Forest Brothers

The Forest Brothers (also Brothers of the Forest, Forest Brethren, or Forest Brotherhood; Estonian: metsavennad, Latvian: mežabrāļi, Lithuanian: miško broliai) were Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian partisans who waged a guerrilla war against Soviet rule during the Soviet invasion and occupation of the three Baltic states during, and after, World War II. Similar anti-Soviet Eastern European resistance groups fought against Soviet and communist rule in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and western Ukraine.

The Red Army occupied the independent Baltic states in 1940–1941 and, after a period of German occupation, again in 1944–1945. As Stalinist repression intensified over the following years, 50,000 residents of these countries used the heavily forested countryside as a natural refuge and base for armed anti-Soviet resistance.

Resistance units varied in size and composition, ranging from individually operating guerrillas, armed primarily for self-defense, to large and well-organized groups able to engage significant Soviet forces in battle.

Forest Brothers
Participant in the guerrilla war in the Baltic states
Active1940–1941, 1944–1956
Area of operationsBaltic states
Part ofOccupation of the Baltic states
AlliesBritish, American and Swedish intelligence services, Finnish army
Opponent(s)Red Army, NKVD


Origins of the term

The term Forest Brothers first came into use in the Baltic region during the chaotic Russian Revolution of 1905. Varying sources refer to forest brothers of this era either as peasants revolting[1] or as schoolteachers seeking refuge in the forest.[2]

Caught between two powers

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania gained their independence in 1918 after the collapse of the Russian Empire. The ideals of nationalism and self-determination had taken hold with many people as a result of having the independent states of Estonia and Latvia for the first time since the 13th century. At the same time, Lithuanians re-established a sovereign state, which had a rich former history, having been the largest country in Europe during the 14th century, but which was occupied by the Russian Empire since 1795. Allied declarations such as the Atlantic Charter had offered promise of a post-war world in which the three Baltic nations could re-establish themselves. Having already experienced occupation by the Soviet regime followed by the Nazi regime, many people were unwilling to accept another occupation.[3]

Unlike Estonia and Latvia where the Germans conscripted the local population into military formations within the Waffen-SS, Lithuania never had its own Waffen-SS division. In 1944 the Nazi authorities had created an ill-equipped but 20,000-strong "Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force" under General Povilas Plechavičius to combat Soviet partisans led by Antanas Sniečkus. The Germans, however, quickly came to see this force as a nationalist threat to their occupation regime. The senior staff were arrested on May 15, 1944, with General Plechavičius being deported to the concentration camp in Salaspils, Latvia. However, approximately half of the remaining forces formed guerrilla units and dissolved into the countryside in preparation for partisan operations against the Red Army as the Eastern Front approached.[4][5]

The guerrilla operations in Estonia and Latvia had some basis in Adolf Hitler's authorization of a full withdrawal from Estonia in mid-September 1944 — he allowed any soldiers of his Estonian forces, primarily the 20th Waffen-SS Division (1st Estonian), who wished to stay and defend their homes to do so — and in the fate of Army Group Courland, among the last of Hitler's forces to surrender after it became trapped in the Courland Pocket on the Courland Peninsula in 1945. Many Estonian and Latvian soldiers, and a few Germans, evaded capture and fought as Forest Brothers in the countryside for years after the war. Others, such as Alfons Rebane and Alfrēds Riekstiņš escaped to the United Kingdom and Sweden and participated in Allied intelligence operations in aid of the Forest Brothers.

While the Waffen-SS was found guilty of war crimes and other atrocities and declared a criminal organization after the war, the Nuremberg Trials explicitly excluded conscripts in the following terms:

The Tribunal declares to be criminal within the meaning of the Charter the group composed of those persons who had been officially accepted as members of the SS as enumerated in the preceding paragraph, who became or remained members of the organization with knowledge that it was being used for the commission of acts declared criminal by Article 6 of the Charter, or who were personally implicated as members of the organization in the commission of such crimes, excluding, however, those who were drafted into membership by the State in such a way as to give them no choice in the matter, and who had committed no such crimes.[6]

In 1949–1950 the United States Displaced Persons Commission investigated the Estonian and Latvian divisions and on September 1, 1950 adopted the following policy:

The Baltic Waffen SS Units are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German SS, and therefore the Commission holds them not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States under Section 13 of the Displaced Persons Act, as amended.[7]

The Latvian government has asserted that the Latvian Legion, primarily composed of the 15th and 19th Latvian Waffen-SS divisions, was neither a criminal nor collaborationist organization.[8]

The ranks of the resistance swelled with the Red Army's attempts at conscription in the Baltic states after the war, with fewer than half the registered conscripts reporting in some districts. The widespread harassment of disappearing conscripts' families pushed more people to evade authorities in the forests. Many enlisted men deserted, taking their weapons with them.[3]

Summer War

With the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Joseph Stalin made a public statement on the radio calling for a scorched earth policy in the areas to be abandoned on July 3. About 10,000 Forest Brothers, which had organized themselves into countrywide Omakaitse (Home Guard) organizations, attacked the forces of the NKVD, destruction battalions and the 8th Army (Major General Ljubovtsev), killing 4,800 and capturing 14,000. The battle of Tartu lasted for two weeks, and destroyed a large part of the city. Under the leadership of Friedrich Kurg, the Forest Brothers drove out the Soviets from Tartu, behind the Rivers PärnuEmajõgi line. Thus they secured South Estonia under Estonian control by July 10.[9][10] The NKVD murdered 193 people in Tartu Prison on their retreat on July 8.

