Local Self-Defence in Lithuania during the Nazi German occupation (1941–1944)

Local Self-Defence in Lithuania during the Nazi German occupation (1941–1944)

Local Self-Defence in Lithuania during the Nazi occupation (1941–1944) consisted of voluntary armed security units under the supervision of the region authorities formed to protect local population from armed Soviet underground.

Organization of self defence forces

Right after the Germans had occupied Lithuania, self-defence functions were executed by armed security units, formed from the rebels of the June 1941 Uprising, former members of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union (earlier liquidated by the Soviets), enterprise workers and public servants. However, Germans, guided by their political interests and plans, with no prospects for Lithuania’s autonomy being included, disarmed the units and otherwise hindered self-defence initiatives in general. Self-defence functions, in fact, were delegated to Lithuanian Police and Auxiliary Police reserve units, formed from loyal to the regime people, and strictly controlled by Germans. German authorities did not allow the organisation of armed defence structures on local basis, whereas the issue of unarmed ones was left to the Lithuanian self-government authorities and the initiative of local people. However, following the order of German administration, the so-called “night guard” groups were formed in Eastern Lithuania and other areas with big concentration of “bandits”. Firearms being denied, the “night guards” (some quite numerous) equipped themselves with sticks. Their duty was to carry surveillance, to detain suspicious persons, and to warn both police and people of possible danger. In fact, as far as the autumn of 1943, those “night guard” groups were the only expression of self-defence organisations that had really existed. In summer 1943, first groups of loyal residents were armed for operations against banditry. Besides, German and Lithuanian self-governing administrations negotiated, though unsuccessfully, the revival of the Riflemen Union. Finally in autumn 1943, consolidated Soviet underground activities provoked German authorities to allow the formation of armed self-defence bodies in Lithuania. [http://www.genocid.lt/Leidyba/10/rimantas.htm lt icon Rimantas Zizas. "Vietinė savisauga (savigyna) Lietuvoje nacių Vokietijos okupacijos metais (1941–1944)" (Local Defence (Self-Defence) in Lithuania during the Nazi German Occupation (1941–1944), Part 1). Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras, 2004. Last accessed on 84 August, 2006.] ]

Clashes with German forces: 1943

In the summer of 1943 a substantial turning point took place in the Eastern front, the Germans lost their strategic initiative and were dislodged far to the West. Lithuania was not anymore a remote and quite country to protect their rear. In summer 1943 due to unsuccessful military and labour mobilization and spreading armed underground activities of the Soviets, the Germans consolidated the mass repressions in Lithuania, however proclaiming the locals responsible for the acts of sabotage. Trying to protect the Lithuanians both from the terror of the Soviet partisans and from the terror retaliation of the Germans, the Lithuanian self-governing administrations volunteered to form armed security units from about 30 thousand men. These units were to act under the supervision of the region authorities. During the negotiations with the Germans in the beginning of September in 1943 the principle agreements on the establishment of these units were made, however the Germans refused to arm them the Lithuanians having to equip the squads themselves. The local defence (self-defence) units as planned were to be established in villages, boroughs and towns. Their task was to protect the „property and residents of the living sites“, and in general they were to the fight against the „banditry of the Bolshevik elements“. Moreover, a separate military unit of 3 thousand was to be formed to defend the major communication roads and objects, and to support the local squads. [http://www.genocid.lt/Leidyba/11/zizas.htm lt icon Rimantas Zizas. "Vietinė savisauga (savigyna) Lietuvoje nacių Vokietijos okupacijos metais (1941–1944)" (Local Defence (Self-Defence) in Lithuania during the Nazi German Occupation (1941–1944), Part 2). Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras, 2004. Last accessed on 04 August, 2006.] ]

The armed local defence structures were being formed under complicated conditions. The very German officers had no a unanimous attitude, some of them considering the establishment of the armed local defence a privilege the Lithuanians had not deserved since their involvement in war was trivial. The national underground activists were tempted with a possible prospect to benefit from the local defence structures by receiving armament from the Germans. On the other hand, these activists were also suspicious about the creation of the armed structures since they could be employed for the Germans’ interests, also to be taken out of Lithuania and the like. Moreover, the members of the armed structures were at risk of repressions by the armed Soviet underground. The creation of the local defence system was largely obstructed, as the question regarding the armament of units had not yet been solved with the Germans.

The local defence units were armed from the reserves of the Lithuanian police. Other important way to equip the units – the very members had to find the sources and finance the purchase of the armament themselves.

Nevertheless, despite inauspicious factors and conditions the self-defence structure was being established all over Lithuania. Its activities left significant traces everywhere where the armed Soviet underground existed. The establishment and activities of the armed local defence units especially in the Southeastern and Eastern Lithuania was a massive phenomenon during the Nazi German occupation.

Clashes with Soviet forces: 1944

The mass occurrence of the armed local defence is evidenced by ostensive and oblique records from the Soviet underground sources, armed clashes with the Soviet partisans, terror and violence perpetrated against the local defence members, villages and homesteads being burnt, as well as massacres of innocent inhabitants and other repressions. The most brutal acts of the kind the Soviet partisans had perpetrated were: on 29 January 1944 the village of Kaniūkai in the Eišiškės county was burnt down (about 35 people were killed) and on 12 April of the same year (during the Easter) the village of Bakaloriskes in Trakai region was also burnt down. Repressive means of the red partisans were not adequate to the harm the local defence groups from these villages had done to the Soviet partisans; those repressions were perpetrated to suppress the local defence as a mass phenomenon. Armed local defence occurred on massive scale presenting the facts about the armament expropriated from the village defence squads by the Soviet partisans when they tried to disarm the local defence, loses of the Soviet partisans during the clashes with the local defence, unsuccessful attempts to push their way from the Rudninkai woods in the Southeast deeper into the country.

Composed from all Lithuanian armed squads which had been formed during the German occupation, the local defence as an armed structure mostly suited the needs of the Lithuanians. Under particular political and historical circumstances it struggled with the Soviet partisans who have been acting in Lithuania mostly under the leadership of the Soviet Union, which had aggressive political intentions and had no respect to the Lithuanian nation. The armed local defence became a mass resistance movement against the armed Soviet underground and so expressed the natural law the members of the local defence had to defend their homeland, tangibles and cultural property of many generations. This was the factor having conditioned the mass occurrence of the local defence. The combat of the Soviet partisans against it, especially in the Southeast Lithuania, became mainly a war against the Lithuanian peasantry.

See also

* Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force
* Forest Brothers

Notes and references

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