18 February 2018
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Historical Lithuania

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How a Lithuanian from America
ended up in the middle of historic
Jan. 13 events in Vilnius

By: Linas Johansonas

(Cleveland) Linas Muliolis was your average young Lithuanian born in the USA. The son of World War II refugees, Linas grew up in Cleveland's Lithuanian community. In January 1991, he was just a month away from turning 21 years old & was in Vilnius during the historic Jan. 13 events. Earlier this week, talked with Linas about his experiences 22 years ago.

HOW DID A YOUNG MAN FROM CLEVELAND END UP IN VILNIUS DURING A 'REVOLUTION'? "I went there (Lithuania) to live for a year, to study language at Vilnius University.  Things were heating up and in the beginning of January, I went there (parliament building) and volunteered to be an interpreter. I worked in the information bureau with Rita Dapkute".

 WERE YOU AT THE PARLIAMENT BUILDING ON JAN. 13? "Yes. I was there for four days with only two,  four-hour breaks of sleep ..... Had my own gasmask issued to me". (it was 108 hours with 2 four-hour naps) 

 WERE THERE ANY OTHER "VOLUNTEERS" FROM ABROAD THERE? "From America, I think Rita Dapkute, Darius Suziedelis & I were the only 3. There was a group from Moldova. There was about a half dozen of them, in case of attack, they were there mostly for moral support but it was nice to have them there... very well received".

 SO THE MOLDOVANS WERE THERE TO DEFEND THE PARLIAMENT BUILDING? "Basically yes...  I can't remember if they were armed...  I think I only remember seeing guns once .....  on the main floor..."

 DID YOU EVER WORRY ABOUT WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO YOU IF THE SOVIETS TRIED TO OR DID TAKE OVER THE PARLIAMENT BUILDING?  "No, not at all, why would I worry about that? (he answered jokingly). I made sure I kept my passport with me at all times, in case..   who knows if it would have helped, though. I always said the rest of my life would be anti-climactic".

 WERE YOU EVER TOLD WHAT TO DO IF THE BUILDING WAS ATTACKED? WERE YOU GIVEN A GUN? "No - there were practically no guns to be seen, this was primarily a peaceful protest...  I WAS issued a gasmask though, because there were rumours of attack by gas".


 WHAT WAS THE MOOD LIKE INSIDE THE PARLIAMENT BUILDING ON JAN. 13? "STRESS! Pretty much what you would expect, desperation, frustration with the rest of the world, stress, worry, fear... etc".


 About non action.  I remember one newspaper cartoon, for example, a rear view of Landsbergis facing a window, you see from the back that he is holding a phone, the view out the window shows a new oil well spraying oil in the air..   He says "President Bush?  Guess what!"

 The world was focused on the first Iraqi war, but yet on Jan 13th, we still made the top headline

 DID YOU EVER CROSS PATHS WITH VYTAUTAS LANDSBERGIS DURING THIS TIME? "Yes.  I was in his office once or twice, I was called in to help translate one night.. but I didn't do a great job, though, I have to admit. Once you get technical in some subject, you know how hard it can get".

 WHAT WAS LANDSBERGIS LIKE? "He was calm, focused, definitely calm and reserved".

 WHEN DID THOSE OF YOU IN THE PARLIAMENT BUILDING HEAR ABOUT THE CIVILIAN DEATHS? We heard about the deaths as they were happening.  I remember the death count rising. I was surprised how accurate the news reports were in the US and in the UK, everything was pretty accurate, sometimes the number of deaths was off, but considering how confusing the time was overall, the news articles I saw were close to reality.

 DID YOU HAVE ANY CONTACT WITH YOUR FAMILY BACK IN CLEVELAND? Yes.  After I took the photo of the Soviet tanks (posted below) I was on the phone with my mother at the time, "Mom, don't be scared, but there is a column of tanks going by"  probably was not a good thing to say to my mom.  She turned gray that year.

 BEING AN AMERICAN-BORN LITHUANIAN, HOW WERE YOU TREATED BY THE NATIVE LITHUANIANS IN THE PARLIAMENT BUILDING? "People were grateful for me being there. I was generally well accepted By that time I had learned to look and act local, gotten rid of most of my American accent, though" 

 WAS THERE ANY SINGLE MOMENT THAT STANDS OUT FOR YOU? "The single most amazing thing I saw happened late at night, I believe it was on the night of January 12th, I may be wrong.  Do you remember the photo of the lone Chinese man standing in front of a column of tanks at Tiananmen Square?  The Parliament Building is right next to the river, and there was a bridge over it leading to the square where hundreds of thousands of people were protesting and guarding our fledgling government.  That night, suddenly someone in the room called out, said there were reports of a column of tanks racing towards us..  Hearts pounding, we raced to the windows.  I was on the fourth floor so had a great view.  A long column of tanks came racing towards us.   The most amazing thing I have ever seen in my entire life, was the mass of people simply rush in to block the way.  Those tanks would EASILY have crushed hundreds of people in seconds if the continued through.  I have never witnessed such bravery and selflessness in my entire life.  Luckily, however, at the last seconds, those tanks and APC's slowed down and turned right, away from the Parliament Building ".

 WHEN DID YOU FEEL EVERYTHING WAS GOING TO BE OK? "When most of the tanks left".

 ANY FINAL THOUGHTS? "This was definitely one of the most memorable times of my life, something I will never forget!  My whole life I had been taught that someday Lithuania will again be free, that we needed to keep the language and culture alive..  Then, when I was 20, turning 21 - It happened and I was a part of it!"

Cleveland Plain Dealer - Jan. 1991
Photo by Linas Muliolis taken from parliament building - Jan. 1991
Photo by Linas Muliolis taken from parliament buikding - Jan. 1991
Linas Muliolis - Cleveland, Ohio - 2012

Top of Form
Jenifer C. Dillis Simply heart-stopping...
Linas K Muliolis I have to add something to this, I don't know how I forgot.. You caught me during an extremely busy week for this interview and I did not get enough chance to rehash all of the events. The single most amazing thing I saw happened late at night, I bel...See More
Jean-Paul Le Clercq Go Linas Go! The Soviets had no idea what was waiting for them behind Parliament walls!
Sam Salerno I feel shameful that I've never heard of this. Makes me wonder what else is going on in the world today that I don't know about. You're an Awesome man Linus.
Jūra Liaukonytė Thank you LT news for this interesting interview.
Dana Baltutis Yeah...its an event I wont forget. I still have the videos that my close friend Monika, her mum and I smuggled out via the Australian embassy in Moscow a few weeks later.
Rita Kova Murnane I was there in August of 91...
Jurate Grigonis Dana Baltutis from Australia was also there.
Tony Geraci Wow!
Ruta Rusinas Tomas Zizys from Toronto was also there.
Mardell Ward awesome! that was really interesting.
Dana Baltutis We were standing outside the television station when the tanks came and the soldiers started to jump out of the tanks with their guns.. Ill never forget the rumble and confusion. A friend who I was with got shot in the leg. We had to crouch down and run from the gunfire. People were so brave that night and next morning going to the Parliament knowing what had happened the night before.
Mindaugas Petrauskas Another unsung hero.. The majority of Lithuanian people do not know anything about stories like this.
Giedrius Pavardenis Hey guys, you're all awesome
Roberta Zarnauskaite We can only admire the unity and bravery of people at that time! 
I wish nation still has it in the blood!! 
Peace to all!

Category : Historical Lithuania

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13 January 1991
through an artist’s eyes

The photo.

Artist Ruta Brazis-Velasco:
“Lithuanians day of commemoration, January 13, 1991 Television tower victims. The tower incident where 14 people were shot dead or crushed by Soviet tanks that stormed the parliament and TV tower. Thousands of unarmed people had confronted Soviet troops while Lithuania was battling to regain its independence.

This painting was done as an exercise in college of a trauma painting, done in oil with a pallet knife in 5 minutes. I used a Magazine type book that documented the truth.”

Category : Front page / Historical Lithuania

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2nd World War was over
- though not in Lithuania

Christmas of 1945 was over most of the world celebrated with a joy and delight almost never before seen. Young and old gathered in homes, on streets and in churches. An endless series of victory ceremonies took place in almost every corner of the world. With a deep sense of joy and gratitude all wanted each other warm, comfortable and relaxing Christmas holidays, knowing that the Nazi era was over and that the world now more than ever could look forward to a future of peace and prosperity. The war had finally released the grip, forgotten was the economic recession of the 1930s. Forgotten was also our Western World’s close friends and neighbours - the Baltic States. 

