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Violent Annexation of the Republic of Lithuania in 1940

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Prologue

Celebrating the 104th anniversary of the State Restoration Day of Lithuania on February 16, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share some historic data on how that statehood was lost again because of the violent annexation by the Soviet Union during the Second World War. It is important to remember and understand how these events occurred if we are to maintain peace today. We must learn from history and not repeat mistakes, especially given the current crisis on the borders of Ukraine and Russia. While, personally, I don’t believe that we are going to see another wide-scale war in Europe because of these events, but I fear for the de facto independence of Ukraine. The whole situation has a strong rotting smell of the last century and leaves rather a bitter aftertaste. We’ve seen this before.

This is an unofficial translation of “Prievarta buvo stipresnė” (eng. Coercion was stronger) by Česlovas Bauža.

The Lost Independence

Like for many other countries, the destiny of modern Lithuania was shaped by the outcome of both World Wars. After 123 years of annexation by Russia, the end of the First World War concurred with the restoration of the Independent State of Lithuania, and the beginning of the Second World War marked the end of the young country.

It happened that during summer 1940, the newly installed Soviet-puppet Government started to dismantle everything the young national country has achieved during its short time of independence.

After the war, things have changed even more for agricultural Lithuania. The Soviets have established themselves and together with them came socialistic economics with all its consequences.

The map of Lithuania during the annexation. Source: partizanai.org

Communism in Practice

Just after its victory against Nazi Germany, Stalin’s regime reached its peak. This had a very dreadful effect on Lithuania and its people. To this day, the grave wounds caused during the post-war years are stuck in our memories. Usually, we link it with the bloody battles in-between (Communism proved to be great at making people hostile to each other), dozens of thousands of losses of Lithuanian people’s lives and more than a hundred thousand exiled to gulags. Not so often, we remember that this period has brutally destroyed the traditional agricultural lifestyle of Lithuania – the traditional old way of living of the local people inherited from our ancient ancestors.

Just when the war has ended, these processes began to happen at such a rapid pace like never before. All thanks to by that time already a long practise and experience of coercion by the regime of Stalin. To this day, after decades, it is a sensitive question – could all of these fatal events be avoided? Should a different stance have been taken by the leaders of the Republic during those difficult times?

An echelon train with Lithuanian exiles in the train station of village Gaižiūnai (1951). vle.lt

Unfortunately, all the data collected by historians and citizen researchers cannot provide a clear answer to all these questions. What is clear from the scarce documents is that totalitarian Stalin’s regime with all of its oppression apparatus hit Lithuania with its full power from the first day after the war. While it was still possible to hear the shots being fired in the Baltic States and Moldova, the Soviets were already assembling the special units of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (further the Central Committee), with unusual orders for the “peacetime”. The special tasks of such organs maybe could have had a purpose somewhere in an oppressed corner of the National Russian Empire without its own national traditions and a societal literacy, but with conserved views of the patriarchal social system due to its underdevelopment in civil and cultural relationships.

The Central Committee

It was not the case in the Baltic States. Within just a couple of decades of independence, these countries managed to develop a close societal and state structure to the Western countries. Despite being more or less damaged by the authoritarian ideas, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia maintained various political institutions with Democratic and Republican government processes. Also, it is impossible to explain the formation of the special units of the Central Committee in these countries in any politically or historically reasonable way, other than the attempt to directly control the Baltic States. It is obvious that the decisions and opinions of the leaders of these units from abroad: M. Suslov, V. Tscherbakov, and their local members: Tchernyshev, Kovalev, Tchachenko, Riabov and others had a direct impact on all the vital matters to the Nation regarding the governance of the Republic.

Lithuanian partisans (Forest Brothers) from the district of Dainava (Southern Lithuania). Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The political pressure on the Government of Lithuania, and the centralization of the country, is reflected in the special reports by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on the organization of the parties in the Republic during the post-war period. Most of these reports from the Central Committee are dominated by blaming the local government for a lack of understanding of the class conflict and being too soft on the bourgeoisie, always stressing out about mandatory ideological fight against, at first the Lithuanian-German, later the bourgeoisie and nationalism.

