Row Simmers Over Chicago Monument to Lithuanian National Hero Implicated in WW2 Crimes Against Jews
A row over the unveiling of a monument in Chicago to a Lithuanian resistance fighter alleged to have participated in the persecution of Jews during World War II took on a global dimension on Wednesday, as the Lithuanian and Russian governments exchanged barbs over last weekend’s ceremony.
An opening salvo from the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, on Sunday roundly criticized the unveiling of a monument to Adolfas Ramanauskas, also known by his code name “Vanagas,” who is widely hailed in Lithuania as a symbol of anti-Soviet resistance.
The embassy accused Ramanauskas of having supported the Lithuanian Activist Front, a violently antisemitic and anti-communist group involved in “massacring and pillaging the Jews and the Poles before the German forces entered Lithuania in 1941.” One year prior to the German invasion, Lithuania’s territory was incorporated into the Soviet Union under the infamous 1939 non-aggression pact between the Nazi and Communist regimes.
Lithuania responded on Tuesday by summoning the Russian ambassador in Vilnius to protest against the “falsehoods” it said were being propagated by Moscow.
While embarrassing regional adversaries like Ukraine and Lithuania with reminders of their wartime collaboration records has become a staple of Russian rhetoric under President Vladimir Putin, independent experts have also sounded the alarm concerning Ramanauskas.
Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) — who has successfully brought to justice several Nazi war criminals — charged the Lithuanian government with “not telling the people the truth and they’re not facing the truth.”
Zuroff told the British broadcaster that while there was no evidence that Ramanauskas had “killed anybody,” he had written “in his memoirs how he headed this band of vigilantes.”
Those memoirs have also been referenced in a detailed article by Evaldas Balčiūnas, a Lithuanian historian, for the website “Defending History.”
That piece examined the possibility that Ramanauskas was involved in the persecution of Jews in Druskininkai, in southeastern Lithuania, as suggested by a passage from his memoir, “Many Sons Fell,” published in 1991.
“During the days of liberation from the Bolshevik occupation I commanded a partisan unit in the area surrounding Druskininkai and in that town,” Ramanauskas wrote.
According to Zuroff, this “was a critical period when vigilante gangs were roaming the streets in many places and Jews were attacked in over 40 places before the Nazis showed their face.”
Other testimonies include the account of a non-Jewish woman from the area that was recorded by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in which she discussed the fate of the local Jewish population and revealed that her own father, a communist sympathizer, had been executed by Ramanauskas’ partisans.
Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry reiterated Ramanauskas’ status as a national hero in a defiant statement on Tuesday. “His impeccable reputation has been confirmed by numerous independent experts researching the historical events and archival documents of that time,” the statement said.
The unveiling of the monument to Ramanauskas in Chicago, a major center of the Lithuanian-American community, took place last Sunday. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius attended the ceremony, alongside Ramanauskas’s daughter and granddaughter.
An additional layer of controversy stemmed from Ramanauskas’s birth in 1918 in New Britain, Connecticut, to a family of Lithuanian immigrants who returned to their homeland three years later.
An attempt to build a centenary memorial to Ramanauskas in New Britain failed in May 2018, after the City Council acknowledged him as an “alleged Nazi collaborator,” the honoring of whom “would have been offensive to those who lost family in the Holocaust and those who care about preserving the memory of the Holocaust.”