The Literature of Baltic Deportees in Siberia 1941 - 1958
Isolde Ira Poželaitė - Davis AM BA (Adel.) Dip. (Paris)

This paper examines the realities and tragedies in the lives of Baltic Deportees in Siberia as documented in their literary works in the period 1941 - 1958. It aims to introduce the experiences of deportees and political prisoners through their own words (some political prisoners were deported to Siberian Gulags after serving a part of their prison term).
For this paper I have analysed 48 works. This number includes 40 works in Lithuanian, 5 works by Lithuanian authors in English, one work by a Danish author in an English translation, one work by an Estonian writer in English and one Lithuanian translation of a Latvian author. I have used the term "Baltic literature" rather loosely, but nevertheless inclusively. My own fluency and ease in Lithuanian explain the predominance of Lithuanian language texts analysed in this paper.

Reasons for Writing
Why did these people write? Most of them dedicated their work to their children and to fellow deportees who lost their lives in Siberia. But generally speaking, their motive could be summed up as the deportees’ desire to document and to inform the world of mankind’s inhuman behaviour, when dictated by an inhuman regime and their fierce determination to survive against all odds.
Valentinas Gustainis puts it very aptly: "I documented true events without fear or favour to anybody, without feelings of revenge for anybody. I wrote them sine ira et studio".

Themes of the Older and Younger Generation of Writers
Reading this literature I have found a great deal of overlap in the writings of middle aged and older authors. This was particularly noticeable in the realm of themes, topics, life experiences, work conditions and reasons for their deportation. Furthermore, a common leitmotiv in their works is: opposition to Russianisation - emphatically expressed by Ann Lehtmets; resistance to pressures and blackmail from the communist authorities; a concern to maintain their native tongue and traditions; an adaptation to a life style totally alien to them.
The younger generation, i.e. those who were deported as small children and grew up in Siberia, write about the obstacles they had to overcome to be enrolled in schools, life in schools and boarding schools, holidays spent with friends and parents, i.e. their life in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Such descriptions are well documented in the book Growing up in Siberia by Jonas Šarka.

‘Growing up in Siberia’ by Jonas Šarka
In the second half of the 1950s, these authors write about their work experiences commensurate with their education. The works contain picturesque descriptions of surroundings, nature, pastimes, amusements and sporting events. It should be noted that by the time most of these children went to school in Siberia, some six years had passed since the deportation from their homelands in 1941, and conditions had started to improve even beyond the Arctic Circle. Hence their writings reveal a curious mixture of hardship descriptions in early life and lighter, brighter ones in their young adult years. Funny anecdotal events and humorous descriptions of the Soviet regime’s boasting of "achievements" in newspapers and speeches of dignitaries abound.
The writer Romualdas Staugaitis writes about the Siberian winter landscapes, the local inhabitants - called Evenki - and journeys with dog sleds. Nijolė Baikienė writes interesting descriptions of Siberian nature in springtime. Elena Juciūtė, arrested as a political prisoner and deported to a sovchoz in Siberia, writes about film evenings, lectures, national dance and stage performances, and even political talks, which their superiors arranged for sovchoz inmates in 1955 (two years after Stalin’s death). Needless to say - all such activities were copiously flavoured with Soviet propaganda.
However, the youngsters’ determination to get an education by hook or by crook in Siberia is astonishing. The author Jonas Šarka is an example in case. He was deported to beyond the Arctic Circle as a small boy and yet managed to finish a degree in the Faculty of English at the Irkutsk Foreign Languages Institute and become a teacher of English. This is what the director of the Institute said to him when he presented himself for enrolment:

"So you are the one who did the exam without a permit"..."Who do you think you are, young man? Without presenting your documents, with no permit, you burst into the classroom to sit for the exam"..."Anyway, well done! You got a five (highest mark) for your composition. Give the secretary your documents and take the remaining exams."

There also are numerous other accounts of deportee children having gone to primary schools, high schools, art academies, institutes and other places of tertiary education in Siberia. Most of these centres were in Yakutsk, Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk. However, each of these success stories tells also about the difficulties put in their way, especially by the commandants (NKVD personnel) on their way to higher education.

