ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2013 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 59, No.4 - Winter 2013
Editor of this issue: Mikas Vaicekauskas

Editing Difficulties in Balys Sruoga's Dievų miškas (Forest of the Gods)


NERINGA MARKEVIČIENĖ is a scholar in the Lithuanian Institute of Literature and Folklore's textual studies section. In 2012 she defended her dissertation, Balio Sruogos kūrinio Dievų miškas rašymo ir redagavimo istorija. In August she began postdoctoral study at Vilnius University's A. J. Greimas Semiotics and Literature Center.

This article discusses some lesser-known aspects of the text of Balys Sruoga’s Dievų miškas. The emphasis is on the manuscript of Dievų miškas and its connections with the editing of the text of two typewritten copies, reflected in published texts of the work currently in circulation. Evidence suggests that none of the currently available editions of this work reflect the author’s creative intention.

The Lithuanian author Balys Sruoga (1896-1947) stands out from the other writers of the first half of the twentieth century because of the multiplicity of his interests and pursuits. He was a poet, dramatist, prose writer, commentator, literature and theater critic, scholar, and translator. On March 16, 1943, along with other members of the Lithuanian intelligentsia who had expressed opposition to the Nazis, Sruoga was arrested and taken to the Stutthof concentration camp. After his release and return to Lithuania in 1945, Sruoga wrote Dievų miškas (Forest of the Gods), his most notable work. Having chosen a theme then new to Lithuanian literature - life in a German concentration camp - and having decided on a unique method of portraying it, the grotesque, he presented his captivity in Dievų miškas.1 Dievų miškas was one of the first literary works written about life in a concentration camp,2 but for ideological reasons, it was not published until 1957. As Algis Kalėda wrote, "For a long time, ten years, Soviet censorship forbade the printing of this work - not just because of its ironic characterization of Russians (ruskelis), but probably because of the easily recognized parallels with Lithuanians' fate in Stalin's gulags in Siberia."3 Vanda Zaborskaitė made a similar claim:

The manuscript shown to the public came as a shock: to the Soviet system, it appeared completely unacceptable. Understandably: after all, the same totalitarian system ruled here as in Hitler's Germany; the only difference was that, when Germany lost the war, its system was destroyed and denounced, while the Soviet Union's giant concentration camps, with the same system of torturing and murdering people, were hidden from the world in the endless expanse of Siberia.4

By then, the world had seen a number of works on the subject, but because Sruoga had chosen an unusual way to tell his story, Dievų miškas remains one of the most original works amid the numerous memoirs published in Europe about concentration camps.5 Had Dievų miškas appeared in 1945, immediately after it was written, Sruoga might have been a contender for the Nobel Prize in literature. Albertas Zalatorius has accurately analyzed this situation, describing it metaphorically as the first violin coming in late.6

Eleven editions of Dievų miškas are currently available. However, we may consider three versions of the text as the most important: the 1957,7 1997,8 and 20059 editions (its other editions were republications). These three editions illustrate the efforts made by their editors, given the historical circumstances, to reconstruct the authentic text of the work. A different Dievų miškas text is presented in each: we find new material uncovered by the editors that was not in previous editions. The variability in the texts is indicative of the problems in establishing the authenticity of the work: we still do not have a text of Sruoga's Dievų miškas that systematically reflects the author's creative intention. This paper seeks to answer the question of why there is so much variability among the texts and to suggest what should be done in trying to establish a text which is closer to the author's creative intentions. Comparisons are drawn between the above-mentioned historically important editions of the text and the earliest sources of Dievų miškas, including the manuscript,10 the primary typescript (indicated as T111), both of which are kept in the manuscript section of the Lithuanian Literature and Folklore Institute, and the typescript kept in the home/museum of Balys and Vanda Sruoga (indicated as T212).13

The multilayered typescripts

Multilayered editing notations are characteristic of the typed copies of Dievų miškas. The typescripts indicated as T1 and T2 reflect layers of conflicting corrections made at different times by its readers.

