True Lithuania

World War 2 in Lithuania (1940-1944)

The cruelties of first Soviet occupation, of a scale not seen in Lithuania since the Russian Empire rule, led to a widespread despise of the regime in less than a year. For example in four days between June 14 and June 18 of 1941 alone some 40 000 people from educated families were exiled to Siberia and Soviet labor camps (almost half of them 16-year-old or younger, 556 infants under 1 year, families typically separated), most never to return alive. Others were arrested with many later tortured and massacred in places like Rainiai and Cherven.

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.

When the German Reich declared war on the Soviet Union the Lithuanians staged a June Revolt and managed to liberate most of the country. However, the German armies came in and while Germany did not immediately abolish the provisional government (possibly hoping for similar anti-Soviet revolts elsewhere) they rendered it powerless. By August all forms of self-rule were extinguished; by November all Lithuanian political parties banned.

The new Nazi German occupation brought a relief from the Soviet persecutions but it had its own target: the Jews. Some of them have fled Europe (never to return), most of the rest were killed (often after a brief life in forced ghetto or a deportation to a concentration camp in German-ruled lands elsewhere). The number of Jews living in Lithuania declined by ~88% by the time of 1959 census.

By 1944 the Germans were losing the war and the Soviets occupied Lithuania yet again. Knowing what to expect some 100 000 Lithuanians fled Lithuania beforehand. Two Soviet occupations led to a far greater loss of life than the Nazi German occupation, leading to a popular opinion that World War 2 ended for Lithuania only in 1990. Lithuania lost ~8% of its pre-WW2 inhabitants due to Nazi actions and ~32% due to Soviet actions (until the year 1953), some 40% in total (1,15 million out of 3 million). 1/3 to 1/2 of this number were killed. Well over 90% of victims were civilians.

Statistics of people lost to Lithuania 1940-1959, both per event and per perpetrator. The tables are compiled consulting multiple sources (turmoil and subsequent propaganda made the exact figures impossible to find out, so approximations vary somewhat per source. Moreover the boundaries of Lithuania switched multiple times in the era). The per-event table lists the murdered and the refugees/deportees in separate rows where possible; where impossible they are put together and the approximate share of those killed is provided instead (most/many/some).

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Hi,
    I am looking for information of a person by the name of Regina Salkauski that was born on 28.05.1938 in Memel.
    I am not sure how I can find information about that person or any history about that person.
    Hopefully you can get back to me with some information.
    Thanks In Advance
    Nick Achmon

    • Hi, in general some of the information on people can be collected at public sources (especially internet) and various archives (church archives, state archives); it may be possible that now after you written the name here somebody else after some time would search for it and thus find this site. If you would need further help, I have contacted you by e-mail.

  2. what sources are you using for the population change numbers? I am working on a paper concerning this era and seeking sources for this information.

    • A “staple source” for many of the numbers is the book “Lietuvos gyventojai per du tūkstantmečius” (“People of Lithuania through the two millennia”) by Stasys Vaitiekūnas. It documents the change of Lithuania’s population numbers, ethnic/religious, urban/rural and other composition throughout its history.

      As is said in the article however the exact numbers may never be known, as in some cases entire communities were destroyed, while the ruling powers had different interests in altering the true numbers of particular victims (e.g. the Soviet Union had an interest to lower the numbers of its own genocide victims and inflate those of Nazi Germany). Moreover, the boundaries of Lithuania switched multiple times in the era so various “victims within Lithuania” numbers greatly depend on which borders of Lithuania the researcher uses (this is not always well-specified, especially in “popular history” articles).

      Those are the reasons why the estimations for the same events differ among publications. In such cases averages or most likely numbers have been used in this table (within the territory of modern-day Lithuania, unless specified otherwise), which may differ somewhat from Vaitiekūnas’s numbers.

