ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2009 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 55, No.3 - Fall 2009
Editor of this issue: Gražina Slavėnas.

Book Review

Lithuanians in the Gulag:
Publications by the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania

Siberia. Mass Deportations from Lithuania to the USSR. Compiled by Dalia Kuodytė and Rokas Tracevskis.Vilnius: Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, 2004, 2005.

Karas po karo / War after War. Armed Anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithuania in 1944-1953. Compiled by Virginija Rudienė. Vilnius: Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, 2004, 2005.

The Unknown War.* Armed anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithuania in 1944–1953. Compiled by Dalia Kuodytė and Rokas Tracevskis. Vilnius: Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, 2004, 2006.
* Unknown War is a similar shorter version of the same topic but has different text and seems to have different pictures. It has the identical subtitle Armed Anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithania in 1944-1953.

Alfonsas Eidintas, President of Lithuania: Prisoner of the Gulag – A Biography of Aleksandras Stulginskis. Vilnius: Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, 2001.

Reviewed by Leonards Latkovski

It is now eighteen years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Communist Party, and the full story of the actions of those in charge during this period still remains to be told. Initially some effort was made at releasing from the archives Party, government and KGB information that would shed light on these events, but this did not last. Instead, the opposite has occurred. The Russian state institutions have not shown an interest in giving a complete accounting of the crimes of the Communist leadership. They refuse to provide access to the KGB archives and secret Soviet Communist Party documents. Vladimir Putin has led the way in this obstruction by stressing that historians and teachers should provide “a patriotic history” rather than an accurate one. The Russian government distorts and even denies key aspects of the Communist past. A clear example is the furious reaction of Russian officials at the new Latvian documentary film “The Soviet Story,” which reveals the NKVD-Gestapo collaboration, particularly in war crimes, in the period from 1939 to 1941. Thus, within Russia the task of telling the truth about Communist history is largely left up to individual scholars and courageous groups such as Memorial. In Eastern Europe, the effort at documenting the Soviet Communist record is being carried out by both official and nonofficial groups. Poland and the Baltic States have led the way in conducting an objective assessment of the record of the Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes.

In the Baltic States, one of the most active groups has been the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania located in Vilnius. Founded in 1992, its research into the activities of the Soviet Communist Party and government has been significant in documenting the true history, particularly the crimes of the Communist regime.
The Center’s Museum of Genocide Victims has also been in existence since 1992. Housed in the former KGB headquarters building in the center of Vilnius, it has various superb exhibitions showing the nature of Communist rule. In addition to organizing the museum exhibits, the Center is active in publishing books and journals. Several of its recent publications in English are noteworthy additions to the literature on the topics of the Soviet period in Lithuania and Lithuanians in the Soviet Gulag.

The first of these books is Karas po karo / War after War, compiled by Virginija Rudienė. It is the companion publication to the museum exhibition on the topic. The exhibit originally opened in Thisted, Denmark, in February 2004 and is now a part of the permanent exhibit in the Vilnius Museum of Genocide Victims. With the text in both Lithuanian and English, this illustrated book is an excellent, well-written account of the Lithuanian people’s strong opposition to Soviet occupation. In considerable detail, with superb pictures, it describes the nature of the Lithuanian partisan movement and the war of national resistance waged by the Lithuanians for ten years after the war ended. Known as the Movement of the Struggle for the Freedom of Lithuania, and involving at least 50,000 participants, it was the largest and longest anti-Soviet guerilla war.The book describes and shows the hardships of ordinary Lithuanians taking up arms and braving cold, hunger, and deprivation in cramped bunkers. They were supported by the local population, which risked death to give them assistance. The guerillas were heavily outnumbered, and the Soviet authorities used every means possible in an all-out effort to crush them. Lithuanian forces faced special NKVD battalions and Interior Ministry troops as well as regular army units in some operations. From 1944 to 1946, in the first two years of partisan war, there was fierce fighting in which 10,000 people were killed. The final total death toll reached 20,500.

Two other notable books published by the Genocide and Resistance Centre deal with life in the Soviet Gulag. They are Siberia. Mass Deportations from Lithuania to the USSR, compiled by Dalia Kuodytė and Rokas Tracevskis, and President of Lithuania: Prisoner of the Gulag – A Biography of Aleksandras Stulginskis, by Alfonsas Eidintas.

Of the many topics of Soviet history, the Gulag is one of the most important. Much about its camps is still unknown. It is an immense topic. The written record of this vast slave labor network is still incomplete. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, much more information about the Gulag has appeared, but there are still great, great gaps in its history.

In spite of many publications on the topic in the past twenty years, the Gulag is still insufficiently documented and poorly understood. Much of the new information has become available through more systematic research and collection efforts. There has been a dedicated effort by organizations in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia as well as in Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and Italy to document the experiences of their nationals in the Gulag. These new accounts have corroborated the basic version of the earlier accounts while adding more detail and context. In all three Baltic countries, more accounts by the Baltic prisoners who survived the forced labor camps have been recently collected and published. They have been very useful in describing important aspects of Gulag life.

