Lithuania and USSR | True Lithuania
True Lithuania

Soviet Occupation of Lithuania (1944-1990)

From the Soviet occupation in 1944 to the death of Stalin in 1953 Eastern Europe was a Stalin’s playfield with human rights practically non-existent. The Lithuanian nation was not expelled in its entirety, unlike Chechens or Crimean Tatars for example, but as many as half a million Lithuanians were, either dying or losing health in the cold GULAGs of Siberia. Others were executed or died in prisons. Additionally, many of Lithuania’s Poles (200 000) were expelled to Poland by Stalin (in trains marked with slogans “We are returning home” despite the fact that the Polish-speaking minority existed in Lithuania for centuries). Lithuanians of Klaipėda region were expelled to Germany together with the Germans of Lithuania (170 000 people). At the same time, Lithuanian cities like Vilnius and Klaipėda were heavily settled by ethnic Russians with Lithuania’s Russian population share increasing more than threefold in a decade (from 2,5% to 8,5%). All these persecutions triggered the longest major guerilla war in modern Europe. This Lithuanian armed resistance was crushed by large Soviet forces by mid-1950s with some 30 000 partisans killed. Under Stalin, Lithuania lost 32% of its pre-WW2 population. More precise numbers of victims are in the article on World War 2.

Lithuanian freedom fighter officer awards a female citizen. In 1944-1953 Lithuanian forests sheltered an entire guerilla state with its own government, army, and courts of law. Some vainly hoped for Western help, for the others tough life in forest helped avoid an even quicker death in Soviet genocide. In order to intimidate the remaining population Soviets used to publically display guerilla corpses in town squares.

Furthermore, most of Lithuania Minor was annexed to Russia as Kaliningrad Oblast. After a brutal genocide (300 000 locals murdered, among them 130 000 Lithuanians) the region's population was replaced by Soviet settlers and new Russian placenames were coined for its towns and features. This effectively ended the history of Lithuania Minor.

Nikita Khrushchev’s destalinization (1953-1964) changed some policies (those people exiled to Siberia who were not yet dead gained limited freedom and the settling of Lithuania by ethnic Russians slowed down) but most things left unchanged. The agriculture remained collectivized and its outputs greatly diminished (especially when taking into regard the improved technologies), the property remained nationalized, the ownership of Lithuanian symbols and any criticism of communism or the Soviet occupation were still punished by long terms of imprisonment (in jails or insane asylums) and the Lithuanians living in other parts of Soviet Union as well as those living in the multi-ethnic Vilnius region were Russified.

An example of all-encroaching Soviet propaganda, this is an early Soviet era postcard of Vilnius Gedimino Avenue. The number of cars is artificially increased to make the Union look more affluent (in reality car remained a luxury until the USSR dissolution in 1990). All photographers had to follow guidelines (for instance, not to take pictures of wooden homes) and no foreigner was meant to see the real life of the Soviet citizens.

Soviet Lithuania was isolated from the non-Soviet world with travel restrictions both for foreigners to enter anywhere except for several designated tourist places, and for the locals to travel abroad. Religion and the religious were persecuted and many Roman Catholic churches, as well as all the monasteries, were closed down with the number of open Catholic churches in Vilnius becoming the same as that of Russian Orthodox churches despite there being ten Catholics for every single Orthodox.

The Soviet economy was plagued by the popular belief that “Everything belongs to everybody, and therefore everything belongs to nobody” and stumbled well behind the Western European one. People were widely stealing from their workplaces and this was regarded as a normal practice by the society, therefore condoned by the peers and even many CEOs. Few people (if any) were rich in terms of money but the community was far from egalitarian because it was who you knew that mattered the most: the people who had important friends also had access to many things that were inaccessible to most others, e.g. better cars, larger apartments, modern TV sets or warm-climate fruits (these things were inaccessible to many partly because they used to be taken by those who had important “relationships”).

A new concrete slab borough under construction in Vilnius in 1980. Such buildings provided a home for former peasants, settlers from Russia and those evicted from old houses alike. Urbanization level increased from 30% to 70% in 1939-1989. In 1989 some 60% of the city dwellers lived in these 1960s-1980s boroughs.

Still, however, the Lithuanian economy remained one of the most robust ones inside the Soviet Union – in Central Asia, Siberia or the Caucasus the situation was even worse. The economic hardships, as well as the inability to maintain a large army and secret service network (that was necessary to subdue any resistance in the Soviet Union and elsewhere in the Eastern Europe), led to Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of Perestroika and Glastnost (1985), or the move towards capitalism and democracy.

