LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 41, No.4 - Winter 1995
Editor of this issue: Robert A. Vitas, Lithuanian Research & Studies Center
Copyright © 1995 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
President of Lithuania - Prisoner of the Gulag
Aleksandras Stulginskis (1885-1969). experienced all of the calamities of modem Lithuanian history - World War I and the German occupation, the Soviet occupation later during the period of World War U, exile in the camps of Siberia and imprisonment from 1941 until 1954.
Stulginskis was one of the founding fathers and restorers of Lithuanian independence, a member of the Lithuanian Council (Lietuvos Taryba), a signer of the Declaration of Independence of February 16, 1918, the acting prime minister of the Provisional Government in 1919, President of the Constituent Assembly (Steigiamasis Seimas) in 1920 and first constitutional President of Lithuania from 1923 -1926. He was one the most outstanding leaders of the Christian Democratic Party of Lithuania (LKDP) and served as a representative in all sessions of the Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament). As he himself stated in a letter to Stalin from a Siberian camp, his life was "so closely entwined with that of the history of the Lithuanian state" and could not "end without leaving footprints."
There is not much extant literature on the life and prolific career of Aleksandras Stulginskis. He himself was a humble, modest and self-effacing personality. He was a deportee, a name only whispered in the former Lithuanian SSR while emigres wrote very little about him so as not to exacerbate his situation. There was some information about him in documents contained in the Central Archives of Lithuania. It was scanty.
When his file, No 42880/3, preserved in the hitherto inaccessible archives of the KGB was discovered, the odyssey of Aleksandras Stulginskis began to unfold. In addition to KGB (NKVD) documentation other authentic primary sources came to light, including his Siberian exile diary. The sudden availability of these source materials was nothing short of miraculous. Yet, there was still other work to be done to round out the life of Aleksandras Stulginskis.
Stulginskis had written letters to his wife Ona while both were in Siberian exile. This correspondence was located in the family archives in Chicago. There were also the memoirs of Stulginskis preserved and saved at the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center in Chicago.
1. Childhood and Youth
(1885 - 1910)
Aleksandras Stulginskis was born into the family of Domininkas and Marcijona Vadeikaitė-Stulginskis on February 26, 1885, in the village of Kutaliai near Kaltinėnai. His parents were long-time farm laborers. In actuality his family surname was Valiuška. In the spirit of the times, his father changed his surname to Stulginskis. He was not a member of the gentry, but was classified as a city person in Raseiniai.
Twelve children were born into his family. Six brothers and four sisters lived to maturity. The others died early. Aleksandras Stulginskis was the youngest child in the family. As a youth, he first tended to the geese, later the pigs and then the cows. His parents were not poor, but neither were they well-off. They lived on the Tomkiai estate and were paid for their labor in grain and money.
In time, as a result of frugality and hard work, the Stulginskis family was able to rent some land, a small farm in the village of Kutaliai, then a larger farm of about 20 hectares in Bytaučiai and thereafter the estate of Pivininkai of 100 hectares as well as a small tract of land near Kaltinėnai. Domininkas Stulginskis distinguished himself from many other villagers by his industry and drive. He greatly influenced his children in this regard. His sons Povilas, Kazimieras and daughter Barbora traveled to America to earn money.
Education was valued in the Stulginskis family. Aleksandras together with his older brother were taught to read by his sisters Ona and Barbora. At seven years of age his further education was entrusted to the parish organist of Kaltinėnai. He then attended the primary school in Kaltinėnai. The teacher and the language of instruction were Russian. Aleksandras walked to and from school daily, a distance of four kilometers from his home. He completed primary school over three winters.
He was first employed as an assistant to a Russian scribe since only Russians were allowed to be scribes. He earned his living from kopecks given him for copies of local documents and other files. Although his family was not poor, his father could not afford to pay for his further education are the time.
Tragedy struck the family with the death of his mother, who lived until the age of sixty. Her passing was especially painful to his younger brothers and sisters. She had been a loving and industrious mother. Domininkas was unable to cope well without her. Aleksandras himself was crushed. The family began to unravel as his mother had held the ties which bound the family together. His father had to sell the family farm leaving Aleksandras with one horse with which to build his fortune and pro-vide for his education. He appealed to his brothers and sister living in Illinois. His brothers were miners but had prospered in America.
