LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 34, No. 3 - Fall 1988
Editor of this issue: Antanas Dundzila
Copyright © 1988 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
LITHUANIAN RESISTANCE TO FOREIGN OCCUPATION 1940-1952
DANIEL J. KASZETA
Introduction and Background
Since June 1940, the nation of Lithuania has been illegally occupied by the Soviet Union. With the exception of a brief occupation by Hitler's Reich, Lithuania has remained under oppressive Soviet rule. The people of Lithuania did not meekly accept their fate. The ensuing political and military resistance movement was of significant magnitude in recent history. Students of history and political science forget or never learn of the efforts made by the Lithuanian people or those of the Ukrainians and other nationalities. The standard history texts will not talk of the resistance or will mention the resistance in a brief footnote at best. The forgotten and ignored resistance was of great political and military significance.
On February 16, 1918, in the wake of the Russian revolution, the independence of the Republic of Lithuania was proclaimed. After brief conflicts with the Soviet Union and Poland, the sovereignty of Lithuania was restored. In the following years, the new republic was recognized by most of the world's nations, including the United States and the Soviet Union. Throughout the twenties and thirties, the country prospered, while the economy grew. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Lithuania remained neutral. The independence of the Baltic states was in its last year, however. On August 23,1939, the Non-Aggression Pact between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union was secretly signed by Ribbentrop (for Hitler) and Molotov (for Stalin). One of the clauses of this clandestine agreement placed the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) in a Soviet sphere of influence. On October 10, 1939, Stalin's government coerced the Lithuanian government of President Antanas Smetona to sign a "Mutual Assistance Treaty" which provided for Soviet garrisons in Lithuania and a Soviet guarantee of Lithuania's sovereignty. On June 15, 1940, in violation of several treaties and international law, the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania after issuing an ultimatum. Throughout the initial Soviet occupation (1940-41), the Nazi occupation (1941-44), and the second Soviet occupation (1944 to the present)1, the fiercely independent and nationalistic Lithuanians fought to resist the invaders, both German and Soviet. Although faced by overwhelming opposition, the Lithuanians actively resisted the occupation of their nation, showing that aggression was not accepted without a heavy price in blood.
The First Soviet Occupation
After June 15, 1940, various political events occurred in Lithuania and the other Baltic republics. President Smetona and some of the members of the legal government fled Lithuania. In their wake, the Soviet occupying forces set up a puppet government. Through a rigged election, wherein non-communist candidates were intimidated, arrested, or silenced, the newly formed "People's Diet" was dominated by the Communist Party. The Diet "asked" that the Lithuanian Republic be disbanded and that the Soviet Union annex Lithuania. On August 3, 1940, the Soviet Union formally annexed the Lithuanian nation.
The month of August brought the full force of Stalin's secret police apparatus to bear in Lithuania. Lithuanian law was abolished and replaced by Soviet justice. One of the first acts of the NKVD (Stalin's secret police) was to persecute the remnants of the Republic's government and suppress the Roman Catholic Church. (Lithuania was, and still is, 90 percent Roman Catholic.) During 1940 and 1941,19 members of the Lithuanian cabinet, 14 ranking members of the leading National party, and 9 leaders of other political parties were deported.2 Churches and synagogues were confiscated. All of the monasteries were closed. Of four seminaries, only the one located at Kaunas remained open, although it was soon converted into an army barracks. The religious press was silenced and wide scale destruction of religious books occurred. On January 21, 1941, all members of the clergy were prohibited from receiving salaries and were forced to pay special taxes. During the first year of occupation, 15 priests were executed for conducting religious services. All of these instances of oppression are merely examples; the full extent of religious suppression was far greater.3 Clearly, the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, written in the Soviet constitution, did not apply to the Lithuanians.
Soviet oppression was not limited to the Church and former government officials. All privately owned land larger than 30 hectares was declared to be state property. About 385,000 hectares (more than 800,000 acres) were confiscated, without compensation, from 27,000 landowners.4 Kolkhozes (collective farms) and Sovkhozes (state farms) were planned. In the cities, all banks, industries, and businesses were nationalized, again without compensation. By the spring of 1941, the Lithuanian Litas, the unit of currency, was banned. Any bank deposits worth more than 1,000 rubles were impounded by the occupiers. The Lithuanian economy was mauled and agriculture disintegrated. The economy had been sovietized.
This was not the full extent of the Soviet terror apparatus. The Lithuanian armed forces, although 20- to 30,000 in number, were dismembered and neutralized. The armed forces were incorporated into the Red Army, purged repeatedly, and staffed by Russian commissars.
The final, and most devastating step of the terror were the deportations that occurred in June 1941. The NKVD realized that certain groups might pose a threat/in theory or in reality, to the communization and russification of Lithuania. A list of 23 different groups were considered a threat to the occupation:
1. Former members of legislative bodies and prominent members of political parties
2. Army officers from the Russian Civil War (1917-1921)
3. Prosecutors, judges, and attorneys
4. Government and municipal officials
5. Policemen and prison officials
6. Members of the National Guard
8. Border and prison guards
9. Active members of the press
10. Active members of the farmers' union
11. Business owners
12. Large real estate owners
13. Ship owners
15. Hoteliers and restaurateurs
16. Members of any organization considered to be right wing
17. Members of the White Guard
18. Members of anti-communist organizations
19. Relatives of any person abroad
20. Families against whom reprisals had been taken during the Soviet regime
21. Active members in labor unions
22. Persons with anti-communist relatives abroad
23. Clergymen and active members of religious organizations.5
Under article 58 in the Soviet penal code, any relative or associate of a person charged with a political crime could be found guilty of that crime. Given these provisions, nearly the entire population of Lithuania was liable to be prosecuted, deported, tortured, or executed at the whim of the NKVD. From June 14 to June 21, 1941, the first wave of Soviet deportations occurred. In one week, 30,425 deportees in 871 freight cars were sent to various remote regions of the Soviet Union.6 According to Joseph Vizulis and the Estonian Information Center, at least 7,777 children under 18 were included in this deportation.7 It is an accepted estimate that approximately 75,000 Lithuanians were executed, imprisoned, deported, placed in internal exile, or simply disappeared during 1940-41. Given the population of Lithuania (more than 3 million in 1939), this number is more than two percent of the entire population.
