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War, Ethnic Conflict and the Refugee Crisis in Lithuania, 1939–1940

  • TOMAS BALKELIS (a1)

Abstract

After the destruction of the Polish state by the invading Nazi and Soviet armies in the autumn of 1939, about 30,000 Polish nationals fled to eastern Lithuania. This article examines the relationship between population displacement and ethnic rivalry in Lithuania at the onset of the Second World War. As ‘war victims’ in need of help and protection, over time these Polish refugees became increasingly ‘ethnicised’, socially differentiated and isolated from Lithuanian society, and vilified as a potential political threat. Furthermore, the official decision to create a legal category of so-called ‘newcomers’ deprived those Poles who had settled in Vilnius between the wars of citizenship and residence rights in Lithuania. This policy inflated the number of ‘refugees’ to more than 100,000. Various other official measures, such as the creation of camps, forced labour schemes, deportations and repatriations, show how the government manipulated the refugee crisis for its own political purposes.

Après la destruction de l'état polonais par les armées nazies et soviétiques envahissantes en automne 1939, environ 30,000 Polonais se sont enfuis en Lituanie orientale. Cet article examine la relation entre déplacement de population et rivalité ethnique en Lituanie au début de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale. En tant que ‘victimes de guerre’ en besoin d'aide et de protection, ces réfugiés polonais sont devenus de plus en plus ‘ethnicisés’, socialement différenciés et isolés de la société lituanienne et diffamés comme un danger politique potentiel. En outre, la décision officielle de créer une catégorie légale de soi-disant ‘nouveaux arrivants’ a privé les Polonais qui s’étaient établis à Vilnius durant l'entre-deux-guerres des droits de citoyenneté et de résidence en Lituanie. Cette politique a gonflé le nombre de ‘réfugiés’ à plus de 100,000. Diverses autres mesures officielles, telles que la création de camps, des plans de travail forcé, des déportations et des rapatriements, montrent comment le gouvernement a manipulé la crise des réfugiés pour ses propres buts politiques.

Nach der Zerstörung des polnischen Staates durch die einmarschierenden nationalsozialistischen und sowjetischen Truppen im Herbst 1939 flohen etwa 30000 polnische Staatsangehörige nach Litauen. Dieser Artikel untersucht die Beziehung zwischen der Entwurzelung der polnischen Bevölkerung und ethnischen Rivalitäten in Litauen zu Beginn des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Als ‘Kriegsopfer’ hilfs- und schutzbedürftig, wurden diese polnischen Flüchtlinge zunehmend ‘enthnisiert’, dadurch aus der litauischen Mehrheitsgesellschaft ausgegrenzt und isoliert sowie als mögliche politische Gefahr denunziert. Zudem bedeutete die neugeschaffene rechtliche Kategorie des ‘Neuankömmlings’ für jene Polen, die sich schon in der Zwischenkriegszeit in der litauischen Haupstadt Wilna niedergelassen hatten, den Verlust der Staatsangehörigkeit und des Aufenthaltsrechts in Litauen. Dadurch stieg in der Statistik die Zahl der sogenannten Flüchtlinge auf 100 000 an. Andere offizielle Maßnahmen (wie die Errichtung von Lagern, die Einführung von Zwangsarbeiterprogrammen, Deportationen und Repatriierungen) zeigen, wie die Regierung die Flüchtlingskrise für ihre eigenen politischen Zwecke manipulierte.

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1 Regina, Žepkaitė, Vilniaus istorijos atkarpa, 1939–1940 (An Episode in the History of Vilnius, 1939–1940) (Vilnius: Mokslas, 1990), 110.

2 According to the Lithuanian census of 1923, Lithuania had a population of 2 million (without the regions of Klaipėda and Vilnius). At the end of 1939, following the loss of Klaipėda and the acquisition of the Vilnius region, Lithuania's population stood at 2.9 million. Lietuvos statistikos metraštis (Statistical Yearbook of Lithuania) (Vilnius: Centrinis statistikos biuras, 1939), XII, 13.

3 Žepkaitė, Atkarpa, 118–19. According to the Central Statistical Bureau of Lithuania the population of the Vilnius region was 482,500 on 31 December 1939. Lietuvos statistikos metraštis, X, 4.

4 For background works in English, see Timothy, Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003); Alfonsas, Eidintas and Vytautas, Žalys, Lithuania in European Politics: The Years of the First Republic, 1918–1940 (London: Macmillan, 1997); John, Hiden and Patrick, Salmon, The Baltic Nations and Europe: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the Twentieth Century (London: Longman, 1991); Anatol, Lieven, The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 5482.

5 The implications for the Jewish population of Vilnius are considered by Sarunas, Liekis, ‘The Transfer of Vilnius District into Lithuania, 1939’, Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, 14 (2001), 212–22.

