Victims of NKVD get no peace

  • 2001-05-17
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Between 1994 and 1997 in Tuskulenai Park, in the very heart of Vilnius, archaeologists found the remains of more than 700 victims of Soviet terror. They were killed after the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania at the end of World War II.

Relatives of the murdered people say they are not satisfied that the victims' remains are currently resting in old banana boxes at the Museum of Genocide Victims awaiting a decision from the Lithuanian government. The relatives of the victims, most of whom were Lithuanian partisans killed by the Soviets, are urging the government to allow for burial to go ahead.

Since 1994, the name Tuskulenai has meant more than just a park, after the Lithuanian Security Department discovered that the area hid traces of Soviet terror. Anti-Soviet partisans, Roman Catholic priests and other prisoners were thrown under the soil there. The executor was the NKVD, the forerunner of the notorious KGB.

In 1994, the security department discovered KGB files documenting the deaths of over 700 people at the hands of the Soviets in Vilnius' NKVD headquarters. The bodies were later buried in secret at Tuskulenai. Hundreds of skeletons were found during excavations that started in the summer of that year.

According to the Forensic Medicine Center, the skeletons show marks that bear the unmistakable signs of torture. Some peoples' hands and legs were cut off. Some skulls reveal that the heads of living people were put into machines that slowly squeezed them. Some skulls were crushed. Others are scarred with knife and ax marks.

Usually victims were shot from a short distance. Some skulls show the marks of up to six bullets.

During excavations, the government promised a proper burial for the Tuskulenai victims. It also promised a memorial. However, the government still has no money reserved for this.

Now the victims' remains rest in the Museum of Genocide Victims, which is under the patronage of the Genocide and Resistance Center. Terese Brusokiene, 67, and her sister Laimute Astrauskiene, 70, say they want the burial of their brother Alfonsas Zukauskas, a Lithuanian partisan of the Tauras military district of the partisan army of southwest Lithuania.

The Zukauskas sisters want him to lie in a special cemetery for partisans in Marijampole, but state officials are refusing to satisfy their wish.

The government wants the burial to take place at the memorial in Tuskulenai.

"We are insulted with the disrespect shown to the soldiers of the Lithuanian army. We want to visit our brother's grave, to pray and light a candle there," the sisters told the Lietuvos Rytas daily.

Dalia Kuodyte, director general of the Genocide and Resistance Center, says she is not guilty for the delay. "The victims' remains were kept in the Forensic Medicine Center. The center's specialists asked me to move the remains to our museum because we have better conditions to keep them. I agreed. I would be happy to give the remains to the relatives. But it is not my property. I need permission from the government," Kuodyte told The Baltic Times.

Kuodyte mentioned more problems, which are baffling some officials. Not all the victims at Tuskulenai were Lithuanian heroes fighting for Western values and the freedom of their country. Then there is the question of what to do with the rest of the remains.

Only 200 of the Tuskulenai victims were Lithuanian freedom fighters of the anti-Soviet partisan war of 1944 to 1953. The biographies of the other victims are rather more controversial.

"Some of them are Germans, the soldiers of the Nazi army. Some are Russians, deserters from the Soviet army. Some of the remains are locals who were accused of collaboration with the Germans. Some could have been involved in the crimes of the Holocaust. There are also about 40 partisans from Armia Krajowa," Kuodyte said.

Armia Krajowa, the Polish partisan army, was active in the Vilnius region between 1941 and 1944. Its activities were controversial. Officially, they fought against the German occupation. However, they had numerous contacts with the Nazi administration, which encouraged Armia Krajowa to fight against pro-Soviet partisans who also were present in the Vilnius region. Historians accuse the Polish partisans of the massacre of the Jewish population in the town of Eisiskes and an ethnic cleansing campaign in the Vilnius region and what is now western Belarus.

Armia Krajowa was known to wipe out Lithuanian peasant families simply because they spoke Lithuanian. Its goal was to see Vilnius become part of an independent Poland.

Together with the Red Army, Armia Krajowa took Vilnius in 1944. The storming of Vilnius was followed by the deaths of 175 ethnic Lithuanians. "Litwinow niema!" (There are no Lithuanians!), reported Armia Krajowa chief "Wilk" to Poland's exile government in London after taking Vilnius. However, later the Soviets arrested Armia Krajowa's leaders.

"Armia Krajowa heroically fought against the Nazis in Poland, but on Lithuanian territory they were just a group of bandits committing ethnic cleansing," said historian Arturas Andriusaitis.

For the time being, the Forensic Medicine Center has identified only a small proportion of the Tuskulenai victims. Bishop Vincentas Borisevicius and the priest Pranas Gustaitis are among those identified. An exception was made for them and they were buried in Telsiai in 1999. The Roman Catholic Church has plans to proclaim Borisevicius a saint. But the rest of the victims continue to lie in cardboard boxes.

"I asked Catholic bishops to take the victims' remains to a church and to keep them before burial. But they categorically refused," Kuodyte said.

Bishop Jonas Boruta told her that there could be some remains of people who were responsible for the Holocaust among the victims, as well as the remains of non-Catholics.

"Anyway, all the remains have been blessed by priests and there are crosses near them. And it doesn't matter what sort of boxes they are," Kuodyte said.

The government has promised to find some money for small coffins for the victims of Tuskulenai soon.