Lithuania in World War II, 1938-1945

A.) Polish Ultimatum

On March 17th 1938 - the world attention was focused on Germany's annexion of Austria - Poland issued an ultimatum at Lithuania, demanding the recognition of Wilna/Vilnius's being part of Poland. Lithuania's government, with no ally to back it up, saw no alternative to reluctantly accepting the ultimatum.
On March 21st Lithuania, facing a German ultimatum, ceded the Memelland (Klaipeda) back to Germany.

B.) Transition, September 1939 - August 1940

On August 23rd 1939 Germany and the USSR signed a Non-Aggression Pact, in a secret memorandum to which both governments decided to partition the girdle of independent republics created after World War I. Lithuania was allocated to the German sphere.

Yet when German troops invaded Poland on September first, Stalin hesitated to follow suit, correctly calculating that France and Britain declared war on Germany, not on the USSR when Soviet troops invaded Poland on September 17th. However, due to this hesitation German troops had proceeded to occupy central Poland - which had been allocated to the USSR. In it's place, the USSR claimed Lithuania as part of it's sphere of influence.
On October 10th 1939, Lithuania permitted 20,000 Soviet troops being stationed on her territory; the USSR agreed to the Vilnius region being annexed into Lithuania; on October 28th 1939, Lithuanian troops had occupied Vilnius (Wilna) which again was to become the country's capital.
The USSR pressed for Lithuania's Communists to be included in the Government (June 10th 1940 accepted). The USSR issued an ultimatum on June 14th which included the demand for the government to step down; president Smetana went into exile. A new Communist-led government proclaimed Lithuania a Soviet Republic and applied for admission into the USSR (accepted August 3rd 1940).
From September 1939 onward, Polish Jews fled from German-occupied into neighbouring Lithuania; c. 6000 to 8000 of them were given visas for Japan, China and the Dutch possessions in the Caribbean (1939-1940).

C.) Part of the USSR, 1940-1941

Under Soviet occupation, deportations began. The country's German minority was repatriated to Germany.

C.) German Occupation, 1941-1944

On June 25th 1941, German troops began the invasion of the Soviet Union, and after a few weeks Lithuania was occupied; it became part of the administrative region called OSTLAND (comprising of the 3 Baltic republics, Belarus and occupied northwestern Russia).
Under the German occupation, a part of the country's German population which had been repatriated in 1941 moved back in. The country's Jewish minority, the largest in the 3 Baltic Republics (an estimated 260,000), was destroyed during the Holocaust.

D.) Again part of the USSR, 1944-

In 1944, Soviet forces expelled the Germans from most of Lithuania, cutting off a German army unit in Kurzeme (Courland). The Soviets deported an estimated 350,000 Lithuanians.
Lithuania's political future was not discussed at the Conferences of Yalta and Potsdam; the western Allies did not bring up the issue of the Soviet annexation of Lithuania, thus factually accepting the status quo. The US, however, did not formally recognize Lithuania's 'voluntary' application for admission into the Soviet Union.

History of Lithuania : Independence, from Encyclopaedia Britannica
History of Lithuania, from Scantours
History of Lithuania, from Ramunas' Personal Pages
Jewish History of Lithuania, from Heritagefilms
Lithuania Honours a Holocaust Rescuer : the Kovno Episode, from The Scribe
DOCUMENTS Holocaust and Resistance in Lithuania, from the Simon Wiesenthal Center
Lithuania under the occupation, Daina Maslaiskaute's grandmother's story, from Stories from the 1940es
Vilnius in old photographs, from Vilnius University Library
Lithuanian wool coupons WW II, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
War chronicle of the Lithuanian Partisans, by Algis Rupainis
German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, w. Secret Memorandum, Aug. 23rd 1939, from The History Place, text of memorandum in German from A selection of events and documents on the history of Finland
REFERENCE David G. Kirby, The Baltic World 1772-1993, London : Longman 1995
Manfred Hellmann, Grundzüge der Geschichte Litauens (Main Features of Lithuania's History), Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1976 (in German)
United States Holocaust Museum, Historical Atlas of the Holocaust, NY : MacMillan 1996 [G]; pp.60-61, 64-69 on the Baltic Countries
Article : Soviet Union - Lithuania, in : Statesman's Year Book 1943 pp.1256-1257 [G]
Article : Lithuania, in : Americana Annual 1939 pp.450-451, 1940 pp.462-463, 1943 pp.441-442, 1944 pp.414-416, 1945 pp.440-441, 1946 pp.460-461 [G]
Article : Lithuania, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1944 pp.406-407, 1945 p.412 [G]
Article : Lithuania, in : New International Year Book 1939 pp.442-444, Events of 1940 pp.415-417, 1941 pp.336-337, 1942 pp.383-384, 1943 pp.341-342 [G]
Article : Baltic States, in : New International Year Book 1944 pp.58-59, 1945 pp.57-58 [G]
Article : Lithuania, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1939 pp.344-346, 1940 pp.346-347, 1941 pp.298-299, 1942 pp.266-267, 1943 p.270 [G]
Article : Baltic States, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1944 pp.44-45 [G]
David Kirby, The Baltic States 1940-1950, pp.22-39 in : Martin McCauley (ed.), Communist Power in Europe 1944-1949, London : MacMillan 1977 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, Last revised on November 25th 2009

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