Most of Lithuania had been a part of the Russian Empire until it declared independence in February 1918. The city of Klaipėda (Memel), occupied by Lithuanian troops in 1923, had to be handed back to the German Reich in March 1939. The secret additional protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 assigned Lithuania to the German sphere of interest, recognising Lithuania’s interest in the Vilnius area, which had been a part of Poland since the end of the First World War. As a result, Vilnius and its surrounding area came under Lithuanian sovereignty in October 1939. Some five weeks later, the German-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Demarcation reassigned Lithuania to the Soviet sphere of influence, and on 15 June 1940 the Red Army entered Lithuania. One month later, the country was proclaimed a Soviet Republic. When German troops invaded the USSR on 22 June 1941, Lithuania passed under a German civilian administration and became a Generalbezirk of the Reichskommissariat Ostland. Lithuania was re-conquered by the Red Army from German rule between July 1944 and January 1945. Lithuania’s independence was restored in 1991.
In 1939, Lithuania had a total population of some 2,900,000 people. On the eve of the German invasion, there were about 220,000 Jews among them, including approximately 80,000 Jews from the Vilnius area and some 15,000 Jewish refugees who had fled from the German-occupied western parts of Poland. Furthermore, among other refugees some 6,000 Jews left the Klaipėda region after March 1939. Immediately after the German invasion began, the Jews were attacked in pogroms. The systematic mass murder of Lithuania’s Jews began in the summer of 1941. By the end of 1941, nearly 180,000 Lithuanian Jews had been murdered. The remaining 40,000 Jews were mostly classified as fit for work and interned in four previously created ghettos – Vilnius (18,000), Kaunas (16,000), Šiauliai (4,700) and Švenčionys (2,000) or in forced labour camps. There were no mass murders in Lithuania in the period from early 1942 to mid-1943, but individual killings did occur. Then, in spring 1943, the Švenčionys and Ašmenos ghettos were liquidated and more than 4,000 inmates from both ghettos were murdered in Panierai. During the autumn of 1943, the Vilnius ghetto was also liquidated. At the same time, the Kaunas and Šiauliai ghettos became concentration camps under the command of the SS. In the process, some 11,000 Jews from the Vilnius ghetto deemed capable to work were deported to concentration camps in Estonia and Latvia, while 3,500 women and children were sent to extermination camps in Poland. When the Germans retreated and liquidated the Kaunas ghetto in the summer of 1944, some 1,000 Jews were killed then and there, while approximately 6-7,000 were sent to Dachau and Stutthof. At the same time, a few thousand more were sent from Šiauliai to Stuttfhof. Overall, about 200,000 Lithuanian Jews perished in the Holocaust.
In Lithuania, the state archival system is headed by the Office of the Chief Archivist and consists of five Vilnius-based archives and the County Archives. The Chief Archivist’s Office basically allows free access to all available fonds, but some restrictions may apply to files containing personal data. For details, see the EHRI extensive report on Lithuania.
EHRI Research (Summary)
Relying on pre-existing research and expert support in Lithuania, EHRI has identified 13 archival institutions in the country which have stored Holocaust-related collections. A list is provided in the extensive report. EHRI identified and described 119 Holocaust-relevant collections in the Lithuanian Central State Archives alone. A somewhat smaller number of fonds was found and described in other Lithuanian archival institutions. The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum has collections with Holocaust-relevant material and Museum's Holocaust Exhibition has relevant copy collections and probably the best knowledge of what Holocaust-relevant material is available in all of Lithuania.
EHRI identified a number of archival institutions outside of Lithuania, which hold or may hold collections relevant for Holocaust research on Lithuania. Vast collections on the Holocaust period in Lithuania can be found at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and at Yad Vashem. Furthermore, the Belarusian State Archive-Museum of Literature and Art (Belarussskij Gosudarstvennyj Archiv-Muzej Literatury i Iskusstva) holds collections on Lithuania which may be relevant to Holocaust research. EHRI has yet to explore their exact nature and importance.
