A response to the falsifiers of post-war history: the harsh truth about the life and death of the partisans

Kaišiadorys freedom fighters
Asmeninis archyvas

“The Crucifixion of the Resistance in Lithuania between 1944 and 1953: Myths and Realities” a book by Vladas Terleckas which has just come out is a “book unlike any other, a golden nugget of a hitherto unknown profusion of events and facts,” wrote Gintaras Šidlauskas, the Resistance Participants’ Rights Commission chairman of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania.

“The new book is a protest against the vilification of the memory of the partisans. It’s against the contrived number of victims of the partisans and the covering up of the actual killers. It’s about the essential armed and unarmed defence of a nation. The book goes into detail about economic terror, mass theft and pillaging, the vilification of the murdered and the aim thereof, the spiritual world of the partisans and their confrontation with party Soviet activists. The book draws testimony from hundreds of witnesses and referencing all available sources it tells the story of the life of people in Lithuania during the occupation between 1944 and 1953. The book seeks to warn the reader of the spreading danger of rewriting Lithuania’s history, burgeoning cynicism and of a revival of revanchist Soviet history. We know that the resistance put up by the Lithuanian partisans to the occupant ended in a defeat without surrender. The author does however state that there was a victory”.

The author, Vladas Terleckas, is well-known to us as an economist, doctor of sciences, scholar, politician, a public figure and a signatory to the 11th of March Lithuanian Independence Act. He was born in 1939 in Krivasalis in Saldutiškis province (now Ignalina region). He studied banking at the University of Vilnius from 1961 to 1966, there he taught and researched the history of banks and finance in Lithuania.

Mr. Terleckas wrote the financial and banking history of interwar Lithuania. Between 1989 and 1996 he focused on the founding of contemporary Lithuania’s financial and credit system. In 1989 he was appointed to run the group for the founding of Lithuania’s independent financial and credit system, which drew up many financial draft laws. As a member of the Seimas, he protested cheque privatisation and the appointment of inexpert ministers. He forecast that thereafter the state would remain with nothing and that earned wealth would end up being controlled by a handful of uneducated people with no business acumen. Catastrophe followed and it was then that Mr. Terleckas resigned from the Seimas in February. He has never belonged to any party however he was always in the whirlpool of Lithuanian political life. Like his elder brother Antanas Terleckas, Vladas suffered during the Soviet times because of his opinions. He was forced to distance himself from his brother’s activities, rejected for study and work and as a post-graduate student of economics he faced a lot of obstacles in defending his thesis and receiving a degree.

“This book is a response to intensive efforts to revitalise Soviet history in Lithuania between 1944 and 1953 and to destroy the memory of the partisans and of others who resisted,” he notes in the introduction to his book.

Recent intensifying Russian propaganda is in actual fact proof of attempts to portray the post-war resistance as the actions of an uncontrolled handful of formerly wealthy or hostile forces who inflicted violence on their own county’s innocent people who wanted to live in a socialist paradise. The book analyses in detail digressions in “publications” from when Lithuania wasn’t independent and even the printed ravings of writers which were sponsored by the state and for which they were awarded degrees. In the opinion of the author, there is first of all Mindaugas Pocius’s book “The other Side of the Moon: The Lithuanian Partisans’ Fight against Collaboration between 1944 and 1953” which was published in 2009 based on material in a doctoral thesis (supervised by Liudas Truska). In the book the partisans and their fight are disparaged and post-war history is unrecognisably distorted. According to Ričardas Čekutis, the author of this book managed to launder the bloodied shirts of chekists and condemn the people who defended his country.

And today there’s Soviet historian Henrikas Šadžius’s two-volume monograph “A Nation’s Drama”, to all intents and purposes a clone the Soviet way of documenting: we arrived in the depths of the Soviet Union because we wanted; the 1941 June Uprising was nothing but attacks against Red Army soldiers and armed resistance was forever an historical blunder, that is to say, our partisans weren’t fighters for Lithuania’s freedom.