At this time Stulginskis considered becoming a priest under the mentorship of Rev. Pranaševičius. He studied Latin, served as an acolyte and sacristan, and tended to the cows. On completion of his exams he entered the gymnasium in Liepaja (Libau), with the financial support of his brothers and sister. He quickly became proficient in Latin and German and rose to the top of his class. To further his education he sought entrance into the seminary although he did not feel a strong calling to the priesthood.
He matriculated at the seminary in Kaunas. Retreats, classes and lectures in church history and Latin occupied all of his time. Polish was still the predominant language of the seminary in the beginning of the XX century. There was already conflict between those of a Lithuanian orientation and those who tended towards polonization. The Lithuanian language became dominant under the leadership of the Bishop of Žemaitija (Samogitia), P. Karevičius, and the rector, J. Mačiulis-Maironis. Because of his fluency in German, it was decided to send Stulginskis abroad to study in the German-speaking environment of Catholic Austria. There at the Jesuit theological-philosophical faculty, at the foot of the Alps in Innsbruck, he advanced in the fields of scholasticism, moral theology and theology. He rubbed shoulders for the first time with classmates from Poland and the Ukraine.
The rector was confounded when he learned that Stulginskis had not yet finally decided as to whether or not he had a vocation for the priesthood. Stulginskis stood at a turning point. He decided to leave the seminary and pursue the life of a lay intellectual of whom there were only few in Lithuania at the time. He returned to Kaunas and later taught the Lithuanian language at the gymnasium there. Those who wished to study Lithuanian had to pay for instruction out of then- own pockets. Stulginskis taught some 30 students, but was constantly anxious about his own future. He came from a farming family and decided to pursue agronomy at the Agricultural Institute in Halle, Germany, in 1910. He completed his required courses within two years and specialized in animal husbandry because this particular branch of agriculture was spreading throughout Lithuania.
On his return to Lithuania he hoped to work for the betterment of his nation. He soon came into conflict with the russification policies of the czarist government. Educated Lithuanians were rarely permitted to work in Lithuania. He was therefore offered a position in Vologda and even St. Petersburg. Almost by accident he received an appointment through M. Yčas (a Lithuanian member of the Russian Duma) in Vilnius gubernija, in the region of Alytus. He also became editor of the farm section of the Lithuanian newspaper "Vienybė" in which he advised farmers on how to better manage their farms and improve their flocks.
2. Agronomist to Politician
World War I impacted heavily upon his life. Initially he thought of evacuating to Russia but decided to remain in his own country. On September 18, 1915, he witnessed the spectacle of German cavalry riding through Vilnius.
The new rulers offered both prospects and problems. Lithuanian hopes in the Germans were soon dashed. Imperial Germany considered Vilnius to be "the pearl in the crown of the Kingdom of Poland." Vilnius became a German administrative center, isolated from the rest of the country as well as Lithuanians abroad. The Germans rejected a request to permit the publication of "Viltis" (Hope). At the outset, the German military tended to be stem but fair. Fleeing the ravages of war, many Lithuanians moved to Vilnius, where they were aided by the Lithuanian Society for the Assistance of War Sufferers.
There were many problems to be dealt with in Vilnius. The city was on the brink of starvation. Yet, Stulginskis also looked to the future. He organized pedagogical courses to prepare teachers for the common schools and taught at the gymnasium. In 1915 he met Ona Matulaitytė, a young teacher from Marijampolė. They spent many pleasant hours together, bound by common interests in education. Lithuanian cultural life also took a great deal of Aleksandras' attention. The Lithuanians began to organize social evenings including opera. The social welfare of refugees was a major preoccupation.
Motivated by Christian Democratic ideals, Stulginskis always actively supported the placing of practicing Catholics in positions within the Society for the Assistance of War Sufferers. He put all of his heart and soul into war relief efforts of the community. He tended to do everything himself: he made decisions and implemented them, found and appointed the right people, instructed and supervised them. Education was never far from his mind. He was concerned with schooling in Vilnius especially since the Germans had not yet made their intentions clear in the matter. He was active in the intellectual life of the Lithuanian community where such questions as the future borders of Lithuania and economic issues were debated. He also became a member of the Agronomy Society, which leaned to the left on most issues. To feed himself and others he rented some land and organized a truck farm.