In Lithuania, this led to the establishment of Sąjūdis (The Movement) led by musician Vytautas Landsbergis. It took an increasingly pro-independence stance and its protests were attended by hundreds of thousands. The pro-independence underground always existed in Lithuania in the form of Lithuanian Freedom League or the Roman Catholic secret newspaper describing the brutality of the Soviet regime. But only by the year 1988, the majority of Lithuanians dared to tell their thoughts publically.

Baltic way - the 600 km long human chain of some 2 million people that connected Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn (total population of the Baltic States was 7,5 million). It demonstrated the unity of the Baltic States and the determination to achieve freedom. The idea of this protest form was later copied by political movements as far away as in Israel and Taiwan, but neither the size nor the length of the human chain was ever surpassed.

See also:
Top 10 Soviet occupation era sites in Lithuania
Ethnic relations in Soviet-occupied Lithuania (1945-1990)

Click to learn more about Lithuania: History No Comments
Comments (0) Trackbacks (6)
  1. Hello Augustinas, Your site is our favorite. Our surname was changed in the early 1900 hundreds when my grandfather immigrated to the USA. My great uncle was Kazimieras Mikalocius a farmer in the Laukuva area. He had five children and on all of their birth records there are notes that the Soviet KGB had checked on their records, between 1948-1950. What would be the reason for the investigation at that time? I also had a first cousin once removed, Peter Stoncelis and his wife who had problems immigrating to the US in 1956. They had a sponsor my great uncle Motiejus Kuzas here in the USA. What would have been the reason in Lithuania at that time for difficulty immigrating to the USA?

  2. Augustinas, just another bit of information, Kazimieras Mikalocius’ children were in their early twenties to thirty years old at the time of the investigation and Kazimieras had past away a week after the youngest child was born.

    • Thank you. 1948-1950 was in the times of the early Soviet occupation (i.e. the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin). In these times the persecution of various minorities (ethnic, political, religious) was at its highest point. KGB controlled/watched many areas of life. There were many reasons one could be held suspicious by the Soviet regime: owning “too much” land before the occupation, owning a Lithuanian flag, having once participated in capitalist/religious/patriotic organizations (e.g. Boy Scouts), etc. All of these have led in many cases not only to investigations, but even capital punishments or extra-judicial killings under the Stalin’s regime. Collective punishment was widely practiced so while one’s record may have been “pure”, actions by one’s relatives were held a sufficient reason for punishment, let alone investigation (e.g. if someone’s relative would have previously emigrated to a capitalist state this could raise suspicion). Being ethnic Lithuanian alone was a reason for increased suspicion.

      As such, it is hardly possible to say now what were the exact reasons for checks as there could have been many. Something related to their (or their relatives’ an friends’) status before the Soviet occupation and their (or their relatives’ and friends’) participation in non-communist organizations and events may have been a reason. I assume actions of related people may have been a reason, as all the brothers were investigated and as I understand none were imprisoned/expelled/murdered (which would have been likely the case if their own actions were a reason for investigations). Perhaps Kazimieras Mikaločius used to own „too much“ (in the Soviet opinion) land as a farmer?

      These are however merely guesses as while I am knowledgable of the general situation in the era, I have a limited knowledge of exact KGB work methods. Perhaps someone specializing particularly in the KGB work will add more information eventually if he/she would read these messages and if I would learn more on the issue at some time I would add more info.

      In your post you don’t mention whether Peter Stoncelis had troubles with US authorities, Soviet authorities or some other authorities (e.g. West German if he moved there as a refugee after WW2 and then attempted remigrate to USA, as many Lithuanians did in 1940s-1950s). In the Soviet Union (and thus occupied Baltic States) emigration was nearly banned (allowed only in some very limited circumstances).

      More info on the World War 2 in Lithuania and the later Soviet occupation of Lithuania are available on the website and may be useful to you.

  3. As a result of a historic date search, I happened onto TRUE LITHUANIA.
    One just never knows what a simple search may find. Thank you for being.

    My only physical exposure to Lithuania is;
    Racine Bakery
    6216 South Archer Avenue

    And what a fine exposure it is too.

  4. We visited a stone memorial hidden by tall grass and almost forgotten, in Vaivadiskiai, Lithuania in 1944. On the mass grave of over 200 partisans shot or hanged by the Soviets. My wife’s great uncle had been one of the leaders buried there.

