THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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(based on “The official gateway of Lithuania”, Government of
Lithuania website, adopted and modified by dr. S. Backaitis)
PRE-HISTORY OF LITHUANIA
The first settlers arrived at the eastern shore region of the Baltic Sea in approximately 12, 000 B. C. In 3,000–500 B. C., the Indo-European Balts came to live here. Between the 5th and 8th centuries tribal groupings in the western territories included: Prussians, Yotvingians, Curronians, Zemgalians, Lithuanians and Latgalians. In the 10th century the pagan Baltic tribes became the target of christianization by Western Europe. In 1009, the name of Lithuania was mentioned for the first time in the written account of the mission of St. Bruno in Quedlinburg Annals.
Baltic tribes - circa 1200 AD
Lithuania (Litua) mentioned in the Quedlinburg Annals in 1009
CONSOLIDATION AND CHRISTINIZATION
Early Second Millenium
The first major battle known in Lithuanian as Saulės mūšis was fought on September 22, 1236 between the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and pagan Samogitians. The Sword-Brothers, the first Christian military order established in the Baltic lands, were soundly defeated and its Grand Master, Volkwin killed. The remnants of the Order incorporated into the Teutonic Knights Order in 1237. The defeat ended forever some thirty years' worth of conquests by the Livonian brothers of the Sword on the south bank of the river Daugava. The defeat inspired rebellions among the Curonians, Semigallians, Selonians, and Oeselians tribes previously conquered by the Sword-Brothers.
Lithuania, as the Grand Duchy (Magnus Ducatus Lithuaniae), was first noted in documents, with Mindaugas coronation as the king. He consolidated a number of Lithuanian related tribes and was crowned on July 6,1253. The Papal Bull granted Lithuania the highest title of monarchy, which meant that the pagan country was recognized and accepted into the family of Europe’s Christian nations as kingdom. However, Mindaugas was assassinated in 1263, the monarchy disintegrated and the people reverted to paganism.
Upon several decades of internal feuding, Gediminas (1316-1341) emerges as king of pagan Lithuanians and many Russians and as Duke of Zemgalians. Under his rule Lithuania grew strong. He chose Vilnius as Lithuania’s capital, and invited artisans and learned people from other parts of Europe to come and build the city. With the campaign of Gediminas into the lands of Kiev and Volhynia (1320–1321), the Jewish inhabitants of these territories were invited to come and bring their skills to the northern provinces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
While Gediminas was in power, Lithuania expanded east and south into what are now the lands of Belarus and Ukraine. However, Lithuania as a pagan nation was facing a growing threat from the Teutonic Order, a military organization of German knights, who crusaded by sword to christianize the pagan population of the eastern Baltic region.
In 1363 Gediminas' son Grand Duke Algirdas soundly defeated the Golden Horde in the Battle of Blue Waters liberating Kiev from the rule of Tatars and ending their threat to Western Europe.
In 1377 Jogaila, the grandson of Gediminas and the son of Algirdas, became the Grand Duke of Lithuania. In 1381 he was forced by his uncle Duke Kestutis to flee Vilnius, declaring himself as the Grand Duke of Lithuania. However, in 1382 Jogaila seized power in Vilnius while Kestutis was away. He captured Kestutis, who was subsequently assassinated in captivity. His son Vytautas escaped.
In 1386 Grand Duke Jogaila married Jadwiga the teenage queen princess of Poland. The Polish Sejm (parliament) elected Jogaila as the king of Poland. Jogaila accepted Christianity, and most of his subjects in Lithuania were induced, many times by threat of death, to convert to the king’s religion.
Inasmuch as Jogaila was based in Poland and was too distant to rule Lithuania effectively, he made peace with Vytautas in 1392. Vytautas (1350-1430) assumed the title of the Grand Duke of Lithuania on the condition of his allegiance to and support of Jogaila.
With the official adoption of Christianity in 1387, Lithuania followed the Western path of development. In the years following, Lithuania saw the spread of written language, opening of schools, and Lithuanian students travelling to study at European universities.
From the Baltic to the Black Sea
An important victory in the Battle of Žalgiris (Grünwald-Tannenberg) in 1410 was achieved by the allied forces of Lithuania and Poland. The Order of Teutonic Knights was decisively defeated. After the war, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under Grand Duke Vytautas reached the peak of power, with its territory stretching from the Baltic to the Black Seas and from the borders of Poland to Smolensk. It emerged for the next century and a half as an important political power in Eastern and Central Europe, thwarting the expansion of the Muscovites from the east and the Tatars from south.. The success of the expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was essentially based on ethnic and religious tolerance and protection from external enemies. A charter of privileges, which was momentous in the subsequent history of the Jews of Lithuania, was granted by Grand Duke Vytautas, first to the Jews of Brest (July 1, 1388) and later to those of Trakai, Grodno (1389),
Lutsk, Vladimir, and other large towns.
Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 13th-15th Centuries
Lithuanian Statutes and First Constitutional Document in Europe
The Lithuanian Statutes were developed in early 16th century to serve as the legal framework for the Grand Duchy. The legal thought reached further heights at the end of the 18th century when a Constitution of the Commonwealth was adopted on 3 May 1791. It was the first constitution in Europe (preceding the French Constitution), and the second in the entire world.
The Oldest University in Eastern Europe
The beginnings of higher education in Lithuania go back to 1579, the year of founding of the Vilnius University as the Jesuit academy. Its foundation was the most significant event in the cultural life of the 16th century Lithuanian Grand Duchy, bearing high political importance. Vilnius University was the first higher school of education not only in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but also in the whole of Eastern Europe
The Vilnius powers university
The Demise of the Commonwealth
To thwart the threats from rising powers of Sweden and the Duchy of Moscow, Lithuania entered in 1569 into a commonwealth union with Poland, which lasted until the very end of the 18th century. As a member of the Commonwealth, Lithuania retained its institutions, including a separate army, currency, and statutory laws. The Commonwealth up to the end of the 16th century was one of the largest kingdoms in Europe. However, the ruling Jagiellonian dynasty gradually lost control over the affairs of state to the more and more power seeking and self-serving nobility. After the death of king Zygimantas Augustas in 1573, the last of the Jagiello dynasty, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth became an elective monarchy, a quasi-democratized nearly an ungovernable state.
The once powerful Commonwealth, incapable of controlling the feuding regional nobility, gradually lost the ability fight off the growing power and destructive invasions of neighboring kings. The demise was further amplified by a nearly a century lasting black plaque which wiped out more than half of the Commonwealth’s population. The Commonwealth began to seriously disintegrate in the latter part of the 17th century and was finally partitioned by Prussia, Russia and Austria in 1795.
LATTER PART of the SECOND MILLENIUM
Lithuania Under the Czarist Rule
Upon the third and final partition in 1795, the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania ceased to exist. Lithuania was annexed by Russia. In 1830, the Poles rebelled against the Russian rule and in 1831 the uprising spread to Lithuania. However, the Russians crushed the uprising within a year. In 1863 the Poles and the Lithuanians rose once more against the occupiers, but again they were defeated and brutally dealt with. Each rebellion was followed by severe repressive measures such as mass hangings, deportations, prohibition of Lithuanian schools and Latin print, as well as prohibition of public use of Lithuanian language. Russian orthodox religion was given preference over the Catholic Church in all walks of public life. Lithuanians, in hundreds of thousands, escaped Russian repression by emigrating to North America. Similarly, many thousands of Jews of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, calling themselves Litvaks, left for South Africa, North America, Australia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Israel, etc. They formed strong communities around the world and hold top positions in politics, economy, arts and sciences, culture and society in general. They often lead in creativity and innovations that affect and influence the world we live. Their names are frequently found among the Nobel laureates and in many other honorable contexts.
Inspite of these oppressive Russian measures, there was a growing interest in Lithuania in its culture and history and the quest to be free of foreign intrusion. At that time nationalism was a growing force in Europe, and there was little the Russians could do to impede this development.
Book Smuggling – the Nineteen Century Phenomenon
Book smuggling emerged as resistance to the repressive actions of tsarist Russia authorities against the use in public of the Lithuanian language, the ban of Lithuanian books in Latin script and encouraging the population to accept the Russian Orthodox faith. Book smuggling activities involved the printing of books, mostly in the then Prussia (Lithuania Minor) and the United States of America, carrying them illegally into the occupied country and distributing them to the population. Though book smuggling was done mostly by ordinary peasants, this cultural movement, which was a reflection of the national quest for freedom, paved the way for the restoration of Lithuania‘s independence in 1918. This quest of preserving national identity, has retained great importance to this day. Inasmuch as book smuggling is often regarded to be Lithuania’s unique historical phenomenon of the 19th century, the UNESCO named it in 2004 as unique and unprecedented phenomenon in the world.
1918–1940: Period of Independence and Nation Building
On 16 February 1918, twenty courageous, determined and trusted representatives of the Lithuanian nation signed the Act of Independence “re-establishing an independent state, based on democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital city, severing all previous links with other states.” Having withstood the fight for independence against Bolshevik and Polish invaders, Lithuania adopted parliamentary democracy in the Constituent Assembly (Steigiamasis Seimas) on May 15, 1920. Poles, breaking political and military agreements, seized on October 9, 1920, Vilnius and a sizeable part of eastern Lithuania. Kaunas became Lithuania’s provisional capital. In 1923 Lithuania exercised its claim over the Klaipeda (Lithuania minor) region by expelling the French military administration.
The historical tragic flight by American Lithuanians Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas, who were among the first ones in the world to fly a propeller plane in 1933 across the Atlantic from the New York city to the middle of Europe, and Lithuania’s win of the basketball championship of Europe in 1939, became national symbols of patriotism and pride in the young nation’s great achievements. The principles developed during this period such as the rule of law, civic society, cultural and historical values, national solidarity, drive for scholastic excellence and flourishing agriculture, helped Lithuania survive as a nation the subsequent 50 years of Soviet Russian occupation. In subsequent years of communist rule, these values served as ideological basis for resistance and restoration of Lithuania’s independence in 1990.
The signatories of Lithuania’s independence in 1918
Nazi Germany and Lithuania
Lithuania conducted in 1934-5 the first NAZI trial in Europe and defied Hitler’s threats of vengeance. In March 1939, a long-running dispute between Lithuania and Germany over the jurisdiction of the Klaipeda region came to a head when Hitler demanded that Lithuania gives up the region or face Nazi Germany invasion. Lithuania, failing to receive support from either USSR or Western European powers, gave in to the ultimatum. On March 22, 1939, Hitler triumphantly arrived in Klaipeda and declared victory.
Soviet Occupation and Annexation into USSR
In August 1939, under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Hitler and Stalin agreed to carve up Central and Eastern part of Europe. The Baltic states were relegated under this agreement to the Soviet sphere of influence. Upon Soviet occupation of eastern part of Poland, Moscow returned Vilnius to Lithuania as a condition of stationing several isolated military garrisons on Lithuania’s territory. However, eight months later, USSR forcibly occupied Lithuania in June 1940 and formally annexed it as a Soviet republic in August 1940. Lithuania’s state structure was dismantled, followed by mass arrests, killing of politically unreliable, and began large scale deportations of the population to Siberia.
World War II and Subsequent Period June 1941
On June 22, 1941 Germany invaded USSR and as a result, it occupied all of the Baltic states. It imposed a military rule and political governance by Nazi powers from Berlin. Attempts by Lithuanians to restore their independent state was squashed within several weeks of occupation and their principal proponents were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The occupying Nazis and their local henchmen killed most of the 240 000 Lithuanian Jews.
On June 22, 1941 Germany invaded USSR and as a result, it occupied all of the Baltic states. It imposed a military rule and political governance by Nazi powers from Berlin. Attempts by Lithuanians to restore their independent state was squashed within several weeks of occupation and their principal proponents were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The occupying Nazis and their local henchmen killed most of the 240 000 Lithuanian Jews.
Upon defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Soviet Union reoccupied the Baltic states. Lithuania was restored as a Soviet Socialist Republic of the USSR. From 1945 through 1950s the Soviet authorities implemented deportations of several hundred thousands Lithuanians to remote areas of the USSR, mostly to northern Siberia slave labor camps (gulags). While more than half of the deportees perished, a number of survivers after enduring inhuman hardships in forced labor camps for some 20 and more years, returned to their homelands. During these turbulent years, thousands of the younger Lithuanians joined resistance groups to fight the communist occupiers for the country‘s independence. The period of the fight for freedom resulted in more than 30,000 deaths. It is one of the most dramatic, tragic but heroic events in Lithuania‘s history.
The Singing Revolution
The Initiative Group of Sąjūdis (Lithuanian Reform Movement), established in June 1988, inspired the nation with faith to quest for independence. Subsequently in 1989, the Lithuanian Communist party broke away from the Central Communist Party in Moscow, which was an unprecedented and very dangerous move at the time.
On August 23, 1989, the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians in a mass rally joined hands to form a human chain stretching some 650 kilometers from Vilnius through Riga to Tallinn The event marked the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as a result of which the Baltic nations lost their independence. The Baltic Way was a symbolic expression of final separation of the people of the Baltic States from the Soviet Union. Seeing this danger, the Soviet leader Gorbachev came to Vilnius to persuade the Lithuanians to stay within the USSR. The nation refused. On March 11, 1990, the independence of the Republic of Lithuania was officially restored.
On January 13, 1991, Moscow sent to Vilnius its well trained and heavily armed OMON paratrooper units to quell the peaceful quest of the people for freedom. But even under armed attack, the Lithuanian people as well as the Latvians and Estonians responded to aggression peacefully - without use of arms, singing songs of freedom in mass gatherings with an endless and persistent faith in victory. During the military’s crackdown, 13 peacefully protesting civilians were killed in Vilnius. On February 4, 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognise Lithuanian independence. However, only after the old communist coup in Kremlin failed, the Soviet Union recognized the independence of the Baltic states on September 6, 1991, followed by world wide recognition and acceptance of Lithuania as member of the United Nations on September 17, 1991. As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, Russia agreed to withdraw former Soviet occupation troops from Lithuania's territory in September 1992.
The Baltic Way - Human Chain 600 km Long Linking the
Three Baltic States in Their Drive for Freedom
EU AND NATO MEMBERSHIP
Following its EU and NATO membership in 2004, Lithuania was again reintegrated into the European family of nations. Once an EU member, Lithuania has become an official contributor country giving aid in the quest for freedom to Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, South Caucasus, Afghanistan and Iraq while also fulfilling its multilateral obligations within the EU and NATO structures.
Gediminas' Tower (Gedimino pilies bokštas) is the only remaining part of the
Upper Castle in Vilnius. The first fortifications were built of wood by King Gediminas.
Later the first brick castle was completed in 1409 by Vytautas the Great.
Gediminas (1275 - 1341) was the one founding Vilnius as the capital of Lithuania. In works of history Gediminas is referred to as the Grand Duke of Lithuania, but he called himself, and was titled in all official documents, the King of Lithuania, or the King of Lithuania and of Russians. He ruled in the years 1316-1341. Gediminas was lauded as one of the greatest rulers of Lithuania. He established diplomatic and economic links with Europe and invited many artisans and merchants to Lithuania. His reign was marked with tolerance, open-mindedness and fairness. He extended his invitations to all peoples to come and settle in his capital, including Jews and Christians. As a result, many synagogues, temples and yeshivas were built and flourished in Vilnius (for centuries known as "Jerusalem of the North"). During the rule of Gediminas was consolidated authority of the Grand Duke, strengthened the whole system of state institutions, were created conditions for development of agriculture and growth of the cities, expansion of trade and commerce, advance of culture. Gediminas turned Vilnius into a permanent capital of the state and a city of European significance. During the years of his reign Gediminas was the most honoured ruler in Eastern Europe. In his time the aggressions from the West, of European knights, and from the East, of the Golden Horde, were warded off, and many Russian lands were incorporated into Great Duchy of Lithuania.
On receiving a favorable reply from the Holy See, Gediminas issued circular letters, dated 25th of January 1325, to the principal Hansa towns, offering a free access into his domains to men of every order and profession from nobles and knights to tillers of the soil. The immigrants were to choose their own settlements and be governed by their own laws. Priests and monks were also invited to come and build churches at Vilnius and Novogrodek. In October 1323 representatives of the archbishop of Riga, the bishop of Dorpat, the king of Denmark, the Dominican and Franciscan orders, and the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order assembled at Vilnius, when Gediminas confirmed his promises and undertook to be baptized as soon as the papal legates arrived. A compact was then signed at Vilnius, in the name of the whole Christian World, between Gediminas and the delegates, confirming the promised privileges.
But the christianizing of Lithuania was by no means to the liking of the Teutonic Knights, and they used every effort to nullify Gediminas' far-reaching design. This, unfortunately, it was easy to do. Gediminas' chief object was to save Lithuania from destruction at the hands of the Germans. But he was still a pagan reigning over semi-pagan lands; he was equally bound to his pagan kinsmen in Samogitia, to his Orthodox subjects in Belarus, and to his Catholic allies in Masovia. His policy, therefore, was necessarily tentative and ambiguous, and, might very readily be misinterpreted.
Thus his raid upon Dobrzyn, the latest acquisition of the knights on Polish soil, speedily gave them a ready weapon against him. The Prussian bishops, who were devoted to the knights, at a synod at Elbing questioned the authority of Gediminas‘ letters and denounced him as an enemy of the faith; his Orthodox subjects reproached him with leaning towards the Latin heresy; while the pagan Lithuanians accused him of abandoning the ancient gods. Gediminas disentangled himself from his difficulties by repudiating his former promises; by refusing to receive the papal legates who arrived at Riga in September 1323; and by dismissing the Franciscans from his territories. These apparently retrogressive measures simply amounted to a statesmanlike recognition of the fact that the pagan element was still the strongest force in Lithuania, and could not yet be dispensed with in the coming struggle for nationality.
