This slaughter became known worldwide not only because of its savagery but primarily, the fact that it was commited in broad daylight in the presence of hundreds of local residents, including women and children who applauded after each murder was committed. The writer has brought eyewitness accounts of German soldiers and Lithuanians who were present at the Lietukis Garage and saw the bestial behaviour of the Lithuanians.
The slaughter at Lietukis garage Adv. Joseph A. Melamed
The grotesque savagery so virulently demonstrated by the Lithuanians at this dreadful event, represented a watershed in the campaign of persecution against the Jews not merely because of the bestial hatred the Lithuanians so shamelessly displayed in the course such an act of ‘valor’ against defenseless people.
What made this act of barbarity so gruesome, was the fact it was committed in broad daylight with hundreds of local residents, including women and children, gathered around to observe the spectacle of Jews being either battered to death with crowbars or tire irons or choked to death by having a hose pipe shoved down their throats and water pumped into their gullets until their entrails burst.
The rounds of applause that came from the assembled crowd with each successive band of thugs (Juozas Luksa) that had just murdered 68 innocent people, took out his harmonica and together with the assembled crowd sang the Lithuanian national anthem. The prisoners incarcerated in the Kovna ghetto were to compose a parody on that anthem later on during the dark years of imprisonment, a parody that reflected the depth of their hatred and contempt for their Lithuanian enemies.
The significance of the Lietukis pogrom, in terms of the depth of hatred evidenced towards Jews is, however, as relevant today as it was at the time. The manner in which the present day Lithuanian government chose to handle the Lietukis issue once it had been firmly placed on the international agenda was as shocking as the events themselves.
In the face of mouting pressure for some form of judicial review of the events at the Lietukis garage, the Lithuanian government, at the suggestion of the then (1996) speaker of the Seimas (Lithuanian parliament), Vytautas Landsbergis, directed the office of the district attorney in Kovna to set up a commission to investigate the massacre. Such a commission was subsequently established by that authority but its composition merely added insult to injury. No indpendent observer or Jewish survivor was invited to participate in the commission’s inquiry. The only people who were asked to take part in the proceedings were prisoners of the ‘political prisoners association’ (most of who themselves were murderers of Jews); Lithuanian historians who specialize in the falsifying of historical facts; representatives from Kovna City Council (also renowned for its vitriolic tirades against Jews which continue to this very day); and Lithuanian police officials.
Such a gathering of eminent ‘unbiased’ investigators could only come to one conclusion after two and a half years of ‘inquiries’ and taking evidence from people who ‘saw nothing and heard nothing.’ Namely, that the evidence submitted was inconclusive and there was no case to answer. They did not approach those people who actually saw the atrocities being committed, such as the German soldiers who took photographs clearly showing the murders being carried out in broad daylight and which were introduced as evidence at the Nuremburg trials in 1946. Nor did they take the trouble to summon other witnesses such as those Lithuanian bystanders who gathered to watch the appalling spectacle and probably applauded the killers while they were going about their gruesome business.
As I mentioned in the pilot issue of our international newsletter “Lithuania, Land of Blood” the commission set up to investigate the Lietukis pogrom spent two years examining witnesses who heard nothing and saw nothing. It not unsurprisingly arrived at the conclusion that the evidence it heard was inconclusive and therefore there was no case to answer. I decided to tackle this issue head on and gathered a number of eyewitness accounts of Jews, Lithuanians, Germans, and others that were there on that fateful day. The testimonies that follow have already appeared in a number of publications so I find it extremely difficult to believe the members of the commission were unaware of their existence when they produced their report.