Language and Style in the Works of Older and Younger Deportee Writers
In this section I will focus on Lithuanian writers, as I have read these authors in the original language.
Standard Lithuanian is used in these works, with just a sprinkling of dialectal expressions. Russian phrases, words, as well as specific terminology used in prisons are interspersed in the text and particularly in dialogues. Editors have corrected the language and style of the books, irrespective of where they were published - in Lithuania after 1990 or in the USA. There is a marked difference in the works of political prisoners, adult civilian deportees and their children who grew up in Siberia, as I have alluded to before. The style of the former is plain and acerbic in prose. In poetry it tends to be flowery. In contrast, the younger generation tends to write in a down to earth, sober style with precise time and place indications. I would like to cite a passage from the work Frozen Inferno by Dr Dalia Grinkevičius, who grew up in Siberia. This episode is from beyond the Arctic Circle:

"By February 1943 it became obvious that we were all going to die. The mortality rate reached its highest point. The cold was fierce; blizzards of hurricane proportions raged, especially as the Arctic night drew to a close. The barracks were completely unheated and the hands and the feet of the dying froze. On the bunks people lay all curled up, unable to move, because scurvy had attacked their joints and because they suffered from exhaustion and internal inflammations. Most huddled in their bunks, immobile from scurvy. From dysentery, they defecated in their bunks; the stronger ones onto the snow from the bunk-edge. The end approached. Just at the point when no one had any hope left, a man came to Trofimovsk, who tore those still alive from the grip of death. He was a doctor named Lazar Solomonovich Samodurov. He worked his way into each barrack, examined all the sick and the piles of corpses, and threw himself energetically into the task. All alone he stood up to the administrators of Trofimovsk - well-fed, stout, dressed in warm furs and felt boots, who had calmly sent us off to the next world...The people who had survived until the arrival of Dr. Samodurov remained alive."

Literary Genres
All the works studied were written by more or less gifted authors and more or less educated individuals. A value judgment is not pertinent in this respect. The author Elena Juciūtė puts it rather appropriately: "Not everybody can be a writer, but everybody can bear witness to events he or she has heard, seen and survived"

A. Prose Works - autobiographies, diaries, memoirs and short stories
Autobiographical accounts usually begin a few years before the Soviet de facto occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in June 1940 and terminate with the author’s return to their Baltic homeland, or else emigration to the USA, Australia and Denmark.
A common theme in autobiographies of political prisoners is: descriptions of the harsh treatment they had to endure from the prison authorities, and the betrayal by their countrymen turned spies, who reported them to the NKVD. The author

Log cabin with iron bar windows- Komi region
Vladas Višniūnas describes how spying and denunciations led to further prison sentences and thwarted the prisoners’ quest for freedom and return to their homeland. The author Zigmas Toliušis, a well known barrister in pre-Soviet independent Lithuania, recalls with bitterness an incident about a cell mate and former Lithuanian army officer, who turned spy and reported him to the labour camp commandant. After the author was allowed to return to Lithuania in 1955, and live in one room of his former flat, he found the very same former officer occupying other rooms in the flat. Worst of all, this ex-army officer kept on denouncing him to the Lithuanian communist authorities. The NKVD spied on Toliušis and continued to interrogate him for 16 years, until his death in 1971. Prisoners were also accused of disloyalty to the regime on trumped up charges and sentenced to further prison sentences.
According to some civilian deportee autobiographies, fellow countrymen profited materially by giving purposely-misleading advice about items to take with them on their journey to Siberia. Authors who reported these occurrences are: Barbora Armonas, Eugenija Karoblienė, Romualdas Staugaitis, Senta Štaukaitė, Algirdas Čarneckis and a few others. Denunciations to the authorities were frequent.
However, on the whole, many more accounts testify to how relatives and friends in the homeland tried to help those who were being deported. After it was possible to send parcels of food, clothes and footwear to Siberia in the second part of the 1940s, many deportees only survived thanks to those gifts. There are also descriptions of how people in Lithuania and in Latvia organised actions to save children in Siberia, by bringing them back to their homelands. This occurred in 1944-45 and 1946 and is documented by the Lithuanians Zigmas Toliušis, Romualdas Staugaitis and the Latvian Ojars Mednis. Such actions could only have happened with the knowledge of some Lithuanian and Latvian officials. Indeed, some of these children rescuers were severely reprimanded by the authorities on their return to the homeland.
Deportees who managed to leave Siberia and emigrate to the West describe in their autobiography obstacles they had to overcome to obtain exit papers from the USSR. But for the help of the Royal Danish and the US Embassies in Moscow and the intervention of a few Congressmen in the USA, these deportees would not have been able to achieve their goals. Soviet unwillingness to issue exit visas to former deportees is exemplified in Danish Ambassador Alex Mųrch’s letter on 25 February 1957 in Moscow to a former Danish citizen deported with her family from Lithuania to Siberia in 1941. I’m quoting an excerpt from the letter:

"Dear Mrs. Rachlin,
I hereby acknowledge receipt of your letter of December 5, 1956...I know that you are anxiously awaiting news of your application for exit visas. Some unexpected difficulties seem to have arisen, which we are unable to understand, considering the promise previously given by the Soviet leaders."

