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This article is about Baltic WWII anti-Soviet resistance movement. For the Georgian anti-Russian guerrillas, see Forest Brothers (Georgia).
The Forest Brothers often used cellars, tunnels or more complex underground bunkers such as the one depicted here (found in Lithuania).

The Forest Brothers (also: Brothers of the Forest, Forest Brethren; Forest Brotherhood; Estonian: metsavennad, Latvian: meža brāļi, Lithuanian: miško broliai) were Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian partisans who waged guerrilla warfare against Soviet rule during the Soviet invasion and occupation of the three Baltic states during, and after, World War II. Similar anti-Soviet resistance groups fought against Soviet and communist rule in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and western Ukraine.

The Soviet Army occupied the independent Baltic states in 1940–1941 and, after a period of German occupation, again in 1944–1945. As Stalinist repression intensified over the following years, 50,000 residents of these countries used the heavily-forested countryside as a natural refuge and base for armed anti-Soviet resistance.

Resistance units varied in size and composition, ranging from individually operating guerrillas, armed primarily for self-defence, to large and well-organised groups able to engage significant Soviet forces in battle.

Contents

Background

Origins of the term

The term forest brothers first came into use in the Baltic region during the chaotic Russian Revolution of 1905. Varying sources refer to forest brothers of this era either as peasants revolting[1] or as schoolteachers seeking refuge in the forest.[2]

Caught between two powers

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had gained their independence in 1918 after the collapse of the Russian Empire. The ideals of nationalism and self-determination had taken hold with many people as a result of having established independent states in Estonia and Latvia for the first time after 13th century. At the same time Lithuanians re-established a sovereign state, which had rich former history, being the largest country in Europe during the 14th century, however, occupied by Russian Empire since 1795. Allied declarations such as the Atlantic Charter had offered promise of a post-war world in which the three Baltic nations could re-establish themselves. Having already experienced occupation by the Soviet regime followed by the Nazi regime many people were unwilling to accept another occupation.[3]

Unlike Estonia and Latvia where the Germans conscripted the local population into military formations within Waffen-SS, Lithuania never had its own Waffen-SS division. In 1944 the Nazi authorities had created an ill-equipped but 20,000-strong "Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force" under General Povilas Plechavičius to combat Soviet partisans led by Antanas Sniečkus. The Germans, however, quickly came to see this force as a nationalist threat to their occupation regime. The senior staff were arrested on May 15, 1944, with General Plechavičius being deported to the concentration camp in Salaspils, Latvia. However, approximately half of the remaining forces formed guerrilla units and dissolved into the countryside in preparation for partisan operations against the Soviet Army as the Eastern Front approached.[4][5]

The guerrilla operations in Estonia and Latvia had some basis in Hitler's authorisation of a full withdrawal from Estonia in mid-September 1944 — he allowed any soldiers of his Estonian forces, primarily the 20th Waffen-SS Division (1st Estonian), who wished to stay and defend their homes to do so — and in the fate of Army Group Courland, among the last of Hitler's forces to surrender after it became trapped in the Courland Pocket on the Latvian peninsula in 1945. Many Estonian and Latvian soldiers, and a few Germans, evaded capture and fought as Forest Brothers in the countryside for years after the war. Others, such as Alfons Rebane and Alfrēds Riekstiņš escaped to the United Kingdom and Sweden and participated in Allied intelligence operations in aid of the Forest Brothers.

While the Waffen-SS was found guilty of war crimes and other atrocities and declared a criminal organization after the War, the Nuremberg Trials explicitly excluded conscripts in the following terms:

The Tribunal declares to be criminal within the meaning of the Charter the group composed of those persons who had been officially accepted as members of the SS as enumerated in the preceding paragraph who became or remained members of the organisation with knowledge that it was being used for the commission of acts declared criminal by Article 6 of the Charter or who were personally implicated as members of the organisation in the commission of such crimes, excluding, however, those who were drafted into membership by the State in such a way as to give them no choice in the matter, and who had committed no such crimes.[6]

In 1949–1950 the United States Displaced Persons Commission investigated the Estonian and Latvian divisions and on September 1, 1950 adopted the following policy:

The Baltic Waffen SS Units are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German SS, and therefore the Commission holds them not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States under Section 13 of the Displaced Persons Act, as amended.[7]

The Latvian government has asserted that the Latvian Legion, primarily composed of the 15th and 19th Latvian Waffen-SS divisions, was neither a criminal nor collaborationist organization.[8] Mart Laar (Prime Minister of Estonia, 1992–1994 and 1999–2002), in his 1992 book War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944–1956[3] rejected Soviet propaganda that had painted the Baltic resistance as having been orchestrated by wealthy landowners and Nazi officials and noted that the Forest Brothers counted among their ranks anti-Nazis and former Soviet partisans.

The ranks of the resistance swelled with the Red Army's attempts at conscription in the Baltic states after the war, with fewer than half the registered conscripts reporting in some districts. The widespread harassment of disappearing conscripts' families pushed more people to evade authorities in the forests. Many enlisted men deserted, taking their weapons with them.[3]

Summer War

After Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Finland sided with Germany in the Continuation War. On July 3, Stalin made his public statement over the radio calling for a scorched earth policy in the areas to be abandoned. About 10,000 Forest Brothers, which had organised themselves into countywide Omakaitse (Home Guard) organisations, attacked the forces of the NKVD, destruction battalions and the 8th Army (Major General Ljubovtsev), killing 4,800 and capturing 14,000. The battle of Tartu lasted for two weeks, and destroyed a large part of the city. Under the leadership of Friedrich Kurg, the Forest Brothers, drove out the Soviets from Tartu, behind the Rivers PärnuEmajõgi line. Thus they secured South Estonia under Estonian control by July 10.[9][10] The NKVD murdered 193 people in Tartu Prison on their retreat on July 8.

