Gintautas D. (born 1944) came to Vilnius together with his parents from Panevėžys in 1959 (the family lived in Panvežys region until 1952). In Vilnius, graduated from a technical school and from a branch of Kaunas Polytechnical Institute. Profession: engineer of radio electronics, and researcher. Worked in academic institutions, later in business. Nationality: Lithuanian. (Interview carried out in Lithuanian by J. Jonutytė. Transcribed by M. Lukošienė and R. Racėnaitė. Translated to English by A. Gedžiūtė. Translation edited by L. Būgienė).
I was born in 1944. I have a brother who was born in 1943. After the war, my mother worked as a primary school teacher in the villages around Panevėžys, while my dad worked in Panevėžys. Later, since 1952, it seems, we found ourselves in Panevėžys. And in 1958–1959 my parents began pondering over the problem how to guarantee us suitable conditions to study. [It was important for] the parents. We both didn’t think [about the studies] then, we were fourteen, fifteen years of age. But our parents were concerned about it, especially my mother. She said that as our family was poor it was necessary for us to move to Vilnius, so that the children could study at a higher education school. I am sure that my mother herself wanted to go to a slightly more “civilized” city. Panevėžys was a rather small town then, with only 50 000 residents. There was already the Panevėžys Drama Theatre [established]. There was a very good high school No. 1, now [named in honor of] Balčikonis, there was a musical school. Something was simmering slowly there. My father worked at a technical school of melioration under the Ministry of Agriculture. There was a managing board of agricultural technical schools and teaching farms. And he belonged to that board, so he arranged a job in Vilnius for himself. He started working in the board as the head of the department of financial planning. We also got a flat as the new arrivals [in Vilnius]. […] The Ministry of Agriculture transferred him, made a transfer from one workplace to another within the same structure. And they also created conditions for my family to obtain a flat. Of two rooms. In the beginning [we lived] in Buivydiškės, then in Žvėrynas. That’s how we came to Vilnius. I was still fifteen years old in 1960, I wasn’t yet sixteen. We moved in on the 16th of February – exactly on such a day, in winter. As I was a lazy student I wouldn’t go to the high school, I went to the technical school of construction. I graduated from this school and then graduated from the Vilnius subdivision of the KPI (now the Gediminas Technical University). I graduated from the construction and manufacturing of radio equipment and technology. Such a profession. I’ve worked my whole life in this field. First, at the Academy of Sciences, then in the Institute of Physics […]. In short, that would be it.
When you moved from Panevėžys to Vilnius as a teenager, what was your impression? How did Vilnius appear to you? How did you perceive the change and how would you indicate that change? Maybe there were some new activities, or friends were different, weren’t they?
Well, I’d say that you don’t care much when you’re fifteen or sixteen years old. But of course, if compared to Panevėžys, Vilnius was a much bigger city. I hadn’t seen larger cities, I was in a village until six years of age, I grew in a village, [I went to] a village school. Plus, there was this huge terror – my mother stayed alone with two kids in a village school, while those so-called stribai raved around. The forest brothers would not touch my mother because she knew how to get along with people, so forest brothers wouldn’t touch her at all, but stribai went terribly wild. They’d come at night, shatter the little beds looking for guns. I remember, for instance, how orders came to burn books. It meant that all the school libraries had to be burned. Those village schools did not have rich libraries, but still they had something; there were some pre-war periodicals: journals “Karys” and “Trimitas”, and something else for the children… Everything had to be burned. Otherwise severe punishments awaited – Siberia and so. People were afraid; at least my mother was really scared and burned everything. So, I remember that I was really deeply affected by all this. Then there would be, you know, those terrible nights in the autumn. Every knock of the shutters in the wind could mean that stribai were coming to deport us [to Siberia] or do something else. We could not even stay at home during those nights when the deportation campaigns were in full swing. It was always clear when the deportations were planned, since the number of soldiers around would increase dramatically. But afterwards everything passed, the situation calmed down a bit, and things stabilized. In Vilnius our life was entirely calm, but then some teenage issues started. You know, it was a great discovery for me that there was a philharmonic in Vilnius and so many concerts. I remember we’d walk around, would go to the concerts, and to the theatre. While there was theatre in Panevėžys as well. So, I did not feel any great difference between Panevėžys and Vilnius when I was young. Except that, you know, there were slightly more cars, slightly more people, and trolleybuses.