Despite the intent of the Soviet occupation forces, the policies of the Soviet government did not stifle dissent. From the beginning of the occupation, Lithuanian patriots planned resistance. Although the Soviets sought out and removed potential troublemakers, any attempt to resist the universally unpopular Soviets had overwhelming public support. In the days immediately following the occupation, both passive and armed resistance groups began to covertly organize as early as August of 1940. Although much information is lacking, acts of passive resistance in outright defiance of the Soviet government occurred. In the puppet elections for the "People's Diet", only 15 percent of the eligible voters cast ballots. Hundreds of ballots were cast for a cartoon character. Political rallies and parades were sparsely attended. Portraits of Lenin and Stalin were stolen from public places. The concert of the Red Army Chorus was disrupted by crowds singing patriotic songs. High schools and colleges became sources of sedition. National flags appeared out of nowhere. In response, the Soviet government rounded up many activists.
On October 9, 1940, a coordinated resistance group, calling itself the Lithuanian Activist Front (Hereafter referred to as the LAP) was formed in Kaunas. The leader and one of the founders of this organization was Colonel Kazys Škirpa, the Republic of Lithuania's Minister-Plenipotentiary to Berlin, who had remained in exile after June 1940. The LAP was organized with its leadership under Co. Škirpa in Berlin, two centers (in the Lithuanian cities of Vilnius and Kaunas), and hundreds of three man "cells" across the country. The eventual goal of the LAP was to incite a revolt when the leadership determined that the conditions were right. Arms were stockpiled and plans were made. The NKVD was alarmed by the fact that the highly compartmented LAP could not be seriously compromised. The LAP began to serve as a unified resistance command, absorbing such resistance groups as the Iron Wolf and the Lithuanian Freedom Army, of later fame. According to Vardys, the LAP grew to a strength of 36,000 members, a very significant underground movement.8
The 1941 Revolt and Declaration of Independence
On June 22, 1941, Hitler's Germany invaded the Soviet Union. As the panzers rolled over the routed Red Army, news of the invasion spread like fire across Lithuania. In a matter of hours, the LAP went into action in Kaunas. By noon on the 23rd, the telegraph and telephone center, the central post office, police headquarters, arsenals, and the radio station in the city of Kaunas were controlled by LAP members. In a dramatic radio broadcast, the LAP announced the formation of a Lithuanian Provisional Government. The revolt spread throughout the country. Many of the major cities were liberated by LAP members. The retreating Red Army was harassed. For a few brief weeks, the Lithuanians believed that their republic has been restored. The German army arrived in Lithuania to find a functioning government; the Germans did not fire a shot to take the city of Kaunas.
The joy of the Lithuanian people was dampened, however. Out of the estimated 100,000 persons participating in the revolt, 2,000 had died. The retreating Soviets paused only to massacre political prisoners and others who simply got in the way of the Soviet retreat. For example, in the Rainiai forest, 76 high school students and Boy Scouts were brutally tortured, murdered, and mutilated.9
German Occupation — 1941 to 1944
Nazi Germany soon became the Soviet Union's heir. The Lithuanian Provisional Government was disbanded. Under the leadership of Reichkommisar Heinrich Lohse, the German government formed an administrative region known as Ostland, which was composed of the three Baltic states and Byelorussia. Adrian von Renteln was appointed as the General Commissioner for Lithuania. The German administration maintained the land and business policies of the Soviets. Although the civil administration of occupied Lithuania was quite unpopular, other Nazi policies provoked overt discontent. One such policy was the "recruitment" of Lithuanian men for forced labor throughout the Reich. In the spring of 1942, Lithuanian trustees in the occupational government were ordered to mobilize 100,000 Lithuanians for labor in Germany. Only five percent of the quota was filled, and Gestapo agents and SS troopers resorted to wholesale abduction of Lithuanian youths in order to fill their quotas. The Gestapo also persecuted Lithuanians considered to be threats to the occupation. Thousands were jailed or executed. The LAP was suppressed and many of its leaders were jailed. Finally, any study of Lithuania during this era must include the Nazi Party's systematic destruction of the Jews. During the Second World War, at least 200,000 Lithuanian citizens of Jewish origin were deported or killed. The nature of the Nazi occupation was little different from the Soviet occupation. Resistance was inspired by the acts of the Nazi occupier. The Lithuanians resisted the Nazi overlords as well.
Organized resistance was incoherent at first, since the leadership of the LAP had been disrupted. Small political and guerilla resistance groups slowly formed, often without concrete leadership or organization. In time, a number of resistance groups grew in strength and effectiveness. The Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters (known by its Lithuanian initials LLKS) and the Lithuanian Front (a Catholic activist group) were formed in 1941. In 1942, the Lithuanian Unity Movement (a youth movement) and the Lithuanian Freedom Army (a purely military/guerilla group) were organized. Finally, the Lithuanian Nationalist party, which had partially cooperated with the Nazi administration, joined the ranks of the underground after the Germans silenced the party. These groups, and others, waged a war against the occupiers in many different forms. However, military resistance was avoided, since such efforts would militarily aid the Red Army.
