Volume 34

Acta Historica Universitatis Klaipedensis, Vol. XXXIVThe Great War in Lithuania and Lithuanians in the Great War: Experiences and Memories

Acta Historica Universitatis Klaipedensis, Vol. XXXIV

Editor: Vasilijus Safronovas

Klaipėda, 2017

The historiography of the First World War usually portrays the Lithuanians as affected by the external forces of the war, considering that the most important (if not the sole) manifestations of autonomous Lithuanian action were their political activity and the subsequent proclamation of independence. Questions such as how Lithuanians experienced and reflected this war, what social changes it inspired, and how it was seen later, have so far essentially remained outside the bounds of historical analysis. This volume of Acta Historica Universitatis Klaipedensis elaborates several less-known meanings attributed to the First World War (or the Great War, as it was called throughout the interwar period) in Lithuanian society. It discusses the Lithuanian experience in the war, changes in roles that took place because of the war, the efforts of war veterans to protect and consolidate their status, and the imprint that the war left on social relations, culture and memories in interwar Lithuania. The volume includes a bibliography of publications about the Great War that were either published in or are relevant to Lithuania in the period 1914 to 1945.

Editorial Note

Introduction: On the Significance of the Great War to Lithuanians

1. War and changing roles

Hektoras VITKUS
The Shift in the Lithuanian Approach towards the Russian Army, 1914–1915

During the Great War, the period 1914 to 1915 was one of the most intense stages of interaction by Lithuanian society with daily life of the war, and at the same time the most active stage in military action in the future Lithuania. While many men were called up into the ranks of the Imperial Russian army, most of the remaining population ended up under the military authorities, experienced the requisition of their personal property, and observed (at first in the rear) intense military movements to and fro. This article looks at how the change in the front line, and the successes and failures of the armies of the Romanov Empire, contributed to the change in the image of the Russian army in the Lithuanian discourse. Features of the change are revealed in the article by analysing both the line taken by the official press during the initial period of the Great War, and the assessments of the Russian army that appeared in individual reflections (diaries and memoirs). It asks how the image of the Russian army changed during this period, and why.

Key words: First World War, Imperial Russian army, army image, discourse, war propaganda, war representation, war reception.

On the Battlefield of Hygiene: The Lithuanian Medical Intelligentsia, 1914–1920

The article shows the First World War as a ground-breaking time for the consolidation of the national identity of Lithuanian physicians, and their coordination as a professional group with a precise commitment to the nation and the nation-building process. While physicians’ commitment to hygiene dates from the period prior to the outbreak of the First World War, the war created material conditions which enabled the widespread comprehension of the importance of hygiene in the life of the nation, and the growth of physicians’ sense of professional-intellectual agency within the ethnic community. The need to provide medical aid in a context characterised by epidemics and deteriorating hygiene was a precondition for much stronger coordination among physicians, with the aim of optimising relief efforts. Furthermore, the spread of epidemics was used as a reason for strengthening trust between medical personnel and the population. The difficulties which characterised health care in the early phase of the Lithuanian nation-state (lack of money, shortages, irrational features of the health-care system, etc) made the implementation of the ‘national hygiene’ programme impossible in the short term.

Key words: First World War, hygiene, intelligentsia, national consolidation, national hygiene.

2. Veterans’ efforts to protect and consolidate their status

‘Lithuanian Nationalists’ against ‘Imperial Russians’? Generational Conflicts between Senior Lithuanian Army Officers

With the creation of the Lithuanian armed forces in the early 20th century, the question of having officers loyal to the idea of the nation-state inevitably arose. It became especially relevant during the Wars of Independence that followed the First World War. Due to the need to create the armed forces urgently, individuals from different backgrounds and with different experiences joined the corps of officers in the emerging Lithuanian army. Therefore, a variety of tensions of a political and social nature arose between them, which in some cases grew into open conflict. The article examines the question of whether these conflicts were based on differences in officers’ education, social background, national engagement or experience. Can we explain the conflicts between the officers by the generation gap? And what role was played in these conflicts by the experience of military service acquired by some officers in the Imperial Russian army, including experience in the First World War?

