During World War II, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union (1940–1941), Nazi Germany (1941–1944), and the Soviet Union again in 1944. Resistance during this period took many forms. Significant parts of the resistance were formed by Polish and Soviet forces, some of which fought with Lithuanian collaborators. This article presents a summary of the organizations, persons and actions involved.
In 1940, President Antanas Smetona fled to Germany, not wanting his government to become a puppet of the Soviet occupation. Soviet attempts to capture him were unsuccessful, and he was able to settle in the United States.
Soviet partisans began sabotage and guerrilla operations against German forces immediately after the Nazi invasion of 1941. The activities of Soviet partisans in Lithuania were partly coordinated by the Command of the Lithuanian Partisan Movement headed by Antanas Sniečkus and partly by the Central Command of the Partisan Movement of the USSR.
In 1943, the Nazis attempted to raise a Waffen-SS division from the local population as they had in many other countries, but due to widespread coordination between resistance groups, the mobilization was boycotted. The Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force (Lietuvos vietinė rinktinė) was eventually formed in 1944 under Lithuanian command, but was liquidated by the Nazis only a few months later for refusing to subordinate to their command.
There was no significant violent resistance directed against the Nazis. Some Lithuanians, encouraged by Germany's vague promises of autonomy, cooperated with the Nazis. Pre-war tensions over the Vilnius Region resulted in a low-level civil war between Poles and Lithuanians. Nazi-sponsored Lithuanian units, primarily the Lithuanian Secret Police, were active in the region and assisted the Germans in repressing the Polish population. In the autumn of 1943, the Armia Krajowa began retaliatory operations against the Lithuanian units and killed hundreds of mostly Lithuanian policemen and other collaborators during the first half of 1944. The conflict culminated in the massacres of Polish and Lithuanian civilians in June 1944 in the Glitiškės (Glinciszki) and Dubingiai (Dubinki) villages. See also Polish-Lithuanian relations during World War II.
Also in 1943, several underground political groups united under the Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania (Vyriausias Lietuvos išlaisvinimo komitetas, or VLIK). The committee issued a declaration of independence that went largely unnoticed. It became active mostly outside Lithuania among emigrants and deportees, and was able to establish contacts in Western countries and get support for resistance operations inside Lithuania (see Operation Jungle). It would persist abroad for many years as one of the groups representing Lithuania in exile.
While armed resistance ended in the 1950s, nonviolent resistance continued in various forms (e.g. through Lithuanians living abroad, the Catholic press, safeguarding local traditions and the Lithuanian language, the Sąjūdis movement, etc.), until 1991 when Russia recognized the independence declared by Lithuania on March 11, 1990.
February 16, the date that Lithuania first declared its independence in 1918, played an important symbolic role during this period. The call for volunteers for the Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force, the VLIK declaration of independence, and the LLKS declaration of independence were all made on February 16. This day has become a national holiday in Lithuania.