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|Deportation to Siberia||
Taken from the book, Siberia: Mass Deportations from Lithuania to the USSR
Authors - Dalia Kuodytė and Rokas Tracevskis
The book Siberia brings to you, a heart wrenching photographic journey of a Lithuanian tragedy. As you flip through the pages, you will begin to get a glimpse into what a deportees life was really like. This book was made possible by research conducted through the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania. The following article is a summary taken out of this book.
This string of tragedies began in August 1939, when Hitler and Stalin concluded a cynical agreement that divided up Central Europe between the two totalitarian countries. According to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Lithuania was to fall into the Soviet zone of influence.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Lithuania was occupied three times: first by the USSR in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and finally by the USSR again in 1944.
Pre-war Lithuania’s position of neutrality on the eve of WWII did not protect the country from its sad fate. According to Lithuanian state institutions, the damage caused by the USSR‘s occupation to the Republic of Lithuania in financial terms is $278 billion. During Nazi and Soviet occupations, including 200,000 Holocaust victims, the losses of the population of Lithuania amounted to 33 percent of the total number of the country's population in 1940. Lithuania lost 1 million people to deportations, executions, incarceration, the murder of the political opposition and forced emigration.
Siberia was the major destination of Lithuanian prisoners. Altogether, some 600,000 prisoners were taken from the Soviet occupied Baltic states - Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. There were some 10 million inhabitants in all three Baltic states on the eve of the Soviet occupation. Proportionately, the number of Baltic prisoners would be equal to a loss of 20 million in the United States or 5 million in Great Britain.
During Soviet occupation, the nation sustained heavy losses. Every third Lithuanian became a victim of Soviet terror. During 1940-1953, some 132,000 Lithuanians were deported to remote areas of the USSR: Siberia, the Arctic Circle zone and Central Asia. They were not allowed to leave remote villages. More than 70 percent of the deportees were women and children. There were 50,000 women and 39,000 children deported to remote areas of the USSR. Some 30,000 of the deportees died there mostly because of slave work and starvation. Some 50,000 of the deportees were not able to return to Lithuania. During the same period, another 200,000 people were thrown into prisons. Some 150,000 of them were sent to the Gulags, the USSR‘s concentration camps, situated mostly in Siberia.
There were several big waves of mass deportations to Siberia. There were some differences between them. In 1940-1941, the Soviet’s task was decapitation of the Lithuanian nation by annihilating its cultural and political elite. Arrests and deportations, executed by the Soviets and local collaborators, started soon after Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union on June 15, 1940 and even before official incorporation of Lithuania into the USSR on August 3, 1940.
On July 6, 1940, Antanas Sniečkus, secretary of the tiny Lithuanian Communist Party and director of the State Security Department, issued an order to arrest anyone who would campaign against the election of the Soviet-organized and shamefully named People’s Seimas, which was a farce. This was held to justify the approaching annexation of Lithuania. After issuing the order, the first mass arrests began and by August, 1940 and the Soviets and their local communist collaborators had arrested more than 1,300 Lithuanian citizens. Many of the arrested were statesmen, politicians and other public figures. On July 17, Prime Minister Antanas Merkys and Foreign Minister Juozas Urbšys were arrested and sent to the Soviet Union.
In October and November, 1940, the Soviets ordered to draw up lists of “anti-Soviet elements”. This term included a wide spectrum of people: 1. Members of non-communist parties, including heretical communists; 2. Members of patriotic and religious organizations; 3. Former police and prison officials; 4. Former officers of tsarist and other armies; 5. Former officers of the Lithuanian and Polish armies; 6. Former volunteers who had joined anti-Soviet armies in 1918-1919; 7. Citizens of foreign states, representatives and employees of foreign firms, and employees of foreign embassies. 8. Those who corresponded with foreign countries or consulates of foreign countries as well as philatelists and those who know the Esperanto language; 9. Former high level officials; 10. Red Cross employees and émigrés from Poland; 11. Clergymen of all religions; 12. Bankers, members of aristocratic families and rich farmers.
The total number of persons registered as “anti-Soviet elements” reached 320,000 entries. There were teachers and professors, school and college students, farmers, industry workers and craftsmen among them.
