True Lithuania

Did Lithuania support the Nazi Germany during WW2?

No. Lithuania never did fight World War 2 on the Axis side. Adolf Hitler has offered Lithuania to do that in 1939 and invade Poland together, which Lithuania has refused, despite the deep-rooted Lithuanian-Polish conflict over Vilnius.

Even before that, Nazism was regarded in Lithuania to be a dangerous foreign ideology. While there had been nearly no ethnically Lithuanian Nazis, Nazism was becoming increasingly popular among Lithuania's German minority in the 1930s, leading to a Lithuanian-government crackdown on the Nazi organizations in 1935. This was the first anti-Nazi trial in Europe after Hitler's rise. For that, Lithuania paid a heavy price: in addition to a German economic boycott, Hitler even had Lithuanian sportsmen banned from Berlin Olympics in 1936.

During World War 2, Lithuania has declared its neutrality. However, this neutrality was not honored by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, who proceeded to partition Central/Eastern Europe according to their own Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. In 1939, Nazi Germany annexed Klaipėda Region; in 1940, the Soviet Union annexed the rest of Lithuania. Many Lithuanians hoped a German-Soviet war could allow Lithuania to restore independence but these hopes were all in vain: in 1941, Nazi Germany simply occupied entire Lithuania. As Lithuanian key figures were not content with Nazi German occupation, Nazi Germany sent many of them into concentration camps.

Throughout 1941-1944, Lithuanians regarded Nazi Germany to be an enemy power that has occupied their country, and the despise for the Nazi German regime grew as the occupation went on and its true nature became apparent. Therefore, unlike even in Latvia and Estonia, Germans were unable to erect a local SS legion in Lithuania due to Lithuanian officers and soldiers fleeing en masse after they have learned the German plans for them. Lithuania also became the 2nd country in the world and 1st in Central/Eastern Europe by the number of righteous-among-nations people per capita (i.e. Yad-Vashem-recognized non-Jews who saved Jews from the Holocaust).

In 1944, as the Soviet-German front reached Lithuania once again, tens of thousands of Lithuanians once again attempted to win freedom by establishing their own guerilla armies to secure free Lithuania. Once again, this ended in failure as the Soviet Union defeated first the Germans (1945) and then (by the 1950s) the Lithuanian guerillas.

Weapons and symbolics confiscated from a German Nazi cell in Klaipėda after the 1935 Lithuanian crackdown on the local German Nazis

How did the myth that Lithuania supported Nazi Germany came into being?

The major source for this misconception is Soviet propaganda. In order to excuse their domination of the Eastern/Central Europe and the occupation of Lithuania, they sought to portray everyone who fought against them as Nazis ("fascists"), including all the Lithuanian pro-freedom activists. In the Soviet historiography, "fascist" was a catch-all term used for many non-communists, including pre-Soviet Lithuanian leaders, Lithuanian guerillas, Lithuanian emigre. Interestingly, even the entire post-war West Germany was called fascist, and the Berlin wall was officially known as "Anti-fascist wall" in the communist areas.

Furthermore, Soviets sought to present Eastern Front to have been the same as the Western Front where the "rightful side" (Allies) has defeated the "wrongful side" (Axis). The Eastern Front reality was extremely different, however.
*In Western Front, Axis was represented by a genocidal totalitarian regime (Nazi Germany) while the Allies were represented by democratic nations (Britain, France, the Netherlands, etc.) who fought for their own independence.
*In the Eastern Front, on the other hand, both the Axis and the Allies were represented by genocidal totalitarian regimes (Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, respectively), and these regimes both (in full cooperation until 1941) were invading and partitioning the independent countries in-between, among them Lithuania, Poland, Finland, and others. These nations were essentially a third force in the conflict and they tried as best as they could to stand against the overwhelming foreign forces. Obviously, any attempt to fight both powers at one time would have ended in quick defeat, therefore, some of them tried to save their own independence (and thus their own people from genocides) by making various low-scale agreements with one totalitarian regime or the other. Many of them "switched sides" during the war once their leaders came to believe that this would help lower casualties and increase the likelihood of post-war independence.

Lithuanians murdered by the Soviets in Rainiai massacre, one of the brutal mass murders in World War 2 Lithuania. Out of the at least 73 bodies, only 27 could be identified due to mutilations. Prior to death, the victims were tortured: their genitals severed and put into their mouths, eyes picked out, bones crushed, skin burned by hot water and acid, they suffered electrocution. The victims were recently arrested by the Soviets for such 'crimes' as participating in the Boy Scout movement or owning a Lithuanian flag.