      While the Vaitiekūnas’s book covers the entire demography (and thus the wars, genocides and other upheavals that influenced it) many other researches focuses on just a single topic out of those mentioned (e.g. the Genocide of Lithuania Minor, the guerilla war, the Holocaust or the mass expulsions to Siberia). Some of these are neutral, others are (intentionally or unintentionally) misled by the aforementioned alterations of victim numbers.

      The numbers of people killed/expelled/fled are not equal to population change numbers, however. That’s because the killed/expelled people were in most cases replaced by Russian/Russophone Soviet settlers (see the “Soviet occupation of Lithuania” article for details). Moreover, the birth rates in some communities were still high. Together this has meant that the total population did not decline to the extent that could have been expected.

      Good primary sources to consult are the Lithuanian census of 1923, pre-WW1 German censae (for Lithuania Minor), Klaipėda region census of 1925, Soviet census of 1959, Polish census of 1937 (for pre-war Vilnius region) – they have all been consulted in preparing this article/table. However they should be read knowing that different communities had different natural growth rates (e.g. ethnic Lithuanians had a large one as they were mostly peasants, whereas the numbers of mostly-urban Jews were actually declining since the 19th century both due to lower birth rates and emigration to Palestine/South Africa).

      The knowledge of growth rates is necessary to extrapolate the likely numbers of particular communities on the eve of World War 2 (as there were no censae taken in 1939). The growth/decline rates may be estimated by comparing the aforementioned censae to the even older ones, such as the 1897 Russian Empire census.

      Additionally, the exact meaning of particular communities became more rigid over time. Back in the era Lithuanian-Polish and Lithuanian-German differences were far more blurred with many people effectively bilingual natively and switching ethnic identities based on circumstances – or considering themselves to be both Poles and Lithuanians, or both Germans and Lithuanians, or e.g. a Polish-speaking Lithuanian (see the article “Poles in Lithuania” for details). Some pre-WW2 censae (1897 Russian, 1937 Polish) asked not for “ethnicity” but rather for “native language” (only a single one). This is generally believed to have influenced censae results in favor of the bigger, more prestigious languages. To make matters more complicated, in some modern researches the “native langauge” data of the old censae are automatically “converted” on 1:1 ratio to “ethnicities” as they are understood today (without explicitly mentioning it). This should be avoided.

      • My grandfather came from Ramygala, with relatives in the surrounding towns and villages, like Krekenavo. My grandfather spoke of his mother being Lithuanian-Polish while my grandfather spoke fluent Lithuanian especially when he said the rosary every morning. He did say the after his mother died due to complications during childbirth, they had to hide their Polish heritage due to persecution. I also know that my Lithuanian family were farmers and supposedly peasants. The Romavoff’s also ruled that land at one time (Russian Ruled). Am I on the right track to find out my Lithuanian life in Russia?

  3. My grandparents and their children fled to Germany when the Soviets first invaded. My grandfather was what is referred to as an ethnic German, but his family lived in Lithuania for a few generations and married Lithuanians. They had considered themselves Lithuanians. When they fled to Germany they ended up having to work in factories. Would they have been treated differently ie paid for work as opposed to being conscripted labour and only given ration cards? I have just read Bloodlands and the book was horrifically informative.

    • There was both paid and forced labor in Germany during World War 2. If he left to Germany on his own will and was an ethnic German I think he was likely paid for work.

      I am not saying that all non-Germans would have worked as forced labor, but ethnicity influenced person’s status and career opportunities at the time (and, indeed, the same can be said about the Soviet Union – just that different ethnicities were preferred / discriminated there).

      • My husband, an Ethnic German, was born and raised in Lithuania. At the age of six, he and his family fled to Germany in 1941. I am looking for informartion about the exodus of these German Lithuanians. They were housed in various camps for the next few years. Thanks for any help you can provide.

        • If I understand correctly, he would have fled Lithuania in early 1941 while the country was still under Soviet occupation? At the time ~52 000 Germans fled to Germany from the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. This was supported by the Hitler’s German government, which in turn deported some ethnic Lithuanians from German-annexed (1939) Klaipėda region (Memelland) to Soviet-occupied Lithuania.