And this calm life in Vilnius – did it mean much to you, since you were constantly afraid earlier, in your childhood?
Well, you know, when you have that calmness, when it occurs, you no longer notice it. You adapt psychologically. Of course, some other things, and nationalistic tensions occurred, because in Panevėžys the environment was much more [homogeneously] Lithuanian.
And you noticed that, didn’t you?
By all means, I did. Especially at the higher education school, there were groups of Lithuanians, groups of Russians, and there were various, various situations… So, this national element did occur, and it got even more pronounced. But maybe the reason was that we started maturing. When you’re twelve or thirteen years old, you don’t care much.
How did that manifest? Would you come together and talk in some secret groups?
[Laughs]. No, we wouldn’t come together. You know, we used to meet with each other, then, and alcohol and cigarettes appeared when [I was] eighteen or nineteen years old. We have explored all those wrong paths… And of course, we’d talk. There were very strong anti-Soviet feelings in my family, but under cover: that is, [it was considered] better to do nothing, not to show anything publicly, not to say anything, but when we were at home, this anti-Soviet element became really prominent. Besides, I did not join the Komsomol, I wasn’t a pioneer, I wasn’t that [member of the Communist party], my parents would also never participate in such activities. In a word, there were very Lithuanian and very anti-Soviet moods, but that was only inside the family. As I did not join the Komsomol, I remember, once they left me after classes in the technical school and some unfamiliar man approached me and said, “Why don’t you join the Komsomol?” And I said (I’ve had heart problems since I was a kid), “I’m of very poor health, so my consciousness wouldn’t allow me to be a young communist, since Komsomol members, I know, they are always in the front ranks, they’re active, energetic, while I can do nothing, I’m weak and would only be a burden, and I don’t want to be a burden.” He said, “Tell me, perhaps your parents do not allow you [to join]? We can talk to them.” I said, “No, to the contrary, my parents keep trying to persuade me to join, but my conscience wouldn’t allow me.” I think they understood that I was mocking them, it was clear for me as well. […] In a word, I had the usual, normal Soviet life. With all the pluses and minuses. […]
I think (at least it was so in my life), several parallel groups of people co-exist in the city. Russians live their own way, the Polish live their own way, and Lithuanians live their own way. I, nonetheless, had contacts with the Polish. I learned Polish relatively early as there were many Polish books, the choice was considerably bigger. There were many historical books about Lithuanian history in the bookshop “Draugystė”, maybe you [also] remember it. So, there were many Polish books. I had some Polish friends both from Poland and from Vilnius. But I had no Russian friends, for instance, even though the mother of A. [the informant’s son] and my first wife was Russian, but she was born in Lithuania, graduated from a higher school in Lithuania and was like a Lithuanian. So, it seems to me that even now there is no great friendship on the domestic level among different nations. The Polish would still keep to themselves, Russians – to themselves, and Lithuanians also lead their own life. […] It seems to me that their mentalities are slightly different. Another thing is that the way of the everyday life is also somewhat different. Relationships in the family are different, even though essentially similar, but still slightly [different]. And of course, there is the political and historical level. All [the ethnic groups] want to feel [that they are] masters here. Russians want to feel masters here and it hurts them that they are not. The Polish especially wanted to feel [that they were] masters. Lithuanians, particularly people educated within the light of the history by Šapoka, they also want to feel that it’s theirs, that it’s ours, that all this [here in Vilnius] is Lithuanian. And these issues are irreconcilable. […]
I can well remember the year 1956 – the events in Hungary, the uprising in Budapest. I remember very well how Khrushchev’s thawing and Khrushchev’s “freezing” followed [each other] immediately. And I can remember very well the year 1968, when I was in Kazakhstan. There used to be summer work camps for students, and I went to Kazakhstan to earn some money. And, I remember, in August, when Russian tanks entered the Prague, and we in Kazakhstan were all listening to the radio throughout the night, we wouldn’t sleep. We felt so deeply for the Czechs, I’d started learning Czech a little bit, I’d read “Literární noviny”. And we went to the town to eat at 8 in the morning, to some canteen, there were two Russians sitting there and drinking vodka [already] at 8 in the morning. And they were talking that davyt nado etich chechov, that is, one has to exterminate those Czechs because they don’t love Russians, so one has to exterminate them. Such was the atmosphere in 1968. […]
You said that there was Khrushchev’s thawing and freezing. What do you mean by that? Did persecutions begin, or what?
