of the Gulag
Vitas Batūraitis was born in 1936 in the village of Kazliškiai in Lithuania. Vitas, his mother and sister and his father, a farm mechanic from the Minsk region, were deported in 1946. His elder brother, born in 1922[*], had previously been arrested for assisting the opponents of Sovietisation and imprisoned in a camp at Magadan, which was the reason given for deporting the whole family. At the time of their deportation, family members thought it was due to that arrest. In the 2000s, Vitas found out that they had been deported after being informed on by a friend. They were sent to Zhigalovsky District.
When they arrived, they shared a small house with another family. After attempting to escape in 1948, they stayed there. Vitas’s father worked as work brigade leader, joiner and then mechanic. As a result of this work, the Batūraitis family bought a house. Bonds of solidarity and mutual support were formed. The deportees held parties together. Vita made friends with other children, both Russian and Lithuanian. In that village, the Lithuanian deportees lived alongside deportees from Ukraine. All of them saw themselves as being punished as kulaks (rich peasants). His father died in exile.
Vitas Batūraitis was released and rehabilitated in 1958, but could not afford to return to Lithuania, where he had nowhere to live. Other Lithuanians did return and he was one of those who organised their leaving parties. His sister settled in Vilnius. His brother, released the same year from the Magadan camp, returned to Lithuania. Vitas stayed and started work as a tractor driver in the village of Kachen’. He could not take his studies any further until the 1960s, when he went to night school and then a technical school in Irkutsk. In 1960, he moved to Bratsk to help build the hydro-electric station. In the early 1960s, he visited Lithuania and then attempted to settle there, but the house the family had owned was not returned to them.
Translation of the transcript:
You said that the Russians arrived and started looting...
What did they steal?
Well, everything that could be stolen. We had our own mill. And in it, there was grain and flour. During the night, they broke the lock and took everything.
Were they starving?
Well, yes, like all Russians.
And were they punished for doing this?
No, who would have punished them?
Oh, you know... the commanders themselves stole.
And they didn't mistreat any young women?
No. In our country, the Germans ruled until 1945, they controlled us for 4 years. But there were no Germans in the village, only in the district. My brother had already joined their ranks, they were able to take him into the army, but there the militiaman who worked for the Germans was a nice person. When he came from one side of the village, he would start shooting so that we would have time to run away. Since they couldn't find anyone at home, no one was taken away.
Did anyone warn you that the NKVD agents were going to arrest you?
No, who could have done that?
And the Lithuanians who came to get you during the night, did you know them?
I knew one of them.
Was he from your village?
Not from our village, no. From a neighboring village, I knew him well.
Who was he? Why was he doing this?
He went to serve in their ranks. I heard that his father was smuggling alcohol and they caught him, so the son had to go work for the NKVD.
Maybe he didn't want to do it himself, maybe they forced him. Was he young?
Yes. He was young. That's how we lived...
And village people were enrolled into the police?
They made them work for them.
They made them work in your area?
Of course they did.
And the one you mentioned, he was an understanding person, right?
He was a good guy, and he was already working for the Nazi regime in Lithuania before the war and during the German occupation.
But it was dangerous to warn you, he could have been denounced. Wasn't he afraid of that?
What happened to him when the Russians arrived?
Well, I don't know, we didn't really know each other.
First months in Kachen
Translation of the transcript:
When you were brought to Kachen, where were the deportees housed?
Here and there. There were empty houses there, so some went there, and others went to apartments where kolkhoz workers were already living.
And where were you and your father housed?
We were given a two-family house, which was very small, but we lived there with another family.
There was only one room?
Yes, with a kitchen. Then, one or two years later, we bought a house with my father. It was big.
How did you manage to buy it? Where did you get the money?
My father worked as a machinist where they threshed grain, it was the MTS company. He got paid with grain and a little bit of money, so we bought it with that.
So the skills he acquired before you were deported were useful to him during his deportation?
You arrived in the spring, did he work as a machinist straight away, starting in the summer? Or was it after that?
Not really. We were brought in the spring, and it was in the fall that he got the job.
And how did he get the job? Did he himself say that he could do that?
And that summer, where did you work?
He worked a little as a foreman, a carpenter. I didn't have a job, given my age.
What did you do that summer?
I went fishing.
By yourself or with the other kids?
Alone and with the other children.
Who were these children? Were they Lithuanians, Russians?
They were from all over.
Translation of the transcript:
By the way, your brother was sent to the Magadan area, when was he released?
He was released in 1958 as well.
And he returned to Lithuania?
And he didn't come to see you?
He went straight home?
Yes. Well, you know, the train at that time... I don't know how he got back, maybe by boat.
He wrote to you and you wrote to him when he lived in Magadan?
What did he say? That life was difficult?
Yes, of course. Then, in the last years, it became easier to live.
Didn't you keep the letters? From your mother and sister, from your brother? Didn't you take them with you to Bratsk?
No, I didn't keep them. There were some at my sister's house, but I don't really know what happened to them..
Maybe you can look for them when we leave?
I don't know, God knows where they are.
Did your brother return to Lithuania? Did he set up a farm or did he live in town?
He lived in a small town, Marijampolė, he built himself a house and lived there with his family.
He got married in Lithuania?
In what language did your sister write to you? In Lithuanian?
Yes, in Lithuanian.
So you also answered in Lithuanian?
And your brother in what language? In Lithuanian too?
Yes, also in Lithuanian.
So they could send letters in Lithuanian in that camp?
Yes, that's right.