In the summer of l945, Srouga wrote a fictionalized memoir about life in the Stutthof concentration camp.14 In a letter to Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas dated September 4, 1945, the author indicated that he had completed writing Dievų miškas.15 Several copies of the text were made using carbon paper in the typewriter. There are two existing copies - T1 and T2, although there may have been more. When first typed, both copies were identical. The title page is missing from the T1 copy, so the 1945 date appears only on the T2 typescript's first page.

It is presumed that the T1 and T2 texts were given at about the same time to two different individuals to read and evaluate. Based on the handwriting, it is difficult to determine who received the T2 typescript, but it appears that the principal editor of T1 was Valys Drazdauskas. However, these two individuals were not the only ones who worked with the two texts and expressed their opinion of the work. The voices and notes of several anonymous persons appear to be enmeshed here, so one may speak of a polyphonic Dievų miškas editorial fabric. The chronology of the various corrections is also unclear.

In the T2 typescript, the major notations and indications showing which parts of the text should be changed, how the changes should be performed, and which parts should be eliminated entirely, were indicated with a heavy red pencil.

In the T1 typescript, there are many more corrections. The corrections and crossings out were done using green, brown, dark blue, or black ink, as well as heavy red or blue pencil. Based on handwriting examples, it has been established that Drazdauskas used all these implements while correcting the typescript, returning to it several times. The various writing tools were used interchangeably. The author as well as the editor kept changing writing implements during various work periods, so it is impossible to establish definitively with which implements it was crossed out first, and with which later. One can only guess at what is the last layer of corrections.

The apparent authorization

We will discuss the external pressures that provoked the initial corrections to the author's text.

It is assumed that the T1 and T2 typescripts, along with the editorial comments, were returned to Sruoga at about the same time. This conclusion is based on further edits in the text where the author paid attention to the corrections made in both typescripts. Sruoga did not work further on the edited T2 typescript - there are no further authorial comments, additions, or notations. However, the author unconditionally accepted the editorial suggestions in T2. While correcting the T1 text, he crossed out sections that were marked for elimination in the T2 typescript with a red pencil. Sruoga transferred the corrections indicated in the T2 typescript to the T1 typescript on which he was then working. In other words, in deciding which of Drazdauskas's (or perhaps other editors') corrections or cuts he should accept, the author was at the same time consulting the T2 text. As Aleksandras Žirgulys correctly observed, "here, of course, it is unnecessary to ponder whether the author has made some corrections with his own hand. The true situation is simply that it was 'his own hand,' but not 'his own will and not his own head.'"16

Drazdauskas, unlike the T2 editor, was not categorical in his corrections - occasionally he left some question marks in the margins by the crossed-out sections. It was important to him that Sruoga decide for himself how best to deal with the crossed-out portions of the text or certain words, whether to make changes or simply omit the fragment. Sruoga was granted, even if minimally, freedom of choice - he could disagree with Drazdauskas's opinion; he had the option of replacing a crossed-out fragment with something else. The T2 editor, however, was a higher authority to the author (most likely with the government's repressive powers at his disposal) whose corrections, unlike those of Drazdauskas, he could not (or would not allow himself) to ignore.

The editors of the T1 and T2 typescripts did not like: 1) prison slang, especially the blunt and drastic swear words; 2) Russian or Polish phrases that prisoners of other nationalities who were incorporated into the SS used among themselves; 3) derogatory terms for nationalities; 4) ironic or subjective comments and evaluations regarding some situations; 5) paradoxical facts regarding life in the camps; 6) certain concepts such as garbės katorgininkai or garbės kaliniai (honorary prisoners).17

When accepting or rejecting editorial changes, the author sought compromise. While yielding to some first-draft choices and edits to what he saw as the less important parts of the text, he nonetheless tried to retain the sense of his intent and the more important scenes.

As a result, we must examine what appears to be written in the author's own hand in the main text of T1 by referring to the manuscript and the T2 typescript. Only in this way is it possible to determine whether the variations in the final18 Dievų miškas text T1 are the author's, or if their authorization was forced. I will present a few examples.

