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July 23, 2012 3:41 pm

Why Was a Dead Nazi War Criminal Promoted to Colonel? An Open Letter to the Lithuanian Ambassador to Belarus

avatar by Evaldas Balciunas


Juozas Krikštaponis. Photo:

Ten years ago, suspected Nazi war criminal Juozas Krikštaponis (Krištaponis) was posthumously promoted to the rank of colonel of the Lithuanian army, via presidential decree.

Presidential decree no. 1965 was signed by then-president Valdas Adamkus and Linas Linkevičius, who current Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė has now appointed ambassador to Belarus.

Belarus is a vital trading partner and neighbor of Lithuania, but perhaps Linkevičius should reconsider his appointment to such an important diplomatic post in light of the atrocities against Belarus committed by now Colonel Krikštaponis, and somehow condoned by the government and Linkevičius. Could the Krikštaponis affair sour relations between these two countries?

Juozas Krikštaponis is suspected of grave war crimes in Belarus committed in October of 1941. Krikštaponis was then in command of a brigade, under chief of staff major Antanas Impulevičius, in the 2nd Lithuanian Police Battalion, whose soldiers, together with the Germans, shot about 46,000 people, including 9,000 Soviet POWs, and hanged 12 members of the Soviet underground in the fall of 1941. The absolute majority of victims were Jews.

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An historic daily chronicle testifies to the atrocities committed by the battalion which included Krikštaponis (Krištaponis). On 14 October 1941, this battalion shot 1,300 Jews in the town of Smilovich, in the Minsk district. Moisey Gorelik, who miraculously survived the massacre, recounts how the ghetto of Smilovich was annihilated on the

“On October 14th, vehicles began turning into Smilovich from the direction of Dukory, one after another, trucks with canopies over them, and in several minutes the entire ghetto was surrounded by police and troops. My mama clutched her youngest daughter Malka close to her and ran out of the house. I never saw her again… Germans, police and Lithuanians surrounded the ghetto, they stood in a line ten paces apart from one another. It was impossible to break out of this ring. Police drove Jews out of their dwellings and herded hundreds of people like a flock of sheep to the Solominka neighborhood, where there was a sand quarry next to the old cemetery. People went silently, knowing where they were being led. When they brought us to the quarry, some tried to break out of the column and flee, to get through the fence, but the police shot them in the back. The Germans placed a bucket at the edge of the quarry where the doomed were supposed to put their valuables: rings, money, Tsarist coins.

“And later… the police drove groups of Jews, bludgeoning them with the butts of their rifles, to the edge of the cliff, lining them up in groups of 50… Then the Lithuanian troops shot the Jews with tracer-bullets while the local Belarusian police stood guard. The Lithuanians threw toddlers up to two years old into the pit alive, which quickly filled to overflowing with corpses.”

“Then it came time for my group. I cannot portray in words the whole horror experienced at that moment. There are no words. Then a blow to the head, and I fell into the bottomless pit… I regained consciousness in the pit among the corpses and still-living wounded.”

“I heard the screams of women, a child crying, the moaning of the wounded… I was covered in blood, my own and others’, and I didn’t know where I was and whether I was alive. I lay in the pit among hundreds of corpses until late at night. My three-year-old sister Maya lay dead on my chest. I tried to move my arms, but could not, my arms and entire body were pressed under the bodies of the dead. I began to squirm, trying to free my arms, and then to pull myself over the corpses to the top. Finally I broke free of that hell. I survived. The bullet just grazed my head. But my family and loved ones remained lying in the pit forever: my 19-year-old sister Ester, my 10-year-old brother Zisel, my 13-year-old sister Leya and my three-year-old sister Maya.”

Martynas Kačiulis, who served in that same battalion, testified that during the murder of the people of Rudensk in 1941, Lieutenant Krikštaponis, commander of the 2nd brigade, gave the order to go the edge of the pit and shoot. Jonas Rutkauskas testified that Krikštaponis gave the order “Fire!” during the mass murder of POWs at the Minsk POW camp in the fall of 1941. It is difficult to ascertain the full extent of Krikštaponis’s involvement, because he died before law enforcement could reach him, but there is extensive evidence and accounts about his involvement and that of his subordinates in the mass murder of civilians.

I first wrote about the crimes of which J. Krikštaponis (Krištaponis) is accused in the articleThe History of Three “Lithuanian Freedom Army” (LFA) Colonels Who Served the Nazis. After the Lithuanian original of that article was published in April 2011, chairman of the parliament’s National Security and Defense Committee A. Anušauskas asked the Center for the Study of Genocide and Resistance for clarification, which came in May of 2011 in a report called “DÄ—l LLA karininkų veiklos nacistinÄ—s okupacijos laikotarpiu” [On the Activity of Lithuanian Freedom Army Officers During the Nazi Occupational Time-Period]. After receiving this report, the chairman declined to demand a retraction of the suspicions contained in my article, so I am inclined to believe they are well founded.

My question for new Ambassador Linas Linkevičius is that without ascribing any motives to your decision to posthumously promote war-crimes suspect Krikštaponis to the rank of colonel, I would like to remind you that this person committed his crimes in Belarus, in the country to which you are preparing to travel to represent the interests of the Lithuanian state.

So the question is quite logical. Is the fact that you several years ago awarded a person who took part in the mass murder of peaceful civilians of Belarus a matter which can make worse already tense relations between Lithuania and Belarus?

This post was translated from its original version, which appeared in Lithuania in on 17 July 2012.

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