One of the photographs shows the victims lying in pools of blood, being beaten by men wielding metal poles.
Another photo shows a young man posing with a metal pole in his hand.
After the war, the photographs appeared in Soviet official publications alleging complicity by anti-Soviet Lithuanian nationalists in crimes committed by the German occupiers.
Since then the photographs have become famous, usually presented as evidence of an unprovoked pogrom against totally innocent Lithuanian Jews carried out by criminal elements.
But what actually happened at the Lietukis garage on that day, and what was the background?
In the book “Bitter Legacy: Confronting the Holocaust in the USSR”, edited by Zvi Gitelman (Indiana University Press, 1997), there is a chapter “Lithuanian-Jewish Relations in the Shadow of the Holocaust”, introduced and annotated by Simas Ycikas, research associate of the Centre for Research and Documentation of East European Jewry, Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
That chapter contains, among other interesting material, an account of the incident at the Lietukis garage published in 1989 in the journal “Pergale” , a monthly literary and artistic journal, organ of the (Soviet) Union of Writers of Lithuania, no 3 (1989), pp 130-31, no. 4, pp. 113-14.
The account was written by one Alexandras Bendinskas, who in 1941 had been a member of Lietuviu Aktivystu Frontas (Lithuanian Activist Front, an anti-Soviet nationalist resistance organization), and had originally appeared under the title “Death in the Lietukis Garage” in the journal “Gimtatis Krastas”, weekly published by the Teviske Association for Cultural Ties with Countrymen Abroad (no 32, August 10-16, 1989).
Here is the “Pergale” account, as reproduced by Ycikas. Deletions indicated by […..] are by Ycikas. It is on pages 200-202 of the book “Bitter Harvest”.
This article deals with events which took place on June 25, 1941, in the Lietukis garage in Kaunas. Abroad this was referred to as an anti-Jewish pogrom. In 1941 Alexandras Bendinskas, the author of the article, was a member of the staff (later chief of staff) of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), and during the tragedy he was responsible for the protection of trade, industrial, and transport facilities. He spent many years in Soviet places of interrogation, concentration camps, and deportation. He admits to having been an LAF activist. What we are printing here is Bendinskas’s version. If there are people who know that it happened differently, we shall publish well-based testimony of theirs.
Certain security services even today treat in a one-sided way the uprising of June 22-25, ie before the entry of the Germans into Kaunas, and the events of June 26-30 (already after the Germans had occupied Lithunania).
The uprising which was prepared and carried out by the LAF and people who joined them, was doomed. The majority paid for their involvement with their lives.
What took place in the Lietukis garage? I hereby testify and assert that there were killed a few more than ten people, or perhaps fewer. The people were murdered cruelly. The very fact that people were killed without sentencing by any court. Without accusation, by people who were foloeing only their passions, cannot be justified either legally or morally. The fifth commandment says: “Thou shalt not kill”. In regard to how it happened there are no documents on either the one or, apparently, on the other side. Those who prepared the uprising and participated in it can present several facts which explain the prehistory and circumstances of this painful event.
On June 13, 14, and 15, during the deportation of people from Lithuania, trucks were employed from Lietukis and other facilities. People’s moaning had not yet ceased when on June 17-18 a rumour began circulating about the preparation of still another deportation of people to Siberia on even a grander scale. We staff members of LAF gathered to consider what to do. At that time, at all enterprises and transport facilities groups of “fives” were organized; their task was not to allow the Red Army to blow up water pipes, the power station, telephone exchange, railway bridge, bread bakery, etc, and not to allow the pillaging of enterprises, stores, or the appropriation of means of transport.
What was to be done if war did not break out and the deportations were repeated? It was decided to resist by force. […….] The order was given to the transport “fives” to sabotage as many vehicles as possible.
The fatal day, June 22. The primary evil was Bolshevism, which we already knew. With our own eyes we had seen the mass arrests, the deportation of families without trial or accusation. The secondary evil was war. We had to choose war, ie the lesser evil. Although the nucleus of the staff of LAF consisted of military personnel, in the event of war it did not have strategic plans, maps, and hardly had any weapons. Following orders, the members of the staff who were responsible for enterprises, institutions, and other facilities, acted automatically. Some “fives” were autonomous. From the beginning of the war they acted independently, in accordance with local circumstances and depending on the situation at the moment. [………]
What occurred on the “side of the Bolsheviks” I and others did not know. But already on the evening of June 22 in the general commotion the Bolsheviks began to flee en masse. But not everyone fled on the first day. Some top security, police, Party and government officials remained to destroy documents which testified to their crimes and their scope, the lists of their agents, the direct involvement of Moscow in provocations of that time. Among these zealous ones were Russians, Lithuanians, and Jews. Toward evening on June 23, security personnel (the majority of whom were investigators) also decided to save themselves. They ran to the Lietukis garage for cars. They were caught by one of the “fives”, disarmed and locked up in the garage, since the prison and security departments were not yet fully in our hands. Furthermore, street battles were going on. In some plants and institutions the security departments were broken into and lists were used to find out the names of their heads. Some of these were caught and they also were put into the garage. On June 25, some political prisoners liberated from Soviet jails found out that security personnel were being held in the garage. They came to check this out and recognized some of them. There began something which no one could have foreseen in advance: filled with malice, their backs bloody, driven by revenge, with broken fingers, some had lost their families carried off in train cars to Siberia, the former prisoners killed those held in the garage. They beat them with whatever they found in the garage – with metal bars, with spades, etc. It was a terrible sight! The Lord’s commandment “Thou shalt not kill” was broken. There are people still alive who saw this execution. They are known to me. Neither I nor others whom I know find any just9ification for the bacchanalia of death.
What kind of people were killed in the Lietukis garage? Most authors who wrote about this event have presented it as a pogrom of Jews. Was it that in fact? According to my information, the majority of those killed were investigators of the security organs and heads of the “special departments” of enterprises and institutions; they were killed as officials rather than as representatives of a certain nationality. It turned out that a majority of the victims were Jews (documents found show this).
One is amazed by the manipulations of authors who in describing this crime continually inflate the figures. AT the time of the uprising, people spoke of more than ten killed. Later the Soviet press reported thirty, subsequently forty, and recently the respected E Zilberis already mentioned seventy. Only competent legal organs can establish the number killed, the identity of the victims and the circumstances of this horrible event; if necessary – with the participation of foreign observers. All the spots in this ugly incident of our country – the white ones, the black ones, and the red ones – must be clarified.
The E Zilberis referred to was Emanuelis Zilberis, chairman of the Jewish Cultural Society in Kaunas.