The German 18th Army crossed the Estonian southern border on July 7–9. The Germans resumed their advance in Estonia by working in cooperation with the Forest Brothers and the Omakaitse. In North Estonia, the destruction battalions had the greatest impact, being the last Baltic territory captured from the Soviets. The joint Estonian-German forces took Narva on August 17 and the Estonian capital Tallinn on August 28. On that day, the red flag shot down earlier on Pikk Hermann was replaced with the flag of Estonia by Fred Ise only to be changed by a German Reichskriegsflagge a few hours later. After the Soviets were driven out from Estonia, German Army Group North disarmed all the Forest Brother and Omakaitse groups.[11]

Southern Estonian partisan units were yet again summoned in August 1941 under the name of Estonian Omakaitse. Members were initially selected from the closest circle of friends. Later, candidate members were asked to sign a declaration that they were not members of a Communist organisation. Estonian Omakaitse relied on the former regulations of Estonian Defence League and Estonian Army, insofar as they were consistent with the laws of German occupation.[12] The tasks of the Omakaitse were as follows:

  1. defence of the coast and borders
  2. fight against parachutists, sabotage, and espionage
  3. guarding militarily important objects
  4. fight against Communism
  5. assistance to Estonian Police and guaranteeing the general safety of the citizens
  6. providing assistance in case of large-scale accidents (fires, floods, diseases, etc.)
  7. providing military training for its members and other loyal citizens
  8. deepening and preserving the patriotic and national feelings of citizens.[12]

On 15 July, the Omakaitse had 10,200 members, on 1 December 1941, 40,599 members. Until the February 1944, the membership was roughly around 40,000.[12]

The partisan war

By the late 1940s and early 1950s the Forest Brothers were provided with supplies, liaison officers and logistical coordination by the British (MI6), American, and Swedish secret intelligence services. This support played a key role in directing the Baltic resistance movement, however it diminished significantly after MI6's Operation Jungle was severely compromised by the activities of British spies (Kim Philby and others) who forwarded information to the Soviets, enabling the KGB to identify, infiltrate and eliminate many Baltic guerrilla units and cut others off from any further contact with Western intelligence operatives.

The conflict between the Soviet armed forces and the Forest Brothers lasted over a decade and cost at least 50,000 lives. Estimates for the number of fighters in each country vary. Misiunas and Taagepera[13] estimate that figures reached 30,000 in Lithuania, between 10,000 and 15,000 in Latvia and 10,000 in Estonia. Investigation of newly-opened Soviet archives by Baltic historians in the 1990s showed evidence that NKVD units dressed as forest brothers committed atrocities in order to discredit them and demoralize the civilian population.

In Estonia

Famous Estonian partisan fighter Ants Kaljurand

In Estonia total 14,000 – 15,000 men participated in fighting during 1944–1953. Estonian Forest Brothers were most active in Võru County and border areas between Pärnu County and Lääne County, and between Tartu County and Viru County. During period November 1944 – November 1947 they made 773 armed attacks and killed about 1000 Soviets and their supporters. August Sabbe, one of the last surviving Forest Brothers in Estonia, was discovered by KGB agents in 1978, he was posing as a fisherman. Instead of surrendering, he jumped into a river and hooked himself to a log, drowning. The KGB contested this story, however.

In Latvia

In Latvia, preparations for partisan operations were begun during the German occupation, but the leaders of these nationalist units were arrested by Nazi authorities.[14] Longer-lived resistance units began to form during the last months of the war; their ranks were composed of a good number of former Latvian Legion soldiers as well as civilians.[15]

In Latvia, the number of active combatants peaked at between 10,000 and 15,000, while the total number of resistance fighters was as high as 40,000.[14] One author gives a figure of up to 12,000 grouped in 700 bands during the 1945–55 decade, but definitive figures are unavailable.[16] Over time, the partisans replaced their German weapons with Russian ones. The Central Command of Latvian resistance organizations maintained an office on Matīsa Street in Riga until 1947.[14] In some 3,000 raids, the partisans inflicted damage on uniformed military personnel, party cadres (particularly in rural areas), buildings, and ammunition depots. Communist authorities reported 1,562 Soviet personnel killed and 560 wounded during the entire resistance period.[16]

The Latvian Forest Brothers were most active in the border regions. Areas where they were most active included Dundaga, Taurkalne, Lubāna, Aloja, and Līvāni. In the eastern regions, they had ties with the Estonian Forest Brothers; in the western regions, with the Lithuanians. As in Estonia and Lithuania, the partisans were killed off and infiltrated by the MVD and NKVD over time, and as in Estonia and Lithuania, Western assistance and intelligence was severely compromised by Soviet counter-intelligence and Latvian double agents such as Augusts Bergmanis and Vidvuds Sveics.[17] Furthermore, the Soviets gradually consolidated their rule in the cities, help from rural civilians was not as forthcoming, and special military and security units were sent to control the partisans.[16] The last groups emerged from the forest and surrendered to the authorities in 1957.[17]

In Lithuania

Wall of former KGB headquarters in Vilnius inscribed with names of those tortured and killed in its basement.

Among the three countries, the resistance was best organised in Lithuania, where guerrilla units were effectively able to control whole regions of the countryside until 1949. Their armaments included Czech Skoda guns, Russian Maxim heavy machine guns, assorted mortars and a wide variety of mainly German and Soviet light machine guns and submachine guns.[4] When not in direct battles with the Soviet Army or special NKVD units, they significantly delayed the consolidation of Soviet rule through ambush, sabotage, assassination of local Communist activists and officials, freeing imprisoned guerillas, and printing underground newspapers.[18] Captured Lithuanian Forest Brothers themselves often faced torture and summary execution while their relatives faced deportation to Siberia (cf. quotation). Reprisals against pro-Soviet farms and villages were harsh. The NKVD units, named People's Defense Platoons (known by the Lithuanians as pl. stribai, from the Russian: izstrebitelidestroyers) used shock tactics to discourage further resistance such as displaying executed partisans' corpses in village courtyards.[4][19]

The report of a commission formed at a KGB prison a few days after the October 15, 1956 arrest of Adolfas Ramanauskas ("Vanagas"), chief commander of the Lietuvos Laisvės Kovotojų Sąjūdis or "Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters", noted the following:

The right eye is covered with haematoma, on the eyelid there are six stab wounds made, judging by their diameter, by a thin wire or nail going deep into the eyeball. Multiple haematomas in the area of the stomach, a cut wound on a finger of the right hand. The genitalia reveal the following: a large tear wound on the right side of the scrotum and a wound on the left side, both testicles and spermatic ducts are missing.[20]

Juozas Lukša was among those who managed to escape to Western states; he wrote his memoirs there and was killed after having returned to occupied Lithuania in 1951.

