LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 51, No.3 - Fall 2005
Editor of this issue: M. G. Slavėnas
Copyright © 2005 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
IN THE GULAG
Deportations, Ethnicity and Identity
Memoirs of Children Deportees, 19411952
University of Toronto
I was then sixteen years old. In the
camps I discovered a ghastly world,
as in the most bloodcurdling circle of
Napalys Kitkauskas 1
The displacement of children is a theme barely examined in scholarly works on Soviet deportations. Throughout the history of the Gulag, children had seldom been a separate target group for the Soviet repressive apparatus. Most often, they were destined for the same cruel fate as their deported relatives, as family members of enemies of the socialist state. A historian dealing with the issue of childrens deportations in the Soviet Union is dumbfounded by the scale and senselessness of the crime committed. Most commonly, childrens suffering is used as a brutal illustration of and accusation against the Stalinist system. It has slowly been integrated into the national martyrologies of the successor states to the USSR: their memorials, rites of mourning, and narratives of collective suffering. However, childrens individual voices are seldom heard among those of the other Soviet victims. One wonders about the imprint such displacement left on those who faced it so early in their lives.2 But what sense does it make trying to discern childrens voices in a sea of suffering? Can we claim that by virtue of being children in exile they deserve special treatment? Is there something more, besides their youthful vulnerability, that makes their displacement experience unique and worth studying in the context of all other groups of deportees?
What makes the childrens experiences truly unique is the fact that they had to face exile in the early years of their lives, without having been fully integrated into their native societies. Often, but not always, their youthful perspectives on suffering, survival, and human identity in Soviet exile lent to their displacement narratives a degree of emotional immediacy, naiveté, and openhearted credibility that were missing in memoirs of adult deportees. In exile, childrens identities and values were more severely molded than those of their older relatives, who were forced into it as adults. If we assume that the Gulag was another Soviet revolution that shattered or completely reshaped lives, identities, social worlds, and the traditions of millions, then the deported children, the most vulnerable group of the victims, may serve as an important object of study of the impact of displacement on social behavior, psychology, and values of our modern society.
One of the premises of this paper is that children should be viewed not only as innocent victims of a totalitarian state or another voiceless subgroup but also as a legitimate social agency. Sometimes they tested the limits of the totalitarian system by developing identities and behavioral strategies that circumvented, subverted, or exposed its ideological and administrative fallacies. The way the Soviet repressive system handled children deportees (for instance, by refusing them certain childhood privileges or preventing their upward social mobility) can be an informative source about Soviet society in general.
The purpose here is not to indulge in another childrens martyrology but to discover and explore childrens voices in one of several Soviet deportations that took place from the ethnic borderlands of the Soviet Union. According to one estimate, the arrests and deportations from the Baltic states, eastern regions of Poland, Moldova, and Bukovina, from April 1940 to June 1941, swept a total of about 438,000 individuals into the Soviet interior.3 The second wave of displacement, between 1945 and 1953, forced into exile and camps another 256,000 people from the Baltic States alone.4 There were, in total, about 30,700 children under the age of eighteen deported with their relatives from Lithuania to the Soviet interior between 1941 and 1951.5
The aim here is to examine their fate in exile, with an emphasis on the relationship between displacement and ethnicity. If ethnicity is socially constructed (and not only culturally inherited) through the interaction between the individual and his native community, how does displacement affect identity building? Uprooted from their ethnic social environment so early in their lives, how did the Lithuanian children interpret the motives and experiences of their exile? How did the displacement shape their perceptions of their homeland? What role did ethnicity play in their strategies of survival and the formation of their exile identities?
This study emphasizes the subjective experiences of displacement as represented in the exile diaries and memoirs. In 1989, the Lithuanian Archive of Exile [Lietuvi tremties archyvas] published a collection of memoirs of seven teens who were deported from Lithuania to Russia between 1941 and 1953.6 This collection, as well as the memoirs of other Lithuanian child deportees, served as a source for this study. Although most of their memoirs have been written from the perspective of adulthood, they still vividly convey their childhood experiences, dilemmas, and challenges they faced in exile.
The paper attempts to accommodate both general analytic and biographical approaches. The first part examines briefly the scale, motives, and character of the two major Soviet deportations from Lithuania in 1941 and 19451953, and childrens place in them. The other two parts discuss childrens subjective experiences in the Gulag with an emphasis on their survival strategies and meanings of ethnicity for their identities.7
I. Children in Ethnic Deportations from Lithuania, 1941-1953
If one may trust statistical figures as witnesses, in Lithuania, the first Soviet mass deportation that started in the early hours of Saturday, June 14, 1941 and continued until June 17, swept about 19,000 people into exile.8 Among the deported, 70 percent were Lithuanians, 17.7 percent Poles, 9.2 percent Jews and 2 percent Russians. The five largest social groups that were targeted were farmers (29%), former state officials (16.8%), workers (14.2%), housewives (10.7%), and teachers (8.7%).9
There were about 5,500 children among the Lithuanian deportees. According to Leonardas Kerulis, among them there were 965 children less than four years old, 1,918 between ages five and ten; and 2,276 between ages eleven and eighteen.10 Almost all of them were deported as family members of enemies of the Soviet state. This was their primary crime, as defined by various Soviet laws and categories of borderland population to be deported. The deportation followed from the Soviet determination to integrate the newly acquired East European territories into the Soviet state by cleansing them of all population groups potentially harmful to the Soviet regime: security and Sovietization were the primary tasks that prompted the forced resettlement.11 Clearly the preemptive nature of this borderland cleansing was responsible for the decision to include minors among the dangerous elements. The categories of the targeted population ranged from members of local non-Communist parties, former state officials, intelligentsia, educational workers, priests, local farmers, Esperantists, thieves, prostitutes, and minors. Ethnicity, religious affiliation, or simply the family ties of the victims often mattered as much as their social status and political views in 1941.12
The first Soviet deportation from Lithuania had been carefully planned and prepared in advance along similar deportations from other western regions of the USSR. As early as in the fall of 1940, the Soviet Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior had received an order from Moscow to register all anti-Soviet, socially dangerous and criminal elements in Lithuania.13 On May 16, 1941, the Soviet Central Committee and Peoples Commissars Council adopted a secret decision in regard to resettlement of the socially harmful element from the Baltic republics, the Western Ukraine, Belorussia, and Moldova.14 A number of similar orders and resolutions followed, defining the preparation, responsibilities and specific stages of the operation.15