As late as 32 years after the first deportations, the Soviet government continued its inefficient administrative procedures. Jonas Kreivėnas enumerates Soviet bureaucracy’s delaying tactics after he received the Soviet government’s permission to immigrate to the USA: "In October, 1973, I received a telegram from the US Consulate in Moscow informing me about the Soviet government’s permission to emigrate and the Consulate inquired about the status of my foreign passport." These are but a few examples of obstacles he had to overcome:

  • The post office employees in Vilnius refused to accept his reply telegram to the US Consulate. Their excuse - address unknown;
  • To obtain a passport he had to get his birth certificate. The Lithuanian communist authorities initially refused it. He also had to obtain various documents and statements, which took a lot of time, e.g. the recommendation from his work at the 33rd Technical School had to be rewritten 5 times before authorities accepted it;
  • For the result of his blood test, he had to return 19 times on consecutive days to the laboratory;
  • And so it went on and on.

  • It had taken Jonas Kreivėnas over 3 months to battle the Soviet authorities for the required documents. At the US Consulate in Moscow the author got his visa in less than one hour.

    In the works I have analysed, I found one "pure" diary type of account. This is the work of the Latvian author Ojars Mednis with the title Trys Sasiuviniai (Three Exercise Books) in the Lithuanian translation. In this diary one finds nearly perfect time and event correlations, that give an insight into daily occurrences in people’s life. In Mednis’ case, it retells events of how a young boy dealt with everyday hardships in Siberia. He was often alone, for his mother was sentenced to several consecutive prison sentences and deportations to Gulags. Her crime - taking a few potatoes and other food to nourish him.

    Deportee literature abounds in memoirs. The works of political prisoners begin with incarceration in one or two prisons, invariably associated with interrogations, in some cases torture, and finally deportation to other prisons, Gulags or

    Plaque reads: Baikal - Lithuanian Death Zone
    Selchozes in Siberia, where the inhuman treatment and the starving of prisoners continued.
    Civilian deportees sent to Siberia in 1941 and in 1948-49, the years of mass deportations, describe in minute detail the pitiful conditions in the cattle wagons, such as the lack of space, air, abhorrent sanitary arrangements, and the harrowing moments when husbands and fathers were separated from their families. The author Jonas Šarka describes the following scene in his memoirs:

    "I watched the guards drag an elderly man from one of the wagons. A woman, probably his wife, caught hold of the man and, screaming hysterically, wouldn’t let him go. The soldiers were unable to tear her off. Then one of the soldiers lifted up his rifle and abruptly struck the woman in the chest with his rifle butt. She fell down on the rail track and the soldiers went off with the man."

    Memoirs differ in their structure. Many are continuous narratives; others retell separate episodes not necessarily linked together. In the latter, a table of contents often enables the reader to pinpoint events in chronological order. One person with occasional short, succinct dialogues usually does the retelling of episodes. They are interspersed with letters, when these could be sent to Siberia from the Baltic countries from 1944 onwards (in some cases) and more regularly after Stalin’s death in 1953. The memoirs of Rachel and Israel Rachlin are an exception. Both authors alternate in narrating the episodes which would be funny, if they wouldn’t reveal a sad truth:

    "Before I left (Israel is narrating), I told Ellik that I should like to use his privy and asked him where it was located. Ellik laughed, saying that this was, unfortunately, not possible, for somebody had stolen the entire structure, apparently to use the boards for firewood."

    Short Stories
    In the 48 works that I have read there were few short stories written about deportations to and life in Siberia. Perhaps the memories of events were still too deeply etched in the minds of former deportees to use their experiences for fiction works. The best stories I came across were usually based on factual happenings, but had undergone a creative transformation by the author. The best two short story volumes are by Ričardas Vaicekauskas. Hair-raising events from the life of political prisoners, and their treatment by guards and prison authorities, are portrayed with a dose of suspense and irony in a free-flowing, picturesque style. Whereas the author Vidmantas Povilionis writes in a clipped, sparing style and in his stories reveals how the Soviet regime was applying pressure on prison inmates to inform on their countrymen: "The former SS-man Parts listened to the prisoners’ conversations and ran every five minutes to report them to his bosses." Spying was apparently a common occurrence in prisons and Gulags, but not in places where civilian deportees lived. Nevertheless, it seems that the majority of prisoners resisted pressure and didn’t compromise their moral views and conscience. On the whole, many more accounts testify how deportees and political prisoners helped each other, even parting with their bread ration to save somebody else from starving to death.