Pranas Končius (code name Adomas), was the last Lithuanian anti-soviet resistance fighter killed in action by Soviet forces on July 6, 1965 (some sources indicate he shot himself in order to avoid capture on July 13). He was awarded the Cross of Vytis posthumously in 2000.

Benediktas Mikulis, one of the last known partisans to remain in the forest, emerged in 1971. He was arrested in the 1980s and spent several years in prison.

Decline of the resistance movements

By the early 1950s, the Soviet forces had eradicated most of the Forest Brother resistance. Intelligence gathered by the Soviet spies in the West and KGB infiltrators within the resistance movement, in combination with large-scale Soviet operations in 1952 managed to end the campaigns against them.

Many of the remaining Forest Brothers laid down their weapons when offered an amnesty by the Soviet authorities after Stalin's death in 1953, although isolated engagements continued into the 1960s. The last individual guerrillas are known to have remained in hiding and evaded capture into the 1980s, by which time the Baltic states were pressing for independence through peaceful means. (See Sąjūdis, The Baltic Way, Singing Revolution) All three republics regained their independence in 1991.

Aftermath, memorials and remembrances

Lithuanian partisan veterans in 2009 at 65th anniversary of Battle of Tannenberg Line

Many Forest Brothers persisted in the hope that Cold War hostilities between the West, which never formally recognized the Soviet occupation, and the Soviet Union might escalate to an armed conflict in which the Baltic states would be liberated. This never materialised, and according to Mart Laar[3] many of the surviving former Forest Brothers remained bitter that the West did not take on the Soviets militarily. (See also Yalta Conference, Western betrayal). When the brutal suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 did not bring about an intervention by, or a supportive response from, Western Powers... organized resistance in the Baltic States declined further.

As the conflict was relatively undocumented by the Soviet Union (the Baltic fighters were never formally acknowledged as anything but "bandits and illegals"), some consider it and the Soviet-Baltic conflict as a whole to be an unknown or forgotten war.[4][20][21] Discussion of resistance was suppressed under the Soviet regime. Writings on the subject by Baltic emigrants were often labelled as examples of "ethnic sympathy" and disregarded. Laar's research efforts, begun in Estonia in the late 1980s, are considered to have opened the door for further study.[22]

In 1999, the Lithuanian Seimas (parliament) formally enacted a declaration of independence that had been made on February 16, 1949, the 31st anniversary of the February 16, 1918 declaration of independence, by elements of the resistance unified[4] under the "Movement of the Struggle for the Freedom of Lithuania".

... a universal, organised, armed resistance namely, self-defence, by the Lithuanian State, did take place in Lithuania during 1944–1953, against the soviet occupation ... the goal ... was the liberation of Lithuania, relying upon the provisions of the Atlantic Charter and a sovereign right acknowledged by the democratic world, by bearing arms against one of the World War II Aggressors ... The Council of the Movement of the Struggle for Freedom of Lithuania ... constituted the supreme political and military structure ... and was the sole legal authority within the territory of occupied Lithuania.[23]

In Latvia and Lithuania, Forest Brothers veterans receive a small pension. In Lithuania, the third Sunday in May is commemorated as Partisan's Day. As of 2005, there are about 350 surviving Forest Brothers in Lithuania.[24]

In a 2001 lecture in Tallinn, U.S. Senator John McCain acknowledged the Estonian Forest Brothers and their efforts to liberate their country.[25]

Ülo and Aivar Voitka, "The Voitka brothers", two men who evaded authorities in the forests of Estonia from 1986 to 2000 and received a great deal of attention in the Estonian media were often referred to as modern-day Forest Brothers.[26]

Dramatizations

In 1963, the Estonian refugees in Canada made a film Creators of the Legend (Estonian: Legendi loojad) about the fight of Forest Brothers.

The 1966 film Nobody Wanted to Die (Lithuanian: Niekas nenorėjo mirti) by Soviet-Lithuanian film director Vytautas Žalakevičius shows the tragedy of the conflict in which "a brother goes against the brother". Despite being shot from a Soviet perspective, the film gives many hints that allude to the possibility of alternative points of view. The film brought acclaim to Žalakevičius, and to a number of young Lithuanian actors starring in the film.

The story was dramatized in a 1997 film, We Lived for Estonia.

The 2004 film Utterly Alone (Lithuanian: Vienui Vieni) portrays the travails of Lithuanian partisan leader Juozas Lukša who travelled twice to Western Europe in attempts to gain support for the armed resistance.

The 2005 documentary film Stirna tells the story of Izabelė Vilimaitė (codenames Stirna and Sparnuota), an American-born Lithuanian who moved to Lithuania with her family in 1932. A medical student and pharmacist, she was an underground medic and source of medical supplies for the partisans, eventually becoming a district liaison. She infiltrated the local Komsomol (Communist Youth), was discovered, captured, and escaped twice. After going underground full time, she was suspected of having been turned by the KGB as an informant and was nearly executed by the partisans. Her bunker was eventually discovered by the KGB and she was captured a third time, interrogated and killed.[27][28]

The 2007 Estonian film Sons of One Forest (Estonian: Ühe metsa pojad) follows the story of two Forest Brothers in Southern Estonia, who fight together with an Estonian from Waffen-SS division against the Soviet occupants.