The second wave of Soviet deportations from Lithuania started in 1945 and continued until as late as 1953. According to one of the leading historians of the Soviet deportations from Lithuania, Eugenijus Grunskis, there were thirty-four separate deportations in Lithuania between 1945 and 1953, which forced into exile about 111,400 people.16 The data of the Soviet Ministry of the Interior of January 1, 1953 shows there were 80,189 registered special exiles from Lithuania who were deported during 1945-1949. Among them were 20,074 children. In addition, among 18, 097 Lithuanians deported in 1951, 5,167 were children.17
Although many victims described the 1941 deportation as the most brutal and sweeping, the post-1945 deportations were larger in scale and more selective in targeted groups. Children again have figured as members of families of deportees, although the two main categories of Soviet state enemies to be deported or imprisoned now became Lithuanian bandits and the so-called traitors of the fatherland.18 The armed resistance of Lithuanian forest guerrilla groups, which continued from 1944 until the early fifties, provided a continuous fresh intake of deportees for the Soviet forced labor system. The traitors category could comfortably be stretched out by the authorities to include all other unreliable groups as well as their family members. This postwar pattern of deportations was only briefly interrupted by the collectivization and mass deportation of Lithuanian kulaks to Siberia in 1947, when about 33,000 farmers and their family members were deported.19
One of the most striking features of the Soviet deportations in Lithuania was the intentional effort of the Soviet authorities to target the family. To disrupt its potentially dangerous nature as a cohesive social unit and for purposes of deportees transportation, distribution, and employment in the Soviet interior, the Soviet government issued a specific order detailing instructions for the detainment of individual families. Among these instructions, issued by the NKVD20 Peoples Commissar I. Serov in regard to the Baltic deportations, there was a paragraph on How to separate the deportees family from the head of the family:
Due to the fact that most of the deported have to be arrested and imprisoned in special camps and their families taken to special exile settlements..., the head and members of a deported family must be taken at the same time, without having been informed about their future separation... Until they reach a loading station, all members of the family are to be transported in one carriage, and only at the station must the head of the family be separated from his family and placed into a special train carriage.21
Although according to these instructions, the deportees family was given no longer than two hours for preparation and each member was allowed to take up to 100 kg of food, clothing, and personal belongings, in reality the NKVD and the local militia that conducted the arrests rarely followed these directives. Looting, drinking, debauchery, intimidation, and beatings were common as entire families were arrested and deported as they were found, without adequate clothing and resources. One of the Lithuanian child deportees, Jūratė Marcinkevičienė, arrested at the age of four, describes one of the typical cases:
Our entire family was deported in the early morning of June 13, 1941. Seven soldiers came, forced us from our sleep; they seated father on a stool, ordered him to raise his hands and pointed a pistol at him. They seated us, four children, at the table; we were crying and screaming, afraid for father... After they finished the search, they piled all our books in the yard and set them on fire telling us that they were bourgeois literature. My youngest sister was only two years old.22
If Marcinkevičienės father was sentenced as a former head of a regional government in independent Lithuania, the Kitkauskas family was deported for their sixteen-year-old sons alleged involvement in an anti-Soviet organization. He and his classmates were arrested right in their school classroom and then taken to a local NKVD headquarters for interrogation. 23 In Kaunas, during the arrest of an eight-year-old Jokūbas Baronas, he was shot through his shoulder shooting into a ceiling was quite a common practice among the security forces to intimidate the victims.24 Thirteen-year-old Antanina Garmutė was seized separately from her family because her parents were not home at the time of the arrest; she was ordered to gather her belongings in five minutes. After an attempted escape, she was beaten unconscious and later offered to buy herself out with money or gold from her family:
I had nothing and could not buy myself out. But there were some means to do that: Radzevičius [one of the militiamen] started rummaging in our things, emptied the bags made from bedcovers, and then started putting in them everything that seemed to him of value: my mothers homemade linens andthreads of linen... He put inside the bags different small things, even a bunch of long wax candles. I was horrified.25
Also there were tragic cases of mistaken arrests: the Íirka family (wife and four children) were mistakenly deported instead of the Šurka family. After the family head was released on July 18, 1941, he desperately tried to prevent the deportation of his wife and children. Unfortunately, efforts came too late: his entire family was already in Trofimov, Yakutia, where all of them, except a sixteen-year-old daughter, starved to death in 1943.26
If arrests of entire families still occurred in places of domestic comfort, their homes, the second stage of deportations, the deportees transportation, proceeded under much more brutal and inhuman conditions. They were loaded into cattle cars (on average 30-40 people per carriage) together with their personal belongings and then transported to the Soviet interior.27 As a rule, women, children and the elderly were deported separately from the family heads.28 This did not provide them with any additional comfort: the deportees diaries are full of references to the early deaths of small children, pregnant women, and the elderly from suffocation, congestion, heat and dehydration inside the train carriages. In his memoirs, A. Andriukaitis reports about the death of a certain Žeglienė. She died after giving birth in a train carriage near Omsk:
Žeglienė was lifted from the train and laid on the ground. But she lost blood and died, and the baby was screaming next to her. We dont know whether anyone took him because our train moved ahead after letting a military echelon pass by. The dead mother and her newborn remained on the ground.29
Armed convoys were given the responsibility of clearing the deportees carriages of corpses; often they were simply dumped on the road or in a nearby forest.30 Despite these cruelties, the rate of childrens death during the transportation phase was relatively low; in many instances the deportees were provided with medical care.31
In the end, how did the deported children try to make sense of their arrest and the ensuing journey to the East? This type of question hardly offers any generalized answers. Beside the initial confusion, fear, and shock, different individuals sought for various explanations of their ordeal. The fact that most of them described their exile experiences as adults imposed specific perspectives on their narratives, most commonly shaped by the framework of a collective suffering of an entire ethnic group. Antanina Garmutė, deported at the age of thirteen without her parents, describes her journey into exile as a collective experience:
...Our echelon was again and again passed by other echelons that followed us. People, someone said, the whole of Lithuania is traveling! My fading consciousness was suddenly reached by a thought, if the whole of Lithuania, then all echelons will be full of my relatives!.. It is then worth living. Im not even afraid of being shot with my people!32
If the suffering was understood as the ordeal that had befallen the entire ethnic community, it gave the individual a certain power and the motivation to survive. For some, individual misery became insignificant in the context of the suffering of entire families and neighbors.