Testimony of Laimonas Noreika – award-winning actor (Published in “Metai” May, 2000)
“I can’t remember whether we left work early that day (my elder brother Albertas and I) or whether we went home at our usual time. Opposite the Kovna cemetery at the corner of Greenwald St and Vytautas Boulevard there was a small garage, which serviced light vehicles. A large crowd had gathered alongside the perimeter fence of the garage yard. So we also went over to see what was happening. I keep asking myself whether I just imagined it all but I know I did not. Those horrific events have been burned onto my memory and will remain there until my dying day. In the middle of the yard, in broad daylight and in full view of the assembled crowd, a group of well dressed, spruce intelligent looking people held iron bars which they used to viciously beat another group of similarly well dressed, spruce, intelligent people. It was obvious the yard also served as a horse stable as animal droppings were littered everywhere. The assailants yelled the word “norma” (move it) repeatedly as they relentlessly battered the Jews until they fell to the ground and began gathering feces. They kept hitting them until finally they lay inert. Then, using a hosepipe for washing cars, they doused them with water until they came round following which the abuse would start all over again. And so it went on and on until the hapless victims lay dead. Bodies began to pile up everywhere. I stood next to the fence and watched it all until finally, my brother Albertas pulled me away…”
Testimony of Vytautas Petkevicius, author and member of the Lithuanian Seimas (published in “Uzrase Sud” Vilnius, June 2001
“What I saw that day in the Lietukis garage yard will be ingrained in my memory for as long as I live. Can you imagine what it must have been like for a child to witness people being brutally murdered in broad daylight? It was a gruesome spectacle. I was twelve at the time and had just got off the ferry that had brought my schoolmate Ricardas Pakulis and me from the district where we lived on the banks of the Nemunas River (I lived in the Freda neighborhood). We reached Vytautas Prospektas at eleven o’clock sharp and headed for the Lieutakis office building where company employees were queuing to receive two free loaves of bread each (the father of one of my friends worked as a truck driver for Lieutakis).
“We couldn’t find Ricardas’ father so went downstairs to the garage. The parking spaces in the yard were empty as the Russians took all the trucks with them when they fled Kovna. The adjacent Defense Ministry offices were also empty and were eventually used to house Lithuanian members of the “White Armband” patrols. We could not find Ricardas’ father there either but we hung around to see what all the commotion was about. As we stood there a number of Lithuanians began to grab Jews of the street at random and drag them into the center of the yard.
“At around one in the afternoon after several dozen Jews had been assembled in the yard, the Lithuanians set upon them with clubs and iron bars. They battered them until they were senseless and then, as the victims lay prostrate on the ground they set upon them with hosepipes (usually used to wash cars) which they forced up their rectums and then turned the water on and left it on until the victims’ bowels burst under the pressure. I stood at the side of the yard and watched it all together with my friend Ricardas. I will never forget what I saw for as long as I live.
“Just then the headmaster of school passed by. Upon noticing us standing there he approached and slapping us sharply on our faces he shouted: “what do you think you’re doing here? Clear off at once!!” We didn’t see anybody in uniform, neither among the murderers nor victims. I recognized one of the killers, he was a neighbor of ours named Zigmas Juodis. There were a few other familiar faces there as well but I cannot remember their names.
“After a while, a member of the White Armband patrol showed up and announced that the “members of the Klimaitis group (who carried out the pogrom at Slabodka on June 25) should now leave the area as they are needed for another job elsewhere.” A number of Lithuanians then left the scene while the rest carried on with their “work.” They were all under the command of the L.A.F. (“Lithuanian Activist Front”) Chief of Staff Alexandras Bendinskas (who later became a member of the Seimas following the declaration of independence).”
Testimony of Leonas Survila (from a deposition taken by the State Attorney’s Office, January 1961)
“Around a week after war broke out I observed bourgeois nationalists killing people of Jewish extraction at the Lieutakis garage. That day, I left the Neris Iron Foundry at around ten o’ clock and headed for home. As I passed by the cemetery on Vytautas Prospektas an armed member of the Lithuanian Nazi militias stopped me and ordered me to go inside the cemetery and start digging pits. He stopped several other passers by too. Inside the cemetery a group of civilians, among them several Jews had already started digging.
A large crowd had gathered outside the perimeter fence to watch was happening inside the yard. It was too crowded for me to be able to make my way to the front so I headed for Misko Street further down the avenue and entered the yard of the former Polish school which was directly adjacent to the garage yard. I climbed up the border fence and watched the events in the yard below. I saw five or six men wielding iron bars and lengths of heavy rubber piping with which they beat Jewish men who had been stopped in the streets and forced into the yard in groups of two or three.