The last Forest Brother

The last known forest brother is Jānis Pīnups from Latvia who became a legal citizen again only in 1994. He went to the forest in 1945 as a member of resistance organization called "Don't Serve to the Occupant Army". Jānis Pīnups never had a Soviet passport and his legal status was nonexistent during the era of Soviet occupation. His hideaway was located in forest of Preiļi district, Pelēči parish. In 1994 a new passport of Republic of Latvia was issued to Jānis Pīnups and he had said that he was waiting for a moment when he could see Riga as the capital of a once more independent Latvia.[29]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Woods, Alan. Bolshevism: The Road to Revolution, Wellred Publications, London, 1999. ISBN 1-900007-05-3
  2. ^ Skultans, Vieda. The Testimony of Lives: Narrative and Memory in Post-Soviet Latvia, pp. 83–84, Routledge, 1st edition, December 22, 1997. ISBN 0-415-16289-0
  3. ^ a b c d Laar, Mart. War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944–1956, translated by Tiina Ets, Compass Press, November 1992. ISBN 0-929590-08-2
  4. ^ a b c d e Kaszeta, Daniel J. Lithuanian Resistance to Foreign Occupation 1940–1952, Lituanus, Volume 34, No. 3, Fall 1988. ISSN 0024-5089
  5. ^ Mackevicičius, Mečislovas. Lithuanian Resistance to German Mobilization Attempts 1941–1944, Lituanus Vol. 32, No. 4, Winter 1986. ISSN 0024-5089
  6. ^ "Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 22". The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. 30 September 1946. http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/proc/09-30-46.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  7. ^ Letter from Harry N. Rosenfield, Acting Chairman of United States Displaced Persons Commission, to Mr. Johannes Kaiv, Acting Consul General of Estonia, in re memorandum from the Estonian Committee in the United States zone of Germany on the question of former Estonian Legionnaires seeking admission to the United States under the Displaced Persons Act, as amended. September 13, 1950.
  8. ^ Feldmanis, Inesis and Kangeris, Kārlis. The Volunteer SS Legion in Latvia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, n.d.
  9. ^ Peeter Kaasik, Mika Raudvassar (1999). "Estonia from June to October, 1941: Forest Brothers and Summer War". in Toomas Hiio, Meelis Maripuu, & Indrek Paavle. Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. Tallinn. pp. 495–517. 
  10. ^ Tartu in the 1941 Summer War. By Major Riho Rõngelep and Brigadier General Michael Hesselholt Clemmesen (2003). Baltic Defence Review 9
  11. ^ Lande, p 188
  12. ^ a b c Argo Kuusik (1999). "Estonian Omakaitse in 1941–1944". in Toomas Hiio, Meelis Maripuu, & Indrek Paavle. Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. Tallinn. pp. 797–806. 
  13. ^ Misiunas, Romuald and Taagepera, Rein. The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940–1990, University of California Press, expanded & updated edition, October 1, 1993. p 83. ISBN 0-520-08228-1
  14. ^ a b c Laar, p. 24
  15. ^ Plakans, Andrejs. The Latvians: A Short History, 155. Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, 1995.
  16. ^ a b c Plakans, p. 155
  17. ^ a b Laar, p. 27
  18. ^ Dundovich, E., Gori, F. and Guercett, E. Reflections on the gulag. With a documentary appendix on the Italian victims of repression in the USSR, Feltrinelli Editore IT, 2003. ISBN 88-07-99058-X
  19. ^ Unknown author. excerpt from Lithuania's Struggle For Freedom, unknown year.
  20. ^ a b Kuodytė, Dalia and Tracevskis, Rokas. The Unknown War: Armed Anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithuania in 1944–1953, 2004. ISBN 9986-757-59-2
  21. ^ Tarm, Michael. The Forgotten War, City Paper's The Baltic States Worldwide, 1996.
  22. ^ Huang, Mel. Review of Mart Laar's War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944–1956. Central Europe Review, Vol. 1, No. 12, September 13, 1999. ISSN 1212-8732
  23. ^ Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania. Law on the February 16, 1949 Declaration by the Council of the Movement of the Struggle for Freedom of Lithuania, Law No. VIII-1021, January 12, 1999, Vilnius.
  24. ^ "We Put Off This Day As Much As We Could". Kommersant. 2005-04-19. http://www.kommersant.com/page.asp?id=568804. Retrieved 2006-07-14. 
  25. ^ McCain, John. "From Tragedy to Destiny: Estonia's Place in the New Atlantic Order," The Robert C. Frasure Memorial Lecture, Tallinn, Estonia, August 24, 2001.
  26. ^ Kalmre, Eda. The Saga of the Voitka Brothers in the Estonian Press: The Rise and Fall of a Heroic Legend, Electronic Journal of Folklore, vol. 29, August 2005. ISSN 1406-0949
  27. ^ Krokys, Bronius. "The Winged One". Bridges, April 2006.
  28. ^ (Lithuanian) "Naujas dokumentinis filmas "Stirna"". Septynios Meno Dienos, No. 690. 2006-01-06. http://www.culture.lt/7md/?leid_id=690&kas=straipsnis&st_id=5382. Retrieved 2006-07-05. 
  29. ^ Grīnberga Māra, Pēdējā pasaules kara pēdējais mežabrālis // Diena – 1995, May 18

Further reading

External links



The Forest Brothers (also: Brothers of the Forest, Forest Brethren; Forest Brotherhood; Estonian: metsavennad, Latvian: meža brāļi, Lithuanian: miško broliai) were Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian partisans who waged guerrilla warfare against Soviet rule during the Soviet invasion and occupation of the three Baltic states during, and after, World War II. Similar anti-Soviet resistance groups fought against Soviet and communist rule in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and western Ukraine.

