The Lithuanian partisans were partisans who waged uniformed guerrilla warfare against Soviet rule during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Lithuania during and after World War II. Similar anti-Soviet resistance groups, also known as Forest Brothers, fought against Soviet rule in Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Galicia.
The Red Army occupied the formerly independent Lithuania in 1940–1941 and, after a period of German occupation, again in 1944–1945. As Stalinist repression intensified, thousands of Lithuanian residents used forests in the countryside as a natural refuge and basis for armed anti-Soviet resistance.
Resistance units varied in size and composition, ranging from individually operating guerrillas, armed primarily for self-defence, to large and well-organized groups able to engage significant Soviet forces in battle. It is estimated that a total of 30,000 partisans and their supporters were killed during the guerrilla warfare from 1944 to 1953.
Lithuania had re-gained its independence in 1918 after the collapse of the Russian Empire. Allied declarations such as the Atlantic Charter had offered promise of a post-war world in which the three Baltic nations could re-establish themselves. Having already experienced occupation by the Soviet regime followed by the Nazi regime many people were unwilling to accept another occupation.
Unlike Estonia and Latvia where the Germans conscripted the local population into military formations within Waffen-SS, Lithuania never had its own Waffen-SS division. In 1944 the Nazi authorities created 20,000-strong Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force under General Povilas Plechavičius to combat Soviet partisans led by Antanas Sniečkus. The Germans, however, quickly came to see this force as a nationalist threat to their occupation regime. The senior staff were arrested on May 15, 1944, and General Plechavičius was deported to the concentration camp in Salaspils, Latvia. However, approximately half of the remaining forces formed guerrilla units and dissolved into the countryside in preparation for partisan operations against the Soviet Army as the Eastern Front approached.
The resistance in Lithuania was well organized, and the uniformed with chain of command guerrilla units were effectively able to control whole regions of the countryside until 1949. Their armaments included Czech Skoda guns, Russian Maxim heavy machine guns, assorted mortars and a wide variety of mainly German and Soviet light machine guns and submachine guns. When not in direct battles with the Soviet Army or special NKVD units, they significantly delayed the consolidation of Soviet rule through ambush, sabotage, assassination of local Communist activists and officials, freeing imprisoned guerillas, and printing underground newspapers. Captured Lithuanian Forest Brothers themselves often faced torture and summary execution while their relatives faced deportation to Siberia (cf. quotation). Reprisals against pro-Soviet farms and villages were harsh. The NKVD units, named People's Defense Platoons (known by the Lithuanians as pl. stribai, from the Russian: izstrebiteli - destroyers) used shock tactics to discourage further resistance such as displaying executed partisans' corpses in village courtyards.
On February 16, 1949 the Joint Staff of the Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters signed a declaration on the future of Lithuania. It was signed by the commander of the forces - Brigadier General Jonas Žemaitis and other commanders of territorial armed forces consisting of:
- Southern Lithuanian: Tauras and Dainavos Apygardos (districts),
- Eastern Lithuanian: Algimantas, Didžioji Kova, Vytis and Vytautas districts,
- Western Lithuanian: Kęstutis, Prisikėlimas and Žemaičiai districts.
The same day new military ranks were awarded for the commanders, and new insignia of rank were sewn on the uniforms.
The declaration stated, that re-instated Lithuania should be a democratic country, that would grant equal rights for every citizen, based on freedom and democratic values. It did declare that Communist party is a criminal organization. The document of the declaration has survived and was preserved by the KGB.
The report of a commission formed at a KGB prison a few days after the October 15, 1956 arrest of Adolfas Ramanauskas "Vanagas" (Hawk), the last official commander of the Lietuvos Laisvės Kovotojų Sąjūdis or "Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters", noted the following:
|“||The right eye is covered with haematoma, on the eyelid there are six stab wounds made, judging by their diameter, by a thin wire or nail going deep into the eyeball. Multiple haematomas in the area of the stomach, a cut wound on a finger of the right hand. The genitalia reveal the following: a large tear wound on the right side of the scrotum and a wound on the left side, both testicles and spermatic ducts are missing.||”|
Juozas Lukša was among those who managed to escape to Western states; he wrote his memoirs there and was killed after having returned to occupied Lithuania in 1951.
Pranas Končius (code name Adomas), was the last Lithuanian anti-soviet resistance fighter killed in action by Soviet forces on July 6, 1965 (some sources indicate he shot himself in order to avoid capture). He was awarded the Cross of Vytis posthumously in 2000.
Benediktas Mikulis, one of the last known partisans to remain in the forest, emerged in 1971. He was arrested in the 1980s and spent several years in prison.
Decline of the resistance movements
By the early 1950s, the Soviet forces had eradicated most of the Lithuanian nationalist resistance. Intelligence gathered by the Soviet spies in the West and KGB infiltrators within the resistance movement, in combination with large-scale Soviet operations in 1952 managed to end the campaigns against them.
Many of the remaining partisans laid down their weapons when offered an amnesty by the Soviet authorities after Stalin's death in 1953, although isolated engagements continued into the 1960s. The last individual guerrillas are known to have remained in hiding and evaded capture into the 1980s, by which time Lithuania was pressing for independence through peaceful means. (See Sąjūdis) Lithuania regained its independence on March 11, 1990.