The German 18th Army crossed the Estonian southern border on July 7–9. The Germans resumed their advance in Estonia by working in cooperation with the Forest Brothers and the Omakaitse. In North Estonia, the destruction battalions had the greatest impact, being the last Baltic territory captured from the Soviets. The joint Estonian-German forces took Narva on August 17 and the Estonian capital Tallinn on August 28. On that day, the red flag shot down earlier on Pikk Hermann was replaced with the flag of Estonia by Fred Ise only to be changed by a German Reichskriegsflagge a few hours later. After the Soviets were driven out from Estonia, German Army Group North disarmed all the Forest Brother and Omakaitse groups.[11]

Southern Estonian partisan units were yet again summoned in August 1941 under the name of Estonian Omakaitse. Members were initially selected from the closest circle of friends. Later, candidate members were asked to sign a declaration that they were not members of a Communist organization. Estonian Omakaitse relied on the former regulations of Estonian Defence League and Estonian Army, insofar as they were consistent with the laws of German occupation.[12] The tasks of the Omakaitse were as follows:

  1. defense of the coast and borders
  2. fight against parachutists, sabotage, and espionage
  3. guarding militarily important objects
  4. fight against Communism
  5. assistance to Estonian Police and guaranteeing the general safety of the citizens
  6. providing assistance in case of large-scale incidents (fires, floods, diseases, etc.)
  7. providing military training for its members and other loyal citizens
  8. deepening and preserving the patriotic and national feelings of citizens.[12]

On 15 July, the Omakaitse had 10,200 members; on 1 December 1941, 40,599 members. Until February 1944 membership was around 40,000.[12]

The partisan war

By the late 1940s and early 1950s the Forest Brothers were provided with supplies, liaison officers and logistical coordination by the British (MI6), American, and Swedish secret intelligence services. This support played a key role in directing the Baltic resistance movement, however it diminished significantly after MI6's Operation Jungle was severely compromised by the activities of British spies (Kim Philby and others) who forwarded information to the Soviets, enabling the KGB to identify, infiltrate and eliminate many Baltic guerrilla units and cut others off from any further contact with Western intelligence operatives.

The conflict between the Soviet armed forces and the Forest Brothers lasted over a decade and cost at least 50,000 lives. Estimates for the number of fighters in each country vary. Misiunas and Taagepera[13] estimate that figures reached 30,000 in Lithuania, between 10,000 and 15,000 in Latvia and 10,000 in Estonia. NKVD units dressed as forest brothers committed atrocities in order to discredit them and demoralize the civilian population.[14]

In Estonia

Ants Kaljurand
Estonian partisan fighter Ants "the Terrible" Kaljurand

In Estonia 14,000 – 15,000 men participated in the fighting between 1944 and 1953: The Forest Brothers were most active in Võru County along the borderlands between Pärnu and Lääne Counties that included significant activity between Tartu and Viru Counties as well. From November 1944 to November 1947, they carried out 773 armed attacks killing about 1000 Soviets and their supporters. At its peak in 1947, the organization controlled dozens of villages and towns, creating considerable nuisance to the Soviet supply transports that required an armed escort.[15] August Sabbe, one of the last surviving Forest Brothers, was discovered in 1978 by KGB agents posing with his fellow fishermen. Instead of surrendering he leaped into the Võhandu stream got hooked onto a log, drowning in the process. The KGB insisted that the 69-year-old Sabbe had drowned while trying to escape, a theory difficult to credit given the shallow water and lack of cover at the site.

There were numerous attempts to hunt down relatives of the Forest Brothers. One of the Estonians who managed to escape the deportations was Taimi Kreitsberg. She recalled that Soviet officials "...took me to Võru, I was not beaten there, but for three days and nights I was given neither food nor drink. They told me they were not going to kill me, but torture me [until] I betrayed all the bandits. For about a month they dragged me through woods and took me to farms that were owned by the relatives of Forest Brothers, and they sent me in as an instigator to ask for food and shelter while the Chekists themselves waited outside. I told people to drive me away, as I had been sent by the security organs."[16]

In Latvia

In Latvia, preparations for partisan operations were begun during the German occupation, but the leaders of these nationalist units were arrested by Nazi authorities.[17] Longer-lived resistance units began to form at the end of the war; their ranks were composed of former Latvian Legion soldiers as well as civilians.[18] On 8 September 1944 in Riga, the leadership of the Latvian Central Council adopted a Declaration on the restoration of the State of Latvia.[19] It was intended to restore de facto independence to the Latvian republic. In addition it was hoped international supporters would take advantage of the interval between changeovers of the occupying powers. The Declaration prescribed that the Satversme is the fundamental law of the restored Republic of Latvia, and provided for the establishment of a Cabinet of Ministers that would organise the restoration of the State of Latvia.

Some of the most prominent LCC accomplishments are related to its military branch – General Jānis Kurelis group (the so-called "kurelieši") with Lieutenant Roberts Rubenis battalion which carried out the armed resistance against Waffen SS forces.