What Soviet devotee Povilas Masilionis doesn’t like is that today monuments are being erected to the partisans and streets are being named after them. In his “A Book in Memory of the Victims of the Partisans” so much is untrue that even the istrebitels [destruction batallions of the Soviet Union], the agents of Soviet military oppression, are called victims of the partisans. You then think – isn’t our country completely feeble and powerless by allowing such brazen Soviet propaganda that defames the memory of those who perished in the post-war resistance? There are then the events related Vladas Terleckas’s book. It must be said that in this 536-page book there are conclusions based on sources and studies of the resistance and prominent Lithuanian scholars are quoted. It’s not only post-war events, the life of the partisans, the cruelty of the istrebitels and Soviet soldiers but also actual statistics on resistance in the Baltic States and Ukraine has been researched and presented. The book is illustrated with historical photographs from the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, the Museum of Genocide Victims, the Central State Archives of Lithuania, the Lithuanian Special Archives, the Tauragė and Šiauliai museums as well as other sources. I believe that owning this book is an honour for all Lithuanian patriots, those who took part in the resistance, teachers and researchers.

The book also has memorial sections about the 24 young people from Krivasalis who chose a partisan division and out of which 15 gave their lives for Lithuania’s independence. In the battle of Kiauneliškis alone 13 people from Krivasalis perished. “This horrific event impacted on lives of 10 families (out of around 40). Considering the fact that many families were interrelated you can imagine the cloud of grief that fell over the village. People were saddened while laughing, joking, singing became things of the past … Today however there are attempts by chekist “chroniclers”, their followers and even of our historians, journalists and politicians to compromise and demonise the freedom fighters. I have tried in as detailed a way as possible to portray the atmosphere of those times as well as the spiritual world of those who resisted the occupier, the traumatic repression and the consequences of economic terror,” says Vladas Terleckas.

New facts about the post-war resistance

A conversation with economist Dr. Vladas Terleckas, author of the recently published book “The Crucifixion of the Resistance in Lithuania between 1944 and 1953: Myths and Realities”

You were born in 1939 in the village of Krivasalis, not far from Saldutiškis. Resistance to the occupiers started in your childhood. Do you remember anything of the terrible things that happened during the war and after it?

My first memories are of the days following the days of “liberation” when I was five years old and hiding from the Soviet soldiers amongst the hemp and currant plants which my parent used to grow. I overheard I think the scary things the grownups were saying. And today I see an angry Red Army soldier ripping newspapers from the Nazi times off our walls and which were in the farmhouse to keep in the warmth. I remember my father lamenting the “liberation” from all of the wealth he’d earned (clothes, shoes, material etc.). I see in our house on the floor the tossed hay on which the partisans rested. There was also the leader of the partisans and his second-in-command who’d always be warming themselves (they saved themselves in the autumn by jumping into a lake and breathing through hollow reeds). I’ll also never forget the images of the istrebitels taking my father away and my mother who was rushing into the shed with a jug of milk. I get a chill up my spine when I think of the istrebitels removing the blanket under which my brother Jonas and I were sleeping; when my friend and I, young boys who were detained by the NKVD, coming back from the lake shaking out the bags in which we carrying more plants than tiny fish. In those days the fishermen who netted in plants let the children look for fish.

No words can describe what the children felt at the delight of the istrebitels in the homes of deported neighbors; so many homes gazing with empty eye sockets. Every soldier, istrebitel and their activist followers caused fear when they arrived in the village. These insignificant facts illustrate the prevailing atmosphere at that time and confirm on paper the drawn conclusion that nearly all of us were suspected “enemies of the people”. We children would react to this by not joining organisations like the Red Cross, pioneers and communist youth and by ridiculing their members. It wasn’t by chance that our best game was playing “forest brothers fighting istrebitels” in which nobody wanted to be the istrebitel.

For a long time the battle of Kiauneliškis was a long-standing topic of conversation amongst the men on autumn and winter evenings. The conversation was always the same. Sometimes I’d be disappointed because I’d never hear anything else. Why was it so important to them? It was the first and the biggest battle in which so many freedom fighters were killed. The courage and skill of one partisan who tossed an enemy grenade out of a bunker was a particular source of pride. There were some who managed to survive injured, by escaping over long distances through deep snow. My grandfather, Vladas Mičėnas touched me when he told me how the soldiers forced him to climb into a bunker and pull out a Russian officer. He said that first when he tied a rope around the officer’s legs, who was still warm. But because he was so nervous he didn’t tie the rope tightly enough and so when the soldiers pulled at it came undone. He then had to climb once again into the bunker. At that time we had no idea how stoically our men faced death. Liudas Malakauskas who was badly injured in the battle spoke about it when he came back from a camp in Vorkuta. Seven or eight partisans stood in a circle, said a prayer and then pulled the pin out of the grenade… Just how was it that simple country boys were so determined and brave?

