Without a Homeland. Devoted to the 76th anniversary of the deportation of June 1941
Political repressions experienced by the residents of Lithuania after its occupation by the Soviet Union in June 1940 is still a painful topic that does not pass into oblivion. Arrests, interrogations and searches that started immediately after the occupation gradually became daily occurrences, but the deportation campaign that was launched on the night of 14 June 1941, when a great many families of farmers, teachers and office employees were taken from their homes and deported from their Homeland was the greatest shock that befell the nation after the loss of Independence. Nobody expected such a massive and brutal treatment of innocent and peaceful citizens. Contemporaries referred to June 14 as “The Black Day”, and these dramatic days of deportations are still remembered as “The Black June” in Lithuania.
Almost immediately after the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania on 15 June 1940, potential opponents of the Soviet authorities were registered and preparations for mass repressions were made. Public servants, members of all banned parties and organisations, officers, policemen, employees of courts and public prosecutor’s offices, teachers, farmers and businessmen – everyone who was attributed to the category of “socially dangerous” according to the Soviet instructions was put on the list of “dangerous” persons.
Mass arrests started in the first half of July, in preparation for the election to the so-called People’s Seimas on July 14, and continued all year round. Before the outbreak of the war between the USSR and Germany, 6.6 thousand residents of Lithuania of various nationalities were arrested. The majority of them, circa 3.5 thousand persons, were taken to gulag prisons and work camps in April – June 1941, some of them escaped or were freed by the participants of the June uprising, and others were killed in Lithuania (Rainiai, Pravieniškės) or beyond its borders (in Cherven, at the Bihosava railway station and other locations).
From the autumn of 1940, as soon as Lithuania was annexed to the USSR, top-secret preparations for mass deportation of the country’s residents to remote locations of the Soviet Union started. During the deportation operation on 14–19 June 1941 circa 18 thousand people were taken to the designated railway stations and crammed into freight trains. Some of them, husbands torn away from their families, officers arrested in summer camps – almost four thousand people – were taken to prisons and work camps in the Soviet Union, and others, among them more than a half of women and children, were deported to the so-called special NKVD-supervised settlements in Altay Krai, Komi, Novosibirsk Oblast and Krasnoyarsk Krai. A year later, in June 1942, almost three thousand deportees, mostly women with small children and disabled men, were transferred from Altay Krai to the north of Yakutia: the islands of the delta of the Lena River and the settlements at the Laptev Sea and the Yana River. Having found themselves in extremely severe conditions, they died of famine, cold and diseases. Only 33.59 per cent of deportees of June 1941 returned to Lithuania (40.3 per cent of those taken to places of deportation, and 12.5 per cent taken to work camps), 26.5 per cent died in places of deportation and imprisonment, and the fate of almost 40 per cent of deportees is unknown.
The repressions of the Soviet authorities were temporarily halted by the war between the Soviet Union and Germany, but from July 1944, when the Red Army marched into Lithuania and the Germans retreated, arrests of “unreliable” people, roundups of men avoiding mobilisation and members of fledgling underground organisations resumed. Deportations were renewed. From early 1945 to 1953, each year several or more than a dozen trains would leave from Lithuania to Siberia, Central Asia, the Far East and other destinations.
The most massive deportation of the middle of the 20th century, which was given the code name of “Vesna” (“Spring”) in the correspondence of repressive structures, befell Lithuania on 22 May 1948. During several days of May 40 thousand people, among them almost 12 thousand children, were deported from their homeland. During the operation under the code name of “Priboj” (“Ground Swell”) executed on 25–28 March 1949, which ranked second according to the number of deported persons, approximately 29 thousand people (among them more than 8 thousand children), and during the operation “Osenj” (“Autumn”) on 2–3 October 1951 – circa 17 thousand people (among them circa 5.3 thousand children) were deported.