It’s difficult to say. It wasn’t so that you woke up and felt it. Everything crawled on gradually, as fog comes and passes – little by little. The life had changed a bit during the thawing. But, for instance, I remember, when they took Khrushchev off, we had a class on the history of the Communist party [that day], early in the morning. We came [to the class still] not knowing anything, and the teacher of the history of the Communist party started reprehending Khrushchev! Oh, how he censured him: that he was good for nothing as a secretary [of the Communist party], that he destroyed agriculture, [that he devised] all that chemigation, [promoted that excessive] growing of corn, and that he had conceived all those nonsense after coming back from America – that we should surpass America! We all listened with open jaws! During the break we went out and bought a newspaper [and learned] that Khrushchev had been removed. […] The environment would change in certain slightly nuanced ways: the television [programs] or books. “A Pine That Laughed” by Marcinkevičius was published, then “Youth” by Vytautas Rimkevičius – such a small book that was slightly different, something there was different. […] “Literatūra ir menas” would print something, a couple of words in another way. Such journals as “Nemunas” occurred in Kaunas, and “Pergalė” started changing. […] Such things. By means of such things we would feel [change]; nothing else, nothing special.
You know, the general atmosphere was terribly oppressive: you had to keep yourself in check all the time (at least we were taught so). You had to watch yourself – who you talk with, and what you say, and if there isn’t some stranger listening to you. In 1986 I went to America to [visit] my cousins [and uncle, my mother’s brother]. So, they said it was only after two weeks that I got rid of the habit to look around when talking, [to see] if anybody wasn’t listening. But that was in my blood, I wouldn’t even notice that. So there!
Tell me more about when you came to live in the city, did it appear beautiful to you? Were you tempted to learn more about Vilnius, about its history and what was there earlier?
If one was interested it was possible [to learn more]. I was interested. I even studied a little bit. I was in the last years [of the university], and I was short of money at the time, so I finished city guide courses and would lead excursions in Vilnius. And I was generally interested in Vilnius, as I am even now. It was possible to get pre-war books at one person or another, and to read about Vilnius. There was, of course, this Soviet nonsense written about Vilnius. The second thing was, some architectural monuments were being destroyed even right before my eyes. Here, near the Green Bridge, half of that little castle was destroyed, then a wayside shrine in Antakalnis was demolished […]. A church [built] by Vivulskis was destroyed, they made Hall of Construction Workers instead. Well, in a word, the destruction was obvious, and it did not pass without any attention. People [would be interested] in that, a little bit in any case, at least those who were more literate and educated. But one cannot talk about all the people. You have a certain closed circle with whom you associate. […] There were also many Jews who hadn’t left. […] Just like us, the Jewish families lived whenever they had a flat. More of them lived in the Old Town than in the new suburbs. But we communicated, we knew each other. Maybe we associated more closely with the Jews than with the Russians. We were considerably closer. At least then. Again, I cannot talk for everyone, I only mean that environment, which I belonged to. […]
What hurt you most when living in Vilnius?
I wouldn’t say that it hurt me. Rather, I was disgusted. I’d say that was the emotional state that everybody experienced. I was especially vexed that they should do this to Vilnius. As Pilies Street, for instance, where [the new houses] were built. Vilnius almost did not suffer during the war, or suffered very little. But it suffered most in the first days after the war. Wherever some houses were bombed at least a little bit, harmed, roofs fallen in or windows broken, there came the Russian Soviet army soldiers with the so-called fire guns, or flame-throwers, and they simply burned the whole house through. If somebody was hiding there so they should perish. They reshaped Vokiečių Street: everything was taken down, and Stalin-period houses were erected. Architects came from Minsk and Kaliningrad who planned to design a street from the Green Bridge [straight] to the station – through what is now Liudas Gira [Street] and Nėris school. And they destroyed Vokiečių Street up to the Gate of Dawn. They made a wide artery as in Kaunas, as in Leningrad or Minsk. Thank God, this campaign stopped after Stalin died. Some Lithuanian architects grew up who liked, loved the city and appreciated the value of it. Its great value. I can say that I belonged to the group of people who were interested in Vilnius, and in its history. But you say you have met people who are not interested [in the Old Town of Vilnius]. Are they Lithuanians? Maybe they have education of only four grades?