At the same time Gediminas through his ambassadors privately informed the papal legates at Riga that his difficult position, compelled him for a time to postpone his steadfast resolve of being baptized, and the legates showed their confidence in him by forbidding the neighboring states to war against Lithuania for the next four years, besides ratifying the treaty made between Gediminas and the archbishop of Riga. Nevertheless in 1325 the Order, disregarding the censures of the church, resumed the war with Gediminas, who had in the meantime improved his position by an alliance with Wladislaus Lokietek, king of Poland, whose son Casimir now married Gediminas‘ daughter Aldona.
While on his guard against his northern foes, Gediminas from 1316 to 1340 was aggrandizing himself at the expense of the numerous Slavonic principalities in the south and east, whose incessant conflicts with each other wrought the ruin of them all. Here Gediminas‘ triumphal progress was irresistible; but the various stages of it are impossible to follow, the sources of its history being few and conflicting, and the date of every salient event exceedingly doubtful. One of his most important territorial accretions, the principality of Halych-Volynia; was obtained by the marriage of his son Lubart with the daughter of the Galician prince; the other, Kiev, apparently by conquest.
While exploiting Slavic weakness in the wake of the Mongol invasion, Gediminas wisely avoided war with the Golden Horde, a great regional power at the time, while expanding Lithuania's border towards the Black Sea. He also secured an alliance with the nascent grand duchy of Muscovy by marrying his daughter, Anastasia, to the grand duke Simeon. But he was strong enough to counterpoise the influence of Muscovy in northern Russia, and assisted the republic of Pskov, which acknowledged his overlordship, to break away from Great Novgorod.
His internal administration bears all the marks of a wise ruler. He protected the Catholic as well as the Orthodox clergy, encouraging them both to civilize his subjects; he raised the Lithuanian army to the highest state of efficiency then attainable; defended his borders with a chain of strong fortresses; and built numerous towns including Vilnius, the capital (first mentioned ca 1321). At first he moved the capital city to the newly built city of Trakai, but in 1323 re-established a permanent capital in Vilnius, on the site of the capital of King Mindaugas, formerly called Voruta.
Gediminas died in the winter of 1342 of a wound received at the siege of Bayerburg castle. He was married three times, and left seven sons and six daughters. Two of his sons perished in battle. Jaunutis initially ruled Vilnius after the death of his father and was formally Grand Duke of Lithuania until his elder brothers Algirdas and Kęstutis returned from military campaigns in Ruthenia and forced him to abdicate his throne in their favor.
After Gediminas, Vilnius emerged over hundreds of years, expanding, changing, and embodying the creative imagination and experience of many generations of architects and builders from Lithuania and abroad; under the care of generous and perceptive benefactors, it became a city rich in architectural treasures and urban harmony.
Following the craftsmen in other European towns at the end of the 15th century, Vilnius craftsmen began to join together by professions into guilds. Many Catholic churches and monasteries appeared in the town. Stone buildings sprang up inside the Lower Castle. The new Cathedral was among them. Crafts and trade continued to develop in the 16th century. Many beautiful new buildings in the late Gothic and Renaissance style appeared in the town. The most significant event in the cultural life of 16th century Lithuania was the founding of the Vilnius Academy in 1579, which was endowed with the rights and privileges of a university.
Gediminas as depicted in the Sapieha Genealogy in Kodeń, 1709
Eyewitnesses at the Lithuanian Parliament in Janaury 1991.
Photo by Albinas Kentra.
The main objective of the new BALTIC INITIATIVE and NETWORK is to strengthen mutual understanding between the countries around the Baltic Sea through an exchange of information on the Cold War period. The idea is that history should be told from the historically valuable sites at which events took place. Relevant sites include, for example: military installations and towns, prisons and prison camps, partisan bunkers, execution sites, secret police offices, sculptures and architecture or simple squares or buildings where memorable events took place.
While this information is normally handled by museums, they believe that recent history can be told effectively from these sites from the prospective of – it happened here - with the significant help of eye witnesses. Their main task up until now has been to initiate and participate in concrete, international activities and co-operation projects that can improve this mutual understanding. Their main activity thus far has been to support and participate in international cooperation projects that strengthen these activities.
“LISTEN TO THE EYE WITNESSES”
A part of the Baltic Initiative and Network’s sharing of information process is to publish videos based on eyewitness accounts. One special feature of recent history is that many eye witnesses are still alive and can provide important information on the history of events and on valuable historical sites. These are people who were present at the sites as prisoners, partisans, participants in demonstrations, dissidents, military staff etc.
Dear readers, we would like to share with you some of their very informative videos about Lithuania during the Soviet Russian occupation. All of these videos were produced by Algis Kuzmickas of Lithuania in 2011 for the Baltic Initiative and Network.
Jonas Kadzionis - The Partisan in the Forest.
Restored and reconstructed partisan Bunkers, Lithuania.
Jonas Kadzionis was a former partisan, GULAG prisoner and deportee. He has reconstructed the former underground bunker in which he hid throughout his partisan life.
Juozas Aleksiejunas - Prisoner in the KGB prison
The KGB prison
The Museum of Genocide Victims, Aukų gatvė. 2A, Vilnius.
Juozas Aleksiejunas is a former partisan who was arrested by the Soviet occupation forces in 1945. He was interrogated in the KGB prison in Vilnius.
Tomas Sernas - Survivor of the Border Massacre.
The Medininkai Memorial. Lithuania
At 4 o’clock in the morning on July 31, 1991, eight Lithuanian policemen and customs officers were executed in Medininkai, on the Lithuanian border with Belarus. They were killed by shots to the back of the head. The executers were Soviet OMON forces from Riga (Special armed police units). One of the border officers, Tomas Sernas, miraculously survived, albeit disabled. He had been working as a biologist in Kaunas Zoo at the time and felt that he had to do something for his newly independent country so he volunteered as a customs officer.
Vytautis Andziulis - Underground Printer
The secret Printing House. Kaunas, Lithuania
The secret “ab” Printing House was set up in 1979 by Vytautis Andziulis, a professional printer, and Juozas Bacevičius. The printing activities took place in the home of the Andziulis family, north of Kaunas. The printing house produced 138,000 copies of 23 different books, covering Lithuanian history, religion, philosophy and poetry. The printing house was never found by the secret police although there were some close calls.
Albinas Kentra - The camera as a weapon
The Sites of the Freedom Demonstrations. Vilnius. Lithuania
Albinas Kentra was a former partisan, GULAG prisoner and deportee. He is mostly known for his unique video footage of the bloody January events of 1991 in Vilnius when hundreds of thousands of Lithuanian people took to the streets in their newly independent country to protect key institutions from the Soviet military forces.
Gintautas Kazlauskas - Deported twice to Siberia.
Druskininkai Museum of Resistance and Deportations.
Gintautas Kazlauskas was deported to Siberia with his mother and little sister. His sister died because of the hard living conditions. Gintautas and his mother fled back to Lithuania but were arrested and deported once more. Following Lithuania’s independence, he returned to his fatherland after 42 years in exile. He is the founder and current director of and guide at the Druskininkai Museum of Resistance and Deportations.
Irene Spakauskiene - Deported children of the ice
Reconstructed Siberian Yurt. Rumsiskes, Lithuania
Irene Spakauskiene was deported to the Laptev Sea region with her family when she was a little girl. It was a region with permafrost and a temperature of up to minus 50 degrees. The stay was marked by cold, hunger, disease and death, which hit the old and the children first and foremost. The deportees lived in peat huts, so-called yurts. The windows were made of pieces of ice and the inside temperature never rose above freezing.
We would highly recommend you visit their web site http://coldwarsites.net/
It has a wealth of information about not only Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors Estonia and Latvia but also Denmark, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden. This is a very informative site about a very worthwhile project.
Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin:
A rough definition of Snyder's "Bloodlands" (by Timothy Nunan).
By Ellen Cassedy
“Even if all you want to do is understand your own group, you have no choice but to understand the history of others.”
That’s what Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale University and the author of Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books, 2010), had to say at a recent roundtable at the Tolerance Center in Vilnius.
I watched a webcast of the session – and welcomed the opportunity to revisit Snyder’s book, which I’d found challenging on two accounts.
First, immersing myself in the atrocities of the mid-20th century was no easy task. Between 1933 and 1945, in the region Snyder dubs the bloodlands – the Baltics, Belarus, most of Poland, Western Russia, and Ukraine – an unprecedented 16 million people were killed.
Second, Bloodlands required me to consider, simultaneously, the fate not only of my own group, as Snyder puts it, but also the history of others. That wasn’t easy either.
As I watched the webcast, I was reminded of a beautiful summer evening at an outdoor restaurant on Pilies gatve (Castle Street) in Vilnius.
I’d traveled from my home in the U.S. to the land of my forebears in search of answers about my own Jewish family history. I wanted to understand, too, how Lithuania as a country was engaging with its Jewish family history, especially with the Holocaust. My dinner companion was a woman I’ll call Violeta, a friend of a friend, who’d volunteered to help me learn.
We sat down at a checkered tablecloth and ordered a decidedly un-Jewish meal of shrimp salad, then raised our wine glasses.
“L’chaim!” I said, offering the traditional Jewish toast. To life!
“I sveikata!” Violeta responded in Lithuanian. To health!
Growing up in the Soviet period, I asked her, what had she learned about the fate of Lithuania’s Jews during the war?
She furrowed her brow. “We learned in school that many Jews died,” she answered.
“Did you learn about the pits in the forests” – I made a digging motion with my hand – “where the Jews were shot and buried? The mass graves?”
Yes, she said, she had learned about this, too.
She looked away, then met my eyes. “But,” she said, “no one taught us in school how many Lithuanians were sent to Siberia by the Soviet power.”
Her voice grew louder. “Pregnant women and children,” she said heatedly, “they died in Siberia!” I saw that she was glaring at me, with more than a hint of accusation in her eyes.
Now it was my turn to look away. It was hard for me to listen, I found, as Violeta placed the massacre of my people alongside the suffering of hers. It was hard for me to hold in my head the reality of non-Jewish suffering side by side with Jewish suffering.
But if the conversation was not easy, I was glad to be having it.
“Each catastrophe was different,” Snyder said at the Vilnius roundtable. And “we have to accept that our memories are never going to be the same.” But studying the catastrophes that occurred in the bloodlands, and the interactions among those catastrophes, “permits us different ways, from our own different perspectives, to understand.”
If we are truly to understand history, he stressed, we cannot confine ourselves to the study of one people or one nation alone.
Instead, he said, “we have to go to the highest level, starting and ending with human beings.” Then, perhaps, we can “find ways to talk to each other in ways we haven’t before.”
Ellen Cassedy traces her Jewish family roots to Rokiskis and Siauliai. Her new book, We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust, was published in March and will appear in Lithuanian soon. She lives in Washington, D.C. Visit her website at www.ellencassedy.com.
French Army in the Town Hall Square of Vilnius, Lithuania, 1812
By Jonas Damelis (1780—1840), a neoclassicist artist
associated with the School of Art at Vilnius University
By Vytautas J. Šliūpas
Two hundred years ago – on June 24, 1812, the French Grande Armée, led by Emperor Napoleon Boneparte, crossed the Nemunas River near Kaunas and invaded Czar Alexander I's Russia. I will not attempt to delineate the historical facts that are well known, but will present several episodes which deal with Lithuania and Lithuanians. Readers may be interested to know these facts, because Napoleon's first and last steps of the Russian campaign were taken in Lithuania.
War was inevitable
In April of 1812 thousands of orders were dispatched to various corners of the French Empire and Napoleon's Grande Armee was formed. 200.000 men were left in Germany and in the Duchy of Warsaw. The main body , consisting of nine Army Corps – 450,000 soldiers – marched toward the Russian frontier. Among the French, Dutch, Belgian, German, Italian and other not so very loyal mobilized allies (29,000 Prussians and 34,000 Austrians), was a Spanish regiment and 130 battalions of reservists scattered in the vastness of the Empire.
...Ignoring the approaching war, extravagant parties and banquets were held at the Tulleries.
Czar Alexander I was already in Vilnius anticipating Napoleon's attack, which from April 8 was unavoidable. At that date the Russian government sent an ultimatum to the French Emperor demanding withdrawal of his Army from Prussia and other occupied locations east of the Elbe River. The Emperor thus had no other choice but to fight a war.
...In Vilnius, magnificent daily banquets were also in full swing in honor of the Czar. Preparations for war were all but forgotten.
On June 23, the Grande Armee – 400,000 strong and speaking some ten different languages - „a Tower of Babel on the march“ - was preparing to ford the Nemunas River near Kaunas. The river was hidden from view by steep valleys and the Pilviskiai forest. On that day, Major Count Roman Soltys, commander of the Polish cavalry squadron stationed near the Nemunas, noticed a large carriage pulled by six horses galloping towards him. When it halted nearby, Napoleon himself emerged, in deep thought and quite tired after a long journey.
Napoleon's Army Crossing the Nemunas in Kaunas. June 24, 1812
Wood carving. Artist: Dž. Bagetti. Carver: I. Klauberis
The Emperor and his retinue, not wanting to be recognized by the Russian scouts, donned Polish officer's uniforms and walked toward the Nemunas to reconnoiter... That same night, closer to midnight, Napoleon galloped his horse again toward the Nemunas. In the darkness it was difficult to see the other bank of the river. Suddenly his horse reared – frightened by a hare – and the Emperor fell down. Rapidly jumping up he remounted his horse. One of his staff remarked:”This is a very bad omen! A true Roman would withdraw!”
But Napoleon was not one to believe in bad omens...
Next day, June 24, Napoleon was greeted by a marvelous view, all the surrounding hills and valleys were full of troops and horses. When the sun rose and lit the entire moving mass and their shining weapons, an order was given to march. Soldiers, formed in three columns, started toward three bridges, which materialized at night as if by magic...
There was no resistance. The Russians had already retreated.
Suddenly the skies darkened. Thunder and lightning roared like the enemy's artillery. The rain came down in torrents and flooded the entire area. Many horses were lost. Some saw in this violent outburst of nature another bad omen of impending doom.
On the heels of the fleeing Czar Alexander I, Napoleon entered Vilnius on June 28 and remained there for twenty days. Then he resumed his march to Moscow...
The die was cast!
The retreat from Russia started on October 19, 1812 when Napoleon and his Grand Armee, now only 100,000 strong, abandoned the Kremlin. About this exit the Russian commanding general Kutuzov learned only on October 23. However, during the 32 days of Napoleon's stay in Moscow, Kutuzov was able to deploy against him 85,000 infantry, 35,000 cavalry and some 200,000 reservists. Kutuzov had already cut the retreat route near Jaroslavets which was reached by Napoleon on October 24. After a battle at Kaluga, where the French lost some 700 men, Napoleon decided to retreat toward Smolensk. The bitter Russian winter, which started with a snowstorm on November 6, was having its effect on the – even though not yet defeated – French Grande Armee. General Platov's Cossack cavalry was harassing its flanks without respite. When Napoleon reached Smolensk on November 10, his Grande Armee had shrunk to 12,000 men and 40,000 camp followers. In Smolensk they only stayed 4 days. Then on November 25 they reached the Berezina River, where bridges were already blown up by the Russians. The French retreat was cut off! But luck was with Napoleon. Here he met with 20,000 of Marshal Victor's soldiers who were kept behind in reserve.
Napoleon rested on a farm in the mansion of Baron Korsach, the caretaker of the Radvilas family estates.
Napoleon's withdrawal from Russia,
a painting by Adolph Northen.
The Berezina River was half frozen, all bridges had been destroyed. The French troops had to get across it at all costs. They had to find a ford nearby, because at Borisovo, directly across from where they were camping, the Russians had assembled 120,000 soldiers... They had to find that ford very quickly. Time and the Russians were relentlessly pressing without mercy. While the Russian Admiral Chichakov was happy just watching the French movements from across the river, General Wittgenstein could attack Marshal Victor's Corps at any time. Kutuzov itself was in a position to attack Napoleon's rear guard and the left flank of his Grande Armee, or whatever was left of it.
At this crucial moment a real miracle or luck happened for the French. General J. B. Corbineau, finding the river crossing at the Borisovo village blocked by the Russians, led his decimated brigade up the river through overgrown bushes and very dense forest. Suddenly, he came upon a Lithuanian villager, whose horse was wet up to the breast. That meat the villager and his horse had come across, and a ford had to be nearby. The Lithuanian agreed to take the General to a point some five leagues upstream from Borisovo – to the Studyanka village whose log houses were on the river bank just across from the Bychi hamlet. At this location the river divided into several branches dotted with swampy islands, and was flowing between low wooded hills.
Napoleon's crossing of the Berezina
an 1866 painting by January Suchodolski
oil on canvas, National Museum in Poznań
Everyone realized that this was the place one could wade across, as the water reached only to the armpits. General Corbineau and his soldiers jumped without hesitation into the icy water, which drowned and swept away 70 of the men downstream. But the majority of his soldiers reached the right bank. It was proven that a temporary bridge could be built at this location.
Napoleon ordered his engineers to start working on the bridge immediately, while the remainder of his Grande Armee continued to face the Russians at Borisovo.