The number of active combatants peaked at between 10,000 and 15,000, while the total number of resistance fighters was as high as 40,000.[17] One author gives a figure of up to 12,000 grouped into 700 bands during the 1945–55 decade, but definitive figures are unavailable.[20] Over time, the partisans replaced their German weapons with Soviet makes. The Central Command of Latvian resistance organizations maintained an office on Matīsa Street in Riga until 1947.[17] In some 3,000 raids, the partisans inflicted damage on uniformed military personnel, party cadres (particularly in rural areas), buildings, and ammunition depots. The Communist authorities reported 1,562 Soviet personnel killed and 560 wounded during the entire resistance period.[20]

One account of a typical Forest Brothers action is provided by Talrids Krastiņš. In it a reconnaissance soldier of the 19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (2nd Latvian) was recruited with 15 other Latvians into a Nazi stay-behind unit at the close of the war. Escaping to the forest, the group avoided all contact with local residents and relatives, robbing trucks for money while simultaneously maintaining an apartment in the center of Riga for reconnaissance operations. At first they operated by assassinating low-level Communist party managers, but later focused their efforts on attempting to assassinate the head of the Latvian SSR, Vilis Lācis. The group recruited a Russian woman working at the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR who informed them about Lācis' transportation schedule. They set up a roadside ambush when Lācis was traveling from Riga to Jūrmala, but shot up the wrong car. The second attempt likewise relied on a female Russian collaborator, but one who proved to be an undercover NKVD agent. The entire group was apprehended and sentenced to prison in 1948.[21]

The Latvian Forest Brothers were most active in the border regions, including Dundaga, Taurkalne, Lubāna, Aloja, and Līvāni. In the eastern regions, they had ties with the Estonian Forest Brothers; and in the western regions, with the Lithuanians. As in Estonia and Lithuania, the partisans were killed off and infiltrated by the MVD and NKVD over many years. As in Estonia and Lithuania, assistance from Western Intelligence was severely compromised by Soviet counter-intelligence and Latvian double agents such as Augusts Bergmanis and Vidvuds Sveics.[22] Furthermore, the Soviets gradually consolidated their rule in the cities: help from rural civilians was not as forthcoming, and special military and security units were sent to control the partisans.[20] The last groups emerged from the forest in 1957 to promptly surrender to the authorities.[22]

In Lithuania

Former KGB HQ, Vilnius, Lithuania, 2008
Wall of former KGB headquarters in Vilnius inscribed with names of those tortured and killed in its basement.

Among the three countries, the resistance was best organized in Lithuania, where guerrilla units controlled whole regions of the countryside until 1949. Their armaments included Czech Skoda guns, Russian Maxim heavy machine guns, assorted mortars and a wide variety of mainly German and Soviet light machine guns and submachine guns.[4] When not in direct battles with the Red Army or special NKVD units, they significantly delayed the consolidation of Soviet rule through ambush, sabotage, assassination of local Communist activists and officials, freeing imprisoned guerrillas, and printing underground newspapers.[23] Captured Lithuanian Forest Brothers themselves often faced torture and summary execution while their relatives faced deportation to Siberia (cf. quotation). Reprisals against pro-Soviet farms and villages were harsh. The NKVD units, named People's Defense Platoons (known by the Lithuanians as pl. stribai, from the Russian: izstrebitelidestroyers) used shock tactics to discourage further resistance such as displaying executed partisans' corpses in village courtyards.[4][24]

The report of a commission formed at a KGB prison a few days after the October 15, 1956 arrest of Adolfas Ramanauskas ("Vanagas"), chief commander of the Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters, noted the following:

The right eye is covered with haematoma, on the eyelid there are six stab wounds made, judging by their diameter, by a thin wire or nail going deep into the eyeball. Multiple haematomas in the area of the stomach, a cut wound on a finger of the right hand. The genitalia reveal the following: a large tear wound on the right side of the scrotum and a wound on the left side, both testicles and spermatic ducts are missing.[25]

Juozas Lukša was among those who managed to escape to the west; he wrote his memoirs there and was killed after returning to Lithuania in 1951.

Pranas Končius (code name Adomas) was the last Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance fighter, killed in action by Soviet forces on July 6, 1965 (some sources indicate he shot himself in order to avoid capture on July 13). He was awarded the Cross of Vytis posthumously in 2000.

Benediktas Mikulis, one of the last known partisans to remain in the forest, emerged in 1971. He was arrested in the 1980s and spent several years in prison.

Decline of the resistance movements

By the early 1950s, the Soviet forces had eradicated most of the Forest Brother resistance. Intelligence gathered by the Soviet spies in the West and KGB infiltrators within the resistance movement, in combination with large-scale Soviet operations in 1952 managed to end the campaigns against them.

