One of the least known episodes in early Lithuanian postal history is the endeavour of the Lithuanian Pašto Valdyba to open, in the summer of 1920, Lithuanian post offices in in some localities in the Vilnius area which since April 1919 had been under Polish rule.
After the end of WWI, as a result of unresolved political and territorial tensions, hostilities flared up between the recently re-established Poland and the reconstructed Soviet Russia. Polish troops advanced into Byelorussia, marching into its capital Minsk on August 8, 1919 (renaming it Minsk-Litewski) and also penetrated deeply into the Ukraine, taking its capital Kiev on May 7, 1920.
These expansive military moves were at least partly underpinned by an ambitious political intention championed especially by Gen. Josef Pilsudski. His idea was to re-create an old Polish-dominated union of Polish, Lithuanian, Byelorussian and Ukrainian lands. During these actions, the Polish military not only pushed out the Bolsheviks but occupied parts of eastern and southern Lithuania as well, including the old traditional Lithuanian capital, the city of Vilnius.
The Polish advance eastward was, however, stopped by the Red Army led by Marshal Tukhachevsky. By counterattacking in late May 1920, he inflicted a serious defeat on the Polish army and in fact pushed the Polish forces as far back as the outskirts of Warsaw. However, an amazing reverse took place. In turn, it was now the Poles that inflicted a crushing defeat on the Soviet troops which had to stream chaotically back to their own borders.
These confusing politico-military events provided the context for an unusual stage in Lithuania’s postal history. When the Russians forced the Poles to withdraw from the East, the Poles also had to abandon the areas of Lithuania proper and the Vilnius area which they had occupied since April 1919. This provided Lithuania, in mid-July 1920, with an opportunity to install its own administration in the areas which the Lithuanians claimed as their own. Pašto Valdyba, too, decided to expand its own Lithuanian postal network.
The principal post office to be re-opened was, of course, in the city of Vilnius. A second post office in Vilnius was opened at the Vilnius railway station.
[For a more detailed discussion of the Lithuanian post offices in the city of Vilnius in 1920 see an article (in Lithuanian) by Vytautas Doniela, “Lietuvių paštas Vilniuje 1920 m.” in the Journal of the Lithuanian Philatelic Society of Chicago, No. 234 (2005), pp. 8 – 13].
Regrettably, there is practically no surviving evidence from the planned and / or activated Lithuanian post offices outside of Vilnius. In the absence of genuine postal articles such as letters, postcards and the like, any reconstruction must be done by piecing together whatever is relevant in the official Acts of the Pašto Valdyba for the year 1920. Absence of surviving items is also conditioned by the fact that in whatever form these post offices existed they existed only for a short time. For example, Vilnius was entered by Lithuanian troops on July 15 and was vacated on October 9. For other localities, including the intended Lithuanian post offices, the time span was about the same or even shorter.
[In this context, I wish to express my gratitude to Mr Kazys Misius, of Vilnius, for his kind assistance and provision of copies of some extant documentation. My present account also does not deal with the postal situation in the south-western part of the Vilnius District – such towns as Gardinas (Grodno), Suvalkai (Suwalki), Seinai (Sejni) etc., for in many important respects the situation there was different.)
The “country post offices” in 1920:
APSAS (Opsa). The township was entered by Lithuanian troops on July 21, 1920. A mandate to open a post office there was given to Jok?bas Medvedevas, as from September 1, 1920, with a salary of 600 auksinai. There is no surviving evidence of its activities. On evacuation, Jokūbas Medvedevas was appointed postmaster at Dukštas with a salary of 650 auksinai and his later movements are not known.
DUKŠTAS (Dukszty k. Turmont). Entered by Lithuanian troops on July 9, 1920. Postmaster’s mandate, as from August 19, 1920, was given to Petras Jurgelavičius at a salary of 650 auksinai. For dereliction of duty he was replaced, as of October 1, by the postmaster of Apsas, Jokūbas Medvedevas,
LINKMENYS (Lyngmiany). Entered by Lithuanian troops on July 10, 1920. As from August 7, Its first postmaster was Aleksandras Pikturna at a salary of 700 auksinai. He was transferred as postmaster to Trakai on September 4, being replaced by Jokūbas Rud[…?] from Mažeikiai at a salary of 600 auksinai. A postman, Kajetonas Godas, was appointed on September 1 but stayed after evacuation and was struck off the postal register on November 1, 1920.
SVYRIAI (Swir). Entered by Lithuanian troops on July 22. The first postmaster was Juozas Vilkas, previously postmaster of Traškūnai in Aukštaitija, mandated to take up duties on September 16 at a salary of 700 auksinai. After evacuation he went to Panev?žys and was appointed postmaster of Biržai as from December 1, 1920.
ŠVENČIONĖLIAI (NAUJIEJI ŠVENČIONYS) (N. Swęciany). Entered by Lithuanian troops on July 22. The first postmaster was Jonas Bielinis, before then postmaster of Šilalė, mandated in advance on July 20. On September 16 he was transferred to Švenčionys. Another appointee was Stasys Švagžlys starting on August 20, who after evacuation went to Panevėžys. Also appointed was postman Ignacas Užello who did not leave after evacuation. Postmaster Jonas Bielinis was replaced on September 16 by Mikas Švagžlys, previously postmaster of Siesikai in Aukštaitija. After evacuation, Mikas Švagžlys, at a salary of 700 auksinai, was transferred as postmaster to Ramygala.
ŠVENČIONYS (Swięciany). Taken by the Red Army on July 9, 1920 but entered by Lithuanian troops only on August 8. First temporary postmaster was Otto Grimm’as (did not leave on evacuation) who was mandated on August 20 and was replaced by Jonas Bielinis on September 16. Several other employees were appointed: Kristopas Berdikštis in August, Jonas Šušas on September 18 (later evacuated to Biržai), Osinsko, Klipč, Drozd and others. Postmaster Jonas Bielinis on evacuation was appointed postmaster of Ežerėnai (Zarasai). Švenčionys was retaken by Polish troops on October 10, 1920.
TRAKAI (Troki). This historical locality was entered on August 25. As from September 4, the first postmaster was Aleksandras Pikturna who after evacuation on or about October 9 was promoted to a senior post with the Pašto Valdyba at a salary of 1100 auksinai. Among other employees was postman Simonas Markevičius who did not evacuate.
Of the above-listed seven Lithuanian post offices receiving some kind of mention in 1920 six survived within the Polish-dominated “Central Lithuanian” and / or Polish postal administration. However, six of them again joined the Lithuanian system after the fall of Poland in 1939, either during the period of Lithuania as part of the USSR or as part of German-formed Ostland. The remaining seventh post office, Apsas, has been as Opsa within Byelorussia or present-day Belorus since the end of the Second World War.
Fig. 1 A postcard posted at the Lithuanian field post office No. 3 on 19. IX. 1920 addressed to Švenčionys, carried via Vilnius 25. IX. 20 [colln.Lapas].
Fig 2. A letter posted at Vilkaviškis on 16. X. 20 addressed to Trakai. By that time Trakai was re-taken by Polish forces, and the letter stopped at Kaišiadorys 19. X. 20 [colln. Doniela].