Submitted to The Revolutionary Imaginary: Visual Culture in an Age of Political Turbulences, Vilnius, November 30 - December 1. Rejected.
Choosing What We See
Cropping Hitler Out of Lithuania's 1941 Uprising
We consider how Lithuania's 1941 uprising has been variously portrayed over the years and how related moral questions have been addressed or avoided. Visual symbols distill how supporters and opponents of the uprising wanted to see it. As times change, these symbols document past rationales which do not always fit well with political objectives in contemporary contexts. Outdated visual symbols can be edited, reframed, revived, repurposed or abandoned. This dynamic serves as evidence of what we choose to see, and also what we refuse to see, and therefore adds to our moral analysis of the Lithuanian nation's responsibility for the consequences of the uprising, which unfortunately include facilitation of the Holocaust.
Kazys Škirpa, the organizer in Berlin of Lithuania's anti-Soviet uprising, believed in the central role of propaganda. In July, 1940, he made a strategic decision that although Lithuanians had resisted neither the Soviets, nor Lithuanian Communists, yet he might succeed in motivating them to fight against Lithuania's Jews. Anti-semitic posters which Mykolas Naujokaitis attempted to smuggle into Lithuania make this point visually.
Škirpa also understood that although Lithuania was a small and rather insignificant country, yet the uprising and especially the declaration of the restoration of Lithuania's independence would have symbolic value, certainly for the Lithuanian people, but perhaps also for Nazi Germany, to whom he looked for help and sympathy. Postal workers in Kaunas printed "Nepriklausoma Lietuva 1941-VI-23" (Independent Lithuania) on Soviet postage stamps. During the Cold War, the symbolic value of these stamps took on new meaning in the United States as evidence that Lithuanians did resist the Soviets when they had the chance.
The first issue of the rebel newspaper, "Į Laisvę" (Towards Freedom), likewise became an iconic image in the emigre community. However, this image had to be edited to crop out "the Fuhrer's declaration". The text also needed to be blurred so that the anti-semitic content was made unreadable. The resulting image, oddly cropped and poorly copied, gave the impression that this newspaper issue was some profound rarity. We trace the reuse of the resulting image, which continues to this day.
This visual record accompanies us as we ask our nation's history to provide us with the meaning that we seek from it. It puts in our face obvious facts, such as the pro-Hitler stance of our uprising. Alternatively, it bears witness that we have refused to look at such simple facts. Our interaction with that visual record reveals our contemporary morality, whether we choose to be accountable for that same history from which we seek to draw strength. This helps us analyze the extent of our morality in our changing portrayals of our 1941 uprising.
Andrius Kulikauskas is a philosopher who seeks to know everything and apply that knowledge usefully. He received his B.A. in Physics from the University of Chicago in 1986 and his PhD in Mathematics from the University of California at San Diego in 1993. From 1998 to 2010, he led the Minciu Sodas laboratory for serving and organizing independent thinkers around the world. They organized 100 peacemakers on-the-ground and 100 online assistants to avert genocide in Kenya in 2008. He has become a leading expert on Lithuanian accountability for the Holocaust in Lithuania. He has expressed his philosophical ideas with art shows in Uzupis and Chicago. Since 2016, he has taught philosophy at VGTU. He also leads workshops on how to investigate any question.