June 14-18, 1941 were the dark days of the first massive arrest and deportation of the Lithuanian population. A cargo of 16,246 people were crammed into cattle cars. Moscow’s instruction required separate men from their families. So, 3,915 men were separated and transported to concentration camps in the Krasnoyarsk territory while 12,331 women, children and elderly people were transported to the Altai Mountains territory, the Komi republic and to the Tomsk region.
Forty percent these deportees were children below 16 years old. More than half of the deported died quickly. Pregnant women and babies born in the cattle cars were the first victims – they died in the trains. The deportation process was interrupted by the German-Soviet war.
The Soviets resumed mass deportations to Siberia and other eastern regions of the USSR after recapturing Lithuania from Nazi Germany in 1944. The partisan anti-Soviet war for democratic and independent Lithuania began in 1944. Some 22,000 Lithuanian partisans lost their lives in unequal war against the Soviet regular army and NKVD units. From 1949 the armed resistance started to wane. This guerilla war continued until 1953. The last resistance fighter refused to surrender and shot himself in 1965.
Partisans, their supporters and non-armed opposition made up a big group among those who were deported in 1945 – 1947. Another big group of deportees was those who tried to escape service in the Red Army. Ethnic Germans and members of their families, who did not leave Lithuania, were deported as well.
The situation changed in 1948. The most extensive deportation from Lithuania was held on May 22 and 23, 1948. Over these two days 12,100 families, numbering over 41,000 people, were seized from their homes and exiled. In 1948, 50 percent of deportees were accused not of their relations with the armed guerillas. Their official guilt was their social class – they were owners of private farms. In 1949, already two-thirds of the deportees belonged to this category while in 1951 they absolutely dominated the Soviet secret police‘s statistics.
Such change was due to the collectivization campaign in the Lithuania’s countryside. In 1948, the Soviets started to implement mass collectivization, appropriating land and livestock. This resulted in establishment of kolkhozes. In 1950, some 90 percent of land was given to kolkhozes. Mass deportations continued until the death of Josef Stalin in 1953.
How did the typical deportation look? The NKVD broke into an apartment or house and arrested all the family members. The NKVD marched them onto the back of a truck. In the railway station as far as the eye could see there were men and women clutching suitcases and bundles of hastily gathered clothing, the elderly and the disabled searching for places to sit and mothers holding their children, all surrounded by Red Army soldiers brandishing weapons.
Usually, the men were put on separate trains. They usually were transported to prisons and the Gulags (concentration camps) while females, kids and the elderly were deported to live in God-forsaken settlements in Siberia.
In the cattle cars the passengers were given hardly any food except a little water and some inedible soup. There was scarcely any air to breathe as everyone was jammed together and the cars had only a few small windows covered with bars. A hole in the floor served as a toilet. Some of the people, especially the infants became sick immediately and died. The bodies of those who died on the journey were left on the side of the tracks.
After one month the train reached some Siberian center. The Soviets immediately put their prisoners to work. They forced women and teenage girls to march into the forest to cut trees. They worked in deep snow, even as temperatures plunged to minus 45 degrees Celsius. Prisoners cut up trees and later lived in huts made from those tree branches. Sometimes it was so cold they awoke frozen to the ground.
Some deportees collapsed while the guards pushed the others along to another day of work. The collapsed prisoners were then left for dead somewhere behind in the wilderness. In exchange for their efforts, prisoners received a small amount of hard bread. They were working for food. A full day of hard work was equal to 500 grams of bread. Physically weaker prisoners could only earn 100 grams of bread.
Working prisoners shared their meager rations with those who could not work – the little children, the old and the infirm. Much of the time people had virtually nothing to eat and everyone suffered from constant hunger. Their bodies were swollen and covered with boils caused by malnutrition. Their skin was inflamed by mosquito bites.
The youngest children were affected the most by the harsh conditions and almost all of them were sick. Many of them died from starvation and disease. The elderly followed the children. Those who remained could only struggle to dig graves in the frozen earth. Gradually, the survivors tried to adjust to life in Siberia. Deportees were permitted to use a patch of ground on which to grow potatoes.
In 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided that deportees should be released. In late 1950s, the survivors started to return to Lithuania.
There is an old and cynical saying that one death is a tragedy, but a thousand are just a front-page headline. Well, of course, deaths of thousands of deportees began to make headlines only in late the 1980s. Let’s look to personal tragedies.
