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Soviet troops are marching into Lithuania (June 1940)Soviet troops are marching into Lithuania (June 1940)

On 23 August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union concluded a Non-Aggression Treaty. The Treaty was accompanied by a secret additional protocol laying down the boundary of the respective spheres of influence in Eastern Europe: Latvia, Estonia and Finland went to the USSR, while Lithuania was "relegated" to the German zone of influence. Under the terms of supplementary Germany - Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty signed on 28 September 1939, Lithuania was transferred to the Soviet sphere of influence. Under the conditions of political blackmail and threats to resort to military force, the Lithuania-Soviet Union Mutual Assistance Agreement concerning the Transfer of Vilnius and Vilnius Region to the Republic of Lithuania was concluded on 10 October 1939 in Moscow. It entitled the Soviet Union to deploy its military garrisons, a contingent of 20,000 men, in Lithuania. The Republic of Lithuania, like its northern neighbours, de facto lost its neutrality and independence in foreign policy. Having taken advantage of the favourable international circumstances and by implementing a foreign policy directed against the Lithuania's independent statehood, the Soviet Union created conditions for the occupation of Lithuania.

The diplomatic preparations for occupying Lithuania were conducted whilst preparing the military measures. Regarding the military aspect, Lithuania's situation deteriorated from the autumn of 1939; the Red Army bases were set up across the country. The implementation of the military plan of Lithuania's occupation began in the spring of 1940. The final discussion on the plans for Lithuania's military occupation took place on 11 June 1940, where attack plan against the Baltic states were worked out.

The threat of the Soviet aggression became clear for Lithuanian leaders soon at the beginning of 1940, when Soviet Union started more and more interfering into the internal affairs of Lithuania. The State Defence Council of Lithuania discussed the rising threat in February 1940 and it was decided in early May that any Soviet aggression would be opposed with arms. Totally disillusioned by the failure to consolidate all the political forces in the face of the threat, members of the opposition parties sought a government crisis in order to form a pro-Soviet government. The President of Lithuania, who was the commander-in-chief of the armed forces in charge of organizing the defence of the country, took no counteraction. On 14. June 1940 Soviet Union gave Lithuania the ultimatum, demanding right to occupy all country and change its government. After the ultimatum was received, it was clear that a military occupation of the country would begin in any case. The President proposed to debate only one item in the ultimatum, the issue of the formation of a new Government, to reject the ultimatum and offer resistance. The absence of democratic traditions encouraged a situation in which the opposition were more concerned by possibilities which the ultimatum offered for eliminating Smetona's regime rather than the fate of the country. The aggression was not condemned and a proposed statement of protest was excluded from the text which accepted the ultimatum. The Soviet Union took advantage of the complicated political situation in the country, heightened the tension, divided the political elite of Lithuania and initiated the occupation of the country.

On 15-16 June 1940 the Red Army occupied Lithuania. The Soviet troops also occupied parts of southwest Lithuania, which had been ceded to Germany by the Soviet-German treaty of 28 September 1939. On 10 January 1941 the Soviet Union was granted this territory in return for 7.5 million gold dollars. The realisation of the military occupation and annexation of Lithuania was co-ordinated by an authorised agent of the Soviet government, Vladimir Dekanozov. A special group of the Soviet legation was formed which included NKVD officials who had come to Lithuania, the leadership of the Red Army garrisons and members of the Lithuanian Communist Party Central Committee, all of whom were engaged in solving the issues of a new government's formation and activity. The annexation plan was based on the goal of completing Lithuania's annexation by the USSR while formally following the Constitution and laws of Lithuania. After this failed due to the departure of Smetona, it was decided to violate the Constitution and utilize a new person, Justas Paleckis, who played into the hands of the Soviet authorities and formed a new government. On 17 June, a new Government, dubbed the People's Government, was formed and approved by Acting President Antanas Merkys. The aim of this Government was to serve the goals of the Soviet Union, mask the military occupation, and appease the people of the country. Gradually, the Communists appointed to the Government occupied the major ministries. Beginning on 5 July, non-Communist ministers played virtually no role in governing the country.