An important facet of resistance was opposition by members of the local governments in Lithuania. After the German invasion, the Reichkommisar established the Council-General, an office composed of Lithuanians to assist with the administration of Lithuania. While pretending to be collaborators, many members of this puppet government covertly contributed to the resistance movement in various ways. For example, Dr. Germantas-Meškauskas, the Councillor-General for Education, worked incessantly to preserve Lithuanian culture and educational institutions from nazification. Dr. Germantas-Meškauskas was deported to the Stutthof concentration camp after two years of covert resistance, where he died.10 As a result of their resistance, five of the nine members of the Council-General ended their lives at the Stutthof concentration camp. Another aspect of this sort of resistance was the recalcitrance of the Lithuanian police. Because of manpower shortages, the Germans were forced to use Lithuanians as policemen. As well as conventional police duties, the Gestapo attempted to use Lithuanian police for political oppression. Unfortunately for the Gestapo, many policemen cooperated with the resistance by disposing of evidence, protecting resistance agents, and providing advance notice of Gestapo and police raids and searches. Through the efforts of Lithuanian policemen, the resistance at times was protected from the Gestapo.
An extremely important part of the Lithuanian resistance to the Nazi occupation was the proliferation of an extensive underground press. The first manifestation of clandestine publications was the distribution of pro memoria, brief bulletins of news and resistance literature. Because few Lithuanians received accurate news from official sources, underground literature soon became very popular. Soon, full newspapers, printed with great difficulty and under adverse conditions, appeared. Many of the underground factions, both violent and non-violent, issued publications. The LLKS mimeographed the newspaper Laisvės Kovotojas (Freedom Fighter), which had a circulation of 20,000 and the papers "Word of Freedom" and Apžvalga The Lithuanian Front published its own newspapers as well: / Laisvę (Toward Freedom), Lietuvių Biuletenis (Lithuanian Bulletin), Vardan Tiesos (In the Name of Truth), and Lietuvos Judas (a compilation of Lithuanian collaborators). The Lithuanian Unity Movement published Atžalynas (The Sapling). The Lithuanian Freedom Army (LFA) published regular bulletins. A number of other publications, including the influential Nepriklausoma Lietuva (Independent Lithuania, published by the Populist Party) were distributed across the country. Although fiercely combated by the Gestapo, the publishers and distributors of these clandestine journals accomplished several important goals of the resistance. The Lithuanian press served to unite the people against the oppressor, to provide communication from the resistance leadership to the people, to warn the populace of the policies of the occupier, and to provide uncensored news from abroad. The Lithuanian underground media accomplished these goals, despite constant disruption by the Nazi authorities.11
Another facet of the German occupation were the continuing attempts by the authorities to mobilize Lithuanian manpower to further the Nazi war effort. The German losses on the Russian front in 1942 and 1943, as well as the withdrawal of the Italian, Hungarian, and Rumanian armies left the German military with an acute shortage of troops in the East. In the eyes of many German leaders, the Baltic Republics could provide a satisfactory solution to the manpower problem. E. J. Harrison, the former British Vice-Consul in Lithuania, summarizes the German view of Lithuania's military utility.
In some ways such a force (troops from the Baltic states) would perhaps prove to be even more valuable than the withdrawn Italian, Hungarian, Rumanian units; they had a better knowledge of Russian and the Russians; they inveterately hated the Soviet regime of which they had had a taste for one year, and they dreaded the possibility of its return.12
Given the recruitment for SS legions in Estonia and Latvia, the Germans estimated that Lithuanians could provide 250,000 soldiers. However, the German manpower managers in Berlin did not take into account the fiercely independent nature of the Lithuanians. The recruiting drive was bitterly opposed by the Lithuanian intellectuals and the underground press. Fierce reprisals were undertaken, but Lithuania, along with Poland, became one of only two occupied nations that had no native SS Legion. Of the Lithuanian soldiers drafted into German service, many deserted. The Lithuanians in German service had one of the highest desertion rates of any group during the Second World War. As a result of the continued German oppression, especially the attempted formation of the SS legion, the Lithuanian resistance hardened. By the spring of 1943, the Lithuanian resistance organizations began to consolidate and form a unified high command. Representatives of several pre-occupation political parties formed the Vyriausias Lietuvių Komitetas (VLK — The Supreme Lithuanian Committee). The VLK was composed of the Nationalist, Populist, Social Democrat, and several other parties. The VLK was instrumental in combating the formation of the SS legion through a determined media campaign. A number of factions, including the LLKS soon affiliated themselves with the VLK. A member of the LLKS, Algirdas Vokietaitis, was dispatched by the VLK as an envoy to the West. Vokietaitis crossed the Baltic Sea to Sweden on a fishing boat and arrived as the official representative of the Lithuanian resistance. As well as the VLK, a group known as the National Council was formed out of the Christian Democratic party (another prewar political party), the Lithuanian Front, and the Unity Movement. The National Council was primarily a Roman Catholic organization. Both the VLK and the National Council worked at a feverish pace against the German occupation through their support of the underground press, draft evasion, and other forms of resistance.
The two resistance organizations were unable to cooperate effectively; friction between the VLK and the national Council developed. Undoubtedly, Gestapo officials were pleased by the friction between the two groups. During the summer and fall of 1943, the leadership of the VLK and the National Council met to discuss unification. As a result, the groups merged to form the Vyriausias Lietuvos Išlaisvinimo Komitetas (VLIK — The Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania.)13 The VLIK provided the national leadership for the Lithuanian Republic. The VLIK soon set up a nationwide network of resistance organizations and published its proclamations in the underground press. On February 16, 1944 (Lithuanian Independence Day), the VLIK issued a proclamation containing ten clauses outlining the position of the resistance. These clauses included the restoration of the 1938 constitution, the formation of a provisional government, a re-affirmation of the Lithuanian democratic ideal, and the re-constitution of the Lithuanian Army.14 The VLIK realized that the German occupation would soon end and the Soviets would have to be resisted once again.
The last year of German occupation brought redoubled efforts to conscript Lithuanians. One German official, Major General Just, succeeded in forming several construction battalions. Despite Soviet allegations, these battalions were composed of draftees, not volunteers; the battalions did not indicate public support for Nazism.
