Lithuania 1940: Revolution from Above

Article excerpt

Alfred Erich Senn. Lithuania 1940: Revolution from Above. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. 290 pp. Index. $26.95, paper.

The brutal Soviet conquest of the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) in the summer of 1940 is one of the most understudied events in World War II. Joseph Stalin, allied with Adolf Hitler since late summer 1939, used his ties with Nazi Germany first to force the Baltic States to accept a small Soviet military presence in the early months of World War II, followed by a complete takeover of all three countries in the aftermath of Hitler's conquest of Atlantic Europe in the following summer. In 1941, Hitler's Wehrmacht conquered what had become the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth Soviet Socialist Republics, only to lose them to the Red Army three years later. For the next forty-five years, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania remained under Moscow's thumb.

With independence came the opportunity to look back at this tragic period in Baltic history. Alfred Erich Senn, the dean of North American Lithuanian studies, has poured through Lithuanian archives in an effort to study anew one of the most tragic events in twentieth-century Lithuanian history. To a large extent, Senn is trying to counter the story of the Soviet takeover written by Soviet historians after World War II. While it might seem absurd that anyone would take such propaganda as legitimate accounts of what took place in Lithuania in the summer of 1940, the author is also concerned about Western scholars who have used such histories. His work is also intended to counter post-Soviet Russian historians who have clung to the idea that what took place in Lithuania in the summer of 1940 was done with the support of Lithuanian leaders and people who wanted to become part of the Soviet Union.

Senn's study begins with the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939, which placed Estonia and Latvia, and later Lithuania, into Moscow's sphere of influence. To sweeten Lithuania's acceptance of this new "relationship," Lithuania regained it historic capital, Vilnius, which had been ceded to Poland in 1923. Any hope that such a gesture signalled any kind of positive relationship with the Kremlin soon disappeared when Stalin demanded that Lithuania, along with its Baltic neighbours, accept mutual assistance pacts with Soviet Russia. …