“The tarmac was soon littered with mangled corpses and pools of blood. The attackers tore out their victims’ hair, battered their skulls with iron bars, and doused them with water from hosepipes usually used to clean vehicles. The victims were tortured and abused until they finally died. Standing among the crowd was a group of German officers and soldiers. They did not join in the carnage and just watched the gruesome spectacle from a distance. I didn’t know any of those Lithuanians who murdered the Jews but I do remember one of them playing an accordion…”
Testimony given by Petras Cepas
“On June 27, 1941, I was walking down Vytautas Prospektas when I came across a large crowd that had gathered outside the Lieutakis Garage yard. As I approached, I could see Lithuanian men with arm bands on their jacket sleeves wielding shovels and hosepipes with which they mercilessly battered a group of Jews, old and young men, who lay prostrate on the ground. When the victims began to yell in agony, the murderers immediately shoved hosepipes into their mouths and turned the water on. I saw the men with the white armband order two men to undress. When they had done so, they led one of the men to the center of the yard where the other victims lay. Then they beat the other man with a rifle butt until he passed out. They dragged him into the yard where another Lithuanian repeatedly beat him with a length of iron piping. It was an absolutely horrifying sight and it made me sick to watch. One of the murderers, on seeing my discomfort called out: “keep quiet or you’ll be next.” By the time the orgy of killing finally ended, the yard was full of dismembered bodies and pools of blood. Shortly after, two trucks pulled up alongside the yard and the murderers loaded them with the bodies of their victims….”
Testimony given by Stasys Lekciaskas
“I couldn’t eat or sleep for days afterwards. One of the people being beaten to death in the garage yard was an acquaintance of mine. I do not recall his name but he was a musician and I used to see him at dance halls and other places of entertainment. He was a cheerful, affable person and was always ready to help people if he could. What I saw drove me to distraction and I felt like a bone had stuck in my throat. But there was nothing I could do to save him as the animals had already dismembered his body.
As soon as they murdered all those in the yard, the murderers began looking for more victims to kill. Within no time at all, their associates had rounded up another group of Jews and marched them up Vytautas Prospektas to the yard entrance. Several killers jumped over the gate, selected several Jews and led them into the center of the yard. And then the bloody killing spree started all over again.
“Cheered on by the enthusiastic crowd of spectators, the murderers took their cruelty to new heights of sadism. At the start of the pogrom, victims were beaten unconscious, doused with water to revive them and then beaten again and again. Now the murderers shoved hosepipes down their victims’ throats and turned on the water and left it on until the victims writhed on the ground with agony as their stomachs became ever more swollen and distended. Some of the victims were stripped of their clothes and their personal effects by the murderers before they battered them to death with iron bars. After it was over, the yard was hosed down with water until all the puddles of blood had been flushed into the drains…..”(Source: “Kauno Tiesa” September 4, 1960).
Eyewitness accounts from Germany
After the war German police interrogated a number of Germans who were at the Lieutakis garage yard on the day of the pogrom. Their testimonies were breathtakingly accurate, especially that of photographer Wilhelm Gunsilius whose photos encapsulated the full horror of the events in all their savagery. Following is an
excerpt from his statement to investigators at the Central Criminal Division of Baden Wirtemberg State police:
Testimony given by Wilhelm Gunsilius concerning the killings of Jews at the Lietukis garage in Kaunas.
(source: Ludwigsburg City archives No. 207, AP-3 14/58 (126:33).
“I am a photographer by profession and served in the air force with the aerial reconnaissance division. On June 22, 1941, our unit was in the city of Gumblien. I was under the command of General Busch, commander in chief of the 16th army. The task assigned to the troops was to seize control of both sections of the Ebenrod-Kaunas highway, thereby cutting off Daugavpils from the main city. On Tuesday June 24, 1941, I joined an advance detail heading for Kaunas. We arrived before lunch time on Wednesday June 25. I was ordered to find suitable billets for our unit. I managed to locate suitable properties without difficulty as I had aerial photos of the city. There was no fighting in the city. Later that day, not from the building I had a selected as our billet, I saw a large number of people standing in the yard of a petrol station. On the left side of the yard stood a group of between 40 to 50 men aged 30-50. A group of civilians had forced them into the yard. As can been seen in the photos I took, the civilians wore white armbands and carried rifles.