The German military occupation became increasingly harsh. Lithuanian intellectuals became more and more involved in politics at the expense of their professional lives, as the Germans rode roughshod over Lithuanian rights and interests. The Germans conducted a census. Lithuanians and Poles began to clash when some Poles suggested all Catholics be registered as Poles. Stulginskis then became more active in public affairs.
Efforts at germanization began to replace previous russification efforts. Lithuanians became increasingly restless under German military rule, and petitioned the commander of the Eastern Front for Lithuanian independence, outlining the borders of the Lithuanian state and declaring that never again would Lithuania accede to being a province of another country. Several memoranda were then sent to the German authorities outlining Lithuanian grievances together with suggestions intended to better the lives of Lithuanians in, their own country. From the very outset, Stulginskis's sympathies were with the western members of the Entente rather than the Central Powers.
Several issues were exceptionally pressing. The German Army was heavily dependent on requisitions from the land. As a result, all of Lithuania suffered. There were many injustices. Requisitions were simply seized without any regard for the needs of the farmer and his family. In addition to the German military, villagers were set upon by gangs of marauders who pillaged at will. People were beaten, some even murdered. Livestock was severely depleted, so that famine threatened the land and the economy was in shambles, bordering on complete ruin. Inflation became rampant. The poor, and city dwellers faced starvation. Punishments were harsh.
The military also relied heavily on forced and impressed labor. Workers were brutally treated and abused, worked long backbreaking hours and were fortunate if they received 30-50 pfenings a day. Under such strenuous conditions even the young and healthy fell prey to typhus, dysentery, tuberculosis and other lung diseases. Others had enlisted in the Polish Army to escape forced labor. Meanwhile workers had to abandon their own farms, which fell into disarray. Some wealthier people were able to bribe themselves out of impressment. Stulginskis argued that such methods were self-defeating for the Germans in the long run, while bringing the country to economic ruin. Forced labor should be eliminated.
Law and order had broken down almost completely in the countryside. Assault, murder and thievery had become commonplace. Escaped prisoners of war and vagabonds were wreaking havoc on the village population, even setting up their own kangaroo courts. Villagers who harbored escaped prisoners of war were in turn severely punished by the German administration. They employed spies and provocateurs. The lesser German authorities acted in a tyrannical manner with the population. The use of the whip was common. The villagers had no recourse to justice. Often simple misunderstandings arose due to German ignorance of the local languages and people were unjustly chastised by the German authorities.
Early on during the German occupation, schools sprouted up all over Lithuania. The Germans were expected to be supportive of education and seemingly were. Very soon, however, schools were used as a vehicle of germanization. Catholics were at times displaced by German-speaking Lutherans. Physical punishment of children, almost unknown among the Russian teachers in Lithuania, became shockingly widespread. Formerly the schools were supported by the government. Lithuanian villagers were now taxed to run them and resisted such methods. There was a teacher shortage in part due to the fact that many had been exiled to Germany.
Stulginskis protested against the deforestation of the country, which robbed Lithuania of a most precious resource. This was being systematically pursued not only by the military for official purposes but also by profiteers within the military.
Stulginskis was concerned also with the declining health of the population. Thousands died of starvation and infectious diseases of epidemic proportions. There was an acute shortage of physicians and medical personnel. To reach a medical doctor, one would have to travel eight to ten hours from one's village. Many Lithuanian physicians had been exiled to Germany or Russia.
The realities of life catapulted Stulginskis into the public arena and the highest echelon of the Christian Democratic Party. He became a leader among those politicians dedicated to reestablishing Lithuanian independence, lost to Russia in 1795, at any cost. He found himself in the center of political life.
On August 4, 1917, the organizing committee of the Lithuanian Conference announced the names of the candidates to the future Lithuanian Conference and Stulginskis was among them. All of the parties were in turn fragmented into various factions. The Presidium of the Council of Lithuania (Lietuvos Taryba) was elected on September 21, 1917. Antanas Smetona was elected Chairman of the Council, which was dominated by future members of the National Progressive Party and the Christian Democratic Party. As a result the Council tended to be conservative in outlook and orientation.