Sruoga, wanting to convey the vocabulary and mental characteristics of the SS guards as realistically as possible, did not clean up their language. However, he used the vulgar directives of the guards to the prisoners or individual phrases very carefully. At first, many of the offensive words in the manuscript contained dashes or dots to indicate skipped letters. In the typescript stage, the dashes found in the manuscript were filled in, displaying the missing letters (first while typing the contents of the manuscript text, and later, during the course of T1, by handwriting them in red ink). For example, the term kur...y syn (whore) underwent the following changes:

"Hurry up, you k... syn," I got an epithet too, unfortunately not very suitable for publication, and two blows with a rod across my neck. (Manuscript, III, "Pirmoji naktelė (First night)," 16)
"Hurry up, you kur...y syn," I got an epithet too, in Polish, and two blows with a rod across my neck. (T2, V. "Pirmoji naktelė." 18)
"Hurry up, you, kurvy syn," I got an epithet too, in Polish, and two blows with a rod across my neck. (T1, V. "Pirmoji naktelė," 18).

If one arranges the texts of Dievų miškas in chronological order (manuscript to T2 to T1), it becomes apparent that the author's initial intention regarding the use of offensive words changed. Sruoga eventually restored the vulgarisms in their entirety, writing in all the missing letters with red ink. There are instances in the manuscript where curses did not yet appear, or a euphemism was substituted. Vulgar expressions directed at other characters were consciously chosen to be used only in the typescript. For example:

"Hey, you, this and that, sons of four-legged and two-legged [-], ragamuffins, lowlifes, and whatnots," he turned to us, "who has gold?" (Manuscript, III, "Pirmoji naktelė," 17)
"Hey, you, this and that, sons of four-legged and two legged  wh_es , ragamuffins and lowlifes and whatnots," he turned to us, "who has gold? (T2, V. "Pirmoji naktelė," 19)
"Hey you, these and that, children of four-legged and two-legged whores, you ragamuffins and low-lifes and whatnots," he turned to us, "who has gold? (T1, V, "Pirmoji naktelė," 19)

There are numerous similar cases. Sruoga indicated his position that he wanted to see the vulgar forms of the words used in the text. Some curses and epithets were already written in their entirety in the manuscript without any dots (kurwamac, sterva, vyperdalivaj, Sheisse, blode Sauhund19), while some remained unexpressed up to the end (vp...u, Zas...ana litewska inteligencija20).

The editor of the T2 typescript either underlined vulgar phrases or suggested replacements alongside. He offered Lithuanian variants for foreign words, tried to find euphemistic synonyms, and in the process greatly changed the SS guards' commands, made them softer, changed their words, paraphrased them (ironically!) into richer phraseology. For example, expressions using kurvy syn and its variants kurvu and kurvamac were changed in T2 to:

maitos (carrion, page 18); suskiaus išpera, maitų, kalių vaikai (mongrel's offspring, bitches, sons of bitches, 19); padraika, šunsnukis (whore, dog-face, 20); driskių kuine (bum's nag, 48), pakaruoklio vėdare (hanged man's intestines, 63); šunsnuki, šunų išjoda (dogface, dogs' whore: 84), maita (carrion, 87), rupūžė (toad, 92), rupūžgalviai (toadheads, 120), kirmėlė (maggot, 122).

Vulgarisms that were already spelled out in the manuscript or further clarified while being typed were eliminated from both typescripts, but particularly carefully in T2. Sruoga, in accepting the changes made by the editor of the T2 typescript (rewriting them with red or blue ink into T1), at first glance appears to authorize the changes toward a more literary, more aesthetic work.

This apparent authorization was interpreted by later editors as a final manifestation of the author's wishes. In 1956, while discussing the editorial principles that were applied to a collection of Sruoga's works (Raštai, l957), Eugenijus Matuzevičius, a member of its editorial board, emphasized that "On the whole, the changes made by the author and his approval of eliminated passages, it appears, should be accepted, and considered as changes made in the editing process."21 Matuzevičius was firmly opposed to uncensored expressions. He was convinced that "kurwamac, kurwy syn should not be kept; the new, substituted swear words that were written should be used."22 The editors were biased against the inclusion of unaesthetic words in their edited Dievų miškas text, even though the author himself argued for their retention, stressing that they were a vital aspect of the Stutthof camp's atmosphere, and their use was a priority:

