From Partisan Warfare to Memory Battlefields: A Lecture by Dr. Dovilė Budrytė

By Selin Misirlioglu

One country. Two women fighters. On opposite sides, but united in their relation to memorializing history and commemorating war. One was a Holocaust survivor, another spent years in the Gulag.

     On October 14th, 2021, Dr. Dovilė Budrytė of Georgia Gwinnett College gave a public lecture, “From Partisan Warfare to Memory Battlefields: Two Women’s Stories about the Second World War and Its Aftermath,” at the Miami University King Library. At the lecture Budrytė discussed recollections of two women fighters, partisans during and after World War II in Lithuania— Rakhel’ Margolis and Aldona Vilutienė. Both women became memory entrepreneurs after the collapse of the USSR and created some of the first museums that perpetuated their own as well as Jewish and Lithuanian communities’ memories of World War II in Lithuania. Dr. Budrytė analyzed their personal remembrance of their pasts, as well as how gender culture and gender ideology shaped their conflicting memories.

     The conventional understanding of women as peacekeepers conflicts with images of women as fighters and war heroes. Like men during WWII, women were snipers, aviators, and soldiers on the frontlines. Budrytė emphasized the importance of including women partisan narratives within national narratives to reveal the complexity of war memories.

Portrait of female partisan, Sara Ginaite at the liberation of Vilna. USHMM collection.
Partisans of Taujėnai area. 
From left: Jonas Sinkevičius-Šermukšnis, Zofija Striogaitė-Žilienė-Klajūnė and Petras Sinkevičius-Ąžuolas. From

     Rakhel’ Margolis, a Jewish woman from Lithuania, was characterized as a strong, passionate and bold woman from an early age; she passionately believed in Marxism and communism. Margolis opposed traditional gender ideologies and characteristics and joined the Soviet resistance organization Fareynegte Partizanishe Organizatsye (United Partisan Organization, FPO). Margolis’ memoir also highlights the misogynistic and anti-Semitic discrimination that many of the Jewish fighters faced within Lithuanian Soviet partisan groups themselves as well as their betrayal. She underscores peaceful resistance, such as volunteering at the Vilnius ghetto library. Reading itself was a form of non-violent resistance that coexisted with armed opposition. Her inclusivity in resistance efforts, as well as the memory work provided through her testimonials, challenges traditional gender roles and brings awareness to existing rifts of memory regimes—Jewish and Lithuanian— in post-Soviet Lithuania.

     Aldona Vilutienė was a partisan messenger in the Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisan war. Her ideological beliefs aligned with Lithuanian post-Soviet memory regimes which emphasize Lithuanian’s resistance against the Soviet regime. Interestingly, she valorized the heroism and masculinity of anti-Soviet resistance fighters. She helped resistance fighters by posting proclamations, transferring materials, and procuring items for the fighters. Similar to Margolis, Vilutienė also recalls the betrayal of other Lithuanian partisans that affected her greatly. Betrayed by a fellow partisan, Vilutienė was sent to the Gulag where she embroidered vizitėlės. Her artistic work was also patriotic and religious; it was a form of non-violent and spiritual resistance that expressed her anti-Soviet stance and devotion to her nationhood.

     The testimonies of these two women attest the opposing memory regimes that have formed in post-Soviet Lithuania. They are told for different audiences, yet consist of similar underlying themes such as the emotional and physical circumstances they endured as women fighters, their shared moments of vulnerability when pursuing partisan activities and prevalent patriarchal gender cultures, and the feelings of betrayal and disloyalty. Both testimonies prioritize non-violent resistance and illustrate how non-violent resistance is as significant as armed, ‘masculine’ resistance portrayed in national ideologies.

     The different memory regimes have a material shape: the museum founded by Margolis, named ‘The Green House,’ presents aspects of women fighters that strengthens her stance on gender equality, whilst Vilutienė’s focuses on forms of traditionally masculine heroism, portraying the traditional national memory regime of Lithuania.

The Green House, Vilnius.

     Dr. Budrytė’s lecture discussing these women fighters was gripping, providing insight to these women’s personal stories and how the significance of their memory regimes prevails in Lithuanian post-Soviet society. Their legacies exist as memory battles that have influenced audiences both locally and transnationally. The lecture proclaimed the importance of including memories of women within national narratives, and the power these memories may have in constituting leading narratives within history itself.

Inside the Tauro Partisan and Exiles Museum founded by Vilutienė.

Selin Misirlioglu is a second year studying at the Farmer School of Business. She is the president of Miami’s Lithuanian Club.

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