The announced purposes of the Council were concerns with issues of education, the economy, communications and health in a war-torn country. In fact, most of the members were preoccupied with the restoration of Lithuanian independence, free of all foreign entanglements.
Every effort was made to internationalize the Lithuanian cause. Compromise was necessary with the Germans, because Lithuania was under German military occupation. Ecclesiastical politics also interested the Council. The diocese of Vilnius was ruled by a prelate un-sympathetic to the Lithuanian national movement, Kazimierz Michalkiewicz, who favored a union of Lithuania with Poland. To circumvent him, an appeal had to be made directly through the Papal Nuncio in Munich, via a Catholic Centrist member of the Reichstag, to the Holy See. Stulginskis and Smetona presented themselves in Berlin, where they lobbied for Lithuanian independence and then to the Vatican representative in Munich, Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII. Stulginskis's fluency in Latin and German made a great impression on Pacelli. The future Pius XII promised to support the Lithuanian cause and the suggestion that J. Matulaitis-Matulevičius be named Bishop of Vilnius.
Meanwhile under German pressure to draw Lithuania into the imperial system, the Lithuanians were urged to sign a Declaration of Independence and to ratify four conventions with Germany covering transport, military» monetary issues, and taxes, dated December 11, 1917. Stulginskis voted against such promises to Germany. On February 16,1918, all twenty members of the Council signed the Declaration of Independence declaring Lithuania a free and independent state, free of all ties with any foreign power.
Up until Marcb23, the Kaiser did not recognize Lithuania. Stulginskis and the Council stood firm against German plans to annex Lithuania. Smetona and a strong monarchist group sought a king of their own to thwart plans in Berlin for a personal union with the German imperial dynasty, but not Stulginskis. On July 2, 1918, the Council began calling itself the Lithuanian Council of State.
Meanwhile, there were other matters to be dealt with, including the repatriation of prisoners of war held by the Germans in Russia, who were starving at the Lithuanian border. Commissions were sent to Russia to expedite the process. Some Jewish Lithuanians felt aggrieved because emphasis was put on the return of villagers instead of urban people. Stulginskis attempted to end this imbalance, ever sensitive to the multinational and multicultural and religious composition of the population of Lithuania. Although it was not possible to reconcile all of the demands of the different ethnic minorities in Lithuania, he was particularly responsive to their cultural and religious needs. He realized the value of the Jewish and Polish as well as other minority participation in nation-building.
By the fall of 1918, it became increasingly clear that Imperial Germany was losing the war. The future belonged to the Entente; and the cat and mouse game of the Council with Germany and the German military authorities would soon be over. The Council began to act more openly and aggressively in response to the halfhearted, almost last-ditch efforts of a waning Germany to retain some control and influence. A Lithuanian government and army began to be organized, as well as an administration for the country. The concept of Lithuania as a constitutional democratic republic began to take hold and grow.
The Council of Lithuania became the highest organ of the state. Stulginskis was elected leader of the (Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party - Lietuvos Krikščionių Demokratų Partija) (LKDP). The program and platform of the LKDP led by Stulginskis concerned itself with poverty, inflation, taxation, land reform and protection of the rights of the Catholic Church. The Christian Democrats were very dissatisfied with the composition of the first government of Augustinas Voldemaras, a Progressive. They instinctively believed that in an over-helmingly Catholic country, their strength and popular support had been both underestimated and under-represented. The LKDP was very liberal on social issues. It favored an eight-hour work day, guaranteed holidays, both religious and state, prohibition of night work and the exploitation of female and child labor, guaranteed unemployment insurance and health benefits and pensions. The LKDP realized that Lithuania was still very much an agrarian country. It presented a plan in which a land bank would be formed from confiscated estates which would then distribute homesteads among the landless, poor peasantry and small holders. Land reform was a major issue.
Stulginskis became active in the Union of Lithuanian Farmers.