All in all, from 1940 to 1941 and from 1945 to 1952 approximately 275 thousand people were deported from Lithuania to the Soviet Union. More than two thirds of the deported survived in deportation and work camps. By 1960 circa 80 thousand people returned to Lithuania.
The exhibition is dedicated to commemorate the painful beginning of mass deportations. Most of the exhibited photos belong to the collections of the National Museum of Lithuania. We wish to express our gratitude to the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, the Lithuanian Central State Archives, the Tauragė Regional Museum, the Lithuanian Special Archives and the deportees who kindly allowed us to supplement the exhibition with protected documents and photos.
Prepared by Virginija Rudienė
The June 1941 deportation came as a surprise to the people of Lithuania. Most of them were immersed in their routine activities not knowing that the approaching night of June 14 would change their lives for good. Perplexed by a sudden intrusion of soldiers, their urgings and unwillingness to give any information as to where, why or for how long they would be deported, some did not even take the most necessary things, warmer clothes or food with them. More valuable possessions were often appropriated by deporters. The rest of the property of the deportees (i.e. buildings, furniture, cattle, agricultural equipment or even minor household goods) was confiscated.
The Lithuanians doomed for deportation (parents, children, even newborns and the elderly) were taken to remote locations of Altai Krai (7,232 people, i.e. 58.6% of all the deportees), Komi (1,468 people; 11.9%), Novosibirsk (Tomsk) Oblast (1,513 people; approximately 12.2%) and other places of the Soviet Union and were left there for the examination of survival. In June, 1942, almost half of the deportees settled in Altai Krai were moved even further – to the north of Yakutia, behind a polar circle.
The 1941 deportees had to live in extremely harsh, practically uninhabited areas. During the first several years they lacked the most essential household items and were threatened with long years of imprisonment or labour camps for a slightest misbehaviour. They could not get any material support from their relatives on the other side of the front-line or those retreated to the West for four-five years. Less than half of the people deported in 1941 were able to return to Lithuania after fifteen or more years in exile.
The majority of the men separated from their families (around 4,000) during the June 14–18, 1941 deportation campaign were taken to the labour camps of Krasnoyarsk Krai (most of them to the Reshiot camp), the others were sent to labour camps of Molotov (Perm) Oblast, Arkhangelsk Oblast, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Komi, Karelia, Kazakhstan and etc. as well as the Gorky and Sol-Iletsk prisons.
The people arrested during the June campaign and some taken into custody earlier were deported without any court verdicts, on the basis of the decisions signed by the NKVD operatives. Only following the imprisonment, the related cases were opened and formal accusations against the deportees were brought. They were charged with the crimes indicated in Article 58 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR (i.e. “betrayal of homeland,” “struggle against the revolutionary movement,” “participation in counter-revolutionary activities” and etc.). The USSR NKVD Special Council, military tribunals, labour camp courts or other courts sentenced the deportees to imprisonment or death. Approximately 5,000 political prisoners deported from Lithuania in 1939–1941 were convicted; about 568 of them were shot. The lists of political prisoners included numerous former political and public figures of independent Lithuania, ministers, heads of political parties and ordinary residents who had defended the independence of their state, developed its culture and economy and educated the youth. Thirty percent of all the prisoners deported from Lithuania died in labour camps and prisons in 1941–1945. More than half of the men separated from their families in June 1941 (54.5%) died in labour camps.
From July, 1944, when the Red Army drove the Germans out and came to Lithuania, arrests of “unreliable” people and members of emerging underground organisations as well as captures of men evading mobilisation commenced once again. Deportations were also soon resumed.
In February, 1945, the first families were deported to Molotov (Perm) Oblast. In April of the same year, the deportation of Lithuanian German families accused of collaboration with the Nazi Germany began. Later on, the same fate awaited families of partisans and their supporters as well as participants of other anti-Soviet underground activities. From the end of 1947, families of farmers, the so called kulaks, were also deported. In 1945–1947, almost 11,000 people were deported.