          To my knowledge (source: book “Lietuvos gyventojai” by Stasys Vaitiekūnas) Germans moving to Germany was generally welcomed by Germans in question, while moving Lithuanians to Soviet-occupied Lithuania was heavily opposed by Lithuanians in question – that’s because economic, political and other conditions were much worse in the Soviet Union at the time (and the likelihood of persecution was much bigger in Soviet Union for these people).

  4. Hi I am looking for a person her Name was Anne Ruzgys i think her birth was around 1931-1932 her Mother Julia and Father Juozas and younger brother Richard left on the ship SS Svalbard on 22/3/1949 she did not leave for australia we think she was leaving for America or Canada from stories we have been told we can not find any information on her only her mother and father. Please can you help.

  5. I am researching some link to the former German prison camp in Siauliai.

    A local familiy of my hometown Biberach/Riss in Germany is in the pocession of some paintings painted by prisoners in Stalag 361 Schaulen around 1941/1942. The paintings were presents to the German officer who in turn organised paint, paper, brush, etc. for these prisoners. The family would consider to hand them back to the families of the artists if they could somehow be traced.

    Would you have any detailled knowledge of the history of this camp or could pass on my message to an appropriate person in Siauliai?

    Thank you for your help in this matter.

    Kind regards
    Stefan Rasser

    • Perhaps the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania may help you: http://www.genocid.lt/centras/en/

      However, it should be noted that Stalag was a system operated by Germans for mostly non-Lithuanian POWs, meaning that descendants of prisoners are unlikely to reside in Lithuania.

      • Thanks a lot, I will contact them. But you already helped me with your statement that the prisoners were mostly non-Lithuanians. On the other side, the names on the paintings look very German to me, could these be names of the German speaking minority of Lithuania?

        • To my knowledge, Stalag was a system for World War 2 prisoners of war (i.e. Allied and Soviet soldiers) rather than locals or local minorities. However, I think the Genocide and Resistance center may inform you better about the particular Šiauliai Stalag.

          • You are correct about STALAG, however sometimes it was more mixed in some places, but mostly for a short period only.
            I did send a message to the suggested Genocide Internet address, but no reply so far.

  6. I send another message to Genocide.lt, but no answer. May be they publish in English, but do not communicate in English. Would you mind contacting them for me and ask in your local language what I can do or who I can contact?

    • You may contact by e-mails of particular employees which are shown here: http://genocid.lt/centras/en/297/c/ (or by phone numbers which are also listed there). If the particular person who checks the main e-mail doesn’t communicate in English or is not interested in this issue, then maybe other employees will react differently.

  7. Hi,

    I have noticed a few people searching for records of lost relatives in the comments…
    I am doing the same myself and I’m wondering if you could recommend the best way to go about this? Is there some official government department in Lithuania we are able to contact to find out information like this?

    I have researched the internet over and over and there isn’t much information at all other than an immigration record of my grandfather coming to Australia, but I already knew about that. I’m looking for further information, specifically a birth certificate as well.

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    • For searches on one’s forefathers, there are State Archives. Perhaps you can begin there – if you know something about your forefathers, you may learn more about them from the archives, and then you could perhaps what other descendents they had (for example), and then you may seek to contact such descendents.

      We may offer archive search services, if you are interested.

      Additionally, you may post the details of your forefathers online, expecting other descedents from the same forefathers to come forward (this depends on luck however)

  8. My father was a prisoner of war (ww2) and I was told he came to England via the red cross his name was stasys maironis. I don’t know much about his past as he never talked about it, I know he had a sister called Barbara or (barbaras) he was born in lithuania but I just keep hitting a brick wall any help would be much appreciated

    • Is this all knowledge you have about them, or do you know anything more, such as a village / city in Lithuania he came from or the time they (he and his sister) were born? (you’d probably know your father’s age). Based on the information you have, we may offer services in searching the archives for more information. You may send us the more detailed information by e-mail ( tour.baltic@gmail.com ) and we would send our offer.