  5. hi , i am new here. thank you for sharing. my father , born in 1939, is from Villainous, ,Lith. My dad has never shared his story, nor acknowledge is birth place. He is Australian,..thats it. I think his family was very affluent, yet fled due to the war. The name of the home was called ” THE FARM”.. it was obviously overtaken then. Does this ring a bell? id be so gracious for any information. I know Guentantis was his birth name

    • Hi Paige…I was born in Lithuania in 1944…left there at 2 weeks of age when my parents fled from the Russian occupation…Although I am a naturalised Aussie,I speak fluent Lithuanian…There was a Litho priest Father Martusa in Sydney some years ago..he was closely involved with the community for quite some time…seems to me that you are interested in following up your heratage etc…there are 2 books recently published by Ruta Sepetys…an American of Litho heratage very informative and interesting reading…they are “Salt to Sea”…and “Between Shades of Gray” her name and scroll through,she has a few video presentations expaining
      THE FARM…you mention , could be TEVISKE…more or less meaning my farm/ home.

  6. also, my great uncle was a bishop, i think… Jonus mathusious?

    • “Villainous” is probably Vilnius. “The farm” could mean just any farm. The story seems very likely, as anybody who had large farms was nearly sure to perish in the Soviet Genocide, so it is logical that they fled.

      As for exact names, we can offer archive search services, if needed.

    • Jonas Matusas perhaps (1899-1962)? A priest though, not a bishop. You may Google-search him and use Google translate, as most of the resources are Lithuanian and almost nothing is in English.

  7. I was wondering if during the Soviet occupation if official documents (such as birth certificates) were issued in Lithuanian, Russian or both?

    • The major “public” documents such as birth certificates were bilingual Lithuanian-Russian, at least in the later Soviet occupation.

      Many other documents, e.g., the internal documents of various institutions, have been Russian-only.

  8. My husband had his DNA tested. His roots are Lithuanian although his parents were from Estonia. His parents did fight in the German Army. His father changed his surname to Estonian and before it was Zeno. Is Zeno Lithuanian?

    • Zeno is not a Lithuanian surname. Likely it would have been something longer, e.g. Zenavičius. Lithuanian male surnames end in “as”, “ys”, “is”, “us”, “a” or “ė” (this is the list from the most frequent to the least frequent endings) – no Lithuanian surname ends in “o”. See this article on the language and names: .

  9. I was born in Kedainei 5/31/42. Mom was widowed when I was 2 and she fled. We lived in a Red Cross DP Camp (displaced persons) in Rosenheim. I so regret never asking for the details of where/how I was born and when exactly she fled. Her name was Genovaite Petrauskas maiden name Kaklauskas. I wish now I knew how the sponsorship came about since a wealthy woman, Johanna Swiss sponsored us to U.S.A, Massachusetts Came via Ellis Island around 1947 on the General Bell which I couldn’t find any info on. Would love more information if possible.

  10. So i’m doing research from my project. so can someone tell me how Lithuanians speak english. if they have an accent? any special phrases they say? and stuff like that.

    thank you.

  11. Augustinas Žemaitis are you from Lithuania. I’m not being mean I just wanted to know.

    • Yes, I am from Lithuania, born here and spent my life here. So did my parents and grandparents, so the 20th-century history of Lithuania was also directly experienced by me and my family.

  12. Thank you that is very cool

  13. So have you moved from Lithuania or are you still there. Or have you ever been to the Americas or the UK or anywhere else? Once again I’m not trying to be mean sorry if it sounds like I am being mean.

    • I live in Lithuania. I am an avid traveler, however, and I have visited 106 countries in total, among them, UK, USA. These days, I am living in Lithuania for 6 months and abroad for the other 6 months every year. “True Lithuania” website was essentially born because I saw that there are no English websites that would tell foreigners about Lithuania the things they care about when coming to Lithuania or researching Lithuania (i.e. the same things I try to learn about the foreign countries myself before visiting them).

  14. your website is very useful because I am writing a report about the Soviet occupation of Lithuania.

  15. what was the first occupation that the soviet union got in Lithuania

  16. Yes, What was the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940-1941?

  17. I am doing my family tree and know my grandfather is from Lithuania. His surname being Niurnaitis. I know he was from a village called Pilviskiai… if the information I received is correct, he lived on a farm with his parents and 2 siblings. I believe the farm no longer stands now after being demolished in WWII. I’m not sure if you could shed some light on any information about the village or even the surname? Thank you.

  18. There are listings with my grandfather’s last name (Petuska) from the area he was from in the recently published listing of Soviet exiles/arrests. These occurred from 1945-1951 and most around 1948 this was in the Lazdijai area. How can I learn more about why they were punished (any books in English?) and is there any way to find those who returned who may be alive. There was one listing for my grandmother’s name and town Galinskas from Simnas.