The term "Vyperdalivoj" - should be kept. Next to "Scheisse" and "Kurvy syn," it is the most popular word in camp. Moreover, it is neither Russian nor Polish. Somewhat vulgar, but a universal word, used in Polish to express various meanings as "Vyperdoli-lem litr samagonu... Zaperdolilem do kosciola... Tam ksiądz perdoli-perdoliperdoli... Niemacorobicpapirdolilemdalej... Jajemu wszystkie zęby wyperdolilem," etc. No one would eliminate such things from the works of Žemaitė. Compared to what is portrayed in Žemaitė's "Marti" scene in Vilnius Theater, this term is an innocent lamb. (T1, 234)

Soviet publishers eliminated obscene words because of "educational interests" and "generally due to public language requisites."23 Sruoga tried to convince editors that the vulgarities in his text were justifiable using the universal criterion of popularity and frequency of use. Moreover, the constant flow of vulgarisms is meant to be understood as indicative of the thinking mode of the SS. The editors, even though they had the page with the cited notations written by Sruoga in front of their eyes, nevertheless decided to adhere to the traditional standards for a literary text. The subjective decisions made by the editors now confuse literary scholars who may recognize the importance of the profanity and derogatory epithets in Sruoga's work, but are unable to evaluate them as a whole. Some critical interpretations, seeing the use of colorful but less offensive cursing in the various published editions, discussed the folk origins of such curses.24

In addition, at the end of the typescript of the published drama Pajūrio kurortas (The Resort at the Seaside, 1947, based on a chapter in Dievų miškas), Sruoga, in his "Critical notes," discussed the coloration of the piece. Here he again contended that accurately depicting life in the camps was impossible if the profane and abusive language used there was excluded or "diluted":

Specifically: there is too much "cussing out" and "foul language" in this work.
In this work, the Fascist factor is represented by the direct fruit of its actions: the brutal concentration camp. Without the beatings and the destruction of people, without the abusive atmosphere, it's not a concentration camp. It is not as if these types of behavior can be accompanied by "gentlemanly words." In the camps, the windows constantly rattle from the curses... In the work, the camp curse-words are so diluted with distilled water that they barely function as symbolic reminders of the true nature (of the camps). 25

It should be pointed out that in Pajūrio kurortas all these words are plainly expressed - they are not hidden from the reader, not changed, and intentionally not beautified. These curses/bywords are seen more often in the typescript (some were already in the manuscript). For example: "Kurvamac, tu, smarve, vėl nebeisi (Fucker, you stinkpot, not going again?!)"; "Kurvamac! Šunsnukiai! Driežai! (Fuckers! Dogfaces! Lizards!)"; "Sakiau, kad lauk tu, kurvamac!".; (I said, out, you fucker!)"26

I will discuss several other occasions where the editors agreed to cross out certain sections in the typescript of Dievų miškas. Sruoga, using a red pen, crossed out numerous fragments of the T1 typescript, simply mechanically repeating what the T2 editor had indicated. The T2 editor, using a thick red pencil, shortened a section relating the thinking of reeducated inmates who are about to be released from prison:

"Well, why should I bother my head with this!" the inmate would say, "It's better to sign some document, than stay here to stew about it..."
It was rare, very rare that anyone dared to stay to think things over.27

The T2 editor dismissed the thought that, in the existential sense, there were two extremes in the possible ways to leave the camp: deception (being forced to sign untruthful documents), or death. It is an established fact that a risky situation almost always encourages an instinctive choice of the easier way out. The paragraph that Sruoga's hand crossed out with red ink does not appear in any of the editions of Dievų miškas (l957, 58; 1997, 267; 2005, 47). But in the same section, the T2 editor used a thick red pencil to shorten another passage:

That was all the activities of the political section [registration of the new prisoners, indexing, taking care of documents, photographs, -N. M.] And all that simple secretarial work was not performed, of course, by the men of the SS, but by the prisoners, who formed a separate work unit. The SS men kept for themselves only the job of servicing the women - they didn't allow the prisoners near that. At the beginning of 1943, there were only three prisoner workers here, but by the end of 1944, there were over thirty of them.28

The intention was to delete this section because of its strong criticism of the political section: the camp operations were uncomfortably similar to those in the gulags. The narrator's skeptical take regarding the section's activities and its usefulness was expressed as a paradox: the work of three persons performed by thirty. The real duties are performed by the inmates, while the SS troopers limit themselves to "servicing the women." This paragraph is not reflected in the published texts of the work (1957, 30; 1997, 267; 2005. 47).