Certainly, while deportations represented a break in their childhood time, physical displacement also meant forced abandonment of their traditional places of comfort home and a native social and cultural environment. Dalia Grinkevičiūtė, deported at the age of fourteen, who wrote her memoirs in her early twenties, describes her journey to Siberia as the end of her childhood:
I feel that one stage of my life is over. Period. From now on there will start a new one, unclear and frightening... The struggle for life is starting, Dalia. Gymnasium, childhood, fun, jokes, theater and girlfriends all are past. You are already an adult. You are already fourteen... The first act of my life struggle is on.33
For Grinkevičiūtė and many others who tended to interpret this ordeal from an individual rather than collective perspective, their journey into exile served as an entrance exam into the world of adulthood. But the transition had to take place swiftly; those who were still too young had to grow up or perish. Nevertheless, the abandonment of childhood space and time did not by itself provide the children with a ground for developing new identities. The latter will be shaped, hardened, and tested by their everyday life in the Gulag.
II. Strategies of Survival
What do Lithuanian childrens memoirs tell us about their survival strategies in exile? How did they adjust to forced labor and the Soviet administrative system in camps and exile settlements? What kind of ethical choices did they face?
After her arrest in 1941 at the age of fourteen, Dalia Grinkevičiūtė was deported to a forced labor camp in eastern Siberia. In 1949, she managed to escape to Lithuania and wrote a memoir of her displacement. She was caught in 1951 and sent back to Siberia again. Before her second arrest, she buried her memoir manuscript in a garden, and it was thought lost until its discovery in 1991, three years after her death. This discovery, which coincided with the nationalist revival that eventually led to Lithuanias independence, produced a shock in Lithuanian society and opened a public debate on the Gulags victims. As a result, numerous deportees memoirs came to light. Vytautas Landsbergis, a political leader of the Lithuanian national movement, described Grinkevičiūtės memoir as the mission... to testify in the court of humanity, a court to judge Communism.34 Extracts of her writings became included in educational programs of Lithuanian secondary schools.
At the same time, there were heard the voices of some former deportees who felt that they were misrepresented in Grinkevičiūtė's memoir. Arvydas Vilkaitis, who was interned at the same Gulag camp, found her narrative inaccurate and even unethical. Vilkaitis claimed that her early memoir was written hurriedly and that her teen imagination processed secondary things in a peculiar way.35 He was upset by her critical judgment of other Lithuanian deportees, her depiction of their moral degradation, corruption, and egoism. He claimed that her perspective, being entirely egotistical, failed to convey the shared experience of the deportees. At the same time, there were some contemporaries who argued that it was precisely the subjective and self-expressive nature of Grinkevičiūtės memoir that makes it uniquely capable of communicating their survival in the Gulag.36
Indeed, Grinkevičiūtė's testimony is exceptional because she vividly and without patriotic pathos describes the dehumanizing effect that the Gulag had not only on the perpetrators but also its victims. Perhaps in her teen years Grinkevičiūtė did not feel constrained by the need to tell her personal story from the perspective of collective suffering of the entire ethnic community of deportees. Instead, she described it from the perspective of a displaced teenager with a strong individual voice, a child whose childhood had been stolen and destroyed.
Ethnicity in her early memoir serves as a unifying bond among the deportees, mostly in situations where at least some semblance of normal social life is still possible. For example, Dalia is deeply moved by the collective singing of Lithuanian deportees on the shores of the River Angara. (A song would unite us, would make us stronger, as if telling us that we will have to suffer much, but Lithuanias children must endure.37) But she discovers that the ethnic, cultural, and even religious bonds that unite the Lithuanian deportees may dissipate under the extreme circumstances of the Gulags inferno. Thus she is ironic about those Lithuanian women deportees who try to save themselves from starvation by getting into sexual relations with camp administrators, guards, and workers:
...I pretend that I sleep as I watch how Štarienė flirts with a soldier. She is a very pious woman, or at least wants to make such an impression, a true patriot. If she hears a child sing a Russian song, she smiles contemptuously and reproaches the parents. Meanwhile, she is making out with NKVD men and Russians... She is beautiful, but absolutely mischievous. She smiles at a Russian, and he touches her and lays her down. When she talks about her husband Bronius, who is in the camps, it seems that real tears are running from her blue eyes. She is a Jesuit.38
Grinkevičiūtė ridicules the deportees hypocrisy and their attempts to moralize others; at the same time she realizes that their unethical behavior is honorable under these extreme circumstances (they could not be accused of depravity, because all instincts had been already atrophied by hunger.)39. The plight of women forces her to rethink her childhood notions of ethical behavior when she is placed right in the middle of the complex social network of the adult world of camps. In the face of this ordeal, collective notions of suffering are being replaced by the individuals will to survive and to preserve ethical integrity. Indeed, this ethical dimension is strongly present in the first version of Grinkevičiūtės memoir, which she wrote in her early twenties; it is less evident in the second memoir, which she wrote in her early fifties.40
In her early teens, Grinkevičiūtė is already aware that it is the camp system that is primarily responsible for this dehumanization of deportees. She is appalled that in the camp her name is replaced by a number. In this anonymity, the camps rules and orders of behaviour deserve no respect and must be circumvented and subverted in every situation as long as it does not threaten her survival. Grinkevičiūtė is proud of the fact that she is sentenced in a camp trial for stealing some wood for her dying mother. Put in front of the camp prosecutor, she observes how four other detainees are lying to defend themselves (...The whole brigade lies. The Soviet Union lied and will forever lie. They stole, they steal and they will steal.)41. She refuses to lie and openly confesses that she stole on purpose and with no shame, to save the life of her sick mother. The culmination of the scene is reached as the four accused, who denied their guilt, are sentenced to two years, while Grinkevičiūtė is absolved on the basis of her young age and confession.
