to acquire food and such. These things tend to be rare during times of war, so the fact that the food was stolen (in all probability in large quantities, 38 victims despite armed resistance implies a rather large raiding party) would have lessened the villagers chances for survival for quite a period after the raid as well. If this was the case here, this wouldn't have been about the villagers withholding food from the hungry, but about them holding on to what they needed to survive.

Somehow I can't find any sympathy within me for a bunch of armed people who attack a village without any military presence (even if they were armed) and rob them of their food when they could have also tried the same trick with German food supplies. After all, weren't they supposed to be fighting Nazis in the first place? If they didn't want to fight armed Nazis, then how were they resisting?

I don't know the religion of any member of that raiding party and couldn't care less. I do know that what they did was seriously wrong and there's absolutely nothing wrong with interviewing witnesses about what happened.
30th Jan, 2009 21:29 (UTC)
Guerrillas have to fight so they can't farm at the same time. They therefore either rely on the surrounding civil population or on supplies coming from outside. Conventional wisdom (following Mao) is that the civilian population should be treated respectfully, as losing their support will undermine the whole effort.

In the Soviet partisan situation, requisitioned food, livestock, clothing and other goods requisitioned by the partisans were supposed to be paid for. The partisans considered themselves legitimate representatives of the Soviet government fighting the Nazi occupiers but to many of the inhabitants of the Baltic states it was the Soviets who were the occupation, and there was little cooperation, causing the partisans to requisition by force. Moreover, Axis forces were also requisitioning, putting a double burden on the people.

The town was attacked in order to take out the German garrison. But unknown to the partisans, this had been withdrawn a few days earlier. The attacking force numbered around 100–120 partisans, perhaps half of whom were Jewish. It appears that the victims were killed in the crossfire. Afterwards, a Lithuanian SS battalion moved into the area.
31st Jan, 2009 08:22 (UTC)
I hope you won't take this the wrong way, because I know the Nazis were worse than the partisans, but I can certainly understand why the civilian population would feel that the partisans were worse. For one thing, the death camps weren't exactly widely advertised as being death camps and any rumors to that effect could easily be mistaken for propaganda. After all, it's not as if there wasn't any of that going around. And for another, once that nice Jewish man next door has been seen raiding your supplies, it's hard to care about what happens to him anymore.

I'm not excusing this behavior, it's just that it's a very, very human thing to do, as could quite recently be witnessed when Yugoslavia fell to pieces. Nobody outside of the raiding people themselves excuses any of those raids as requisitioning or anything of the kind.

As for the word "requisitioning", this would be called "armed robbery" in peacetime, with the armed robbers being able to claim other concerns taking up their time just as legitimately. Being nice about it would make little difference, since the "requisitioners" would obviously take by force whatever they couldn't get by being nice about it.

The only difference I can see here is that for the Jewish population doing anything other than fleeing or fighting would mean certain death. The communists didn't have even that excuse, as staying away from communist activities would keep them safe enough.

So then what remains is the question if it is OK to use force against civilians only because they happen to like the regime that you find so oppressive just fine. My take on that is that if you need to put a gun to someone's head to force your point of view on them, it's more than likely that you're doing something seriously wrong. And that goes for all sides in that sorry mess.

As for the attack in this case: I guess if it was about fighting a German garrison, then at least they did something they were supposed to be doing. But it still doesn't seem right to me, any more than any of the civilian deaths in current conflicts seem in any way excusable to me.

Edited at 2009-01-31 08:23 (UTC)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )