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The Lithuanian Catholic Church during the German occupation  J.Shachar 

The Catholic church was one of  the main sources for spreading and propagating anti-Semitism  in Lithuania. Since the death of  the great princeVytautas (1430) the Catholic religion expanded and with it the anti-Semitism. Well placed Catholic clerics stood at the forefront  and were the prime mover of the anti-Semitic incitement by using their religious standing in the church and their influence on the community of the faithful. There is no doubt that the Lithuanian Catholic church had an important, if not a principal, part in the dissemination of anti-Semitism among the general Lithuanian public.

 

The relationship between the Catholic princes and the Jews depended on the particular interest of the princes. In 1495, for instance, Prince Alexander expelled the Jews and confiscated their property; but when it became apparent that the Lithuanians needed them, the Jews were brought back. The Jews always served as the scapegoats for any negative development - economic,social or other. Usually, it was the church who took the initiative and stood at the head of the instigators. During the period of the Czars, for example,  the Lithuanian Catholic church participated enthusiastically in the propaganda of incitement propagated by the Provoslavic church against the Jews - directly and  through the writings of the priest Valancius and the writer Kudirka.

 

When the Nazis came to power in Germany  (1933) and began to export their anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda, the "campaign" of anti-Semitic incitement on the part of the church grew. It obtained special stature upon the German invasion (1941) with the adoption, by the heads of the Catholic church in Lithuania almost without exception, of the basic Nazi world view as expressed in Hitler's "Mein Kampf", including the idea of the "final solution".

Many of the leaders of the L.A.F. (Lithuanian Activist Front), who composed the "Provisional Government" (which was  created in Berlin at the beginning of June 1941, established  later in Lithuania on the day after the invasion on  June 23, 1941, and which during  its short existence of about 6 weeks passed most of the anti-Jewish laws) - were devout Catholics, priests or  previously trained by the church. Among them:

Juozas Ambrazavicius - Ambrazaitis (Brazaitis),  Deputy Chairman of the L.A.F. and head of the "Provisional Government" - was a priest who taught in several religious institutions in Lithuania;

Jonas Matulionis,  one of the founders of the L.A.F. and Finance Minister;

Pranas Dialinikeitis, founding member of the L.A.F. - priest;

Leonas Prapulionis, Co-Chairman of the L.A.F. - a devout Catholic.

Petras Karvelis,  a founding member of the L.A.F. - active catholic;

Antanas Maciena, ideological head of the Lithuanian Catholic movement

Pranas Petraitis, priest and Rector of the Seminar for Priests of Kovna; wasthe first to receive the murderers of the Jews of Kovna with blessings after the invasion.

   

 In his first appearance on radio Kovna at the time of the invasion, the priest Ambrazavicius, then head of  the "Provisional Government", began his speech with the words "Lithuania thanks the liberator of Europe, Adolph Hitler... as for the Jews, the subject will be finished..."  Together with the Bishop Brizgys , he appealed to the Lithuanian population to cooperate with the Germans  who "came to our country to liberate us from the Soviet yoke..."             

 

According to what is apparent from the following material, the Lithuanian Catholic church bears in large measure the responsibility for the cruelty evidenced by the general Lithuanian population towards the Jews during the German occupation. As stated, a majority of the Lithuanian population are devout in their religious views and the church has a great deal of influence on its members and parishioners, not only in the villages but also in the cities. During the German occupation, the main Lithuanian Catholic hierarchy in Lithuania and many priests were outspoken anti-Semites and  participated in the activities of the Nazis in their fulfillment of the dream of the "thousand year Reich". They helped in the commission of crimes against the Jews.   

 

The Bishops - The Principal Servants of Nazism

 

    In a secret report issued by the German SD (Sicherheits Dienst) of August 16,1941, it was stated  (Free translation from German):"...We may say that the Lithuanian Catholic Church headed by Bishop Brizgys favors fully and completely the measures taken by us... on the Jewish problem  their stand is unequivocal...moreover the Bishop Brizgys has forbidden his clergy to intervene in any form in favour of the Jews..."