Memoirs of other Lithuanian children deportees are also full of references to their ability to survive the Gulag by finding some holes in the system built on the notion of collective property. Jūratė Bičiūnaitė, deported at the age of seventeen, steals wood from a local Soviet collective farm and aluminum plates from her camps canteen.42 A younger brother of Paulina Motiečienė, herself in her early teens, steals raw dough from a camp bakery for his family. Child prisoners in Trovimosk steal frozen fish from a local fishing factory. In the evening in their barrack, they laugh telling each other stories about how they smuggled still-moving fish, squeezing it into their jacket sleeves and carrying it under the careful gaze of the camp guard. This enables their families to fight scurvy during a harsh Russian winter. As a result, children in exile often replace their parents as principal guardians for their parents and younger brothers and sisters. Grinkevičiūtė nurtures her dying mother for several months (you have to take care of your mother, to replace father).43 She is even able to escape with her to Lithuania, where her mother dies and has to be buried secretly. Underage Bičiūnaitė takes care of her paralyzed brother who is unable to walk.44 This early entrance into the adult world toughens the childrens identities and earns them the respect and even admiration of adults in their common pursuit of survival.
As the whole Soviet repressive apparatus was built on a system of forced labor, the deported children were one of its essential parts. Occasionally, the children were organized in special childrens brigades, but largely they were forced to work alongside adult deportees. Fifteen-year-old Grinkevičiūtė works along adult prisoners eighteen hours a day in a collective farm.45 Thirteen-year-old Garmutė as a member of a childrens brigade in a salt factory, is assigned the duty of filling sacks with salt.46 At the same time, children were expected to fulfill the same work quotas as adults. Those who failed received only a small portion of their daily amount of bread, which was a regular practice to punish ineffective workers in the Gulag. Grinkevičiūtė describes being forced to carry flour sacks and food boxes with adult men deportees:
Men are carrying two sacks at a time. They load one sack on my shoulders. One step, and it becomes dark before my eyes, ...I feel how Im swaying to both sides. I wake up on the deck. The falling sack has dislocated my shoulder. How old are you? Fifteen. Strange, fifteen and you cannot lift a sack. In our places twelve year olds are already loading. What a rotten people! a brigadier says...47
In Garmutės camp, children are asked to produce 500 bags of salt per day: We could not make it; there would be only about 200 at the end of the day. Then all of us who were still able to hold a spade would be sent to dig salt.48 Antanas Abromaitis, deported at the age of ten, is sent to fish with nets in the Lena River and the Laptev Sea. Bičiūnaitė has to work in a stone quarry.49 In such circumstances, only the toughest of them or those who had adult guardians were able to survive. In her memoir, Garmutė recalls how in the Trovimovsk Island, after the death of the family head Baranauskas, his wife and five children die of deprivation:
...Their eight-year-old daughter Birutė was still around people. She was asking everyone to take her in their family, promising, Im not going to eat much. ...After several days, she was found dead on her bed.50
Some children fared better with their strategies of survival by finding those limited opportunities that offered more advantageous jobs and positions in camps. Some, like Motiečienė, found employment as baby-sitters and housecleaners with local party or camp functionaries.51 Others, like Garmutė, who got a job as a geologist, were lucky to find employment outside their camps. This type or work strengthened their human dignity by providing them at least with a temporary illusion of a normal life. Garmutė writes, An exile who works among free and cultured people gradually starts to think about himself as a human being.52 Underage Grinkevičiūtė feels proud that she is able to fulfill the daily workload of an adult deportee; this earns her camps respect.
Those who managed to establish at least minimal social contacts with local people outside also fared better than those whose social world remained trapped in a camp or a deportee community. In this respect, the so-called special deportees, who had some freedom of movement, were in a more advantageous position than camp prisoners. Because Bičiūnaitė was able to make some business contacts with a local Russian peasant family, trading her handmade tools for milk products; this helped her relatives to survive.
Despite the harsh character of the repressive system, in many cases, deported children were able to enjoy at least some of the benefits of the Soviet camp educational and welfare systems. In Buryatia, Lithuanian children who had lost their parents were placed into shelters and orphanages.53 Grinkevičiūtė, deported to one of the most brutal camps on the shore of the Laptev Sea, Trofimovsk, where the annual mortality rate of the deportees was about 30 percent, recalled how happy she was to attend a camp school; it shortened her long workday by four hours.54 Motiečienė was allowed to study in a medical school in Syktyvkar, the only Lithuanian student in the entire school. Bičiūnaitė was able to attend art and music lessons in a local art studio.55 Algirdas Marcinkevičius, deported at the age of six, wrote that classes in his camp school contained 25 to 30 pupils. Since there was no paper, they used newspapers and wrote between the printed lines. Teachers in camp schools often did not have any pedagogical education and experience, and physical penalties were quite common. Marcinkevičius described how once they shut me in a special room with a small baby bear. And the angry beast started fighting and raving. I was able to beat him back with the frozen fish that filled the room... As long as the bear ate his fish, he would not touch me, but when he finished, he would tumble me again.56
Often children were able to adapt to the Soviet repressive system more effectively than adult deportees. Despite heavy labor requirements, they still benefited from the educational system, while their abilities to develop private social networks outside of the deportee communities helped them to survive in the most adverse circumstances. Although ethnic communities of deportees offered some protection to them, they also demanded their rapid integration as laborers and providers. The strategies of survival, which children were forced to learn in the camps, were largely based on their ability to circumvent the rules of the camp system. As a result, the Soviet repressive system brought up an entire generation of young people who harbored no illusions about life in the Soviet state. Grinkevičiūtė chose to describe her entire camp experience as the Golgotha of my life:
Oh Golgotha!.. You were the first that shaped my character. This is where my determination was born... This Golgotha was my first life teacher, brutal and uncompassionate. It taught me to fight and to win. And here. . . I started to feel silent hatred and revenge toward all who humiliate a human being and turn him into an animal.57
Children Deported from Lithuania, 1940-1941
|Younger than 1
Source: Leonardas Kerulis, A Registry of Deported Lithuanians (Chicago: Lithuanian World Archives, 1981), 518. According to Kerulis, the total number deported from Lithuania in 1940-1941 was 19, 285, 517.