    • We are talking about genocide. There is no real “why”. The Soviet Union, at least in the Stalinist times, was not a country of law. Certain traits of the person made him a target: being ethnic Lithuanian (or belonging to numerous other targetted groups), being religious, being intellectual, having worked for Lithuanian government before the occupation or being politically active, etc. would all give “red flags” for persecution. There was no, however, the official number of red flags needed, often it depended on particular officials, their hatreds, and prejudices. Sometimes, a victim was offered a choice between collaborating (i.e. giving out one’s relatives and friends for persecutions) and facing persecutions himself.

      There were official cases that may sometimes be seen in the archives, however, much of them were fabricated (e.g. a person was accused of something by his friend who, if he would not have given that false evidence, would himself have been arrested, tortured, and murdered). They tell just a part of the story and one has to know the context well to make any sense of them.

      As for those who are currently alive, due to EU privacy laws, such searches are difficult. However, they are indirectly possible through the internet, Facebook (especially for rare surnames), visiting the villages, asking around.

  19. Did not answer my question of why did Stalin invade Lithuania.

    • The invasion itself was in the World War 2 era.

      The reasons were imperial: the Soviet Union was an empire and it conquered new lands to expand its borders and influence. There were more similar empires in the World War 2 era, e.g. Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, or Italy.

  20. this is really useful but it’s not as helpful

  21. Hello, I have very little information o offer, other than my late father with surname Vaivada fled Lithuania to Germany as a young man, he lived on a farm with his Aunt in Lithuania…is this a familiar name in Lithuania,?? I would be very grateful for any information available. Kind regards

    • It is not a very common surname. It is, however, a Lithuanian surname and its meaning is “leader of the Vaivadija”. “Vaivadija”, usually translated to English as “Voivodship” (based on the Polish name), used to be the largest administrative unit of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. That said, it does not necessarily mean anyone in the family was a real vaivada.


  23. I’d like to thank you. I’m an 8th grade student writing a bibliography on the topic, “Why did Stalin invade Lithuania?” and this site was wonderful. Thanks to you I think i’ll be getting an amazing grade, thanks once again!

  24. Same this was really helpful.

  25. Hello! I recently found your site while researching for my undergraduate senior thesis. I spent Spring 2023 studying abroad in Lithuania and fell in love with Vilnius (my family is from Krakow and Vilnius). I was hoping you might have some insight with regard to my thesis research question – How did Lithuanian women use contraband fashion items as a tool to resist Soviet occupation? Thank you so much!

    • Hi,

      Several notes here:

      1.There were several types / sources of “irregular” fashion items, contraband being just one source of them. Another source were legal gifts from diaspora Lithuanians (usually some “uncle who escaped to the USA in 1944 just before Soviet occupation”), yet another source was illegal sales or barter of items acquired abroad by those few who were allowed outside. Yet another source of “non-standart items” that may have been Western-style was women creating them themselves. Sewing and knitting were popular and they may be able to see Western fashion in some magazine and try to imitate it. See the article on th Lithuanian Fashion.

      2.The uses of such items were not necessarily for resistance, although to some extent it may have been. However, there were many reasons to hate the official “Soviet fashion”. It was of low-quality, very few and bland designs. Also, the economy was very bad, so items acquired in non-standart ways (e.g. knitting oneself or a gift from a “Lithuanian-American uncle”) were also of major importance as they allowed to save money. Soviet stores also were notorious for scarcity of various items, some items you could only get through corruption, etc. Of course, it is also the truth, for young women especially, that non-standart items helped them “stand out” of the more conforming masses, similarly to various subcultures in the West (although to a much lower level of “stylistic dissent” than is in the case of the Western subcultures, as the styles and fashions of Western subcultures would likely have led to someone being persecuted in the Soviet Union, there was a big control on how much “outside of the standart” could e.g. a student look, there were limitations on make-up, hairstyles, etc.). At the same time, non-standart fashion could have been also a status symbol for somebody within the system, as it could e.g. show that a person is allowed abroad (where she bought the times) and thus is an influential communist.

  26. Can anyone help me find anything with regard to my late Father, he told me he was ‘playing’ in the forest of Vilna when he was captured by Russians and taken to Siberian Labour camp. He told me he was 16 at the time. I was told his dob was 11/11/1923, but when he passed away in 1984 his youngest sister, who we lost contact with and passed away many years ago, wrote saying his dob was in fact 20/061925..I have found it impossible to find out anything about him to validate his stories..He was a very troubled man who was never able to return to his homeland..Where can I go to find out more about him and my Polish roots!? He lived under name of Michael Kozlowski, but to date nothing links up to him when I look..( he mentioned that he had at some time changed his name to protect his family!)..
    He said he was Catholic but was known for his art of baking unleavened bread..
    Thank you for reading..
    Any info please contact me

Leave a comment