The Soviet Army occupied the independent Baltic states in 1940–1941 and, after a period of German occupation, again in 1944–1945. As Stalinist repression intensified over the following years, 50,000 residents of these countries used the heavily-forested countryside as a natural refuge and base for armed anti-Soviet resistance.

Resistance units varied in size and composition, ranging from individually operating guerrillas, armed primarily for self-defence, to large and well-organised groups able to engage significant Soviet forces in battle.

Contents

Background

Origins of the term

The term forest brothers first came into use in the Baltic region during the chaotic Russian Revolution of 1905. Varying sources refer to forest brothers of this era either as peasants revolting[1] or as schoolteachers seeking refuge in the forest.[2]

Caught between two powers

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had gained their independence in 1918 after the collapse of the Russian Empire. The ideals of nationalism and self-determination had taken hold with many people as a result of having established independent states in Estonia and Latvia for the first time after the 13th century. At the same time Lithuanians re-established a sovereign state, which had rich former history, being the largest country in Europe during the 14th century, however, occupied by Russian Empire since 1795. Allied declarations such as the Atlantic Charter had offered promise of a post-war world in which the three Baltic nations could re-establish themselves. Having already experienced occupation by the Soviet regime followed by the Nazi regime many people were unwilling to accept another occupation.[3]

Unlike Estonia and Latvia where the Germans conscripted the local population into military formations within Waffen-SS, Lithuania never had its own Waffen-SS division. In 1944 the Nazi authorities had created an ill-equipped but 20,000-strong "Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force" under General Povilas Plechavičius to combat Soviet partisans led by Antanas Sniečkus. The Germans, however, quickly came to see this force as a nationalist threat to their occupation regime. The senior staff were arrested on May 15, 1944, with General Plechavičius being deported to the concentration camp in Salaspils, Latvia. However, approximately half of the remaining forces formed guerrilla units and dissolved into the countryside in preparation for partisan operations against the Soviet Army as the Eastern Front approached.[4][5]

The guerrilla operations in Estonia and Latvia had some basis in Hitler's authorisation of a full withdrawal from Estonia in mid-September 1944 — he allowed any soldiers of his Estonian forces, primarily the 20th Waffen-SS Division (1st Estonian), who wished to stay and defend their homes to do so — and in the fate of Army Group Courland, among the last of Hitler's forces to surrender after it became trapped in the Courland Pocket on the Latvian peninsula in 1945. Many Estonian and Latvian soldiers, and a few Germans, evaded capture and fought as Forest Brothers in the countryside for years after the war. Others, such as Alfons Rebane and Alfrēds Riekstiņš escaped to the United Kingdom and Sweden and participated in Allied intelligence operations in aid of the Forest Brothers.

While the Waffen-SS was found guilty of war crimes and other atrocities and declared a criminal organization after the War, the Nuremberg Trials explicitly excluded conscripts in the following terms:

The Tribunal declares to be criminal within the meaning of the Charter the group composed of those persons who had been officially accepted as members of the SS as enumerated in the preceding paragraph who became or remained members of the organisation with knowledge that it was being used for the commission of acts declared criminal by Article 6 of the Charter or who were personally implicated as members of the organisation in the commission of such crimes, excluding, however, those who were drafted into membership by the State in such a way as to give them no choice in the matter, and who had committed no such crimes.[6]

In 1949–1950 the United States Displaced Persons Commission investigated the Estonian and Latvian divisions and on September 1, 1950 adopted the following policy:

The Baltic Waffen SS Units are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German SS, and therefore the Commission holds them not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States under Section 13 of the Displaced Persons Act, as amended.[7]

The Latvian government has asserted that the Latvian Legion, primarily composed of the 15th and 19th Latvian Waffen-SS divisions, was neither a criminal nor collaborationist organization.[8] Mart Laar (Prime Minister of Estonia, 1992–1994 and 1999–2002), in his 1992 book War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944–1956[3] rejected Soviet propaganda that had painted the Baltic resistance as having been orchestrated by wealthy landowners and Nazi officials and noted that the Forest Brothers counted among their ranks anti-Nazis and former Soviet partisans.

The ranks of the resistance swelled with the Red Army's attempts at conscription in the Baltic states after the war, with fewer than half the registered conscripts reporting in some districts. The widespread harassment of disappearing conscripts' families pushed more people to evade authorities in the forests. Many enlisted men deserted, taking their weapons with them.[3]

Summer War

After Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Finland sided with Germany in the Continuation War. On July 3, Stalin made his public statement over the radio calling for a scorched earth policy in the areas to be abandoned. About 10,000 Forest Brothers, which had organised themselves into countywide Omakaitse (Home Guard) organisations, attacked the forces of the NKVD, destruction battalions and the 8th Army (Major General Ljubovtsev), killing 4,800 and capturing 14,000. The battle of Tartu lasted for two weeks, and destroyed a large part of the city. Under the leadership of Friedrich Kurg, the Forest Brothers, drove out the Soviets from Tartu, behind the Rivers Pärnu – Emajõgi line. Thus they secured South Estonia under Estonian control by July 10.[9][10] The NKVD murdered 193 people in Tartu Prison on their retreat on July 8.