“A young man, apparently Lithuanian, stood in shirt sleeves and wielded an iron bar in one hand. Every few minutes he dragged another man out of the group and killed him with one or two blows to the back of the neck. Within an hour, he had murdered the entire group. After the war, I discovered in my archives a number of photos I took of the corpses and am prepared to lend them, as documentary material, provided they are returned me afterwards. After he had finally murdered them all, he picked up an accordion and standing on top of the corpses he played a tune, which I later learned was the Lithuanian national anthem.
“The conduct of the civilians, including women and children was unbelievable. After every blow of the iron bar they applauded and when the murderer began to sing the Lithuanian national anthem, they all joined in to the accompaniment of the accordion. In the front row stood women with their children in their arms, avidly following the entire proceedings.
“While I was in Kaunas, I observed from my apartment how Lithuanians wearing while armbands stopped groups of Jews of different ages and sex and led them away. Seeing this, I ran to photograph them.”
Excerpt from testimony given by Colonel L. Von Bischoffshausen:
“I arrived in Kovna on the afternoon of June 27 1941. Whilst patrolling the city I came across a crowd of people that had gathered alongside a gas station to watch was happening in the adjacent yard. There were women in the crowd and many of them clambered onto chairs and crates so that they and their children could get a better view of the “spectacle” taking place in the yard below. At first I thought this must be a victory celebration or some type of sporting event because of the cheering, clapping and laughter that kept breaking out. However, when I asked what was happening I was told the “death dealer of Kovna” is at work and he would make sure that all “traitors and collaborators” received a fitting punishment for their “treachery.” When I drew closer I witnessed a display of brutality that was unparalleled by anything I saw in combat during two world wars.
“Standing on the tarmac in the yard was a fair haired young man of around 25. He leaned on a long iron bar as thick as human arm and around his feet lay between fifteen to twenty people who were either dying or already dead. A few feet away from him stood another group of individuals who were guarded by armed men. Every few minutes he signaled with his hand and another person quietly stepped forward and had his skull shattered with one blow from the huge iron bar the killer held in his hand. Each blow he struck drew another round of clapping and cheering from the enthralled crowd.
“Later on at staff headquarters, I discovered that my superiors knew about the killings of Jews. They were appalled but at the same time they made it clear that such acts constituted spontaneous retribution against Jewish traitors and collaborators for their mistreatment of Lithuanians during Soviet rule. Such horrific acts were therefore an internal matter which the Lithuanians had to resolve on their own, without outside interference.
On the evening of June 27, I was invited to dinner at staff headquarters. During the meal, a staff officer approached General Bush, the local Wehrmacht commanding officer, and informed him of the rioting and killing that had broken out in parts of the city. The general replied that these were internal disputes and the Wehrmacht had no authority to intervene until such time as new orders were issued, which he hoped would be soon. All through the night I heard the sounds of machine gun and canon fire in the city. The next day, armed men could be seen on the streets escorting groups of around forty to fifty men, women and children, all of whom had just been driven out of their homes. On seeing me, a woman rushed over and falling to her knees, she begged me to rescue her. Within seconds the guards pounce on her and dragged her back into the group she had left. They told me the people were being taken to jail but in fact they were all taken outside town and executed. I remember the anger and resentment my report aroused amongst the officers and servicemen in my unit. They too considered such events an internal Lithuanian affair. I also subsequently learned that our military high command expressly prohibited army personnel from intervening in any way in such incidents as these were matters that came under the jurisdiction of the appropriate security services.”
Another person summoned to give evidence was Karl Roeder (b. 1910). This is what he told Baden Wirtemburg police investigators:
“I served in the 562nd bakery platoon which was attached to the German 16th army. Whilst patrolling Kovna I came across a crowd that had gathered in one of the city squares. I parked the car and climbed onto the roof of the vehicle to watch was happening. I saw a number of Lithuanians wielding implements which they used to savagely beat people until they collapsed lifeless on the ground. I didn’t know why these people were being so brutally murdered in broad daylight. When I asked the sergeant from the medical corps who was standing near me what it was all about, he explained that the dead were Jews whom the Lithuanians had abducted off the streets and led into the square to be killed. I knew nothing about the persecution of Jews back then.