In early 1944, groups of Soviet guerrillas combated the Germans and wreaked havoc in eastern Lithuania. The Germans decided to permit the formation of a Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force under Lithuanian leadership to fight the oncoming Red Army. A Lithuanian officer General Povilas Plechavičius was placed in command. Fourteen battalions and an officer's school were planned. This defense force was to be under the command of Lithuanians and was intended to operate in Lithuanian territory. Under these conditions, the resistance endorsed the force. Surprisingly, about 20,000 volunteers, twice the requirement, appeared at recruitment points. The success of this recruitment was due to three factors: the impending arrival of the hated Soviets, the confidence in General Plechavičius, and the possibility of serving a strictly Lithuanian cause. Despite the successful recruitment, German duplicity prevailed. The Home Formation, as the Lithuanians called it, was equipped with obsolete weapons, little ammunition, and few uniforms. The German command began to disrupt the Home Formation by randomly ordering the battalions to different parts of the country without the knowledge of the Lithuanian commanders. Although the Germans attempted to disrupt the Home Formation, the Lithuanian officers, most of whom were officers in the prewar Lithuanian Army, openly displayed their patriotic beliefs.
The Home Formation was short ived. Upon the German discovery of the VLIK, the Nazi authorities informed General Plechavičius that they were taking command of the force. At this time, many soldiers of the Home Formation split into small groups and melted into the rural areas, where they planned for guerrilla warfare against the Soviets. On May 15, 1944, the entire senior staff of the Home Formation was arrested. The next morning, German troops attacked the officer's school and the remaining cadets resisted.15 In the eastern regions of Lithuania, seven battalions (nearly half the Home Formation) fled into the forests. Of the 10,000 members of the Home Formation, the Germans captured 3,400, some of whom were forced into the German Army. During the course of the German occupation, severe damage had been inflicted. As many as 200,000 Jews had been deported, most of whom died in extermination camps. Some 75,000 men had been impressed for factory labor in Germany. About 20,000 men had been conscripted for the German military. Several thousand political prisoners had been liquidated. More than 100,000 refugees fled westward. Some $600 million worth of property, goods, and currency had been seized.16 However, the impact of the impending Soviet re-occupation promised to be even greater.
The Second Soviet Occupation — 1944 to the Present
In July and August 1944, Lithuania became a heated battleground as the Red Army drove towards Berlin. On July 14, Vilnius was captured by the Soviets. On July 31, Kaunas fell.
The second occupation resumed the practices of the first. The Church was suppressed and the intelligentsia were harassed and obstructed. Stalin's tyranny remained unchanged.
The second Soviet occupation was violently resisted from the start. Tens of thousands of Lithuanians armed themselves against the invader. The almost universal support for the resistance can be explained by several factors. The Lithuanian people had no illusions about the intentions of the Soviets. Nearly anyone with a history of nationalism or open dissent had three choices: flee, join the resistance, or face the wrath of the Soviets. Many relatives of resistance members had little choice. Relatives were occasionally executed as a deterrent to opposition. Hundreds, maybe thousands, took to the forests in order to escape conscription into the Red Army, where Lithuanians were universally mistreated by Russian officers and NCOs. Some joined the resistance out of fear, since innocent peasants were often imprisoned merely to terrorize the nation. The Roman Catholic Church gave its support to the partisans; indeed, many priests actively served in the resistance. The battle lines were drawn and the Lithuanian population was forced to resist the Soviets en masse.
Arrayed in opposition to the resistance was the combined military and secret police infrastructure of the Soviet Union. By 1948, eight divisions of the Red Army were stationed in Lithuania. These were not second or third line conscript outfits with obsolete equipment; these Red Army units were veteran combat infantry armed with modern weapons and supported by tanks, artillery, and the world's largest military intelligence organization. The Soviet Air Force stationed units to support the Red Army. A far greater threat to the Lithuanian freedom fighters was the NKVD. The NKVD was not only a secret police organization. The NKVD had its own infantry troops, as well as an efficient network of intelligence operatives and informants, and a brutal terror apparatus. With security forces numbering more than 100,000 men stationed in a nation of only 3 million people, the true extent of the resistance can be ascertained.17
In general, the Lithuanian resistance was organized like an inverted pyramid. The first layer of the resistance was composed of active partisans. Also known as the "Forest Brothers", the partisans were armed with captured German and Soviet weapons, including Czechoslovakian Skoda machine guns, Soviet "Maxim" machine guns, and a few mortars. The partisans lived in the forests and isolated farms of rural Lithuania. Many active partisans wore old Lithuanian military uniforms, emphasizing the fact that they were uniformed combatants engaged in warfare, not bandits engaged in criminal acts, as the Soviets attempted to portray the resistance. There was a high rate of turnover in the partisan units; the average active life span of a partisan was two years.
The second layer of the resistance was the passive fighters. The passive fighters were also armed, but they lived "legal" lives, fighting only when an opportunity presented itself. Finally, there were the supporters, who comprised a substantial portion of the population. The supporters provided supplies, shelter, and intelligence to the partisans, as well as supporting the underground press and other resistance activities.
The membership of the various resistance groups was incredibly diverse. Although the majority of the resistance came from the worker and peasant classes (the same groups that the occupation claimed to serve), people of almost every background served. Priests, professors, large employers, Boy Scouts, high school and college students, teachers, lawyers, and many others took up arms against the Soviets. Women were not only couriers and nurses, but armed guerillas who fought admirably. In some cases whole families joined the resistance. Escaped German POW's and Red Army deserters joined the battle. The leadership of the movement was provided by the intelligentsia, and many command positions were filled by former officers of the Lithuanian Army. Membership in the resistance cut across traditional political barriers. Nearly every non-communist political belief was represented in the ranks of the resistance. From these observations, it can be seen that the resistance had a wide popular backing.