    B. Poetry
    In this section I will again focus only on Lithuanian poets. Many poems written in Siberia are by authors with a penchant for poetry, rather than professional writers. Dates and places where poems were written are seldom indicated. Siberia’s vast expanse is their nightmare in which time and place have lost their meaning. The format of most poems is unsophisticated. It consists mainly of quatrain verses in which ABAB or ABBA rhymes predominate. The poems are nostalgic reminiscences of the homeland, the dear ones left behind and tears of sorrow, despair and railing against an unjust fate. They are emotive; their simple imagery similar to those in Lithuanian folksongs. However, the repetition of diminutive and endearing noun forms tends to lessen the feeling of poignancy.
    Works by established poets like Antanas Miškinis are of a different standard. In his volume of poetry written in Siberia, called Sulaužyti Kryžiai (Broken Crosses), the poems are quatrains or couplets with the ABAB rhyme. In his poems, romantic evocations of the homeland vie with the cold and unrelenting imagery of the Siberian landscape; lyrical poems akin to folksongs compete with the stark reality of his surroundings; philosophical reflections are juxtaposed to satirical indictments of the Soviet regime and in poems dedicated to his fellow sufferers and friends, he extols their loyalty and perseverance. The leitmotiv in many poems and letters in exile is a deeply felt concern for the future of Lithuania. His poetry is inspired, rich in imagery, metaphors and evocative memory links.

    C. Main Themes
    The themes in the literature of Baltic deportees overlap, but differ due to geographical sites, climatic and work conditions and, as mentioned before, by the writers’ age and status - civilian deportee or political prisoner.

    Inclement Climatic Conditions
    Reading the works of deportees and political prisoners, one is constantly reminded of climatic conditions depending on the region in Siberia to which they had been deported. These regions varied from beyond the Arctic Circle to Tadzhikistan in

    Lithuanian cemetery - Irkutsk Region
    the south, from Vorkuta, west of the Ural Mountains, to Magadan in the east on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Extreme climatic conditions added to the misery of political prisoners and deportees. In the North of Siberia winter temperatures would fall to below -42C in the Krasnoyarsk region, as noted by Ojars Mednis. R. Staugaitis writes about temperatures falling to below -50C beyond the Arctic Circle and snowstorms that lasted 12-14 days and nights. In the coldest place in Siberia, the delta of the River Yana, temperatures fell to -70C, as documented by Helen Tautvaiša. Some authors have described how people froze to death in their barracks, because they were unable to open the barracks door and fetch some firewood during the purga - the Siberian snow storm. Travelers, who were caught on the road by such a snowstorm, would only be found in the spring, when the snow had melted. Wolves savaged many such corpses.
    In the South, i.e. in camps in Tadzhikistan in the Altai Mountains, summer temperatures could rise to +50C. Life in desert camps, without a supply of fresh water, was unbearable. Inmates would die of thirst among other diseases. In winter, however, it was bitterly cold in these places because of the high altitude. Extreme weather conditions, therefore, added to the physical agony of deportees and political prisoners.

    Physical Work
    Men, women and children from the age of 10 years had to work, except children, who were exempt if they went to school. The average working day in Siberia was usually 12 hours, with a short break for lunch. Stefanija Rūkienė and other authors write about the hard work deportees and prisoners had to perform no matter to which region they were sent. In her case she happened to be in a kolkhoz in Malinovka, and writes about the huge quotas of potatoes that each potato digger had to fulfill in order do get paid. The women worked from sundown to sunset and half a day the next day for one inadequate payment. Jonas Šarka writes about fishing experiences in the delta of the River Yana:

    "It had snowed, the banks were covered with snow and the edges of the river were frozen. Waterproof boots, or rubber gloves, were not available. They (the fishermen) waded through the ice-cold water wearing "tarbazi", a kind of large stocking made of reindeer skin. They would fill up with water. They worked with bare hands"..."My father’s legs grew numb, pain paralysed him and he could hardly walk. Petraitis’ both hands and finger joints were swollen. He could not hold a rope, an oar, or the handles of the stretcher. Carbuncles broke out over Skučas’ whole body. Our mother...would drag herself home and fall down on the bunk. She didn’t stir and remained lying there till the morning."

    Without wanting to generalize, I formed the opinion that life was perhaps a little easier for deportees in kolkhozes situated in warmer climatic regions in Siberia - than for those sent beyond the Arctic Circle, or in desert mountain regions in the south. The former could at least steal a few potatoes at harvest time, or gather some mushrooms and berries in the woods. The latter had no such opportunities or "luxuries".

    Hunger - Vermin - Disease - Death. The progression of these phenomena is endemic in all the books. Food rations were pitifully small. Bread and a thin soup of a nondescript origin were about all deportees would get, if they worked. Can one imagine an adult male or female surviving on a bread ration of an average of 500 g. per day and obliged to do hard work in inclement weather conditions, without adequate clothing or footwear? The food supplies, which some families had brought with them from their home country in the summer of 1941, soon ran out. Clothing and valuable items, used for bartering with the local population for food, were soon exhausted. In many cases deportees were robbed of valuables, i.e. they were confiscated by the officials in charge of deportations in the homeland. Ojars Mednis and other authors have documented that the local population did not accept money and only agreed to barter for clothes or valuables. In most places there were no shops to buy food or clothing. Anyway, most of the shops that existed hardly had any items to sell. On the other hand, many authors have mentioned the shameful waste of foodstuffs in many camps and places of exile. Jonas Kreivėnas writes:

    "In 1946 we had a tremendous harvest of cabbages, and temporarily had put them into high piles and left them in the field. For the consumption of the inmates we picked up dirty leaves, shredded and dumped them into concrete silos. In the meantime, the rainy season came, the roads from the fields became impassable, and all the cabbage heads were left in the field unprotected. The next spring the piles of prize cabbage were a stinking mess, and the whole harvest was lost.

    Romualdas Staugaitis documents how thousands of tons of flour, brought in by ship to Arctic ports by the Americans to help in the war effort, were allowed to rot and then fed to pigs, while deportees were starving. Jonas Šarka noted that huge heaps of freshly harvested potatoes were left to rot in fields. Many more descriptions of food wasting exist in the works of deportees and political prisoners.
    The plight of deportees was compounded by the fact that food was very dear in comparison to the small wages they were paid for their work, and, in addition, monthly rations prevailed in the shops. In Arctic regions, as Helen Tautvaiša writes, deportees were entitled to buy food every month, if and when the items were available:

  • 800 g of sugar at 12 rubles per kg,
  • 700 g of butter at 33 rubles per kg,
  • 250 g of tea cost 10 rubles,
  • 1 kg of fish cost 10 rubles (allowed to buy in the short summer months in Arctic regions).

  • Ojars Mednis writes in his diaries that at the end of 1945 a small loaf of bread cost between 30-40 rubles; approx. 4 kg of potatoes 35-40 rubles; grain (the author doesn’t specify the variety of grain) 5 rubles per glass; meat 80 rubles per kg. Furthermore, deportees had to queue up for long hours wherever these shops existed. The same conditions applied for bread rations obtained when work quotas were fulfilled. Families who had youngsters received an additional 300 g of bread per day. These youngsters would often queue up at shops, to secure a place for the head of the family. Since many of the fathers were separated from their families, the whole burden of working and procuring food supplies fell on the mothers.

    The inadequate food situation led to theft, which was severely punished when detected. Romualdas Staugaitis notes that children caught stealing vegetables were severely beaten with a nagaika (a whip). Adults received prison sentences for

    Gravestone: Let it be easy for you in the foreign Siberian soil
    stealing even a fence post to warm their barracks. In some accounts it was stated that guards shot or beat to death camp inmates caught stealing.
    Authors made a distinction of theft from the State and from individuals. Theft from individuals was condemned outright, although as noted by some authors, e.g. J. Bičiūnaitė-Masiulienė, who writes: ..."Rimantas decided to build around their belongings a small wall from stolen boards, because the neighbour stole everything in turn."
    Theft is analysed in many works as a moral dilemma for persons of the Christian faith. Ann Lehtmets asks if taking foodstuffs from the State can be called "stealing", seeing that the deportees were continuously shortchanged in their rations. Other authors, although not openly condoning theft, argued that the injustice done to them by the State and the instinct of survival naturally led to it and couldn’t be called a crime. Or, as the writer Mindaugas Babonas noted: .."It was a sin without any guilt."

    Compounding the plight of deportees and political prisoners were all kinds of vermin in plague proportions: bedbugs, lice, mosquitoes etc. Jonas Šarka writes:

    "(On the walls)...behind the sheets of plywood swarmed millions of bedbugs. Sleeping in beds was out of the question. We spread the bedding on the floor in the middle of the room and, like in old castles, we poured a protective circle of water around us as a defensive moat. We would watch as a giant bug army attacked us. They approached the water and stopped, then went around in search of a gap in the circle. When the water evaporated and a tiny dry opening appeared in the circle, the bugs rushed through it. Or even better - they would climb onto the ceiling, aim at their targets and - bang, bang, dive straight towards us, as if in an airborne landing."

    Disease and Death
    Hunger, lack of vitamins, unsanitary living conditions, physical exhaustion and diseases, such as scurvy, typhoid fever, malaria, diphtheria and many others, soon lead to ever increasing mortality rates among the deportees. The greatest