During the night of November 25, 400 French engineers came to the location and completely naked, standing in the water up to their armpits, started building a wooden trestle bridge. They drove logs into the muddy Berezina ignoring the floating ice sheets all around them. “Some of them” - remembers grenadier Pils - “died on the spot from exposure and were carried downstream frozen into ice blocks. But the tragic end of their comrades did not stop others from their urgent task.”
Across the river one could see the campfires of a Russian Army unit. It was General Chuplitz's division, some 6,000 strong. When the dawn broke, the French were surprised to find that the Russians had abandoned their camp. At a distance they saw30 Russian cannons being towed toward Borisovo. Segur, who saw this with his own eyes, noted: “It required only one cannon shot to destroy this bridge of our salvation, which we had built during the night from river bank to river bank. But the Russian artillery retreated at the moment when we ourselves were just bringing up our own guns into position”.
To the great amazement of the French soldiers, the Russians retreated at the most critical moment,believing that the French were coming over to trap them. They were concentrating all their forces at Borisovo.
The first bridge was completed in the morning of November 26 and 9,300 men of the Oudinot's Corps crossed the Berezina.
Napoleon's life in the hands of a Lithuanian
After suffering great losses but nevertheless successfully crossing the Berezina River, Napoleon divided its forces into several groups, so they all would not be retreating through the same previously depleted areas. The surviving Lithuanian and Polish units were ordered to separate themselves from the Grande Armee at Molodecno. They were to retreat toward Warsaw via Alytus and Gardinas. The cavalry units were to cross the Namunas River at Merkine.
The main French column continued to retreat toward Vilnius. However, because of the continuous extreme winter cold, with temperatures down to -20 degrees below zero, and the collapse of discipline, Napoleon decided to abandon his demoralized troops at Smurgonys. After turning the command to King Murat, on December 5, 1812, Napoleon turned his carriage toward Paris. At first, Napoleon was escorted by his own light cavalry, but after a few leagues he continued his flight alone accompanied only by his trusted Lithuanian aide-de-campe Count Dunin-Vancevičius (Wonsowiczius).
It is known that, right at the start of his flight, Napoleon handed to Count Vancevičius two loaded pistols and ordered to shoot him whenever there was danger of Napoleon falling into the enemy's hands. Napoleons life at the crucial moments of his flight to Paris was entrusted to a Lithuanian officer.
Before Napoleon reached Paris on December 18, 1812, he was overtaken by a military dispatcher from Lithuania telling him some very grim news...
After leaving Vilnius for Kaunas, the French Guards artillery and the surviving Imperial field wagons with boxes of collected loot were unable to negotiate the steep icy slopes of a narrow road at Paneriai. Soldiers threw down their guns, abandoned their cannons, and started emptying the supply wagons. The looting frenzy was so great that the French soldiers failed to notice flying bullets of the encircling Cossack cavalry shooting at them. The rout of what was left of the Grande Armee was complete – the final blow was delivered just outside Vilnius at Paneriai.
From that moment on there was no longer any French artillery left. Marshal Ney, who desperately tried to save the last units of his artillery, rapidly gave up the effort. Marshall Victor was last seen walking on foot toward Kaunas. He was alone because his once loyal soldiers of the rear guard abandoned him.
The last report to Napoleon by Marshal Berthier vividly describes these final hours: “I have to report to Your Imperial Highness, that there is no more any discipline left in the regular army, or in the Guard units, which at this moment consist of 400, perhaps 500 men. Generals and other officers have lost everything they had: many of them have frozen limbs. Many corpses litter the roadways, and houses are full with dying men. At this moment the Army consists of a column only a few leagues long. Receiving no orders, this column starts walking in the morning and stops at night. The Marshals are walking on foot along with all other commoners. The Army has ceased to exist.”
Thus ended Napoleon's dream of conquering the Czarist Russian Empire.
Napoléon and General Lauriston — Peace at all costs!
By Vasily Vereshchagin (1899-1900). Oil on canvas. Historical Museum, Moscow, Russia.
References: Philippe Segur “History of Napoleon's Russian Campaign”, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1958, presented by Henry L. Gaidys in “Lituanus”, Spring 1984, p. 30-31; Lietuvių Enciklopedija, vol XIX, p.520, Boston, 1959; and Andre Castelot “Napoleon”, The Easton Press, Norwalk, CT, 1991.
Remains of a Grand Armée Soldier buried in Vilnius.
The skull of a Napoleonic soldier, who died during the French army's
1812 retreat from Moscow, discovered on a Vilnius construction site.
Picture: AFP/CNRS/Universite de la Mediterranee/Pascal Adalian
Vilnius, venerable capital of Lithuania, is sometimes called 'the city built on human bones'. It stands in the main Berlin to Moscow corridor, which for over 200 years has been the battlefields of the armies of Napoleon, the Tsars of Russia, Hitler and Stalin, as well as Poles and Prussians - hence its sinister description.
Early in 2002, while bulldozing some ugly Soviet barracks on the outskirts of Vilnius, municipal workers uncovered a mass grave. Thousands of skeletons were discovered there, laid out neatly in layers. Where did these bones come from? Were they those of Jews, massacred by the Nazis? No. For here's a metal button, with '61' stamped on it. Here's another, stamped '29'. And here's a patch of an ancient uniform, once blue. Also to be seen is a gold 20-franc coin from Napoleonic times, and a 'shako' (a French infantryman's helmet), squashed flat.
The drivers of the bulldozers stopped in their work. This was news - archaeological news - and these were the remains of some of the men that Napoleon had led into Russia in his pursuit of world supremacy in 1812.
Antanas Smetona golfing in Michigan at the Tabor Farm after he came to the U.S. in 1941, escaping from the Soviet invasion of Lithuania in June 1940
Antanas Smetona (August 10, 1874 – January 9, 1944) was the most important Lithuanian political figure between World War I and World War II. He served as the first President of Lithuania from April 4, 1919 to June 19, 1920. He again served as the last President of the country from December 19, 1926 to June 15, 1940, before its occupation by the Soviet Union. He was also one of the famous ideologists of nationalism in Lithuania.
Lithuania was occupied by Soviet troops in 1940. After the USSR presented an ultimatum to Lithuania in June of that year, Smetona proposed armed resistance against the Soviets. The majority of the government and the commanders of the army did not concur with this proposal, and Smetona turned over the duties of President to Prime Minister Antanas Merkys, and on June 15 he and his family fled to Germany, and then on to Switzerland without surrendering his powers.
In 1941, Smetona emigrated to the United States, and lived in Pittsburgh and Chicago before settling in Cleveland, Ohio in May 1942 with his son Julius' family. While in exile, he began work on a history of Lithuania and on his memoirs. Smetona died in a fire at his son's house in Cleveland, on January 9, 1944, and was buried there. His wife Sofija died in Cleveland, on December 28, 1968, and he also had a daughter, Birutė.
In 1975, his remains were moved from Cleveland's Knollwood Cemetery mausoleum to All Souls Cemetery in Chardon, Ohio.
Born in the village of Užulėnis, Taujėnai rural district of Ukmergė district municipality, Antanas Smetona was sent to the primary school in Taujėnai. Graduating from the Palanga Pre-Gymnasium in 1893, he passed his entrance examinations into the Samogitian Diocesan Seminary in Kaunas, with thoughts of becoming a Catholic priest, but various circumstances soon thereafter changed these plans, and he enrolled at Jelgava Gymnasium (high school) in Latvia. Here, together with Jonas Jablonskis, Vincas Kudirka and others, he belonged to a secret Lithuanian students' organization. This organization was nationalistic, and anti-Czarist in nature. In the autumn of 1896, he organized the resistance of students against obligatory attendance of the Russian Orthodox Church, and was expelled from the Gymnasium, but was later allowed to study at the Gymnasium No.9, in Saint Petersburg.
After graduating from this Gymnasium in 1897, Smetona entered the Faculty of Law of the University of Saint Petersburg. He joined the activities of the secret Lithuanian Student Organization at the University, and was made its chairman. He became involved with the publishing and dissemination of Lithuanian books. On two occasions he faced the threat of being expelled from the University, and experienced being arrested and a short imprisonment. After his graduation from the University in 1902, he worked at the Agricultural Bank of Vilnius. Two years later he married Sofija Chodakauskaitė.
From his very first days in Vilnius, Smetona became involved in the activities of various Lithuanian nationalist groups, and joined the Lithuanian Democratic Party, which he represented in the Great Seimas of Vilnius. He was later elected into its Presidium. In 1904 and 1907, he was on the staff of the Lithuanian newspapers, Vilniaus Žinios (The Vilnius News), and in 1905-1906, edited the weekly Lietuvos Ūkininkas (The Lithuanian Farmer). In 1907, Smetona and the Rev. Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas established a venture to print the newspaper Viltis (The Hope), and started publishing and circulating it. In Viltis, Smetona advocated national unity; he was also one of the incorporators of the Aušra (Dawn) company for the publishing of Lithuanian books, a member of the Lithuanian Mutual Aid Society of Vilnius, the Lithuanian Learned Society, the Vilniaus aušra (The Dawn of Vilnius), and Rytas (The Morning) education societies, the Rūta Art Society and many other societies, taught the Lithuanian language at Vilnius schools. In 1914, he started publishing Vairas (The Rudder), a new bi-weekly magazine. Also he worked with the writer Liudvikas Jakavicius.
During the First World War, he was the 1st Vice-Chairman, and later Chairman, of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Relief Society for helping victims of the war. In the summer of 1916, Antanas Smetona, together with other Lithuanians from Vilnius, presented a memorandum to the German Chief Commander of the Eastern Front, in which he demanded the right of the Lithuanian nation to have an independent State. On September 6, 1917 he started printing the newspaper Lietuvos Aidas (Lithuania's Echo), worked as its publisher and its editor-in-chief. In the first issue of the newspaper, Smetona wrote that the most important goal of the Lithuanian nation was the re-establishment of an independent Lithuanian state.
Between September 18 and 22, 1917, he participated in the Lithuanian Conference in Vilnius, and was elected Chairman (1917–1919), of the Council of Lithuania (later Council of the State). On February 16, 1918, Antanas Smetona signed the Act of Independence of Lithuania.
Smetona (first right from centre) in the Council of Lithuania, February 16, 1918, the day Lithuanian declared independence after more than hundred years of Tsarist occupation.
Between December 1918 and March 1919, he lived primarily in Germany and the Scandinavian countries, soliciting loans for the cause of Lithuanian independence. On April 4, 1919, the State Council of Lithuania elected Smetona the first President of the Republic of Lithuania. On April 19, 1920, the Constituent Assembly elected Aleksandras Stulginskis President. Not re-elected to the Seimas, from 1921 throughout 1924 he edited several periodicals, as Lietuvos balsas ("Voice of the Lithuania"), Lietuviškas balsas ("Lithuanian Voice") and Vairas ("The Steering Wheel").
After the Klaipėda Revolt of January 1923, in the Memelland, which had been separated from Germany, he was made commissioner there on February 20, but due to disagreements with Prime Minister Ernestas Galvanauskas, he resigned from his post.
In November 1923, authorities imprisoned Smetona for several days for publishing an article by Augustinas Voldemaras, in Vairas. Between 1923 and 1927, he was an assistant Professor at the University of Lithuania - at first at the Chair of Art Theory and History and later at the department of Philosophy. He lectured on ethics, antique philosophy, and gave lectures on Lithuanian linguistics. In 1932, he was awarded an honorary Ph.D. at the Vytautas Magnus University.
Smetona participated in the activity of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union that had staged the Klaipėda Revolt, which gave him greater name-recognition. More than once, he was elected to its central board. Between 1924 and 1940, he was the vice-Chairman of the Board of the International Bank, and one of the members of a number of societies and companies.
Antanas Smetona was one of the leaders of the coup d'état of 1926, which deposed President Kazys Grinius, and Smetona once again became President on December 19 of that year (two others briefly held the office during the coup, which began on December 17, before Smetona was formally restored to the Presidency.
See also our VilNews article http://vilnews.com/?p=3545, “The man who declined the Presidency.”
After the coup, Smetona designated Augustinas Voldemaras, as Prime Minister. One year later he suppressed the parliament, and on May 15, 1928, with the approval of the government, he promulgated a new Constitution of the Lithuanian State with more extensive presidential powers. In 1929, he removed Voldemaras and became authoritarian head of state. He was re-elected President in 1931 and 1938, and remained in office until June 15, 1940, when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union.
Why President Smetona's wife smoked Russian cigarettes and refused to talk to Polish ambassador in their native tongue
By: Alfonsas Eidintas / 15min.lt
The following three articles are from VilNews’ collaborative e-publication http://www.15min.lt/en
Alfonsas Eidintas, historian and Lithuania's former ambassador to the USA, Canada, Mexico, Israel, and Norway, has recently published a second book on Lithuania's inter-war president Antanas Smetona. The book is called "Antanas Smetona and His Environment" and the author has kindly agreed to let 15min.lt share some of its chapters. The following is an extract from a chapter on Smetona's wife, Lithuania's first First Lady, Sofija Smetonienė.
Unlike her reserved husband Antanas Smetona, Sofija was talkative and full of energy, partial to good company, a woman of action and resolution. Chodkauskai, a noble family of Antanas Chodkauskas, Sofia's father, who married his cousin Marijona Chodkauskaitė, lived in Gavenonys estate (Šiauliai region) and used Polish among themselves, speaking Lithuanian to peasants only, yet Sofija had sympathized with the Lithuanian national movement from her early days.
Her father would invite Lithuanian students, recommended by the linguist Jonas Jablonskis, to teach his children. During the summer of 1895, a young student from the University of Saint Petersburg, Antanas Smetona, stayed in Chodkauskas' house, teaching his elder son Romanas Lithuanian. Besides Sofija, the family included her sister Jadvyga, their elder brother Romanas and younger Tadas.
Sofija had a talent for learning languages – she picked up German from her German governess that she later improved even more while living in a German boarding school in Mitau, where she graduated from a gymnasium. Sofia's grandmother on her mother's side was a Curonian German, so even her mother spoke better German than Polish.
Sofija, born on 13 January 1885, was 11 years Smetona's junior – which at the time was considered a rather sharp age difference between spouses – and met him, still a student, in Gavenonys.
Young, pretty, lively and talkative 19-year-old, freshly graduated from Mitau Gymnasium, married 30-year-old bank employee Smetona in 1904 and the two moved to Vilnius. It wasn't long before Sofija joined the local Lithuanian society, exhibiting her fairly good voice in choirs and operettas, playing in amateur theater productions, actively participating in charity work. Speaking fluent German, she assisted as interpreter and mediator during the German occupation in World War One.
The Smetona family soon became the centre of Lithuanian cultural life in Vilnius, their home was frequented by the likes of Antanas' university mate J.Tūbelis, reverend V.Mironas, author Kazys Puida with his wife Ona Pleirytė-Puidienė, L.Gira, Mikas and Kipras Petraukas, painter A.Žmuidzinavičius, sometimes even by M.K.Čiurlionis and Petras Klimas. Sofija was a good expert on all the policies of her husband and participated in their making without the slightest sign of ennui (unlike many politicians' spouses who would and still do invest most of their time into updating their wardrobes).
Sofija Smetonienė was reputed as a steadily pleasant hostess who would always invite new acquaintance for a visit at her home. Priest and author M.Vaitkus wrote after a visit at Smetona's in Kaunas: “I found Mrs Sofija at home. Tall, slim. Elongated and slightly dark face. Eyes vaguely Mogul. Slight swelling and shading under the eyes. In general, features quite distinctive and uncommon. One can see a good race. The lady often holds a lit cigarette in between her right-hand fingers which makes them sallow. The cigarette owner, moreover, often touches it with her lips, savors it more fully, leaving marks on lip corners. She received me very simply, almost amiably. We started conversing about routine facts of life, as if we were old acquaintances. By the way, is Mr Smetona home? Yes, she said. And then the lady showed me where to go.”
Vacationing in Palanga in 1925, Antanas Vireliūnas, a known linguist who was very ill at the time, felt his health deteriorating (liver inflammation), his lips and tongue turning black and face yellow. Prof. Iz.Tamošaitis visited the patient, accompanied by S.Smetonienė. She told Tamošaitis, who seemed out of his depth: Vireliūnas would not last long. Indeed, he passed away on 23 July.
Friends talked his family out of transporting the body to cemetery in Kaunas – it was summertime, long distance. They agreed to bury the departed in Palanga. Coffin had to be bought in Klaipėda and brought to Palanga. But how to transport it, by what means, where to get it? While men were discussing it, S.Smetonienė procured a car. All that remained for A.Smetona, reverend Šniukšta, Iz.Tamošaitis, and Parlamentarian Kvieska to do was to say homage speeches in the funeral, silently thanking S.Smetonienė for solving all the practical problems.
Experienced diplomats from the US and Germany were often delighted by her liveliness, ability to quickly find mutual understanding, find their favor, maintain conversations with foreigners. Harry Carlson, American consul in Kaunas 1924-1926, characterized Sofija in one of his wires thus: “Mrs Smetonienė is a highly educated woman of Polish origin, there are indications that her family belongs to Polish nobility. She is exceptionally charming and can be said to be one of the three most important Lithuanian women at the moment. She takes great interest in her husband's politics, although she shows no open interest in any sort of social work, she has not been observed paying any particular attention to education or charity. She is certainly a delightful conversationalist, although her talks always contain certain sharpness and irony when she discusses people and events. Mrs Smetonienė is an ardent gambler and it is well known that she plays rather large sums.”
And here is what Soviet diplomat Sobolevsky though of S.Smetonienė: “Smetonienė is sensible, always in the loop, shows lively interest in everything, well-informed.”