Many of the remaining Forest Brothers laid down their weapons when offered an amnesty by the Soviet authorities after Joseph Stalin's death in 1953, although isolated engagements continued into the 1960s. The last individual guerrillas are known to have remained in hiding and evaded capture into the 1980s, by which time the Baltic states were pressing for independence through peaceful means. (See Sąjūdis, The Baltic Way, Singing Revolution)

Aftermath, memorials and remembrances

Sinimäed Memorial 2009 - 140
Lithuanian partisan veterans in 2009 at 65th anniversary of Battle of Tannenberg Line
Mälestuskivi Lükka punkrilahingus langenud metsavendadele (2013)
Memorial stone in Rõuge Parish to Forest Brothers who died in Lükka battle

Many Forest Brothers persisted in the hope that Cold War hostilities between the West, which never formally recognized the Soviet occupation, and the Soviet Union might escalate to an armed conflict in which the Baltic states would be liberated. This never materialized, and according to Mart Laar[3] many of the surviving former Forest Brothers remained bitter that the West did not take on the Soviet Union militarily. (See also Yalta Conference). When the brutal suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 did not bring about an intervention by, or a supportive response from, Western Powers, organized resistance in the Baltic States declined further.

As the conflict was relatively undocumented by the Soviet Union (the Baltic fighters were formally charged as common criminals), some consider it and the Soviet-Baltic conflict as a whole to be an unknown or forgotten war.[4][25][26] Discussion of resistance was suppressed under the Soviet regime. Writings on the subject by Baltic emigrants were often labelled as examples of "ethnic sympathy" and disregarded. Laar's research efforts, begun in Estonia in the late 1980s, are considered to have opened the door for further study.[27]

In 1999, the Lithuanian Seimas (parliament) enacted a declaration of independence that had been made on February 16, 1949, the 31st anniversary of the February 16, 1918, declaration of independence, by elements of the resistance unified[4] under the "Movement of the Struggle for the Freedom of Lithuania".

... a universal, organised, armed resistance namely, self-defence, by the Lithuanian State, did take place in Lithuania during 1944–1953, against the soviet occupation ... the goal ... was the liberation of Lithuania, relying upon the provisions of the Atlantic Charter and a sovereign right acknowledged by the democratic world, by bearing arms against one of the World War II Aggressors ... The Council of the Movement of the Struggle for Freedom of Lithuania ... constituted the supreme political and military structure ... and was the sole legal authority within the territory of occupied Lithuania.[28]

In Latvia and Lithuania, Forest Brothers veterans receive a small pension. In Lithuania, the third Sunday in May is commemorated as Partisans' Day. In 2005 there were about 350 surviving Forest Brothers in Lithuania.[29]

In a 2001 lecture in Tallinn, U.S. Senator John McCain acknowledged the Estonian Forest Brothers and their efforts.[30]

Forest Brothers in popular culture

The Canadian film Legendi loojad (Creators of the Legend) about the Estonian Forest Brothers was released in 1963. The film was funded by donations from Estonians in exile.[31]

The 1966 Soviet drama film Nobody Wanted to Die (Lithuanian: Niekas nenorėjo mirti) by Soviet-Lithuanian film director Vytautas Žalakevičius shows the tragedy of the conflict in which "a brother goes against the brother." The film garnered Žalakevičius the USSR State Prize and international recognition, and is the best-known film portrayal of the conflict.

A 1997 documentary film We Lived for Estonia tells the story of the Estonian Forest Brothers from the viewpoint of one of the participants.

The 2004 film Utterly Alone (Lithuanian: Vienui Vieni) portrays the travails of Lithuanian partisan leader Juozas Lukša, who travelled twice to Western Europe in attempts to gain support for the armed resistance.

The 2005 documentary film Stirna tells the story of Izabelė Vilimaitė (codenames Stirna and Sparnuota), an American-born Lithuanian who moved to Lithuania with her family in 1932. A medical student and pharmacist, she was an underground medic and source of medical supplies for the partisans, eventually becoming a district liaison. She infiltrated the local Komsomol (Communist Youth), was discovered, captured, and escaped twice. After going underground full-time, she was suspected of having been turned by the KGB as an informant and was nearly executed by the partisans. Her bunker was eventually discovered by the KGB and she was captured a third time, interrogated and killed.[32][33]

The 2007 Estonian film Sons of One Forest (Estonian: Ühe metsa pojad) follows the story of two Forest Brothers in southern Estonia, who fight with an Estonian from the Waffen-SS against the Soviet occupants.

The 2013 novel Forest Brothers by Geraint Roberts, follows the fortune of a disgraced British Navy officer who returns to Estonia in 1944 for British Intelligence. Many of the people from his past who aid him have taken to the forest, during the ongoing conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union.