6 My thoughts on these issues have been influenced by recent work on population politics, such as Amir, Weiner, ed., Landscaping the Human Garden: Twentieth-Century Population Management in a Comparative Framework (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).

7 Žepkaitė, Atkarpa, 111.

8 Jerzy, Kochanowski, ‘Gathering Poles into Poland’, in Philipp, Ther and Ana, Siljak, eds., Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944–1948 (Oxford: Rowman, 2001), 138.

9 An overview of the impact of the war in east-central Europe is provided by Gross, Jan T., ‘Themes for a Social History of War Experience and Collaboration’, in István, Deák, Gross, Jan T. and Tony, Judt, eds., The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 1535.

10 Lietuvos žinios (Lithuanian News), 9 Jan. 1940, 4.

11 Lietuvos centrinis valstybinis archyvas (Central State Archive of Lithuania, hereafter LCVA), Collection 923, Subsection 1, File 1033, 327.

12 Lietuvos žinios, 9 Jan. 1940, 4. All translations of quotations from untranslated sources are by the author.

14 LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 151.

16 Stanislawa, Lewandowska, Życie codzienne Wilna w latach II wojny światowej (Warsaw: Neriton, 1997), 28–9.

17 A Report of the Lithuanian Secret Service (Saugumas), 23 Feb. 1940, LCVA 383, S. 7, F. 2234, 69–75.

18 According to the Polish census of 1931, 66 per cent of the city population consisted of Poles, 28 per cent were Jews, 4 per cent were Russians, 1 per cent were Lithuanians and 1 per cent were Belorussians. However, in the census the Polish authorities replaced the question of nationality with two separate questions, ‘religion worshipped’ and the ‘language spoken at home’. Lithuanians and Jews protested that their actual numbers were misrepresented. Drugi Powszechny Spis Ludności z dnia 9 XII 1931 roku (Warsaw: Główny Urząd Statystyczny, 1931), 34.

19 LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 33.

20 ‘Karo atbėgėliams tvarkyti įstatymas’, Vyriausybės žinios (Government News), 9 Dec. 1939.

21 LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 10, 37.

22 Žepkaitė, Atkarpa, 49. Around 10,000 inhabitants left Vilnius during the Soviet evacuation of the city in late October. LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 191.

23 LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 114.

24 The number of 12,000 included Jewish refugees who did not register with the Lithuanian government. See LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 192.

25 Žepkaitė, Atkarpa, 50. An official report described Zagórski as a member of the Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna) as well as a loyal supporter of the Lithuanian government. See LCVA 393, S. 1, F. 1033, 307.

26 LCVA 393, S. 1, F. 1033, 307; LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 152. See also H. E. Wert, ‘Flight and Survival: American and British Aid to Polish Refugees in the Fall of 1939’, Polish Review, 34, 3 (1989), 227–48; Bradley E. Fels, ‘“Whatever Your Heart Dictates and Your Pocket Permits”: Polish–American Aid to Polish Refugees during World War 2’, Journal of American Ethnic History, 22, 2 (2003), 3–30. Hoover had helped to provide similar support to Poland for economic and social reconstruction after the First World War. See Harold, H. Fisher, America and the New Poland (London: Macmillan, 1928).

27 Gediminas, Vaskėla, Lietuva 1939–1940 metais (Lithuania, 1939–1940) (Vilnius: Lietuvos istorijos institutas, 2002), 63.

28 Longin, Tomaszewski, Wileńszczyzna lat wojnych i okupacji, 1939–1945 (Warsaw: Rytm, 1999), 4.

29 Gintautas Surgailis, ‘Lenkai, antrojo pasaulinio karo atbėgėliai Lietuvoje,1939 m. rugsėjis – 1940 m. birŽelis’ (Polish refugees of the Second World War in Lithuania, September 1939–June 1940), in Garšva, K., ed., Rytų Lietuva: istorija, kultūra, kalba (East Lithuania: History, Culture, Language) (Vilnius: Mokslas, 1992), 107.

30 LCVA 923, S. 1, F. 1065, 318.

31 LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 109.

32 ‘Karo atbėgėliams tvarkyti įstatymas’ (Law of War Refugees), Vyriausybės žinios, 9 Dec. 1939.

33 LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 113–14.

34 ‘E. Turauskas, Pro memoria, 28 January 1940’, LCVA 393, S. 1, F. 1033, 308; Žepkaitė, Atkarpa, 125. Huber's career is traced in Yves Sandoz, ‘Max Huber and the Red Cross’, European Journal of International Law, 18, 1 (2007), 171–97.