 

Who were the leaders of the Lithuanian Catholics and their faithful deputies who dealt in such a criminal manner toward the Jews of Lithuania. At the head of the Lithuanian Catholic hierarchy stood a group of reactionaries and outspoken anti-Semites: The Archi- Bishop Jozepas Skvireckas, born 1873; the Bishop Vincentas Brizgys, born 1903 ( then,the actual head of the church); Mikolas Krupavicius, born 1885, and Machys Reinis, born 1884; all, including the Bishops Shaulis, Ramanauskas, and Borisevicius, proclaimed themselves in favor of Hitler's war plans and his racist prejudices. They enthusiastically supported their "trainee" Ambrazavicius and the "Temporary Government" whose first orders of business were directed against the Jews. The Bishops not only did not act against their government's regulations and the orders promulgated against the Jews, including the stripping of citizenship rights, the order to wear the yellow star, or against the pogroms and mass murders of Jews by Lithuanians, but in fact supported the government's policy and assisted in the performance of its decrees. Moreover, publicly, in the newspapers, radio and by telegrams of personal congratulations to Hitler, the Bishops proclaimed  that all  Lithuanians would help the Germans bring the "New Order" to Europe . The bishops published a pro-Nazi proclamation in which they thanked Hitler for the "liberation" of Europe.  The Bishop Krupavicius, for example,  himself a L.A.F. member, who was staying at the time of the invasion in his chambers at Kalvaria near the German border, was among the first to receive the invading Germans. In his name and in the name of the L.A.F. he blessed the officers of the German army, called them "liberators", organized a command post of the L.A.F. in Kalvaria, stood at the head of a murder squad, and ordered the cleansing of Suvalkai of Jews.  During the entire Nazi period, 1941-1944, Krupavicius was in close contact with the Lithuanian activists and with the Nazis, helped in the organizing of police battalions, justifing their murderous activities in Lithuania, Poland and White Russia.

 

There are many eye-witness accounts that these men were directly involved in the incitement to murder Jews.  One of these is from the testimony of the murderer of Jews Antanas Valaitis, born 1906, from the town of Krakes near Kedainiai: "... I and Father Juozas Balutis travelled in August of 1941 to Kaunas in order to confer with the Bishop Brizgys in connection with the political situation, and in regard to the Catholic youth movement "Pavasarininkai" of which I was the leader. During our conversation, the Bishop asked if there were still any Jews left in the town of Krakes, and I answered that not all of the Jews in the town had been shot.  Brizgys screamed in anger: "You don't think that the Jews will rise up and murder everyone and burn down the town!", but I replied that the Jews were afraid, and that they were being kept in terrible conditions and were quiet.  In response, the Bishop said in a loud voice: "Do not pity the Jews - they deserve what they get". Immediately upon our return to the town, all the Jews of Krakes were shot near  the village of Pestininkai. Father Balutis told his friend Krotolis, main  murderer of the Jews in Krakes, about the Bishop's remarks and they murdered all the Jews.".

  

In conclusion, there is no doubt that  the ruling members in the hierarchy of the Lithuanian church collaborated fully with the Nazis in the plan for the liquidation of Lithuanian Jewry. Their principal interest might in part be paraphrased in the following nationalistic and religious sentiments:

 

*a) To help the Germans realize the "Final Solution" - in order to "gain points"

towards obtaining independence from the Germans. 

*b) To root out from the world all Jews guilty, according to the more widely held

Catholic belief, for the death of Jesus Christ.   

*c) To cleanse Lithuania completely of Jews, who according to their belief 

exploited  the Lithuanians, mainly economically.

*d) The anti-Semites related their abhorrence for Bolshevism to their hatred to

Jews.

 

  Some people assert that the absence of an unequivocal papal condemnation of the excesses caused many a Lithuanian Catholic to assume what many have suspected all along: that in the mind of Pius XII , a former papal nuncio in Berlin, the German attack on Marxist-atheist Russia overshadowed in importance the violence against Jews. Whoever is aquainted with the eternal stand of the Lithuanin Catholic Church against Jews believe that even a condemnation would not have changed its policy. The best proof is probably the fact that the change in the Vatican's attitude towards Jews expressed lately did not have yet any effect on the Church of Lithuania.

However, in this respect  of what happened during the Nazi regime, the  Lithuanian Catholic church and its disciples have commited a sacrilege and blasphemy  by defying the Supreme Being. These corrupted  priests, certainly, did not have in mind the teachings of Jesus Christ if they ever  sincerely believed in them...

  

Priests in the Lithuanian murder battalions

 

In the light of the strict formal hierarchy of the Catholic church and the internal discipline existing within the church, the priests of Lithuania generally followed the orders of the Bishops. In particular, they fulfilled the policies of their leaders concerning the Jews. The liquidation of the Jews of Lithuania was also close  to their heart. The help given by the priests in pursuing this desire was expressed in particular in the founding and organization of more than twenty police battalions, organized by the "Provisional Government" whose principal role was "cleansing" the land of Lithuania of Jews and to help the Nazis achieve the "Final Solution".  In almost all of the battalions a priest served  to supply the religious needs of the murderers, to bless them, to encourage them and to explain the importance of their activities "for God and for the Lithuanian nation". The priests traveled with the battalions to their place of "work" and participated in the murders along with

the other members of the battalion.  During that period there were horrifying rumours of the cruelty of priests in connection with the murders of Jews and the stealing of their property. These priests were also an important  tool in the recruitment of youth to the battalions  by promising the recruits an easy and rich life in an independent Lithuania after the war. 

