April 6 – 30, 2022 at Photography Gallery (Vasario 16-osios st. 11, Panevėžys)
The exhibition features photographs from the personal photoarchives of partisans, which were restored by the Lithuanian photographer Stanislovas Bagdonavičius. This is the unique series of photographs printed from the original negatives reflecting the life of the partisans of Panevėžys region of 1945-1953.
After the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in 1944 for the second time, tens of thousands of patriots went to the battle with the oppressors. The activity of partisan units were regulated by their respective statutes and regulations, and those who were joining the partisan ranks took an oath. Most partisans wore military uniforms with identifying and distinctive patches.
Resistance to the occupants, also known as the Lithuanian war, resistance, or partisan war, lasted more than 10 years. During the entire period of an active armed resistance there were no less than 50 thousand people, and the entire resistance movement involved about one hundred thousand citizens of Lithuania as the members and supporters of the underground organisations. In this war more than 20 thousand partisans were killed.
The negatives that captured the partisans of the Panevėžys region were hidden for many years, because during the Soviet era people were facing torture, exile, or even death for their keeping. In 1988, this priceless treasure got into hands of S.Bagdonavičius. It took a jeweler’s thoroughness for the photographer to transfer the image from the damaged negatives into the photographic paper. Later, the researcher of the Lithuanian partisan war history, Romas Kaunietis, identified the identities of most of the partisans captured in the photographs and their fighting friends – photographers.
One of the photographers – the partisan Antanas Žygas, nicknamed Aptiekorius (the pharmacist) – had a German medium format camera and photographed the daily life of partisans who were active in the Green forest near the city of Panevėžys. Later he was arrested, convicted, and shot to death. The negatives were kept by partisans buried deep in the ground in a bunker, inside of a tar covered milk can. The bunker was blown up, and the earth was hiding the secrets of the freedom fighters for a long time. After many years, another surviving partisan dug out the hiding-place and this way the unique negatives saw a light of the day.
Another photographer – Kazys Juknevičius, a communication officer for partisans who fought in the forests of Kupiškis region. He built bunkers for partisans, created shelters, was one of the main suppliers of the squad and also photographed with a photo camera “Moskva-5”. The communication officer was betrayed and imprisoned for a long time in Russian prison camps. Negatives were hidden in a peat factory, in one of the handrails of the staircase on the second floor. In 1964, the factory burned down to the ground, while the residents were allowed to use the unburnt wood for fuel. Precisely in the heap of sawdust, surviving by a miracle, the negatives that were wrapped in the newspaper, were found.
“Partisans signed for freedom of their homeland in blood – thousands of young men from villages and intellectuals who refused to serve to the oppressor. Each day they were accompanied by death and uncertainty, hope, and the unknown. For 10 years they have turned the bunkers and forests into their way of life, during their hungry days feasting on songs, poems, and the bread grown by the fearless patriot farmers. The things that the partisans did for the survival of the nation are phenomenal, since the power of the oppressor has been weakening for 10 years, while at the same time sending the message for the future generations that next to the occupied Lithuania, a free Lithuania was alive in the forests and bunkers. When I exhibited the photographs for the first time in 1990, people recognized in them their own brothers, uncles, classmates, neighbours, and some of them even themselves – the fearless partisans with weapons in their hands, defending the Homeland, homesteads of their own and their parents” says the photographer Stanislovas Bagdonavičius.
The exhibition “Partisans of Panevėžys region: 1945–1953” was exhibited at the National Military History Museum of Ukraine in Kyiv in 2018. The exhibition was presented at the “Legio Historica” festival in Kherson and exhibited at the Oles Honchar Kherson regional universal scientific library in 2019.
The exhibition in Ukraine was supported by the Panevėžys City Municipality.
Partisans Juozas Šomka-Čerčilis, Juozas Galiauskas-Martinas and Stasys Kulys-Briedis.