EHRI Research (Extensive)
A. EHRI approach to Lithuania: Pre-existing research and archival guides, expert support
EHRI’s exploration of Holocaust-relevant archival sources in Lithuania could rely on some important pre-existing research in the field, such as Christoph Dieckmann’s “Deutsche Besatzungspolitik in Litauen 1941-1944” (2011), which already made extensive use of archival material available in the country. Furthermore, EHRI enlisted a local specialist, historian Neringa Latvytė-Gustaitienė, who is Head of the History Research Department at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum in Vilnius. She has published a number of works in the field, and presents widely about the topic:
- , with Milda Jakulytė-Vasil and and Aušra Rožankevičiūtė, Lithuanian Jews under the Iron Curtain. Catalogue of the travelling exhibition, Vilnius, 2014 (in Lithuanian and English),
- , with Viktorija Sideraitė Alon and Rachel Bracha, Educating for Life: Ort in Lithuania. Catalogue of the travelling exhibition, Vilnius, 2013 (in Lithuanian and English),
- , Holokaustas Ukmergėje [The Holocaust in Ukmergė], Vilnius 2012,
- , with Milda Jakulytė-Vasil, Holokausto ekspozicijos katalogas [Catalogue of the Holocaust Exhibition. The Chronicles of the Vilnius, Kaunas and Šiaulai Ghettos], Vilnius 2011,
- , Holokaustas Trakų apskrityje [The Holocaust in Trakai District], Vilnius, 2002.
As a result, EHRI identified important collections in 13 different institutions. There is one helpful archival guide on Holocaust-relevant sources in the Lithuanian Central State Archive, which is written in both Lithuanian and English:
-  Žirikova, Galina, Lietuvos centrinio valstybės archyvo fondai: holokausto Lietuvoje tyrimo šaltinis (The Collections of the State Archive of Lithuania: a Source of Research on the Holocaust in Lithuania), Vilnius: Valstybinis Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Muziejus, 2011.
B. Characteristics of Lithuania’s archival system and specific challenges
An important number of Holocaust-related sources and collections were created or are deposited in Lithuania and can still be found in the country’s archives today. The Chief Archivist’s Office basically allows free access to all fonds. Some restrictions may apply to files containing personal data, but even those can be used either by relatives of the persons named in such files, or for academic survey purposes after applying for a special permission to the archive’s director. Restricted source material cannot be published, obviously.
On a practical level, a working knowledge of Lithuanian and/or Russian is helpful for any kind of archival research in Lithuania, even though documents in other languages can also be found with the help of the local archival staff. Beyond that, archives in Lithuania offer a wide range of research tools, from traditional card index catalogues to electronic catalogues. Digitalisation of file and fonds descriptions is in progress in most archives.
As to Holocaust research, finding relevant documents can be difficult due to a certain lack of accuracy in available collection descriptions. EHRI’s expert on Lithuania estimates that only some 15% of all relevant descriptions actually contain the word "Holocaust", while the other 85%, which are potentially equally important, remain obscured. For instance, fonds on the Vilnius, Kaunas and Šiaulai ghettos are rather easy to find, while sources on the provincial regions of Lithuania are harder to come by. On the other hand, the Lithuania Special Archives’ reading room offers an electronic register of participants in the Holocaust, such as Kaunas policemen in 1941/42. The names of participants and bystanders can be found, for instance, in survivor’s testimonies at the Lithuanian Central Archives. In the light of these findings it appears that EHRI has made considerable headway in identifying and describing Holocaust-relevant collections in Lithuania, but the full potential of the country’s archival institutions remains to be determined. A survey of the collections held by small local museums in Lithuania, of private collections and of surviving photographs from the Holocaust period, would be highly desirable.
C. EHRI identification and description results on Lithuania
C.I. In Lithuania
In Lithuania, EHRI has identified thirteen archival institutions which have stored Holocaust-related collections. Most of them are concentrated in the country’s capital, Vilnius. At the Lithuanian Central State Archives alone, EHRI has identified and described over 160 Holocaust-relevant collections, which contain, among others, sources produced by German District and Police Chiefs, various municipalities and prison administrations. At the other five Vilnius-based institutions, over 160 additional Holocaust-relevant collections were identified and described so far. The Lithuanian Special Archives, for instance, contain the cases and trials of collaborators who persecuted Jews in Lithuania. The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, to which the Lithuanian Central State Archive has re-transferred a former collection in 1998 (parts of the LCVA fonds RG 1390 was catalogued under call number VŽM at the Museum) keeps records about Jews murdered in various Lithuanian cities, as well as relevant copied source material from archives in neighbouring countries.
C.II. In other countries
EHRI identified a number of archival institutions outside of Lithuania, which hold or may hold collections relevant for Holocaust research on Lithuania. Vast collections on the Holocaust period in Lithuania can be found at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and at Yad Vashem. Furthermore the Belarusian State Archive-Museum of Literature and Art (Belarussskij Gosudarstvennyj Archiv-Muzej Literatury i Iskusstva) holds collections on Lithuania which may be relevant to Holocaust research. EHRI has yet to explore their exact nature and importance.