Libė / Liuba (born 1930) comes from a Jewish family of 7 children from Utena. Part of the family retreated to Russia in the beginning of the war. After the war came back to Utena and worked as a waitress. In 1953 she came to Vilnius and got a job as a worker in a footwear factory in Vilnius and worked there for the rest of her life. Nationality: Jewish. (Interview carried out in Russian by J. Jonutytė. Transcribed by L. Būgienė. Translated to English by A. Gedžiūtė. Translation edited by L. Būgienė).
I will speak in Russian. I grew up after the war. I worked along with the Russians, Byelorussians, Polish, so I haven’t learned much of the Lithuanian language. And Lithuanians would speak Russian then, such was the government, such measures – either you wanted it or not, but all of us had to speak one language. So, we got used to it.
So, did you speak Russian in the family as well?
With my parents? No, with my parents [I spoke] only in Yiddish. God forbid! Only in Yiddish! Utena is my native place, I am a local of Utena by my roots. I was born in 1930. When the war began, I was 10 years old. My parents – local residents of Lithuania by their roots, as well as my grandmothers and great-grandmothers. I did not know any other countries. Utena is my homeland. We did not know Russian in childhood. We used to speak in Yiddish and in Lithuanian, while our friends Lithuanians would also know Lithuanian and Yiddish. That’s how it was among us. And afterwards I went to school – I finished the second grade at school, just before the war. I was transferred to the third grade, but while in the third grade, the war began, and we had to flee to Russia.
Why to Russia?
Our family was a large one, with many children. We were seven children. My father was a blacksmith and he was a very good professional. Everyone around Utena – all the people would come to him as his clients. […] That was Monday, just in the morning, we got up, as always, my mother would get up and give us breakfast – she’d put a bowl and then a little plate for everyone and put a portion to the plate for everyone, she distributed [the food]. And here, she went out then and she had been nervous since Saturday, excited, and we, the children, would not understand why our mother was somewhat different [from what she normally was]. She said to [my] sister, “You sit here and make sure that they would have eaten.” Maybe some half an hour passed. Maybe some more. She ran back in, tears in her eyes. […] Something had happened… and here, half an hour had not passed, and my mother came back, running, rushing, with tears in her eyes, a shawl on her shoulders. And she [said] that we had to get ready quickly, that the war had begun. […]
What did we understand – children – about the war? The older ones, maybe they understood something, while we, well, we were scared, but if war, so it’s war. And [she] started getting us ready quickly, because we had to leave as soon as possible. There was one truck in Utena at that time. Jews had it […] so they seated us there. It appears that there was an order to take those who had some positions, so that their families would be taken first. But as the drivers were friends with our father – the town was not big, you know, everyone knew each other in those days. So, they seated us in it – our mother and five children, and [said] that we could take nothing with us, no things at all. Only what was on us – slippers, cardigans on top… Our father remained in Utena. Where was the older brother, I do not know. Maybe somewhere at work, maybe someone from the management told him to be on duty, we did not see him. […] While my older sister, she was 19 before the war. Half a year before she had got married and her husband took her to Zarasai1, he was from Zarasai. […] And my mother was trying to figure out where we would go. They put us [into the truck] without our father, five children, they seated everybody into this car. […] My mother did not have any idea where we would go. [She thought] they would bring us to Zarasai. […] While the car just passed [Zarasai] in a blink, they did not even think about stopping and passed Zarasai even at greater speed, so that no one would notice. To carry us away quicker. And they brought us to the Latvian border. They disembarked us there, right behind Zarasai… 50 kilometers behind Zarasai. […] Daugavpils2, yes. So, they disembarked us, while the car had to return and fetch more people. So, there were people from Latvia, and from Estonia there. And there they disembarked us all, but we could not go any further. And they gathered everyone there and wouldn’t let us to Russia. And that car returned to bring others as well, and we never saw the driver nor the car again. […]
So afterwards, we stayed for three days on that border. My mother was crying bitterly and tearing at her hair: she did not know a word in Russian, she could not communicate with anyone there. On the third day, they released the order to let [people go], to let them go on foot. That is, Germans were pushing from behind, there was no way back, Germans pushed us further. So, we had to… Some young people had bicycles or something, while the rest of us walked on foot, with children, with packs, if they managed to grab something, all had to go on foot. Just imagine – all the way to the Russian border! We entered Russia on foot, we walked all the time – on foot and on foot. We walked on foot for a month. […] My mother would even take my little brother by hand and would stray somewhere along the way, hoping to get some milk, or some bread to eat. […]