At first, the resistance groups were small. However, nearly all of the resistance groups had much in common. The various underground groups were based upon the ideals of Lithuanian nationalism and Roman Catholicism. Most groups had solemn oaths of secrecy, under penalty of death. In addition, most groups had common goals. Apart from the admittedly distant goal of independence, the resistance groups strived to prevent the sovietization of Lithuania and to fight the oppressor wherever possible. The partisans carried out a number of operations in order to achieve their goals, including disrupting the establishment of Soviet institutions, punishment of collaborators, collection and distribution of intelligence, documentation of Soviet crimes, protection of the civilian population, and maintaining the underground press.
According to several sources, including Vardys and Gerutis, the resistance had more than 30,000 active participants at its height, one percent of the population of Lithuania. At the height of the Vietnam conflict, membership in the Viet Cong among the people of South Vietnam was a fraction of this percentage. If any indicator can demonstrate the significance of the Lithuanian resistance campaign, the figure of 30,000 will.
As the Red Army rolled into Lithuania, the largest and best organized partisans were the Samogitians, under the leadership of General Motiejus Pečiulionis. The Samogitians were comparatively well armed and had several thousand partisans. The Soviets avoided open confrontation with the Samogitians at first; the Soviets resorted to a campaign of provocations. By the start of 1945, the partisans could be found everywhere except near the Red Army garrisons. The resistance had no centralized command, since each commander had his own strategies and objectives. Nonetheless, the basic objectives of the resistance were universal: paralyze local communist activities, obstruct communist plans, and destroy NKVD units in the provinces. The various groups of partisans soon gained the respect of the local populace. Effective Soviet government was not possible in many rural districts because of the assassination of Soviet officials. By April 1945, the resistance controlled some districts and established local governments.18 The Red Army and NKVD did not dare to venture into some regions of the countryside in less than company or battalion strength, especially at night.
Many of the brave exploits of the resistance will remain unknown. Much of the information about the resistance perished in the forests of Lithuania or in labor camps in Siberia and Central Asia. Individual stories of partisan actions will be used as examples, but an anthology of resistance tales is beyond the scope of systematic, objective documentation.
Throughout the spring of 1945 the partisans grew bold in their activities. Because of excellent leadership and their familiarity with the local terrain and guerrilla tactics, the partisans inflicted great losses on Soviet units. Sometimes the partisans would successfully ambush units ten times their size. In the forest and fields, like any group of insurgents, the partisans had nearly complete freedom of movement, allowing them to choose where, when, and who to fight. The resistance fighters rarely confronted the Red Army, but concentrated on the NKVD troops, who were seen as a greater threat to the civilian population. In southern and western Lithuania the partisans were limited to smaller units. In the large, dense forests of eastern and northern Lithuania, larger groups, often as many as several hundred, conducted operations. The patriot leader Žalgiris led 800 men. Large battles, occasionally involving entire regiments of NKVD troops were fought. The occupation, considered at first to be an easy task for a superpower, evolved into a quagmire, not unlike the recent Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
One of the early tactics of the Soviets was called the istrebiteli ("destroyer") program. This program organized and equipped local Lithuanian villagers to fight against the insurgents. Each township was to establish a unit of 30 men under NKVD leaders. These units were not paid, receiving only weapons and ration cards. Mostly the dregs of society comprised, the istrebiteli units. The men of these units engaged in many criminal activities with the apparent sanction of the Soviet authorities. As for the success of the istrebiteli, there was little. In combat, the istrebiteli performed poorly, and many units were infiltrated by partisans.
Many individual members and occasional whole units deserted. A number of units were mauled or destroyed. The entire program was a complete failure. The failure of the program disproved the Soviet myth that the violence in Lithuania was a civil war.
In July 1945,10,000 new NKVD troops arrived in Lithuania. October brought wild rumors of a partisan assault on the city of Kaunas. Throughout the fall and winter of 1945, the rebels continued their struggle. Local government was paralyzed by the killings of Soviet officials. Few people had desire to work in government positions. Soviet officials engaged in "land reform" (nationalization of farmer's holdings) were obstructed. The Soviets, a military superpower with the most powerful police apparatus in the world, were not able to govern a small nation of 3 million inhabitants. The situation in many places approached anarchy. In the first half of 1946, occupation authorities recorded over 800 acts of sabotage.19 The Soviet authorities soon realized that the situation was polarized and that extreme measures would be necessary to pacify Lithuania.
The NKVD began a series of vicious reprisal operations against the partisans. Between June 28, and July 16, 1946, about 7,000 NKVD troopers performed a search-and-destroy operation in southern and western Lithuanian Thirty-one partisans were killed but more than 299 NKVD soldiers died.20 Another large operation occurred in August, which resulted in the deaths of more than 200 partisans, including several leaders. Again, the Soviet losses outweighed the partisan losses. A third operation of similar magnitude was conducted in September. It has been estimated that 9,000 partisans and direct supporters died between Jurte 1944 and June 1946. However, these losses did not deter young men from joining the movement, and effective partisan control of the countryside was only temporarily disrupted. These operations resulted in a severe shortage of trained partisan officers in many units. In 1946, 72 officers graduated from an underground partisan cadet school. The second officer's course was attacked and dispersed in 1948. Afghanistan was not the Soviet Union's first experience with guerilla warfare.
Throughout 1945, 1946 and 1947, there were several attempts to unify the partisans into a single organization. VLIK had been eliminated in Lithuania itself and existed only in exile. In 1945, a group called the Lithuanian Council of Liberation (Lietuvos Išlaisvinimo Taryba) was formed, but was soon discovered by the NKVD and eliminated. The survivors formed the Committee of Unity, which made some efforts at unifying the resistance. This group was also eliminated. In June 1946, resistance leaders, with the encouragement of émigrés abroad, formed the United Movement for Democratic Resistance (Bendrasis Demokratinio Pasipriešinimo Sąjūdis). Because of arguments about strategy and organization and the organization's proposal that armed resistance be ended, the UMDR eventually failed. For the next few years, there was little central coordination of the resistance; coordination was the result of cooperation between different districts, not the result of directives from a central headquarters. Each rural district organized to fit its own needs.