Perhaps that’s why there were rash attempts to get to the new suburbs, as people did not appreciate the value of the Old Town?
There were no rash attempts, who told you so? There were simply no flats and people wanted to get a better accommodation. Plus, one has to remember that in the Vilnius Old Town after the war, wood was carried around and sold, people would heat stoves back then. Even today I know a flat in the Old Town, in Pilies Street, where people still heat the stove. And there were [many] people who would have liked getting a flat with all the facilities. And secondly, there were no flats, simply not [nearly enough]! People were really crammed and living in various places [inconveniently]. There were not so many communal flats left in Vilnius as in Leningrad, for example, which has remained almost unchanged to the present day. But if people should rush to the new suburbs, it was only because they wanted to get a flat, and nobody offered them anything else. Only if you were a high rank official of the [Communist] party, you could expect getting a flat by the Lenin Square, in the Montvila Colony. Do you know the Montvila Colony? Just look who lives there, really, believe me, there are no people who had arrived from the countryside or from Panevėžys! […]
This story of my life, you know, is a very simple one. There were no huge upheavals, nothing special, we were not deported to Siberia, we moved to Vilnius and tried to study.
You somehow managed escaping those deportations, didn’t you?
My mother had a keen feeling, and there was a huge shortage of village teachers at the time. That is, if my mother got wind that deportations were coming, she would harness a horse into a cart, she also had a key to the school, she would pack us, two kids, four and five years old, would tie bedsheets and clothes into huge packs. And she would drive to another village –20-30 kilometers away. And start working in another village. So, from 1945 till 1951 my mother changed four places. Four places! I do not know how she got admitted, but she got work. […] When deportations were planned, lists would be made, and if you got onto that list, they’d come for you at 3-4 a.m. and say, “Take what you can [and go] to the truck” and then transport you [and your family] somewhere to the collection point in Panevėžys. If they didn’t find those people [from the list], they’d take others, because one must fulfil the plan. That is, they took neighbors or even somebody from another region. That’s why people tried to change their living place – not to get included in those lists. Or, if they happened to be on the list, but they were absent at the time [when stribai and soldiers came to deport them], nobody would look for them, and take others [instead]. Still, once my mother told me, I remember it from my mother, one stribas from the nearest town or village came and said, “What’s your maternal surname? You’re from such and such a village, born there and there, a teacher, with two children, right? Get ready, you’re included in the lists”. That’s what he said. Next morning, early, at six o’clock my mother was already going somewhere else with a horse. How she found places to go I cannot tell, I do not know. She’d come and stay for a year and half, or for two years, peacefully. Until they started [inquiring] again – from where, who, how and so on. My mother’s parents (my grandparents) had thirty-two hectares of land and took in two squatters right after the war; they [the Soviet authorities] started moving poor people into the rich farms. So, they transferred a family: a young landless couple with two little kids. And partisans were severely opposed to this [practice], so they would come and exterminate those new settlers. And they came at five in the morning in summer and shot that young couple, while my grandmother was hiding under the bed with those kids. They shot these people. And my grandfather tried to save them, he asked partisans not to shoot them, because he was on good terms [with the partisans]. The relationships were good, everybody understood everything. But they still shot those people. And they beat my grandfather for trying to protect those landless people. Well, after two hours the stribai came and then (as they often show in films) dragged my grandfather tied to a horse some seven kilometers to Skapiškis town. He was all tied, [and nobody cared if] he fell down or he walked, if he managed to keep the pace with the horse or not. […] And my grandmother couldn’t read, she would only put crosses instead of her signature, though she’d go to the church with a prayer book. And they accused her – officially! – that she was publishing an anti-Soviet wall newspaper. My grandparents were only saved [from the most severe sentence] because those two kids testified in their favor [and said] that my grandparents had protected them, had saved their lives asking [the partisans] not to shoot them, no to touch them and so on. Thus, my grandparents spent in prison a year and a half until they were released. But there was no farm anymore, there was nothing [left]. And when on their way home from the prison they spotted a soldier walking in Panevėžys, they hid under a bush. They were beaten in prison, tortured and so on. So [compared to] those people [my grandparents], and to what they survived – we, children, we did not survive anything, our life was [untouched]. I can tell all that, but these are not my experiences. I only remember this fear [that we experienced] very well. Such fear! It was terrifying. […]