On a small farm in northern Lithuania, in the outskirts of the village Šilagalis, Christmas 1945 is nearing. It is the 22nd of December, and the mother of the house feels very happy that her 21 year old son Povilas has finally come home to visit after having been away for many months. 

He has come to change into dry clothes to keep him warm through the cold winter days waiting. His mother is infinitely happy to have her son home this one day, and she does everything she can to treat him with all the good food and drink their little farm can produce. You never know how long it will be till next time. 

Povilas had joined a local partisan group earlier in 1945, and now spends all time in the North Lithuanian forests where the local "forest brothers" have established their hideouts. It is from these caches, usually at night, that they conduct their operations against military installations and forces of the Soviet Red Army and NKVD (the secret Soviet police that later changed name to KGB).

The Soviet occupation of Lithuania has lasted for more than a year now, but Povilas and other forest brothers still hope that their constant needle sticks can get Josef Stalin to pull his troops out of Lithuania and the other two Baltic countries. 

Povilas is pleased to finally have got a day off, not least is he happy to eat real Christmas food and enjoy some Christmas cheer with the family. A small fly in the ointment is the fact that his father, little sister and little brother are not home.

Both the brother and the sister go to a boarding school in the nearest town, Panevežys, and his father had early in the morning that same day left for the town to bring them home for Christmas. But his mother is here, and when she and he, with arms around each other, go out in the barn to feed the animals, he sings with joy a song he so often has sung in the partisan camp in recent months: 

"Dying young is difficult, but not for my country. For my country, Lithuania, I am ready to sacrifice my young life. " 

His mother scolds him motherly strictly that he sings: "You know it is not proper to sing now that it's Advent," she says. Lithuania's Roman Catholic Church is strict when it comes to how to behave through the various festive times of the year, and his mother admonishes her son, therefore, while at the same time feeling proud and happy that he makes such an honourable service to the home country. 

Back in the farmhouse they suddenly hear that the dog starts to bark. Through the window they see a group of soldiers approaching. The soldiers are still on some distance, so Povilas has time to hide in a small cellar room they have made beneath the living room floor, and the mother has time to cover the cellar hatch as best she can. 

The cellar room has also previously been used to hide partisans, and both think this is a safe hiding place until the soldiers have left again. 

The mother walks out into the yard to meet the soldiers from the Soviet Red Army. They ask if her son is home, and if he, in case, is alone. Without waiting for an answer, they storm into the house and begin to turn upside down on furniture and fixtures. Then they start shooting down to the floor to see if it can be cavities under the floorboards. It takes some time before they discover the cellar hatch, but as soon as they find and open it, they fire a machinegun volley into the hole. It does not take long before they pull the now perforated and lifeless body of Povilas out of the basement. The whole operation has taken them five hours, but they have found what they sought. One more young Lithuanian life has been lost in the desperate struggle against the overwhelming odds. 

The distance from the farm to the road is over 500 meters, so the soldiers find a chain in the barn so they can tow the corpse of Povilas across the fields over to the military vehicle waiting. The mother is forced to follow, and soon they are on their way to the NKVD headquarters in Panevezys, where the body of Povilas is thrown out in the middle of the courtyard. His mother is brought to a prison cell in the basement. 

Early next morning, Christmas Eve 1945, the mother is brutally dragged up from the wooden bench she has laid sleepless on during the night. Today, and every subsequent day for two weeks, she is brought up to ever-new interrogations, walking across the courtyard where the mutilated body of her son still is lying. 

Christmas and New Year holiday season in 1945 passes with this terrible routine for a mother in tears and sorrow. Early in January, she is released and can finally go home and tell the family what has happened. 

In thousands of homes around the world happy families walk around their Christmas trees. They celebrate that Jesus is born and the world's evil is overcome. 1946 is the beginning of the new and bright times for the human kind… 

In northern Lithuania the parents of Povilas and other parents finally find out where the bodies of their killed young partisan sons have been dumped. Under the cover of dark nights in early January 1946, they manage to bring the bodies of their children home to secret burials in their hometown cemeteries. 

Christmas 1945 is over. Most of the world looks forward to many good years of peace, freedom and economic growth. The Baltic States' ten-year guerrilla war against the occupiers has just begun.

*  *  *

The story of Povilas is real. It is based on a passage from the book "Lithuania's struggle for freedom" (Lithuanian Partisans' War Chronicles).

Povilas Peleckas was born on 24 January 1924 into a farming family in the village of Šilagalis in the Panevežys district north in Lithuania. He attended Šilagalis primary school. Later he helped his parents on the farm. In 1944 when the USSR invaded and occupied Lithuania for the second time (first time was in 1940), Povilas was due for conscription into the Red Army. He refused to go. When a local partisan unit was formed, led by Major Januškevičius, Povilas joined the fighters. In September 1945 many of the members of the unit were killed in battle, and another three were killed at the beginning of December. Those who remained alive determined to join a larger partisan unit. But fate was against them.

This book, “Christmas 1945: The Story of the Greatest Celebration in American History”, by the author Matthew Litt, was advertised as follows:

“Across America, people crowd churches praying with gratitude for the peace in place, and reach out to wounded veterans, children who lost fathers, and neighbors who lost sons. Americans in big cities and small, participate in displays of the intrinsic love so indicative of the American spirit.”

Dead bodies of unknown Lithuanian partisans, terribly mutilated, as they would have appeared in the courtyard of the Panevežys KGB headquarter and other places in Lithuania during Advent and Christmas of 1945.

In 1944-45 Lithuanians were forced to realize that the bloody World War II had been replaced by a new war, the longest and bloodiest guerrilla war in modern European history, lasting from 1944 to at least 1953.

Category : Historical Lithuania

The West ignored all Soviet abuses!

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Joseph Stalin (1878 – 1953) One of the most powerful and murderous dictators in history, Stalin was the supreme ruler of the Soviet Union for a quarter of a century. His regime of terror caused the death and suffering of tens of millions, but he also oversaw the war machine that played a key role in the defeat of Nazism.

By Tony Olsson, North Devon, UK (guest blogger)

How could the western nations ignore the abuse by its wartime ally the USSR of all of the countries it had conquered during WW2?

Why didn’t America and Britain declare war on the USSR as its tanks and troops invaded Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland?

Why was the attempt by Gorbachev to bring the Baltic States countries to heel by armed force ignored by the British press?

Why do western arms manufacturers sell guns and tanks and war planes to corrupt regimes that they know cannot act responsibly?

Why did the western nations not only not take punitive action against China for the Tiananmen Square massacre and on-going human rights abuses, but have put their countries in hock to China by closing down and moving the bulk of their manufacturing capacity to that country?

Why did NATO take so long to decide to act against Libya, and why hasn’t it acted against the rulers of Syria, Yemen, Zimbabwe and ... ? I could go on and on; the list is endless.

And why hasn’t action been taken against the rulers of Israel and Russia for the atrocities they are inflicting against other nations in the support of their own vested interests?

If Russia did invade in order to bring “its” Baltic republics back into the fold, would NATO come to their aid?

I was born the day President Roosevelt of America died a couple of weeks before the end of WW2, so have lived through, but mercifully have not been involved in any of the above conflicts. I can remember as an eleven year old, being very angry that Britain and America did not go to the aid of Hungary in 1956. The invasion of Czechoslovakia produced the same reaction, but was tempered by the bizarre coincidence that on the day the USSR invaded, I was at a concert in Norwich, England, given by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maxim Shostakovich. I think his father’s 5th Symphony was one of the works performed.

Sadly the answers to the questions boil down to VESTED INTERESTS.

A fear of WW3 is always at the back of the mind, but none of the major conflicts since 1945 has gone that far. It can’t be ruled out though..

So ultimately it comes down to smaller scale vested interests, all of which revolve around money: the arms manufacturers who don’t care who gets killed as long as they make a profit; the financiers who make money by investing money with firms who do business with corrupt regimes; the manufacturing bosses who put thousands out of work because they will make bigger profits if they move production to other countries (and I’m not talking just about China here); the politicians who will not act against a corrupt regime because that could result in reprisals against the organisations doing business with the corrupt regime; the group of countries that will not support a member that wants to act out of line, or even an enlightened politician who has ideas out of line with the prevailing majority (as a former USSR republic you know only too well what I am referring to).