“Upon approaching the scene I saw that fifteen people were severely wounded; the rest of those lying on the ground were already dead. I was an amateur photographer and took two shots of this bizarre “event” from my vantage point on top of the roof of my car. Before I could take any more, an officer appeared and said I was not allowed to photograph such events. He took the camera off me but luckily I managed to discreetly remove the film from it as I was handing it to him. The pictures I took clearly show five Lithuanians with implements in their hands beating Jews who were lying on the ground. Also visible are several members of the White Armband Volunteer Patrol. They dragged victim after victim into the yard where the other Lithuanians set upon them and viciously beat them to death.
“I left the scene after around ten minutes. A group of Wehrmacht soldiers passing through came over to the fence eager to see what was going on. They did not, however, take part in the murders themselves. None of us could believe our eyes. I didn’t see any SS or SD men there. I can identify the exact spot where I parked from the pictures taken by Gunsilius. The puddles in between the corpses strewn on the ground are blood; the rest of the yard was flooded with water.
“My testimony is supported by that of Sergeant Fritz Lesche who currently resides at 32, Herder St, Dusseldorf. This was a brutal massacre carried out by inhumane thugs of the lowest order. It was a singularly horrendous crime because nobody, no matter how heinous the offence he may have committed, deserves to be treated that way. The Jews prayed before they were killed and even the fatally wounded murmured final [unclear]
Statement given by Field Marshal Wilhelm Riter Von Lev – Commander in Chief of “Nord Unit”
“I told General Von Roques (member of German Eastern Front High Command) that while I empathized with his sense of anger, my hands were nevertheless tied. As is known, he had expressed his dissatisfaction with the mass murders of Jews that members of the Lithuanian secret service carried out on the streets of Kovna. We had no influence over such matters and all we could do was observe from a distance…”
In his evidence to the War Crimes Tribunal in Western Germany on October 20, 1947, Von Roques stated that SS General Stahlecker informed him that the Lithuanians initiated and carried out the first wave of mass killings in Kovna (including the massacre at Lieutakis Garage).
Film director and Holocaust researcher Saulius Berzinis commented: “Jews were massacred in broad daylight with small children hoisted on to their parents’ shoulders so they could get a better view. Can you imagine such a gruesome horror happening in Berlin?”
These eyewitness accounts are just a small part of the multitude of testimonies that have been published to date. Many more unpublished accounts lie in archives in Germany, Russia, and Lithuania itself. The “eminent” members of the commission set up to investigate the Lieutakis pogrom could have gained access to such documentation without difficulty. And many of the witnesses who gave this evidence are still alive and could easily have been summoned to testify to the commission as to what they heard and saw. The commission chose instead to turn a blind eye to such evidence and by doing so, it proved beyond doubt that its very existence and remit were nothing but a shabby public relations exercise designed to cover up the facts.
Covering up the truth – how the Lithuanians got away with murder
Father Alexandras Pakalniskis, a priest and writer who escaped to the United States in 1944, shortly before the Soviets recaptured Lithuania, recalled one particular attempt at deception perpetrated by the Public Information Bureau in 1942. On the initiative of bureau chief and journalist Juozas Sankus, an exhibition depicting what he called “red terrorism” was held at the military museum on Duonolaicio Street in Kovna. The exhibition featured photographs of mutilated bodies of Lithuanians who, apparently, had been tortured by Soviet N.K.V.D intelligence personnel and their “Jewish accomplices.” The bodies were so badly mutilated as to be beyond identification and so the names of the victims were added to each photograph. A display panel with the words “Lieutakis Garage” could clearly be seen in the background on several pictures.
One of the Lieutakis managers visited the exhibition and was shocked to discover the photographs of his garage yard on display. He informed the Public Information Bureau that the bodies photographed were, in fact, those of Jews. The exhibition immediately closed and reopened with the same selection of photographs from which the words “Lieutakis Garage” had now been discreetly removed. (Source: “Voices from the Past” (Praeities Atgarsiai, Chicago, 1988).
(Note: this was just one of the ruses employed by the Lithuanians to suppress the truth)