My father told me that in 1944, when the Soviet army was here already, he had just graduated from accountancy so he was admitted to the managing committee as a temporary accountant. He came to the office designated for him and found some passport forms and an [official] stamp in a drawer. As they took everyone to the army, to the Soviet army, and there was also the front up to Berlin, so he filled in [a fake passport], changed his date of birth, made himself older lest they should take him to the army. [He devised those fake documents] for himself and for some friend of his, and put the stamp. And made himself older. While still working in the ministry, Ministry of Agriculture, in the 1970s he had to turn sixty. So they [his co-workers] were preparing a ball, as always, and collected money for the gift and so on. Well, but some communists – Jews, by the way, – became very suspicious why he looked so young. And they reported [their suspicions] to the secret agency, which started investigating. And my father was found out. They invited him to the secret agency. And my father told them, “I didn’t want to go to Plechavičius army during the war, I didn’t want to go to the German army, that’s why I made myself older.” “And why didn’t you report to the Soviet organs later?” He said, “I was afraid, these were the Stalin times. I was afraid.” And they kicked him off his job for this. I remember, he was really nervous. In truth, he was in his fifties. Where could he find a job? And in the ministry, he was a head of a department. In a word, it took him half a year to find a [new] job, but he got it with help of his acquaintances. But, as I say, these are all stories of my parents and grandparents, while my own story is simple: studies and work.
How did you decide that you should stay in Vilnius, or was there no decision at all?
What do you mean? [To go to some] other cities in Lithuania? Well, do you know a better city than Vilnius? I like Vilnius very much. Well, in Kaunas, if I had studied there, maybe I would have stayed. Kaunas is a fine city for me. Panevėžys is also not bad. But Vilnius – that’s everything! I haven’t even considered [moving anywhere else], it never crossed my mind. And why? Well, Vilnius, you know, is a complex city […] You live in the environment that you created yourself, a certain space, you have friends and somehow your life flows by without great trouble or effort.
And your friends, where did they come from? Did you find them while studying at the technical school?
No, [they are] not from the technical school. In the technical school, there was a bit… Maybe it will sound not very nice and rather conceited, but well, those people at the technical school were a bit dim. There was not much to talk about with them and associate. We had completely different interests. Therefore, I do not [maintain any relationship] with students from the technical school. Well, my friends came from somewhere around, from my studies [at the institute], I got acquainted with other residents of Vilnius, and so [friends appeared]. Some of them have an artistic touch, others come from the field of humanities, though I am a technical man myself, but I have acquaintances and friends with more interests in humanities.
Are they mainly Lithuanians?
There are a couple of Jews among my friends, maybe three Jews with whom, I’d say, we became friends or close associates. And now, for instance, we’re going [to travel] with my wife, so we’ll stay for a week in New York with one of my Jewish friends who left in the 1970s. […] So at least for me the relationships with the Jews were much better – probably, my best relationships were with the Jews. Though there are different people among the Jews as well, there were very pro-Soviet ones, while I was more a product of Šapoka.
You’re a true citizen of Vilnius.
But, you know, there is only a temporary place for us here. While you are young you don’t even think about it, but when you become older, you realize that nobody really knows to whom Vilnius belongs. There used to be so many nations here, and each of them tried to appropriate Vilnius to themselves. We’ve forgotten Byelorussians, while Byelorussians have huge pretenses to Vilnius. That is, Byelorussians, Poles, Russians, well, and Jews – what with the Holocaust, – and, of course, Lithuanians. Five nations at least have huge pretenses to Vilnius. […]
The river flows, and you move along more or less. Nothing too special happens around, nothing shattering does occur. No, I did not drown in the “Titanic”, neither did my dirigible explode. In a word, my life is so calm and domestic, with its own pleasant and unpleasant sides, which are always present at all times. Everything happened in its natural way. But to leave [Vilnius] – I never had such a thought!