And so for the entire month. I mean, it was very hard for us – we were children, we wanted to sleep. You want to sleep, you are so tired, and the little legs – how they hurt! While all the clothes, our garments, what was on our feet – everything was torn and worn away. So, we walked barefoot, while the sand was hot. […] It was summer – the very swelter of June. So, we walked slowly. We’d get somewhere, to some place in the woods, where we would have some rest at night. And – hurry up, hurry up! Everyone would outwalk us, we were constantly lagging behind somehow. […] And everyone would urge us, force us – crawl if you wish! The Germans were coming from behind. And so we reached the Bologoye station in Russia. We’d walked for a month. And there were wagons already and they seated us into those wagons and brought further to Russia. One person here, another there, some people to Uzbekistan, to those regions, others – somewhere else. Our train got to Tatarstan. We arrived in Kazan and they disembarked us from the train and then came and took us, transferred us from the train to a steamboat. Then across the Volga – some 200 kilometers from Kazan. 200 kilometers they shipped us from Kazan to the city of Tchistopol. […] When we arrived, the decisions were made where to send us. Some people remained in the city. While our mother considered that we were from Utena, we had always had some garden of our own, we were workers, as they say. Not some kind of intelligentsia. And my mother realized that if we stayed in the city we’d starve to death. That only countryside was good for us, so that we could grow at least some potatoes.
And my mother decided to go to a kolkhoz. They brought us to some kolkhoz, 50 kilometers from that Tchistopol […]. The chief of the kolkhoz received us all very kindly. You see, there were Latvians, Lithuanians… no, there were no Lithuanians there, we, probably, were the only ones from Lithuania, I don’t know. But there were people from Estonia, and from Byelorussia. So that kolkhoz undertook to help us. We’d go to the farm of the kolkhoz, we’d get some milk, and they’d give us other products as well. Then we’d get coupons – rations, as evacuated ones. So, we spent the winter in this way, while in spring the chief offered to those who were not lazy and willing to work, that he would allocate them parcels of land – to plant and grow things for ourselves. Well, my mother agreed and took 13 hundreds3. Near the house where we lived. And houses there were so… In the beginning they gave us a house, the owners of which had been deported (just like here, the Soviet government would deport people, would dispossess kulaks4 and then deport them). So, there were houses in the villages standing empty. If anyone disagreed with the Soviet government or something… People would get deported for any trifle. Just like here, in our country. […]
So was with that house as well: the owner was taken to the army, while his wife was deported. […] They [the Soviets] used to do this – to the locals, to their own people! There was a garden beside that house and in addition, we got 13 hundreds of the kolkhoz land, so we lived like royals during the war. Everything was our own: we had our own potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes… That was what my mother managed to achieve by taking us to the kolkhoz! She wouldn’t stay in the city. While us, children, we went to school. We knew not a single word in Russian! I should have gone to the third grade, yet I had to start from the very beginning, from the first grade. […] Yes, Latvians also did not know [Russian], and Estonians. Somehow we picked it. While the teacher was, he had not been taken to the army due to some illness, and he had taught the German language [earlier]. A teacher of foreign languages. Thanks to him… he helped us letter by letter, a word at a time, and so we mastered [the language] somehow rather quickly. And when you hear the language all around, at school, you start learning from each other. We finished the ABC until the New Year and then it was easier, we soon got the sense of the whole language. So, I learned 4 years there. Though I had to go to the third grade, I started from the first again. […]
Well, and later, after the war… We were looking for our dad during the war. […] We thought that dad had been imprisoned. And later we stopped thinking about it anymore until one woman from Byelorussia started talking that there was some committee, a point of search, where one could find… […] And my mother started searching, she sent inquiries and after about half a year a notice came that our dad was alive and living in the region of Gorky – and the address where he was. And that we should go to him. We wrote a letter and the chief of the kolkhoz got to know that [our dad] was alive. We were overjoyed! While they [in kolkhoz] needed a blacksmith. He said, “We’ve done so much good to you, we’ve accepted you, and now you want to leave! Do something good to us in return: request him to come here!” And my mother agreed, because “what comes around, goes around”. We understood it that way: do some good and some day you will certainly be repaid.