3. Minister, Chairman of the Seimas, President
(1919 - 1926)
An the end of 1918 the possibility of armed Bolshevik intervention from Soviet Russia into Lithuania became real. The young Lithuanian army was still unable to effectively defend the country. Polish legionnaires were active in the Vilnius region, attempting to disarm the retreating Germans. There was a shortage of qualified Lithuanian officers. Stulginskis boldly approached the Entente in Liepaja, where he visited a British naval vessel. Questions of finance, defense and the strength of the Bolsheviks were major issues. A second scheduled meeting with the British was blocked by the Germans, and immediate assistance was not forthcoming.
Meanwhile the situation in Vilnius approached turmoil as the Bolsheviks grasped for power and Red Army divisions surrounded Vilnius. On December 20, 1918, Prime Minister Voldemaras and President Smetona traveled to Germany. Stulginskis voiced his disapproval of the trip in public. Only on December 26 was a new government formed under Prime Minister Mykolas Šleževičius. Stulginskis became a minister without portfolio. In the first days of January 1919, the Lithuanians made a decision to evacuate the government from Vilnius to Kaunas. The welcome in Kaunas was less than enthusiastic, as the city had problems of its own. Under such circumstances even more disagreements arose within the various Lithuanian political parties and factions. The fortunes of Stulginskis and the LKDP were on the rise due to the conflicts between others. With the formation of a new government by Pranas Dovydaitis on March 14, 1919, the crisis was overcome. Stulginskis became minister of internal affairs and, in fact, the acting prime minister, because Dovydaitis was very ill.
Stulginskis began to aggressively organize the Lithuanian military. He instructed Lithuanian diplomats to press the Entente to disarm German troops left on Lithuanian soil. He tried to settle the economy by prohibiting the use of worthless Russian paper money by the government and sought to introduce a native currency. He expected to regain control of Vilnius rather quickly by the use of the Lithuanian armed forces.
hi the meantime, various parties and personalities jockeyed for position. The parties had come to the conclusion that Lithuania needed a president who would not be in conflict with the various political factions in the State Council. On April 4, 1919, Smetona was offered the presidency and was elected almost unanimously. Again a new cabinet took office, and Stulginskis became minister of agriculture.
Stulginskis and others organized the Lithuanian Farmers Union (LFU) and favored confiscation of large estates, downsizing them to 70 hectares, and distributing the excess land among small holders and landless peasants. The LFU opened a bank, built factories and financed dairy cooperatives. It became both a political and economic force to be reckoned with. Together, the LFU and Christian Democrats formed a coalition in preparation for elections to the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania. They effectively organized their supporters into a workable election campaign machine. Stulginskis appealed to Catholics and their convictions. He accented faith and the individual property rights. He was against disestablishment of the Catholic Church and separation of the church from the state, as well as attempts by the opposition to introduce civil registries to replace record-keeping by the church.
The election campaign of 1920 began quietly enough. By election day in late April over 90% of the citizenry voted in the elections. The LKDP together with their coalition partners received 46% of the national vote. Urbanites by and large tended to vote for representatives of national minority groups rather than members of established political parties. Most of the representatives to the Constituent Seimas were of rural origin.
On April 24, 1920, Stulginskis married Ona Matulaitytė.
Stulginskis was elected chairman of the Constituent Assembly by a majority 62 out of 103 votes. In his inaugural address he outlined his ideas, ideals and program to the nation. On June 2, 1920, the Constituent Assembly approved the provisional Constitution of Lithuania as a democratic republic. Under paragraph nine, the chairman of the Constituent Assembly was to assume the duties of the presidency until the election of a president.
Stulginskis turned his attention to foreign affairs, seeking diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia and Soviet recognition of Vilnius as the capital of Lithuania. On October 9,1920, however, Polish Gen. Lucjan Želigowski's troops seized Vilnius, which then was appended to Poland and became a thorn in the side of relations between both nations for years to come. There were further skirmishes with the Poles.
Land reform was enacted. The University of Kaunas was established. A Lithuanian currency the litas was adopted, and a democratic constitution was approved, guaranteeing human and civil rights, democracy and individual liberties. Stulginskis was elected President of Lithuania by the Seimas on December 21, 1922. A number of leftist parliamentarians refused to accept the results of the election.