 

In the trials which were  held in Soviet Lithuania after the war, many youths told how they were drawn to the battalions by the priests. Salionis, a murderer of Jews and a member of the infamous 12th battalion, told, among other things: "...in 1941, while I worked as an assistant to the priest Zelbis in the "Saint Antanas" church, I would listen to the sermons given by the priest each Sunday to the Lithuanian youth in which he would call on them to serve in the battalions in order to fight Communism and the Jews.  He suggested that I join and I did..."

This was also done by the priests of other battalions among them the priest Ignatavicius who fled afterwards with the Germans, reached the Vatican and worked there many years as a librarian and accountant. 

 

Many priests participated  in the murder of Lithuanian Jews, others were present during the mass murders of Jews in their communities and even travelled to places further away to see the slaughter for themselves. There were priests who did this in order to obtain part of the property of the Jews for themselves or for their church.  Many also had  signed certificates of their presence at the murder

sites and would participate in the division of the property that had been confiscated. Because of this, particularly in the smaller towns, the murders of groups of Jews were performed not far from the church so that the priest could be present.

 

In a lengthy testimony given by the murderer of Jews, Balys Labeikis from the 12th battalion , he said, in part: "... at the end of 1941, after we had finished the murder of the first group of Jews of Pasvalys, we stopped at a nearby  church in Siauliai where we received food and drink.  The next day we returned to Pasvalys and murdered the rest of the Jews of the town not far from the church

and then returned..."   

The priest Lianginas Jankauskas, born 1912, from the town of Skuodas near Kretinga, organized a murder squad even before the war began, gave them weapons training and at the beginning of the German invasion, participated with them in the murder of Jews in Skuodas, Kretinga and other places. This priest was also befriended by the famous murderer of Jews Pranas Yakis, whose group murdered 7,495 people in Kretinga, principally Jews (for which he was brought to trial since among those murdered were several dozen Lithuanians of German origin...). As for the priest Jankauskas, there is testimony from the Communist worker, Petras Jablonskis: "   In the first days of the German invasion I was wounded and lay in the local hospital. Father Jankauskas entered my room holding a pistol in his hand.  He pressed the pistol against my cheek and apparently wanted to shoot but at that instant he saw a wounded Russian soldier who lay beside me. Jankauskas immediately went to him, tore the bandages from his wound and, together with those accompaning him, dragged the soldier out to the yard where he shot and killed him. When my condition had improved, I was staying in the hall

with the Shaulists (nationalists of the "Marksmen Association" where there were also Jews who had been arrested. Every so often, Jankauskas would enter the hall, chose a group of wounded Jews, hauld them to the yard and shoot them. Jankauskas succeeded in fleeing with the Germans to Germany and from there went to the USA.

 

The priest Jozepas Laukeitis, born in 1873, was the head of the church in the town of Serejai. Before the war he was a representative in the Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament), published a Catholic- anti-Semitic newsletter "Saltinelis" (small source),  and participated actively in the murder of the Jews of Serejai, particularly in the murder of women and children. He also participated in  the murders in other places.

 

The priest Justinas Lelesius, a known sadist-murderer, started to murder Jews at the beginning of the invasion and then participated, among others, in the murders carried out by the battalions, principally in the murders of the Jews of Kaunas and of the Jews brought from abroad for execution at the Ninth Fort. After the war, he joined as a "partisan" in the forests and was known  for his cruelty toward captured Soviet prisoners.   Among     other things, he used to burn a star with five points into their flesh with a branding iron. Lelesius was also travelling, frequently to the concentration camp Meidanek where the battalion of Zemaitys-Vytautas guarded the camp and helped  to push the victims into the gas-chambers.

 

A friend of Lelisius, the priest Antanas Ilius, born 1909, from Mariampol, was active in the L.A.F., and  also participated in the murder of Jews.        

 

The priest Panava, a member of the Catholic Seminar of Kaunas, helped in the murder of Jews at the Ninth Fort.

 

The priest Kazimir Broskas, was a murderer who served in the murder battalions.Venclavas Zakarauskas, from Kaunas  also participated in the murder of Jews within the framework of the battalions.

 

The priest Santara, from Uzventis,  near Siauliai,  started to murder Jews from the beginning of the invasion.  He organized the murder squads and prepared lists of victims to be shot.