The survivors of the Gulags and deportations can speak openly now. Former deportee Janė Meškauskaitė says that she and her family was kidnapped by the NKVD one night because her father was member of the ruling Tautininkų Party in the pre-war Lithuania. Her family was put on a train and dropped off at a remote village in the Tomsk region many days later.
They were among the more fortunate deportees, as Russian farmers from Kazakhstan who were exiled in the early 1930s for being to wealthy inhabited the village. They understood her family‘s plight and welcomed them into society. Nevertheless, food was scarce.
“My father once bought some meat from a local crook. He and a friend hid in the woods to cook and eat it so that thugs wouldn’t steal it. They found out later that they were eating a friend of theirs who had just died,” said Meškauskaitė.
Bread was also strictly rationed. “People in our village were allotted 300 grams of flour a day. One time the flourmill broke down so we were simply given whole grains. People were so hungry that they would just eat them uncooked. Of course, most had bad teeth and couldn’t chew them so they would end up undigested in the latrines. Many people would go and collect them, wash them, and make porridge,” she said.
Life in Stalin-era labor camps was a dehumanizing experience. The diet allocated to prisoners was less than that required for survival. “As inmates we were chained in pairs. Once my partner and I thought a wolf was attacking us. It turned out to be a guard dog that had broken loose from its chain. We killed it with our axes and buried it in the snow. We returned many times to cook and eat it. Those were some of the best meals of my life,” he said.
Life was not easy for those who survived and returned to Lithuania. Meškauskaitė returned to Lithuania in 1958. “We were placed in an impossible situation. The government required us to register with the local municipality or face renewed deportation. In order to register, we needed an employer, but no one would have courage to give a work to former deportee. I lived and worked illegally for many years with the help of relatives,” she said.
Now former political prisoners, deportees and partisans receive an additional pension, which Lithuanian state finances can manage. Russia, which officially proclaimed inheritance of all international rights and obligations of the USSR, shows no will to pay compensation to them. The Russian state has never said a word asking for forgiveness for the Soviet terror in the occupied Baltic states. However, it was done by Russian dissidents.
Virtually no one has been called to account for what was done. The West has chosen to forget these horrors. Nothing of these horrors is taught in their schools. There is no grand museum in Washington, D.C., dedicated to those whose lives were destroyed by the communists.
No Communist Party bosses in Russia have ever been made to pay for their transgressions. Not one labor camp commandant has been forced to answer for his inhumanity. There is no talk of reparations. The Kremlin objects whenever anyone raises questions about the injustice of the past.
The great crimes of Soviet communism are mostly just remembered in the hearts and souls of the victims.
Lithuanians are considering the Soviet terror corresponded to genocide. Most of those deported were doomed - a third of them to a speedy death and the rest to a life of misery in Siberia. One only had to be an honest Lithuanian citizen to face deportation. A lot of work still needs to be done, in order to clarify world opinion.
INTERVIEW WITH DALIA KUODYTE
In 1994, Lithuanian investigators discovered KGB files documenting the killing of 766 people by the Soviets in Vilnius’s KGB headquarters at Gediminio Avenue in the city centre. The victims were buried in secret at Tuskulenai Manor, a small park with old trees on the right-hand bank of the Neris River. Until 1994, nobody other than the KGB knew that the centre of Vilnius was a place where victims of mass killings lay under the soil. Hundreds of skeletons of anti-Soviet partisans, priests and politicians of independent Lithuania placed in trenches were found during excavations that started in 1994. All these people were executed by NKVD, the former name of the notorious KGB.
A state commission for the commemoration of the Tuskulenai victims was created after the awesome discovery. One of the members was Dalia Kuodyte, director general of the Centre of Genocide and Resistance (LGGRTC) and editor of the journal Genocide and Resistance. Ms Kuodyte, in 1991, became a member of a working group that was founded to document the KGB‘s actions in Lithuania. From 1997 to the present, Dalia Kuodyte has been the general director of the LGGRTC and all its components. There are five members within the commission.
We met Dalia Kuodyte to talk about her experiences and the things she has learned since she became active in her search for the KGB encroachments in Lithuania. We began by asking her how severe the total suffrage, for Lithuania and its people, in reality was.