Stulginskis's main internal concerns involved strengthening the presidency as an institution. He was at first ambivalent on the issue of uniting Klaipėda (Memel) with Lithuania, neither opposing it nor very actively in favor. The Lithuanian population in Klaipėda was also less than enthusiastic about the prospects of unification with Lithuania. Resistance was also to be expected from the German residents of the city. It was necessary to secretly mount a Lithuanian expeditionary force to seize the city. Other alternatives such as ceding Klaipėda to Poland or allowing the city to become a German dominated "Freistadt" or "Free City" were unacceptable. After a flurry of diplomatic activity in Paris and Berlin, Lithuania entered Klaipėda in January 1923, and this important city became a part of Lithuania giving her a major seaport on the Baltic Sea.
Stulginskis's presidency was not without difficulties. He was still opposed by many in the Seimas who did not recognize the legality of his election. The different branches of government were at odds with each other. During all of this political turmoil, his daughter Aldona was born.
The 1923 elections to the Second Seimas were marked by success of the LKDP and its coalition partners. The party was actively supported by the Catholic hierarchy to the point where the Christian Democrats were accused of clericalism, with a subsequent rise in anticlericalism. On June 19, 1923, Stulginskis was elected again as President of Lithuania and recognized as such by every political party. Stulginskis was a modest man of principle and honor, dependable, hard-working and learned. He was quiet, not given to much conversation, did not particularly enjoy the company of others and preferred the quiet of his study to the crowd, was friendly but very introspective and withdrawn. He truly measured up to the challenges life had burdened him with. He spoke Lithuanian, German, French, English, and Russian. During diplomatic and other formal receptions his demeanor was impeccable and he was able to converse in Latin with representatives of the Holy See. In some ways he was less than spontaneous and overly formal, yet he never played the role of a great lord or magnate.
Land reform was finally and energetically implemented at a pace much faster than Stulginskis would have wished. Stulginskis himself visited the newly settled and became personally aware of their hardships. He never forgot his village roots and was always sympathetic to the needs of country people.
Many economic, international and cultural problems weakend the position of Stulginskis and the LKDP. On June 3, 1926, the Third Seimas was called to order. The Populists (liaudininkai) and Social Democrats won, and more than 50% of the membership of the Seimas voted for the Populist (liaudininkas) Kazys Grinius as president. The Stulginskis presidency came to an end. His accomplishments and those of the LKDP were many. Lithuania now had a working constitution, a functioning multi-party democratic system, servitude had been eliminated, and education prospered. Lithuania now had a university, agricultural college, technical schools, 2,124 primary schools, ten teacher training institutes, 68 gymnasiums and 48 preparatory schools. Lithuania was recognized de jure by most foreign countries; Klaipėda had been successfully united with Lithuania, and the country was on its way toward economic viability and prosperity.
The leftist Government of Prime Minister Mykolas Šleževičius and President Grinius was bent on overturning policies Stulginskis and the LKDP had put into place. They vigorously attacked the Christian Democrats in the press. In an effort to decrease the influence of the Catholic church, budget cuts were made for Catholic schools and social welfare institutions. Former appointees of the LKDP were let go, many of them quite prominent personalities. There were plans to withdraw the salaries of the clergy, introduce a civil registry system and eliminate stipends to priests.
4. In Opposition to Antanas Smetona
Toward the end of 1926, the LKDP attacked the government in an effort to force it from power peacefully, but all the interpellations were unsuccesful. On December 17,1926, a group of army officers turned against the government and after a bloodless coup took over control of the country. The LKDP deputies in parliament elected as president the Nationalist (tautininkas) Antanas Smetona, and another Nationalist, Augustinas Voldemaras, was appointed Prime Minister. After the coup d'etat, Stulginskis was elected Chairman of the Seimas, in which the LKDP held a majority.
The conservative block dismissed the Šleževičius government, but the Nationalists (tautininkai) dissolved parliament in April 1927. New elections were not held. Stulginskis understood that the Nationalists had tricked the LKDP and went into opposition to Smetona and Voldemaras.
Stulginskis retired to his estate in Jokūbavas. He was offered a diplomatic post by the government but chose to remain in Lithuania to continue the opposition to authoritarian rule unacceptable to him; Similar events were occurring throughout Europe, in Poland, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria at this time.