The German 18th Army crossed the Estonian southern border on July 7–9. The Germans resumed their advance in Estonia by working in cooperation with the Forest Brothers and the Omakaitse. In North Estonia, the destruction battalions had the greatest impact, being the last Baltic territory captured from the Soviets. The joint Estonian-German forces took Narva on August 17 and the Estonian capital Tallinn on August 28. On that day, the red flag shot down earlier on Pikk Hermann was replaced with the flag of Estonia by Fred Ise only to be changed by a German Reichskriegsflagge a few hours later. After the Soviets were driven out from Estonia, German Army Group North disarmed all the Forest Brother and Omakaitse groups.[11]

Southern Estonian partisan units were yet again summoned in August 1941 under the name of Estonian Omakaitse. Members were initially selected from the closest circle of friends. Later, candidate members were asked to sign a declaration that they were not members of a Communist organisation. Estonian Omakaitse relied on the former regulations of Estonian Defence League and Estonian Army, insofar as they were consistent with the laws of German occupation.[12] The tasks of the Omakaitse were as follows:

  1. defence of the coast and borders
  2. fight against parachutists, sabotage, and espionage
  3. guarding militarily important objects
  4. fight against Communism
  5. assistance to Estonian Police and guaranteeing the general safety of the citizens
  6. providing assistance in case of large-scale accidents (fires, floods, diseases, etc.)
  7. providing military training for its members and other loyal citizens
  8. deepening and preserving the patriotic and national feelings of citizens.[12]

On 15 July, the Omakaitse had 10,200 members, on 1 December 1941, 40,599 members. Until the February 1944, the membership was roughly around 40,000.[12]

The partisan war

By the late 1940s and early 1950s the Forest Brothers were provided with supplies, liaison officers and logistical coordination by the British (MI6), American, and Swedish secret intelligence services. This support played a key role in directing the Baltic resistance movement, however it diminished significantly after MI6's Operation Jungle was severely compromised by the activities of British spies (Kim Philby and others) who forwarded information to the Soviets, enabling the KGB to identify, infiltrate and eliminate many Baltic guerrilla units and cut others off from any further contact with Western intelligence operatives.

The conflict between the Soviet armed forces and the Forest Brothers lasted over a decade and cost at least 50,000 lives. Estimates for the number of fighters in each country vary. Misiunas and Taagepera[13] estimate that figures reached 30,000 in Lithuania, between 10,000 and 15,000 in Latvia and 10,000 in Estonia. Investigation of newly-opened Soviet archives by Baltic historians in the 1990s showed evidence that NKVD units dressed as forest brothers committed atrocities in order to discredit them and demoralize the civilian population.[citation needed]

In Estonia

File:Ants
Famous Estonian partisan fighter Ants Kaljurand

In Estonia a total of 14,000 – 15,000 men participated in fighting during 1944–1953. Estonia's Forest Brothers were most active in Võru County and the border areas between Pärnu and Lääne Counties, with significant activity between Tartu and Viru Counties as well. From November 1944 to November 1947, they made 773 armed attacks and killed about 1000 Soviets and their supporters. August Sabbe, one the last surviving Forest Brothers in Estonia, was discovered in 1978 by KGB agents posing as fellow fishermen. Instead of surrendering, he leaped into the stream and hooked himself to a log, drowning. The KGB insisted that Sabbe drowned while trying to escape, a theory difficult to credit given the shallow water and lack of cover at the site.

In Latvia

In Latvia, preparations for partisan operations were begun during the German occupation, but the leaders of these nationalist units were arrested by Nazi authorities.[14] Longer-lived resistance units began to form at the end of the war; their ranks were composed of former Latvian Legion soldiers as well as civilians.[15]

In Latvia, the number of active combatants peaked at between 10,000 and 15,000, while the total number of resistance fighters was as high as 40,000.[14] One author gives a figure of up to 12,000 grouped in 700 bands during the 1945–55 decade, but definitive figures are unavailable.[16] Over time, the partisans replaced their German weapons with Russian ones. The Central Command of Latvian resistance organizations maintained an office on Matīsa Street in Riga until 1947.[14] In some 3,000 raids, the partisans inflicted damage on uniformed military personnel, party cadres (particularly in rural areas), buildings, and ammunition depots. Communist authorities reported 1,562 Soviet personnel killed and 560 wounded during the entire resistance period.[16]

One account of the typical actions of the Forest Brothers is provided by Talrids Krastiņš. Talrids, a reconnaissance soldier in the 19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (2nd Latvian) was recruited, along with 15 other Latvians, into a Nazi stay-behind unit at the close of the war. Escaping to the forest, the group avoided all contact with local residents and relatives, robbing trucks for money and maintaining an apartment in the center of Riga for reconnaissance and operations. At first they operated by assassinating low-level Communist party managers, but later focused their efforts on attempting to kill the head of the Latvian SSR, Vilis Lācis. The group recruited a Russian woman working at the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR who informed them about Lācis' transportation schedule. They set up a roadside ambush when Lācis was traveling from Riga to Jurmala, but shot up the wrong car. The second attempt likewise relied on a female Russian collaborator, but one who proved to be an undercover NKVD agent. The entire group was apprehended and sentenced to prison in 1948.[17]

The Latvian Forest Brothers were most active in the border regions. Areas where they were most active included Dundaga, Taurkalne, Lubāna, Aloja, and Līvāni. In the eastern regions, they had ties with the Estonian Forest Brothers; in the western regions, with the Lithuanians. As in Estonia and Lithuania, the partisans were killed off and infiltrated by the MVD and NKVD over time, and as in Estonia and Lithuania, Western assistance and intelligence was severely compromised by Soviet counter-intelligence and Latvian double agents such as Augusts Bergmanis and Vidvuds Sveics.[18] Furthermore, the Soviets gradually consolidated their rule in the cities, help from rural civilians was not as forthcoming, and special military and security units were sent to control the partisans.[16] The last groups emerged from the forest and surrendered to the authorities in 1957.[18]

In Lithuania

Among the three countries, the resistance was best organised in Lithuania, where guerrilla units were effectively able to control whole regions of the countryside until 1949. Their armaments included Czech Skoda guns, Russian Maxim heavy machine guns, assorted mortars and a wide variety of mainly German and Soviet light machine guns and submachine guns.[4] When not in direct battles with the Soviet Army or special NKVD units, they significantly delayed the consolidation of Soviet rule through ambush, sabotage, assassination of local Communist activists and officials, freeing imprisoned guerillas, and printing underground newspapers.[19] Captured Lithuanian Forest Brothers themselves often faced torture and summary execution while their relatives faced deportation to Siberia (cf. quotation). Reprisals against pro-Soviet farms and villages were harsh. The NKVD units, named People's Defense Platoons (known by the Lithuanians as pl. stribai, from the Russian: izstrebitelidestroyers) used shock tactics to discourage further resistance such as displaying executed partisans' corpses in village courtyards.[4][20]