“Lithuania suffered from Soviet and Nazi occupations as did other countries,” Kuodyte explains. “It lost one-third of its inhabitants due to killings, deportations and forced emigration. The occupation and annexation of Lithuania, and the repression and deportation of more than 300,000 Lithuanians to Siberia, gave rise to a resistance movement with the ultimate goal of independence. Guerrilla warfare involving some 50,000 freedom fighters took place from 1944 to 1953."
Who were those people who were found in the Tuskulenai mass graves?
“The Tuskulenai story is strongly tied with the Lithuanian partisans’ war against the Soviets, as mostly partisans are buried there. Leaders of the partisan units were officers of the Lithuanian army, and the partisans wore Lithuanian army uniforms. Usually they knew each other only by pseudonyms, because of the fear of infiltrators. Big cities were controlled by Soviets, but forests belonged to the partisans. Some 20,000 fighters were killed in battles with the Soviet regular army and NKVD units. Small groups continued this fight up until 1956. The last partisans came out of their hideouts in the late 1980s. What is interesting about Tuskulenai graves is that a past KGB officer came forward and told about this place to our former Director of National Security. We don’t know this officers name, but after he came forward we learned that this was here. The graves are from the years 1945-1946; all of these people had been killed in the KGB house. There are a few more KGB burial sites scattered around Vilnius from the 1950’s, but none of them have been revealed yet. There were an estimated 1,200-1,300 people killed around Vilnius in the 1950’s. The majority of the killings stopped around 1965 when the last of the partisan’s war was dieing out. People that were brought to trial during the Soviet times didn’t get a real trial; they had no possibility to defend themselves.”
Didn‘t the partisans realise that their guerrilla war was hopeless against the Soviet super power?
“Resistance to the Soviets was sustained by the hope of aid from the United States and other Western democratic countries, and elderly people still remember how they waited for the landing of American troops on the 1st and 15th of each month. But we are not Kuwait. There are carrots in our soil, not oil. Who would come to fight for carrots? To the partisans it was not as important to keep themselves, as it was to keep the idea. When you are sitting in underground bunkers, thinking about your life, it is the idea that keeps you going. We can tell this from their letters. Some of the fighters believe that maybe someone would come and help, but the leaders knew what was going on. No one was coming. There were hopes about a third World War in 1944 to 1945, but nothing ever came through. There were two reasons people didn’t go home. The first is that they knew their homeland as an independent and free state. They wouldn’t rest until they saw it any other way. This idea was more important then anything else. The second is that they knew in any case they would die. If they came back to their villages, to the KGB, they would die. Originally new recruits came all the time into the forest, all the way up until 1949. They were nicknamed the ‘Forest Brothers.’ After 1949, the leaders refused to admit new members. Lithuania and the Ukraine had the largest scale guerrilla war in Europe taking place. There are no estimates as to the number of people who were killed in this guerrilla fighting in the Ukraine, it is estimated that 20,000 Lithuanian citizens died. About 4% of the Lithuanian population took part in one means or another in this was.”
What can you say about whether collaborators in general have been punished for Soviet genocide?
“There are 6 or 7 cases talking place now regarding Lithuanians who collaborated with the Soviets. They are too old though to sit in jails. It is said they are guilty, but they can stay at home because they are too old. But… they are guilty and that is very important to understand. The most important thing is to say the truth, not to shoot or imprison these old, OLD people. They have admitted in some cases to what they did. They worked within the system though, and that was very natural. The mentality then in Lithuania and within the Soviet system takes inherently different forms.”
Have you met and spoken with any of these people?
“I have met several of them in 1992-1993, when I worked for a historical journal. I tried to get information about the partisans from them. Some of them were prior partisans whom had been captured and made to serve as secret agents. During this time they talked more to the KBG because there was no threat of trial. It was very interesting to speak with them, horrible, but interesting. Some thought they could help their friends to come out of the forest and stay alive, but it was just an illusion.”
In 1998 the Lithuanian Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the Communist ideology and its consequences for Lithuania. The parliament was of the opinion that former Communists are morally and politically responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in the name of Communism. Still, several former members of the Communist party have been elected to parliament as representatives of other parties. What are your comments to this fact?
