Lithuania remained independent until implementation of the terms of the nonaggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union of 23 August 1939. Under the terms of this agreement, Lithuania was originally assigned to Germany, but in return for additional territory in Poland, Germany ceded Lithuania to the Soviet Union's sphere of influence on 28 September.
After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, Lithuania declared its neutrality. On 10 October, its leaders signed a mutual assistance treaty with the Soviet Union. The Soviets then returned Wilno to Lithuania from Poland in exchange for permission to station Soviet troops on Lithuanian soil. The Soviet Union also promised not to interfere in Lithuanian internal affairs. On activation of this treaty in June 1940, Soviet troops entered Lithuania, and, pledges to the contrary notwithstanding, the Soviet government carried out subversive activities, arrested several thousand Lithuanians, and subverted the election process, which brought the Communists to power and resulted in the proclamation of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. The new government then voted to join the Soviet Union, as announced by Moscow on 5 August 1940.
The process of the Sovietization of Lithuania then commenced. Lithuanian institutions were done away with, and Soviet laws replaced Lithuanian ones. Soviet authorities abolished religious teaching in the schools, seized private lands, and nationalized industries. At least 40,000 Lithuanians believed to be in opposition to these policies were deported to remote portions of the Soviet Union in early June 1941, just before the German invasion of the USSR in Operation barbarossa.
The German army soon occupied Lithuania and subjected the country to its own control. Industries nationalized by the Soviets now came under Third Reich control. Food and basic goods were rationed. The Germans also attempted to recruit a Lithuanian Schutzstaffel (SS) division, but so few responded that the effort failed. Tens of thousands of Lithuanians were deported to Germany to serve there as slave laborers. The Germans also encouraged the settlement of native Germans in Lithuania, and efforts to secure "racial purity" led to the killing of some 170,000 Lithuanian Jews, chiefly from the ghettos of Wilno and Kaunas.
The reoccupation of Lithuania by the Soviets, beginning in April 1944, brought the flight of tens of thousands of Germans and Lithuanians westward and a new wave of terror. Once the Soviets had control, they reintroduced the Communist leaders from 1940 and Sovietization, including collectivization in land, deportation of remaining Poles, and persecution of the Catholic Church.
The war claimed at least 25 percent of the population of the country through the deportations and loss of virtually all its minorities, including at least 135,000 Jews, as well as the Germans and Poles. Between 1947 and 1950, Soviet authorities ordered the deportation of some 350,000 additional Lithuanians. The country did not regain its independence until 1991.
Laura J. Hilton and Spencer C. Tucker
Gerutis, Albertas. Lithuania: 700 Years. New York: Manyland Books, 1969.; Misiunas, Romauld, and Rein Taagepera. The Baltic States: Years of Dependence. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.; Sabaliunas, Leonas. Lithuania in Crisis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972.