The claims about "fascist" Lithuanians also often point to the real Lithuanian collaborators with the Nazi German regime and make a logical fallacy claiming that the fact that such collaborators existed somehow implies that Lithuania or the Lithuanian nation supported them. However, all these stories are entirely taken out of context and they invariably fail to mention that:
*In every Nazi-occupied land and, in fact, in every occupied land during any war there were some collaborators with the enemy forces.
*In the same fashion as there were Lithuanians who collaborated with Nazi Germany, there were also Lithuanians who collaborated with the Soviet Union (and that also happened in every Soviet-occupied land).
*Neither collaborators with Nazi Germany nor collaborators with the Soviets had any official or popular support from any Lithuanian institutions or organizations, which were nearly all banned by both occupational regimes.

By the same "logic" that says that "Lithuania supported Nazi Germany because there were Lithuanians who collaborated with the Nazi Germany" it would be equally possible to "prove" that any occupied nation has supported any occupying regime (and, in fact, such arguments are indeed regularly used in any pro-occupation propaganda anywhere in the world). It would even be equally possible to "prove" that countries like Sweden, USA, Australia, Germany supported the Islamic State - simply because their citizens were fighting for the Islamic State.

By the way, in order to artificially increase the number of Lithuanians who collaborated with the Nazis, the anti-Lithuanian propagandists and those who inadvertently cite them sometimes lump various Lithuanian freedom fighters with Nazi collaborators. One of the most popular targets for such smearing is the 1941 June mutineers. As the Soviet-German war began, the June mutineers deposed the Soviet Union occupational regime hoping that Nazi Germany could then be persuaded to recognize Lithuanian independence. Their plot failed - Nazi Germany has occupied Lithuania (just as the Soviet Union did before) and many June mutineers ended up in German concentration camps. The key argument in favor of June mutineers being Nazis is based on the fallacy of undistributed middle: "The June mutineers fought the Soviet Union. The Nazis fought the Soviet Union. This means the June mutineers must have been Nazis".

However, here we remind that in the Eastern Front, World War 2 was fought between three sides, not two. June mutineers, just like the Republic of Lithuania before them and Lithuanian guerillas after World War 2, represented that third side (independent Lithuania). Clearly, they had very different goals from the Nazi German goals. In fact, their goals of free Lithuania seemed dangerous enough to Nazi Germany to get them locked up.

A 'righteous-amog-nations' certificate issued by Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem proves that Kazys Grinius, an interwar president of Lithuania, himself participated in saving Lithuania's Jews from the Holocaust. In comparison, no key political figures of interwar Lithuania murdered people in the Holocaust.

Another myth born in anti-Lithuanian propaganda is the claim that, supposedly, more Jews percentage-wise were killed in Holocaust in Lithuania than anywhere else and that, supposedly, this proves Lithuanians "collaborated more eagerly" with Nazi Germany than the other nations. Both claims are simply false. The Holocaust death rates were equally high in every country directly ruled by Nazi Germany during World War 2 that had large pre-WW2 Jewish populations (i.e. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany itself, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, etc.). There are varying estimates for exact death rates in each country and the "ranking" of the countries. That is because the margin of error is big, making differences statistically insignificant. That's why the same propaganda claim that "nation X were the most avid Nazi collaborators" that is used against Lithuania is also used against many other countries of Eastern Europe. Usually, the countries that are at odds with Russia at the time are targetted (e.g. Ukraine ~2015). That's because these claims often originate in Russian media and are then republished in the West.

In reality, the only Axis-ruled countries where the majority of their large pre-WW2 Jewish communities did not perish in the Holocaust were the allies of Germany that retained at least some sovereignty (e.g. Italy, Bulgaria). That is because no other nation shared the Nazi German levels of antisemitism, and so if governments allied-to-Germany had any independence left, they typically refused to carry out the Holocaust or scaled it down as much as was possible. Lithuania, however, was directly occupied and had no autonomy left.

Why is the "Lithuania supported Nazi Germany" myth insulting to Lithuanians?