To stage the appearance of following constitutional norms, Justas Paleckis took the post of the President of the Republic and swore to uphold the state's Constitution. Thereby, the President of Lithuania was ostensibly to lead an independent and sovereign state of Lithuania, and do so alone, without any influence from outside. The destruction of the political and public structures of the Lithuanian state was initiated, while, at the same time, the rights of the people were limited. Anti-state Communist organizations controlled by Moscow were legalised, and all former political, public, cultural and religious organizations and student corporations were banned. Disbanding the Seimas as of 1 July completed the political reorganization. Thus, the way was being paved for Lithuania's annexation. Promulgating the new Law on Elections in July 1940 set the immediate preconditions for Lithuania's annexation.

The new Law on Elections to the so-called People's Seimas was not in conformity with Lithuanian legislation, according to which there had to be an interval of two months between the announcement of elections and the vote. The law on elections was not democratic. It stipulated that everybody was required to vote (§ 24), stamps would be placed in voters' passports (§ 35), and candidates would be nominated in meetings of "working people" only. Furthermore, there were no registration lists of voters. In order to cover up the fact that the Lithuanian Communist Party would seize power, a fictitious Lithuanian Working People's Union was founded and was the only one allowed to officially participate in the elections. "The Working People's Union Election Platform" promised tax and debt liquidation for farmers, better pay and working conditions for workers, free social services, development of health care and education, etc. The platform said nothing about the change of the political system or Lithuania's incorporation into the USSR. Before the elections, arrests and repressions were carried out.

The most recent research suggests that 85.2 percent of the total electorate participated in the elections. The election commission "improved" the results by 10 approximately percent. 55 percent of the voters cast their ballots for candidates. Each candidate was voted for separately and only those who received over 50 percent of the votes could be elected. The absolute majority of the candidates were not elected in accordance to the provisions of the Law on Elections, but were announced as such nonetheless. The results of the election were clearly rigged.". The issues of the political system and Lithuania's incorporation into the USSR were debated on 21 July. The decisions of the People's Seimas were inspired by the Soviet Union. Directing the procedures of the Seimas and violating the Constitution of Lithuania accomplished this. The People's Seimas liquidated Lithuania's independent statehood. A rapid transformation of the political and economic life of Lithuania began. The Sovietization of Lithuania was under way even before the country become part of the Soviet Union. The Lithuanian Communist Party played its role as the chief executor of the Soviet plans. The final annexation was formalised on 3 August 1940, when the session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, then underway in Moscow, decided to incorporate Lithuania into the USSR.

Occupied Lithuania was quickly sovietised. Most of industries were nationalized and land reform was introduced, cutting significantly the size of farms. The Soviet economic reforms raised the industrial production in Lithuania, but not thanks to higher efficiently but due to more labour. All this lead to serious economic problems and fall of living standards, which made communism highly unpopular among Lithuanians. Soviets closed all independent organizations and introduced strict control over culture. Important part in Soviet system belonged to fight against religion. The Catholic community in Lithuania consisted of nearly 90 per cent, the Jewish community, some 7 per cent, of the population of Soviet-occupied Lithuania. The Soviet regime began implementing in Lithuania its ideological views concerning religion. In order to create an appearance of legitimacy for its anti-religious policy and other destructive actions, the puppet People's Government carried out anti-religious preparatory work, which destroyed the legal protection enjoyed by religious communities and commenced the exclusion of religion from public life. In accordance with Communist ideology, priests were considered part of a hostile social class and therefore politically unreliable. The restriction of the activity of priests was one of the major tools of anti-religious activity. The major task of Soviet anti-religious policy was restricting the possibilities for propagating faith, The publication of all religious literature was banned and withdrawn from libraries, the teaching of religion in schools was abolished and religious education outside the schools was restricted, All the real estate and other property of religious organizations was nationalized and confiscated, It was decided to close the seminaries of all faiths. To justify the aggressive anti-religious policy in the name of the "people's will", the creation of a mass atheist movement, Lithuania's branch of the Militant Atheist Union was initiated.