In Russia, which had more of its own nationals victimized in the Gulag than any other country, there is disappointingly insufficient historical research on the camps and the camp system. We must remember that the Gulag was first revealed to the world by a Russian underground writer – the heroic Aleksander Solzhenitsyn – in the 1970s. Anne Applebaum’s excellent book on the topic, thirty years later, was the next most important publication for a wider audience. It has received much exposure in Eastern Europe, having been translated into all of the Baltic languages and over twenty-six worldwide, including Russian. However, broad distribution in Russia has not yet occurred. Also, in spite of the success of Applebaum’s book in bringing attention to the Gulag, it is but a single volume and could not cover the entire history of the massive Gulag.

In the early years of the fall of Communism, when this was a fresh topic, many articles and books on the Gulag appeared, but the volume of publications has slowly declined. Given the size of the Gulag – over twenty million incarcerated overall and 2.5 million people in the system in the early 1950s – there is much more that needs to be written to describe what happened. The exact role of prominent Communist leaders like Joseph Stalin, Lavrenty Beria, Lazar Kaganovich and Vyacheslav Molotov in running the Gulag or sending people to the camps needs to be reported. Inexplicably, the Gulag directors and deputy directors who oversaw this exploitation of humanity remain anonymous persons to the public. Other notorious figures, like Ivan Serov, Sergei Kruglov, Vassily Ulrikh, and Viktor Abakumov, who were each responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, are mostly unknown. Some excellent studies and document collections have been produced in Russia through collaboration with Western scholars. The best of these is the groundbreaking seven-volume collection of documents on the Gulag (published in 2006 by the Hoover Institution and the Russian State Archive). The authors rightly call the Gulag ”one of the largest and most brutal penal systems of the twentieth century.” Yet the full history of the camp system and the major camp complexes remains unwritten. Research on the topic remains mostly a private effort, while the Russian government has chosen to ignore both the history of the Gulag and the punishment of those responsible for the crimes.

Siberia – Mass Deportations from Lithuania to the U.S.S.R. is a short overview of the process of deportations of citizens of Lithuania to the Sovet Gulag. The process was organized by the Soviet security police, the NKVD. The authors describe the key events in the deportation of more than 132,000 Lithuanians between 1940 and 1953 to some of the most remote areas of the Soviet Union. The book also has a superb wall-size map: “Places of Deportation and Imprisonment of Lithuanian citizens in the Soviet Union.” The illustrations are effective in showing the human side of the suffering of the deportees.While the pictures can give only a hint of the brutality and inhumanity of the method of arrest and transport, they are nevertheless strong graphic testimony of the inhospitable climate of many locations, extreme weather conditions, and complete lack of housing and necessities for a normal human existence.

The photos of burials and mourning for deceased family members are a stark reminder of this great human tragedy. However, because photography was forbidden or impossible in many places and conditions, except for funerals and burials, these pictures overall are somewhat benign. They generally depict more comfortable scenes where photography was allowed, so we must remember that the pictures that exist do not truly represent the actual circumstances. Yet, some chilling evidence exists: one very striking photo depicts the 1949 scene of deportees left to themselves without any shelter on the edge of the Yenisey River.

President of Lithuania: Prisoner of the Gulag – A Biography of Aleksandras Stulginskis by Alfonsas Eidintas is a well-researched account of the fate of one of Lithuania’s major political figures. Using Stulginskis’s Gulag diary and Soviet documents, Alfonsas Eidintas is able to write the story of the life of the former Lithuanian president, especially his years of suffering in a Siberian camp. Stulginskis was the senior pre-1940 Lithuanian political leader left in Soviet-occupied Lithuania. He was the only former president who remained in Lithuania after the Communist takeover. In late 1940, Stulginskis courageously refused offers to collaborate with the Communist regime. As a result, after most of his land holdings were confiscated, he and his wife were arrested on June 14, 1941 and deported to the Siberian Gulag in the mass deportation of Lithuanians. His arrest was part of the program of the Soviet security organs to liquidate Lithuanian political leadership and any potential opposition. The NKVD arrested and deported all five remaining prime ministers who had served between 1918 and 1940 in Lithuania and executed twenty-two of the seventy-two former cabinet ministers of independent Lithuania.

Stulginskis was incarcerated in the Reshoti Gulag camp in the Sayanskii rayon of Krasnoyarsk. He suffered from bitter cold, delirium, and dysentery, and barely survived. Food rations were abysmal and medication lacking. Out of 2,500

Lithuanians in the prison camp, only 400 survived the winter of 1941-1942.
In October 1941, Stulginskis and other Lithuanians were accused by the NKVD of spreading anti-Soviet propaganda, organizing an anti-Soviet organization in the camp, and supporting German war efforts. All charges were false, but the NKVD constantly engaged in such fabrications to validate their own existence.

In the camp, conditions were grim, even inhumane. Besides the shortage of food, most basic daily necessities were lacking. Stulginskis recalled that he was emaciated, his “skin hung like sacks from his bones.” However, he did survive and was released in the 1950s amnesty. This did not end his troubles, and he met new difficulties because Soviet society did not accommodate the returned ex-Gulag prisoners.

These books are particularly useful for the new generation of young people, in Lithuania and America and elsewhere in the world, who have grown up since 1989 and have little knowledge about the Soviet Communist past. It was wise to present them in English and Lithuanian, and thus reach a larger audience. However, there should also be a Russian translation, so they can also reach the public in Russia, where the falsification and distortion of Soviet history continue.

Leonards Latkovski