And when dad came to us, he started working in a smithy, and that chief almost carried him in his arms. Yet he did not work for money (we did not need money), but for the products instead. They’d agree on the amount – two poods5 of dark corn (rye), then some wheat, a litre of sunflower seed oil, two litres of milk every day… We’d go to the farm to fetch milk. […] Afterwards, my older brother arrived, and brought the permission [for us to return]. It was 1945, the war was over in May, but it was not yet possible to come here to Lithuania – except with permissions. He obtained the permission (that was in the end of summer, in September). […] And only with that permission he took us with him.
And you came back to Utena, didn’t you? To your home?
We came back to Utena, of course. There was not our house anymore. Where we lived was our grandmother’s house. Mother of my mother’s – my grandmother’s. […]
When did you come to Vilnius?
I personally came in 1953 because there was no work in Utena. […] My brother just came for the holidays and started persuading me to come, telling that they would find some job for me in Vilnius. Well, I could find a job, but no one would accept me without a registration6. Yes, one needed registration. So, I made up my mind not to go not to my brother in Vilnius, but to my sister in Klaipėda instead. Her husband was a director of the factory of plywood and she wrote to me, “Come, you’ll never be sorry for this. Come, everything will be fine.” I’d live with her in her flat in the beginning and then my brother-in-law would put me in a hall of residence, would give me a job. In a word, no problems at all. So, I decided to go to Klaipėda.
There was also a friend who worked in the center of hydrometeorology and she had to go on a business trip to Vilnius. And she started persuading me not to go to Klaipėda via Panevėžys from Utena, but that I should first go to Vilnius with her. She said I could go to Klaipėda from there. And she didn’t know the streets there, she wanted me to show Vilnius to her, to help her find her way. I’d often been to Vilnius – visiting someone, during some holidays, or going to my brother who lived there. So, she persuaded me. Well, all right, I thought to myself, I’d have a walk with her for a couple of days and then – off to Klaipėda. I came home and saw there, the mother of my sister-in-law… She had some friend and she said that the daughter of that friend worked in some HR department in a shoe factory. And they talked between themselves that, look, the lass was going God knows where, not to the Jews, it was not clear who these people were, God forbid, she’d get married to a non-Jew, but who knows to whom… That seemed a terrible thing to her. So, she told to that acquaintance of hers that I was a stupid girl straining towards God knows what. And that one told her, “Look, let her come, workers are needed here – they are opening a second shift in Žvėrynas7, in the factory of children’s footwear “Viktorija”. Aha, they’re recruiting staff.” And together with my sister-in-law they both started on me: that is, where I was going, who knew for what reason, and so on and so forth. “Well,” I thought, “damn you, I’ll go there [to the factory]. If they accept me or not – I don’t care, just leave me alone. If they don’t accept me, that’s fine!”
I went there, found a queue of people there standing, and the factory did not accept workers anymore. They had recruited enough. And they’d only accept some with recommendations – from the Young Communist League or from some organization, from some managing committee, or the like. Aha, and I was a young communist while under the Soviet government! So, I went there, to the suburb where [I was staying], in Kalvarijų Street, to the regional committee of the Young Communist League and said that I had such a request: I needed to get a job, and I needed a recommendation because that was mandatory in order to be accepted. She [the secretary] asked me, “Have you paid your membership fee already?” I said, “What a stupid question, of course I have!” I even had a record book, and we paid those fees. There were no problems, instantly she wrote a recommendation for me and when I took it to the HR department, the woman there just looked at me: I presented a recommendation and an application [for a job]. Yet she said, “Darling, but you have no registration!” And she told me to go to the director, if he admitted me, then it would be fine. She didn’t want to take the responsibility on herself because they were also controlled and supervised from above. While the director was an elderly man, but what a joyful person he was! I gave him the documents, but he didn’t even look at the passport, he didn’t care a fig about that registration, he did not even open the passport. He just looked through the application and said, “We really need young people here, we have to promote amateur artistic activities and we need to have a dance group here in the factory!” So, without looking anywhere he signed [my papers] and settled everything. […]
Three months passed in this way. And that woman from the HR department would keep coming and getting at me… She was worried that there’d be a supervision, and me without a registration. How she would get sacked for this, how she… The director could have overlooked something, but she had to check everything! Because it was her responsibility to have all documents in order.