To destroy the attempts to resist the Soviet system massive terror was launched. First arrests (10-19 July 1941) were carried out following the orders of the Lithuanian Communist Party leaders (who also were at the lead of repressive bodies) of 6 and 7 July 1940, also controlled by representatives of the Soviet Union NKVD. Representatives of all former political parties and ethnic communities felt victims to political repression. The arrests did not aim to eradicate some underground organizations. The basis for political repression was the factor of "social threat" to the totalitarian state and state regime. Application of the Soviet Russia laws, which formally had not been introduced in the country, was launched with respect to citizens of Lithuania. The groups of arrested people were being unlawfully deported outside the territory of Lithuania already prior to Lithuania's annexation. On 30 November 1940 the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR in its decree announced the entry into force in Lithuania of Article 58 of the Criminal Code of the Russian SFSR, although the arrests made in June-November 1940 were justified on the basis of provisions of this code. The first goal was reached - the first wave of unlawful arrests had paralysed all attempts to stage any unorganized resistance with respect to the policy of annexation and Sovietization pursued against an independent state.

An indispensable part link in the implementation of the Soviet policy of terror was performed by the special ad hoc tribunals and extra-judicial bodies, to which the judicial functions had been delegated. It was the [institution of a] Special Meeting, which in 1940-1941 passed a verdict against many people in Lithuania, arrested by the NKVD. In July 1940 the registration of anti-Soviet elements was introduced in Lithuania and widened on 28 November. Registration in the format of lists had to cover all individuals, who "for the reasons of their social and political background, nationalist and chauvinist views, religious beliefs, moral and political instability are opposed to the socialist regime and could therefore be used for the anti-Soviet purposes". It was planned that all such individuals had to be secretly registered and their names entered on the lists of persons planned to be arrested. The number of registrable persons - 320 000 former members of parties and organizations. The lists of unreliable persons were supplemented with ethnic minorities' representatives - Poles, Jews, Russians, and Ukrainians.

In 1940 some 2 785 and in January-May 1941 - 1 768 people were arrested. More than a half of political prisoners (around 55 per cent) were indicted on the basis of Article 58 (mostly for work in police, secret collaboration with Security police and leading positions in the formerly legal organizations), around 40 percent - for illegal border crossing, and the remaining - for war crimes. Around 60 per cent of political prisoners were kept in imprisonment in violation of norms of even the Soviet Code of Criminal Procedure: people were imprisoned without formulation of charges, without extension of terms of arrest and interrogation. In the first place the political prisoners were subjected to "the indispensable measures of interrogation". Physical and mental coercion in the system of NKVD and NKGB were concealed under the terms of "physical affect", "active interrogation" etc. Torture was sanctioned at the highest level. In 1937 the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) gave the official permit to apply measures of "physical affect". Majority of political prisoners experienced torture during interrogation.

Immediately after the arrest, without waiting for judgements, the NKVD appropriated personal belongings of arrested persons, seized other property - apartments, private cars. After the outbreak of war all seized personal property of detainees (money, gold and silver coins, foreign currency, and awards) were taken to the Soviet Union and have never been returned. Out of 1 671 cases, which include written judgements by one or another type of judicial institutions, in 1 020 cases judgements were rendered by the Special Meeting institution. By 26 June 1941, 3 565 prisoners were deported to the distant parts of the Soviet Union (excluding victims of deportations of 14-18 June, who were taken directly to camps, avoiding the prisons). The majority of Lithuanians imprisoned in the Soviet Union camps and prisons in 1941 in formal terms were still in the stage of interrogation, and no articles of the Soviet Russia's Criminal Code were invoked against them. They were held criminally liable according to the USSR Supreme Court Ruling of 11 December 1941 On the Investigation of Cases against Persons who Committed Crimes on the Territory Temporarily Occupied by Hostile Forces. Death penalty was applied against 618 residents of Lithuania and 568 citizens of Lithuania were executed. The procedure for the validity and adoption of the judgement was simplified. The judgements passed by the Special Meeting institution were final and not subject to appeal. The Military Chamber of the USSR Supreme Court nor the Penal-Judicial Chamber did not approve judgements; they were not reviewed by the Political Bureau Commission of the CC of AUCP (B) nor approved by the CC of AUCP (B). The remaining political prisoners (70 per cent) were imprisoned for 5-10 years. Exception was made in the case of President Stulginskis (together with 17 ministers, academicians, police officers), who was kept in imprisonment without any formal judgement for 11 years - until 1952. In an effort to conceal the circumstances of executions of 1941-1943, in 1955 the CC of CPSU and the KGB started the falsification of circumstances and dates of deaths. On the basis of this decision, falsification of the dates of death continued up until the start of 1990.