The last Forest Brother

The last known Forest Brother was Jānis Pīnups, who came out of hiding only in 1995. He had deserted from the Red Army in 1944 and was presumed missing in action by Soviet authorities in Latvia.[34] He was rendered unconscious during a battle and left for dead. He decided to return home, where he started hiding in the nearby forest out of fear that his family would be deported, if his desertion was discovered. About 25 years after going into hiding he was forced to seek medical assistance and started acting more freely thereafter. Still only his siblings and, later on, the nearest neighbors were aware who he was, even the rest of his family only learned he had not been killed in the war after he came out of hiding.[35]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Woods, Alan. Bolshevism: The Road to Revolution Archived 2012-12-10 at, Wellred Publications, London, 1999. ISBN 1-900007-05-3
  2. ^ Skultans, Vieda. The Testimony of Lives: Narrative and Memory in Post-Soviet Latvia, pp. 83–84, Routledge, 1st edition, December 22, 1997. ISBN 0-415-16289-0
  3. ^ a b c Laar, Mart. War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944–1956, translated by Tiina Ets, Compass Press, November 1992. ISBN 0-929590-08-2
  4. ^ a b c d e Kaszeta, Daniel J. Lithuanian Resistance to Foreign Occupation 1940–1952, Lituanus, Volume 34, No. 3, Fall 1988. ISSN 0024-5089
  5. ^ Mackevicičius, Mečislovas. Lithuanian Resistance to German Mobilization Attempts 1941–1944, Lituanus Vol. 32, No. 4, Winter 1986. ISSN 0024-5089
  6. ^ "Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 22". The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. 30 September 1946. Retrieved 2011-03-29.
  7. ^ Letter from Harry N. Rosenfield, Acting Chairman of United States Displaced Persons Commission, to Mr. Johannes Kaiv, Acting Consul General of Estonia Archived 2007-02-25 at the Wayback Machine, in re memorandum from the Estonian Committee in the United States zone of Germany on the question of former Estonian Legionnaires seeking admission to the United States under the Displaced Persons Act, as amended. September 13, 1950.
  8. ^ Feldmanis, Inesis and Kangeris, Kārlis. The Volunteer SS Legion in Latvia Archived March 4, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, n.d.
  9. ^ Peeter Kaasik; Mika Raudvassar (2006). "Estonia from June to October, 1941: Forest Brothers and Summer War". In Toomas Hiio; Meelis Maripuu; Indrek Paavle. Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. Tallinn. pp. 495–517.
  10. ^ Tartu in the 1941 Summer War Archived March 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. By Major Riho Rõngelep and Brigadier General Michael Hesselholt Clemmesen (2003). Baltic Defence Review 9
  11. ^ Lande, p 188
  12. ^ a b c Argo Kuusik (2006). "Estonian Omakaitse in 1941–1944". In Toomas Hiio; Meelis Maripuu; Indrek Paavle. Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. Tallinn. pp. 797–806.
  13. ^ Misiunas, Romuald and Taagepera, Rein. The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940–1990, University of California Press, expanded & updated edition, October 1, 1993. p 83. ISBN 0-520-08228-1
  14. ^ Kaszeta, Daniel J. (1988). "Lithuanian Resistance to Foreign Occupation 1940–1952". Lituanus. LITUANUS Foundation. 34 (3).
  15. ^ Buttar, Prit (2013). Between Giants, the Battle for the Baltics in World War II. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 9781780961637.
  16. ^ Laar, M. (2009). "The Power of Freedom. Central and Eastern Europe after 1945." Centre for European Studies, p. 36.
  17. ^ a b c Laar, p. 24
  18. ^ Plakans, Andrejs. The Latvians: A Short History, 155. Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, 1995.
  19. ^ Edgars Andersons, Leonīds Siliņš "Latvijas Centrālā padome – LCP" — LCP, Upsala 1994 ISBN 9163017466
  20. ^ a b c Plakans, p. 155
  21. ^ (in Russian) Газета Капиталист. ЖИЗНЬ И СУДЬБА «БОЛЬШОГО МЕДВЕДЯ». Сто лет Вилису Лацису Archived 2010-06-19 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved April 3, 2010
  22. ^ a b Laar, p. 27
  23. ^ Dundovich, E., Gori, F. and Guercett, E. Reflections on the gulag. With a documentary appendix on the Italian victims of repression in the USSR, Feltrinelli Editore IT, 2003. ISBN 88-07-99058-X
  24. ^ Unknown author. excerpt from Lithuania's Struggle For Freedom, unknown year.
  25. ^ a b Kuodytė, Dalia and Tracevskis, Rokas. The Unknown War: Armed Anti-Soviet Resistance in Lithuania in 1944–1953, 2004. ISBN 9986-757-59-2
  26. ^ Tarm, Michael. The Forgotten War Archived 2006-05-08 at the Wayback Machine, City Paper's The Baltic States Worldwide, 1996.
  27. ^ Huang, Mel. Review of Mart Laar's War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944–1956. Central Europe Review, Vol. 1, No. 12, September 13, 1999. ISSN 1212-8732
  28. ^ Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania. Law on the February 16, 1949 Declaration by the Council of the Movement of the Struggle for Freedom of Lithuania, Law No. VIII-1021, January 12, 1999, Vilnius.
  29. ^ "We Put Off This Day As Much As We Could". Kommersant. 2005-04-19. Retrieved 2006-07-14.
  30. ^ McCain, John. "From Tragedy to Destiny: Estonia's Place in the New Atlantic Order," Archived 2004-09-29 at The Robert C. Frasure Memorial Lecture, Tallinn, Estonia, August 24, 2001.
  31. ^ Rahvuslane. Ajalooline hinnang Kanada pagulaseestlaste poolt aastail 1960–1963 tehtud filmile „Legendi loojad" ehk millise vaatenurga alt tuleb tänasel päeval seda filmi vaadata Archived 2011-07-27 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved April 3, 2010
  32. ^ Krokys, Bronius. "The Winged One". Bridges, April 2006.
  33. ^ "Naujas dokumentinis filmas "Stirna"" (in Lithuanian). Septynios Meno Dienos, No. 690. 2006-01-06. Retrieved 2006-07-05.
  34. ^ Pēdējo mežabrāļu atgriešanās (27.11.97.)
  35. ^ Jānis Pīnups: a Latvian Soldier for Whom the Second World War Finished in 1995

Further reading

External links

August Sabbe

August Sabbe (1 September 1909 – 27 or 28 September 1978) was one of the last surviving Estonian members of the Forest Brothers, a group of citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who resisted and fought against the Soviet occupation of their three nations. Sabbe hid in the forests of Estonia, living off of the land like other Forest Brethren.