In 1946 and 1947, the partisans effectively obstructed the Soviet elections in Lithuania. In February 1946, the Soviet authorities were preparing to hold elections for the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R., a mere formality. Only one candidate for an office appeared on a ballot. The voters received pre-marked ballots and merely dropped them in a box. The partisans terrorized Soviet election officials and disrupted balloting operations. Despite Soviet efforts to coerce the Lithuanians to vote in order to maintain the appearance of democracy, less than one-third of the eligible voters cast ballots. Soviet officials reported the turnout as 96 percent and submitted thousands of ballots. In February 1947, the authorities prepared to hold elections for the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet. Because of the disruption of the previous elections, many precautions were taken: additional units of the Red Army were sent to Lithuania to preserve order and detachments of troops were posted at every polling place. When election day came, nearly all of Lithuania stayed home. Armed election committees coerced voters and cast thousands of votes themselves. Because of the efforts of the resistance, the Soviet government could not even maintain a facade of democratic elections.
The underground press continued to publish despite the NKVD's brutal attempts to silence it. The worst difficulty faced by the press was the chronic shortage of paper, a condition existing throughout the Soviet Union. Sometimes partisans were forced to raid Soviet warehouses and administrative offices for paper. In 1945 and 1946 the press was somewhat centralized. The press was decentralized in 1947 when it became apparent that the NKVD's suppression efforts were effective. Each local resistance organization published their periodical at least once each month. In some units the circulation was several thousand. The press performed well, publishing journals under grave threat of imprisonment or execution. Until 1952, the underground press was a persistent rival to the Soviet sponsored press. In Lithuania today, an underground press survives, providing an alternative to the Soviet media.
The Lithuanian resistance maintained contact with the West. In 1945 the liaison agent Daunoras secretly entered Lithuania and made contact with Colonel Kazimieraitis, the leader of the partisans in Tauras district. Daunoras returned west and for the next two years he communicated intermittently with the underground in Lithuania. In December 1947, a group of envoys from the resistance, led by the partisan Juozas Lukša, made their way to the West to seek assistance from the western democracies. Lukša brought many documents, appeals to the Pope and the governments of the West. In addition, Lukša made contact with VLIK and the intelligence services of several western nations. Unfortunately, the appeals of Lukša fell largely on deaf ears. The partisans in Lithuania had, for many years, hoped for assistance from the United States and other nations in their struggle. Some leaders predicted that a third world war would occur, pitting the western nations against the Soviet Union. The partisans gradually perceived the international political climate. Disillusionment followed:
They delivered (the resistance) to death at Yalta, Postdam, . . . The same mistakes are being repeated. The West does not dare raise a voice in protest against the destruction of our nation; it does not even want to know that we have lost confidence in them, that we are continuing the struggle . . . Long and terribly bloody is the struggle before our eyes . . . We can only continue the struggle by the most ingenious methods which would give us the necessary conditions until the necessary moment.21
The partisans were almost completely on their own. However, their pleas were heard in some quarters, including the intelligence agencies of the West.
During the first years of the Cold War, the intelligence services of the United States and Great Britain pursued a policy known as "positive intervention". Part of the ClA's responsibility in this policy was the secret support of anti-communist resistance movements behind the Iron Curtain and the operation of radio stations in the west, such as Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe. The CIA and the British were involved in projects in Albania, the Baltic States, Poland, and the Ukraine. All of the projects were failures, possibly because of Kim Philby, a British intelligence officer who was secretly a Soviet agent. Philby managed the Albanian project and had access to information on other projects, including the Lithuanian operation.22
The CIA and MI-6 (British Intelligence) Lithuanian operation consisted only of two groups of Lithuanian agents parachuted into Lithuania. On October 2, 1950, Juozas Lukša and two others were dropped into Lithuania. General Kruglov personally commanded the manhunt to find Lukša. After a year, Lukša was cornered by security forces and died before he could be captured. The second mission consisted of two men and included the leader Julijonas Butėnas. Butėnas parachuted into Lithuania on April 19, 1951 and began his search to locate Lukša. Within a month, Butėnas was trapped and committed suicide before he could be captured. The handful of agents sent by the West did little to aid the resistance, although Lukša was responsible for a period of renewed guerilla activity.23 The ClA's half-hearted attempt to aid the Lithuanian partisans resulted in nothing tangible. It may be argued that if the CIA had the ability to parachute agents into Lithuania, then it had the ability to airdrop vitally needed supplies and information.
From the beginning of the armed resistance, the Soviets were gravely concerned about the situation in Lithuania. In the fall of 1944, Lieutenant General Sergei Kruglov, the Deputy Minister of the Interior, was assigned to organize counter-insurgency efforts in Lithuania. Kruglov had been assigned to pacify Lithuania because of Stalin's dissatisfaction with the events there. Kruglov ordered that no efforts should be spared to liquidate the partisans. The NKVD soon became incredibly brutal in its efforts to destroy the opposition. Suspected partisans were tortured and executed. Friends and relatives of known resistance members were imprisoned and sent to labor camps in Siberia, usually without trial or formal charges. Farms and homes where partisans supposedly took refuge were burned to the ground and their occupants were arrested. The bodies of killed partisans were mutilated and publicly displayed. These tactics only increased the hate of the Soviet occupation, but they also delivered results to the Soviets. Subsequently, the Soviet authorities adopted new strategies. The private farmers, perhaps the strongest supporters of the resistance, faced the forced confiscation and collectivization of their land. This act alone was the most effective tool against the partisans. The farmers were no longer able to supply the guerillas with food and refuge. The most vicious tactic was the wholesale deportation of approximately 300,000 Lithuanians in order to deprive the resistance of supporters. This number represents one out of every ten Lithuanians. The Soviet oppression soon became genocide, the systematic destruction of a nation. As well as forced deportation, the Soviets attempted to discredit the partisans by sending bands of NKVD men disguised as partisans to commit atrocities. Many Lithuanian civilians began to distrust partisans because of this strategy. These brutal efforts eventually achieved their goal. The resistance began to whither and die.