Sorry to be a pessimist, but I see no end to the suffering. But to Aage Myhre and everyone who has suffered and is suffering pain because of past and present injustices, all I can say is the problems were too big to be dealt with at the time, and many are too big to be dealt with now. But be reassured by the fact that the tyranny of Stalin and his neo-Nazi version of Communism came to an end eventually. Patience rather than mental agonising and reprisals can win, even though it will be painful at the time. Wisdom to judge when a course of action can achieve the desired result is useful, as is the bravery needed to take a stand against injustice.

Tony Olsson
10 Oxford Grove, Ilfracombe, North Devon, EX34 9HQ, UK

Category : Historical Lithuania

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A story about a Lithuanian family

deported to the Lena River delta.

North Siberia, year 1942

Text: Leona T. Gustaff

 “The tents were freezing cold, harsh, and distressing; so, the adults decided to build better living conditions.  "We can build barracks," said one Lithuanian, "We can catch the logs in the Lena River." The men waded barefoot into the icy water, caught floating logs, brought them to shore, and built the barracks. They covered the outside walls with snow and ice which they learned would help keep out the frigid temperature. They also found a large iron stove, which they placed in the middle of the building.”


Leona T. Gustaff : In 1992, my husband and I spent ten months teaching English as a Second Language at the Pedagogical Institute Šiauliai, Lithuania. While there we had the occasion to meet and talk with many returned 'Tremtiniai' (Exiles), who had been forcibly taken to Siberia by the Russian Politboro.

As with one voice each of them proclaimed,

"Please tell the world about how we suffered when we were forced
to leave our homes and journey to the icy tundra of Siberia." 

Laima Guzevičiutė Uždavinienė is a cousin of my husband. Her father, Stasys Guzevičius, was my husband's father's brother. Her mother was Ona Zubavičiutė Guzevičienė.

Laima narrated the story of her family's unwelcome exile, telling me the hardships, the tragedies, and how they braved all the difficult problems. She was seven years old when the family was rudely interrupted in their morning slumber, and was forced to leave their home within hours. She did not return for fifteen years.

This is her story as she related it to me. I have taken the liberty to add descriptions of different places she lived in during her exile.




Laima's Story 

The house was warm, secure, peaceful. The window drapes had been closed tight to shut out the rising sun. On June 14th in 1941 we were not aware of the tragedy about to enter our lives. A thick, fluffy comforter covered me and kept me safe. Tėtė and Mama slept quietly in the adjacent room. Algis, my three-year-old brother, was in sound slumber in his trundle bed. Suddenly, at 5 a.m., sharp staccato raps at the entrance of our home aroused us. "Guzevičius, wake up! Let us in! We are the militia!"

Tėtė grabbed his robe and slippers and rushed to the front entrance with my Mama, brother and me running close behind. When he opened the door he encountered two men standing on the steps leading into the house. One was dressed in a Russian military outfit; the second was a friend, Dabulavičius, who lived nearby in the village of Brazavo.

"Labas," Tėtė, startled and not prepared for what was to follow, greeted the men. The military man, a member of the Russian armed forces, grabbed him by the shoulders, pushed him back into the room, swung him around quickly, clasped his hands to his back, and shackled him with metal hand-cuffs. My brother and I were frightened and bewildered. We were sobbing aloud as Mama pulled at the arms of the soldier and begged him to tell her of what my father was guilty.

"Dabulavičius," she pleaded, "Please tell them not to do this. Stasys has never hurt anyone. He is a good man and does not deserve this kind of treatment. He has even lent you a large sum of money recently so that you could build an addition to your home." Dabulavičius stood by silently and turned his head away so that he would not have to look at my mother.

"Tylėk!" The soldier, pushing Mama aside, ordered her to be silent. "Pack whatever you think the entire family will need for a long journey. Your baggage must be less than 120 kilograms."

In the first year of Soviet occupation, from June 1940 to June 1941, the number confirmed executed, conscripted, or deported is minimally estimated at 124,467: 59,732 in Estonia, 34,250 in Latvia, and 30,485 in Lithuania.

The Times

At that time the Soviet Union was in total control of Lithuania. Russian military leaders were aware that 175 divisions of the Third Reich's Wermacht were advancing toward the Soviet Union's western frontier. The soldiers would have to travel through Lithuania.

There had been rumors that Bolshevik militia was gathering educated Lithuanian men and army leaders to incarcerate them in prison or exile them to a foreign land. In order to receive gifts from the military or, in some instances, to save their own lives, neighbors had been approaching the Soviet officers and volunteering evidence of conversations that they had witnessed of discontent with the political regime in power. These were generally trumped up falsehoods. Tėtė then realized that his friend had conjured up treacherous untrue charges about him.

Only eight days later, on June 22, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union forcing the Red Army to withdraw from Lithuania. Unfortunately, we were already on a desperate journey to an unknown destination.

Tėtė, my father, was a teacher in the Kalvarijas district. He was born in 1894 in Suvalkija, not far from the town of Punskas, the third in a family of eighteen children, nine of whom were either still born or died soon after birth. He had attended Primary and Secondary schools in Lithuania, received his university education in Russia and returned to Lithuania to teach in Kalvarija. He spoke six languages -- Polish, German, Russian, French, Jewish, Lithuanian -- was the owner of an extensive library with thousands of books, and had founded and promoted new elementary schools in the Marijampolė district.

Active in the community, a leader in the Kalvarija area, he had organized and taught both children and teenagers many different traditional dances. He enjoyed farming, fertilizing the land, and planting seeds to grow potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. He also propagated apple trees. He never imbibed liquor, despised alcoholics, and launched programs against alcoholism.

Tėtė was 33 years old when he married my mother, who was only seventeen years of age. But Mama possessed great physical strength, loved to read, and had lively intelligent conversations with him. She and Tėtė together had purchased a home in Trakėnai from a German nationalist who was returning to his country.

Trakėnai is located about five kilometers south of Kalvarija. It initially had been a large German estate, but eventually was divided into small parcels of land for German families. They bought the property, which consisted of a home and barn with land for farming. Each month they sent a sum of money to the original proprietor, who according to country laws, was the true owner until the entire amount of the sale was paid.

The Beginning of the Journey

Mama quickly gathered warm clothing and made small bundles for my brother and me to carry. She snatched the feather comforters from the beds and collected coats, sweaters, socks, and boots. She packed potatoes, cheese, sugar and flour, which she and my father carried. Soon, a truck filled with other Lithuanian families roared to a stop in front of our home. Mama, Tėtė, Algis, and I climbed into the back of the vehicle and searched for an area to put our hurriedly collected bags. My parents held us tight and comforted us as they wiped away our tears. The truck continued on its route until we reached Kalvarijos Railroad Station.

When we arrived at the station we were surprised to see a large group of people who also carried bundles of hastily collected clothing, food, and bedding. There was noise and considerable agitation. Children cried, sobbing aloud. People talked incessantly, looked for friends, made sure certain family members were not separated, and asked each other if they knew where they were going. Everyone was frightened. No one knew the answers.

Tėtė met a friend. "Ulevičius, what is happening here?"

"I'm not sure, but haven't you heard the rumors?"

"That educated Lithuanian men would be put into prison or exiled to Siberia? Yes, I had heard but it is difficult to believe that Communists would be so cruel."

"Speak softly, my friend, so as not to be overheard. We must be careful. We cannot trust anyone."

We were pushed into straight lines and commandeered into freight cars -- actually into cattle cars -- that formerly had carried farm animals from the villages to the cities. People were jammed together. Soldiers shoved more men, women, and children into already overcrowded cars. Everyone looked for an area on the floor where they could put their belongings and perhaps sit down. My parents found a small spot where we could huddle together and keep our bundles of clothing and blankets close to us.

Cattle wagon used for deportation.