      • Thank you that would brilliant. I’m at work at the moment I will send you all the information I have . Thanks again

  9. As someone who just recently became interested in the Baltic Region, including information on the occupations before and during WWII, I am surprised at the seemingly lack of world wide attention to this area. The devastation to the peoples of this geographic area, apparently by both Germans and the Soviets, is almost a non-event by the rest of the world. Am I missing something? Or just too late in my personal interests?

    • Yes. That can be said not only about Baltic history, but also about history of other nations in Eastern Europe that were once beyond Iron Curtain, especially those that were under Soviet Union rule (some of them suffered even higher losses under the Soviet genocides than the Baltic nations, many ethnic groups had 50%+ of their populations killed in 1930s-1950s and their cultures damaged (e.g. stopping the transmission of native language to children), Ukrainians alone lost at least 7-10 million people in Holodomor).

      Such „lack of worldwide attention“ to the issue is largely because during 1940-1990 any independent historical research was suppressed in these countries and replaced by Soviet propaganda. The locals were unable to communicate the true story through Iron Curtain, and the only such accounts were provided by the refugees who managed to escape westwards (however, after 1944 such escaping became nearly impossible, moreover, refugees often had only personal stories to tell, with all the documents deep beyond the Iron Curtain and inaccessible).

      The German WW2 actions were better documented (compared to Soviet actions), as it was advatageous for Soviets to present them as „worse“, that way claiming themselves to be „benevolent liberators“ of the region. However, even the German actions were heavily altered in Soviet historiography in order to fit for Soviet propaganda purposes.

      So, while the real story of World War 2 sufferings in Western Europe was well researched soon after the war ended, only after 1990 did any serious research on Eastern European history begin (and that‘s not only about World War 2 history, but about entire 1940-1990 period, or 1920-1990 in case of nations that were taken by the Soviet Union earlier than the Baltic States).

      But by this time many Western books were written omitting or distorting that history, and the current non-Eastern-European generations generally learned from those books, and these books are still cited or relied on by the new works (meaning that it‘s not so that every post-1990 non-Eastern-European work gets it correctly). So, while peope of Baltic nations know their history well as they greedily read everything that became available after 1990 as the long years of secrecy finally ended (and other things they learned from their own parents and grandparents direct experiences), those outside the region generally know much less.

      Also, unlike modern-day Germany which has recognized its past, modern Russia generally refuses to do so and repeats the old Soviet cliches, which are unfortunately still „bought“ by various people from outside the region who (and whose forefathers) had no direct experience with the events (it is typically not so that somebody would directly read Russian sources, but it is so that these sources are (usually inadvertently) repeated by non-Russian media and historians whose works are read by common people). Also, the Russian reluctance to recognize the past makes it still hard to objectivelly research the 1930s-1950s history of some of the worst-hit ethnicities that are still part of the Russian Federation (the ethnicities of North Caucassus, Volga area, Kalmyks).

  10. This is not just 1941-44.Horrible pictures like this you could continuesly see in Lithuanians viliges&small towns a decade or so after WW2!The biggest resistance in Europe took place in Lithuanian forests against bloody Soviets.~200.000 thousand men and women resisted to regular,good equipt,Soviet army,which more than ten yers sistematicly killed,forced to Siberia(what is equal to death)Lithuanian people.

  11. Omg, so much lies in this article. No wonder Lithuania is so rusophobic nation. And the charts above – out of the blue – no sources to check whatsoever. Next time you want to compile a good article, please provide some trustworthy sources of the data displayed

    • Some of the many sources and comments are provided in the comments above to people who asked that (especially the reply to Derrick).

      That said, it is not like Lithuanians have formed their opinions about Russia or Soviet Union based on statistics they read. In fact, under Soviet occupation all historical research into the issue was banned and statistics were unknown to the general public.

