Encyclopedia

Lithuanian Jews

due to the tangled history of the Vilna region the Polish Jews who came from Lithuania were accorded better treatment than the other Jewish prisoners-of-war held by the Germans.

The city of Vilna had been taken by Poland in 1920 from independent Lithuania during the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-20. The August 1939 German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact recognized Vilna as being an area of Poland that was under the Soviet sphere of influence.

In the period leading up to WWII, since from 1920 Vilna had incorporated into Poland, Vilna Jews served in the Polish army. Poland was invaded by Germany on September 1, 1939, and was quickly defeated. On September 17, 1939 the Soviet Union pursuant to the German-Soviet Pact occupied parts of Poland within its sphere of influence, which included Vilna.

In a treaty with the neutral government of Lithuania the Soviets got the privilege of stationing Russian troops on Lithuanian soil. In October 1939, in return for this privilege the Soviet Union returned Vilna to then independent Lithuania. On August 3, 1940 after an artificially created incident the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania.

When Germany defeated the Polish army it captured altogether 60,000 to 65,000 Jewish soldiers. The Jews were immediately separated from the prisoner-of-war population for harsh treatment and many died, some 25,000, by the spring of 1940.

In late 1939 the Germans began releasing Jewish prisoners. These demobilized prisoners were sent to Polish ghettos and most perished, suffering the fate of the ghetto population.

However, the Lithuanian Jews were treated as ordinary prisoners-of-war and not singled out as Jews for harsh treatment or demobilization. Of the Polish soldiers who were from Lithuania 72 survived to liberation.


Sources: Tec, Defiance; Encyclopedia of the Holocaust; Ran, Jerusalem of Lithuania.


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