The T2 editor shortened the episode where two Lithuanian inmates converse with a live corpse that is being carried towards the hospital:

"H-hey, my dear friend," I say to him, "how am I going to let you go, when you've already died once - what do you think? Anyway, was it so boring in heaven that you came back to the camp?"
"No-ooo..." replies the corpse, "let me go... I'll get there myself... I know where. by the hospital."
"No, dear friend, that's not allowed," I explain to him, "And what will I do, if you run away? You've already died, it's all the same to you now, but I may not die until tomorrow, or maybe the day after, or maybe even stretch it out another week. See, my friend Jonas, Bambizas from Biržai, - he's still strong, like a mule. He'll last another month at least, maybe longer -what do you think? How come you don't understand these things? If you run away, the two of us will have to lie down today next to the corpses in place of just you, - what do you think? You're already listed among the dead!"
"I understand, I understand," insisted the corpse, "I give you my word, I won't run anywhere. It's just very uncomfortable, the way you're carrying me. You're strangling me..." "Forgive us, my dear friend. We're very sorry for you, but we can't help you run away; it's left for us to live yet... See, we'll take you, lay you down, and then you do what you like: If you don't like it, run away from here. That will be entirely up to you. Right now we answer for you with our heads. Why should your one head be better than our two?29 

The T2 editor eliminated the above conversation, leaving only a hint that it was not just corpses that were taken to a place by the hospital, but also the very ill, some of whom may still have had the ability to clamber out from the "corpse list." This episode illustrates the grotesque and absurd nature of Sruoga's work - a live person, even though quite ill, is being convinced unconditionally of the fact of his death. The strongest argument presented is the need for the other prisoners to survive. This situation exemplified the very uncertain boundary between life and death at Stutthof. If the supposed corpse were to actually arise and escape, he and the custodians of his body would have had to exchange places - the carriers of the "corpse" would be punished and become corpses themselves. This episode does not appear in any of the Dievų miškas editions (1957, 93; 1997, 291; 2005, 78).

In this paper I have presented only a few examples of the many passages that could (and should) be included in Dievų miškas when a more authentic edition of the work is published in the future.


The T1 typescript became the primary basis for the most important editions of Dievų miškas. But at the same time, it is a very problematic version because of the multilayered editing corrections and the nuances of Sruoga's corrections. The corrections using red ink in the T1 typescript are deceptive. Looking at them, the first thought that comes to mind is that they are doubtlessly the author's. All of the Dievų miškas editors, up to the present time, operated under that assumption. However, in order to understand the true nature of the corrections (whether they are truly Sruoga's own or merely his acquiescence to imperatives), it is absolutely necessary to compare how the T2 editor treated a given passage and what Sruoga himself wrote in the T1 typescript. It is also important to establish whether a problematic typescript passage is present in the manuscript, how it was changed in the typescript, or whether it first appeared there.

When they were editing Dievų miškas texts, the editors had no access to the remaining known authentic first-version texts that they could have relied on to clarify doubtful or unclear passages, especially those associated with questions of censorship. Dealing with the multilayered deletions found in the T1 typescript, the editors had to improvise, but they did not seek arguments relating to origins or the connections among the texts. In all of the current published texts of Sruoga's work, one finds the author's intentions intertwined with the strong voices of the earlier censors, as well as with those of the later editors and even the individual decisions of current publishers. By modern editorial standards, no edition of Dievų miškas, including 1997 and 2005, can be considered a reliable reflection of Sruoga's authorial intent - this would require a careful analysis of every one of the existing relevant documents, and of Sruoga's creative process. It is therefore time to consider a new publication: an authentic, critically vetted version of Sruoga's work