      However, with so many Lithuanian victims, every person had numerous people murdered or persecuted from their families. And it is that experience which has formed opinions.

      Extensive research came only after independence when Soviet censorship was shattered (except for limited research among Lithuanian diaspora).

  12. Of course the Germans, who undoubtedly saved the Lithuanians are painted as murderers and they have the obligatory spiel about “Jews” when it was the Jews behind electrocuting and castrating people while they were alive and forcing their own genitals into their mouths. But of course the civilized Germans are painted as just as evil.

    • The article currently reads “The new Nazi German occupation brought a relief from the Soviet persecutions but it had its own target: the Jews.”

      So it acknowledges that German occupation has ceased the Soviet Genocide for that time (and yes, Germany indeed has punished those Soviet perpetrators who had not fled with the Soviet army).

      However, it is also true that Nazi Germany has started a new genocide: that of Lithuania’s Jews.

      While it is true that a disproportional number of Lithuania’s Jews had collaborated with Soviet communist occupational authorities in 1940-1941 and some have also participated in the massacres of Lithuanians, Nazi German actions could not be anyhow explained simply by “bringing to the justice those responsible”.

      Nazi Germany killed or forced to flee the majority of Lithuania’s Jews (in-line with the Holocaust, a Europe-wide genocide). Even children were murdered. That genocide was based on ethnicity rather than political views. It was not like the Jews who were not communists would have been “generally spared”.

      Nazi German propaganda of the era sought to equate *all* Jews to Soviet collaborators (just like the Soviet propaganda of the era would later equal numerous ethnicities, e.g. Crimean Tatars and Chechens, to Nazi collaborators). However (for example) it is hardly even theoretically possible for young children to have been collaborating.

      The history is sometimes written from a single-ethnicity viewpoint. If it would be written from a Lithuanian-ethnicity-viewpoint, then it could be indeed (as you claim) argued that Germans liberated Lithuania in 1941 as they have murdered far less ethnic Lithuanians than Soviets did.

      Likewise, if the history would be written from a Jewish-ethnicity-viewpoint, then it could seem that Soviets liberated Lithuania in 1944, for Nazi Germany was far more deadly to the Jews.

      However, the point of this article is to stay ethnicity-neutral. So we mention casualties of all ethnic groups of Lithuania and we also mention which occupational power inflicted them.

      And that goes beyond just Catholic Lithuanians and Jews, but also includes Poles, Germans, Lutheran Lithuanians and other affected minorities that are often skipped in historical research, yet they each of them has suffered lots during the 1940-1990 occupations of Lithuania.

  13. I am looking for information on Reb Archik Bakst. Where he was killed and if he was buried then where was he buried?

  14. My father was born in 1929 and lived in Nemencine, although his family was Polish. I know that he eventually reached England by travelling through France and joined the Free Polish Army (by lying about his age). However he died very suddenly and never explained how or why he left Lithuania. Could anyone advise me how I could find a anything about this.

    Thank you

  15. I suspect you are familiar with the name Agatha Sidlauskas (born 1914 in Rural Lithuania, now 102 and living in Canada). I am helping her compile her memoirs. Any additional info on her life from 1914 to 1940 when she fled would be appreciated. Can you point me to source Material in English?

    • At the time only a small minority of Lithuanian population spoke English, so it is hardly possible that there would be contemporary English sources from 1914-1940.

      However, we may offer Lithuanian archive search services, if needed. We may do genealogical research and find more information about her relatives, places, churches, etc. of her childhood. Data in the archives would be non-English, however, our services include translation.

