The statement of Emanuelis Zingeris (Chairman of the International Commission):
On 29 June 2020, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) published tendentious information which, regrettably, violates the most elemental standards of unbiased journalism. This information has been widely cited by many international publications, including the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post. Russian official media has been especially keen to disseminate the attacks on Juozas Lukša-Daumantas as part of its recent disinformation campaign aimed at buttressing Moscow’s efforts to legitimize the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States and downplay Stalinist atrocities. An example is the article by Aleksei Ilyashevich, “Lithuania answers Putin’s article by making a hero of Hitler’s assistant,” which recycles the attacks on Juozas Lukša-Daumantas.
The JTA has published claims that “multiple witnesses” saw Lukša-Daumantas participating in the notorious murders of Jews at the Lietūkis garage in Kaunas on 27 June 1941. The JTA spent most of its reportage asserting that Lukša-Daumantas, one of the most notable Lithuanian fighters against the Soviet regime, was a murderer of Jews. The JTA allows only a small part of its report to reflect the opinions of those who oppose this man’s defamation. Since the attack on one of the most celebrated members of the postwar Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance movement has been so widely disseminated, with much uninformed commentary about the postwar resistance movement in general, it is essential to explain this history.
It is a historic fact that during the German occupation Lithuania lost over 90 percent of its Jewish citizens who were murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators. It is thus crucial to determine if Lukša-Daumantas participated in this unprecedented campaign of mass murder. Juozas Lukša-Daumantas was born in 1921. During the German occupation, people of his community risked their lives to shelter Vasilii, an escaped Soviet prisoner of war. There is no evidence that these people, including Lukša-Daumantas, participated in any war crimes. This is not only the opinion of the “advocates” of the Anti-Semitic Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) cited in the JTA report, but that of most of the mainstream academic historians who have researched the period of Lithuania’s occupations by foreign powers, as well as that of the current leaders of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.
The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania has not uncovered any reliable evidence confirming the participation of Lukša-Daumantas in the massacre of Jews at the Lietūkis garage. Notwithstanding some sensational allegations by tendentious authors, neither professional historians nor any of the current leaders of the Lithuanian Jewish Community have been able to identify Lukša-Daumantas as a “leader of the LAF,” or as a participant in the aforementioned atrocity. During the spring of 1941, the nineteen-year old Lukša-Daumantas joined like-minded young people, many of whom were secondary school and university students, to resist the Soviet occupation and was imprisoned as a result. There were many secretive small groups whose main activity was the dissemination of anti-Soviet leaflets. Most of the groups were short-lived, some of which may have been affiliated with the LAF, but aside from some assertions that he was a “member”, we know little of his activities at the time. In his published memoir he makes no mention of the LAF. None of the pro-LAF researchers in Lithuania mention Lukša-Daumantas as an active member of the LAF or as an anti-Soviet insurgent during the outbreak of the war in June 1941. The ethnologist and history guide Chaim Bergman, who states that he spoke at length with Lukša-Daumantas’s brother Antanas, doubts any connection to the LAF: https://www.lzb.lt/en/2020/07/17/a-different-view-of-luksa-daumantas-an-interview-with-chaim-bargman/. Some authors assert the he engaged in anti-German activities before 1944.
In 1951 Lukša-Daumantas was killed in action while on a mission to Lithuania supported by U.S. Intelligence. Almost immediately, the Soviet regime began to spread disinformation with the goal of denigrating not only Lukša-Daumantas but the entire anti-Soviet resistance movement. Lithuanian historians who have researched the movement have indeed found that a certain number of Nazi collaborators and criminal elements found their way into the ranks of the anti-Soviet guerillas. Some had been members of the LAF which in 1941 had espoused anti-Semitism and egregious “Judeo-Bolshevik” tropes. Soviet authorities have, of course, exploited this fact to attack the reputation of all anti-Soviet resistance movements and, by implication, affirm the legitimacy of the postwar Soviet regimes in the Baltics as “anti-fascist” strongholds. On 16 February 1949 the Council of the Lithuanian Armed Freedom Movement declared that “persons who betrayed the Fatherland during the Bolshevik and German occupations by collaborating with the enemy, or had in their actions or by their influence harmed the struggle for national liberation, or bloodied their hands by their treason, [such people] should be held accountable in Lithuania’s courts.”
It is especially important not to fall into the trap of Russian official propaganda which has tried to obfuscate the history of the Kremlin’s violations of international law, particularly those which predated the Nazi invasion of the USSR after the Hitler-Stalin (or Molotov-Ribbentrop) Pact of 1939. The Soviet attack on Finland in 1939–1940, which resulted in the USSR’s expulsion from the League of Nations on 14 December 1939, is portrayed as a “defensive measure,” although at the time Stalin was a strategic, if temporary, partner of the Third Reich in its war against the West. The occupation of the Baltic States under the threat of force and as a result of a military incursion by a half-million Red Army troops is portrayed as a “voluntary accession” of these countries to the USSR. The recent amendment to the Russian Constitution which purports to defend “historical truth,” the efforts to explain away the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 and its secret protocols, and the public statements of President Putin questioning the territorial integrity of the Baltic States, are all parts of this campaign of distortion. In essence all of this seeks to undermine the historic right of the Lithuanian people to resist foreign domination, by armed struggle, if necessary. The European Court of Human Rights reaffirmed this right in Strasbourg on 12 March 2019.
On 23 July of this year, the United States marked the 80th anniversary of the declaration on the non-recognition of the Soviet incorporation of the Baltic States. The spirit of this declaration inspired the national liberation movements and all people in the region which resisted Soviet occupation.
It is worth remembering that during the half-century of Soviet occupation, the Kremlin consistently denigrated the Lithuanian resistance movement, the Home Army’s campaign against the Nazis, and even the Zionist struggle to establish Israel (while also supporting the aggression of Arab countries against the Jewish state). It is no secret that there is currently a bitter social conflict on the commemoration of many historical personages, and on the question of whether to include them as positive figures in the national narrative. The struggle to determine which historical figures are examples for the younger generation is clearly one that has become global in recent months. Those who participated in the oppression of others, or passively conformed to the dictates of occupation regimes, should have no place in the gallery of heroes. Unfortunately, in Lithuania we have some monuments for Nazi criminals which are not State-sponsored and which are being vigorously debated. At the same time, disinformation and lies about those who gave their lives for freedom, fighting the monstrous communist occupational regime of Stalin, should have no place in our discourse. Lithuania had a right to resist.
Member of Lithuanian parliament,
Chairman of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania,
Signatory of the Act of the Independence of the Republic of Lithuania,
Founder of Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History in Lithuania