The greatest deportation of the middle of the 20th century organised in Lithuania in May, 1948 was encoded as Vesna (Spring) in the correspondence of repressive structures. Highly secret preparations for this deportation campaign had been made in advance. More than 41,000 deporters had been summoned to implement it. On May 22–23, 40,000 residents of Lithuania, of which almost 12,000 were children and approximately 5,000 were over the age of sixty, were deported.
According to the plans of Moscow, the 1949 March deportation operation had to be implemented simultaneously in all the Baltic States annexed in 1940 by the USSR, i.e. in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. As stated in the January 29, 1949 decision of the USSR Council of Ministers, 29,000 families (i.e. 87,000 people) had to be deported from these countries. However, this time deportations were permanent and to ensure this, on November 26, 1948 the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet issued a decree to punish all escapees with twenty years of katorga.
In Lithuania, the deportation started at 6 am, March 25. Over just a few days, 8,765 families (i.e. almost 29,000 residents) were brought to railway stations, closed in freight wagons and deported from Lithuania. This was the second biggest postwar deportation campaign in Lithuania in terms of the number of the deportees.
From June, 1949 to August, 1952 several more deportations were arranged, the most prominent of which occurred on October 2-3, 1951. During this deportation named Osenj (Autumn) approximately 17,000 people, out of which 5,278 were children, were deported.
The deportees and political prisoners, accommodated in remote and harsh locations of the Soviet Union, were exploited as a cheap labour force in various sectors of economy. They had to do the toughest tasks requiring physical strength and stamina.
Most of the prisoners in labour camps worked in clearcuts, coal, ore and gold mines or laid railways behind a polar circle and in Siberia. Norilsk, Vorkuta, Bratsk and other cities, various industrial companies and power plants were built by the prisoners. The deportees were usually assigned different tasks for forestry and forest chemical facilities, kolkhozes and sovkhozes (state farms), local industrial companies and artels. Most of the residents of Lithuania deported in 1948–1949 were employed in forestry facilities, in their most distant and difficult to reach points.
The work of both the deportees and prisoners in labour camps was hard and exhausting. Usually, a work place was far away (especially clearcuts) and people had to trudge 7–10 kilometres through deep snow to reach it. The work continued for several weeks without any days off and was carried out with the help of the most primitive tools, i.e. hand saws and axes. More advanced machinery was employed only in around 1948–1949. Apart from all the hard work, people also had to endure unusual climate, malnutrition, hunger and almost unbearable living conditions.
A lot of Lithuanian deportees died as a result of exhausting work, tough living conditions, hunger or diseases (especially during the first several years), suffered various injuries because of the lack of necessary skills or perished.
Having survived the first several years of deportation, the residents of Lithuania gradually adapted to the natural and climatic conditions, began building their own houses and started families. When the living conditions improved slightly, the need for communication, common activities, education and rendering meaning to bleak everyday life arouse. On free days, Lithuanians gathered together to sing, organised parties, staged performances and performed music. Even during the first several years of deportation amateur clubs started emerging in the places where active, gifted people lived.
As far as circumstances allowed, the deportees did their best to observe national and religious traditions. Babies were baptised, couples were married, proper farewells to the deceased were organised. In places where there were no priests, such rituals were performed by an authoritative member of the community. Later, when more priests released from labour camps settled in the places of deportation, religious life was revived. During their free time a lot of priests travelled to various deportee communities and administered matrimonies or baptisms, escorted the deceased on their final journey and celebrated the Holy Mass on handmade altars. In some Lithuanian communities, it became customary to gather in cemeteries on Sundays for a common prayer, to honour the dead with hymns and to remember Lithuania.
Although cultural life in labour camps was more restricted, the administration was unable to totally suppress cultural activities of the prisoners. Just like Lithuanians in the places of deportation, the prisoners also observed national and religious holidays. Imprisoned priests secretly celebrated the Holy Mass, listened to confessions and distributed the Host to raise the spirit of the imprisoned.