    Young Lithuanians tidying up a Lithuanian cemetery
    in the Komi Region
    mortality occurred in the winter of 1942, when food reserves were exhausted.
    In most of the places where deportees lived in Siberia there were so-called hospitals, i.e. primitive barracks with a few beds, mostly a nurse and, in seldom cases, a doctor, often also a deportee. Some of the Russian, Lithuanian, Mongolian and Jewish doctors tried to help their patients, as documented by Jonas Kreivėnas, Garmutė, Dr. Dalia Grinkevičius and others. However, they could not perform miracles without any medicines. The main raison d’źtre of these hospitals seem to have been the issue of sickness certificates to deportees. Thus having their bread rations withdrawn for the duration of their sickness did not penalize sick people. They did receive food in hospital, which was perhaps a little more nourishing than the workers’ rations, which consisted mostly of bread.
    Some Baltic deportee writers reveal how the certification of death was dealt with in a duplicitous manner by the Soviet regime. Strimaitytė - Mėlienė noted that Lithuanian deportees, who had returned to Lithuania in 1956, requested and obtained death certificates of their next of kin. These had either died in places of settlement of starvation, disease and deplorable work conditions, or because they were tortured to death in prisons and Gulags in Vorkuta, Krasnoyarsk, Pechora, Arkhangelsk and elsewhere. Yet the cause of death on the official death certificates was puzzling. It was stated that: "...the person died where he had lived on the day he was seized for deportation. Almost always a heart attack was given as the cause of death."
    The authors, who have endeavoured to trace the cause of death of deportees and political prisoners after Perestroika, received more accurate explanations. Their cause of death was attributed to various diseases. A. Šerėnas compiled a list in 1997 of deceased Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian deportees and political prisoners.

    In Northern regions of Siberia it was not possible to bury the dead in wintertime. So, they were either just left outside the barracks, or in some cases brought to a shed, or stacked up on top of each other. Jonas Šarka observes:

    "The shed served another purpose too. The dead bodies were kept in it. As there wasn’t much space in the shed, the dead bodies were stacked on one side, with the firewood on the other side, and kept there frozen till summer. It was almost impossible to bury the dead in winter. There were no proper tools and no one had the strength to hollow out a grave. They were buried at the beginning of summer. The thawed upper layer of the ground was dug out with a pickaxe. Then a crow bar was used to deepen the grave in the permafrost, so that the top of the coffin couldn’t be seen. The cemetery was behind the settlement on higher ground in the tundra. It wasn’t fenced in, nor did anyone take care of it...Dogs wandered all around the place. They scrounged amongst the graves, unearthed the bodies and tore the clothes to pieces. Rubbish, refuse of every kind and human bones lay scattered everywhere."

    There are many other similar accounts of how deportees and political prisoners were unable to give a decent burial to the dead beyond the Arctic Circle, although this was not quite so prevalent in warmer regions of Siberia. Burial is an important event in the lives of Baltic people. Its origin goes back to the earliest times in the history of Baltic tribes. Hence, when travel to Siberia became possible in the 1990s, Lithuanians went back to Siberia to rebury the dead, to erect monuments, or to bring the remains of relatives back to Lithuania.

    Reaction of Local Authorities and the Population to the Influx of Baltic Deportees in Siberia.
    There are numerous accounts of how Baltic deportees were received by the authorities, the Russian civilian population, autochthons (i.e. Yakuts, Enveki and others) and former deportees (i.e. Volga Germans, Ukrainians and Russian political exiles).
    The cruelty of the guards, local commandants and NKVD officials is hard to imagine for those who have not experienced them. Jonas Kreivėnas states: "Thanks to a series of miraculous circumstances, I survived and today (in the USA) I feel fortunate to be able to at least partly disclose the grim secrets of Soviet prisons and concentration camps." Eugenijus Ignatavičius writes: "The very first winter the commandant said to us: ‘You were brought here to die. Our comrades are fighting the fascists at the front, we, however, were appointed to annihilate you. The Party has entrusted us with this work, and don’t expect us to pussyfoot with you. The sooner you will die, the better it will be for you and for us.‘ "
    Such a statement is not at all surprising, if we bear in mind the speech of the Communist Party Secretary L. Ilyich in the Pravda newspaper on December 27, 1961. He said:

    "We must fight against the smallest manifestations of nationalism, using special relentlessness in order to weed them out on the economic, cultural and ideological level."

    The reaction of the civilian population in Siberia and other places of exile to the influx of Baltic refugees was cautious and even hostile at first. They were told that these Baltic people were fascists, while their very own sons, husbands and fathers were waging a bitter war against fascists in Europe. Furthermore, the local population lived in penury. Seeing the deportees better dressed than themselves, may have added to feelings of envy and distrust. It must also be remembered that in kolkhozes local workers were forced to share their cramped living quarters with the new arrivals. That was very inconvenient for them. Also, local officials and persons in positions of authority gave a "good" example by heaping abuse on deportees, vilifying and swearing at them. This is well documented by Ann Lehtmets, by Mindaugas Babonas and other authors.
    However, Russians living or sent to work in Siberia did change their attitude vis-ą-vis deportees after a while. Former German deportees from the Volga region, from the Ukraine, Russian political exiles and the autochthone populations of Siberia helped and pitied Baltic deportees. Ann Lehtmets even mentions the good deed of a NKVD captain, who advised her to leave her children in Estonia: "I remembered his advice and nodded. When all was said and done, he was human and, although NKVD, he had not condemned my children, when I believe he could have."