 

The Bishops Brizgys and Krupavicius fled with the Germans and went to the     United States where they lived well until their deaths.

 

The Archi- Bishop Skvireckas also fled with the Germans and lived in Austria. He left behind his diary, in which he wrote, among others (on June 30,41):"...I read Hitler's "Mein Kampf". His ideas  about the Jews are truly interesting...

This perspective has a great deal of truth, correctly assesses the reality...it is worthwhile to pay attention to the poisoning of the Bolshevic-Jewish peoples...in any case, it is evident that Hitler is not just a hater of Jews but a true thinker..."

 

Bishop Reinis was not able to flee with the Germans and was arrested by the Lithuanian-Soviet security, was sentenced and died in the prison of Vladimir.  This anti-Semitic bishop traveled, during the Nazi period, throughout Lithuania and in his sermons in the churches incited against the Jews. He would appear, among other places, before the Lithuanian police and murderers of Jews in their battalions before they left on their murderous missions to White Russia, encouraging them in their mission.

A large number of those priests connected with the murder of Jews did not succeed in fleeing with the Germans. They turned to the forests along with the other   murderers of Jews, and joined the "Zaliukai" ("The Greens" or "Men of the Forest"). During this period, they continued to receive help and support from the Bishops remaining in Lithuania. 

 

Testimonies were given immediately after the war by two important bishops, Borisevicius and Ramanauskas, who during the Nazi period knew all the Lithuanians, including leaders in the church, who had murdered Jews and where the murders had taken place. They also told the authorities about the great amount of help given to the Nazis by the bishops who had fled and of the priests who had actively participated in the murders of Jews and/or incited to murder. Among the priests mentioned were the following:

The priest Povilas Fokis, head of the murder squad in the town of Plunge;   

Ilya Stasys, the priest of Kaunas, an active member of the L.A.F. who was active in incitement to murder;

Leons Sapka, the priest of Telsiai, active in the L.A.F., who participated in the murder of the Jews of Telsiai;

Valentinas Jadversis, a priest from the area of Telsiai who also participated in the murder of the Jews of Telsiai;The priests Konstantinas Siksnius, Kiela and others. 

 

A priest who was very active and had connections with the Gestapo was Jonas Kipas (Johan Kipf), assistant to Bishop Brizgys, who actively helped the Nazis in attaining the "final solution". Murderers of Jews, were also the priests:Plankis Jonas of Betygala; Susnys Juozas of Balninkai, Kacanas of Giedraiciai, Janusaitis Petras of Kretinga, Zakarauskas Venclovas of the Battalions and others.

These is only a small number of the priests who participated in the murder of Jews or in incitement to murder. According to estimates, close to 100 priests participated actively against Jews, part of them taking part in the murders and abuse, part in incitement and part in the "confiscation" of  Jewish property.   .

 

In contrast to the large number of priests taking part in the murders and robbery, there were only a small number of righteous priests who resisted the policies of the heads of the Lithuanian Catholic hierarchy answering to their own personal and true Christian consciences and helping the Jews. The Jewish people have great esteem for these great men and pay them homage. Those in particular to be singled out from among the humanitarian priests are the following:

 

The elderly priest Father Dambrauskas from Alsedziai who did everything in his power to save Jews and was even punished for this by his Bishop. 

 

Father Bronius Paukstis from the Jesuit Church of Kaunas who saved many Jews from Kaunas.

 

Father Kriksciunas from the town of Pasvalys.

 

Father Bumsa from the town of Joniskelis.

 

Father Maciauskas from Uzventis.

 

Father Mielska of the Carmelite Church near Kaunas.

 

Father Lapis from Siauliai who attempted unsuccessfully to help the Jews of Siauliai.

 

Father Jonas Gylys, a parish priest of Varena I, delivered sermons against killing Jews and tried even to comfort the Jews whom the Lithuanian murderers concentrated in a synagogue before their murders. Such a deed was so "astonishing" that the Lithuanian Police reported it to the German Gebietskommissar...(see remarks).

 

  We should also mention in despatches the memoirs published by the priest Father Aleksandras Pakalniskis. The priest wrote seven books of memoirs of annals from the Nazi era, including the history and the fate of the Jews from the towns Plunge and Prienai.  Among others, he described the killings of the Jews who were executed horribly by the Lithuanians.

He recounts that during the slaughter there were present two Germans who stood far away from the site and did not interfere in the crime. The priest also describes  how the Lithuanians carried out the brutal arrests of the local Jews, their  internment in the synagogues, their torture and deprivation of food until starvation of many of them and finally their slaughter near the pits dug by the victims. 

 

 

 

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