Firstly, these claims are wrong and they show the claimants' ignorance about the history of Central and Eastern Europe. Secondly, they purport that Lithuanians had no real desire for independence but instead wanted to fight for Nazi Germans who were actually their enemies throughout the period (at best, many Lithuanians may have considered them "2nd enemy after the Soviets", see the "Did the Soviet Union liberate Lithuania" myth). Thirdly and most importantly, such claims misattribute the World War 2 crimes in Lithuania on Lithuanians themselves, who (together with the neighboring nations) were actually among the biggest victims of the World War 2 era.

The facts speak for themselves: 32% of the area's ethnic Lithuanians were murdered, expelled or forced to flee (almost a million people). The entire region of Lithuania Minor was ethnically cleansed with some 130 000 Lithuanians killed there alone (and this was just a minority of all the murdered Lithuanians). Most of those who were killed or persecuted supported independent Lithuania, free from the totalitarian invaders; many fought for it actively, many others performed clandestine actions such as disseminating anti-occupational press or hiding Jews from the Holocaust.

Yet there are foreign commentators who forget all this, focusing instead on comparatively few collaborators (who were considered traitors or criminals by most of their peers) and claiming these collaborators somehow represented all Lithuania(ns). To add more hurt, they mix up these collaborators with genuine freedom fighters. Who wouldn't feel insulted?

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  1. So then why were so many Jews killed by Lithuanians – and I do not mean Germans – such that per capita Lithuania beat all other nations in the world, including Germany?

    • This statement is another regular piece of anti-Lithuanian propaganda that is baseless.

      Actually, there is no Holocaust statistics *by killer ethnicity/nationality* at all, nor such statistics would be possible to calculate.

      On the other hand, there is an authoritative source on “Righteous among nations” which is Yad Vashem where each individual is named, and it is this source that shows Lithuanians as having had the most righteous-among-nations per capita in Eastern Europe and 2nd number in the world.

      By the way, the often-cited claim that more Jews percentage-wise were killed in the Baltic States than anywhere else is a baseless claim as well. In reality, the percentages of Jewish victims of the Holocaust were rather uniform across most of the directly-Nazi-German-ruled lands, i.e. the Baltic States, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany itself, Czechoslovakia.

      The countries where the percentages of killed Jews were significantly smaller were mostly the ones that were independent Axis powers (Italy, Vichy France, Bulgaria), and thus not under direct Nazi German rule. The “Final solution” (i.e. mass murder of Europe’s Jews) was a German invention and Nazi German regime was the sole reason it was put through. Hundreds/thousands of collaborators in every occupied territory did indeed help Nazi Germany enforce the “Final solution” but whenever the countries had any decision power left they avoided enforcing it to some extent.

      Sadly, Lithuania was directly occupied by Nazi Germany and had no autonomy, just like numerous other European countries where the Holocaust was the worst.

      Ironically, this may mean that had Lithuania actually accepted the Hitler’s suggestion to join Axis in 1939 (by attacking Poland) and thus stayed independent, most of Lithuania’s Jews would have been saved. Of course, we will never know for sure but the Holocaust was far more limited in independent or semi-independent Axis countries compared to the directly-Nazi-German-occupied lands.

  2. Thank you for your facts and analysis, Augustinas.

  3. Lithuania betrayed us all! I’m a Holocaust survivor and I know this as a fact. I’ve been alive for 81 years and I remember everything and one can prove me otherwise!

    • If you are 81 now, you were 2 to 6 years old during the Holocaust and so likely received the belief about a betrayal by Lithuania from others. What particular stories made you believe it?

  4. This is the best explanation I have seen. I know I often tend to take the easiest path to understanding and that path is by generalizing, which leads straight to error by definition. Not enough has been written about this very painful time in history. And I’m sure controversy erupts at any attempt to set the facts out, which unfortunately encourages silence. You have my gratitude for so succinctly describing the nature of conflict, in Lithuania as well as elsewhere. Thank you again. Very helpful.

  5. I was looking something like this to explain what actually happened in WW2 Lithuania. Although I still Am curious about one thing. Were Lithuanians collaborate with SS willingly or was there force involved. For what reason did they accept to do it? I know that during XX and previous century antisemitism was common.

    • You probably meant to ask „why did some Lithuanians collaborate with the Nazi German occupational regime?“ (not with the SS, as there were very few Lithuanians in the SS as Lithuanians successfully thwarted plans to create a Lithuanian SS division).

      For general collaboration, the reasons varied among different collaborators but could be grouped into four groups.

      The reasons 1-2 were also reasons why some Lithuanians collaborated with the Soviet Union occupational regime, while the reasons 3-4 are more unique to the particular situation of Nazi German occupation.