The fallen and dried out trees showed how ferocious the battle was. People carried off the pines, which were all dried up from all the mines and shooting, for firewood. Often when cutting them down they’d come across a small “token” of the battle – a bullet. Sometimes they’d talk about the partisan attack on Saldutiškis, the battle of 19 March 1951 in the Kiauneliškis forest, the deportation of neighbours, the vilification of partisans who had perished at Saldutiškis and how the istrebitels would insult them, the imprisonments, detentions, the murdering of civilians, torture, executions by the vigilantes (for example in Krivasalis they’d “shake out the bag” by walking along the main road and breaking into homes), and about how the istrebitels pillaged and suffocated the village with taxes, debts and “loans”.

After the KGB archives were opened, it came out that the first secretary of the Švenčionys Lithuanian Communist Party requested that more NKVD soldiers be sent and that villages in and near the forests be destroyed by aircraft! Two-seater aircraft flew over Krivasalis. They were probably conducting reconnaissance. Several times they scared me while I was on the way to my grandparents because they’d fly low. I could see two people in the cockpit. One of them was holding some long dark object and surveying the home of the two old people. I got especially frightened when I had to cross over a hill. Such a childish thing to think! It was as if they wouldn’t be able to shoot where it was flat.

We know that in 1997 with the care and funds of your family a memorial cross to the local partisans who were killed was erected in the Krivasalis cemetery. How were they connected with your relatives and why is it that did such noble idea come about?

It was dangerous even to have the same surname as a partisan. My parent’s cousins Antanas Krinickas-Romelis and Kazys Terleckas were partisans and were killed. The last brother Bronius managed to escape. Antanas Krinickas who was a partisan leader left a good legacy: he was brave and clever and he forbade cracking down on the people. Dressed in civilian clothes and carrying a scythe on his shoulder he went off to Saldutiškis where there vigilantes were. Once my mother when she opened the door of the shed said she see Antanas standing and smiling there with a machine gun slung across his chest. When my mother warned him that the village was dangerous because it was full of istrebitels he retorted: “If it’s death that attracts them I’m waiting for them”. The chekists dealt as they would with allies, by arranging a provocation saying that he was working for foreigners. Kazys was killed early (on 12 March 1945) in the battle of Kiauneliškis. His brother’s family had been deported in June 1941.

This book was not meant to redress the deaths of my relatives or other people I knew. There were 24 young people from Krivasalis of which 15 were killed; 13 from Kiauneliskis were killed in the Battle of Kiauneliškis alone. “This horrific event impacted on lives of 10 families (out of around 40). Considering the fact that many families were interrelated you can imagine the cloud of grief that fell over the village. People were saddened while laughing, joking, singing became things of the past. And what about the suffering of a further 12 local people locked up in camps and the seven families of partisans deported? In the first six months of 1945 there was only one man of enlistment age left in the village and he was constantly hiding from the Red Army. The men had all eventually left and because of that six “plekhavites” remained in the West; two brothers who were policemen managed to reach Poland and two ended up in the Red Army. Krivasalis can be considered a microcosm of Lithuania showing in actual fact the mood of that time and of how people survived. That’s something that Lithuanian information on those who were killed and suppressed doesn’t not show. They’re just cold statistics. Teaching certain subjects in a book was psychologically difficult to begin. I think that this is something some readers will also experience. Only by overcoming this challenge will we understand what those people close who were tortured, murdered and degraded experienced. Otherwise, the history of Lithuania from 1944 to 1953 will remain unknown to the end; there remains fertile ground for falsifying it based on the cliché “Lithuanians killed Lithuanians”.

If 7 to 10 years ago someone had said that I’d write a book about the armed resistance in Lithuania I wouldn’t have believed it. I have read practically all there is to read on the subject and I was convinced that that part of history had already been written and narrated by many of those who had witnessed it. What forced a change in this regard was the appearance of anti-partisan publications and, worst of all, the silent permission or even nods of approval to teach the “truth” in the publications. That’s when I lost all patience and refused to stay silent. Conforming to this sort of behaviour would have been tantamount to national crucifixion and betrayal of the resistance. It was personal experience that gave me the faith to take up my pen. I remembered what the people around me had spoken of, information that had accumulated from my studies and from people who had witnessed it all. Attesting to those horrible and heroic times, I made up my mind to write straight from the mouths of the witnesses. Unfortunately, the significance of the things I remember was not understood or it was ignored; the information accumulated in them has been practically unused by historians.