Lithuanian youth in Nizhnaja Sloboda, Irkutsk region, 19491956
III. Ethnicity and Perspectives on Homeland
If childrens life stories tell about their personal strategies of survival in Soviet exile, they also speak about the significance of their ethnic and cultural backgrounds for their shifting identities. Indeed, what role did their ethnicity play in exile as a mode of collective association and belonging? Did it solidify their identities by helping the children to set themselves aside from the surreal brutality of the Gulag, or was it something that created problems for integration and, consequently, for their survival in the system? To what extent could children rely on their pre-exile links with a homeland, and to what extent would this homeland have to be reimagined?
There is no doubt that the deportees ethnicity (including the children) played a key role in shaping their personal and collective identities as well as in the entire saga of their survival in Soviet exile. This can be said both from the general perspective of the camp system itself and from the personal perspectives of the ethnic deportees. Anne Applebaum, in A History of the Gulag, noted how, starting from 1939, the Soviet repressive system was flooded by a huge wave of socalled strangers, deportees and prisoners from recently occupied ethnic borderlands of the Soviet Union.58 As a result, entire ethnic communities were imbedded into the camps social structure. The new exiles were drawn to each other not only by their common cultural, social, religious, political or kin links, since entire families were deported together, but also by a feeling of hostility to the Soviet state that occupied their homelands.
The Lithuanian deportees were no exception, since their memoirs often make a clear distinction between their life before and after exile. The Soviet occupation of Lithuania in the summer of 1940 was far from welcome by the majority of the local population. On the very eve of Hitlers invasion, Lithuanian nationalist activists started an armed anti-Soviet rebellion to reestablish an independent state.59 This and the fact that the Soviet deportation took place less than a week before Hitlers attack on the Soviet Union also played into the picture of suspicion and hostility which the Lithuanians met with in exile.
The first encounters of Lithuanian children deportees with local populations in the Soviet interior betray the hatred and anger that the locals felt toward these fascist prisoners, as they were most commonly labeled. This is how Juzefa Lupeikyt4, deported at the age of eighteen in 1941, describes one train stop in Russia:
Once we stopped in a big city station. There was an echelon nearby with wounded soldiers. There were crowds of people everywhere. At that moment, our train doors were opened to give us food. The people... started questioning the guards about who we were and where we were from. They told them that we were fascists from the Baltics. The crowd attacked us with stones and demanded that the guards hand us over for trial, to allow us to be killed. After showing us for a while like beasts, the guards closed the train doors.60
Another child deportee notes that local people mocked the deported fascists who deserved no mercy and had to be beaten up. He recalls that teenagers used to surround our clubhouse and break the windows and doors; they would not let anybody out. Once young Lithuanians had to defend themselves with bricks taken from an oven.61
The other prisoners did not show any compassion toward the ethnic deportees either. Their ethnicity was a sufficient reason to consider them political enemies. In one case, a group of Lithuanian children, having spent a full night queuing for bread, are kicked out of line by other camp inhabitants (But you are banditka [bandit]! You are fascists; even your children kill people! You dont deserve the bread, get out of line!62). Some Lithuanian exiles pointed out that after Stalins death some of the camps Russian population mourned for the Soviet leader, but the Balts, Poles, and Ukrainians silently rejoiced in the fact.
In such an adverse setting, besides their relatives, the children could only rely on deportees of the same ethnic group. Thus in one of the Soviet camps in Central Asia, a deportee, Antanas Skučas, attacks two local men who try to rape two Lithuanian teenage female prisoners. He is shut in a special jail for two weeks, but earns the international respect of all camp women.63 In another camp, all Lithuanian women prisoners express their solidarity with and compassion for Lithuanian men who are stripped naked by the camp guards and walked around the womens quarters as a form of punishment.64
Often the deportees survival depended largely on their ability to organize themselves in tight ethnic camp communities that would not only fend for its weaker members (children, elderly, young women), secure better jobs, and food rations, but also resist the attacks of the most powerful and organized group of prisoners, the criminals. In the light of these attacks, the different ethnic groups of deportees were forced to cooperate with each other. Napalys Kitkauskas, arrested at the age of sixteen, notes that in his camp only Baltic prisoners (Lithuanians and Estonians) would usually try to sit at the same table or close to each other.65 According to Applebaum, the Balts had a tight organization, but lacked a well-run hierarchy in the camps.66 As a result, they would gladly combine forces with the second largest group of deportees, the Ukrainians, trying to fend off the attacks of the criminals.67 Among the Lithuanian and Ukrainian deportees there was a large number of hardened anti-Soviet activists and former underground fighters who eagerly assumed leadership of the ethnic camp communities. The criminals, who were the unchallenged leaders in the Soviet camps prior to World War II, looked at these groups of strangers with hatred and suspicion, but also with great fear. Quite often, the ethnic deportees were able to take away their dominant position in the camps power hierarchy by their superior discipline, organization, and mutual support. Occasionally, camp administrations, which maintained a network of criminal informers among the prisoners, felt pretty helpless in the face of these ethnic politicals. Thus in Gorlag, after the arrival of 1,200 Baltic and Ukrainian prisoners, four camp informers were murdered within a few days.68
The hostility with which the strangers were treated in the Soviet repressive system and their resulting social isolation in the camps was only one of the key elements shaping childrens identities. Deportees ethnicity functioned as a uniting factor, bringing them together to face these outside pressures; and their common culture, language, and values strengthened their spirits and helped heal the psychological trauma of displacement. Kitkauskas describes how his personal motivation to survive the Gulag arose from the ethnic community of exiles: and still I had hope!.. For me, who got into the Gulag very young, the example of the older deportees was extremely important. Especially the example of our enlightened ones.69
In many exile settlements, Lithuanian deportees managed to organize cultural and social activities and even religious festivals. According to one teen deportee, he was saved from losing his Lithuanian identity by attending Sunday meetings of the Lithuanian youth who used to gather from the entire Yakutsk area.70 In these meetings, Lithuanians socialized and entertained each other by dancing and singing. Those who had national costumes would be especially noted. Making new acquaintances and flirting were common practices: in fact, many young families would be started through these social activities.71 Garmutė remembers that, during such meetings, many experienced certain nostalgia for the homeland, which was often transformed into the deportees verses and songs.72 Many of the childrens memoirs contain verses that romanticize their struggle for survival in the camps. A Soviet writer, V. Azhaev, and his patriotic novel Far from Moscow, inspired Kitkauskas. I was trying to relate Azhaevs pathos to my own homeland that remained on the Baltic seashore, to my duty to help it, to take care of it, he explained his motive for writing patriotic poetry. Paradoxically, in Kitkauskass youthful poems, Azhaevs Soviet patriotism was transformed into Lithuanian nationalism:
But you [Lithuania] remained alive in your childrens breasts,
You shone like the sun in their hardships,
Who can forget the first lullabies?