Sofija Smetonienė was ready to sacrifice any prior engagement for the sake of her dearest friends. She instantly accepted an invitation to a dinner party held by US diplomats in the honor of Frederick Coleman, head of the American mission in the Baltic states, but shortly afterwards remembered that, unfortunately, she and the President had already been invited to the USSR embassy (as Smetonienė herself put it, she was invited by the “Bolscheviken”).
However, came 12 October and Smetonienė arrived to the American dinner party, declaring that she had withdrawn her promises to the soviets because she prefered present company, even though she’d got into trouble with the Foreign Ministry for not accompanying the President to the Soviets' event. She recounted how she’d spent half an hour arguing with Prime Minister Voldemaras. She did not leave the party before 1 AM, when the President's adjutant came to fetch her, as usual.
Smetonienė was exceptionally fond of the company of F.Coleman – who would occasionally come to Kaunas on business – because he'd gladly play cards with her.
On 27 October, American Consul Heingartner became witness of the following scene at the President's palace: the guests who arrived for 5 o'clock tea were greeted by the President, descending down the stairs in seemingly good humor. After Smetonienė arrived, everyone drank coffee and started to play a new game (a game of dice called golf), getting instructions on its finer points from one of the guests. Smetonienė had never seen the game, yet she cracked it instantly – faster than any of the gentlemen in the room – and played it with great zest, inviting everyone for another round the following day. “She is a born gambler,” Consul Heingartner noted in his diary.
Upon Sofija's becoming the First Lady again (1926), diplomats noted, somewhat surprised, that the new status made not the slightest change in her attitudes – she remained just as cheerful, honest, frank and slightly mocking of those she did not like. Smetonienė mostly smoked Russian cigarettes. She complained that since her husband became President, he had been smoking too much. He had much on his mind and was smoking to calm his nerves.
On 9 September 1927, an armed uprising erupted in Tauragė and other towns, mostly instigated by the social democrats, but by the evening it got stamped out, culprits arrested. Quite unpleasant for the Smetona family – and on the eve of their daughter Marytė's wedding...
Even though developments of the uprising aupset the family a great deal, they hardly could cancel all the wedding arrangements.
At 7 PM, 10 September 1927, a smart-dressed crowd of Kaunas society and foreign diplomats congregated in the town's Arch-Cathedral. Marytė Smetonaitė was marrying President's adjutant, captain of the hussars Aloyzas Valušis. The Cathedral was full of people from all sections of society, most of them standing as all seats were taken. Sofija Smetonienė led captain Valušis to the altar, the President with Marytė following behind.
Photographers' flashes and buzzing of movie cameras constantly disturbed the ceremony. Archbishop declared the couple husband and wife and read a letter from the Pope. The newlyweds left through the side door while all the diplomats were shaking hands with the President and his wife. Only one foreign diplomat got invited to the wedding ball – the US vice-consul Ch.Gerrity, a personal friend of the Smetona family. Gerrity later told his consul that 75 people attended the wedding, raising champagne glasses on the arrival of the newlyweds to the Pressident's palace.
Each of the newlyweds received a glass of champagne and the young captain threw the emptied glass to the floor – such was the custom here. High clergy and military officers in full-dress uniforms surrounded the tables. After dinner, the bride danced with every one of the guests. Members of Sofija Smetonienė's bridge group sent the young couple an antique silver plate as a present.
Both sisters – Sofija and Jadvyga Chodkauskaitė – were true patriots and would always maintain Lithuanian pride. Sofija Smetonienė was wife of President Antanas Smetona and Jadvyga – spouse to Prime Minister Juozas Tūbelis. Both were famous for their passionate patriotism. Poland's envoy in Kaunas Franciszek Charvat has reported that in his meetings with the Smetonas, the President would talk to him in fluent Polish, while his wife Sofija would not use her native tongue and insist on talking to the Pole in French, a language that she spoke rather poorly.
The Smetonas usually spent their vacations in Palanga – upon arrival, the President's family would be greeted by burgomaster Jonas Šliūpas and other distinctive town citizens, after which the President would go to his summerhouse. The Smetonas spent their holidays swimming, sunbathing, and resting. After 1934 – the year of Smetona's 60th anniversary – the family found a new holiday spot, Užugiris Court near the President's home village.
The Smetona family spent their holidays in Užugiris differently than in Palanga – Smetonienė would take care of the house, the President's sister Julija oversee the fields. Cooking was Sofija's responsibility.
One evening, A.Smetona agreed to visit duke Konstantinas Radvila who was one year Smetona's senior and a widower with three grown-up children.
In his youth, the duke had been renown for his great physical strength, his passion for hunting and a collection of over 70 rifles. His residence, Taujėnai manor, was a splendid building, but upon closer look appeared to be rather neglected. After the land reform (1922), the duke was left with merely 80 ha of his formerly gigantic estate, not quite enough to maintain his wide lifestyle.
As the President's car stopped outside the manor, two uniformed footmen came instantly and the duke, attired in beautiful antique clothes, emerged from an antechamber to greet the guest.
This was a symbolic meeting – after all, Smetona's forefathers once slavishly toiled in the fields of the duke's ancestry. His younger sister Taida Radvilaitė escorted them to a tastefully arranged table. As she spoke no Lithuanian, the party communicated mostly in Polish, even though the duke was fluent in Lithuanian, with a slight regional accent.
Duke Konstantinas was a well-educated man, graduate of Riga Polytechnics with a degree in forestry from a German university. After the meal, Radvila conducted Smetona around the manor, showing rooms furnished with Louis XIV furniture, paintings, vases and sculptures, presents and prizes for excellent shooting. The guests were also shown into a glasshouse filled with tropical plants.
When footmen closed the car door and saluted the out-bound President, the duke remained in his manor and prospectless life, while Smetona returned to his wife in Užugiris Court – this is how the family preferred to call their new property, avoiding the more traditional “Užugiris Manor.”
Next week, what were Smetona's attitudes towards Polish national minority and the Vilnius question and why his adversaries would call him "King of Jews."
Skaitykite daugiau: http://www.15min.lt/en/article/culture-society/why-president-smetona-s-wife-smoked-russian-cigarettes-and-refused-to-talk-to-polish-ambassador-in-their-native-tongue-528-198945#ixzz1sf2CzIfa
Lithuanian Poles and Antanas Smetona, “King of Jews“ (I)
By: Alfonsas Eidintas / 15min.lt
President Smetona is sworn in 1938.
Alfonsas Eidintas, historian and Lithuania's former ambassador to the USA, Canada, Mexico, Israel, and Norway, has recently published a second book on Lithuania's inter-war president Antanas Smetona. The book is called "Antanas Smetona and His Environment" and the author has kindly agreed to let 15min.lt share some of its chapters. The following is an extract from a chapter on Smetona's views on national minorities in inter-war Lithuania.
As people started to build an independent Lithuania, they likewise set out to lithuanianize her. The process of lithuanianization did not escape its excesses – attacks against foreign citizens. It was not only the Holly See delegate A.Zecchini who voiced great indignation in his reports to Vatican, but also President Antanas Smetona, who never approved of attacks against Jews and Poles.
In the beginning of 1923, non-Lithuanian signs and plates in Kaunas and across the entire country would get an occasional tarring. People would find notes of proclamation glued to walls of their houses, signed by “patriots” and fascist groups that came to be called “smearers” (murzintojai).
While the smearers' actions were being hotly debated in the press, Augustinas Voldemaras (Prime Minister at the time) denounced the tarring of signs, stressing that “every Lithuanian passing through these tarred signs must lower his eyes in shame” and that it gave the country great dishonor abroad. Gradually, nationalistic attacks against Jews (they were being accused of distrusting the recently-introduced national currency, litas, and of demanding privileges) and the smearers' adventures lost momentum.
In regimes run by one man, the latter's personal attitude to racial and national minorities becomes a significant factor in state politics.
In regimes run by one man, the latter's personal attitude to racial and national minorities becomes a significant factor in state politics; therefore, Smetona's policies in Lithuania say much about him as a person. Authoritarian regimes (and such was Lithuania under Smetona 1926-1940) usually oppress their national minorities, turning a blind eye on their needs. The more radical among Smetona's opponents have repeatedly called him “King of Jews,” thus voicing their discontent with the President's tolerant position regarding Jews, Lithuania's most important and populous national minority at the time. But what about local Poles? What policies did Smetona's regime adopt regarding national minorities?
On March 24, 1936, Smetona gave probably the most comprehensive account of his views on Vilnius question (Lithuania's old capital was at the time under Polish rule, tensing relations between the two neighboring countries) and Lithuanian-Polish relations in a lecture called “The Lithuanian Nation and Its Purpose.” The importance of Vilnius he described thus: “Lithuania without Vilnius is missing one wing in her flight upwards, to the future. It is a moderate position: In want of a third of her land, she cannot have a full plan of her tasks, she does not have the importance in the eyes of her neighbors that she could have. Getting it back would add weight on international plane and internal life would be more spacious, management work would be done more purposefully.”
Poles, according to Smetona, must, too, grant Lithuanians their right to self-determination, must renounce their imperial nationalism, since the Lithuanian-Pole type that once had historical existence, was no longer possible. In the olden days, Poles would call conscious Lithuanians “litvomans,” unfaithfull to the common Polish-Lithuanian cause, but today, when Lithuania was free, they quit doing so, yet still sought to maintain the obsolete origine lituanus, natione polonus type and grant it the right to determine Lithuania's lot.
The late Marshall Pilsudski loved throwing the term around whenever it suited him, like in Paris in 1927, yet this dual national type became shaky with the rise of the Lithuanian nation. Even families would break up because of it: “Professor Ivanauskas of our university, nobleman, Lithuanian from Lyda in origin, had one brother who thought himself Belorussian and another – Polish. A whole lot of our noblemen – Biržiškai, Mongirdai, Landbergiai, Pečkauskaitė, Pšibiliauskienė, Putvinskiai and many more – come from families whose fathers or grandfathers regarded themselves as Lithuanian Poles.
Finally, late Narutavičius from Telšiai, a nobleman of Polish nurturing, was a member of the Council of Lithuania and signed the declaration of independent Lithuania. And his real brother, Narutavičius, champion of Pilsudski, was elected Poland's President. Polonized Lithuanians, who support Poland, would like to see the common folk that are still nationally unconscious to follow their suit; those recalling their Lithuanian origin stand in support of the resurgent Lithuania.”
That is why Poland allegedly cries about how Lithuanians persecute Poles and, in return, persecute Lithuanians of Vilnius. “Do we not have Polish gymnasiums and other Polish schools, founded on our common laws? We do, so the Poles are not being wronged, but they seek to have more rights than is their due, in order to influence the resurgent Lithuanian people. After all, these schools are meant for the polonized Lithuanians, not some newcomers from Poland. We seek national revival of our people, while Poles think it's their right to use them as ethnographic material. We would be happy if Poles allowed Lithuanians of Vilnius region to remain Lithuanians. This is where our views clash. Today, language is the most important mark ofr a nation, but not the only one.”
Smetona specified his views even further in LTS assembly of November 1939, probably in an attempt to curb his own radical supporters from the younger generation: “To persecute foreigners is not only dishonorable, it is unwise. The flood of nationalistic currents will have to go on the ebb. Life will make nations break free of a narrow shell of nationalism, look for contacts in culture instead of differences and return to a universal human basis of morality.”
In November 1939, Lithuania got Vilnius back, but – contrary to what was being said – Smetona was not excited about it for several reasons. Garrisons of the Red Army were stationed there and, besides, by its population Vilnius was – even though quite Jewish – predominantly Polish, with Polish language dominating the city. Old myths – that the denationalized Lithuanians of Vilnius region were waiting for mother Lithuania to come, whereby they'd burst into speaking publicly in their native tongue – appeared to be mere fables, while Poles with resolutely Polish identity met the coming of Lithuanians – the new invaders, as they saw it – to Vilnius with hostility.
Vilnius was a prism to reflect on spiritual capacities of the Lithuanian nation – it was being claimed that the existence of the Lithuanian state depended on national resistivity, yet the question arose – how far should the nationalism go. V.Alantas (Jakševičius) raised a point that nationality should not be considered as something extreme, one should not feared to become nationalist in the true sense of the word. He was critical of Lithuanians' hospitality and welcoming nature, as it was harmful to Lithuania's interests.
The authorities organized language courses, forcing people to drill Lithuanian and all its rules into their heads, without quite understanding them.
The government undertook vigorous lithuanianization of the city, replaced public signs, published all information in Lithuanian, speaking and writing in Lithuanian became institutional requirement – all of a sudden, the city turned foreign to majority of its townspeople.
The authorities organized language courses, forcing people to drill Lithuanian and all its rules into their heads, without quite understanding them. The present author, newcomer from Žemaitija (Western Lithuania), used to rent a room in Žvėrynas, Vytautas street, with a landlord of Belorussian descent, R.I.P Valentinas Syvijus, who, having experienced the intensity of the pre-war language courses, would wake up from sleep or after ten pints of beer (his absolute limit) and, as late as 1974, would reel off in Lithuanian with a heavy Slavonic accent: “Daiktavardiiis yra kalbos daliis, kurį galima pamacyci yr apačioci.” (Noun is part of speech that you can see and touch.”) He still spoke the language poorly, even though his entire family – who came from Molėtai, on the Lithuanian side of the demarcation line – used only Lithuanian.
Historian Š.Liekis came up with an example to show how much the Lithuanian military, who entered Vilnius, were taken aback by the real, not nominal, linguistic situation in the city.
Lieutenant Mikalauskas of the Lithuanian army and his subordinates spent two weeks going from one village to another with an assignment to help “real sons and daughters of Lithuania,” that is, Lithuanians of Vilnius region. Lieutenant and his soldiers were in for a great shock. They were more than surprised when they did not come across a single Lithuanian-speaker in the villages they marched through – they even got a feeling of slight discomfort, as if they were in a foreign country. Some hope lit their faces only around Šalčininkėliai, Mielagėnai, Kirdeikiai and Laužonys, where they found entire Lithuanian-speaking villages.
There were some radical suggestions, too. The House of Commerce stated, in its 1939 “Economic Bulletin” (for official use only, not for publishing), that Lithuania would now have several hundred thousand pro-Polish citizens and moving several ministries to Vilnius would amount to nothing more than a “war against titans,” that one faced a great mass of Poles that could not be just dissolved. Suggestions were raised to tear this nest apart – physically and economically, with “siedlungspolitik” west to east, etc. Polish burghers were to be moved westwards, leaving all the treasures of Vilnius to Lithuanians; the more Lithuanian the region, the more integral the capital.
Antanas Smetona, “King of Jews“ (II)
By: Alfonsas Eidintas / 15min.lt
Renatos Mikalajūnaitės/Istorinė Prezidentūra nuotr. /
Mylimiausiu prezidentu išrinktas Antanas Smetona
Alfonsas Eidintas, historian and Lithuania's former ambassador to the USA, Canada, Mexico, Israel, and Norway, has recently published a second book on Lithuania's inter-war president Antanas Smetona. The book is called "Antanas Smetona and His Environment" and the author has kindly agreed to let 15min.lt share some of its chapters. The following is an extract from a chapter on Smetona's views on the Jewish national minority in inter-war Lithuania.
As people started to build independent Lithuania, they likewise set out to lithuanianize her. The process of lithuanianization did not avoid its excesses – attacks against foreign citizens. It was not only the Holly See delegate A.Zecchini who voiced great indignation in his reports to Vatican, but also President Antanas Smetona who never approved of attacks against Jews and Poles.
The same [House of Commerce 1939] bulletin urged to define a policy for Jews in Vilnius region, saying that it was unacceptable to leave the most profitable industry – commerce – in Jewish hands, that they needed to be resettled [from the newly-regained Vilnius] and not to other towns, but to rural settlements, to work in agriculture; Lithuanians, it said, had to stop valuing only land: “If we want to live, let's divide up the towns and shove Jews into the country where they in specia are bound for extinction, because they will not manage to do hard and decent work. The gain will be two-fold: Jews will be pushed into passive and prospectless rural existence and put on the verge of extinction.”
This was a very open and Nazi-like incitement – Smetona's government policies never included such drastic measures.
Having regained our state, we want and we must be just in dealing with our minorities. Since we do not demand them to melt, to drown within our nation, we grant them the right to a native tongue, allow them to associate with their own kind in matters of culture.
Smetona had cooperated with Jewish colleagues under the Tzar, during election to the Russian Duma; Jews participated in the Council of Lithuania. So when the 1922 Constitution was being discussed, Smetona supported provisions granting cultural autonomy for national minorities, yet opposed privileges, creating “states within a state.” He protected the status of Lithuanian as a state language, often speaking out against derogations and persecution of minorities, urging to respect their culture: “Having regained our state, we want and we must be just in dealing with our minorities. Since we do not demand them to melt, to drown within our nation, we grant them the right to a native tongue, allow them to associate with their own kind in matters of culture. In exchange, they must be our land’s – therefore, territorial – patriots, love Lithuania and respect the Lithuanian people. They must be loyal to Lithuania, stick to the laws not out of coercion, but out of conscience. Therefore, our national minorities are not aliens, but fellow citizens, not foreign-ethnic, but different-ethnic.”
Smetona, himself a member of a small nation, was sensitive to problems of the small ones (back in1913, he wrote in a publication called “Hope” that nationalism had two sides to it: “Nationalism of the stronger nation turns into chauvinism, that of the weaker – patriotism.”).