The idea to dedicate the book to the memory of the partisans of my place of birth came from my wife Regina and my daughter Jūratė. The search across Lithuania for the remains of partisans that started at the beginning of independence, their reburial and the materialization of their memory in crosses and monuments that all started at the beginning of independence also had an influence. In the Battle of Kiaunelškis from 12 to 13 March 1945, approximately 80 men of Krivasalis and the surrounding villages were killed. NKVD agents buried murdered people in a marsh near Švenčionys. A search for their remains was unsuccessful. In order that the goal of the occupant to rip memory from the people not be reached, it was absolutely necessary to place a war memorial in the Krivasalis cemetery. There had to be a place to remember, pray, place flowers and burn candles. Julius Lopeta made the memorial cross and Bronius Mičėnas helped compile the list of names. A lot of people came to the unveiling of the cross. A few members of the Seimas came. The priest from Kaltanėnai consecrated the cross and gave a patriotic sermon; Liudas Malakauskas and Antanas Leleiva who took part in the battle remembered it. The Karunkos choir from Vilnius sang hymns and songs. The mood of the people there was one of elation and solemnity and many said that they had never seen an event like this before. When I visited the graves of my parents, near the cross where we placed planted or picked flowers and burning candles, I realised that my idea was not in vain. It was then that the efforts of the children of the vigilantes to compromise us with rumours that the cross was placed there, not with money but with that of notorious Vilnius businessmen, were forgotten.

I am also sincerely grateful to the then editor of Lietuvos Aidas Roma Grinbergienė-Griniutė for printing the information on the ceremony for consecrating the cross at Krivasalis in 1997. Unfortunately her deputy, a former political prisoner, refused to announce the news.

You are one of the independent founders of Lithuania’s financial and credit system. It was in 1989 that you were assigned to head up a group that drew up many of the banking draft laws. How is it that the twists and turns of your life took you from economics to writing this book?

I’d put it more precisely by saying that the conditions of my life and its twists and turns took me from a loved history in my youth to studying banking and economics. In my free time while I was studying and teaching, I would read history books. The subjects I chose for research had a historical nature to them. It is indeed impossible to write a monograph about the history of Lithuanian banks and finance without researching economic and general history. I would dare to state that I was standing on a wider and more solid foundation than most professional historians. When I retired I returned to the “love” of my youth – history. It’s fruits are the monograph “Rewriting History and wallowing in Lithuania’s Backwardness” (2007), “The Falsification of Lithuania’s History and the Challenges of Denigration”(2009), “The Tragic Pages of Lithuania’s History: 1940 to 1953” (published in English, French and Lithuanian between 2014 and 2016) and “Jonas Vailokaitis. The Traits of a Life and Action” (2011). And the television historians whine: “Don’t listen to him. He is not an historian” yet I haven’t seen them sweating it out in archives and libraries.

What do you hope to achieve by writing and presenting your book about our story of national resistance?

I want to explain in detail issues that are not researched in the documentation of our history or touch on them (for example the vilification of murdered partisans, the fact that partisans’ bodies were hidden and why; the repressive structures of pillaging and theft; the rape of women; partisanised westerners in Lithuania, resistance in the villages to being herded into kolkhozes etc.). The book dedicates much attention to analysing the dark technologies used by the chekists to increase the number of civilians executed by the partisans and reduce the number of istrebitels fallen in battles with the freedom fighters. I think that analysis like this and the resulting conclusions that support it is very important in unmasking the chekist “chroniclers’ and their historian, journalist and politician followers of today who are trying to compromise and demonise the freedom fighters. I have tried as much as possible to show the atmosphere of those times, the spiritual world of those who resisted the occupier, traumatic repressions and the consequences of terror.

Thank you for speaking to us. We hope that this book will not be the last of your work about the post-war struggle. Especially now when the world is being flooded with Russian propaganda on the aims of the post-war resistance, which is also being promoted by collaborators in Lithuania or certain historians who are left or certain historians lost in the dark woods.

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