Who does not feel worried with your fate and misery?
You are a princess of my dreams.
You are the only mother that I have today.
I carry as a gift to you my youth,
And the steel of my hands, and new songs of my heart.73
The Lithuanian child deportees displacement was also marked by their attempts to imagine their homeland. Their homeland was utopian, not only because of their brief (or totally nonexistent) physical contact with their real homeland often kept alive only by narratives of their parents and early memories but also because this contact stood in such a sharp contrast to their real life in exile. As Grinkevičiūtė noted in her memoir in her first rainy summer on the shore of the Laptev Sea:
It was difficult to imagine that in Lithuania people walked around without coats, that there was sunshine, summer, warmth, that there were no stormy waves from the Arctic Ocean, ...that somewhere there was life.74
The homeland was associated with freedom and the normality of civilian life. The Lithuanian girls entertained each other in Trofimovsk by retelling for the hundredth time recipes of the meals that they used to have back in Lithuania. Although, from the exiles perspective, these stories represented a time of wasteful abundance and abnormality, they also served as a collective framework through which their feelings of belonging and nostalgia could be expressed. The homeland was utopian, not only because it became a particular state of mind or mental therapy but also because, through the years spent in exile, it was stripped of specific details and drifted into the realm of imagination and fantasy.
In the end, it was not the only utopia in which the deportees believed; for example, during their journeys to the East, many thought that they are being transported not to Siberia, but to Alaska.75 However, the homeland vision was the most powerful element in their exile identities. As utopias often grow out of personal and social dilemmas,76 so their vision of homeland was born as a result of their displacement from the native social, ethnic, and cultural environment, and a resulting personal crisis of identity.
The constant reference to graves and burial in Lithuanian childrens testimonies (including even Grinkevičiūtės) represents a pervasive and powerful evocation of their sense of kinship, nationhood, and territorial belonging. Most of them are highly commemorative, elegiac, and full of the names of Lithuanian individuals and families who perished. In most of them, there is an explicit need to witness and preserve the memory of those who died in exile. Garmutė, deported at the age of thirteen, writes in her memoir:
In exile, my echelon friends and I are sitting not on class benches we are digging salt in Siberian Usol. The salt melts in the water, but not in our memory. She will never melt in the memory... Memory is stronger than stone. Our memory is made from diamonds.77
Childrens ethnic identities were also kept alive by common celebration of different Catholic holidays. On Easter Sunday, in Trovimovsk, all the Lithuanians and Finns refused to go to work against the orders of the camp administration.78 One child deportee recalls how all ten Lithuanians of his camp celebrated Easter together by sharing the single egg that one of them was lucky enough to receive from his relatives in Lithuania.79 The parcels and packages from their families served as another important bridge between them and their homeland, since those deportees who resided in exile settlements were entitled to receive them quite often. Political prisoners in special camps were allowed to receive only one package per year. After Stalins death, there was a general relaxation of camp discipline; Algis Geniušas, deported in his teens, noted that in his camp Lithuanians even staged a basketball competition that included several teams.80
Baptism of Lithuanian children,
The Reklaitis family,
The presence of national consciousness among Lithuanian child deportees did not mean that their individual ethnic identities remained unchallenged by their exile experience. Marcinkevičius claimed that those Lithuanian youngsters who refused to attend Sunday community meetings lost their ethnic identity very quickly.81 After ten or more years in exile, many felt more comfortable speaking and writing Russian than Lithuanian. Even Grinkevičiūtė wrote the second version of her memoir in Russian. Although she felt a part of the ethnic community, her education in exile determined the fact that she self-identified with the Decembrists and Narodnaia Volia (Peoples Will) rather than with the Lithuanian heroes of the anti-Soviet resistance. Her friend noted that among her favorite books was Sudebnije rechi russkich juristov (The Pleadings of Russian Barristers).82 After her release, she would associate with other Soviet dissidents more than with the ethnic Lithuanian martyrs who survived the Gulag. Perhaps this was her search for individual freedom, but, as we have already seen, her exile experience has demonstrated the fragility of collective identities in camps, including the ethnic one. In the end, it is also unknown how many Lithuanian delinquents, who lost their relatives in exile, preferred to remain near their places of displacement in the Soviet interior and never come back to Lithuania after their amnesty in 1953.