Translated by Birute P. Tautvydas

1 Following the example of Sruoga, other Lithuanian writers later published their concentration camp memoirs: Rapolas Mackonis, Mes dar gyvi žmonės (1948); Antanas Kučinskas-Gervydas, Už spygliuotų vielų (1950); Stasys Yla, Žmonės ir žvėrys (1951); Leonas Puskunigis, Štuthofo žardienos (1962); and Vladislovas Telksnys, Kamino šešėlyje (1990)
2    Much of the camp literature was written and published later than Sruoga's: Tadeusz Borowski, Bylismy w Oswięcimiu (We Were in Auschwitz, 1946), Požegnanie z Marią (This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, 1948), and Kamenny swiat (1948); Primo Levi, Se questo ė un uomo (Survival in Auschwitz, 1947); Martin Nielsen, Rapport fra Stutthof (1947); Anne Frank, Het Achterhuis (The Diary of a Young Girl, 1947); Elie Wiesel, Un di Velt Hot Geshvign (1954); Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Один день Ивана Денисовича (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, 1961); Varlam Shalamov, Коллымские рассказы (Kolyma tales, 1954 -1973).
3    Kalėda, "Dievų miškas be dievų," 11.
4    Zaborskaitė, Trumpa lietuvių literatūros istorija, 41.
5    Kubilius, XX amžiaus literatūra, 179.
6    Sakalauskas, "Artimas žmogus - visad gyvastingas," 257.
7    Sruoga, Raštai, 1957, 19-483.
8    Sruoga, Raštai 4, 1997, 239-566.
9    Sruoga, Dievų miškas, 2005, 13-442.
10    Sruoga, Dievų miškas, [manuscript], 1-305.
11    Sruoga, Dievų miškas, (typescript), (s.d.) 1-383. This is the primary text used by editors and the author. The corrections made by the author and the editors are reflected in the 1957, 1997, and 2005 editions.
12    Sruoga, Dievų miškas, (typescript), [1945] 1-383. After receiving the editor's corrections, Sruoga did no further work with this typescript.
13    The author would like to thank Virginijus Gasiliūnas, head of the manuscript section at the Lithuanian Institute of Literature and Folklore, and Birutė Glaznerienė and Vaida Bareišaitė at the Balys and Vanda Sruoga House Museum for their cooperation in making these texts available.
14    Markevičienė, "Balio Sruogos kurinio," 129-71; Markevičienė, "Balio Sruogos," 183-238.
15    Sruoga, "Laiškas."
16   Žirgulys, Tekstologijos bruožai, 73.
17    The term garbes katorgininkas contains a built-in contradiction. According to Stalin's concept, borrowed from imperial Russia, a political convict was considered the most dangerous of prisoners. They were assigned to the most dangerous work, such as radioactive ore refining, nuclear power station construction, etc. (see Applebaum, Gulag: A History). The negative meaning of the historical word katorgininkas (katorga prisoner) acquired a positive light in Sruoga's story: Lithuanian intellectuals, fighting for their nation's freedom, carrying out a mission of honor, undeservedly experienced the katorga's brutality. The very choice of this ambiguous term became a clear reference to the Stalinist regime, which is why Drazdauskas and the T2 editor so stubbornly deleted it.
18    The T1 typescript is called the "final" text because the editors' and the author's corrections are blended within it, and a clean typescript authorizing or rejecting the editorial changes was not made.
19    Motherfucker, bitch, fuck off, shit, bloody bastard.
20    I'll kick your ass, fucking Lithuanian intelligentsia.
21    Matuzevičius, "Pastabos," 48.
22    Ibid., 46.
23    Žirgulys, Prie redaktoriaus, 134.
24    Matulevičienė, "Balio Sruogos," 143.
25    Sruoga, Pajūrio kurortas, [Typescript], 195/TV; Sruoga, Raštai 3, 1997, 603.
26    Sruoga, Raštai 3, 1997, 486, 495, 501.
27    T2, VII, "Political section," 32.
28    Ibid., 31-2.
29    T2, Xii. "Numirėliška dalia, (Deadly fate)," 59. 80


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