35 LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 110, 116.

36 LCVA 317, S.1, F. 2, 113–14. It is not clear whether this minor change of name assuaged the international critics.

37 LCVA 923, S. 1, F. 1033, 287.

38 LCVA 757, S. 9, F. 6, 68; Surgailis, ‘Lenkai’, 110; Vaskėla, Lietuva, 59, 70; Wert, ‘Flight and Survival’.

39 In 1919 large landlords, most of them Polish-speakers, constituted only 1 per cent of the total population in Lithuania but owned 26 per cent of land. Following the land reforms of 1922–6, three-quarters of their estates were transferred to the peasantry, with minimal compensation to the landlords. Vaskėla, Gediminas, ‘The Land Reform of 1919–1940: Lithuania and the Countries of East and Central Europe’, Lithuanian Historical Studies, 1 (1996), 116–32; Eidintas and Žalys, Lithuania in European Politics, 45–9.

40 Lietuvos žinios, 2 Nov. 1939, 1.

41 Ibid., 3 Nov. 1939, 2.

42 Lewandowska, Życie, 39–41.

43 Lietuvos žinios, 13 Dec. 1939, 6.

44 ‘Karo pabėgėlių komisaro įstatymas’, LCVA 317, S. 1. F. 10, 16.

45 LCVA 393, S. 1, F. 1033, 299; LCVA 379, S. 1, F. 293, 390.

46 The data includes all family members. See ‘The Problem of the Newcomers of the Vilnius Region: What Is To Be Done by Lithuania? 5 February 1940’, LCVA 379, S. 1, F. 293, 363–64.

47 Surgailis, ‘Lenkai’,113; LCVA 757, S. 9, F. 5, 36–7; ‘Pro memoria, 20 March 1940’, LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 13.

48 LCVA 379, S. 1, F. 293, 390.

49 Ibid., 373.

50 ‘V. Čečeta. Pro memoria. 13 April, 1940’, LCVA 393, S. 11, F. 1033, 235–6.

51 Ibid., 237. On Vilnius’ autonomists before 1939 see Rimantas Miknys, Lietuvos demokratų partija 1902–1915 metais (Vilnius: Vilniaus universiteto leidykla, 1995).

52 ‘Lenkų ateivių būklė. 12 July 1940’, LCVA 379, S. 1, F. 293, 358.

53 ‘Atbėgėliams šelpti komiteto apyskaita, June 1940’, ibid., 433.

54 Ibid., 360.

55 ‘Dar ir dar dėl nusiskundimų, 15 January1940’, LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 119–23.

56 Lietuvos aidas, 11 Oct. 1939; Lewandowska, Życie, 34.

57 LCVA 923, S. 1, F. 1032, 22. Stanislawa Lewandowska claims that ‘from the very beginning Lithuanians adopted a negative attitude towards refugees’. Lewandowska, Życie, 34.

58 Ramovė (literally ‘imperturbability’) is a pagan place of worship.

59 Žepkaitė, 115, quotes secret data collected by the Lithuanian Secret Police. See LCVA 378, S. 10, F. 225, 428, 462, 479.

60 Mintis (Thought), November 1939, No. 10, 333.

61 ‘Komitet Polski bandymai kištis į lenkų pabėgėlių šelpimo darbą. 13 March 1940’, LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 18–19.

62 ‘Pabėgėlių šelpimo reikalai Vilniuje. 6 December 1939’, LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 152.

63 LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 118.

64 Lewandowska, Życie, 31.

65 Tomaszewski, Wileńszczyzna, 52–3.

66 Armia Krajowa w dokumentach, 1939–1945 (London, 1970), I, 68.

67 Tomaszewski, Wileńszczyzna, 74.

68 Žepkaitė, Atkarpa, 114. Among those arrested were eleven Polish war refugees and more than forty ‘newcomers’.

69 Tomaszewski, Wileńszczyzna, 55.

70 Žepkaitė, Atkarpa, 119; LCVA 383, S. 7, F. 2244, 11–12.

71 ‘Trimako pasikalbėjimas su Linskiu, 7 February 1940’, LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 82.

72 LCVA 383, S. 7, F. 188, 532.

73 ‘Pro memoria: Trimako pasikalbėjimas su Andersonu, 2 March 1940’, LCVA 393, S. 1, F. 1033, 242.

74 Surgailis, ‘Lenkai’, 108, 112.

75 LCVA 393, S. 1, F. 1033, 288.

76 ‘Pabėgėlių dislokacijos klausimu, 20 March 1940’, LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 13.

77 Surgailis, ‘Lenkai’, 113–14.

78 LCVA 757, S. 9, F. 5, 242.

79 ‘Pro memoria: internuotųjų ir pabėgėlių reikalu. 29 March 1940’, LCVA 393, S. 1, F. 1033, 282–83.

80 ‘Pro memoria, 7 February 1940’, LCVA 317, S. 1, F. 2, 83.

81 Surgailis, ‘Lenkai’, 114–15.

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