Lithuanians in Molotkov, unknown year
On March 27, 1953, three weeks after Stalins burial, Lavrentij Beria, a chief Soviet official involved in mass deportations for more than two decades, issued an amnesty to all prisoners with sentences of five years or less, to all pregnant women, to all women with young children, and to everyone under eighteen.83 From about 2.5 million Gulag inmates, more than a million people were set to go.84 For thousands of Lithuanian child deportees it meant that they could now enact their exile utopia to return to their homeland.
Although the amnesty signified the official end of exile, their displacement experience continued in different forms. Many, even after their release felt unable to integrate into a normal life due to the suspicion and fear that remained in Soviet society towards the former deportees. Several times, Grinkevičiūtė was forced from her medical jobs and condemned by local party organizations.85 Former exiles found it extremely difficult to register near their former residence, to enter universities, to find good jobs, new homes, or social security. The psychological consequences of displacement (inability to integrate into civilian life, feelings of guilt, attempts to forget what happened, mistrust toward any state institutions, political radicalism) were much more serious and perhaps cannot be adequately measured. Today, regrettably, there are no studies on the former deportees and their social or psychological reintegration.
In the end, the displacement experience of an entire generation of Lithuanian youth, as well as all Lithuanian deportees, has come to light only after the re-establishment of an independent state. It has been inscribed in the collective memory of Lithuanian society as one of the core elements that shape Lithuanian national identity today. If childrens survival narratives testify to the brutality of Soviet crimes, they also reveal that their ethnicity and early social and cultural links with ethnic communities of exiles and homeland played a key role in the formation of their identities in exile.
The childrens perspective on the role of ethnicity in their displacement is unique, not only because of the youthful immediacy and emotionality with which they described the ordeal, but also because children often felt less bound than adult exiles by the duty to write testimonies of collective suffering. Childrens exile stories are more concerned with personal survival than with conveying shared experiences. For the Lithuanian children, their ethnicity was not something organic, taken for granted, inherited from their adult relatives, or native environment. Rather, they discovered their ethnic identity as a result of their displacement. In fact, children sometimes were quick to unmask hypocrisy, moral degradation, and the egoism of individual members of ethnic communities of deportees faced with the dilemmas of survival.
For them, ethnicity represented the social network of the camp world in which the line between us and them was sharply drawn. Despite its defects, the ethnic community was a key guarantor of childrens survival in the Gulag. For the many who lost their relatives, the community served as a social safety net that could provide at least minimal protection in the ruthless camp hierarchy. But perhaps more importantly, the community could also offer a certain common goal and motivation to survive spiritually. It could become a venue and medium through which to satisfy their personal needs for rootedness and belonging. In the ethnic community, they could relive and share a common nostalgia for their homeland.
As utopias typically involve a displacement in both time and space,86 so their homeland has become a temporal symbol of their early childhood and an ideal space of harmonious social and political order. Many, as an initiation into the adult world, have interpreted their displacement from the childs normative places of comfort: home, family, and childhood itself. Although in these childrens narratives the homeland is often devoid of any specific details, their personal stories provide the conceptual framework in which they are able to interpret their subjective experience of displacement. Perhaps it was this homeland nostalgia, not the reality of displacement, which lent to their exile identities a degree of rootedness, or sedentarism, otherwise hardly conceivable in the Gulag. Their refusal to accept various itinerant identities of homeless refugees or Soviet citizens stripped of ethnic identity is indeed remarkable.
Jonas Stungis. From Lietuviai Sibire/Lithuaninas in Siberia,
Lithuanian Library Press, Inc. 1981
1. Aldona Žemaitytė, ed., Amžinojo įšalo žemėje [In the Frozen Land]
(Vilnius: Vyturys, 1989), 202.
2. Anne Applebaums recent A History of the Gulag perhaps is one of the first attemts to explore the fate of children in Soviet exile and the impact it had on their identities. See, Anne Applebaum, A History of the Gulag (New York, 2003), Chapter 5.
3. Terry Martin, Stalinist Forced Relocation Policies: Patterns, Causes, Consequences, Myron Weiner, ed., Demography and National Security (New York, 2001), 323.
4. Vladimir N. Zemskov, Prinuditelnye migratsii iz Pribaltiki v 19401950 godakh, Otechestvennaia istoriia, 1993, Nr. 1, 419. Also quoted in Martin, 324.
5. This fugure is based on the estimates of V.M. Zemskov (the data for 19451951) and Leonardas Kerulis (the date for 1941). See, Vladimir N. Zemskov, Masovoe osvobozhdenie spetsposelentsev i ssilnykh, 19541960, Sociologicheskie issledovania, (Moscow, 1991), No. 1, 526; Leonardas Kerulis, A Registry of Deported Lithuanians (Chicago, 1981), 518.
6. Žemaitytė, op. cit.
7. The Gulag here means not only the administrative system of camps (Gosudarstvenoe Upravlenie Lagerei), but also so-called special exile settlements (specposelenia). The majority of the Lithuanian children deportes found themselves in the special exile settlements.
8. Although Lithuanian historians do not agree on the precise number, three of the most prominent specialists have offered a similar range of numbers based on the war records of the Lithuanian Red Cross, official documents of the NKVD, and personal data of the victims available at the Information Center of the Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior. Arvydas Anušauskas claimed that there were 22,100 people deported to exile and imprisoned in camps in 1941; Leonardas Kerulis provided a data of 19,285, and Eugenijus Grunskis argued that there were 18,093 deportees. See Anušauskas, Arvydas, 1998 m. duomenys in Ignataviçius, I., ed., Lietuvos naikinimas ir tautos kova (Vilnius, 1999), 577; Kerulis, Leonardas, A Registry of Deported Lithuanians (Chicago, 1981) 517; Grunskis, Eugenijus, Lietuvos gyventojų trėmimai, 19401941 ir 19451953 metais (Vilnius, 1996) 141.
9. Birutė Burauskaitė, ed., Lietuvos gyventojų genocidas Vol. I (Vilnius, 1992), 782784.
10. See Table on p. 59.
11. Martin, 322; Applebaum, 421422; Grunskis, 2230.
12. Thus Terry Martin claimed that since 1941 thee was not only a trend towards ethnic deportations, but also an increasing ethnicization of the existing special settler population. See Martin, 329.