“A small nation, of course, is not equal to a big one, one race is not equal to another, but does it follow from this inequality that a nation must slave for another or disappear altogether? The Egyptians are not Aryans, but no one can deny the greatness of their culture. Japanese are a yellow race, but their might today is indisputable, their culture is deep and special. Jews are Semites, a tiny nation that used to live around Palestine, and what giant impact have they made on mankind. They gave us the Holly Scriptures that touched all nations of the world. Which corner of this earth lacks a Bible? None. A tiny nation of Norwegians – and they have given so many brilliant people, authors, and musicians. (...) In proportion, small nations can easily match big ones creatively, in the arts, sciences, technology. Diversity and not unification is the mover of cultural progress,” Smetona said in a congress in 1935.
Neither Smetona, nor his party, Lithuanian Nationalist Union (LTS), promoted racism or antisemitism, even though some groups would hold occasional nationalistic actions or smear Jewish shop windows and doors. Among the most aggressive attackers against Jewish traders were their Lithuanian competitors, businessmen, and their publication “Verslas” (“Business”). Meanwhile, Smetona and LTS leadership always maintained close ties with Jewish financiers and trading groups.
In Jewish press and literature, Smetona was depicted as an incredibly tolerant Lithuanian politician – an image that prompted bitter Lithuanian radicals to dub him the “King of Jews.”
If there is any basis for the claim that the Lithuanian tradition does not recognize antisemitism, then it should not surprise us that Mr Smetona, who has both his feet in the historic soil of his nation, is untouched by either antisemitism or chauvinism.
In 1932, Izidorius Kisinas authored a book for Jewish pupils called “Antanas Smetona, President of the Republic of Lithuania,” published in Hebrew in Vilkaviškis. According to Kisinas, “if there is any basis for the claim that the Lithuanian tradition does not recognize antisemitism, antisemitism as a dominant social current, then it should not surprise us that Mr Smetona, who has both his feet in the historic soil of his nation, is untouched by either antisemitism or chauvinism (if, regretfully, such phenomena have been observed lately, then the influence of Mr Smetona and the better part of the Lithuanian society is our guarantee that trends within certain groups will not stray us away from the historic path (...) and good Lithuanian-Jewish relations).”
However, Smetona's attitudes were completely different regarding the Jewish left and those Jews who participated in Lithuania's revolutionary movement, active members of the Communist Party and communist underground. Perhaps it was the Jews – who preferred speaking other languages (not Lithuanian) – that Smetona intended this remark, uttered in the LTS convention on 5 January 1935: “I could reprove one minority group for having within their ranks those who have not shown due respect for the national Lithuanian language. Not having mastered it properly, they like using one of our neighbours’ languages in public. This habit turns majority of the population against it.”
Smetona expressed an uncomplicated understanding of the relation between the Lithuanian nation and the others: “Lithuanians are builders of their state, while national minorities are their aides, they must love Lithuania and respect the Lithuanian nation, be loyal to Lithuania.” His magnanimity, however, was not extended to all Jews. As B.Ivanov notes, the nationalist press mostly reflected the strategy of integration for national minorities, i.e., questions of their loyalty, since nationalists paid much attention to Jews and tried nurturing a highly differentiated image for them, distinguishing among various groups on the basis of national and public loyalty.
Nationalists would put loyal Jews into two main categories: Zionists and religious Orthodox Jews that presented no serious challenge in terms of public loyalty. It was based on certain Jewish sense of honour, interpreted as national self-consciousness, reliability, fairness, usefulness to Lithuanian nationalism and nationalists. The kind of Jew who would not shun spilling blood in Palestine, whom the Lithuanian environment nurtured into a modern man in terms of national feeling. Lithuanians themselves, it was claimed, could learn national consciousness from him.
The nationalists' attitudes towards Jewish politics were rather inconsistent – they approved of the Jewish role and support in dealing with Klaipėda and Vilnius questions. Meanwhile their wish to participate in municipal and later parliamentary elections was deemed an “unjustified” ambition to further expand their influence.
Ohio crypt holds remains of first Lithuanian President,
yet he has been forgotten here in a Mausoleum tucked
away in a Catholic Cemetery east of Cleveland, USA.
By Frank Passic
There are no flowers at his crypt, although the Mausoleum is filled with them on the vaults of others nearby. He was the President, yet you would not know that by reading the simple inscription found upon his nameplate. His image was on a coin, a banknote, various stamps and medals. Yet he has been forgotten here in a Mausoleum tucked away in a Catholic Cemetery east of Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
His body has already been moved once since his death. But his remains haven’t been taken back to Lithuania since Lithuanian independence was restored, unlike the remains of his counterpart, President Kazys Grinius’ were. So his remains lay here in Ohio, far away from the country he loved and served.
He was Antanas Smetona (1874-1944), the first and fourth President of the Republic of Lithuania. A writer and journalist by profession, Smetona was active in the Lithuanian National Movement. He was a member of the Lithuanian National Council and one of the signers of the Lithuanian Declaration of Restoration of Independence in 1918. He was a member of the Nationalist Party, and his regime was in power until the 1940 Soviet invasion. Smetona was able to successfully flee Lithuania when the USSR invaded the country on June 15, 1940, being the only President to do so from among the three Baltic Republics.
Smetona eventually was allowed to settle in the United States as a private citizen, and delivered speeches on national radio and to communities to promote Lithuanian independence. His untimely death from smoke inhalation occurred as a result of an overheated furnace at his Cleveland home on January 9, 1944. Dignitaries filled St. John’s Cathedral in Cleveland for the funeral on January 13. Eight Cleveland mounted police, led by an office, formed an honorary guard which escorted the corpse to the church and stood sentinel with the Lithuanian flag lowered during the services. Bishop Edward F. Hoban led the solemn pontifical requiem mass, with Chicago’s Rev. A. M. Linkus preaching the funeral. Smetona’s remains were then interred in the Knollwood Mausoleum until 1975.
President Antanas Smetona is now interred in the Crucifixion Mausoleum in All Souls Cemetery, located at 10366 (office at 103400) Chardon Road, Chardon Township in Geauga County, Ohio, zip code 44024. The Mausoleum is located in Section 23, and Smetona’s crypt is No. 103. His wife Sofija (1885-1968) is interred next to him on the right. For the official record, the GPS location of this Mausoleum is North 41 degrees, 35 minutes, 600 seconds by West 081 degrees, 16 minutes, 208 seconds.
In 2006 Lithuanian Numismatic Association member Lou Merkys paid a visit to Smetona’s resting place and took several photographs at the site which we are sharing here with our readers. The Mausoleum is filled with many flowers that have been placed on the faceplates of vaults of the deceased, but no flowers have been placed on those of the Smetonas.
Numismatists are quite familiar with Smetona’s image on the obverse of the 1938 10 litas coin (KM-84) commemorating the 20th anniversary of independence. The obverse features Smetona’s image, facing left. The legend translates, “State President A. Smetona, 10 Litas.” The reverse depicts the Columns of Gediminas emblem in the center, with the text translating, “Lithuania 1918-1938, Twenty Years of Independence.” The inscription on the edge translates, “In Unity Lies the Strength of the Nation.” This coin was struck in 75% silver, and measures 32 mm. in diameter.
This was the last coin issued by the Republic of Lithuania before the Soviet invasion. Designed by sculptor Juozas Zikaras, it is also one of the most popular and scarcest of the pre-War series of 14 coins. Only 170,000 were minted at the Mint of Lithuania in Kaunas. When the coins were released into circulation, they immediately had a collector’s value of 12 litas’.
1 The Lithuanian Mint also struck an example of the coin in gold in the summer of 1938 and presented it to the Lithuanian President.
2 This coin had a limited circulation period. When the Soviet’s invaded Lithuania two years later, anything with the image of President Smetona became a special target, and was outlawed. One graphic account by J. Yuknis, Jr. states:
3 When the Russian army occupied Lithuania on June 15, 1940, Moscow ordered destroyed every item with a portrait of President Smetona. On June 19, people were ordered to turn those coins in within one week’s time to the bank, or post office, or police. Rumors were circulating that if such a coin would be found in possession of anybody, there might be a death penalty. Frightened people stood in line at designated places to deliver those ‘capitalistic’ coins. Naïve Russians wanted to erase the name of that great President of Lithuania from pages of history. But they failed…Russians murdered all the philatelists in Lithuania, when their NKVD found some Smetona stamps in their stamp albums. That is a fact!”
Plans were also made in 1938 to strike a new 2 litas coin, bearing the image of Smetona. Dies were prepared and the Brussels Mint in Belgium, and patterns were struck there, both in silver and bronze. These measured 23 mm. in diameter. The master dies were then shipped to the Mint of Lithuania in Kaunas. The bust of Smetona on the 1938 2 litas patterns feature the President wearing a suit coat, while the image on the 10 litas coin did not. One version had the 20th anniversary year theme on the reverse with a Columns of Gedminas emblem, while another version used the traditional Vytis emblem. In any event, this coin was not approved in time for it to be struck, due to the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Europe.
Although there are no flowers at Smetona’s interment site in Ohio, the website www.findagrave.com allows people to leave “virtual flowers” and notes on his burial memorial there. I will be writing specifically about this website in a future article. For now however, on the main page on the left, click on “Famous Grave Search.” Type in “Antanas Smetona” in space provided and click “Search.” You’ll then see his name on the left. Click on his name and you’ll get his listing. You can leave your flowers and notes for Smetona there.
1. Karys, Jonas K. Nepriklausomos Lietuvos Pinigai, Aukselis, New York, 1953, pg. 205.
2. Ibid., pg. 206.
3. Yuknis, J. Jr. “Lithuanian-Americana: The Last President of Lithuania,” American-Lithuanian Philatelic Specialist. June 1948, pg. 20.
PICTURE: The castles and the town of Kernave (R. Sidrys). Kernavė is a unique 5 mounds complex, honoured as being the first capital of Lithuania. The first settlers appeared here as early as in 9th-8th millennium BC, in the Epipaleolithic period. Since then until the very Early Middle Ages, the territory was continuously settled by people who left their traces. In written sources Kernavė was first mentioned in 1279 in the Livonian Chronicle and the Herman Vartberg Chronicle, where it was described as Traidenis’, the Great Duke’s of Lithuania, estate (1269-1282). At that time Kernavė was the most significant economic-political centre of Lithuania. In 1390 Kernavė was burnt in an attack by Crusaders. After the fire the wooden town and castles have never been rebuilt.
The first people settled in the territory of Lithuania after the last glacial period in the 10th millennium BC. Over a millennium, the Proto-Indo-Europeans, who arrived in the 3rd – 2nd millennium BC, mixed with the local population and formed various Baltic tribes. The first written mention of Lithuania is found in a medieval German manuscript, the Annals of Quedlinburg, on 14 February 1009.
Initially inhabited by fragmented Baltic tribes, in the 1230s the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, who was crowned as King of Lithuania on 6 July 1253. After his assassination in 1263, pagan Lithuania was a target of the Christian crusades of the Teutonic Knights and the Livonian Order. Despite the devastating century-long struggle with the Orders, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania expanded rapidly overtaking former Slavic principalities of Kievan Rus’.
By the end of the 14th century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe and included present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia. The geopolitical situation between the west and the east determined the multi-cultural and multi-confessional character of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Lithuanian ruling elite practiced religious tolerance and borrowed Slavic state traditions, such as using the Chancery Slavonic language for official documents.
In 1385, the Grand Duke Jogaila accepted Poland's offer to become its king. He converted Lithuania to Christianity and established a personal union between Poland and Lithuania. After two civil wars Vytautas the Great became the Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1392. During his reign Lithuania reached the peak of its territorial expansion, centralization of the state was begun, and the Lithuanian nobility became increasingly prominent in state politics. Thanks to close cooperation, the armies of Poland and Lithuania achieved a great victory over the Teutonic Knights in 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald, one of the largest battles of medieval Europe.
After the deaths of Jogaila and Vytautas, the Lithuanian nobility attempted to break the union between Poland and Lithuania, independently selecting Grand Dukes from the Jagiellon dynasty. However, Lithuania was forced to seek a closer alliance with Poland when, at the end of the 15th century, the growing power of the Grand Duchy of Moscow threatened Lithuania's Russian principalities and sparked the Muscovite–Lithuanian Wars and the Livonian War.
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was created in 1569. As a member of the Commonwealth, Lithuania retained its institutions, including a separate army, currency, and statutory laws. However, eventually Polonization affected all aspects of Lithuanian life: politics, language, culture, even national identity. From the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries culture, arts, and education flourished, fueled by the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. From 1573, Kings of Poland and Grand Dukes of Lithuania were elected by the nobility, who were granted ever increasing Golden Liberties. These liberties, especially the liberum veto (Latin for "I freely forbid"), led to anarchy and the eventual dissolution of the state.
During the Northern Wars (1655–1661), the Lithuanian territory and economy were devastated by the Swedish army. Before it could fully recover, Lithuania was again ravaged during the Great Northern War (1700–1721). The war, plague, and famine resulted in the loss of approximately 40% of the country's inhabitants. Foreign powers, especially Russia, became dominant players in the domestic politics of the Commonwealth. Numerous factions among the nobility used the Golden Liberties to prevent any reforms. Eventually, the Commonwealth was partitioned in 1772, 1792, and 1795 by the Russian Empire, Prussia, and Habsburg Austria.
The largest area of Lithuanian territory came under the control of Russia. After unsuccessful uprisings in 1831 and 1863, the Tsarist authorities implemented a number of Russification policies, including a ban on the Lithuanian press and the closing of cultural and educational institutions, and Lithuania became part of a new administrative region called Northwestern Krai. After the Russian – Turkey war in 1877–1878, when intervention of the German diplomacy withdrew from Russia fair winnings for the benefit of Turkey, the relationship between Russia and the German Empire became complicated. The Russian Empire resumed the construction of fortresses at its western borders for defenses against a potential invasion from Germany in the West. On 7 July 1879 the Russian Emperor Alexander II approved of a proposal from the Russian military leadership to build the largest 65 km2 (25 sq mi) "first-class" defensive structure in the entire state – Kaunas Fortress. Between 1868 and 1914, approximately 635,000 people, almost 20% of the population, left Lithuania. Large numbers of Lithuanians went to the United States first in 1867–1868 after a famine in Lithuania. Nevertheless, a Lithuanian National Revival laid the foundations of the modern Lithuanian nation and independent Lithuania.
LITHUANIA in the 20th century
The original 20 members of the Council of Lithuania after signing the Act of Independent Lithuania, 16 February 1918.
During World War I, the Council of Lithuania (Lietuvos Taryba) declared the independence of Lithuania on 16 February 1918, and the re-establishment of the Lithuanian State. During 1918-20 Lithuania successfully fought a war with newly independent Poland to defend its independence. At the end of 1920, however, Poland annexed Lithuania's capital city and province of Vilnius, which it held until World War II. For 19 years Kaunas became the temporary capital of Lithuania. Lithuania refused to have diplomatic relations with Poland until 1938 on the grounds that Poland illegally held the Vilnius region. After declaring independence, Lithuania also fought against the Bermondt-Avalov army, a German-sponsored group of military adventurers that sought to preserve German influence in the Baltic region, and against Russia. In November 1918, the Red Army invaded the country but ultimately was repulsed by the forces of the young Lithuanian government. On July 9, 1920, Soviet leader Vladimir I. Lenin signed a peace treaty with Lithuania, "forever" denouncing Russia's claims to the territory and recognizing the Lithuanian state.
From 1920 to 1940, independent Lithuania made great strides in nation building and development. A progressive land reform program was introduced in 1922, a cooperative movement was organized, and a strong currency and conservative fiscal management were maintained. Schools and universities were established (there had been no institutions of higher education and very few secondary schools under Russian rule), and illiteracy was substantially reduced. Artists and writers of the period produced works that have become classics.
In the early 1920s, Lithuania had a border dispute with Germany. The city and region of Klaipeda (Memel in German) had been under German rule for 700 years. Originally inhabited by Lithuanians, it was detached from Germany in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles and placed under French administration. In 1923 Lithuanians organized an insurrection and took over the Klaipeda region. This region was ceded back to Germany after a German ultimatum in March 1939 stated that Germany would invade and take the region back by force if their demands were not met.
On August 23, 1939, Joseph V. Stalin and Adolf Hitler concluded the notorious Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). The agreement had a secret protocol that divided Poland, much of Central Europe, and the Baltic states between Germany and the Soviet Union. Lithuania, at first assigned to the German sphere of influence, in September was transferred to the Soviet Union. In October 1939, the Soviet Union forced on Lithuania a nonaggression pact that allowed Moscow to garrison 20,000 troops in the country. In return, the city of Vilnius, now occupied by Soviet troops, was granted to Lithuania. On June 15, 1940, Lithuania was overrun by the Red Army. At first a procommunist, so-called people's government was installed, and elections to a new parliament were organized. The elections were noncompetitive; a single approved list of candidates was presented to the voters. The parliament met on July 21, declared Soviet rule, and "joined" the Soviet Union as the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic on August 6, 1940. The United States and many other countries refused to recognize the Soviet occupation.
Soviet rule brought about radical political and economic changes and Stalinist terror, which culminated in deportations to Siberia of more than 30,000 people on the night of June 14-15, 1941. Germany interrupted the Stalinist terror by attacking the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
The Lithuanian leadership went underground. An anti-Nazi resistance movement developed, publishing underground newspapers, organizing economic boycotts, and gathering arms. The resistance hoped that after victory the Western allies would insist on the restoration of Lithuanian statehood.