The report of a commission formed at a KGB prison a few days after the October 15, 1956 arrest of Adolfas Ramanauskas ("Vanagas"), chief commander of the Lietuvos Laisvės Kovotojų Sąjūdis or "Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters", noted the following:

The right eye is covered with haematoma, on the eyelid there are six stab wounds made, judging by their diameter, by a thin wire or nail going deep into the eyeball. Multiple haematomas in the area of the stomach, a cut wound on a finger of the right hand. The genitalia reveal the following: a large tear wound on the right side of the scrotum and a wound on the left side, both testicles and spermatic ducts are missing.[21]

Juozas Lukša was among those who managed to escape to Western states; he wrote his memoirs there and was killed after having returned to occupied Lithuania in 1951.

Pranas Končius (code name Adomas), was the last Lithuanian anti-soviet resistance fighter killed in action by Soviet forces on July 6, 1965 (some sources indicate he shot himself in order to avoid capture on July 13). He was awarded the Cross of Vytis posthumously in 2000.

Benediktas Mikulis, one of the last known partisans to remain in the forest, emerged in 1971. He was arrested in the 1980s and spent several years in prison.

Decline of the resistance movements

By the early 1950s, the Soviet forces had eradicated most of the Forest Brother resistance. Intelligence gathered by the Soviet spies in the West and KGB infiltrators within the resistance movement, in combination with large-scale Soviet operations in 1952 managed to end the campaigns against them.

Many of the remaining Forest Brothers laid down their weapons when offered an amnesty by the Soviet authorities after Stalin's death in 1953, although isolated engagements continued into the 1960s. The last individual guerrillas are known to have remained in hiding and evaded capture into the 1980s, by which time the Baltic states were pressing for independence through peaceful means. (See Sąjūdis, The Baltic Way, Singing Revolution) All three republics regained their independence in 1991.

Aftermath, memorials and remembrances

File:Sinimäed Memorial 2009 -
Lithuanian partisan veterans in 2009 at 65th anniversary of Battle of Tannenberg Line

Many Forest Brothers persisted in the hope that Cold War hostilities between the West, which never formally recognized the Soviet occupation, and the Soviet Union might escalate to an armed conflict in which the Baltic states would be liberated. This never materialised, and according to Mart Laar[3] many of the surviving former Forest Brothers remained bitter that the West did not take on the Soviets militarily. (See also Yalta Conference, Western betrayal). When the brutal suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 did not bring about an intervention by, or a supportive response from, Western Powers organized resistance in the Baltic States declined further.

As the conflict was relatively undocumented by the Soviet Union (the Baltic fighters were formally charged as common criminals), some consider it and the Soviet-Baltic conflict as a whole to be an unknown or forgotten war.[4][21][22] Discussion of resistance was suppressed under the Soviet regime. Writings on the subject by Baltic emigrants were often labelled as examples of "ethnic sympathy" and disregarded. Laar's research efforts, begun in Estonia in the late 1980s, are considered to have opened the door for further study.[23]

In 1999, the Lithuanian Seimas (parliament) formally enacted a declaration of independence that had been made on February 16, 1949, the 31st anniversary of the February 16, 1918 declaration of independence, by elements of the resistance unified[4] under the "Movement of the Struggle for the Freedom of Lithuania".

... a universal, organised, armed resistance namely, self-defence, by the Lithuanian State, did take place in Lithuania during 1944–1953, against the soviet occupation ... the goal ... was the liberation of Lithuania, relying upon the provisions of the Atlantic Charter and a sovereign right acknowledged by the democratic world, by bearing arms against one of the World War II Aggressors ... The Council of the Movement of the Struggle for Freedom of Lithuania ... constituted the supreme political and military structure ... and was the sole legal authority within the territory of occupied Lithuania.[24]

In Latvia and Lithuania, Forest Brothers veterans receive a small pension. In Lithuania, the third Sunday in May is commemorated as Partisan's Day. As of 2005, there are about 350 surviving Forest Brothers in Lithuania.[25]

In a 2001 lecture in Tallinn, U.S. Senator John McCain acknowledged the Estonian Forest Brothers and their efforts to liberate their country.[26]

Dramatizations

The Canadian film Legendi loojad (Creators of the Legend) about the Estonian Forest Brothers was released in 1963. The film was funded by donations of Estonian immigrants.[27]

The 1966 Soviet drama film Nobody Wanted to Die (Lithuanian: Niekas nenorėjo mirti) by Soviet-Lithuanian film director Vytautas Žalakevičius shows the tragedy of the conflict in which "a brother goes against the brother." The film garnered Žalakevičius the USSR State Prize and international recognition, and is the most well known film portrayal of the conflict.

A 1997 documentary film We Lived for Estonia tells the story of the Estonian Forest Brothers from the viewpoint of one of the participants.

The 2004 film Utterly Alone (Lithuanian: Vienui Vieni) portrays the travails of Lithuanian partisan leader Juozas Lukša who travelled twice to Western Europe in attempts to gain support for the armed resistance.

The 2005 documentary film Stirna tells the story of Izabelė Vilimaitė (codenames Stirna and Sparnuota), an American-born Lithuanian who moved to Lithuania with her family in 1932. A medical student and pharmacist, she was an underground medic and source of medical supplies for the partisans, eventually becoming a district liaison. She infiltrated the local Komsomol (Communist Youth), was discovered, captured, and escaped twice. After going underground full time, she was suspected of having been turned by the KGB as an informant and was nearly executed by the partisans. Her bunker was eventually discovered by the KGB and she was captured a third time, interrogated and killed.[28][29]

The 2007 Estonian film Sons of One Forest (Estonian: Ühe metsa pojad) follows the story of two Forest Brothers in Southern Estonia, who fight together with an Estonian from Waffen-SS division against the Soviet occupants.