13. Order No. 001223 of NKVD dated October 11, 1939, cited in Grunskis, 23.
14. Resolution No. 1299526 of the Central Committee dated May 16, 1941, cited in Grunskis, 27.
15. See the collection of Soviet deportations documents, Antanas Tyla, ed., Lietuvos gyventojų trėmimai 19401941, 19441953 metais: dokumentų rinkinys (Vilnius, 1995).
16 Grunskis, 189.
17. Zemskov, Massovoe osvobozhdenie spetsposelentsev i ssylnykh, 19541960 in Sotsiologicheskie issledovania, No. 1, 67.
18. Grunskis, 74.
19. Martin, 324.
20. NKVD is an abbreviation for Natsionalnyi Komitet Vnutrenikh Del [National Committee of the Interior].
21. Žemaitytė, 188189.
22. Ibid., 188189.
23. Ibid., 154.
24. Grunskis, 132.
25. Žemaitytė, 4849.
26. Bolševikų klaidų aukos Lietuvos Raudonojo kryžiaus žinios, October 16, 1941, No. 9, 1.
27. Also there were numerous cases when 7080 people were crammed into one carriage. See Grunskis, 36.
28. There were some deportations, for example in 1948, when all members of the family were deported together. See V. Bashkuev, Lithuanian Deportees in Buryat-Mongolia, 19481950, R. Butner, ed., Russia and the Baltic States (Samara, 2001), 252.
29. A. Andriukaitis, Pasmerktieji, in I. Ignatavičius, ed., Kryžius šiaurėje (Vilnius, 1992), 252.
30. Juzefa Lupeikytė, Karlagas (Vilnius, 1993), 17.
31. Bushkuev, 253.
32. Žemaitytė, 57.
33. Dalia Grinkevičiūtė, Lietuviai prie Laptevų jūros (Vilnius, 1997), 37.
34. Vytautas Landsbergis, A Piercing Light, Dalia Grinkevičiūtė, A Stolen Youth, A Stolen Homeland (Vilnius, 2002), 5.
35. Arvydas Vilkaitis, Gyvensim (Vilnius, 1999), 412413.
36. Violeta Davoliūtė, Dalia Grinkevičiūtė and the Genre of Testimony (a chapter of an unpublished Ph.D. thesis), University of Toronto (Toronto, 2003); Marius Ivaškevičius, Meno Pauzė, Šiaurės Atėnai, No. 643 (March 8, 2003), 37.
37. Dalia Grinkevičiūtė, Lietuviai, op. cit., 43.
38. Ibid., 51.
39. Ibid., 99.
40. Both versions of her memoirs can be compared in Grinkevičiūtė, A Stolen youth, A Stolen Homeland (Vilnius, 2003).
41. Ibid., 74.
42. Jūratė Bičiūnaitė, Jaunystė prie Laptevo jūros (Vilnius, 1990), 3435.
43. Grinkevičiūtė, Lietuviai, 37.
44. Bičiūnaitė, op. cit., 45.
45 Grinkevičiūtė, Lietuviai, op. cit., 40.
46 .Žemaitytė, 63.
47. Grinkevičiūtė, Lietuviai, op. cit., 57.
48. Žemaitytė, 53.
49. Bičiūnaitė, op. cit. 33.
50. Žemaitytė, 110.
51. Ibid., 132.
52. Ibid, 77.
53 Vladimir Bashkuev, Lithuanian Deportees in Buryat-Mongolia, 19481950 in R. Butner, ed., Russia and the Baltic States (Samara, 2001), 260.
54 Grinkevičiūtė, op. cit., 63.
55 Bičiūnaitė, op. cit., 33.
56 Žemaitytė, op. cit. 192.
57. Grinkevičiūtė, Lietuviai, op. cit., 116.
58. One of the Russian camp prisoners, Lev Razgon, described them: having been swept from their own country to the far north of Russia by an alien and hostile historical force which they could not comprehend, they were instantly recognizable by the quality of their possessions. We were always alerted to their arrival in Ustvymlag by the apperance of exotic items of clothing among our criminal inmates. Razgon quoted from Anne Applebaum, A History of the Gulag (New York, 2003), 421.
59. Valentinas Brandišauskas, ed., 1941 metų birželio sukilimas: dokumentų rinkinys [The Insurgency of June 1941: Collection of Documentary Sources] (Vilnius, 2000).
60. Juzefa Lupeikytė, Karlagas (Vilnius, 1993), 18.
61. Žemaitytė, op. cit., 190.
62. Ibid., 67.
63. Ibid., 66.
64. Bičiūnaitė, op. cit., 55.
65. Žemaitytė, op. cit., 166.
66. Applebaum, op. cit., 485.
67. Ibid., 487.
69 Žemaitytė, op. cit., 171.
70 Ibid., 194.
72 When are they going to release us to Lithuania? We have nothing more sacred and dear than homeland. ...We have our own homeland. Like birds ejected from their nests, we cannot live without it. Ibid., 69.
73. Žemaitytė, op. cit., 183.
74. Grinkevičiūtė, Lietuviai, op. cit., 135.
75. Ibid., 124.
76. Luisa del Giudice, ed., Imagined States, Utopia and Longing in Oral Cultures (Logan, 2001), 4.
77. Žemaitytė, op. cit., 7374.
78. Grinkevičiūtė, Lietuviai, op. cit., 120.
79. Žemaitytė, 184.
80. Ibid., 200.
81. Ibid., 194.
82. Aldona Šulskytė, Daktarė Dalytė, in Metai. (Vilnius, 1995), 5May, 125.
83. Amy Knight, Beria: Stalins First Lieutenant (Princeton, 1993) 185.
84. Applebaum, op. cit., 479.
85. Grinkevičiūtė, Lietuviai, op. cit., 45.
86 Luisa Del Giudice,, ed. Imagined States, Utopia and Longing in Oral Cultures (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2001), 4.
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