The nationalist Lithuanian resistance was supported by many Lithuanian political parties and resistance groups, including the Social Democrats and a coalition known as the Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania, which continued its activities many years after Lithuania was retaken by the Red Army. In 1943 this resistance frustrated German efforts at organizing a Lithuanian Schutz-Staffel (SS) legion. The Nazis responded by arresting Lithuanian nationalists and by closing universities. Moreover, occupation authorities succeeded, in the period 1941-44, in conscripting or capturing tens of thousands of people to work in Germany or to serve in the German military. Many perished in prisons or concentration camps. The main victims, however, were members of Lithuania's Jewish community. More than 200.000 Jews or almost 95 percent of the community's population, were massacred by Nazi squads.
Forcing the Germans out of Lithuania by 1944 the Red Army reestablished control and re-established the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. Sovietization continued with the arrival of Communist party leaders to create a local party administration. The mass deportation campaigns of 1941-52 exiled 29 923 families to Siberia and other remote parts of the Soviet Union. Official statistics state that over 120 000 people were deported from Lithuania during this period while Lithuanian sources estimate the number of political prisoners and deportees at 300 000. In response to these events an estimated 100,000 Lithuanian partisans fought a guerrilla war against the Soviet system. An estimated 30,000 partisans and their supporters were killed and many more were arrested and deported to Siberian gulags. It is estimated that Lithuania lost 780,000 people during 1940 – 1952. As a measure for Sovietization, Russification and industrial development Soviet authorities encouraged immigration of other Soviet workers especially Russians to Lithuania.
Soviet rule in Lithuania displayed well-known features of communist rule. The party had a monopoly on power, and the management of the economy was centralized. The regime collectivized agriculture from 1947 to 1951. Secret police terrorized the society and attempted to transfer Lithuanian nationalist loyalties to the communists. Deportations to Siberia were resumed. Religion was brutally suppressed. One Roman Catholic bishop was shot, one perished in prison, two died shortly after release, and two were banished for more than thirty years, leaving only one in office. Almost one-third of the clergy was deported, although survivors were allowed to return after Stalin's death in 1953. Eventually, the training of new priests was essentially stopped.
Underground resistance never disappeared, although the armed underground was destroyed. As a movement, resistance was first sparked by efforts to defend the Roman Catholic Church. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which led to increased repression in the Soviet Union, the dissident movement spread. In the 1970s, Lithuania had numerous underground publications. The most significant and regularly published among them was The Chronicle of the Catholic Church of Lithuania . It was never uncovered by the Soviet secret police, the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti--KGB), and was published for twenty years. In 1972 a young student, Romas Kalanta, immolated himself in protest against Soviet rule. Army units had to be sent in to quell a street rebellion by students that followed the self-immolation. The Committee for the Defense of Religious Rights and the Helsinki Watch Committee were established in the underground. Dissident work brought arrests and imprisonment. At the same time, the Lithuanian intelligentsia, especially writers and artists, demanded greater freedom of creative expression and protection of the Lithuanian language, traditions, and cultural values from the pressure of Russification that intensified during the administration of Leonid I. Brezhnev (1964-82).
The political and economic crisis that began in the U.S.S.R. in the mid-1980s also affected Lithuania and Lithuanians as well as other Balts offered active support to Gorbachev's program of social and political reforms. Under the leadership of intellectuals the Lithuanian reform movement Sajudis was formed in mid-1988 and declared a program of democratic and national rights winning nation-wide popularity. On Sajudis' demand the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet passed constitutional amendments on the supremacy of Lithuanian laws over Soviet legislation annulled the 1940 decisions on proclaiming Lithuania a part of the U.S.S.R. legalized a multi-party system and adopted a number of other important decisions. A large number of LCP members also supported the ideas of Sajudis and with Sajudis support Algirdas Brazauskas was elected First Secretary of the Central Committee of the LCP in 1988. In December 1989 the Brazauskas-led LCP split from the CPSU and became an independent party renaming itself in 1990 the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party.
In 1990 Sajudis-backed candidates won the elections to the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet. On March 11 1990 its chairman Vytautas Landsbergis proclaimed the restoration of Lithuanian independence formed a new Cabinet of Ministers headed by Kazimiera Prunskiene and adopted the Provisional Fundamental Law of the state and a number of by-laws. The U.S.S.R. demanded to revoke the act and began employing political and economic sanctions against Lithuania as well as demonstrating military force. On January 10 1991 U.S.S.R. authorities seized the central publishing house and other premises in Vilnius and unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the elected government by sponsoring a local "National Salvation Committee." Three days later the Soviet Army forcibly took over the TV tower killing 14 civilians and injuring 700. During the national plebiscite on February 9, 91% of those who took part in the voting (76% of all eligible voters) voted in favor of an independent democratic Lithuania. Led by the tenacious Landsbergis Lithuania's leadership continued to seek Western diplomatic recognition of its independence. Soviet military-security forces continued forced conscription occasional seizure of buildings attacking customs posts and sometimes killing customs and police officials.
On 4 February 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognize Lithuanian independence. After the Soviet August Coup, independent Lithuania received wide official recognition and joined the United Nations on 17 September 1991. The last Soviet troops left Lithuania on 31 August 1993 – even earlier than they departed from East Germany, which had not seen repression in recent times on the same level as the 1991 Vilnius massacre.
Lithuania became a member of the United Nations in 1991 and a full member of NATO and the European Union in spring 2004.
2000 B.C. Lithuanian ancestors settle along the Baltic coast.
1009 A.D. Lithuania is first mentioned in chronicles. Lithuanians already have a reputation as fierce warriors.
1200 While much of Europe has already converted to Christianity, Lithuania is still pagan and will remain so for several hundred more years. Lithuanians believed fire embodies the divine. A sacred flameis kept at a Vilnius temple tended to by vestal virgins. If they break their vows of chastity or the flame goes out, the penalty is death.
1236 Lithuania is united by Mindaugas and later crowned king. Unification helps Lithuania fend off German crusaders.
1323 Vilnius founded by Grand Duke Gediminas.
1385 Polish-Lithuanian Union known as Kreva Union was sign. Lithuanian Duke Jogaila became Polish King.
1386 To keep the Germans at bay, the Lithuanian Grand Duke and Polish Queen wed, creating a monarchial union.
1387 The Christianization of Lithuania was initiated by the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Jogaila with his cousin Vytautas the Great. This signified the official adoption of Christianity by Lithuania, one of the last pagan nations in Europe.
1392-1430 Lithuania-Poland stretches to the Black Sea.
1410 Lithuania, Poland and their allies defeat the Teutonic Knights and end their military influence in the region forever.
1400s Jews begin to settle in Lithuania. In time, Vilnius becomes a center of Jewish culture and learning in the world
1569 The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Lithuania enters a formal Commonwealth with Poland to help protect against increasing danger from Russia.
1657 The plague strikes and half the population of Vilnius die.
1795 The Commonwealth is partitioned by the Russian Empire, Prussia, and Habsburg Austria. Lithuania ends up controlled by Russia.
1860-1885 Lithuanian uprisings; The Emperor of Russia bans Lithuanian as an officially used language.
1900 Lithuanians begin emigrating en mass to escape Czarist persecution. The émigrés spread their influence far and wide. Among those who are either from Lithuania themselves or whose parents were: British actor Sir John Gielgud, singer Al Jolson, actor Charles Bronson, the Three Stooges, and American composer Aaron Copland. The father of former Israeli premier Ehud Barak was from Lithuania. Today, some 800,000 Americans claim Lithuanian heritage.
1918 Lithuania declares independence.
1920 After battling Russia and other powers, Lithuania secures independence. Poles occupy Vilnius; Kaunas becomes Lithuania’s provisional capital. Catholic Lithuania breaks relations with the Vatican after Rome recognizes Polish rule over Vilnius.
1920-1939 Lithuania prospers financially, culturally and in education.
1939 In March, a long-running dispute between Lithuania and Germany over the jurisdiction of Klaipeda comes to a head when Berlin demands that Lithuania give up the coastal city, or face a Nazi invasion. Lithuania, figuring it couldn’t depend on support from either Russia or any Western powers, gives in to the ultimatum. On March 22, Hitler arrives in Klaipeda.
1939 In August, Hitler and Stalin carve up Europe, with the Baltics in the Soviet sphere. Before, the Baltics were able to play Germany and Russia off each other, but they’re now virtually within U.S.S.R. occupies Lithuania; mass deportations to Siberia begin. Moscow hands Vilnius back to Lithuania.
1940 Soviet Army occupies Lithuania. Mass deportations to Siberia, forced exile, jailings and executions begin.
1941 Nazis occupy Lithuania. Most of Lithuania’s 240,000 Jews are killed.
1944 Soviets occupy Lithuania again. Over 500,000 Lithuanians are either deported, forced into exile, jailed or shot
1987 First open protests against Soviets.
1989 Lithuanian Communists vote to break with the Soviet Party, a daring and dangerous move at the time.
1990 Lithuania declares independence, the first Soviet republic to do so.
1991 Soviet crackdown kills 13 civilians in Vilnius; in August, after a failed Kremlin coup, Lithuania wins independence.
1993 Algirdas Brazauskas becomes president. The litas become the new national currency.
1997 A cooperation agreement is signed between Russia and Lithuania.
1998 Lithuanian born and now a U.S. citizen, Valdas Adamkus becomes a president of Lithuania after a 50-year exile.
March 29, 2004 Lithuania is accepted into NATO.
May 1, 2004 Lithuania joins the European Union.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic Baltic tribes from Aukštaitija. The duchy later expanded to include large portions of the former Kievan Rus' and other Slavic lands, covering the territory of present-day Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and parts of Estonia, Moldova,Poland and Russia. At its greatest extent in the 15th century, it was the largest state in Europe. It was a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state with great diversity in languages, religion, and cultural heritage.
“Lithuania was a superpower much longer than USA has been“. This is how I often tease my American friends arriving in Vilnius. But the teasing is in fact not so far away from reality, as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) over 300 years, was one of the biggest nations of the world, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
It all started with King Mindaugas (1203-1263), Lithuania‘s first and only king, who in 1236 defeated the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and united the different Lithuanian tribes under his reign. But the real expansion began when Grand Duke Gediminas came to power in 1316, and started a new dynasty of leaders. Gediminas employed several forms of statesmanship to expand and strengthen the GDL. He invited members of religious orders to come to the Grand Duchy, announced his loyalty to the Pope and to his neighbouring Catholic countries and made political allies with dukes in Russia as well as with the Poles through marriage to women in his family. Gediminas’ political skills are evident in a series of letters written to Rome and nearby cities. He mentions the Franciscan and Dominican monks who had come to the GDL by invitation and were given the right to preach, baptise and perform other religious services. He also included an open invitation to artisans and farmers to come and live in the GDL, promising support and reduced taxes.
Along with his other political accomplishments, Gediminas established Vilnius as the capital of the GDL. During his rule, he managed to establish a stable state comprised of peoples of varied ethnicity and religious persuasions. When his rule ended in 1341, he left the GDL viable and strong.
Under Vytautas the Great, Lithuania‘s military and economy grew stronger, and he expanded the Grand Duchy‘s frontiers to the Black Sea.
The Grand Duchy was at its peak in the 15th Century. It was in the centre of Europe and comprised of the entire territories of contemporary Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, part of Poland and stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Successfully ruled by a dynastic line of dukes, the GDL developed a highly advanced system of state administration to stave off invading Crusaders longer than any other central European power. Its statesmen conducted effective foreign policy and military campaigns and created a multi-ethnic state. Though officially ending in 1795, the history of the GDL continues to influence modern-day nationalist thinking in the region. Lithuania, but also Belarus and Ukraine point back to the days when they were part of the thriving GDL as proof of their cultural and political strength, clearly distinguishing them from Russia.
Flag of Lithuanian SSR.
The Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Tarybų Socialistinė Respublika; Russian: Литовская Советская Социалистическая Республика, Litovskaya Sovetskaya Sotsialisticheskaya Respublika), also known as the Lithuanian SSR, was one of the republics that made up the former Soviet Union. Established on 21 July 1940 as a puppet state during World War II in the territory of the previously independent Republic of Lithuania after it had been occupied by the Soviet army on 16 June 1940 in conformity with the terms of 23 August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it existed until 1990. Between 1941 and 1944, the German invasion of the Soviet Union caused its de facto dissolution. However, with the retreat of the Germans in 1944–1945, Soviet hegemony was re-established. There had been an unsuccessful attempt to establish a Soviet government in Lithuania by the Bolshevik Red Army in 1918–1919.
World War I
The Lithuanian SSR was first proclaimed on 16 December 1918, by the provisional revolutionary government of Lithuania, formed entirely by the Communist Party of Lithuania. The Lithuanian SSR was supported by the Red Army, but it failed to create a de facto government with any popular support as the Council of Lithuania had successfully done earlier. Two months later on 27 February 1919, it was joined by the Soviet Socialist Republic of Byelorussia and they proclaimed the Lithuanian–Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (LBSSR or Litbel), which existed for only six months, until 25 August 1919. The Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic officially recognized the Republic of Lithuania by signing the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty on 12 July 1920, thus ending the existence of the fledgling Soviet Republic. It has been suggested that the failure to conquer Poland in the Polish–Soviet War prevented the Soviets from invading Lithuania and re-establishing a Soviet republic at the time.
World War II and occupation
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, stated that Lithuania was to be included into the German "sphere of influence", but after the World War II broke out in September 1939 the agreement was amended to transfer Lithuania to the Soviet sphere. This was granted in exchange for Lublin and parts of the Warsaw province of Poland, originally ascribed to the Soviet Union, but by that time already occupied by German forces. The Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was established on 21 July 1940 (after Communist rule was forced upon Lithuania following the Soviet ultimatum and subsequent invasion of 15 June 1940). On 3 August 1940, a hastily formed communist government announced that the Lithuanian SSR would become a part of the Soviet Union, i.e. the 14th constituent republic of the USSR. Its territory was subsequently invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in June 1941, but with the Baltic offensive, Soviet rule was re-established there in July 1944. After both Soviet occupations mass deportation of the Lithuanians into gulags and other forced settlements ensued.
1940 Soviet map of the Lithuanian SSR
The United States, United Kingdom, and other countries considered the occupation of Lithuania by the USSR illegal, citing the Stimson Doctrine, in 1940, but recognized all borders of the USSR at post-World War II conferences. In spite of this, the United States refused to recognize the annexation of Lithuania or the other Baltic States, by the Soviet Union, at any time of the existence of the USSR.
In addition to the human and material losses suffered due to war, several waves of deportations affected Lithuania. During the mass deportation campaign of 14–18 June 1941, about 12,600 people were deported to Siberia without investigation or trial, 3,600 people were imprisoned, and more than 1,000 were killed. After the Lithuanian SSR was re-established in 1944, an estimated 120,000 to 300,000 Lithuanians were either killed or deported to Siberia and other remote parts of the Soviet Union. The Potsdam Conference of 1945 attributed the Klaipėda Region to the Lithuanian SSR.
Lithuania declared independence as the Republic of Lithuania on 11 March 1990. All legal ties of the Soviet Union's sovereignty over the republic were cut as Lithuania declared the restitution of its independence. The Soviet Union claimed that this declaration was illegal, as Lithuania had to follow the process of secession mandated in the Soviet Constitution if it wanted to leave. Lithuania contended that the entire process by which Lithuania joined the Soviet Union violated both Lithuanian and international law so it was merely reasserting an independence that previously existed.
Iceland immediately recognised Lithuania's independence. Most other countries followed suit after the 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt, with the government of the remaining USSR (Moscow) recognising Lithuania's independence on 6 September 1991.
Collectivization in the Lithuanian SSR took place between 1947 and 1952.
The 1990 per capita GDP of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was $8,591, which was above the average for the rest of the Soviet Union of $6,871. This was still half or less than half of the per capita GDPs of adjacent countries Norway ($18,470), Sweden ($17,680) and Finland ($16,868). Overall, in the Eastern Bloc, the inefficiency of systems without competition or market-clearing prices became costly and unsustainable, especially with the increasing complexity of world economics. Such systems, which required party-state planning at all levels, ended up collapsing under the weight of accumulated economic inefficiencies, with various attempts at reform merely contributing to the acceleration of crisis-generating tendencies.From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
A report by: Valdas Samonis
The Institute for New Economic Thinking, USA
In 1940, independent Lithuania produced per capita 1.9 times more meat, 2.8 times more milk, had 1.9 times more cattle and 2.7 times more pigs than Soviet Union. After 50 years of allegedly astounding economic progress, Soviet Lithuania had become dependent on subsidies from Moscow. To the extent that this assertion is true, how is this possible if not for the inefficiencies caused by the forcefully imposed system of central planning with its associated distortions?
This article is based on a speech manuscript by Dalia Kuodyte, Member of the Parliament, former Director General of the Centre of Genocide and Resistance (LGGRTC).
“In the trains’ cattle cars the passengers were hardly given any food except from a little water and some inedible soup. There was scarcely any air to breathe as everyone was jammed together and the cars had only a few small windows covered with bars. A hole in the floor served as a toilet. Some of the people, especially the infants became sick immediately and died. The bodies of those who died on the journey were left on the side of the tracks.”
The string of tragedies began in August 1939, when Hitler and Stalin concluded a cynical agreement that divided up Central Europe between the two totalitarian countries. According to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Lithuania was to fall into the Soviet zone of influence.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Lithuania was occupied three times: first by the USSR in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and finally by the USSR again in 1944.
