Holocaust conference sheds new light on crimes

  • 2002-10-03
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis

The largest conference in Lithuanian history dedicated to the Holocaust uncovered some new information about Lithuanians who collaborated with and resisted the Nazis.

Organized by the Austria-based Foundation for the Victims of National Socialism, conference participants with access to formerly off-limits archives added new information about the 1941-44 Nazi occupation of Lithuania, in which 90 percent of the country's 240,000-strong Jewish population was murdered.

Faina Vinokurova, deputy director of the archives in the Ukrainian town of Vinitsa, presented documents that suggest the 7th Lithuanian Police Battalion, a pro-Nazi group, took part in mass killings of Jews during the war.

The information was previously unknown to local historians.

Meanwhile, Ilya Altman, vice president of Russia's Holocaust Foundation, presented a formerly secret document from Moscow's KGB archives.

The letter, written during the Nazi occupation by a group of anti-Nazi Lithuanian intellectuals and smuggled to Western diplomats via Lithuanian emigrants in Berlin, included information about the mass murder of Jews.

Conference participants, including researchers form Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and from Polish, American, Russian and Lithuanian universities and institutes, said the two revelations helped paint a more accurate picture of Lithuania during the war.

"It will be no longer be seen as Lithuanian history for Lithuanians, Israeli history for Israelis, American history for Americans. It will be just real history," said Emanuelis Zingeris, director of Vilnius Jewish Museum and one of the organizers of the conference.

Lithuania has come under fire internationally for being slow to prosecute alleged Nazi collaborators.

Aleksandrs Lileikis and Kazys Gimzauskas, alleged to have handed over scores of Jews to Nazi death squads while serving in occupied Lithuania's security forces, were both brought to trial in the late 1990s.

Both in their 90s, Lileikis died before his trial ever got moving while Gimzauskas was convicted of genocide in 2001 but not required to serve any jail time because of his ill health.

Rimvydas Valentukevicius, chief prosecutor of the special investigation department at the Prosecutor General's Office, said thousands of Nazi collaborators who participated in killings were sentenced in Soviet times.

Today, investigations are more complicated because of a lack of evidence and eyewitnesses.

Sill, his office has launched 14 cases against alleged collaborators, including Vincas Valkavickis, who is accused by the Prosecutor General's Office of taking part in killing 3,700 Jews near the town of Svencionys. Valentukevicius also mentioned Juozas Merkevicius, suspected of helping to kill 2,000 Jews near Kedainiai.

After the restoration of independence tens of thousands of Lithuanians, former Soviet political prisoners, were officially rehabilitated by the state, including some who had been jailed for taking part in killings of Jews.

"Rehabilitation documents were proclaimed invalid for more than 100 persons. The Supreme Court and the prosecutor's office refused to issue rehabilitation documents to several thousand people who took part in killings of Jews," Valentukevicius said.

Symbolically, the conference opened on Sept. 23, the day Lithuania's Parliament declared Holocaust Remembrance Day.

President Valdas Adamkus awarded 44 people, most of them posthumously, a Life-Saver Cross for risking their lives and lives of their families to save Jews.