Political prisoners in Lithuania imprisoned in 1939 and in 1940-1941 included representatives of all ethnic groups: 58.1% of them were Lithuanians, 25.2% - Poles, 5.1% - Jews, and 4.0% - Russians. The group of arrested and imprisoned people included representatives of all social strata and professional groups. Among the arrested and imprisoned people in Lithuania the majority were white-collar workers, blue-collar workers, craftsmen and farmers. In 1940-1941 prior to the Great deportation of 14 June, some 6 606 people were arrested after being accused of political crimes. Out of them 3 434 were taken to camps (this number of names is known, data available in archival sources maintains that 3 565 prisoners were deported). Of those, 24.7% perished in GULAG camps, the rest disappeared went missing. Certain ethnic affiliation (being a Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, or German) and imprisonment and charges of anti-Soviet activity or the factor of "social threat" formed an inalienable mix, which implied that no amnesties or conditional release from the places of imprisonment was valid for political prisoners of certain nationalities. After the expiry of imprisonment sentence and given the absences of additional punishment (deportation) Lithuanians nevertheless were forcibly held in camps, without the right to leave the area of labour camp until the end of the war. From 1946, [the relevant authorities] started creating new cases against former prisoners, who during the time of their sentence were or were not engaged in anti-Soviet activities, but posed a "social threat" (because of their earlier activities), and sent them to the Special Meeting institution. According to the Order of USSR Supreme Council Presidium of 21 February 1948, political prisoners who have served their entire sentence had to live in deportation under the MGB's supervision and were resettled to certain areas of Siberia and certain Northern territories. Only 14% of former political prisoners returned to Lithuania.

Unlawful arrests of 1940-1941 and deportations to camps left an impact on the Lithuanian society whose consequences are difficult to define quality-wise. By example it exterminated a large proportion of professionals who had been trained in the independent Lithuania (politicians, lawyers, teachers, army and police officers etc), destroying at the same time a large proportion of the moderate opposition (of populist and social democratic orientation), and paralyzed the attempts to stage unorganized resistance to the pursued policy and created conditions for untroubled implementation of policy of annexation and Sovietization. Terror generated an atmosphere of suspicion and intolerance in society, laid the groundwork for the tendencies of national intolerance to develop. The process of selection of groups of people carried out on the basis of Communist ideology, secret massive arrests, massive deportation of prisoners beyond Lithuania and wide use of torture against the political opponents created the climate in which a certain portion of society accepted and learned the principles of a totalitarian state - first the Communist-Bolshevik, and later - National socialist.

The most devastating crime carried out in Lithuania during the first year occupation was the deportation of Lithuanians to Siberia in June 1941. The mass deportations of big groups of people was carried out in the Soviet Unuin May-June 1941 from the territories, which were occupied by Stalin on the result of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and later agreements with Germany. The finishing stage for deportations started on 21 May 1941. On 4 June 1941 Serov, the deputy of Merkulov, issued instructions for NKGB county principals on organisation of the final record of the deportees and the deportation process itself. Only those whose record files contained some "discreditable material", for example, on the participation in the fight for Independence, occupation of high public service position, belonging to the corps of rifles, etc had to be deported. NKVD documents call the procedure of deportation "the expulsion of socially alien elements". All these categories and types of repression were similar in the sense that none of the exiled was formally sentenced. Three types of repression were designed for tens of categories of deportees: residence in the area by NKVD supervision, residence in prison camps and in the GULAG system labour camps. However, the ruling of VKP (b) CK political bureau and the council of People's commissioners of the USSR regulated the decision on the form of repression, which had to be applied to the categories mentioned above. These acts haven't still been found.