      • Sir,
        I’ve been searching for my father’s family for many years. I just recently found my father’s name on the Marine Flasher’s ship manifest. Kazey Pilelis boarded in Bremen Germany on February 27, 1947; and arrived at Ellis Island NY, March 13, 1947. He was eight y/o when he arrived. He was alone and was delivered to USCC (United States Catholic Charities) in NY.
        His marriage application says: Casimir M. Pilelis, born in Memel, Lithuania, Sept. 28, 1939. His mother’s name: Skolostica Pilelis, maiden name: Ruhescharte. Father’s name: Casimir Pilelis; his birthplace: Vienna, Austria.
        If there is any information you can give me to help me with this search I would be much appreciated. My father had nothing when he arrived in America. Not a photo, nothing. I am desperate to know what happened to my family. My father gave me very little to go on – he refused to talk about it. What little information he did give me has been confirmed. He told me he was very young when he came by ship, and he believes an aunt helped him get to the ship. Moreover, he spoke of a camp – of guards that were kind to him. This is all I have to go on. Yet, there’s a glimmer of hope! To find this manifest has been the first breakthrough I have had in many, many years.

        With warm regards,
        Letitia

    • I have known Dr. Sidlauskas for many years and would like to speak with you. You can reach me at (613) 729-9734.

    • My previous message does not appear to have gone through. So I will try again. I would like to speak with you and would appreciate it if you would call me at: (613) 729-9734

  16. WW2 is not like WWE mind it

  17. When the Soviets returned in 1944 and Germany was ousted from Lithuania, who of the native Lithuanian population would have been invited into Germany? You say 100,000 “knew what to expect” and fled, but you don’t specify where – would Germany have been a viable option for natural citizens, or only reserved for those cooperating with the German occupation forces?

    • A wide variety of people fled westwards. Naturally, there were more of people targetted in the Soviet genocide, e.g. people of Lithuania Minor, the religious Christians, the Lithuanian intellectuals, those Lithuanians who were rich before the war. However, it was not so that the remainder were safe, so it is difficult to say that only some category of people fled. Moreover, there were people who were targetted by the Soviets but did not flee, choosing to wage a guerilla war instead.

      The ordinary ethnic Lithuanians were not invited into Germany, but they were not “thrown out” either. Germany was thus a logical place to retreat when the Soviets were advancing as it was ruled by the same power. Essentially, Germany was already losing the war and did not pay much attention to the issue. After the war, these people who reached the Allied occupation zones of Germany were settled in displaced people camps. There, the idea was to give them “conditions not worse than those of local German population”, which of course lived under bad conditions due to war destruction. Still, the cultural life was reborn there, with many Lithuanian schools, churches, and even a university established (of course, all the events taking place in various temporary buildings amongst the war rubble).

      Some 90% of all Lithuanian displaced persons initially went to Germany, with the remainder going to Denmark, Austria, Norway, Italy, France, Switzerland (typically also through Germany).

      They generally believed that they would return once the war and post-war political re-alignment had ended. However, it turned out that the Baltic States were the only three independent states in the world which remained occupied even by the time the Allied occupation of Germany itself and Japan ended. After it became clear that the Baltic States are not to be reborn anytime soon, many of them would be allowed to emigrate to various countries, depending on who they were. Generally, the “accepting nations” wanted people who could contribute the most to them. For example, the USA accepted those who had relatives in a strong Lithuanian-American community so they would not be a strain on social services. Australia accepted everybody, but required to work for several years for the state (e.g. manual labor somewhere in the outback) without a normal salary (in exchange for a residence permit). Relatively few have actually remained in war-torn Germany or the neighboring European countries.

      In the case of Latvians, the case was often sadder. Many of them have initially gone to Sweden (across the Baltic sea). Unlike the Allied occupational powers in Germany (USA, UK, and France), Sweden has actually recognized the Soviet occupation of Lithuania and would return these displaced persons to the Soviet Union, typically into prisons, exile or murder.

  18. How did those fleeing from the Baltic countries to Germany or Austria manage to get on trains to get there? How did they live once they got there, since both Germany and Austria were struggling under war conditions?

    • They did no necessarily go by train. Some would go by ships, others by horse carts. There are tragic stories how such horse carts (of those escaping too late) would be purposefully driven over by Soviet tanks, killing those fleeing. Some civilian-carrying ships were also torpedoed and sunk by the Soviets.