In 1978, at the age of 69, Sabbe was found near his birthplace of Paidra, Lasva Parish in southeastern Estonia by two KGB agents posing as fishermen. When they attempted to arrest him, he leaped into the Võhandu River and either drowned accidentally or deliberately wedged himself under a submerged log. The KGB, which took photographs before and after the attempted arrest, maintained that Sabbe drowned while attempting to escape. But some have observed that the river is narrow, sluggish and shallow at that point, an unlikely place for an accidental drowning, and that the open field on the opposite bank and the river's lazy loops gave an elderly man no place to flee from two young, physically fit pursuers. The Forest Brethren's code of conduct and the quickness of Sabbe's reaction suggest that Sabbe was prepared not to be taken alive.

A stone monument to Sabbe stands in a pine grove overlooking the site of his death. It is located just west of Route 65 between Leevi and Tsolgo, almost exactly on the boundary between Põlva and Võru counties.

Baltic Offensive

The Baltic Offensive, also known as the Baltic Strategic Offensive, denotes the campaign between the northern Fronts of the Red Army and the German Army Group North in the Baltic States during the autumn of 1944. The result of the series of battles was the isolation and encirclement of the Army Group North in the Courland Pocket and Soviet re-occupation of the Baltic States.

Battle of Kautla

The Battle of Kautla (Estonian: Kautla lahing, Kautla veresaun or Kautla veretöö) was a battle between Soviet destruction battalions and Estonian Forest Brothers in Kautla, Estonia in July 1941. It included series of murders of civilians committed by destruction battalions, known as Kautla massacre.

On 24 July 1941, an extermination battalion murdered Gustav and Rosalie Viljamaa of Simisalu farm and set the farm on fire. In the coming days, the extermination battalion undertook the systematic murder of all civilians in the region and burning their farms. The Kautla farm was burned down by the Red Army with the family and staff inside, thus constituting a murder of Johannes Lindemann, Oskar Mallene, Ida Hallorava, Arnold Kivipõld, Alfred Kukk and Johannes Ummus. In total, more than twenty people, all civilians, were murdered — many of them after torture — and tens of farms destroyed. The low toll of human deaths in comparison with the number of burned farms is due to the Erna long-range reconnaissance group breaking the Red Army blockade on the area, allowing many civilians to escape.


Daugailiai ['daːugaɪlʲɪaɪ] is a town in Utena County, Lithuania. According to the 2011 census, the town has a population of 325 people.

Eastern European anti-Communist insurgencies

The Central and Eastern European anti-Communist insurgencies fought on after the official end of the Second World War against the Soviet Union and the communist states formed under Soviet occupation and support.

Prominent movements include:

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army fought until eradicated in 1956.

The anti-Soviet Hungarian Revolution took place in 1956.

Baltic partisans knew as the "Forest Brothers" fought until eradicated in the early 1960s.

Romanian anti-communist resistance movement fought until eradicated in 1962.

Polish partisans known as the "Cursed soldiers" fought until eradicated in 1963.

Bulgarian partisans known as "Goryani" fought until eradicated in the early 1960s.

Croatian partisans knew as "Crusaders" fought until eradicated in the early 1950s.

Albanian partisans (members of the Balli Kombëtar and supporters of the king Zog I) fought until eradicated in the early 1950s.

Serbian partisans knew as "Chetniks" fought until eradicated in the early 1950s.

Slovenian partisans fought until eradicated in the early 1950s.

Moldovian partisans (Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina) fought until eradicated in the early 1950s.

Belarusian partisans fought until eradicated in the early 1950s.

Estonia in World War II

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, concerning the partition and disposition of sovereign states, including Estonia, and in particular its Secret Additional Protocol of August 1939.The Republic of Estonia declared neutrality in the war but fell under the Soviet sphere of influence due to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940. Mass political arrests, deportations, and executions followed. In the Summer War during the German Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the pro-independence Forest Brothers captured South Estonia from the NKVD and the 8th Army before the arrival of the German 18th Army. At the same time, Soviet paramilitary destruction battalions carried out punitive operations, including looting and killing, based on the tactics of scorched earth proclaimed by Joseph Stalin. Estonia was occupied by Germany and incorporated into Reichskommissariat Ostland.

In 1941, Estonians were conscripted into the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps and in 1941–1944 to the Nazi German forces. Men who avoided these mobilisations fled to Finland to be formed into the Finnish Infantry Regiment 200. About 40% of the Estonian pre-war fleet was requisitioned by British authorities and used in Atlantic convoys. Approximately 1000 Estonian sailors served in the British Merchant Navy, 200 of them as officers. A small number of Estonians served in the Royal Air Force, in the British Army and in the U.S. Army.From February to September 1944, the German army detachment "Narwa" held back the Soviet Estonian Operation. After breaching the defence of II Army Corps across the Emajõgi river and clashing with the pro-independence Estonian troops, Soviet forces reoccupied mainland Estonia in September 1944. After the war, Estonia remained incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Estonian SSR until 1991, although the Atlantic Charter stated that no territorial arrangements would be made.

