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Danger for Refugees

On June 15, 1940, Soviet forces occupied Lithuania. Soon after, Communist authorities began transforming the country’s economy and government. Following a rigged plebiscite, Lithuania formally became the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic on August 4.

The new regime unleashed the Soviet secret police, then called the NKVD, to target anti-Communists on both the political left and right. In Vilna and Kaunas, politically active refugees laid low, some assuming false identities. Lacking permanent residence and employment, all refugees were vulnerable. Many did not want the relative safety of declaring Soviet citizenship because that would end their hopes of returning home. The alternative, however, meant risking deportation as “unreliable elements” to Siberia and other barren locations, a fate already suffered by tens of thousands of refugees living in Soviet-occupied eastern Poland.

“Smoke is felt in the air. . . . The whole day Soviet tanks ride by. Something is going to happen and we poor refugees tremble.”

—Rose Shoshana Kahan, Vilna, June 14, 1940

“Arrests are being made consistently and so silently, usually under cover of night, that a veritable pall has descended over the country.”

—U.S. consul Owen Norem, Kaunas, July 25, 1940