Pre-war Lithuania’s position of neutrality on the eve of WWII did not protect the country from its sad fate. According to Lithuanian state institutions, the damage caused by the USSR‘s occupation to the Republic of Lithuania in financial terms is $278 billion. During Nazi and Soviet occupations, including 200,000 Holocaust victims, the losses of the population of Lithuania amounted to 33 percent of the total number of the country's population in 1940. Lithuania lost 1 million people to deportations, executions, incarceration, the murder of the political opposition and forced emigration.
The total number of persons registered as “anti-Soviet elements” reached 320,000 entries. There were teachers and professors, school and college students, farmers, industry workers and craftsmen among them.
A cargo of 16.246 people were crammed into cattle cars
June 14-18, 1941 were the dark days of the first massive arrest and deportation of the Lithuanian population. A cargo of 16,246 people were crammed into cattle cars. Moscow’s instruction required separate men from their families. So, 3,915 men were separated and transported to concentration camps in the Krasnoyarsk territory while 12,331 women, children and elderly people were transported to the Altai Mountains territory, the Komi republic and to the Tomsk region.
Forty percent these deportees were children below 16 years old. More than half of the deported died quickly. Pregnant women and babies born in the cattle cars were the first victims – they died in the trains. The deportation process was interrupted by the German-Soviet war.
The Soviets resumed mass deportations to Siberia and other eastern regions of the USSR after recapturing Lithuania from Nazi Germany in 1944. The partisan anti-Soviet war for democratic and independent Lithuania began in 1944. Some 22,000 Lithuanian partisans lost their lives in unequal war against the Soviet regular army and NKVD units. From 1949 the armed resistance started to wane. This guerilla war continued until 1953. The last resistance fighter refused to surrender and shot himself in 1965.
Partisans, their supporters and non-armed opposition made up a big group among those who were deported in 1945 – 1947. Another big group of deportees was those who tried to escape service in the Red Army. Ethnic Germans and members of their families, who did not leave Lithuania, were deported as well.
22-23 May 1948: 41.000 Lithuanians seized in their homes and deported
The situation changed in 1948. The most extensive deportation from Lithuania was held on May 22 and 23, 1948. Over these two days 12,100 families, numbering over 41,000 people, were seized from their homes and exiled. In 1948, 50 percent of deportees were accused not of their relations with the armed guerillas. Their official guilt was their social class – they were owners of private farms. In 1949, already two-thirds of the deportees belonged to this category while in 1951 they absolutely dominated the Soviet secret police‘s statistics.
Such change was due to the collectivization campaign in the Lithuania’s countryside. In 1948, the Soviets started to implement mass collectivization, appropriating land and livestock. This resulted in establishment of kolkhozes. In 1950, some 90 percent of land was given to kolkhozes. Mass deportations continued until the death of Josef Stalin in 1953.
How did the typical deportation look? The NKVD broke into an apartment or house and arrested all the family members. The NKVD marched them onto the back of a truck. In the railway station as far as the eye could see there were men and women clutching suitcases and bundles of hastily gathered clothing, the elderly and the disabled searching for places to sit and mothers holding their children, all surrounded by Red Army soldiers brandishing weapons.
Usually, the men were put on separate trains. They usually were transported to prisons and the Gulags (concentration camps) while females, kids and the elderly were deported to live in God-forsaken settlements in Siberia.
In the cattle cars the passengers were given hardly any food except a little water and some inedible soup. There was scarcely any air to breathe as everyone was jammed together and the cars had only a few small windows covered with bars. A hole in the floor served as a toilet. Some of the people, especially the infants became sick immediately and died. The bodies of those who died on the journey were left on the side of the tracks.
After one month the train reached some Siberian center - for example, Novosibirsk. In this case, scores of wagons were transferred onto enormous barges and sent up the River Ob to some remote settlement to live in a bug-infested hut.
The Soviets forced all to work, even as temperatures plunged to -45°C (-49°F)
The Soviets immediately put their prisoners to work. They forced women and teenage girls to march into the forest to cut trees. They worked in deep snow, even as temperatures plunged to minus 45 degrees Celsius. Prisoners cut up trees and later lived in huts made from those tree branches. Sometimes it was so cold they awoke frozen to the ground.
Some deportees collapsed while the guards pushed the others along to another day of work. The collapsed prisoners were then left for dead somewhere behind in the wilderness.
In exchange for their efforts, prisoners received a small amount of hard bread. They were working for food. A full day of hard work was equal to 500 grams of bread. Physically weaker prisoners could only earn 100 grams of bread.
Working prisoners shared their meager rations with those who could not work – the little children, the old and the infirm. Much of the time people had virtually nothing to eat and everyone suffered from constant hunger. Their bodies were swollen and covered with boils caused by malnutrition. Their skin was inflamed by mosquito bites.
The youngest children were affected the most by the harsh conditions and almost all of them were sick. Many of them died from starvation and disease. The elderly followed the children. Those who remained could only struggle to dig graves in the frozen earth.
Gradually, the survivors tried to adjust to life in Siberia. Deportees were permitted to use a patch of ground on which to grow potatoes.
In 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided that deportees should be released. In late 1950s, the survivors started to return to Lithuania.
Deaths of the deportees began to make headlines only in late the 1980s
There is an old and cynical saying that one death is a tragedy, but a thousand are just a front-page headline. Well, of course, deaths of thousands of deportees began to make headlines only in late the 1980s. Let’s look to personal tragedies.
The Šiauliai Aušros Museum has 234 letters of political prisoners, deportees and partisans addressed to their family members and loved ones who managed to escape the Soviet terror in Lithuania.
Lawyer Ignas Urbaitis from town of Šiauliai was arrested on October 6, 1944. He was sentenced for 15 years of slavery work in concentration camps. He died in the Taishet concentration camp in the Irkutsk region in 1952.
He wrote letters to his wife Elena Urbaitienė. In 1947, he wrote, “I’m always walking in the room. Sometimes there is very little room left for it. Sometimes I can make just one step or even less because the room is covered by sleeping or lying bodies. I walk anyway. Other people find it strange. If you can imagine me, imagine me walking backwards and forwards like an animal in the zoo cage. Walking gives comfort to my nerves and heart.”
Urbaitis, like all prisoners of concentration camps, was allowed to write only two letters per year. These letters should be written in Russian because all letters were read by the censors. So, prisoners avoided to write about their sufferings directly because of this censorship.
They found out later that they were eating a friend of theirs who had just died
The survivors of the Gulags and deportations can speak openly now. Former deportee Janė Meškauskaitė says that she and her family was kidnapped by the NKVD one night because her father was member of the ruling Tautininkų Party in the pre-war Lithuania. Her family was put on a train and dropped off at a remote village in the Tomsk region many days later.
They were among the more fortunate deportees, as Russian farmers from Kazakhstan who were exiled in the early 1930s for being to wealthy inhabited the village. They understood her family‘s plight and welcomed them into society. Nevertheless, food was scarce.
“My father once bought some meat from a local crook. He and a friend hid in the woods to cook and eat it so that thugs wouldn’t steal it. They found out later that they were eating a friend of theirs who had just died,” said Meškauskaitė.
Bread was also strictly rationed. “People in our village were allotted 300 grams of flour a day. One time the flourmill broke down so we were simply given whole grains. People were so hungry that they would just eat them uncooked. Of course, most had bad teeth and couldn’t chew them so they would end up undigested in the latrines. Many people would go and collect them, wash them, and make porridge,” she said.
Vytautas Stašaitis was a son of an air force major in pre-World War II independent Lithuania. The family’s spacious house was commandeered by Soviets troops in 1945. His family was exiled to Siberia but he managed to go underground as part of the resistance movement.
Shortly thereafter a supposed friend lured him into a trap. He was asked to supply ammunition for an assassination attempt on the head of the local NKVD. His “friend” gave him up and he was mercilessly beaten during his interrogation.
“I wanted to hang myself in my cell but they prevented me. They gave me 10 years forced labor for sedition and shipped me to Krasnoyarsk to cut trees. They marched us for six days with barely any food and water. Those who couldn’t keep up were shot. When we got to the labor camp they clothed us in the uniforms of dead soldiers. They still had bullet holes and blood stains,” Stašaitis said adding that political prisoners were forced to live together with aggressive Russian criminals who were sentenced for murders and robbery.
We killed the dog with our axes...The dog meat meals were some of the best of my life
Life in Stalin-era labor camps was a dehumanizing experience. The diet allocated to prisoners was less than that required for survival. “As inmates we were chained in pairs. Once my partner and I thought a wolf was attacking us. It turned out to be a guard dog that had broken loose from its chain. We killed it with our axes and buried it in the snow. We returned many times to cook and eat it. Those were some of the best meals of my life,” he said.
Life was not easy for those who survived and returned to Lithuania. Meškauskaitė returned to Lithuania in 1958. “We were placed in an impossible situation. The government required us to register with the local municipality or face renewed deportation. In order to register, we needed an employer, but no one would have courage to give a work to former deportee. I lived and worked illegally for many years with the help of relatives,” she said.
Now former political prisoners, deportees and partisans receive an additional pension, which Lithuanian state finances can manage. Russia, which officially proclaimed inheritance of all international rights and obligations of the USSR, shows no will to pay compensation to them. The Russian state has never said a word asking for forgiveness for the Soviet terror in the occupied Baltic states. However, it was done by Russian dissidents.
Russian Duma MP Sergey Kovalev did it in the Lithuanian parliament in June, 2000. By the way, it is symbolic that in 1974-1975, Kovalev was jailed in the Vilnius KGB prison, which is the Museum of Genocide Victims now, for cooperation with the underground magazine The Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church.
Kovalev said in his address to the Lithuanian parliament, “It is not true that nations do not commit crimes. The Germans and we should understand it. If we don’t understand our guilt, we can’t expect victory over cannibalistic ideologies. We went to demonstrations in the 1930s supporting mass killings. We are guilty, our Western neighbors. It is my nation that occupied the Baltic countries. Please, forgive us.”
Felix Krasavin, a former Soviet-time political prisoner now living in Israel, spoke to the forum of some 5,000 former Lithuanian political prisoners and deportees in the Vilnius Sport Arena in June, 2000. “Soviet fascism killed many more people than its German brother. The lies of Soviet fascism were much bigger than those of German fascism,” he said.
During their nearly five decades of occupation, the Soviets killed or deported hundreds of thousands Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian men, women and children. However, this was only a fraction of the tens of millions of people in the USSR and Central Europe whom communists subjected to the midnight knock on the door, arrest, intentionally created famine and starvation, torture, slave labor, or execution.
Communists killed at least 100 million people
Nicolas Werth, French historian and one of the authors of “Livre noir du communisme (The Black Book of Communism)” say the communists killed at least 100 million people in the world. During his lecture in Vilnius University in 2000, he said communism was born in Russia because this country had no democratic experience. During 80 years, one-third of the planet’s population lived under communist regimes. "The closer the country was to the center of repression [Moscow], the more the models of repression were similar to the Soviet ones: public trials, tortures, killings, deportations,” he said.
Virtually no one has been called to account for what was done. The West has chosen to forget these horrors. Nothing of these horrors is taught in their schools. There is no grand museum in Washington, D.C., dedicated to those whose lives were destroyed by the communists.
No Communist Party bosses in Russia have ever been made to pay for their transgressions. Not one labor camp commandant has been forced to answer for his inhumanity. There is no talk of reparations. The Kremlin objects whenever anyone raises questions about the injustice of the past.
The great crimes of Soviet communism are mostly just remembered in the hearts and souls of the victims.
Lithuanians are considering the Soviet terror corresponded to genocide. Most of those deported were doomed - a third of them to a speedy death and the rest to a life of misery in Siberia. One only had to be an honest Lithuanian citizen to face deportation. A lot of work has to be done to clarify world opinion.
Text: Leona T. Gustaff
“The tents were freezing cold, harsh, and distressing; so, the adults decided to build better living conditions. "We can build barracks," said one Lithuanian, "We can catch the logs in the Lena River." The men waded barefoot into the icy water, caught floating logs, brought them to shore, and built the barracks. They covered the outside walls with snow and ice which they learned would help keep out the frigid temperature. They also found a large iron stove, which they placed in the middle of the building.”
The house was warm, secure, peaceful. The window drapes had been closed tight to shut out the rising sun. On June 14th in 1941 we were not aware of the tragedy about to enter our lives. A thick, fluffy comforter covered me and kept me safe. Tėtė and Mama slept quietly in the adjacent room. Algis, my three-year-old brother, was in sound slumber in his trundle bed. Suddenly, at 5 a.m., sharp staccato raps at the entrance of our home aroused us. "Guzevičius, wake up! Let us in! We are the militia!"
Tėtė grabbed his robe and slippers and rushed to the front entrance with my Mama, brother and me running close behind. When he opened the door he encountered two men standing on the steps leading into the house. One was dressed in a Russian military outfit; the second was a friend, Dabulavičius, who lived nearby in the village of Brazavo.
"Labas," Tėtė, startled and not prepared for what was to follow, greeted the men. The military man, a member of the Russian armed forces, grabbed him by the shoulders, pushed him back into the room, swung him around quickly, clasped his hands to his back, and shackled him with metal hand-cuffs. My brother and I were frightened and bewildered. We were sobbing aloud as Mama pulled at the arms of the soldier and begged him to tell her of what my father was guilty.
"Dabulavičius," she pleaded, "Please tell them not to do this. Stasys has never hurt anyone. He is a good man and does not deserve this kind of treatment. He has even lent you a large sum of money recently so that you could build an addition to your home." Dabulavičius stood by silently and turned his head away so that he would not have to look at my mother.
"Tylėk!" The soldier, pushing Mama aside, ordered her to be silent. "Pack whatever you think the entire family will need for a long journey. Your baggage must be less than 120 kilograms."
In the first year of Soviet occupation, from June 1940 to June 1941, the number confirmed executed, conscripted, or deported is minimally estimated at 124,467: 59,732 in Estonia, 34,250 in Latvia, and 30,485 in Lithuania.
At that time the Soviet Union was in total control of Lithuania. Russian military leaders were aware that 175 divisions of the Third Reich's Wermacht were advancing toward the Soviet Union's western frontier. The soldiers would have to travel through Lithuania.
There had been rumors that Bolshevik militia was gathering educated Lithuanian men and army leaders to incarcerate them in prison or exile them to a foreign land. In order to receive gifts from the military or, in some instances, to save their own lives, neighbors had been approaching the Soviet officers and volunteering evidence of conversations that they had witnessed of discontent with the political regime in power. These were generally trumped up falsehoods. Tėtė then realized that his friend had conjured up treacherous untrue charges about him.
Only eight days later, on June 22, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union forcing the Red Army to withdraw from Lithuania. Unfortunately, we were already on a desperate journey to an unknown destination.
Tėtė, my father, was a teacher in the Kalvarijas district. He was born in 1894 in Suvalkija, not far from the town of Punskas, the third in a family of eighteen children, nine of whom were either still born or died soon after birth. He had attended Primary and Secondary schools in Lithuania, received his university education in Russia and returned to Lithuania to teach in Kalvarija. He spoke six languages -- Polish, German, Russian, French, Jewish, Lithuanian -- was the owner of an extensive library with thousands of books, and had founded and promoted new elementary schools in the Marijampolė district.
Active in the community, a leader in the Kalvarija area, he had organized and taught both children and teenagers many different traditional dances. He enjoyed farming, fertilizing the land, and planting seeds to grow potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. He also propagated apple trees. He never imbibed liquor, despised alcoholics, and launched programs against alcoholism.
Tėtė was 33 years old when he married my mother, who was only seventeen years of age. But Mama possessed great physical strength, loved to read, and had lively intelligent conversations with him. She and Tėtė together had purchased a home in Trakėnai from a German nationalist who was returning to his country.
Trakėnai is located about five kilometers south of Kalvarija. It initially had been a large German estate, but eventually was divided into small parcels of land for German families. They bought the property, which consisted of a home and barn with land for farming. Each month they sent a sum of money to the original proprietor, who according to country laws, was the true owner until the entire amount of the sale was paid.
The Beginning of the Journey
Mama quickly gathered warm clothing and made small bundles for my brother and me to carry. She snatched the feather comforters from the beds and collected coats, sweaters, socks, and boots. She packed potatoes, cheese, sugar and flour, which she and my father carried. Soon, a truck filled with other Lithuanian families roared to a stop in front of our home. Mama, Tėtė, Algis, and I climbed into the back of the vehicle and searched for an area to put our hurriedly collected bags. My parents held us tight and comforted us as they wiped away our tears. The truck continued on its route until we reached Kalvarijos Railroad Station.
When we arrived at the station we were surprised to see a large group of people who also carried bundles of hastily collected clothing, food, and bedding. There was noise and considerable agitation. Children cried, sobbing aloud. People talked incessantly, looked for friends, made sure certain family members were not separated, and asked each other if they knew where they were going. Everyone was frightened. No one knew the answers.
Tėtė met a friend. "Ulevičius, what is happening here?"
"I'm not sure, but haven't you heard the rumors?"
"That educated Lithuanian men would be put into prison or exiled to Siberia? Yes, I had heard but it is difficult to believe that Communists would be so cruel."
"Speak softly, my friend, so as not to be overheard. We must be careful. We cannot trust anyone."
We were pushed into straight lines and commandeered into freight cars -- actually into cattle cars -- that formerly had carried farm animals from the villages to the cities. People were jammed together. Soldiers shoved more men, women, and children into already overcrowded cars. Everyone looked for an area on the floor where they could put their belongings and perhaps sit down. My parents found a small spot where we could huddle together and keep our bundles of clothing and blankets close to us.
