Lithuanian youth head backs Nazi leader

By Jane Whyatt, May 24, 2012
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The head of Lithuania’s national youth association (ULNY) has denied that the country’s wartime puppet leader authorised the transportation of thousands of Jews to the Kaunas ghetto — and maintained that Jews cannot join his movement.

Youth leader Julius Panka claimed that Juozas Ambrazevicius, the acting prime minister of the provisional government of Lithuania for six weeks in 1941, was not responsible for the imprisonment of 30,000 Jews despite the existence of documentary evidence to the contrary.

“Documents have been falsified and there are false statements on the internet. Certain groups are using them to make trouble,” said Mr Panka.

The ULNY is one of the organisers of the annual march in the centre of Vilnius on the nation’s independence day, which is attended by a large number of neo-Nazis.

Mr Panka said that his group would not admit Jews or other minorities as members. “To be a member, you must be a full Lithuanian,” he said.

He denied that this is a Nazi policy: “They were National Socialists. We only seek to defend Lithuania. The threats are emigration and immigration. With one million Lithuanians living abroad and immigration by other groups, we are threatened.”

His comments come after last week’s four-day commemoration of Ambrazevicius, whose remains were repatriated from the US and reburied at the state’s expense. The urn holding his remains was placed on the altar at the Church of the Ascension of Christ in Kaunas.

Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis defended the memorial in parliament, saying that Ambrazevicius was entitled to full honours because he was posthumously given Lithuania’s highest national award. Culture Minister Arunas Gelunas — whose office in Vilnius used to be a Jewish bank, confiscated during the Holocaust — also personally supported the use of public funds.

Prominent anti-Nazi campaigners, including Weisenthal Centre Israel director Efraim Zuroff, have expressed outrage at the state’s involvement in the commemoration.

How does Mr Panka feel about the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were wiped out? Can he not understand how these ceremonies offend Jews? He replied: “There are just a few activists trying to make trouble, that is all.”

However, Mr Panka defends Ambrazevicius, painting the late prime minister as a resistance fighter: “Ambrazevicius was prime minister for only six weeks… When he realised that the Nazis would not allow Lithuanian independence, he went into the woods with the resistance.”

So why has this new version of events emerged only now, in 2012?

“Politically, this time is right. For some time since 1991 [the end of Soviet rule] we had a left-wing government. Now is the right time.”

Meanwhile, in the wake of the Ambrazevicius events, the only remaining active synagogue in Vilnius was vandalised with green paint this week.

There is significant resistance to the revisionist tendency in Lithuania. A conference on Ambrazevicius’s achievements was scheduled to be held on Thursday at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, but many members of the university staff have objected and were due to hold their own counter-conference this week.

Last updated: 3:29pm, May 25 2012