World War II losses in Estonia, estimated at around 25% of the population, were among the highest proportion in Europe. War and occupation deaths listed in the current reports total at 81,000. These include deaths in Soviet deportations in 1941, Soviet executions, German deportations, and victims of the Holocaust in Estonia.

Estonian History Museum

The Estonian History Museum (Estonian: Eesti Ajaloomuuseum) is a museum about the history of Estonia in Tallinn. It was initially established by chemist Dr. Johann Burchard (1776 – 1838) who ran the town hall pharmacy known as the Raeapteek.

Inaugurated in 1987, it picks up where its counterpart leaves off in the mid-nineteenth century to cover the political and social upheavals of the twentieth century. The exhibits include historically dressed mannequins and recreations of domestic interiors. The 1940s and 1950s are represented by army uniforms and weapons. There is an original hut used by the Forest Brothers, the legendary partisans who fought against the Soviet occupation, and a replica of a desk used by a communist party secretary.

Forest Brothers (Georgia)

The Forest Brothers (Georgian: ტყის ძმები, tq'is dz'mebi) was a guerrilla group consisting mostly of ethnic Georgians who remained in the breakaway republic of Abkhazia after the Georgian regular army's defeat in the War in Abkhazia (1992–1993) and resisted the ethnic cleansing of Georgians in the disputed territory.

The group, along with another guerrilla group called the White Legion, continued low-intensity guerrilla war against Abkhaz forces along the ceasefire line in the late 1990s and early 2000s. According to the Georgian Interior Ministry, under the cover of its guerrilla warfare, the Forest Brothers engaged in kidnappings, smuggling and other crimes.The Forest Brothers were led by Dato Shengelia. Shengelia disbanded the group after Mikheil Saakashvili was elected President of Georgia in January 2004. On 4 February 2004, the police arrested a large number of Forest Brothers in Zugdidi. On 11 February, Shengelia declared that he had reached an agreement with Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze to lay down his arms.In December 2006, Shengalia was arrested for the possession of heroin and methadone, and subsequently convicted to 24 years of imprisonment. However, he was released in 2010 on account of bad health. On 22 February 2011, the Abkhazian delegation at the 25th meeting on incident prevention in Chuburkhindji questioned Shengelia's release and demanded his extradition from the Georgian side for various serious crimes.

Guerrilla war in the Baltic states

The Guerrilla war in the Baltic states or the Forest Brothers resistance movement was the armed struggle against Soviet rule that spanned from 1940 to the mid-1950s. After the occupation of the Baltic territories by the Soviets in 1944, an insurgency started. According to some estimates, 10,000 partisans in Estonia, 10,000 partisans in Latvia and 30,000 partisans in Lithuania and many more supporters were involved. This war continued as an organised struggle until 1956 when the superiority of the Soviet military caused the native population to adopt other forms of resistance. While estimates related to the extent of partisan movement vary, but there seems to be a consensus among researchers that by international standards, the Baltic guerrilla movements were extensive. Proportionally, the partisan movement in the post-war Baltic states was of a similar size as the Viet Cong movement in South Vietnam.

Jānis Pīnups

Jānis Pīnups (10 May 1925 — 15 June 2007) was the last of the World War II Forest Brothers, who only came out of hiding in 1995, at the age of 70.

Latvian partisans

Latvian national partisans were the Latvian national partisans who waged guerrilla warfare against Soviet rule during and after Second World War.

Lithuanian partisans

The Lithuanian partisans (Lithuanian: Lietuvos partizanai) were partisans who waged a guerrilla warfare in Lithuania against the Soviet Union in 1944–1953. Similar anti-Soviet resistance groups, also known as Forest Brothers and cursed soldiers, fought against Soviet rule in Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Galicia. It is estimated that a total of 30,000 Lithuanian partisans and their supporters were killed.At the end of World War II, the Red Army pushed the Eastern Front towards Lithuania. The Soviets invaded and occupied Lithuania by the end of 1944 and liberated it from Fascism. As forced conscription into Red Army and Stalinist repressions intensified, thousands of Lithuanians used forests in the countryside as a natural refuge. These spontaneous groups became more organized and centralized culminating in the establishment of the Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters in February 1948. In their documents, the partisans emphasized that their ultimate goal is recreation of independent Lithuania. As the partisan war continued, it became clear that the West would not interfere in Eastern Europe (see Western betrayal) and that the partisans had no chance of success against the far stronger opponent. Eventually, the partisans made an explicit and conscious decision not to accept any new members. The leadership of the partisans was destroyed in 1953 thus effectively ending the partisan war, though individual fighters held out until the 1960s.


The Omakaitse ('home guard') was a militia organisation in Estonia. It was founded in 1917 following the Russian Revolution. On the eve of the Occupation of Estonia by the German Empire the Omakaitse units took over major towns in the country allowing the Salvation Committee of the Estonian Provincial Assembly to proclaim the independence of Estonia. After the German Occupation the Omakaitse became outlawed.