      Apparently, some trains were still going. My grandmother, who used a train ~1944, said that the explosions would be heard from the train. The journey was difficult. Her baby brother did not survive the journey. While he died because of a disease rather than military action or genocide, the lack of medical, food and other facilities en-route likely contributed to it.

  19. Hello,

    This is my personal impression that Lithuania has less old towns than former communist countries including Central Europe.

    Would you tell me what are the reasons?
    Is it World War 2 destruction or Soviet regime destruction?

    I would like to know that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which country had the most World War 2 destruction( such as battlefield etc.) or the least World war 2 destruction for old towns in Baltic States.

    I also would like to know that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which country had the most Soviet regime destruction or the least Soviet regime destruction for old towns in Baltic states.

    Thank you for your time.

    • There are several reasons.

      The first reason dates to the Russian Imperial rule (1795-1915) rather than the Soviet occupation or World War 2 (1945-1990). Namely, Russian Empire purposefully left Lithuania as an agricultural undeveloped area whereas (for example) Latvia was developed for industry (and thus urbanized). For this reason, the picturesque 19th century “old towns” in Latvia are larger, as Latvian cities were much larger than Lithuanian cities 100-150 years ago.

      See more here about the period in Lithuania: http://www.truelithuania.com/the-rule-of-russian-empire-in-lithuania-1795-1918-254 . History of Riga for a comparison: http://www.onlatvia.com/history-of-riga-206 .

      In fact, Riga, Liepaja and Daugavpils had roughly as many inhabittants in 1915 as they do today. Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda, on the other hand, had merely 1/3rd or 1/4th of the current inhabitants before World War 1. In Lithuania, major urbanization happened in the 20th rather than 19th century, and 20th century districts are not considered Old Towns.

      As for destruction, a lot depended on the success of locals to preclude it. The post-WW2 destruction was the worst in the areas where Soviet genocide generally destroyed the local populations, e.g. Koenigsberg and, to a lesser extent, Klaipėda (in Klaipėda, all the Old Town churches were torn down by the Soviets). However, where the locals remained, they often were able to save significant parts of the Old Town. For example, many more Vilnius buildings were originally condemned by the Soviets than were demolished in reality (the famous Gate of Dawn, St. Catherine’s church, St. Theresa church, City Hall, etc. were all initially condemned).

      The amount of World War 2 destruction was also relevant for post-WW2 destruction. Often the “war destruction” was used as an excuse for the Soviets to destroy buildings on ideological basis, typically targetting houses of worship and any buildings standing in the way of their grandiose “Soviet redevelopment” plans.

      Such cities as Jelgava and Daugavpils (in Latvia) were heavily damaged and therefore have no truly intact Old Towns, while Liepaja and Ventspils have them, for example (albeit Soviets have destroyed some buildings there as well). In Lithuania, Šiauliai was especially devastated in World War 2 and thus received a grandiose plan of being rebuilt mostly in the Stalinist style.

      Generally, the frontline passed the Baltic States twice (1941 and 1944), but the 1944 Soviet invasion was far more destructive one. However, in some parts of Latvia the frontline passed merely once (1941), as the German troops managed to hold these places until Germany surrendered in 1945 (i.e. even after Berlin fell). This includes the cities of Ventspils and Liepaja in Latvia. This also may have helped to save more of those towns.

      The Central European countries that were communist but not ruled by the Soviet Union had more autonomy on this matter than either Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia had. For example, in Poland the Catholic church was not persecuted so much, and the Old Towns were often rebuilt even if completely destroyed by war, including the churches (e.g. Warsaw Old Town, which suffered far more in World War 2 than most Baltic cities, nevertheless it currently looks much more authentic due to a post-World War 2 reconstruction).

  20. Mr. Zemaitis,

    Thank you for your information why there is less old towns in Lithuania than other former communist countries including Central Europe.