Throughout this period, the partisans were called "bandits" or "criminals" by the Soviet authorities. This propaganda tactic was intended to deny the partisans any political legitimacy and to harm their public and international image. Soviet history works will still label the various resistance members in Lithuania, the Ukraine, and the other Baltic republics as "bandits."
In 1950, the resistance was unified under an organization called the Movement of Lithuania's Struggle for Freedom (MLSF, Lietuvos Laisvės Kovų Sąjūdis). The MLSF was active in nine districts and waged war on active and passive fronts. By this time, the ranks of the resistance had dwindled significantly, causing the MLSF to change its strategy. The partisans were unable to engage in many guerilla skirmishes because of manpower and equipment shortages. Instead, the guerillas resorted to sabotage and infiltration of Soviet collective farms. The partisans soon realized that their war would soon end. Only a handful of embittered men stayed in the forests to do battle with the occupier. In 1952, collectivization was complete and the resistance died. The MLSF decided to demobilize in favor of passive resistance. Passive resistance continues to this day.
The last large unit of guerillas, the Iron Wolf unit, survived until the fall of 1952. This did not represent the end of the armed resistance. In 1955, Radio Vilnius offered an amnesty to partisans, indicating that the government still perceived a guerilla threat. In March 1956, the KGB offered yet another amnesty. In 1956 riots broke out, partly in protest of the Soviet intervention in Hungary. Also in 1956, the partisan leader Vanagas (the Hawk, Adolfas Ramanauskas, a U.S. born leader of the Resistance) was captured and hanged in Kaunas. In 1957, several men were arrested for armed resistance. In 1959, fifteen years after the Soviet re-occupation of Lithuania, three partisans were captured in Samogitia. Many partisans committed suicide, sometimes by detonating grenades at face level so that their faces would not be identified, thereby dooming their relatives to imprisonment. Thousands of partisans re-entered civilian life under assumed names and family histories. Many probably survive to this day. Finally, it must be remembered that although the partisans retreated and demobilized, they never surrendered. Perhaps the Lithuanians, who are still engaged in fighting the occupier, have won a moral victory. Resistance, in the passive form, continues throughout the Baltic states.
Realistically, the Lithuanians' chance for victory was slim at best, yet they tried very hard to make life difficult for the Soviet occupiers. The Lithuanian resistance knew of the words of the Atlantic Charter, a declaration of policy jointly issued by President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain in 1941. The third clause of this statement respects "the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live" and wishes "to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them."24 The resistance believed that the West would implement the Atlantic Charter and demand freedom for the occupied nations. The resistance did not believe that they could defeat the occupation forces; they only sought to delay and harass the Soviets until help arrived. The resistance hoped for liberation from the West. Their disappointment was acute.
In the face of grave danger, the Lithuanian "Forest Brotherhood" waged a guerilla action that defies belief. With almost no outside aid, the Lithuanians waged a twelve-year effort (1940 to 1952) to liberate their nation. It has been estimated that the Soviet Union's losses amount to around 70,000 NKVD and Red Army deaths. For comparison, the United States lost 58,000 lives in the 15-year Vietnam conflict (1960 to 1975). In strictly military terms, the Lithuanian insurrection is on an equal footing with the Vietnam conflict. Perhaps additional parallels can be drawn between Lithuania and Afghanistan. If the Afghans fight with only a fraction of the tenacity of the Lithuanians, the Soviets may face a losing battle.
When one adds the Lithuanian insurrection to the rebellions in Latvia, Estonia, and the Ukraine, a grave threat to Stalin's policies can be seen. Only through genocide, torture, and the wholesale obliteration of villages could the Soviets suppress the rebels. In the process, Lithuania was mauled. Over ten percent of the Lithuanian population was deported. Only these barbaric measures defeated the Lithuanian freedom fighters. If the measures necessary to contain an insurrection are a valid measure of the magnitude of the guerillas, then the Lithuanian resistance was significant.
The Lithuanian partisans fought with uncommon bravery and determination against a military superpower. The partisans felt that they were not only fighting for Lithuania, but for the free world. As many as 40,000 Lithuanians died for this cause. Whether the West recognizes it or not, the Lithuanians fought bravely for democracy, as did others, such as Ukrainians, Poles, Latvians, and Estonians. Perhaps they died for us.
Bačkis, Dr. Stasys, Charge d'Affaires of the
Republic of Lithuania to the United States. Personal Interview,
Lithuanian Legation, Washington,
D.C., May 8, 1987.
Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania (Lietuvos Katalikų Bažnyčios Kronika) ed. Marian Skabeikis, trans. Rev. Casimir Pugevičius, Issues 64 (October 7, 1984), 66 (April 7, 1985), 67 (July 16, 1985), 68 (October 16, 1985), 70 (April 1986).
Communist Takeover and Occupation of Lithuania, Special Report No. 14 of the Select Committee on Communist Aggression, United States House of Representatives, 83rd Congress, 2nd Session, 1954.
Dauknys, Rev. Pranas. "Resistance of the Catholic Church in Lithuania Against Religious Persecution." Lituanus, Spring, 1985.
ELTA (Lithuanian Information Bulletin), Issues 332, 334, 335, 336. Washington, D.C.: Lithuanian National Foundation, 1987.
Encyclopedia Americana. Danbury, Connecticut: Crolier, Inc., 1985.