Key words: Lithuanian army, Russian army, officer corps, relations between officers and politicians, generational conflicts, prosopography.

An Army never Created: Lithuanian National Units in Russia and their Veterans Organisation in Lithuania in the Interwar Period

The formation of national units in the Russian army began in 1914 during the First World War. They allowed for the creation of national formations of Poles, Czechs, Armenians, Georgians and Latvians. After the February revolution of 1917, at a similar time to the Estonians and Ukrainians, Lithuanian soldiers who served in the Russian army also started to create units. Formed in different places, the Lithuanian units did not reach the homeland in an organised manner. However, there were repeated attempts to present this Lithuanian military organisation in Russia after the war as the origins of the national army. These attempts intensified when veterans of national units started to come together in Lithuania, and in 1937 they established a separate organisation, the Kariuomenės pirmūnų sąjunga [Association of Army Predecessors]. It highlighted the contribution of Lithuanians to the Great War, but there was not enough time before 1940 to develop its activities as planned. The article reveals the reasons for and the circumstances of the creation of Lithuanian national units, and examines how and why former soldiers from these units, who lived in Lithuania during the interwar period, joined the organisation.

Key words: First World War, national units, Russian army, Lithuanian army, veterans organisations, Association of Army Predecessors.

3. War as a resource for creation and memory

The Representation of the Great War on Lithuanian Cinema Screens, 1918–1940

During the Great War, the main conflicting powers established the first public institutions to create and spread propaganda. Governments treated cinema as a powerful medium which might influence men’s minds. While cinema became a potential weapon to use in propaganda struggles, screens in neutral states were made into battlefields. But the cinema wars did not finish after 1918. After the war, films depicting the Great War were made in various countries, and the films often contradicted each other. The article analyses the role that films and stories depicting the Great War played on Lithuanian cinema screens in the interwar period. The first part of the article discusses the relevance of themes of the Great War in the films and newsreels made in interwar Lithuania. The second part provides an overview of foreign films depicting the Great War that were shown in Lithuanian cinemas in the interwar period. Four types of films are distinguished, according to their function. Attempts are made to answer the question whether these films could have contributed to reflections on the Great War in the public sphere in Lithuania at that time.

Key words: First World War, cinema, film censorship, newsreels, propaganda, pacifism, militarism, memory.

Eugenijus ŽMUIDA
The Great War in Lithuanian Literature and Memoirs

Works of fiction and memoirs relating to the First World War written in the Lithuanian language or by Lithuanian authors have so far not been a preoccupation of Lithuanian literary scholars. Due to the breadth of the topic, the analysis in this article is limited to the most important works of fiction and witnesses’ memories of the Great War. The first fictional and documentary works analysed in the article were written during the war itself, the last at the beginning of the Second World War. There is quite a large and very varied (from the point of view of artistic quality) amount of this kind of literature. Using methods of narratology and comparison, the author sets out to analyse the main themes, plots and possible influences, while placing the writings in the history of Lithuanian literature.

Key words: First World War, Lithuanian literature, military fiction, war memoirs.

References to the First World War in Lithuanian Memoirs and Publications during the Interwar Period: ‘And Lithuania moaned under the iron fist of the invaders’

Personal testimonies of the Great War, revealed in memoirs, diaries and publications by Lithuanians, have already been used by historians seeking clarification of the reflection of the military experience in Lithuania. This article shows that a significant part of these testimonies appeared in the interwar period due to the intentional collection and publication of material on military history, and their publication was often not random, but also had a political aspect. Moreover, the article complements earlier knowledge of the fact that the Great War was referred to not only when mentioning the German occupation. The many references to the Great War in the writings of Lithuanian intellectuals, and in the writings and speeches of politicians in the interwar period, had much more varied reasons.

Key words: First World War, German occupation, military history, war experiences, memories, publications.


Lithuania and the Lithuanians in the First World War. Bibliography, 1914–1945