By Cadet Michael Cosenza
During our travel from Vilnius to Klaipeda Lithuania, we (Army ROTC Cadets participating in the Cultural Understanding Language Proficiency program) visited a local school and toured an old soviet-era, partisan bunker in Ariogalos, a small town in Lithuania.
Partisans are like guerilla warfare groups, or part of the resistance movement within Europe during WWII.
While there, we learned about the history of this bunker and about the Lithuanian resistance to the Soviet Union forces. We were also given a chance to meet with senior students at the school and learn about life as a Lithuanian teenager by engaging in one on one conversation. This opportunity gave us a chance to integrate with, and experience, Lithuanian culture from the perspective of native Lithuanians.
Once arriving in Ariogalos we toured the site of the bunker. While traveling to the forest where the hiding place had been built, we were briefed about the history of the partisan movement and specifically about the history of the bunker. It was constructed in 1948 during the Soviet Union’s occupation of Lithuania, becoming only known to few outside of the six resistance fighters who occupied its small quarters–six men had to cram inside and live shoulder to shoulder to make it work.
The bunkers in Lithuania were used to hide from the Soviet Army during the 1940s and 50s. The security of the bunker in Ariogalos was unfortunately compromised in 1950 by word of mouth from a member of the town. A Soviet supporter living in the city sold the location of the bunker to the Soviets, which led to the discovery and deaths of the partisans that were hiding there. Five of the six men were killed, while the sixth was taken into captivity and tortured for information which eventually led to his death. Following the assault on the men living within the bunker, it was destroyed.
But after the fall of the Soviet Union, a monument dedicated to the partisans who died was erected and in 2010 the bunker was excavated and rebuilt by local citizens of Ariogalos. The bunker is located approximately four hundred meters into the woods. We were granted the opportunity to climb inside to take a look at the conditions in which the partisans had to live. While inside we experienced the cramped quarters the resistance fighters had to contend with while hiding from the Soviet Army.
Following the tour of the bunker we traveled back to town where we visited the school, Ariogalos Gimnazija. We answering questions about life in the United States and asking questions about life in Lithuania—an experience that enhanced each countries cadets and students grasp a better understanding of each culture. A short time later we moved outside to the school’s athletic field or “stadium” and participated in several activities with the students that included competition firing pellet guns, followed by running a 4×400 meter relay race against the schools runners.
Over the course of our trip we were able to broaden our mindset of other cultures because of the opportunity to integrate with the Lithuanians, and also by being taught the history and struggle for independence that Lithuania has seen.