The Train of Horrors

The train began to move slowly and then picked up speed. Trapped in boxes with boarded up windows we moved through our beloved nation quickly. We could only imagine the clear natural lakes, boggy swamps, small working farms, and forests of birch, pine, and spruce trees that we passed. I don't believe any of us realized that this would be our last journey through the Lithuanian countryside for many years. How could we possibly know  that some of us would never see this land again but would die and be buried in strange, inhospitable territory where we would suffer bitter cold, hunger, and absence of the ordinary needs and comforts of our existence?

We were thirsty when we made our first stop at Kaunas. Crying children begged for something to drink. "Look, they're bringing water," a woman on the train shouted. She had noticed a soldier carrying a pail of water and walking towards our train. Everyone rushed to the door that was a little ajar.

Mama reached out to take the pail of precious water from the soldier but he, fearing she wished to escape, angrily banged shut the door, which hit her on the head and knocked her down. She fell to the hard floor into a dead faint. "She did not awaken from this unconscious state for the next five hours." my father told me years later. Until the end of her life she had very painful headaches.

From Kaunas the train began to move slowly towards the Russian border where for the first time we were given food: watery gruel and a small piece of black bread. Traveling in a daze suspended by time, we learned we were on the Trans-Siberian railway and feared we were on the way to Siberia.

Years later Onutė Garbštienė, who was also deported in 1941, published her diary, which described some of the difficulties we had encountered:

"Suddenly the hammering of axes echoed down the length of the train. We shuddered as if hit by a charge of electricity! They were boarding up the windows, so the "wild beasts" wouldn't escape from their cages. Some other people climbed inside. They made holes in the walls, to the outside, and also cut a hole in the floor, for our toilet. Everything was so degrading, horrifying, and shameful. Who has ever heard that men and women, crowded into this single area, had to take care of their personal needs in front of each other!

We got used to the shame but not to the stench. The stench was unbearable because many, especially the children, were suffering from diarrhea caused by drinking contaminated water. Not everyone was able to make it directly into the hole. Soon the edges became encrusted with excrement. We couldn't even sit down. We started using a chamber pot, but the stench was even worse. Later we begged and were given permission to take care of this matter wherever we stopped. All shame evaporated! Everyone would squat under the cars and relieve themselves. Constipation was a problem. Suddenly: "Hurry up! Get back inside!" Everyone would run back to their assigned cars with their clothing in disarray! And this went on for the duration of the trip."

Our journey lasted three weeks. Parents were exhausted. Children were tired, moody, and restless. Everyone slept on whatever makeshift accommodation they could make on the floor. Some slept on their baggage. Some were fortunate to have blankets or feather comforters. The daily ration of watery gruel and small slice of rye bread was not enough to satisfy hunger, and many were ill. The perilous trip posed severe difficulty for infants and some died in their grieving mother's arms. Soviet guards tossed them into the woods without benefit of a burial.

The First Stop

Eventually we reached the Altay, a sparsely populated mountainous territory in South Siberia, close to Northwest Mongolia, China, and Northeast Kazakhstan. About three times the size of Lithuania, it contains a dense pine forest, which extends into the Altay Mountains. We lived there for the entire winter.

Mama and Tėtė were forced to walk about five kilometers through dark forests to the trees they were ordered to cut. The soles of their boots were worn through, and they covered their feet with rags to help them suffer the ice, twigs, and other debris they walked through on their tortuous journeys. Tėtė was not accustomed to such labor, and each evening his body was filled with pain; his fingers so frozen that he could not bend them. He longed for his library of books. Newspapers, journals, or written materials of any kind did not exist among these people. The only news we received was by word of mouth -- sometimes hopeful, sometimes sad, but always difficult to believe since the source was unknown. We were still fed only bread and watery soup.

We Move On

In 1942, at the first signs of summer, we were gathered into trucks and transported to the Lena River, where we were forced to clamber into large barges, heavy wired cages that had been built to transport prisoners. Armed guards patrolled us constantly.

The adults again began to wonder where we were going. "Perhaps we are going to America," said Mr. Abramaičius, the father of a family we had befriended while living in Altay. We were not taken to America but instead, we entered a hellish situation; recollections of which sicken our hearts and spirits and we don't want to remember.
Deportees of 1941 on the Lena riverside in the north of Yakut, Kisiur. 1946.

Slowly we sailed down the Lena River. We passed 'taiga' -- forests of pine, larch, spruce, and birch. We fought legions of biting insects, mosquitoes, and gnats. At times we caught sight of reindeer. "Those woods must be full of mushrooms," Abramaičius mentioned to my father. The thought of this delicacy that flourished in the birch woods in our native land brought a sense of sorrow and longing.

We traveled until we reached Trofimovska, a fishing village on the river near the Arctic ocean, not far from the Laptev Sea. We settled in the town of Tiksi. The adults were ordered to pitch tents, the only shelter available. Winter temperature dipped down to minus 40 degree F; summers seldom reached plus 50 degree F. Our bodies were not conditioned to live in severely cold climate.

From Trakėnai, Lithuania to Tiksi, Siberia, a journey of 8.000 km (5,000 miles).

We were fortunate that Mama had taken feather comforters so that we were able to weather the cold somewhat. Others did not even have blankets. Many became ill and quite a few passed away from malnutrition and the frigid environment. Entire families died. The dead were interred in the unfriendly foreign soil. We hoped that someday their bodies might be returned to their beloved Lithuania.

Daily Life Continues

The tents were freezing cold, harsh, and distressing; so, the adults decided to build better living conditions. "We can build barracks," said one Lithuanian, "We can catch the logs in the Lena River." The men waded barefoot into the icy water, caught floating logs, brought them to shore, and built the barracks. They covered the outside walls with snow and ice which they learned would help keep out the frigid temperature. They also found a large iron stove, which they placed in the middle of the building.

About 10 or 15 families moved with us into the barracks, but we were not destined to be comfortable very long. Soon, we were attacked by a common enemy found all over the world -- lice! We found them everywhere -- in our beds, on the floors, in our clothing. They attacked our hands, our faces, and our legs. We found them in our hair and all over our bodies. No one was safe from the lice. In Trofimovska there was nothing available to help us get rid of them. We had to kill them with our own hands.

The only food available was fish from the frozen Lena River. Mama and Tėtė organized a group of Lithuanians into a fishing brigade. After drilling a few holes in the ice, they'd put bait on lines, which they lowered into the openings. They sat for hours waiting for signs that fish had snatched the bait, and we had more substantial food to add to our meager supply of bread.

During the second winter in Trofimovska, weak from hunger, I was not able to walk, and I lay in bed for two months. My brother Algis was also in poor health. His teeth began to decay. More Lithuanians died from the hunger and cold. I don't know how we were saved from death.

I remember that Mama sold her wrist watch to a Jakutian native for 30 kilos of black rye flour. She made 'lepioskas', and as we ate the mealy pancake we became stronger. Sometimes Tėtė still caught some fish, but eventually the Russian brigadier leader did not permit him to bring the fish home. This was our most difficult winter. We never had enough to eat, and we were always cold.

Lithuanian settlement in Siberia. 

Lithuanians deported to Trofimovsk in the region of the Laptev Sea, an area with permafrost
north of the Polar Circle. The photo is from 1949. These deportations took place in 1941.
In 1942-43, a third of the deported people died, mainly children and elderly people.
Photo: The Museum of Genocide Victims, Vilnius, Lithuania.

Uprooted Again

In the spring, we were taken to the Siberian Islands to fish for the Communist regime. At first we lived together with the Abramaičius family in a 'yurta', a collapsible shelter built from logs and canvas. The next year Tėtė and I built a 'yurta' for our family to live in separately and alone.

Tėtė began to barter the fish he caught for flour, and mama continued to make 'lepioskas'. Tėtė and Mama fished every day but they caught very few fish. Tėtė's health was failing, and he got tired very quickly. He had been diagnosed with a hernia in Lithuania. Since he was unaccustomed to the rigors of this difficult life, he suffered more intensely each day.

We lived on the islands for two years when suddenly we noticed that the Jakutian native brigades were leaving the area. Fish were also disappearing; they swam elsewhere. The Jakutians had the inner sense to know when the fish would leave the islands, and they followed the fish to their new destination.