At the end of 1927, Stulginskis withdrew from public life, ignored the Smetona administration and dedicated himself to the land. A prosperous farmer, he lived in a simple frame house in Jokūbavas near the Baltic Sea in an idyllic, even pastoral, setting, together with some close relatives.
5. Soviet Occupation of Lithuania and Exile in Siberia
(1941 - 1956)
On June 15, 1940, in an ultimatum, the USSR required Lithuania to admit an unlimited number of Red Army units into Lithuania, change the government and bring to trial two ministers. On the afternoon of June 15, Soviet tanks appeared in Kaunas and other Lithuanian cities Lithuania was being occupied. Stulginskis hurried to Kaunas to speak with Antanas Merkys, then acting President. Meanwhile Vladimir Dekanozov, Stalin's emissary, had arrived from Moscow and began to dictate the conditions for the formation of a puppet government. It was too late for Stulginskis to do anything. The Soviets had paralyzed the country's internal life and began the process of incorporating Lithuania into the USSR.
During the second half of 1940, Stulginskis was visited by many officials including Aleksandras Guzevičius, commissar for internal affairs, and was asked to collaborate with the Soviets. He refused. His home was occupied by Soviet troops leaving nun 30 hectares.
Stulginskis and his wife were arrested on June 14, 1941, and exiled to Siberia together with thousands of other Lithuanians. KGB documents, signed by Sergeant I. Popov, indicate Stulginskis was arrested and charged as follows he was a substantial landowner possessing 173 hectares of land, 15 horses, 37 cows, 17 sheep, 10 pigs and a manor-house, additionally he had been President of Lithuania. Stulginskis was the only former president who remained in Lithuania to share the tragic fate of his countrymen (Antanas Smetona fled to Germany. Kazys Grinius left Lithuania in 1944). The Soviets started to liquidate the Lithuanian political leadership. Twelve prime ministers served between 1918-1940 in Lithuania. By 1940, two had already died a natural death, five were captured by the Soviets and exiled, and four others managed to escape to the West. Twenty-two of the 72 former ministers of Lithuania were executed by the NKVD. The majority of the others were deported to Siberia or imprisoned. The objective of the Soviets was to "decapitate" Lithuania, leaving the nation without leadership, and to inculcate fear into the general population through constant terror.
Stulginskis was incarcerated at Tugatch, Belaia Rechka in Krasnoyarsk, Sayanskii raion, at the Reshoty camp. He shivered from the cold and delirium. There was no medication, dysentery plagued him and rations were poor. Out of 2,500 Lithuanian prisoners in the camp, only 400 lived through the winter of 1941-1942.
On October 29,1941, Stulginskis and a group of Lithuanians were arrested in the camp by the NKVD. They were charged with preparing for German victory in the war, spreading anti-Soviet propaganda, and organizing an anti-Soviet movement in the camp. He was interrogated frequently by his tormentor Anciperov, an officer of the NKVD. The Chekists were forever active paralyzing any opposition on the part of prisoners.
There was a great shortage of every necessity in the camp, especially food. In Stulginskis's words, his "skin hung like sacks from his bones."
During 1944, as Nazi Germany was losing the war, the Soviets returned to Lithuania to reestablish control. This time around, they met with a staunch resistance from the population. Massive repressions followed. Between 1945 and 1952, several hundred thousand Lithuanians were deported to Siberia and other distant points, many were murdered or arrested.
Lithuania was being emptied of her population. The Stulginskis case was put in the hands of the OSSO (Osoboie soveschanie) special court which had the power to put anyone to death at any time. Stulginskis began to make appeals for clemency to the central Soviet authorities, culminating in a letter to Joseph Stalin himself, in which he wrote:
"/ am a little old man, over sixty years of age, in broken health, with but a few years of life ahead of me, but because my life is so closely entwined with that of the history of the state of Lithuania, and cannot end without leaving footprints, it would not be my desire to die in a camp together with thieves and bandits, which would leave a black mark on the Soviet Union in the eyes of its enemies."
There is no known record of an answer by Stalin to his letter, which was followed by six other petitions. There is evidence that he did receive the attention of Leonid Beria.
His wife, Ona, was exiled to the Kortkeros raion of the Komi peninsula, where she worked as a forced laborer on a state farm. She suffered terribly. Somehow or other Stulginskis was able to exchange correspondence with her. Their letters are full of tenderness, irony, hope and hopelessness, but always faith. "Perhaps God will not abandon us," he wrote.