Cattle wagon used for deportation.
The Train of Horrors
The train began to move slowly and then picked up speed. Trapped in boxes with boarded up windows we moved through our beloved nation quickly. We could only imagine the clear natural lakes, boggy swamps, small working farms, and forests of birch, pine, and spruce trees that we passed. I don't believe any of us realized that this would be our last journey through the Lithuanian countryside for many years. How could we possibly know that some of us would never see this land again but would die and be buried in strange, inhospitable territory where we would suffer bitter cold, hunger, and absence of the ordinary needs and comforts of our existence?
We were thirsty when we made our first stop at Kaunas. Crying children begged for something to drink. "Look, they're bringing water," a woman on the train shouted. She had noticed a soldier carrying a pail of water and walking towards our train. Everyone rushed to the door that was a little ajar.
Mama reached out to take the pail of precious water from the soldier but he, fearing she wished to escape, angrily banged shut the door, which hit her on the head and knocked her down. She fell to the hard floor into a dead faint. "She did not awaken from this unconscious state for the next five hours." my father told me years later. Until the end of her life she had very painful headaches.
From Kaunas the train began to move slowly towards the Russian border where for the first time we were given food: watery gruel and a small piece of black bread. Traveling in a daze suspended by time, we learned we were on the Trans-Siberian railway and feared we were on the way to Siberia.
Years later Onutė Garbštienė, who was also deported in 1941, published her diary, which described some of the difficulties we had encountered:
"Suddenly the hammering of axes echoed down the length of the train. We shuddered as if hit by a charge of electricity! They were boarding up the windows, so the "wild beasts" wouldn't escape from their cages. Some other people climbed inside. They made holes in the walls, to the outside, and also cut a hole in the floor, for our toilet. Everything was so degrading, horrifying, and shameful. Who has ever heard that men and women, crowded into this single area, had to take care of their personal needs in front of each other!
We got used to the shame but not to the stench. The stench was unbearable because many, especially the children, were suffering from diarrhea caused by drinking contaminated water. Not everyone was able to make it directly into the hole. Soon the edges became encrusted with excrement. We couldn't even sit down. We started using a chamber pot, but the stench was even worse. Later we begged and were given permission to take care of this matter wherever we stopped. All shame evaporated! Everyone would squat under the cars and relieve themselves. Constipation was a problem. Suddenly: "Hurry up! Get back inside!" Everyone would run back to their assigned cars with their clothing in disarray! And this went on for the duration of the trip."
Our journey lasted three weeks. Parents were exhausted. Children were tired, moody, and restless. Everyone slept on whatever makeshift accommodation they could make on the floor. Some slept on their baggage. Some were fortunate to have blankets or feather comforters. The daily ration of watery gruel and small slice of rye bread was not enough to satisfy hunger, and many were ill. The perilous trip posed severe difficulty for infants and some died in their grieving mother's arms. Soviet guards tossed them into the woods without benefit of a burial.
The First Stop
Eventually we reached the Altay, a sparsely populated mountainous territory in South Siberia, close to Northwest Mongolia, China, and Northeast Kazakhstan. About three times the size of Lithuania, it contains a dense pine forest, which extends into the Altay Mountains. We lived there for the entire winter.
Mama and Tėtė were forced to walk about five kilometers through dark forests to the trees they were ordered to cut. The soles of their boots were worn through, and they covered their feet with rags to help them suffer the ice, twigs, and other debris they walked through on their tortuous journeys. Tėtė was not accustomed to such labor, and each evening his body was filled with pain; his fingers so frozen that he could not bend them. He longed for his library of books. Newspapers, journals, or written materials of any kind did not exist among these people. The only news we received was by word of mouth -- sometimes hopeful, sometimes sad, but always difficult to believe since the source was unknown. We were still fed only bread and watery soup.
We Move On
In 1942, at the first signs of summer, we were gathered into trucks and transported to the Lena River, where we were forced to clamber into large barges, heavy wired cages that had been built to transport prisoners. Armed guards patrolled us constantly.
The adults again began to wonder where we were going. "Perhaps we are going to America," said Mr. Abramaičius, the father of a family we had befriended while living in Altay. We were not taken to America but instead, we entered a hellish situation; recollections of which sicken our hearts and spirits and we don't want to remember.
Slowly we sailed down the Lena River. We passed 'taiga' -- forests of pine, larch, spruce, and birch. We fought legions of biting insects, mosquitoes, and gnats. At times we caught sight of reindeer. "Those woods must be full of mushrooms," Abramaičius mentioned to my father. The thought of this delicacy that flourished in the birch woods in our native land brought a sense of sorrow and longing.
We traveled until we reached Trofimovska, a fishing village on the river near the Arctic ocean, not far from the Laptev Sea. We settled in the town of Tiksi. The adults were ordered to pitch tents, the only shelter available. Winter temperature dipped down to minus 40 degree F; summers seldom reached plus 50 degree F. Our bodies were not conditioned to live in severely cold climate.
From Trakėnai, Lithuania to Tiksi, Siberia, a journey of 8.000 km (5,000 miles).
We were fortunate that Mama had taken feather comforters so that we were able to weather the cold somewhat. Others did not even have blankets. Many became ill and quite a few passed away from malnutrition and the frigid environment. Entire families died. The dead were interred in the unfriendly foreign soil. We hoped that someday their bodies might be returned to their beloved Lithuania.
Daily Life Continues
The tents were freezing cold, harsh, and distressing; so, the adults decided to build better living conditions. "We can build barracks," said one Lithuanian, "We can catch the logs in the Lena River." The men waded barefoot into the icy water, caught floating logs, brought them to shore, and built the barracks. They covered the outside walls with snow and ice which they learned would help keep out the frigid temperature. They also found a large iron stove, which they placed in the middle of the building.
About 10 or 15 families moved with us into the barracks, but we were not destined to be comfortable very long. Soon, we were attacked by a common enemy found all over the world -- lice! We found them everywhere -- in our beds, on the floors, in our clothing. They attacked our hands, our faces, and our legs. We found them in our hair and all over our bodies. No one was safe from the lice. In Trofimovska there was nothing available to help us get rid of them. We had to kill them with our own hands.
The only food available was fish from the frozen Lena River. Mama and Tėtė organized a group of Lithuanians into a fishing brigade. After drilling a few holes in the ice, they'd put bait on lines, which they lowered into the openings. They sat for hours waiting for signs that fish had snatched the bait, and we had more substantial food to add to our meager supply of bread.
During the second winter in Trofimovska, weak from hunger, I was not able to walk, and I lay in bed for two months. My brother Algis was also in poor health. His teeth began to decay. More Lithuanians died from the hunger and cold. I don't know how we were saved from death.
I remember that Mama sold her wrist watch to a Jakutian native for 30 kilos of black rye flour. She made 'lepioskas', and as we ate the mealy pancake we became stronger. Sometimes Tėtė still caught some fish, but eventually the Russian brigadier leader did not permit him to bring the fish home. This was our most difficult winter. We never had enough to eat, and we were always cold.
Lithuanian settlement in Siberia.
Lithuanians deported to Trofimovsk in the region of the Laptev Sea, an area with permafrost
north of the Polar Circle. The photo is from 1949. These deportations took place in 1941.
In 1942-43, a third of the deported people died, mainly children and elderly people.
Photo: The Museum of Genocide Victims, Vilnius, Lithuania.
In the spring, we were taken to the Siberian Islands to fish for the Communist regime. At first we lived together with the Abramaičius family in a 'yurta', a collapsible shelter built from logs and canvas. The next year Tėtė and I built a 'yurta' for our family to live in separately and alone.
Tėtė began to barter the fish he caught for flour, and mama continued to make 'lepioskas'. Tėtė and Mama fished every day but they caught very few fish. Tėtė's health was failing, and he got tired very quickly. He had been diagnosed with a hernia in Lithuania. Since he was unaccustomed to the rigors of this difficult life, he suffered more intensely each day.
We lived on the islands for two years when suddenly we noticed that the Jakutian native brigades were leaving the area. Fish were also disappearing; they swam elsewhere. The Jakutians had the inner sense to know when the fish would leave the islands, and they followed the fish to their new destination.
The Lithuanians also began to look for ways to leave the islands. Widows with children were given permission by the Communists to go to Jakutsk, a major city almost a thousand miles south on the Lena River. Tėtė and Mama decided to travel to the Baluno region and settle in the village of Tit-Ary. We were still not far from the Laptev Sea. Tėtė spoke Russian very well, and he was fortunate to receive employment as a school manager in Tit-Ary. Native teachers taught writing poorly, and he helped many students formulate good notebooks. For the first time in our exile to Siberia I could go to school. I was so happy that I finished two years of classes in one year.
We Say Goodbye
In 1945, we heard that the war had ended. Tėtė wrote a letter to his brother, Joseph, who had emigrated many years earlier to America and lived in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. He was delivering it to the post office when he was accosted and beaten severely by Communist Commandos who resented the fact that he had a brother in the United States. Tėtė became seriously ill. He needed major surgery but the only medical assistance available to the exiles was an apprentice to a veterinarian.
We made plans to search for a surgeon. Tėtė and I boarded a barge that was returning to Jakutsk after unloading food and other provisions. We sailed up the Lena River to our destination. The journey lasted one week. Since Tėtė was a Lithuanian 'tremtinys' (exile), he didn't have the necessary papers for permission to enter. When we arrived at Jakutsk, we were too frightened to go into the city. We were forced to return to Tit-Ary without the benefit of seeing a skilled physician.
Tėtė's health became weaker each day. The medication given to him by the veterinarian's assistant would not relieve the pain. His concern that he was not strong enough to gather provisions for his family hastened the end of his life. Mama was devastated. Each day they conversed and planned about where she would go should his life be terminated. Although his health had deteriorated, he was a comfort to us and we looked to him for moral support. He died in Tit-Ary in 1948 and was interred there in the deep icy tundra. He was fifty four years old.
Lithuanian funeral in Siberia.
After the death of my father, Mama, Algis, and I escaped to Jakutsk, as my parents had planned. Seven years previous, when I had been seven years of age, we had been forced by the Communists to leave our comfortable home in Lithuania and travel to Siberia -- seven difficult, miserable, unhappy years for which we questioned the unfortunate circumstances which propelled us into this strange life.
We reached the city of Jakutsk and were compelled to register our arrival. The general was not inclined to let us stay, and he told Mama, "If you do not find a job within seven days you must return to Tit-Ary."
Jakutsk is the capital and major city of the Jakutia region. Similar to a large Soviet city, it had many schools, the Luovo Cooperative Institute, a theater, and industry that had developed during the war. Its great distance from Moscow gave it the ability to make crucial weapons and military supplies far from the impact of bombs and other artillery. The weather is the coldest in the world, and buildings are built on piles driven into the permafrost. In 1948 the majority of the population was Russian, many of which were exiles, including some from East European countries.
We searched and found Lithuanian exiles who had settled in Jakutsk earlier. Willing to help us, they informed Mama about a manager at a glass factory who would hire her. Shortly after mama began to work in the factory, I was also given employment in the same building.
I wanted to continue my education; so, I returned to school and finished the Tenth Form at the Middle School after completing two grades in one year. We learned to speak Russian in school and on the streets, but we always spoke Lithuanian in our home.
I loved to sing and wished to study music but I couldn't get a piano; so, I entered the Jakutsk Technical Cooperative School and studied accounting. I was a good student and worked diligently. The administration advised me that I was one of two graduates with the highest scholastic marks, and I would receive a scholarship to Luovo Cooperative Institute. But Communist Security Officials informed me that I could not take advantage of the education given at the Institute. The honor was not available to Lithuanian exiles.
Lithuanian forestry workers in Siberia.
Hoping to See Lithuania
In 1953, Stalin died and the Communists began to slowly allow children and teachers to return to Lithuania, but I was ordered to work as a bookkeeper in the city of Jakutsk. After two years I was awarded a vacation and permission to travel to Lithuania.
I wrote to my father's brother, Pranas, who resided in Kaunas to tell him the good news. My Uncle Pranas was a respected Chemical Engineer who had been incarcerated in jail by the Communists for two years but never had to leave for Siberia. He invited me to stay with him and sent me the money I needed for the journey.
In 1956 I was in Kaunas. I traveled on the same Trans-Siberian Railway route I had taken from Lithuania to Siberia fifteen years ago. But this time I saw the clear natural lakes, boggy swamps, small working farms, and forests of birch, pine, and spruce trees that I could only imagine on my first and only trip from the country of my birthplace. I cannot begin to explain the immense joy and pain I felt; joy that I lived to enter Lithuania again and pain that my father would never return to see his homestead, his apple trees, or the schools where he taught.
If Tėtė were with me, he would not have recognized his beloved Lithuania. The ruling Soviet party dictated and controlled all public and private actions in the land. Politics, the radio, accounting, education were conducted in Russian. In the schools the Russian language was predominant. No Lithuanian was heard on the radio. Religious education was forbidden, and free expression of our native tongue, songs, and holiday celebrations was not allowed. Lithuanians worked within the Communist system in order to survive.
The family home in Trakėnai had been leveled and rebuilt twice. Tėtė had given his important documents to his brother Pranas to retain in his possession when we were forcefully sent to Siberia. Unfortunately, Pranas’ home was also damaged during the war and all papers had been burned or destroyed. I wondered what would happen with our house and land. Strangers had taken residency there.
Still, I preferred to remain in Lithuania. I didn’t want to return to Siberia, but my documents were only for a three-month sojourn. It was a difficult and terrifying time. A friend suggested that I lose my pass but I was afraid.
I was fortunate. Uncle Pranas' wife's sister was married to a Russian General, and she urged him to petition the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in Lithuania, Justas Paleckis, to give me leave to stay in my country.
All the documents had to be issued in Vilnius; so, I traveled there to stay with the General. He felt sorry for me, and indicated that he himself would go to Moscow to get permission for me to remain in Lithuania if Justas Paleckis refused. To my joy, I was awarded an extension of my vacation for one entire year.
At the end of the year I was allowed to remain in Lithuania, but I was asked to leave Vilnius. I didn't leave Vilnius and concealed my residency by omitting to register my presence. Kipras Petrauskas, a renowned composer of music with important influential friends, admitted me into his home. I resided with his family and was warned to hide when men of the militia came to visit.
Eventually, after some time, I ventured into the market place and found work as an accountant in a ‘prekyba’ (business shop). Gradually I began to work with other 'prekybas' and after thirty-six years I was the accountant for all the ‘prekybas’ in Vilnius.
Didzioji g. in Vilnius, 1953.
A Family Reunited
Three years after I had returned to Lithuania, I saved enough rubles to send for my mother. She traveled on the same Trans-Siberian railway that had taken us to Siberia. Her delight in her return to her native land was the ability to buy fresh fruits and vegetables that were difficult to purchase in the tundra. Since she learned to speak Russian in the country of her exile, she had no difficulty communicating with the language demanded by the Communist regime. But we still spoke Lithuanian in our home.
Three years later my mother and I welcomed my brother to Lithuania. We all recognized that it was not the same country we had been forced to leave many years earlier. But we were in the land of our birth, the land of our ancestors. We were home among friends and relatives.
Lithuanian cemetery - Irkutsk Region.
Antanas Sniečkus, leader of Lithuania’s Communist Party for the period 1940-1974 sent tens of
thousands of his own countrymen to inhuman suffering and death in Siberian labour camps.
Antanas Sniečkus, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Lithuania (from 15 August 1940 until his death in 1974), is said to have been the initiator of the first mass deportations of Lithuanians in June 1941. He even had his own brother, with his family, deported to Siberia, where his brother died.
Antanas Sniečkus was born in 1903, in the village of Būbleliai, 60 km west of Kaunas. During the First World War, his family fled to Russia where he observed the Russian revolution of 1917. In 1919, his family returned to Lithuania; by 1920 he was already a member of the Bolshevik Party. In the same year, he was arrested for anti-governmental activities. He was released from prison on bail, but fled to Moscow, and became an agent of the Comintern. In Moscow, he earned the trust of Zigmas Angarietis, and Vincas Mickevičius-Kapsukas, and became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania. In 1926, the Comintern sent Sniečkus to Lithuania to replace the recently-executed Karolis Požėla as head of the banned and underground Communist Party of Lithuania.
From 1926 to 1930, he engaged in subversive activities in Lithuania, and was again arrested and imprisoned for them in the Kaunas Prison in 1930. In 1933, Sniečkus was released in exchange for Lithuanian political prisoners held in the USSR. In 1936, he returned to Lithuania. In 1939, he was arrested again, and sentenced to eight years in prison.
After the Soviets invaded and occupied Lithuania, Sniečkus was released from prison on 18 June 1940, and became the head of the Department of National Security. Foreign Affairs Commissar Vladimir Dekanozov, arrived in Lithuania a few days earlier on June 15, 1940, to organize the incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union. As party secretary, Sniečkus issued Vladimir Dekanozov’s orders in the party’s name.
Sniečkus helped create an atmosphere of terror prior to the elections of the newly established, by the Soviet authorities, People's Seimas in July 1940. Only the Communist Party of Lithuania and its collaborators could nominate candidates. People were threatened in various ways to participate in the elections, but the results were falsified anyway. 21 July 1940 the People's Parliament, declared that the Lithuanian "people" wanted to join the Soviet Union, and 3 August 3 1940, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR incorporated Lithuania into the Soviet Union.
The process of annexation was formally over and the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was created. From 15 August 1940, until his death in 1974, Sniečkus remained the First Secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party.
34 years of terror and atrocities against his own people had finally come to an end.
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