The Lithuanians also began to look for ways to leave the islands. Widows with children were given permission by the Communists to go to Jakutsk, a major city almost a thousand miles south on the Lena River. Tėtė and Mama decided to travel to the Baluno region and settle in the village of Tit-Ary. We were still not far from the Laptev Sea. Tėtė spoke Russian very well, and he was fortunate to receive employment as a school manager in Tit-Ary. Native teachers taught writing poorly, and he helped many students formulate good notebooks. For the first time in our exile to Siberia I could go to school. I was so happy that I finished two years of classes in one year.

We Say Goodbye

In 1945, we heard that the war had ended. Tėtė wrote a letter to his brother, Joseph, who had emigrated many years earlier to America and lived in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. He was delivering it to the post office when he was accosted and beaten severely by Communist Commandos who resented the fact that he had a brother in the United States. Tėtė became seriously ill. He needed major surgery but the only medical assistance available to the exiles was an apprentice to a veterinarian.

We made plans to search for a surgeon. Tėtė and I boarded a barge that was returning to Jakutsk after unloading food and other provisions. We sailed up the Lena River to our destination. The journey lasted one week. Since Tėtė was a Lithuanian 'tremtinys' (exile), he didn't have the necessary papers for permission to enter. When we arrived at Jakutsk, we were too frightened to go into the city. We were forced to return to Tit-Ary without the benefit of seeing a skilled physician.

Tėtė's health became weaker each day. The medication given to him by the veterinarian's assistant would not relieve the pain. His concern that he was not strong enough to gather provisions for his family hastened the end of his life. Mama was devastated. Each day they conversed and planned about where she would go should his life be terminated. Although his health had deteriorated, he was a comfort to us and we looked to him for moral support. He died in Tit-Ary in 1948 and was interred there in the deep icy tundra. He was fifty four years old.

Lithuanian funeral in Siberia.

We Escape

After the death of my father, Mama, Algis, and I escaped to Jakutsk, as my parents had planned. Seven years previous, when I had been seven years of age, we had been forced by the Communists to leave our comfortable home in Lithuania and travel to Siberia -- seven difficult, miserable, unhappy years for which we questioned the unfortunate circumstances which propelled us into this strange life.

We reached the city of Jakutsk and were compelled to register our arrival. The general was not inclined to let us stay, and he told Mama, "If you do not find a job within seven days you must return to Tit-Ary."

Jakutsk is the capital and major city of the Jakutia region. Similar to a large Soviet city, it had many schools, the Luovo Cooperative Institute, a theater, and industry that had developed during the war. Its great distance from Moscow gave it the ability to make crucial weapons and military supplies far from the impact of bombs and other artillery. The weather is the coldest in the world, and buildings are built on piles driven into the permafrost. In 1948 the majority of the population was Russian, many of which were exiles, including some from East European countries.

We searched and found Lithuanian exiles who had settled in Jakutsk earlier. Willing to help us, they informed Mama about a manager at a glass factory who would hire her. Shortly after mama began to work in the factory, I was also given employment in the same building.

I wanted to continue my education; so, I returned to school and finished the Tenth Form at the Middle School after completing two grades in one year. We learned to speak Russian in school and on the streets, but we always spoke Lithuanian in our home.

I loved to sing and wished to study music but I couldn't get a piano; so, I entered the Jakutsk Technical Cooperative School and studied accounting. I was a good student and worked diligently. The administration advised me that I was one of two graduates with the highest scholastic marks, and I would receive a scholarship to Luovo Cooperative Institute. But Communist Security Officials informed me that I could not take advantage of the education given at the Institute. The honor was not available to Lithuanian exiles.

Lithuanian forestry workers in Siberia.

Hoping to See Lithuania

In 1953, Stalin died and the Communists began to slowly allow children and teachers to return to Lithuania, but I was ordered to work as a bookkeeper in the city of Jakutsk. After two years I was awarded a vacation and permission to travel to Lithuania.

I wrote to my father's brother, Pranas, who resided in Kaunas to tell him the good news. My Uncle Pranas was a respected Chemical Engineer who had been incarcerated in jail by the Communists for two years but never had to leave for Siberia. He invited me to stay with him and sent me the money I needed for the journey.

In 1956 I was in Kaunas. I traveled on the same Trans-Siberian Railway route I had taken from Lithuania to Siberia fifteen years ago. But this time I saw the clear natural lakes, boggy swamps, small working farms, and forests of birch, pine, and spruce trees that I could only imagine on my first and only trip from the country of my birthplace. I cannot begin to explain the immense joy and pain I felt; joy that I lived to enter Lithuania again and pain that my father would never return to see his homestead, his apple trees, or the schools where he taught.

If Tėtė were with me, he would not have recognized his beloved Lithuania. The ruling Soviet party dictated and controlled all public and private actions in the land. Politics, the radio, accounting, education were conducted in Russian. In the schools the Russian language was predominant. No Lithuanian was heard on the radio. Religious education was forbidden, and free expression of our native tongue, songs, and holiday celebrations was not allowed. Lithuanians worked within the Communist system in order to survive.

The family home in Trakėnai had been leveled and rebuilt twice. Tėtė had given his important documents to his brother Pranas to retain in his possession when we were forcefully sent to Siberia. Unfortunately, Pranas’ home was also damaged during the war and all papers had been burned or destroyed. I wondered what would happen with our house and land. Strangers had taken residency there.

Still, I preferred to remain in Lithuania. I didn’t want to return to Siberia, but my documents were only for a three-month sojourn. It was a difficult and terrifying time. A friend suggested that I lose my pass but I was afraid.

I was fortunate. Uncle Pranas' wife's sister was married to a Russian General, and she urged him to petition the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in Lithuania, Justas Paleckis, to give me leave to stay in my country.

All the documents had to be issued in Vilnius; so, I traveled there to stay with the General. He felt sorry for me, and indicated that he himself would go to Moscow to get permission for me to remain in Lithuania if Justas Paleckis refused. To my joy, I was awarded an extension of my vacation for one entire year.

At the end of the year I was allowed to remain in Lithuania, but I was asked to leave Vilnius. I didn't leave Vilnius and concealed my residency by omitting to register my presence. Kipras Petrauskas, a renowned composer of music with important influential friends, admitted me into his home. I resided with his family and was warned to hide when men of the militia came to visit.

Eventually, after some time, I ventured into the market place and found work as an accountant in a ‘prekyba’ (business shop). Gradually I began to work with other 'prekybas' and after thirty-six years I was the accountant for all the ‘prekybas’ in Vilnius.

Didzioji g. in Vilnius, 1953.

A Family Reunited


Three years after I had returned to Lithuania, I saved enough rubles to send for my mother. She traveled on the same Trans-Siberian railway that had taken us to Siberia. Her delight in her return to her native land was the ability to buy fresh fruits and vegetables that were difficult to purchase in the tundra. Since she learned to speak Russian in the country of her exile, she had no difficulty communicating with the language demanded by the Communist regime. But we still spoke Lithuanian in our home.

Three years later my mother and I welcomed my brother to Lithuania. We all recognized that it was not the same country we had been forced to leave many years earlier. But we were in the land of our birth, the land of our ancestors. We were home among friends and relatives.

Lithuanian cemetery - Irkutsk Region.



Siberian Deportees to See Justice in the Courts

For the first time in Lithuania, investigation leading to criminal cases regarding mass deportations of people during World War II and later has begun. The Rokiškis district prosecutor's office finished their investigation of Ignas Pauliukas, who is charged with co-operation with repressive bodies of Soviet power and carrying out deportations of Lithuania's citizens.

Pauliukas, former chairman of Ziboliai rural neighborhood in Rokiškis county, is accused of having deported the family of Pranas Laužadis on June 14, 1941. Pauliukas is also charged with backing genocide actions.

The Pauliukas case was handed over to Panevėžys district court during early June 1999.


This story was first published in the BRIDGES magazine in 1999.

Leona T. Gustaff is a contributing writer for BRIDGES and lives in Frederick, Maryland, USA.


BRIDGES is a monthly publication of LAC (Lithuanian American Community, Inc.). Ten issues a year. /more/



Other VilNews articles on Siberia:

1941- 1953: 300 000 Lithuanians were deported to merciless inhumanity in Siberia...

The tragic story of how one third of Lithuania’s population became victims of Soviet terror 

Ruta Sepetys: Between Shades of Gray 

Lithuania’s president Aleksandras Stulginskis was among those arrested and deported to Siberia in June 1941




The face of cruelty –

Lithuania’s quisling 

Antanas Sniečkus, leader of Lithuania’s Communist Party for the period 1940-1974 sent tens of
thousands of his own countrymen to inhuman suffering and death in Siberian labour camps.

