After nearly ten years of visiting Lithuania and making over 30 visits I have become extremely interested in the history of the country and in particular the period from 1939 to the present day. During my recent photography outing with my colleagues Antanas and Renata to the district of Naujoji Vilnia we came across some transport wagons attached to a huge steam train which had been left as a memorial to all those who were transported to the gulag in Siberia (and other areas) by the Soviet regime. There is also a cross quite poignantly on its side……………..
This kind of train was used for mass deportations during the Stalinist period and many people were deported from this site. There were two groups of deported people: Prisoners sent to GULAG camps as slave labourers, and deportees who should develop isolated regions, also through hard physical labour.
From 1940 to 1953, more than 132,000 Lithuanians were deported to remote areas of the USSR including Siberia, the Arctic Circle zone and Central Asia. More than 70 percent of the deportees were women and children. By the end of the deportations, some 30,000 Lithuanians had died as a result of slave work and starvation. Another 50,000 never returned to Lithuania. During this same period, another 200,000 people were thrown into prisons. More than 150,000 were sent to Gulags, the name for USSR network of concentration camps, situated mostly in Siberia. [GULag is the abbreviation for Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies, Гла́вное управле́ние исправи́тельно-трудовы́х лагере́й и коло́ний in Russian.
The first mass deportation began the night of June 14, 1941, after the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania in World War II. Thousands of unsuspecting people were awakened from their sleep and ordered to leave their homes immediately. Most failed to take anything with them. Crammed into cattle cars, women, the elderly and children were sent to remote villages where they were required to do hard labor; the heads of families were sent to remote prisons and camps, as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far east as the Bering Sea. In that first week, more than 18,000 Lithuanian people were deported. The number would have been even greater had the war between Germany and Russia not started on June 22, 1944. Deportations resumed at the end of World War II, when Lithuania was again occupied by the Soviet Red Army and continued until Stalin’s death. The Gulag prison system continued to operate until the fall of the Soviet empire. Many prisoners of conscience, who objected to Soviet human rights violations, were sentenced to terms in Soviet prisons together with common criminals.
150,000 people were sent to GULAG camps as prisoners, mainly in Siberia. It is estimated that 20.000-25.000 died in the camps. The deportees sent to isolated regions were mainly “kulaks” and so-called “bandit families” of punished individuals. 136,000 of these people were deported to Siberia, the Arctic zone and Central Asia.
Around 28,000 of them died in exile. After Stalin’s death in 1953, it became possible for many deportees to return to Lithuania in the following decades.
I think it is almost impossible for anyone from the UK to grasp the enormity of this barbarity which was committed against the Lithuanian people and perhaps explains the deep mistrust that they have of Putin and his seeming desire to create a new model “Soviet Russia” by trying to “reclaim” Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic republics.
I noticed also on my recent visit a number of young men in army uniform as the Lithuanian government have re-introduced conscription but only for young men and not women.
For anyone interested in Lithuanian history may I recommend:-
The History of Lithuania Zigmantas Kiaupa
Vanished Kingdoms Norman Davies
Source material: http://www.balzekasmuseum.org