Gerutis, Dr. Albertas, ed. Lithuania 700 Years, trans. Algirdas Budreckis, New York: Manyland Books, 1969.
Girnius, Kęstutis K. "Soviet Terror During the Post-War Years." Lituanus, Winter, 1986.
Harrison, E.J. Lithuania's Fight for Freedom. New York: Lithuanian American Information Center, 1952.
Hough, William J.H. "The Annexation of the Baltic States and its Effect Upon the Development of Law Prohibiting the Forcible Seizure of Territory." New York Law School Journal of International and Comparative Law, Winter, 1985.
Jurgėla, Dr. Constantine R. Lithuania: the Outpost of Freedom. St. Petersburg, Florida: The National Guard of Lithuania in Exile and Valkyrie Press, 1976.
Kalme, Albert. Total Terror, ed. Walter Arm. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951.
Končius, Dr. Joseph B. History of Lithuania. Chicago, Illinois: Lithuanian Catholic Press, (date unknown).
Landsmanis, Arturs. Persist or Perish. Stockholm, Sweden: Latvian National Foundation, 1976.
Mackevičius, Mečislovas. "Lithuanian Resistance to German Mobilization Attempts." Lituanus, Winter, 1986.
Misiūnas, Romuald J. and Taagepara, Rein. The Baltic States: Years of Dependence 1940-1980. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1983.
Pajaujis-Javis, Dr. Joseph. Soviet Genocide in Lithuania. New York: Manyland Books, 1980.
Remeikis, Thomas. Opposition to Soviet Rule in Lithuania 1945-1980. Chicago, Illinois: Institute of Lithuanian Studies Press, 1980.
Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania, (Vyriausias Lietuvos Išlaisvinimo Komitetas). Lithuania-Lietuva. Washington, D.C.
Supreme Lithuanian Committee of Liberation. Memorandum on the Restoration of Lithuania's Independence. Lithuanian Executive Council,1950.
Sužiedėlis, Simas, ed. Encyclopedia Lituanica. South Boston, Mass.: Lithuanian Encyclopedia Press, 1972.
Tauras, K.V. Guerilla Warfare on the Amber Coast. New York Lithuanian Research Institute, 1962.
Vardys, V. Stanley, ed. Lithuania Under the Soviets: Portrait of a Nation, 1940-1965.
Vizulis, I. Joseph. Nations Under Duress: The Baltic States. Port Washington, N.Y.: Associated Faculty Press, 1985.
Žymantas, Stasys. "Twenty Years of Resistance." Lituanus, September, 1960.
1 According to the Lithuanian people and
international law, the Lithuanian Republic is a free republic under
hostile foreign occupation. Lithuanian Legations, representing the
former government of Lithuania exist in Washington and several other
cities throughout the world. William J. H. Hough III, "The Annexation
of the Baltic States and its Effect on the Development of Law
Prohibiting Forcible Seizure of Territory," New York Law School Journal of International and Comparative Law, Winter 1985, VI, 2.
2 Ibid. p. 487.
3 Dr. Albertas Gerutis, ed., Lithuania 700 Years (New York: Manyland Books, 1969), pp. 277-278.
4 Ibid. p. 279.
5 I. Joseph Vizulis, Nations Under Duress (Port Washington, N.Y.: Associated Faculty Press, 1985), p. 101.
6 Joseph Pajaujis-Javis, Soviet Genocide in Lithuania (New York: Manyland Books, 1980), p. 42. These figures are based upon captured deportation lists which came into the possession of the Lithuanian Red Cross. See A. Merkelis, Lietuvių Archyvas (Lithuanian Archives) p. 49.
7 Vizulis, p. 104.
8 V. Stanley Vardys, Lithuania Under the Soviets (New York: Frederick F. Praeger, Publishers, 1965), p. 66.
9 The full account of this massacre was given by the Lithuanian surgeon who examined the remains, Dr. Leonards Plechavičius. Dr. Plechavičius testified before the U.S. House of Representatives and detailed the hideous details. Nearly every sort of torture had been inflicted. Boys had been burned with acid or torches, various bodily appendages had been severed, spikes had been thrust through skulls, and bones had been crushed while the victims were still alive.
10 Gerutis, pp. 334-335.
11 As a final comment on the underground media, several authors, including Vardys and Gerutis, claim that the underground press rivaled, and perhaps outnumbered the legal press, in terms of total circulation. In addition, it should be noted that the LLKS operated the only opposition radio station in the entirety of occupied Europe. The other resistance radio stations operated out of allied territory.
12 E.J. Harrison, Lithuania's Fight for Freedom (New York: Lithuanian American Information Center), pp. 37-38.
13 The VLIK is still in existence to this day, with its headquarters in Washington, D.C. Through the efforts of VLIK and its press agency, ELTA, the Lithuanian people have not been forgotten.
14 Gerutis, pp. 346-347. Gerutis provided the entire text of the declaration in his work.
15 Ibid. p. 335.
16 Dr.Constantine Jurgėla, Lithuania: The Outpost of Freedom (St.Peterburg, Florida: The National Guard of Lithuania in Exile, 1976, p.226.)
17 For comparison, the Soviet Union maintains approximately 170,000 security troops in Afghanistan, a nation of 15 million people.
18 Gerutis, p. 366.
19 Ibid. p. 371.
20 The details of many individual partisan actions can be found in the works of Gerutis and K.V. Tauras. All of the examples cited in this work have been mentioned in more than one source.
21 Gerutis, p. 368.
22 A full discussion of the Iron Curtain programs and Kim Philby can be found in a number of works on espionage, including Harry Rozitzke's The ClA's Secret Operations (New York, 1977).
23 Thomas Remeikis, Opposition to Soviet Rule in Lithuania 7945-7980 (Chicago, 1980), pp. 48-52.
24 Encyclopedia Americana (Danbury, Connecticut: Crolier, 1985), Vol. 22 p. 618.