    Sources of Strength
    On reading the literature of Baltic deportees one cannot but wonder at the fortitude of these people. In every one of the 48 books I have read, the following sources of strength and resilience are mentioned: religious beliefs; maintenance of

    Expedition of young Lithuanians to the Komi Region
    native language and traditions; getting literature (albeit communist) in their mother tongue and food parcels from their homelands, as early as 29 October 1945 writes Ojars Mednis. And mail from home as other authors noted in 1947. Gifted individuals organised choirs, small instrumental and folkdancing groups, when this became possible. A great source of strength for the deportees was their appreciation by the population of their integrity, diligence, honesty, diverse talents and professional skills. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Soviet authorities didn’t want to let them go home after they were rehabilitated in the second half of the 1950s. The deportees encountered more adverse and negative attitudes from Soviet officials in their Baltic homelands than in Siberia. This was an unexpected irony, given that the determination to return home had inspired the Baltic deportees’ will to survive in Siberia.

    In conclusion, there has been little non-Baltic literature or commentary of any kind about Soviet prisons, gulags, NKVD blackmail and torture in the 1940s and 50s. A few authors like Ann Lehtmets, an Estonian woman, separated from her husband and her children was one of those who survived, migrated to Adelaide, South Australia, and together with Doug Hoile wrote a very significant work, Sentence Siberia. In her book Lehtmets forebodingly reminds us of the potential resurgence of Kremlin power, when she says: "The Russian turmoil of 1994 warns us that imperialist ambitions are far from forgotten in the Kremlin".
    There is also a film called EAST-WEST in which Soviet prisons, Gulags, NKVD blackmail and torture are exposed. Critics have referred to this unusual French film as "...a rare drop of truth in a desert of calculated silence." This poignant observation can be extended to the literature of Baltic deportees in Siberia reviewed in this paper.

    Photos of Siberia - Courtesy of "Younger Generation Mission to Siberia (Misija Sibiras - Jaunoji Karta)", the 2006 expedition of Lithuanian youth to Siberia -

    This expedition began on June 14, 2006, the 65th anniversary of the first mass deportations from Lithuania.

    Isolde Poželaitė Davis AM
    Sydney, September 2006



    Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are collectively known as the Baltic States. Their histories go back to medieval times. Riga, the capital of Latvia was founded in 1201, Tallinn, was founded in 1219. Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania in 1316 and its university dates from 1579.

    1721 Estonia and most of Latvia incorporated into the Russian Empire
    1795 Lithuania annexed under Tsarist rule
    1914 WW I begins. Germany, Austria and Hungary against the British Empire, France and Russian Empire
    1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia overthrows Tsarist rule
    1918 WW I ends. Lithuania reestablishes and Latvia and Estonia establish their independence
    1933 Hitler and his Nazi party take power in Germany
    1938 Hitler annexes Austria and dismantles Czechoslovakia
    1939 August Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia sign pact that Estonia and Latvia go to Soviet Russia, while a part of Lithuania to Germany
    1939 September A second secret treaty concluded by Germany and the Soviet Union allocates all of Lithuania to the Soviet Union
    1939 September Hitler’s army invades Poland
    1940 April-June Hitler occupies Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland and France
    1940 June Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania annexed by the Soviet Union
    1940 September Battle of Britain prevents Hitler’s invasion of Great Britain
    1941, 14-16 June Mass deportations of Baltic people to Siberia
    1941 22nd June Hitler invades Soviet Union and as a result occupies Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia
    1941 December United States enters WW II
    1943 July Soviet Union begins to repulse Nazi Germany’s invasion
    1944 June Allied troops land in northern France
    1944 Soviet Union regains control of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
    1945 May Nazi Germany surrenders
    1945, 1948-49 Mass deportations from Lithuania to Siberia
    1990 March Lithuania declares its independence from the Soviet Union
    1991 August Latvia declares its independence from the Soviet Union
    1991 August Estonia declares its independence from the Soviet Union


    Latest statistics have been quoted from the book Lietuvių tautos sovietinis naikinimas 1940-1958 metais (The Annihilation of the Lithuanian Nation by the Soviet Regime) by Arvydas Anušauskas, Mintis, Vilnius, 1996. In this book the author maintains that:

    According to the documents from the institutions of the NKVD-MVD, NKGB- MGB- KGB, "332 thousand people were imprisoned, deported and sent to GULAG camps between 1941 - 1958." However, "not less than 456 thousand people (every third adult Lithuanian, with Lithuanians accounting for 93% of the prisoners and 96% of the deportees) fell victim to Soviet genocide and terror, and were subjected to compulsion of one kind or another."..."Included in the above number of victims are: 26.5 thousand Lithuanian Resistance Fighters and civilians killed in Lithuania and also 25 thousand Lithuanian soldiers drafted into the Soviet army and killed 1944-1958."
    It should also be mentioned that Lithuania lost some 490 thousand people who fled Soviet terror in 1940-1941 and later in 1944. "These include: 140 thousand Klaipeda inhabitants, 50 thousand repatriated people to Germany (Umsiedler category, I.P-D.), 170 thousand who escaped to Poland, 120 thousand who fled to the West in 1944 and thousands of people who were repatriated to Germany and to Poland in 1958."
    The author, Arvydas Anušauskas asserts that "...indicated figures are based on archive documents and compiled records of the names of victims." However, he warns the reader that..." due to innaccuracies, manipulations of figures and various stipulations, the data is incomplete, not final but approximate."
    The enormity of the nation’s loss of inhabitants becomes evident in relation to the total number of the Lithuanian population which in 1939 was just above 3 million people (Encyclopedia Lituanica, vol IV, p. 323). It is, therefore, important that Soviet methods of terror and genocide be revealed and the mendacity of the regime exposed.


    Works of Lithuanian Authors in English
    Armonas, B. Leave Your Tears in Moscow, J.B. Lippincott Co., New York, 1961, 222 p.
    Grinkevičius, D. Frozen Inferno, Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid, New York, 1981,15 p.
    Kudirka, S. & Eichel, L. For Those Still At Sea, The Defection of a Lithuanian Sailor, Dial Press, New York, 1978, 226 p.
    Rachlin, R. & I. Sixteen Years in Siberia: Memoirs of Rachel and Israel Rachlin, University of Alabama Press, London, 1988, 251 p. Good map. Official Deportation Instructions.
    Strimaitytė - Mėlienė, M. Crosses in the Arctic: A Lithuanian Woman Survives the Gulag, Stasys Butkus Chapter, Chicago, 1987, 180 p. Good maps, foreword, appendix - Instructions of the Soviet Deputy Commissar for Public Security (trans.)
    Šarka, J. Growing up in Siberia (trans. by author), BMK Publishers, Vilnius, 2004, 110 p., 13 photographs, map.
    Tautvaiša, H. The Cemetery Of Nations in the Siberian Tundra, Lithuanian Social Democratic Union of America, Boston/Mass. 1962, 112 p. List of deceased deportees in Siberia. Introduction by Kipras Bielinis.

    List of Estonian Authors in English
    Lehtmets, A. & Hoile, D. Sentence: Siberia, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 1994, 375 p.

    Supplements of Soviet Methods
    Russia: Deportation in March 1949, Volume 2, Tallinn, Eesti Represseeritute Registri Büroo, 1999.
    Deportation from Estonia to Russia in June 1941 & Deportation in 1940-1953, Tallinn, Eesti Represseeritute Registre Büroo, 2001.

    Web References in Estonian and English
    Musuem of Occupations
    Tartu Linnamuuseum küüditamisest
    Kaart eestlaste küüditamise kohta
    Estonica Eesti ajaloost

    List of Latvian Authors in English
    Babris, P. Dr. Silent Churches: Persecution of Religions in the Soviet Dominated Areas, Research Publishers, Arlington Heights/Illinois, ISBN 091 1252-02-9
    Celmina H. Women in Soviet Prisons, Paragon House Pub., New York, 1985
    Gordon F. Latvians and Jews between Germany and Russia, Memento, Riga, Stockholm. Available in Latvian and in English editions, ISBN 91- 87114-39-9.
    Šics A. (translator) We Sang Through Tears: Stories of Survival in Siberia, Janis Roze, Riga, ISBN 9984-623-72-6.

    Latvian Reference Books in English
    Nollendorfs V. (Ed.) Museum of the Occupation of Latvia 1949 - 1991: Latvia Under the Rule of the Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany, ISBN 9984- Available in Latvian and in English editions, 9332-8-8.
    Latvian Foundation (Publ.) These Names Accuse: Nominal List of Latvians Deported to Soviet Russia in 1940-41 with Historical Introduction, Stockholm, 1982.

    French Showcase Movie - Shown on SBS TV March 26, 2005
    Drama EAST - WEST (1999) The film is directed by Regis Wargnier and stars Catherine Deneuve, Sandrine Bonnaire, Oleg Menchikov. The film is based on a montage of actual experiences of those who survived life in the USSR: unremitting poverty, sudden arrests and executions or deportations to gulags, and pervasive fear. The critic remarks: "That this film about the hell that was Stalin’s Soviet Union was made at all is something of a surprise. This French film is a rare drop of truth in a desert of calculated silence."

    More authors and their book titles can be obtained at .