A Better Look at Lithuania

Friday, June 26, 2009

The unique collections in the Hoover Archives show time and again that discoveries remain to be made, and secrets uncovered, even in well-documented historical periods such as the interwar period in Lithuania and its later occupation. The Hoover Archives holds comprehensive collections of materials from the Baltic states, including several that offer historians important insights about Lithuania. The documents are housed at Hoover and other Western archives because the political situation after World War II forced Lithuanian archivists and political leaders to send their national records overseas to save them from the Soviets. Thus many secrets of the Lithuanian government ended up abroad.

The Hoover material includes the correspondence of Lithuanian émigrés, diplomats, and other political figures on governmental and personal issues; reports, speeches, and articles; and drawings, posters, and postage stamps. In most cases the documents are anticommunist and anti-Soviet, emphasizing the illegality of the occupation of Lithuania. Those documents have not been thoroughly researched or published, so a closer look seems warranted.

Scholars studying genocide in Lithuania will find the memoirs of Samuel Esterovich, a businessman born in Lithuania who later immigrated to the United States, an important resource, as is the correspondence of Ona Simaite, which includes notes and photos relating to aid given to residents of the Vilnius ghetto during the German occupation. Although the history of the Holocaust in Lithuania has been widely researched, such resources bring new facts to light regarding the genocide of the Jews and the Lithuanians who saved Jews in Vilnius.

For those who study the Lithuanian resistance to Soviet occupation, research material about anti-Bolshevik guerrillas in the Joniskenai district compiled by Petras Gudelis is of great value. Furthermore, the legacy of Algirdas Vokietaitis, representative of the Lithuanian underground in Swe- den during World War II, sheds new light on this period. The Vokietaitis collection includes photocopies of leaflets, declarations, and transcripts of secret radio broadcasts about the resistance of the Lithuanian population to both German and Soviet occupiers.

Many secrets of the Lithuanian government ended up in foreign archives for safekeeping after World War II.

Across the Atlantic, Lithuanian-American organizations were active in the postwar years, seeking to restore Lithuania's independence and help its citizens. In the Hoover Archives we find correspondence, resolutions, and reports saved by the Lithuanian National Council of America that provide useful material for researchers. Those documents also reflect the U.S. acknowledgment of Lithuanian independence in 1918–25, complemented by the Joseph Hertmanowicz collection, consisting of letters, speeches, and resolutions, including draft petitions of Lithuanians to Congress and mem- oranda to President Warren Harding and Secretary of State Charles Hughes.

The majority of Lithuanian holdings in the archives are collections donated by Lithuanian diplomats and other prominent national figures; their papers center on major events such as the German and Soviet occu- pations. Scholars have largely overlooked the activities of these diplomats in exile and their foreign policy insights. Part of the Eduardas Turauskas archives at Hoover provides new data on political events in Lithuania in 1939–40, just before the Soviet Union swallowed up the Baltic nation in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Turauskas was the director of the Political Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the beginning of World War II. Scholars believe that while fleeing to the West after the occupation of Lithuania, he managed to take away the most important, and vigilantly guarded, government documents. After he died, his archives were divided between Hoover and the Lithuanian Emigration Institute in Kaunas. At Hoover the Turauskas collection, which consists of nine boxes of important archival documents, including his correspondence with other Lithuanian diplomats in exile, awaits a comprehensive analysis. Correspondence in the collection, though fragmentary, allows us to trace many wartime events, such as draft telegrams to the government of the Soviet Union, including a handwritten communication to the Soviet government strongly opposing Moscow's occupation ultimatum. The existence of a possible response to the ultimatum has previously been unknown to Lithuanian historians. Other documents in the collections of Lithuanian diplomats P. Klimas, P. Dauzvzrdis, and J. Sliupas show the diplomatic position of the Western countries toward Lithuania and its population under Nazi and Soviet occupations.

At least one genuine historical treasure may reside in the Hoover material. Lithuania's most important document, the Act of February 16, has long been missing. That act, which formed the constitutional basis for Lithuanian independence both in the twentieth century and today, was signed by the Council of Lithuania in 1918 when the land was under German occupation. All legal documents of the interwar period were kept in the Office of the President; at the beginning of World War II, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs selected five boxes of international contracts and sent them to the United States, making it likely that the 1918 Act of Independence of Lithuania was among them. Every effort should be taken to solve this historical mystery.

The Lithuanian archival documents at the Hoover Archives have not been fully researched by either Lithuanian or foreign scholars. Future research promises to fill in important gaps in the study of Lithuania's history.

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