Antanas Sniečkus, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Lithuania (from 15 August 1940 until his death in 1974), is said to have been the initiator of the first mass deportations of Lithuanians in June 1941. He even had his own brother, with his family, deported to Siberia, where his brother died.

Antanas Sniečkus was born in 1903, in the village of Būbleliai, 60 km west of Kaunas. During the First World War, his family fled to Russia where he observed the Russian revolution of 1917. In 1919, his family returned to Lithuania; by 1920 he was already a member of the Bolshevik Party. In the same year, he was arrested for anti-governmental activities. He was released from prison on bail, but fled to Moscow, and became an agent of the Comintern. In Moscow, he earned the trust of Zigmas Angarietis, and Vincas Mickevičius-Kapsukas, and became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania. In 1926, the Comintern sent Sniečkus to Lithuania to replace the recently-executed Karolis Požėla as head of the banned and underground Communist Party of Lithuania.

From 1926 to 1930, he engaged in subversive activities in Lithuania, and was again arrested and imprisoned for them in the Kaunas Prison in 1930. In 1933, Sniečkus was released in exchange for Lithuanian political prisoners held in the USSR. In 1936, he returned to Lithuania. In 1939, he was arrested again, and sentenced to eight years in prison.

After the Soviets invaded and occupied Lithuania, Sniečkus was released from prison on 18 June 1940, and became the head of the Department of National Security. Foreign Affairs Commissar Vladimir Dekanozov, arrived in Lithuania a few days earlier on June 15, 1940, to organize the incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union. As party secretary, Sniečkus issued Vladimir Dekanozov’s orders in the party’s name.

Sniečkus helped create an atmosphere of terror prior to the elections of the newly established, by the Soviet authorities, People's Seimas in July 1940. Only the Communist Party of Lithuania and its collaborators could nominate candidates. People were threatened in various ways to participate in the elections, but the results were falsified anyway. 21 July 1940 the People's Parliament, declared that the Lithuanian "people" wanted to join the Soviet Union, and 3 August 3 1940, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR incorporated Lithuania into the Soviet Union.

The process of annexation was formally over and the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was created. From 15 August 1940, until his death in 1974, Sniečkus remained the First Secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party.

34 years of terror and atrocities against his own people had finally come to an end. 

Category : Historical Lithuania

- Posted by - (2) Comment

My great grandfather came home
from Siberia in a suitcase

The farm where my wife’s great-grandfather lived
before the deportation to Siberia.

By Aage Myhre, Editor-in-Chief

Egle, my wife, comes into my study here in Vilnius as I am preparing the articles about the deportations to Siberia. "You should tell the story of my great-grandfather," she says. Because she, like almost all other families in Lithuania had relatives who were sent to Siberia. Many never returned, as was the case with her ​​great-grandfather.

"Before the war, he lived and worked in the U.S.," Egle explains, "there he was exposed to an accident where he lost one leg. He therefore came back to Lithuania during the interwar years. When the war came, he had unfortunately also lost his wife and son, so he lived on the family farm with his daughter in law and his grandchildren."

"Suddenly, one day, men from the NKVD, Stalin’s gruesome special unit, came to the farm. My great-grandfather’s daughter in law managed to escape, hiding in the woods by the house. She thought they would not send an old, one-legged man and small children to Siberia. But she was wrong... The agents threw the youngest daughter to the dog house, leaving her to what could have led to a merciless starvation and certain death, whereas the two other children and my great-grandfather were brought to the waiting truck. When she saw this, she also ran to the truck and thus became one of the many who were deported.

“On the train, already deep into Siberia, my great-grandfather died,” Egle tells with tears in her eyes. "Fortunately, the train made ​​a short stop, long enough for the daughter in law and her two children to bury him there, next to the railroad track. The three were years later all able to return to Lithuania from their Siberia-stay, but could not forget my great-grandfather's sad fate, so some years later they returned to Siberia to try to find his grave. They succeeded, incredible enough, to find the place where they had put him, at the railway track. They dug up the remains, put the bones into plastic bags, then into a large suitcase and flew home to Lithuania - with my great-grandfather in the suitcase. Here in Lithuania his remains were buried in accordance with good Catholic customs.

“My great-grandfather had finally come home."

Category : Historical Lithuania

- Posted by - (5) Comment

776 years since the Sun
Battle in North Lithuania

The Livonian Confederation in 1260, showing where the Battle of Saule
(battle of the sun) took place, near today’s Šiauliai in Northern Lithuania.

The Battle of Saule (German: Schlacht von Schaulen; Latvian: Saules kauja; Lithuanian: Saulės mūšis or Šiaulių mūšis) was fought on September 22, 1236 between the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and pagan Samogitians. Between 48 and 60 knights were killed, including the Livonian Master, Volkwin. It was the earliest large-scale defeat suffered by the orders in Baltic lands. The Sword-Brothers, the first Catholic military order established in the Baltic lands, was soundly defeated and its remnants accepted incorporation into the Teutonic Order in 1237. The battle inspired rebellions among the Curonians, Semigallians, Selonians, Oeselians, tribes previously conquered by the Sword-Brothers. Some thirty years' worth of conquests on the left bank of the river Daugava were lost. To commemorate the battle, in 2000 the Lithuanian and Latvian parliaments declared September 22 to be the Day of Baltic Unity.

In recognition of this historical event, the National Library has opened an exhibition prepared by Darius Gudelis, Chief of Public Relations Division Events Group.

The Exhibition present sources (chronicles, annals) of thirteenth century, and of later years, which describe the year 1236 battle.  It displays, specifically for this Exhibition selected publications, from the Lithuania's National Martynas Mazvydas library.  The broader context of this historical event is revealed by historian Tomas Baranauskas' specially prepared article "Siauliai (Sun) Battle: its meaning, event and historical context".  Also the Chairman of Lithuania's Cultural Foundation and initiator of the battle memorial complex - Hubertas Smilgys, as well as the founder of King Mindaugas college (Lietuvos Kulturos Fondo pirmininkas) Vytautas Backis, exhibit texts and iconographic material.   The Lithuanian and Teutonic weapons of the thirteenth-fourteenth century, reconstructed by the Baltic Warriors "Vilkatlakai", are exhibited.

Letter from Hubertas Smilgys, Chairman of "Siauliu Kulturos Fondas"

Hubertas Smilgys, Chairman of "Siauliu Kulturos Fondas" thinks much more should be done to pay tribute to the Sun Battle.

In a letter to Vytautas Sliupas, member of our VilNews Honorary Council, he writes:

There [in the battle] Lithuanians won a major victory over the Kalavijuociai (Brothers Sword bearers).  We wish to see this properly remembered (celebrated), but most importantly we wish to see that a proper monument finally would be finished - a first and only monument in our country immortalizing this victory as a memorial. 

The Joniskis Region administration completed about two-thirds  of the most complicated  works, however several high ranking officials (those being paid by us taxpayers!) by their misunderstanding, irresponsibility and stubbornness, stopped this work.  If possible we ask you to help getting this project moving - by spreading the word about this fundamental state of our historic event.  Raise questions to members of Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament), write to other Government officials and to others.  This, we believe, is our duty as citizens of Lithuania.

About Šiauliai

Šiauliai іs оne оf the oldest cities іn Lithuania, established іn 1236. Іt іs named аfter the Sun Battle thаt took place near.

The city wаs fіrst mentioned іn written sources аs Soule іn the Livonian Order chronicles describing the battle оf Saule. Thus the city's founding date іs nоw considered tо be September 22, 1236, the same date when as battle took place, nоt far frоm today’s Šiauliai.

Аt fіrst the tpown developed аs а defense post against the raids by the Teutonic аnd Livonian Orders. Аfter the battle оf Grunwald іn 1410, the raids stopped аnd Šiauliai started tо develop аs аn agricultural settlement. Іn 1445, а wooden church wаs built. Іt wаs replaced іn 1634 wіth the brick church whіch cаn be seen іn the city center today.