The characteristic feature of deportation was that various categories of the people deported under all the three types of repression were represented by the exiled from the Baltic States only. During the first stage of deportation the exiled were taken to the collection points and convoyed to echelons. At the second stage in the places of gathering, the deportees were divided into two groups: "A group" ("the head of the family") which was sent to concentration camps and "B group" ("the members of the family") which was sent to places of deportation. The number of the deportees of all echelons is practically known. There were 17 echelons deported from Lithuania: 11 echelons with deportees ("B group"), 4 echelons with the detained ("A group") and 2 echelons with the so-called criminal convicts. Most people from Lithuanian SSR were deported to the region of Altai, fewer to the region of Novosibirsk, Kazakhstan and Komia. The number of the deportees from Lithuania amounts to 12 832 people (the fate of 12 331 was established). The number of the detained - 4 663 (the fate of 3 915 was established). Our total "echelon" number of all the categories of the repressed after the deportation operation in Lithuania amounts to about 17 500 people (the fate of 16 246 deportees was established). The representatives of Lithuanian political, military and economic elite were mostly among the deported. Among the deportees whose fate was established some 2 045 were Jews (that amounted to 13.5% of the exiled who were transferred to the places of deportation and 9.8% to the concentration camps), 1 576 were Poles (10.4% were exiled to the places of deportation and 7.5% to the concentration camps), 11 991 - Lithuanians (72.7% were exiled to the places of deportation and 77.4% to the concentration camps). Some 5 060 among the deportees were children under the age of 16 (41% of all the exiled to the places of deportation). Most deportees were farmers - 29.8% and people working at home (family members of different social standing eligible for work) - 14.3%, then teachers - 5.2% civil servants - 5.0%, workers - 3.1%. The social standing of men who were separated from their families and deported is as follows: civil servants - 15.8%, farmers - 14.0%, police officials - 11.1%, officers - 10.5%, workers - 7.5%. he biggest group of deportees was in the region of Altai - 7 232 people or 58.6%. In 1942 some 2 795 deportees from the region of Altai, mostly women with small children and men, which were not eligible for work, were brought to the north of Jacutia, the islands of the Lena river delta. Some 11.9% of people were deported to Komia, 10.6% - to the region of Tomsk. The number of people living in exile increased by 863 children who were born there and by 24 people who came to their relatives voluntarily. At the places of deportation they were registered. Also, the same rules applied to those who came voluntarily and to the deported. 14-19 June 1941 under the lists of NKVD 1 274 people were deported to Bellag (Carelia) and Oneglag (the region of Archangelsk) from Lithuania. Little is known about what happened to these people after that.

Men, who were separated from their families, were brought to different camps - Carlag, Vorkutlag (the region of Komia), Siblag (the region of Kemerov), Sevurallag (the former Sverdlovsk region) and Kraslag (the region of Krasnoyarsk, Resiotai town), Norillag. Their cases were compiled at the back date and sent to the special meeting of the USSR NKVD. All the prisoners were accused under the chapters of Article 58 and sentenced in absentia to 5-25 years of imprisonment; some of them received death penalty sentences and were shot. Out of all the deportees 33.59% returned to Lithuania (40.3% of those exiled to the places of deportation and 12.5% - to the concentration camps), 26.52% died in the places of deportation and imprisonment (17.6% of the exiled to the places of deportation and 54.5% - to the concentration camps) and the fate of almost 40% remained unknown (42.1% of the exiled to the places of deportation and 33% - to the concentration camps). Deportation had a special impact on the situation in Lithuania - the exile of thousands of people, absence of information on the fate of deportees due to the war lets us evaluate deportation as a physical annihilation of people. Under the conditions of the Nazi occupation the fact of deportations was used to disseminate national-socialist doctrines in the society, to promote intolerance as well as to ascribe the responsibility for the deportations to the representatives of the Jewish community.

In this context it was not miracle, that many Lithuanians welcomed the start of war between former allies - Hitler and Stalin on June 22, 1941. The territory of the Lithuania was invaded by two advancing German army groups: Army Group North, which took over western and northern Lithuania, and Army Group Centre, which took over most of the Vilnius Region. Germans rapidly advanced forward encountering only sporadic resistance from the Soviets and assistance from the Lithuanians. The Lithuanians considered the Germans to be their liberators from the repressive Soviet rule and hoped that the Germans would re-establish their independence or at least autonomy. Lithuanians took up the arms in an anti-Soviet uprising. Groups of partisans organized spontaneously and took control of strategic objects (such as railroads, bridges, communication equipment, warehouses of food and equipment) protecting them from Soviet sabotage. On June 24, Germans entered two major cities - Kaunas and Vilnius - without a fight as they were already controlled by the Lithuanians. Kaunas was taken by the rebels of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF). Kazys Škirpa, leader of LAF, was preparing for the uprising since at least March 1941. The activists proclaimed Lithuanian independence and established the Provisional Government of Lithuania on June 23. Vilnius was taken by Lithuanian soldiers, who deserted from the Red Army. Smaller, less organized groups emerged in other cities and countryside. It is estimated that the uprising involved some 16,000-30,000 people and claimed lives of about 600 Lithuanians and 5,000 Soviet activists