The last Forest Brother

The last known forest brother is Jānis Pīnups from Latvia who became a legal citizen again only in 1994. He went to the forest in 1945 as a member of resistance organization called "Don't Serve to the Occupant Army". Jānis Pīnups never had a Soviet passport and his legal status was nonexistent during the era of Soviet occupation. His hideaway was located in forest of Pelēči parish. In 1994 a new passport of Republic of Latvia was issued to Jānis Pīnups and he had said that he was waiting for a moment when he could see Riga as the capital of a once more independent Latvia.[30]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Woods, Alan. Bolshevism: The Road to Revolution, Wellred Publications, London, 1999. ISBN 1-900007-05-3
  2. ^ Skultans, Vieda. The Testimony of Lives: Narrative and Memory in Post-Soviet Latvia, pp. 83–84, Routledge, 1st edition, December 22, 1997. ISBN 0-415-16289-0
  3. ^ a b c d Laar, Mart. War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944–1956, translated by Tiina Ets, Compass Press, November 1992. ISBN 0-929590-08-2
  4. ^ a b c d e Kaszeta, Daniel J. Lithuanian Resistance to Foreign Occupation 1940–1952, Lituanus, Volume 34, No. 3, Fall 1988. ISSN 0024-5089
  5. ^ Mackevicičius, Mečislovas. Lithuanian Resistance to German Mobilization Attempts 1941–1944, Lituanus Vol. 32, No. 4, Winter 1986. ISSN 0024-5089
  6. ^ "Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 22". The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. 30 September 1946. http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/proc/09-30-46.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  7. ^ Letter from Harry N. Rosenfield, Acting Chairman of United States Displaced Persons Commission, to Mr. Johannes Kaiv, Acting Consul General of Estonia, in re memorandum from the Estonian Committee in the United States zone of Germany on the question of former Estonian Legionnaires seeking admission to the United States under the Displaced Persons Act, as amended. September 13, 1950.
  8. ^ Feldmanis, Inesis and Kangeris, Kārlis. The Volunteer SS Legion in Latvia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, n.d.
  9. ^ Peeter Kaasik, Mika Raudvassar (2006). "Estonia from June to October, 1941: Forest Brothers and Summer War". In Toomas Hiio, Meelis Maripuu, & Indrek Paavle. Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. Tallinn. pp. 495–517. 
  10. ^ Tartu in the 1941 Summer War. By Major Riho Rõngelep and Brigadier General Michael Hesselholt Clemmesen (2003). Baltic Defence Review 9
  11. ^ Lande, p 188
  12. ^ a b c Argo Kuusik (2006). "Estonian Omakaitse in 1941–1944". In Toomas Hiio, Meelis Maripuu, & Indrek Paavle. Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. Tallinn. pp. 797–806. 
  13. ^ Misiunas, Romuald and Taagepera, Rein. The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940–1990, University of California Press, expanded & updated edition, October 1, 1993. p 83. ISBN 0-520-08228-1
  14. ^ a b c Laar, p. 24
  15. ^ Plakans, Andrejs. The Latvians: A Short History, 155. Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, 1995.
  16. ^ a b c Plakans, p. 155
  17. ^ Template:Ru-icon Капиталист. ЖИЗНЬ И СУДЬБА «БОЛЬШОГО МЕДВЕДЯ». Сто лет Вилису Лацису Retrieved April 3, 2010
  18. ^ a b Laar, p. 27
  19. ^ Dundovich, E., Gori, F. and Guercett, E. Reflections on the gulag. With a documentary appendix on the Italian victims of repression in the USSR, Feltrinelli Editore IT, 2003. ISBN 88-07-99058-X
  20. ^ Unknown author. excerpt from Lithuania's Struggle For Freedom, unknown year.
  21. ^ a b Kuodytė, Dalia and Tracevskis, Rokas. The Unknown War: Armed Anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithuania in 1944–1953, 2004. ISBN 9986-757-59-2
  22. ^ Tarm, Michael. The Forgotten War, City Paper's The Baltic States Worldwide, 1996.
  23. ^ Huang, Mel. Review of Mart Laar's War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944–1956. Central Europe Review, Vol. 1, No. 12, September 13, 1999. ISSN 1212-8732
  24. ^ Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania. Law on the February 16, 1949 Declaration by the Council of the Movement of the Struggle for Freedom of Lithuania, Law No. VIII-1021, January 12, 1999, Vilnius.
  25. ^ "We Put Off This Day As Much As We Could". Kommersant. 2005-04-19. http://www.kommersant.com/page.asp?id=568804. Retrieved 2006-07-14. 
  26. ^ McCain, John. "From Tragedy to Destiny: Estonia's Place in the New Atlantic Order," The Robert C. Frasure Memorial Lecture, Tallinn, Estonia, August 24, 2001.
  27. ^ Rahvuslane. Ajalooline hinnang Kanada pagulaseestlaste poolt aastail 1960-1963 tehtud filmile „Legendi loojad” ehk millise vaatenurga alt tuleb tänasel päeval seda filmi vaadata Retrieved April 3, 2010
  28. ^ Krokys, Bronius. "The Winged One". Bridges, April 2006.
  29. ^ (Lithuanian) "Naujas dokumentinis filmas "Stirna"". Septynios Meno Dienos, No. 690. 2006-01-06. http://www.culture.lt/7md/?leid_id=690&kas=straipsnis&st_id=5382. Retrieved 2006-07-05. 
  30. ^ Grīnberga Māra, Pēdējā pasaules kara pēdējais mežabrālis // Diena – 1995, May 18

Further reading

External links








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