Šiauliai wаs granted Magdeburg city rights іn 1589. Іn the 16th century іt became аn administrative center оf the area. However, іn the 17th аnd 18th centuries the city wаs devastated by The Deluge аnd epidemics оf the Bubonic plague.

The credit fоr the city's rebirth goes tо Antoni Tyzenhaus (1733–1785) whо аfter а violent revolt оf peasants оf the Crown properties іn the Northern Lithuania (іn Polish: Powstanie Szawelskie, 1769), started the radical economic аnd urban reforms. He decided tо rebuild the city according tо Classicism ideas: аt fіrst houses were built randomly іn а radial shape, but Tyzenhaus decided tо build the city іn аn orderly rectangular grid.

Šiauliai grew tо become а well-developed city, wіth several prominent brick buildings. Іn 1791 Stanisław August Poniatowski, king оf the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, confirmed once again the Šiauliai's city rights аnd granted іt а coat оf arms whіch depicted а bear, the symbol оf Samogitia, the Eye оf Providence, аnd а red bull, the symbol оf the Poniatowski family. The modern coat оf arms has been modeled аfter thіs version.

During the 1800s the city grew аnd became аn important educational аnd cultural center. Also, infrastructure wаs rapidly developing: іn 1836–1858 а road connecting Riga аnd Tilsit wаs built, іn 1871 а railroad connecting Liepāja wіth Romny wаs built. Šiauliai, being at а crossroad оf important merchant routes, started tо develop аs аn industrial town. In 1897 іt wаs the third largest city іn Lithuania wіth population оf аbоut 16,000. The demographics also changed. 56.4% оf the inhabitants were Jewish іn 1909.

Šiauliai wаs also known fоr іts leather industry. Chaim Frenkel owned the biggest leather factory іn the Russian Empire.

During World War I, аbоut 65% оf the buildings were burned down аnd the city center wаs destroyed.

Аfter the war the importance оf Šiauliai grew. Before Klaipėda wаs attached tо Lithuania, the city wаs second аfter Kaunas by population. By 1929 the city center wаs rebuilt. Modern utilities were аlsо included: streets were lighted, іt hаd public transportation, telephone аnd telegraph lines, water supply network аnd sewer.

The fіrst independence years were difficult becаuse the industrial city lost іts markets іn Russia and needed tо find new clients іn Western Europe. Іn 1932 а railroad tо Klaipėda wаs built аnd іt connected the city tо the Western markets. Іn 1938 the city produced аbоut 85% оf Lithuania's leather, 60% оf footwear, 75% оf flax fiber, 35% оf candies. Culture аlsо flourished аs many new periodicals were printed, new schools аnd universities opened, а library, theater, museum, аnd normal school were opened.

In 1939, оne fifth оf the city's population wаs Jewish. German soldiers entered Šiauliai оn June 26, 1941. According tо оne оf the Jewish survivors оf Šiauliai, Nesse Godin, sоme 700 people were shot іn nearby woods during the fіrst weeks оf occupation аfter having been forced tо dig theіr own graves. There were twо ghetto areas іn Šiauliai, оne іn the Kaukas suburb, аnd оne іn Trakų. During World War II, the Jewish population wаs reduced frоm 6,000 tо 500. Аbоut 80% оf the buildings were destroyed.

The city wаs largely rebuilt anew іn а typical Soviet fashion during the years оf subsequent Soviet occupation.


Category : Historical Lithuania


Have your say. Send to:

By Dr. Boris Vytautas Bakunas,
Ph. D., Chicago

A wave of unity sweeps the international Lithuanian community on March 11th every year as Lithuanians celebrated the anniversary of the Lithuanian Parliament's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. However, the sense of national unity engendered by the celebration could be short-lived.

Human beings have a strong tendency to overgeneralize and succumb to stereotypical us-them distinctions that can shatter even the strongest bonds. We need only search the internet to find examples of divisive thinking at work:

- "50 years of Soviet rule has ruined an entire generation of Lithuanian.

- "Those who fled Lithuania during World II were cowards -- and now they come back, flaunt their wealth, and tell us 'true Lithuanians' how to live."

- "Lithuanians who work abroad have abandoned their homeland and should be deprived of their Lithuanian citizenship."

Could such stereotypical, emotionally-charged accusations be one of the main reasons why relations between Lithuania's diaspora groups and their countrymen back home have become strained?

* * *

Text: Saulene Valskyte

In Lithuania Christmas Eve is a family event and the New Year's Eve a great party with friends!
Lithuanian say "Kaip sutiksi naujus metus, taip juos ir praleisi" (the way you'll meet the new year is the way you will spend it). So everyone is trying to spend New Year's Eve with friend and have as much fun as possible.

Lithuanian New Year's traditions are very similar to those in other countries, and actually were similar since many years ago. Also, the traditional Lithuanian New Years Eve party was very similar to other big celebrations throughout the year.

The New Year's Eve table is quite similar to the Christmas Eve table, but without straws under the tablecloth, and now including meat dishes. A tradition that definitely hasn't changes is that everybody is trying not to fell asleep before midnight. It was said that if you oversleep the midnight point you will be lazy all the upcoming year. People were also trying to get up early on the first day of the new year, because waking up late also meant a very lazy and unfortunate year.

During the New Year celebration people were dancing, singing, playing games and doing magic to guess the future. People didn't drink much of alcohol, especially was that the case for women.

Here are some advices from elders:
- During the New Year, be very nice and listen to relatives - what you are during New Year Eve, you will be throughout the year.

- During to the New Year Eve, try not to fall, because if this happens, next year you will be unhappy.

- If in the start of the New Year, the first news are good - then the year will be successful. If not - the year will be problematic.

New year predictions
* If during New Year eve it's snowing - then it will be bad weather all year round. If the day is fine - one can expect good harvest.
* If New Year's night is cold and starry - look forward to a good summer!
* If the during New Year Eve trees are covered with frost - then it will be a good year. If it is wet weather on New Year's Eve, one can expect a year where many will die and dangerous epidemics occur.
* If the first day of the new year is snowy - the upcoming year will see many young people die. If the night is snowy - mostly old people will die.
* If the New Year time is cold - then Easter will be warm.
* If during New Year there are a lot of birds in your homestead - then all year around there will be many guests and the year will be fun.

* * *

* * *
Christmas greetings
from Vilnius

* * *
Ukraine won the historic
and epic battle for the
By Leonidas Donskis
Philosopher, political theorist, historian of
ideas, social analyst, and political

Immediately after Russia stepped in Syria, we understood that it is time to sum up the convoluted and long story about Ukraine and the EU - a story of pride and prejudice which has a chance to become a story of a new vision regained after self-inflicted blindness.

Ukraine was and continues to be perceived by the EU political class as a sort of grey zone with its immense potential and possibilities for the future, yet deeply embedded and trapped in No Man's Land with all of its troubled past, post-Soviet traumas, ambiguities, insecurities, corruption, social divisions, and despair. Why worry for what has yet to emerge as a new actor of world history in terms of nation-building, European identity, and deeper commitments to transparency and free market economy?

Right? Wrong. No matter how troubled Ukraine's economic and political reality could be, the country has already passed the point of no return. Even if Vladimir Putin retains his leverage of power to blackmail Ukraine and the West in terms of Ukraine's zero chances to accede to NATO due to the problems of territorial integrity, occupation and annexation of Crimea, and mayhem or a frozen conflict in the Donbas region, Ukraine will never return to Russia's zone of influence. It could be deprived of the chances to join NATO or the EU in the coming years or decades, yet there are no forces on earth to make present Ukraine part of the Eurasia project fostered by Putin.

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Watch this video if you
want to learn about the
new, scary propaganda
war between Russia,
The West and the
Baltic States!

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90% of all Lithuanians
believe their government
is corrupt
Lithuania is perceived to be the country with the most widespread government corruption, according to an international survey involving almost 40 countries.

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Lithuanian medical
students say no to
bribes for doctors

On International Anticorruption Day, the Special Investigation Service shifted their attention to medical institutions, where citizens encounter bribery most often. Doctors blame citizens for giving bribes while patients complain that, without bribes, they won't receive proper medical attention. Campaigners against corruption say that bribery would disappear if medical institutions themselves were to take resolute actions against corruption and made an effort to take care of their patients.