      1.Fear. If one resisted or tried to impede Nazi German occupation (and the Nazi Germany found it out), he/she would be arrested, deported to a concentration camp, or killed outright. In order to avoid becoming targets of Nazi Germany, Lithuanians had to conform to Nazi German occupational law: not to hide victims of Nazi Germany, answer questions if asked, etc. However, for ordinary people, this did not mean that they would be required to „either kill or be killed“: in order to save oneself, it usually was enough to simply „be passive“. Those who failed to respect the Nazi German law, however, or helped the “enemies of Nazi Germany”, were dealt with harshly (e.g. entire villages could have been burned with people inside them for actions of just a few villagers).

      There were exceptions though when „being passive“ was not enough. Some people (usually those already in trouble) were demanded active participation in order to save themselves. For example, some Lithuanian Jews were able to prolong their lives only by helping Nazi Germany to cover the traces of their other crimes or preparing conditions for their new crimes (digging holes for victims, etc.) – should they have refused, they would likely have been killed immediately.

      Also, Lithuanians could be conscripted into military or forced labour by Nazi Germany and refusing or trying to run away would have also put one‘s life in danger.

      2.Personal benefit. On the opposite side of the spectrum were opportunists. Collaboration would allow one to get otherwise unattainable positions and privilleges. If Germany would have won the war (as seemed likely in 1941-1942), such people would have had great careers. In fact, that is just what happened for those who collaborated with the Soviet occupation in 1940-1941 and after 1944 – they became the most important people in Soviet Lithuania later after the Soviet Union won the war.

      In fact, some Lithuanians even managed to successfully collaborate both Nazi Germany in 1941-1944 and then the Soviet Union since ~1944 when it became clear Soviets would win the war. Such people would typically end up avoiding trials, as a collaboration with the Soviets meant they would not be punished for crimes done while collaborating with Nazi Germany (only after Lithuanian independence in 1990 their trials could take place if they were still alive by then and the evidence had survived, which allowed many to avoid punishment).

      3.Ethnicity / ideology. A significant number of collaborators who served in German forces were ethnic Germans, especially from Klaipėda Region. In fact, ethnic Germans were the only group that promoted Nazi ideas in Lithuania even before its occupation. They saw Germany as more advanced culturally and essentially their own country, even if they were citizens of Lithuania before 1939. So, to them, it was not collaboration, they saw it as finally being able to serve their homeland Germany after years of „being forced to live“ under Lithuanian rule. Nazism as an idea gained popularity among Lithuania’s German minority (at the time some 4% of Lithuania’s population) already in the 1930s and all the truly ideological Nazis were generally ethnic Germans.

      4.Revenge. The first Soviet occupation of 1940-1941 was of brutality not witnessed for centuries in Lithuania, launching the Soviet Genocide of Lithuanians. Merely a few weeks before the Nazi German occupation, the Soviets have expelled 2% of the entire Lithuanian population in cattle carriages to Siberia – most of them never returned and died there; the Soviets have also tortured and murdered 13400 Lithuanian political prisoners a few days before Nazi occupation. So, in June 1941, perhaps the majority of Lithuanians had just lost their relatives or friends. This „atmosphere of a recent horrible crime“ presented a major propaganda opportunity for Nazi Germany. Initially, after occupying Lithuania, Nazi Germany mostly targeted those responsible for the Soviet Genocide and presented themselves as “civilized liberators” who were essentially trying and executing Soviet criminals and collaborators, „helping Lithuanians back on their feet“. Obviously, such actions garnered support from grieving people. Gradually, however, the tone of Nazi propaganda changed and turned against Lithuania’s Jews.

      Basically, there was just a single (though important) fact that permitted Nazi Germany to plausibly turn their propaganda this way. That fact was that very many Jewish citizens of Lithuania collaborated with the Soviet Union occupation of Lithuania and the Soviet Genocide in 1940-1941 (by various modern estimates from 30% to 80% of the 1940-1941 collaborators with the Soviet regime in 1940-1941 were Jews, despite Jews representing just 7% of the total Lithuanian citizen population). Nazi Germany used this fact to promote persecuting all Jews, essentially saying “Jew=Soviet collaborator” (this was not true: while Jews were statistically significantly more likely to have collaborated with the Soviets than most other ethnic communities of Lithuania, still, only a minority of Lithuania’s Jews did collaborate with the Soviets; in fact, Jewish children couldn’t have collaborated even in theory but they were still targetted by Nazi Germany). Most Lithuanians did not buy this propaganda, already disillusioned that Nazi Germans as just another totalitarian occupational regime. But some of those who collaborated certainly did buy this propaganda, especially if they themselves or their families had been wronged by Jews who collaborated with the Soviet regime in 1940-1941. Just like with conspiracy theories today, often, people do not think logically but rather think emotionally, believe that their own situation must be universal – so, if a person had seen real Jewish Soviet collaborators in 1940-1941 (and seen far more of them than he saw ethnically Lithuanian Soviet collaborators), and then in ~1942 Nazi Germany would constantly tell him/her that every Jew was like that, accentuating the images of the crimes done by Jewish Soviet collaborators, he/she was far more likely to believe the propaganda.