Aftermath, memorials and remembrances
Many nationalist partisans persisted in the hope that Cold War hostilities between the West, which never formally recognized the Soviet occupation, and the Soviet Union might escalate to an armed conflict in which Lithuania would be liberated. This never materialised, and according to Laar many of the surviving former nationalist partisans remained bitter that the West did not take on the Soviets militarily. (See also Yalta Conference, Western betrayal)
As the conflict was relatively undocumented by the Soviet Union (the Lithuanian fighters were never formally acknowledged as anything but "bandits and illegals"), some consider it and the Soviet-Lithuanian conflict as a whole to be an unknown or forgotten war. Discussion of resistance was suppressed under the Soviet regime. Writings on the subject by the Lithuanian emigrants were often labelled as examples of "ethnic sympathy" and disregarded.
In 1999, the Lithuanian Seimas (parliament) formally enacted a declaration of independence that had been made on February 16, 1949, the 31st anniversary of the February 16, 1918 declaration of independence, by elements of the resistance unified under the "Movement of the Struggle for the Freedom of Lithuania".
|“||[...] a universal, organised, armed resistance namely, self-defence, by the Lithuanian State, did take place in Lithuania during 1944-1953, against the soviet occupation [...] the goal [...] was the liberation of Lithuania, relying upon the provisions of the Atlantic Charter and a sovereign right acknowledged by the democratic world, by bearing arms against one of the World War II Aggressors [...] The Council of the Movement of the Struggle for Freedom of Lithuania [...] constituted the supreme political and military structure [...] and was the sole legal authority within the territory of occupied Lithuania.||”|
The 1966 film Nobody wanted to die (Lithuanian: Niekas nenorėjo mirti) by Soviet-Lithuanian film director Vytautas Žalakevičius shows the tragedy of the conflict in which "a brother goes against the brother". Despite being shot from a Soviet perspective, the film gives many hints that allude to the possibility of alternative points of view. The film brought acclaim to Žalakevičius, and to a number of young Lithuanian actors starring in the film.
The 2004 film Utterly Alone (Lithuanian: Vienui Vieni) portrays the travails of Lithuanian partisan leader Juozas Lukša who travelled twice to Western Europe in attempts to gain support for the armed resistance.
The 2005 documentary film Stirna tells the story of Izabelė Vilimaitė (codenames Stirna and Sparnuota), an American-born Lithuanian who moved to Lithuania with her family in 1932. A medical student and pharmacist, she was an underground medic and source of medical supplies for the partisans, eventually becoming a district liaison. She infiltrated the local Komsomol (Communist Youth), was discovered, captured, and escaped twice. After going underground full-time, she was suspected of having been turned by the KGB as an informant and was nearly executed by the partisans. Her bunker was eventually discovered by the KGB and she was captured a third time, interrogated and killed.
- Forest Brothers
- Romanian anti-communist resistance movement
- Cursed soldiers
- Ukrainian Insurgent Army
- March deportation
Notes and references
- (Lithuanian) Vaitiekūnas, Stasys (2006). Lietuvos gyventojai: Per du tūkstantmečius. Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos institutas. p. 143. ISBN 5-420-01585-4.
- Laar, Mart. War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944-1956, translated by Tiina Ets, Compass Press, November 1992. ISBN 0-929590-08-2
- Kaszeta, Daniel J. Lithuanian Resistance to Foreign Occupation 1940-1952, Lituanus, Volume 34, No. 3, Fall 1988. ISSN 0024-5089
- Mackevicičius, Mečislovas. Lithuanian Resistance to German Mobilization Attempts 1941-1944, Lituanus Vol. 32, No. 4, Winter 1986. ISSN 0024-5089
- Lietuvos istorijos atlasas. Compiled by Arūnas Latišenka. Briedis. 2001. p. 25. ISBN 9955-408-67-7.
- Dundovich, E., Gori, F. and Guercett, E. Reflections on the gulag. With a documentary appendix on the Italian victims of repression in the USSR, Feltrinelli Editore IT, 2003. ISBN 88-07-99058-X
- Unknown author. excerpt from Lithuania's Struggle For Freedom, unknown year.
- Kuodytė, Dalia and Tracevskis, Rokas. The Unknown War: Armed Anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithuania in 1944–1953, 2004. ISBN 9986-757-59-2
- Tarm, Michael. The Forgotten War, City Paper's The Baltic States Worldwide, 1996.
- Huang, Mel. Review of Mart Laar's War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944-1956. Central Europe Review, Vol. 1, No. 12, September 13, 1999. ISSN 1212-8732
- Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania. Law on the February 16, 1949 Declaration by the Council of the Movement of the Struggle for Freedom of Lithuania, Law No. VIII-1021, January 12, 1999, Vilnius.
- "We Put Off This Day As Much As We Could". Kommersant. 2005-04-19. Retrieved 2006-07-14.
- Krokys, Bronius. "The Winged One". Bridges, April 2006.
- (Lithuanian) "Naujas dokumentinis filmas "Stirna"". Septynios Meno Dienos, No. 690. 2006-01-06. Retrieved 2006-07-05.
- Daumantas, Juozas L. Fighters for Freedom, Manyland Books, New York, December 1975. ISBN 0-87141-049-4
- Razgaitis, Darius. Forest Brothers from the West, research thesis, 2002.
- Vardys, V. Stanley. Lithuania Under the Soviets: Portrait of a Nation, 1940-65, F. A. Praeger, New York, 1965.
- Rieber, Alfred J. (2003). Civil Wars in the Soviet Union. Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 4.1, 129-162.
- Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania
- Lithuanian Tauras District Partisans and Deportation Museum
- War Chronicle of the Partisans – Chronicle of Lithuanian partisans, June 1944 – May 1949, prepared by Algis Rupainis