The Estonian Defence League was dissolved in 1940 after the Soviet occupation of Estonia.The Omakaitse was reestablished during the German Operation Barbarossa in 1941 by the Forest brothers who took control of the country before the German troops arrived allowing Jüri Uluots establish a co-ordinating council in Tartu to proclaim the provisional government of Estonia. The Germans disbanded the provisional government but allowed the armed units in the Omakaitse after Estonia became a part of the German-occupied Reichskommissariat Ostland. During World War II Omakaitse existed from 3 July 1941 – 17 September 1944 at the Eastern Front (World War II).

Operation Jungle

Operation Jungle was a program by the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) early in the Cold War (1948–1955) for the clandestine insertion of intelligence and resistance agents into Poland and the Baltic states. The agents were mostly Polish, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian exiles who had been trained in the UK and Sweden and were to link up with the anti-Soviet resistance in the occupied states (the Cursed soldiers, the Forest Brothers). The naval operations of the program were carried out by German crewmembers of the German Mine Sweeping Administration under the control of the Royal Navy. The American-sponsored Gehlen Organization also got involved in the draft of agents from Eastern Europe. The KGB penetrated the network and captured or turned most of the agents.

Operation Priboi

Operation Priboi (Operation "Coastal Surf") was the code name for the Soviet mass deportation from the Baltic states on 25–28 March 1949. The action is also known as the March deportation by Baltic historians. More than 90,000 Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, labeled as enemies of the people, were deported to forced settlements in inhospitable areas of the Soviet Union. Over 70% of the deportees were women, and children under the age of 16.

Portrayed as a "dekulakization" campaign, the operation was intended to facilitate the forced collectivisation and to eliminate the support base for the armed resistance of the Forest Brothers against the Soviet occupation. The deportation fulfilled its purposes: by the end of 1949, 93% and 80% of the farms were collectivized in Latvia and Estonia. In Lithuania, the progress was slower and the Soviets organized another large deportation known as Operation Osen in fall 1951. The deportations were for "eternity" with no rights to return. However, during the de-Stalinization and Khrushchev Thaw, deportees were gradually released and some of them managed to return, though a large number of their descendants still live in Siberian towns and villages to this day.The mortality rate for the deportees was estimated at less than 15%. Due to the high death rate of deportees during the first few years of their Siberian exile, caused by the failure of Soviet authorities to provide suitable living conditions at the destination, whether through neglect or premeditation, some sources consider these deportations an act of genocide. Based on the Martens Clause and the principles of the Nuremberg Charter, the European Court of Human Rights has held that the March deportation constituted a crime against humanity.

Singing Revolution

The Singing Revolution is a commonly used name for events between 1987 and 1991 that led to the restoration of the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The term was coined by an Estonian activist and artist, Heinz Valk, in an article published a week after the 10–11 June 1988, spontaneous mass evening singing demonstrations at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds.

Tamaz Nadareishvili

Tamaz Nadareishvili (Georgian: თამაზ ნადარეიშვილი) (19 July 1954 – 31 August 2004) was a Georgian politician who served as head of the Council of Ministers of Abkhazia, a government-in-exile for the breakaway province.

Nadareishvili was a great grandson of the famous Abkhaz prince Shervashidze. Born and raised in Sukhumi, Nadareishvili attended Sukhumi University, graduated in the early 1980s, and settled down to life as an academic writer.

During the break-up of the Soviet Union, Nadareishvili became involved in Georgian National Liberation movement. After the war in Abkhazia, Georgia, Nadareishvili was elected by fellow Georgian refugees as the head of an exile government. In the 1990s he served at times in the Georgian parliament, continuing to draw support from refugees, to whom he helped distribute government aid.

As head of the Council, Nadareishvili loudly supported military action to retake Abkhazia. Allegations were made claiming him being involved in paramilitary operations on the Abkhaz/Georgia administrative border. The Forest Brothers under Dato Shengelia and the White Legion under Zurab Samushia were both allegedly associated with the Supreme Council.Nadareishvili remained neutral during the Rose Revolution that ousted Eduard Shevardnadze in favor of Mikhail Saakashvili. However, Nadareishvili soon faced a revolt of his own, and resigned in January 2004 after a vote of no confidence by the Supreme Council. In 2005 he published a book ("Conspiracy Against Georgia"), which mostly includes information about ethnic cleansing and genocide of Georgian population in Abkhazia.

Nadareishvili died of a heart attack on August 31, 2004.

We Lived for Estonia

We Lived for Estonia (French: Nous Vivions Pour l’Estonie, Estonian: Elasime Eestile) is a documentary film about the Forest brothers during World War II.

White Legion

For the mercenary group of the same name in the First Congo War (1996-1997), see White Legion (Zaire).The White Legion (Georgian: თეთრი ლეგიონი, t'et'ri legioni) was a guerrilla group consisting mostly of ethnic Georgians who remained in Abkhazia after the Georgian regular army's defeat in the War in Abkhazia (1992–1993).The group, along with another guerrilla group called the Forest Brothers, continued low-intensity guerrilla war against Abkhaz forces along the ceasefire line in the late 1990s and early 2000s.The White Legion was led by Zurab Samushia.

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