Hidden legacy of the fugitives from war: Lithuanians set up to do Germans' 'dirty work'

PAUL HILBERG, professor emeritus of political science at Vermont University in the US, told the Gecas libel trial in Edinburgh that the Lithuanian police battalions were set up by the Germans after they invaded Lithuania in 1941, to carry out their 'dirty work' of murdering Jews, writes Stephen Ward.

'The German police and the German army did not wish to commit Napoleonic atrocities,' he said. 'It was, after all, a cultured nation. If harsh actions were necessary against defenceless men, women and children, the task was transferred, wherever possible, to indigenous help. The Lithuanians were used to spare the psychological burden which would otherwise have fallen on the Germans.'

He said that the Lithuanian troops were used to 'ferret out' any elements deemed dangerous by the Germans, including communists, Jews, gypsies and mental patients.

He had personally found German documents in archives in Minsk which detailed orders given to the Lithuanians. They were among 2,000 folders dealing with railways and their security.

Their role was 'primarily for terror and secondarily for fighting'. By 'terror' he meant 'one-sided killing operations'.

The 12th had two German divisions, and three Lithuanian. He said that from historical records he could say that the 12th battalion was available for these shooting operations.

It had been present at Minsk in early 1941. 'They would guard the victims during their last moments of life; bring in small batches to ditches; shoot them there and, if wounded, shoot the wounded and then cover the graves and report back.'

He gave an account of a two-day massacre at Slutsk, now in Belarus, when 7,000 Jews were killed. Contemporary documents show that the operation was carried out by the 11th German police battalion, assisted by two of the three Lithuanian companies attached to it. One German major had left the scene because he was so disturbed by what was happening. The Jews were taken from shops and factories to just outside the town, where they were shot next to pits. Some wounded people managed to crawl out of graves. He said that this offended the Germans' sense of orderliness and officers used pistols to kill anyone left alive in the pits.