      As for anti-Semitism, its dynamics were very different in Lithuania than in Germany or some other countries. In Germany, anti-Semitism was deeply rooted and growing in the early 20th century, helping Nazism to rise there. In contrast, in Lithuania, there was little anti-Semitism ~1920s-1930s – certainly not to the levels of Nazism or even to the levels of many other European countries. In general, the 1918 independence of Lithuania also meant the end of state-sponsored or elite-sponsored anti-Semitism that mostly stemmed from Russia, which ruled Lithuania until 1915 (so, anti-Semitism was actually on a major decline in Lithuania compared to times ~1900 as it was regarded to be a part of the Russian occupational legacy). Unlike in Germany and some other countries, any persecution of Jews was unimaginable in Lithuania of 1918-1939 and, besides some ethnic Germans in the Klaipėda region (who were seen as traitors), there were no Nazis in Lithuania. However, anti-Semitism did indeed grew quickly after many Jews collaborated with the Soviets in 1940-1941 and after Germans have turned their propaganda machine to amplify this and say that Soviet Union is actually not Russian but rather Russian/Jewish, and Jews are thus responsible for what happened to Lithuanians in 1940-1941. Even if only a small minority of Lithuanians believed it, a small minority armed by an occupational power is dangerous – e.g. if there are just 100 people that believed the propaganda enough to actually kill, given weapons by the Nazis and “free hand” and prisoners at their „disposal“, each of those 100 could easily kill 100 victims on average, massacring e.g. 10000 in total. Still, of course, as explained above, revenge was not the only factor.

      So, there were four very different reasons for collaboration: the first group sought to save themselves, the second were the ones who truly “sold their soul” to the enemy, the third one actually simply did not consider themselves Lithuanians despite having citizenship, while the fourth one was blinded by propaganda and/or psychologically maimed by the Soviet Genocide experience.

      Furthermore, there was also one type of attitude that was not truly a collaboration with Nazi Germany but is sometimes presented as such by Russian historiography and press and articles based on it elsewhere. That is, some people, especially politicians, sought opportunities to restore independent Lithuania by using the Nazi-Soviet war. Initially, they worked to root out the Soviets and declared independence, expecting independence recognition by Germany in return; when that failed and Nazi Germany did simply occupy Lithuania, these people turned against Nazi Germany, and typically ended up in Nazi German concentration camps themselves. Russians like to present them as collaborators with Nazi Germany because they fought against the Soviets at the same time as Germany did at one point (to Soviet/Russian historiography, any group that fought Soviet Union / Russia in WW2 were fascists). However, they did not participate in the Nazi Germany’s murders and by the time this became the official policy of the occupational regime they were typically themselves in the concentration camps. These are thoroughly explained in the article above.

      Read more about the ethnic relations in Lithuania throughout history here: Lithuania ethnic heritage itineraries

  6. I wiill make it short. The Lithunian Pepole activly killed Jews. Lithuanian citizen killed my entire family from bith sides in Kaunas. I understand why thwy try to rewrite the histoy. Nut we weill never forget and never forgive.

    • The fact that there were Lithuanian citizens who collaborated with the Nazi German and the Soviet Union occupations, including in the genocides, is not denied anywhere and well explained above. Indeed, instances of collaboration have happened during every occupation anywhere in the world.

      The claims that are challenged as myths instead are:
      *The claim that in Lithuania such “collaboration with the enemy” was somehow more prevalent than in most other similarly occupied lands during World War 2, or, indeed, in occupied lands in general.
      *The claim that such collaborators were authorized / condoned by the Lithuanian government, the Lithuanian elite, or the majority of Lithuanians (rather than considered a treason / crime as it was in reality).

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