Lithuanian political prisoner Onutė Milušauskaitė (arrested in 1945 as a messenger of the Lithuanian partisans) by the grave of her daughter in Ust-Omchug. Rights: Kauno IX forto muziejus / Kaunas 9th Fort Museum, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Immigrants’ Role

During the post-war period, the political winds of the government of the Republic were directly affected by its and the Party’s social and national structure. After the collapse of Lithuanian interwar self-governance organs, it was replaced as soon as in 1940 by administrative control apparatus, dominated by foreign workers, migrated from other republics. In 1946 they have accounted for not less than 60% of the ruling class of the state and its agriculture.

The controversial political atmosphere of the post-war period was far from being a good catalyst for the reliance between the people of different nationalities, especially having in mind that the large numbers of immigrants and station soldiers of the Red Army were not dictated by the local social needs of a lack of the workforce. Most of the newcomers were assigned by the Central Committee to work within the Party with the vast numbers of them doing the dirty jobs of the infamous repression apparatus. Even before the end of the war, not less than half of 8,000 of the returning evacuees, or newly migrated people, were given jobs within the Interior or the State Security.

Because of the unnatural influx of foreign people after the war, the national structure of the State’s Party massively differentiated the one of Lithuania. The misrepresentation within the Party is very well illustrated in these statistics from 1948: from 22,159 CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) members only 4,108 were Lithuanians, 12,964 Russians, 1,855 Ukrainians, 1,691 Jews.*

*Translator’s note: The author does not include the demographics of the country of that time, which of course was rapidly shifting from year to year. To give you an impression there are some numbers from Lituanus.org:

…Although precise data are lacking, from an evaluation of all available sources it appears that among the 3.14 milion inhabitants in 1940 there should have been 2,340,000 Lithuanians, 330,000 Poles, 210,000 Jews, 80,000 Russians, 130,000 Germans, 30,000 Belorussians, 10,000 Latvians, and 10,000 others.23 The population distribution according to nationality would have been: 74.6% Lithuanians, 6.7% Jews, 10 % Poles, 2.5% Russians, 4.1% Germans, 1% Belorussians, 0.3r’ Latvians, and 0.3% others. On the other hand, according to the January 15, 1959, census the nationality – distribution in Soviet occupied Lithuania was: 79.3% Lithuanians (or 2,151,000 persons) ; 8.5% Russians (231, 500); 8.5% Poles (230,000); 1.1% Belorussians (30,000); 0.9% Jews (25,000); 0.7% Urkainians (18,000) ; and 1% (26,000) other…¹

The discrepancy between the national demographics and the nationalities of members of the Communist party, who de facto ruled the state, couldn’t have been without any negative consequences to the whole political climate in the Republic. There is no doubt that during the post-war period the damage inflicted upon national culture was done not only for objective reasons. All the commonalities of Lithuanian national and social life were ignored, and all of the traditions of the past were disregarded.

The Centralized Rule

One of the key characteristics in the post-war official documents was the monotony of the contents, confirming the centralized rule of the state. It would be hard to find any sights of coalitions of different political movements, or even opinions. Unfortunately, in the face of Stalin‘s regime, the government of the Republic was unable to, or couldn‘t, make any autonomous decisions, or at least find some areas to operate independently. Following the orders from above, it functioned only as an executive branch of the government. Today, we should talk not about the post-war politics of the Communist Party of Lithuania but the party‘s activities within the organs and organizations of the Republic.

Antanas Sniečkus, the leader of the Communist Party of Lithuania from 1940 to 1974, supervised the mass deportations of Lithuanians. Kusurija, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Loss of Lithuania’s Population

The most painful period of post-war history is the massive unlawful repression of the people of the Republic as the consequence of the clashes between the armed underground resistance and the installed organs of the repressive apparatus within the state. The mundane use of force in these matters determined the severity of the political offence, resulting in massive violations of law. Nevertheless, with an exception of a few cases of abuse, these massive acts of violence and coercion were never condemned. We don‘t even have evidence for any attempt of the government of the Republic to intervene with these repressive acts, not even a word to try and say something against it. So, it is probably not meaningless to ask this question – weren‘t these fratricidal courses of actions in fact artificially escalated as the Lithuanian version of the so-called „class-conflict“ with the symptoms of the Stalinistic genocide of nations? And what were the relation between the mass deportations to gulags and the actions of armed underground resistance – direct or reverse?