“Like I said, our collective memory of Soviet times is very interesting. Yes, of course we are talking of crimes of the Communist Party against Lithuania but we are talking about members of the Communist Party, not criminals. Not every member of the Party was responsible for these crimes. This is even a bad question when I have to answer it in Lithuanian, but in English it sounds ten times worse. In Lithuania, our Communist past is very problematic still today. It takes twenty to thirty years to come to the idea to establish such a centre and institution that citizens can investigate and discuss their past.”
You are also the head of the newly established ’Lustration (Peace and Reconciliation) Commission,’ which is investigating links between KBG and Lithuanians. How many cases have you investigated so far, and how many individual KGB-collaborators have you discovered?
“Currently we have sixty working cases and in thirty of these cases we said that the person was a secret agent for the KGB. Twenty of these people said that they wanted to go to trial to dispute and deny our decisions. Only in one case trial did they say our decision was incorrect, all of the others proved valid. People with the Department of National Security are working as investigators for our commission. Many of the cases have been found in the KGB archives, this is our main resource. There are as many as 500,000 Lithuanian cases being investigated. We must work with pieces of information from the archives, but many documents were taken to Moscow never to be seen again. The Russians are keeping their secrets.”
The Vilnius County Court ruled in 2003 that there is no convincing evidence that Kazimiera Prunskiene, Lithuania's prime minister from 1990-91, collaborated with the KGB. The court thus overturned a 1992 court ruling that affirmed that Prunskiene had worked for the KGB under the code name "Satrija." Your comments on this case?
“Now all of my comments are too late and this is a bit political. I know this material and for me the real decision rests in the 1992 court ruling.”
It is rumoured that many documents have gone missing. What are your comments on that?
“Since the trial in 1992, one document has gone missing, yes. But without it there is still enough evidence of collaboration found within the other documents to prove our case. In 2003, the 1992 ruling was overturned by a lower court.”
Have you even heard of before, a lower court ruling overturning one of a higher court anywhere else in the world?
“It was pretty complicated and they ruled that in civil cases this was possible with new developments and a new trial. I know that she was a KGB agent that is clear to anyone. What is unclear is at what level she was operating. Maybe she was just passing along scientific information from which she has gathered during her travels to universities in Germany. We don’t know if her work really did any harm.”
Last year you were in the newspaper almost everyday, why?
“Only about this commission, because it’s interesting to people. This is our past and as new cases come forward, more information will become available. We are now living in the European Union though and for many of our children this is not interesting. I think it is important to talk about the past.”
Do you have any support from the government or other authorities?
“No, everyone can think that the next case may be about a friend or fellow party member. This commission is not comfortable for many politicians and people. In one month a new law will be passed that gives people the opportunity to come forward and tell the truth about themselves. They can say to what extent they were involved in any of this, as a secret agent and such, in return for amnesty. Those who do not come forward will in time be prosecuted and information about them will be publicized. We are continuing to form new cases. This job is very hard; no one enjoys destroying people’s lives, careers and reputations. These people have children who maybe didn’t know about what their parents did. We don’t want to ruin people, we just want the truth. Many of these people are not guilty of killing people; they just passed information along to try to save themselves. You will continue to hear new names, but I don’t think it is important if these famous public figures. Again I say, what is important is to tell the truth not to punish people. People need to be able to put this past behind them.”
Can you tell me more about what has been left out of the history books?
“Little by little we are trying to talk more about our history. In our history books, during Soviet times, the partisans were called terrorists and bandits. It was all Russian propaganda. Many citizens, who were returning political prisoners, didn’t tell their children of any of this under threat. If they did it would mean that all of the family was an enemy of the system.“
What about the mentality within the Soviet Union during those times?
“The mentality of Soviet times is important to understand. The past mentality that is within us seeps down from parents to children. We came to the European Union and want to be understood, but we must talk about it and first understand ourselves. Mistrust is part of it and paranoia; this is all from Soviet times. It is convenient to try to hide all of this, why must we show all the damages within our soul? People think they can smile like in the Soviet times and it will all go away, smiles don’t make it anymore elegant.”
You have written so many moving books on subjects of this matter. Lietuvos Partizanai:1944-1953, was the first of its kind. What are your future writing plans?
“Currently I am working on the scripts of school children about their grandparents who were in Siberia. They are finding their past history through families and writing their feelings about it. I will title it something to do with Hope.”
The Inside Report