The world may not care, but we, Lithuanians, care a lot about a very special anniversary in Lithuania. 80 years ago, during the days of 22-28 June 1941, an uprising against the Soviet occupation took place in Lithuania. The timing was specially chosen to coincide with the outbreak of war between until then WW II partners Nazi Germany and the USSR when the Nazi army began to approach the territory of Lithuania.
It was extremely important for the Lithuanian activist front that was preparing the Uprising to act during a narrow window of opportunity – to attack the Red Army and take over the country once their war with Germany started, to take advantage of the chaos and the threat to the Soviets themselves, but not so late as to allow the Germans to take over the country and then claim that they themselves had driven the Soviets out The aim was the restoration of an independent Lithuania, and this required the Germans to enter a Lithuania that had already expelled the Soviet army and declared independence. In that sense, it is a date in many ways equal to 16 February 1918 and 11 March 1990 – two dates of modern Lithuanian independence.
The difference in this case is that the restored independence and the established Provisional Government could not be maintained. The Nazis themselves were hostile to the Uprising, betrayed the Vilnius Rebel Headquarters to the Soviets and otherwise undermined the “problem” of a sovereign Lithuania. In the Nazi plans, Lithuania was to be only a resource for the Reich, not a sovereign country.
However, the Uprising was very significant for Lithuania and none-the-less successful in the sense that it showed the Soviet lie to the whole world that Lithuania had voluntarily asked to be part of the USSR and was not occupied. After the Uprising, the fact of the forced occupation was obvious, and the representatives of various countries clearly noted it and reported it to the world. The Uprising also freed several thousand political prisoners, thus escaping a torturous death or Siberia, took over buildings and weapons, and captured a large number of Red Army prisoners. Several thousand rebels were killed in this heroic effort.
Today, the Uprising and the LAF that organized it are accused of anti-Semitism and of contributing to the Holocaust in Lithuania. The Provisional Government they set up during the Uprising allegedly failed to protect the Jews being killed or even contributed to the repression. Quite the contrary – the Provisional Government issued a number of documents instructing against repression of Jews, but it had no actual authority in the country occupied by the Nazis and could not in any way ensure compliance. This government’s decrees (considered to be scandalous by many today) on the situation of the Jews were issued after an analogous but much stricter Nazi document appeared earlier, and were an unsuccessful attempt to mitigate the situation of Jews in the country.
These and similar accusations of Jewish murder and collaboration with the Nazis have been successfully disseminated in Lithuania and around the world, primarily due to the ignorance of the public about these events. It is not surprising that other countries do not know about the Lithuanian Uprising. But it is disgraceful how little is known about it in Lithuania itself. Very little about it is taught in school, and there is no popular literature or works of art that shed light on the Uprising and its true aims. It is no wonder that anti-state propaganda – essentially repeating Soviet lies about history – is successfully spreading in an ill-prepared society.
Accordingly, the state authorities are ashamed of the Uprising, they do not mention its anniversary in any way, and the same Soviet clichés are invited to speak on the subject at offensive conferences. In the capital Vilnius, attempts are being made to remove the memorials to the insurgents, and public figures who defend the insurgency are being portrayed as fascists by the Left. In sum, the official government position is that the Uprising is not worthy of pride, if not shameful.
But it is this governmental position that is the real shame, and it needs to change. There is a need for more publicity for the Uprising, more awareness-raising measures, and a focus on it in educational programs. On the other hand, there is a need for initiatives from the citizenry and district governments to commemorate the Uprising. People must and can show that they are proud of the Uprising, and that it is the government that is acting shamefully. In Vilnius, commemorative events started on 22 June. There may even be a plaque commemorating the initiator of the Uprising, Colonel Kazis Škirpa.
The first steps towards discovering the true story of the Uprising are being taken now. For the first time, the memoirs of Kaunas Uprising commander, then just a 21 years old university student Pilypas Žukauskas-Narutis, “Tautos sukilimas” (The Uprising of the Nation), and at least four other books covering the history of the Uprising, have been published in Lithuania. It will take time for the Uprising to find a place in the memory of the nation and to free itself from the grip of Soviet historical propaganda. Its 80th anniversary can be the beginning of this rebirth.
The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Lithuania Tribune.