The victims of The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs operations in the square of village Kamajai. 1945 m. birželio 25 d. (photo from ,,Lietuva 1940–1990: okupuotos Lietuvos istorija“, p. 290)

Violence Solves Everything

It is not a secret that the levels of repression against the citizens of Lithuania in the post-war era were stunningly high. The number of arrested and detained people was growing in waves, and of acquitted and released ones – decreasing. After the Red Army entered Lithuania in 1944, during the first 10 months many people were detained and not less than 10,000 were killed. In 1946, due to the lack of evidence, 17% of the detainees were released, in 1947 – only 6.2%.*

*Translator’s note: The author used these numbers just an example to portrait the ratio between detained and released people. This does not show the total numbers of the people, who were either killed or deported to gulags, which would back his previous statement of the “Stalinistic genocide of nations“.

Without going deep into the numbers, during the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania (1940-41) 17,600 (out of 320,000 planned) were exiled to gulags, and at least 1,000 were killed by the withdrawing forces of the Red army.

During the Nazi occupation (1941-44) about 190,000-200,000 (95%), Lithuanian Jews were killed. About 5,000 people of other ethnicities were killed as well, and about 60,000 were exiled as a workforce to Germany. About 180,000 people withdrew from Lithuania before the Soviet forces entered the country again. Most of them were Germans and Lithuanians, who lived in the Memel region before the war.²

An exile T. Mikutavičienė with the children of other exiles. (Sujeticha, Irkutsk Oblast, 1948) Source: vle.lt

During Stalin’s period of the second annexation of the Republic of Lithuania by thee Soviets (1945-52) not less than 115,000 people (70% women and children) were exiled to gulags and this number doesn’t even include political prisoners and partisans (armed underground forces). Some estimate that that would mean approximately 150,000 extra people deported.⁴ It is calculated that between 1945 and 1959, the population of Lithuania was reduced by 594,919 people or 1/5th of its total population.⁵ That, of course, does not include all the Lithuanian citizens lost during World War II.

The political situation got really complicated during the elections of the government on a local and state level. In 1946 only 9% of the population either didn’t participate or voted against the official candidates for the Republic’s deputies to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. This turnout was the highest among all the elections happening in the country.*

*Translator’s note: Of course, these numbers were fictional. From the very start it was not allowed for more than 300,000 Lithuanians to vote. In some counties the voter turnout was as low as 17%, through the night it was somehow frauded at least up to one third. Obviously, that was not enough and in the end it was told that in the boycotting counties between 66-80% of the eligible population have “voted”. The other counties somehow compensated these numbers to the total turnout of the reported 91.78%.

Imitations of Democratic System

During the post-war period, the results of elections had very little in common with the actual loyalty to the opposition of the Soviet Union. It was normal to call out those people as the enemies of socialism, using repressive and violent methods to change their minds. Sometimes, these methods were even used against the people, who were actually loyal to the new system.

The remains of exiles returned to Lithuania. (Kėdainiai, 1989 07)
© Romualdas Požerskis

Original “Prievarta buvo stipresnė” (eng. Coercion was stronger) by Česlovas Bauža

Translated by Alis Monte

References

¹ http://www.lituanus.org/1964/64_34_01_Zunde.html

² http://www.voruta.lt/lietuvos-gyventoju-genocidas-2/

³ https://www.vle.lt/Straipsnis/Lietuvos-gyventoju-tremimai-15674

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_deportations_from_Lithuania

http://www.partizanai.org/failai/html/lietuvos-aukos.htm

http://www.šaltiniai.info/files/istorija/II00/A._Anu%C5%A1auskas._1946_m._rinkimai_%C4%AF_Soviet%C5%B3_S%C4%85jungos_Auk%C5%A1%C4%8Diausi%C4%85j%C4%85_Taryb%C4%85.II1503.pdf

 

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