Lessons From Lithuania, Part II: The Diary Of A Partisan
Part I of this series is here.
For part II, think hard about reading this book.
This review explains why; excerpt:
...And finally, perhaps the most vivid is the melancholy brooder, Lionginas Baliukevičius, whose diary of one year in his partisan life has just been translated into English. This is a story of decline and fall, and it needs to be set in context.
Although Baliukevičius’s story is the most circumscribed and describes the partisan war in less breadth than the other books named, it is a welcome and riveting addition to the partisan literature. The book is fascinating for its depiction of the day-to-day life of a partisan and his inner struggles. It also depicts one of the more monstrous betrayals in that ill-fated war.
The partisan diary under discussion here is intensely melancholy, shot through with the knowledge that the massive partisan movement was crumbling by 1948 and 1949, even as it finally achieved a unified national command. At one point, Baliukevičius was promoted to the leadership of the partisans in the South, who he said now consisted of 1,000 dead and 250 living. Those numbers would soon get worse. Of the approximately 140 partisans named in the diary, the vast majority would die in 1949, and most of the others, like Baliukevičius himself, in 1950.
The diary survived Baliukevičius’s death on June 24, 1950 by a stroke of luck. The typescript languished forgotten in KGB archives for forty years, somehow being overlooked during periodic purges. The diary only came to light after independence and was not published in book form in Lithuania until 2006. It appeared in English translation in 2008.
All the other prominent partisan books mentioned above were written as memoirs after the fact. Baliukevičius’s work, on the other hand, was written during the events described between June 23, 1948, and June 6, 1949, when this fragment breaks off. It is therefore more vivid, more profoundly psychological, more given to speculation about the future – because Baliukevičius was primarily looking to the future, not the past.
On one level, what’s fascinating about this diary is that most of it is concerned with simple creature comforts – more usually discomforts: the digging of bunkers, staying underground away from sunlight for weeks at a time, living with water dripping on your head day and night during rainy weather or spring thaws. In particular, the lack of air in poorly ventilated bunkers proved to be a serous discomfort. Baliukevičius, and Ramanauskas as well, complained of the airlessness, of being on the verge of suffocation for hours at a time.
Baliukevičius was often bored and had too much time to think, and there was frequently not much good to think about. Hope of help from the West in the form of all-out war was fading, even though many regular people held onto this belief right into 1949. Collectivization of the farms and deportations to Siberia were cutting the support base out from under the partisans, and infiltration and betrayal were becoming more effective methods of eliminating resistance than sweeping forests with masses of soldiers.
Philosophical by nature, Lionginas Baliukevičius had a lyrical side, a romantic sense of doom that was all too prescient and made beautiful moments seem all the more precious, as in sections such as this:
It is especially beautiful at the end of the day. It seems as if this is the last good-bye to summer. These days somehow affect my mood. I feel a bit melancholy. Memories seem to surface, and I feel sad for the beautiful days gone by – – – I would like to study again, to achieve something more. Oh, these beautiful, peaceful, and, at the same time, sorrow-tinged days.
This sensitive partisan is a real intellectual, a reader of Anatole France, Henrik Ibsen, and Leo Tolstoy. Baliukevičius has a turn of phrase that is almost Shakespearean at times:
I feel as though a worm has burrowed into my heart and is poisoning my blood.
Back then there were so many men, so many ideas, dreams, plans, and now everything is buried under the ground. Only the pines and spruce still rustle, just the way they did before.
Although the language and the sentiments of this diary make it a unique and worthy addition to the partisan literature, the most fascinating – and monstrous – part of the book lies in the story of betrayal at the center of the diary, a story that might barely be credible if not for this record...
Real-time anti-collectivist resistance musings, written while running and fighting for one's life and country.
A useful perspective, perhaps?