During retreat Soviet authorities carried out several crimes against humanity. The Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR declared martial law in 1941 in Lithuania. State security and defence functions were transferred to war councils of military districts, fronts and armies. All cases against political prisoners were sent over to military tribunals. The evacuation of prisoners fell within the responsibility of the Prison Board of the NKVD USSR and its local divisions, which were assisted by units of the NKVD convoy forces. At first, prisoner evacuation was conducted in accordance with oral instructions of local NKVD-NKGB leadership. Political prisoners were to be either deported, or, in case deportation was impossible, shot without any court judgement. Special court procedure for deported political prisoners was set, that usually ended with a sentence to non-appeal able capital punishment "for counter-revolutionary crimes and crimes posing extreme threat to the USSR regime." Judgements were passed without any account of the procedural rules under the Soviet legislation (people were not allowed to get acquainted with charges against them, no interpreters were provided to those who did not speak Russian during the proceedings, the state of health of the arrested was ignored).

So only ca 40 prisoners out of the total of ca 75 or 100 Kaunas prisoners driven from Minsk prison managed to survive. Dozens of other well-known Lithuanian public figures and ordinary farmers, workers and civil servants were killed without a court judgement. Under similar circumstances, 15 prisoners (including signatory of the Independence Act K. Bizauskas) were executed in the region of Polock, Belarus, and by Bigosov station on 26 June 1941. Leaders of the NKVD county division, the 8th Army and the Executive Committee of Telšiai County, arranged the murder of 76 political prisoners. The NKGB agents and 8th Army soldiers carried out the execution. In Pravieniškės camp was killed all prisoners, without a single exception, and even their superintendents together with their families (the latter being Lithuanians). This murder did not fit into "Category 1 Evacuation of Prisoners", and no secret documents of the NKGB-NKVD mentioned the execution of ca 260 persons. In other parts of Lithuania, small groups of prisoners were killed together with civilian population. Their execution was initiated and carried out by the NKVD and NKGB staff or Red Army soldiers, as well as Soviet and party activists. In every county of Lithuania, dozens of people were killed just upon suspicion that they supported partisans or upon information filed against them by communists (claiming that these persons were disloyal or hostile towards the Soviet authorities), or they fell victim to the militaries' abuse of power. Before the invasion of the German army, ca 40 group murders including ca 700 people were registered.

As the war began, the units of the 29th territorial riflemen corps were considered politically unreliable. The murder of Lithuanian soldiers was triggered both by the start of the rebellion, and by the refusal to execute orders of the Red Army officers. At the beginning of the war, more than 5,500 Lithuanian soldiers used arms to escape from Soviet guards and stayed in Lithuania. 120 Lithuanian soldiers perished or turned up missing while escaping. 1,931 soldiers were later entered into the lists of the missing, though at the beginning of the war they fled the territory of Lithuania either voluntarily or were forced to leave. Ca 20 per cent of them were arrested and taken to camps. Others were killed while serving in the Red Army units, and only a small share of them returned to Lithuania in 1945. Alongside the outset of the war, extermination of people holding different views, primarily, members of former Lithuanian national organizations, was launched. It was not guided by any Soviet legislation, but rather by oral instructions and secret unlawful directives of the NKGB-NKVD leadership. Officials and soldiers of NKVD-NKGB killed alltogether ca 400 prisoners and 700 civilians on 22-28 June 1941. The news about the murder of civilians and militaries was spread among the public of Lithuania almost immediately. Exhumations as well as mass burial and re-burial of victims revealed the brutality of the Communist-Bolshevik terror. Under the German occupation, these facts were used for the promotion of National Socialism in the population by inciting ethnic intolerance and putting the responsibility for the murder of the representatives of the Jewish community.


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