After eleven years of internment without adjudication or trial, on February 27,1952, he was sentenced by the OSSO of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs to 25 years imprisonment, including the time he served since June 1941, for "actively participating in the struggle against the working class and revolutionary movement, participation in a counter-revolutionary group and anti-Soviet agitation." Paradoxically, he was punished for his work as an agronomist and statesman on behalf of the Lithuanian nation and state under the provisions of the bizarre penal code of a foreign country the Russian Soviet Republic. As Juozas Urbšys, the former minister of foreign affairs noted, Stulginskis was not expected to ever leave the Soviet labyrinth alive. Stulginskis was already 67 years of age.
Eventually Stulginskis was transferred to a prison in Vladimir to serve out his sentence of 25 years. It was a special prison for the former political elite of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia as well as high ecclesiastics, including the Archbishop of Vilnius Mečislovas Reinys, Bishop Teofilius Matulionis and Canon Pranciškus Janulaitis.
After Stalin's death in 1953, on June 21, 1954, the MVD (Ministry for Internal Affairs) announced that Stulginskis had been freed together with Juozas Tonkūnas and Stasys Šilingas, effective June 2, 1954. He was free to go wherever he wished in the USSR, exept to Vilnius. He immediatly went to Komi ASSR to meet his wife.
6. Life in Soviet-annexed Lithuania
(1956 - 1969)
On December 19, 1956, Ona and Aleksandras Stulginskis reached Kaunas, Lithuania. Their internal exile continued. It was very difficult to find a place to live, not to mention work. Being resourceful, he found a job in a greenhouse, where he grew tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables. He supplemented his meager earnings by translating materials from foreign languages into Lithuanian. Although he himself wished to live in the countryside he had to settle in Kaunas, where his wife Ona could receive medical attention for a cerebral stroke she had suffered in Siberia.
He had no intention of ever collaborating with the Soviet regime and had to fend for himself. The Soviets pressed him to write his memoirs, but he was afraid that they would use them for propaganda purposes. He began to write his memoirs in secret but ended them with the year 1918 in fear of his tormentors. The Stulginskis manuscripts were first photographed and brought to the United States by Dr. Jonas Račkauskas and were published in Chicago by the Lithuanian Institute of Education in 1980.
During this time, he sought every which way to obtain permission from the Soviet authorities to join his daughter in the United States. Several petitions were addressed to the Soviet authorities including Nikita Khrushchev, to no avail. In 1960, he began to receive a small pension. During the last years of his life, he concerned himself with the life of his daughter living in exile in America. He rejoiced over his grandchildren, exchanged letters, books and other modest gifts and was proud of the fact that the Lithuanian spirit was still alive in his family abroad. His faith and trust in God and Divine Providence was always strong. He was frequently seen in prayer in the sacristy of Kaunas Cathedral.
On September 22, 1969, his heart stopped after a brief recovery from his last illness. The 84-year-old gentleman, patriot and statesman passed away. Aleksandras Stulginskis was buried quietly. His tomb-stone is very modest.
* * *
Stulginskis was right in his letter to Stalin his memory could never be erased. Together with his nation and his homeland, Aleksandras Stulginskis stoically yet heroically met the challenges of all the events and calamities of the period between 1940-1956 the terror of Soviet occupation, false arrests, exile, forced labor camps and prisons. He miraculously survived the Gulag and later lived through humiliation on his return to a sovietized Lithuania. He was isolated from society, under constant surveillance and prohibited from every leaving the country to visit his one and only daughter and his beloved grandchildren.
Aleksandras Stulginskis remained as he had been all of his life in spite of temptations, pressures, false rumors, interrogations, labor camps and prison. His firm faith in God, combined with his Samogitian stubbornness and persistence cemented his belief in freedom and his hopes for Lithuania's future the rebirth of the State of Lithuania.
* The author is indebted to Aldona Stulginskaitė-Juozevičius who most graciously made the correspondence of her father, Aleksandras Stulginskis, and Dr. Jonas Račkauskas, President of the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center in Chicago for his support, encouragement and collegiality in the preparation of this study.