    I didn’t know that ” Riga, Liepaja and Daugavpils had roughly as many inhabitants in 1915 as they do today. On the other hand, Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipeda had merely 1/3rd or 1/4th of the current inhabitants before world War 1″. Because “Russian Empire purposefully left Lithuania as an agricultural undeveloped area whereas (for example) Latvia was developed for industry (and thus urbanized”. I rarely had a chance to learn Baltic states’ history at the school.

    For World War 2 destruction, “generally, the front line passed the Baltic states twice (1941 and 1944), but the 1944 Soviet invasion was far more destructive one. However, in some parts of Latvia the front line passed merely once (1941), as the German troops managed to hold places until Germany surrendered in 1945 (i.e. even after Berlin fell)”. That means Lithuania had more world War 2 destruction than Latvia (and Estonia) I think.

    If you don’t mind, would you explain the situation in Estonia?
    I think before 1918, Russian capital was St. Petersburg, so Estonia had an advantage for the development but I don’t know about World war 2 destruction in Estonia because information about Baltic states is still limited.

    Thank you for teaching me the Baltic states’ history.

    • In the terms of urbanization, the situation in Estonia before World War 2 was closer to the situation in Lithuania than Latvia.

      Tallinn had some 120 thousand of people in the years of World War 1 and it has 440 thousand today, for example. For Tartu, it was 50 thousand and 90 thousand.

      In comparison, for Riga it was 550 thousand and 650 thousand. For Liepaja – 94 thousand and 83 thousand, indicating a decline over 100 years. The same decline also happened in Daugavpils: it had a population of 115 thousand on the eve of World War 1 and just 105 thousand today.

      Vilnius had ~200 thousand people at the time of World War 1 and Kaunas had ~80 thousand. They have 550 thousand and 320 thousand today, respectively.

  21. Thank you for additional information about Baltic States’ urbanization in the years of World War 1 and the present-day.

    Well, I was thinking in terms of urbanization, the situation in Estonia before World War 2 was closer to the situation in Latvia than Lithuania.

    I read the articles that wealthy people in St. Petersburg frequently visited Estonian Baltic coasts such as Narva, Narva-joesuu, Toila (location of the Oru palace which was the Esonian president’s summer residence) and Tallinn.
    Also, the Krenholm Manufacturing Company (according to the Wikipedia, the company’s cotton spinning and manufacturing mills were the largest in the world) located in Narva.

    Overall, it seems Latvia was a strategically important location for imperial Russia and Soviet regime. That is why Riga (550 thousand), Daugavpils (115 thousand), and Liepaja (94 thousand) had over 90 thousand population in the years of World War 1.

    Maybe Latvia was the nearest ice free port from St. Petersburg.
    Plus, Latvia experienced less World War 2 destruction than Lithuania or Estonia, therefore, there is more old towns in Latvia.

    I have learned that Narva, Estonia was a beautiful baroque old town before World War 2 but Soviet Air Force destroyed 98% of the town.
    Oh, what a destruction Narva experienced from Soviet invasion.

    I have learned a lot of things about Baltic States’ history from you.
    Thank you very much MR. Zemaitis.

    • It must be said that urbanization happened in all three Baltic States before World War 2. So, all three had industries. For example, Vilnius had 60 000 inhabittants in 1860 and 200 000 in 1909.

      It is just that the urbanization and industrialization of Latvia was on another level. It was comparable to urbanization/industrialization in Western Europe, where prime urbanization/industrialization happened in the 19th century. Lithuania and Estonia lagged behind while under the Russian Empire and while some industries were built there, the countries generally remained agricultural well into the 20th century.

      At the time of World War 1, 20% of Lithuania’s people lived in cities. At the time of World War 2 this number stood at 30%. Today it is 70%.

  22. Mr. Zemaitis,

    Thank you very much for the comparative explanation of urbanization/industrialization in Western Europe/Latvia and Estonia/Lithuania.

    During the under Russian administration, urbanization was behind schedule in Lithuania and in Estonia. Therefore, two of the Baltic States’ countryside remained agricultural society until the 20th century.


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