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Doing business in Lithuania

By Grant Arthur Gochin
California - USA

Lithuania emerged from the yoke of the Soviet Union a mere 25 years ago. Since then, Lithuania has attempted to model upon other European nations, joining NATO, Schengen, and the EU. But, has the Soviet Union left Lithuania?

During Soviet times, government was administered for the people in control, not for the local population, court decisions were decreed, they were not the administration of justice, and academia was the domain of ideologues. 25 years of freedom and openness should have put those bad experiences behind Lithuania, but that is not so.

Today, it is a matter of expectation that court pronouncements will be governed by ideological dictates. Few, if any Lithuanians expect real justice to be effected. For foreign companies, doing business in Lithuania is almost impossible in a situation where business people do not expect rule of law, so, surely Government would be a refuge of competence?

Lithuanian Government has not emerged from Soviet styles. In an attempt to devolve power, Lithuania has created a myriad of fiefdoms of power, each speaking in the name of the Government, each its own centralized power base of ideology.

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Greetings from Wales!
By Anita Šovaitė-Woronycz
Chepstow, Wales

Think of a nation in northern Europe whose population is around the 3 million mark a land of song, of rivers, lakes, forests, rolling green hills, beautiful coastline a land where mushrooms grow ready for the picking, a land with a passion for preserving its ancient language and culture.

Doesn't that sound suspiciously like Lithuania? Ah, but I didn't mention the mountains of Snowdonia, which would give the game away.

I'm talking about Wales, that part of the UK which Lithuanians used to call "Valija", but later named "Velsas" (why?). Wales, the nation which has welcomed two Lithuanian heads of state to its shores - firstly Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, who has paid several visits and, more recently, President Dalia Grybauskaitė who attended the 2014 NATO summit which was held in Newport, South Wales.

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Read Cassandra's article HERE

Read Rugile's article HERE

Did you know there is a comment field right after every article we publish? If you read the two above posts, you will see that they both have received many comments. Also YOU are welcome with your comments. To all our articles!
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Greetings from Toronto
By Antanas Sileika,
Toronto, Canada

Toronto was a major postwar settlement centre for Lithuanian Displaced Persons, and to this day there are two Catholic parishes and one Lutheran one, as well as a Lithuanian House, retirement home, and nursing home. A new wave of immigrants has showed interest in sports.

Although Lithuanian activities have thinned over the decades as that postwar generation died out, the Lithuanian Martyrs' parish hall is crowded with many, many hundreds of visitors who come to the Lithuanian cemetery for All Souls' Day. Similarly, the Franciscan parish has standing room only for Christmas Eve mass.

Although I am firmly embedded in the literary culture of Canada, my themes are usually Lithuanian, and I'll be in Kaunas and Vilnius in mid-November 2015 to give talks about the Lithuanian translations of my novels and short stories, which I write in English.

If you have the Lithuanian language, come by to one of the talks listed in the links below. And if you don't, you can read more about my work at
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As long as VilNews exists,
there is hope for the future
Professor Irena Veisaite, Chairwoman of our Honorary Council, asked us to convey her heartfelt greetings to the other Council Members and to all readers of VilNews.

"My love and best wishes to all. As long as VilNews exists, there is hope for the future,"" she writes.

Irena Veisaite means very much for our publication, and we do hereby thank her for the support and wise commitment she always shows.

You can read our interview with her
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Facing a new reality

By Vygaudas Ušackas
EU Ambassador to the Russian Federation

Dear readers of VilNews,

It's great to see this online resource for people interested in Baltic affairs. I congratulate the editors. From my position as EU Ambassador to Russia, allow me to share some observations.

For a number of years, the EU and Russia had assumed the existence of a strategic partnership, based on the convergence of values, economic integration and increasingly open markets and a modernisation agenda for society.

Our agenda was positive and ambitious. We looked at Russia as a country ready to converge with "European values", a country likely to embrace both the basic principles of democratic government and a liberal concept of the world order. It was believed this would bring our relations to a new level, covering the whole spectrum of the EU's strategic relationship with Russia.

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The likelihood of Putin
invading Lithuania
By Mikhail Iossel
Professor of English at Concordia University, Canada
Founding Director at Summer Literary Seminars

The likelihood of Putin's invading Lithuania or fomenting a Donbass-style counterfeit pro-Russian uprising there, at this point, in my strong opinion, is no higher than that of his attacking Portugal, say, or Ecuador. Regardless of whether he might or might not, in principle, be interested in the insane idea of expanding Russia's geographic boundaries to those of the former USSR (and I for one do not believe that has ever been his goal), he knows this would be entirely unfeasible, both in near- and long-term historical perspective, for a variety of reasons. It is not going to happen. There will be no restoration of the Soviet Union as a geopolitical entity.

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Are all Lithuanian energy
problems now resolved?
By Dr. Stasys Backaitis,
P.E., CSMP, SAE Fellow Member of Central and Eastern European Coalition, Washington, D.C., USA

Lithuania's Energy Timeline - from total dependence to independence

Lithuania as a country does not have significant energy resources. Energy consuming infrastructure after WWII was small and totally supported by energy imports from Russia.

First nuclear reactor begins power generation at Ignalina in 1983, the second reactor in 1987. Iganlina generates enough electricity to cover Lithuania's needs and about 50%.for export. As, prerequisite for membership in EU, Ignalina ceases all nuclear power generation in 2009

The Klaipėda Sea terminal begins Russia's oil export operations in 1959 and imports in 1994.

Mazeikiu Nafta (current ORLEAN Lietuva) begins operation of oil refinery in 1980.

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Have Lithuanian ties across
the Baltic Sea become
stronger in recent years?
By Eitvydas Bajarunas
Ambassador to Sweden

My answer to affirmative "yes". Yes, Lithuanian ties across the Baltic Sea become as never before solid in recent years. For me the biggest achievement of Lithuania in the Baltic Sea region during recent years is boosting Baltic and Nordic ties. And not because of mere accident - Nordic direction was Lithuania's strategic choice.

The two decades that have passed since regaining Lithuania's independence can be described as a "building boom". From the wreckage of a captive Soviet republic, a generation of Lithuanians have built a modern European state, and are now helping construct a Nordic-Baltic community replete with institutions intended to promote political coordination and foster a trans-Baltic regional identity. Indeed, a "Nordic-Baltic community" - I will explain later in my text the meaning of this catch-phrase.

Since the restoration of Lithuania's independence 25 years ago, we have continuously felt a strong support from Nordic countries. Nordics in particular were among the countries supporting Lithuania's and Baltic States' striving towards independence. Take example of Iceland, country which recognized Lithuania in February of 1991, well in advance of other countries. Yet another example - Swedish Ambassador was the first ambassador accredited to Lithuania in 1991. The other countries followed suit. When we restored our statehood, Nordic Countries became champions in promoting Baltic integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. To large degree thanks Nordic Countries, massive transformations occurred in Lithuania since then, Lithuania became fully-fledged member of the EU and NATO, and we joined the Eurozone on 1 January 2015.

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It's the economy, stupid *
By Valdas (Val) Samonis,

n his article, Val Samonis takes a comparative policy look at the Lithuanian economy during the period 2000-2015. He argues that the LT policy response (a radical and classical austerity) was wrong and unenlightened because it coincided with strong and continuing deflationary forces in the EU and the global economy which forces were predictable, given the right policy guidance. Also, he makes a point that LT austerity, and the resulting sharp drop in GDP and employment in LT, stimulated emigration of young people (and the related worsening of other demographics) which processes took huge dimensions thereby undercutting even the future enlightened efforts to get out of the middle-income growth trap by LT. Consequently, the country is now on the trajectory (development path) similar to that of a dog that chases its own tail. A strong effort by new generation of policymakers is badly needed to jolt the country out of that wrong trajectory and to offer the chance of escaping the middle-income growth trap via innovations.

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Have you heard about the
South African "Pencil Test"?
By Karina Simonson

If you are not South African, then, probably, you haven't. It is a test performed in South Africa during the apartheid regime and was used, together with the other ways, to determine racial identity, distinguishing whites from coloureds and blacks. That repressive test was very close to Nazi implemented ways to separate Jews from Aryans. Could you now imagine a Lithuanian mother, performing it on her own child?

But that is exactly what happened to me when I came back from South Africa. I will tell you how.

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Click HERE to read previous opinion letters >

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