Why didn’t your brother register you? At his place? He must have lived somewhere.
There was not enough space for me to be registered, the living space was insufficient! Yes, there were things to be done in those days, everything had to be according to the rules. Well, by no means.
Later I was sitting there in the yard, in summer, and there was this neighbor, a Polish woman, she liked me for some reasons. She would always smile at me, and ask me whenever I came, how I was doing, if I was going somewhere or not – in a word, she was a very nice Polish woman. She came by and I said, “You know, Valya, I’ll have to leave you soon because they’ll kick me out of the job as I am not registered!” […] Of course, it was bad to lose job in those days. She suddenly said to me, “What’s the problem? I can register you at my place!” […] Apparently, her cousin worked in the management department for the housing! [laughter] So that’s why I keep saying: believe me, what’s given by the fate, it will happen. She said, “No problem, I’ll register you!” and I asked, “Valya, how will you register me?” But she said, “It’s none of your business!” [laughter] She got a certificate that she was working and that she needed a nannie for her children. So, me as a nannie for the children. Everything was legal! Here, she had a right to register a person who was to look after her children. And everything went well, that’s how I started working and worked since the beginning to the end, in the same place. Yes, in a factory of children’s footwear. I retired from there. I worked two more years after the retirement, I couldn’t tear myself off it [laughter]. It’s not that I lacked something, but the staff was so friendly there, though it was hard work, we had to work in two shifts, and sometimes even during the days-off they’d call us back to the factory. I could retire on due time, but I couldn’t stop somehow. People there would say to me, “Well, so you go home, you wouldn’t work anymore, you’d get old soon, while here with us, we do this and that…” […]
How did you like Vilnius in 1953? How did it appear to you?
Normally, I used to come to visit here before.
So, you knew the city, didn’t you?
Yes, we’d come here often, either for some festival: on the 1st of May or on the October festivities8, or on our Jewish holidays. I used to come, there was no problem!
What about the residents here, how did you communicate, were there any tensions? Among different nationalities? As far as I’ve understood from your story, everyone got along well, didn’t they?
Everyone got along well, yes.
And there were no conflicts with the Polish or Lithuanians, were there?
No, no, no! On the contrary, for me, as I say, it used to be so in our family: my one sister lived in Utena, she got married to a Russian man; the second one, as I say, got acquainted with a guy in Russia, and after the army he came to us as well, and my sister married him. When we still lived in that kolkhoz, my sister made friends with him. So, no, there were no problems, I don’t know [of any]. On the contrary, here, the wife of my younger son is a Lithuanian, they have lived together for more than thirty years. My older grandson married a Lithuanian, they’ve lived for sixteen years. […] And I got married in Vilnius. I came here in 1953, and I got married in 1954.
How did you meet your husband? […] Was he a Jew as well?
Yes, he was from Kėdainiai9. His mother also perished in Kėdainiai, while he, his brother and his sister – the three of them had been ready to leave Kėdainiai with their father [when the war broke out]. They wanted to leave by train. While their mother decided to go and fetch their grandmother (her own mother). And the little sister, 4 years-old, went with her – to fetch the grandmother. Off they went, and the train left, they did not manage to come back in time, so they stayed behind… and perished. In Kėdainiai. While the father got to Uzbekistan with the kids, to Tashkent. They [the Soviets] took the father to the army, while the children were sent to the foster care home. The director of that home took the younger sister, she had no children of her own and she liked the girl, so she adopted her. While my husband and his brother went back later. After the war, somehow they were transferred back here from the foster care home. That’s how he lived. Now, that’s the fate, as I say! If everything was put down, it would amount to a book for sure!
Did you have any thoughts about marrying only a Jew and nobody else?
No, nothing of the kind! No, no. […] And after the war, not at all. Everybody got mixed, here and there. People got married without paying attention to anything, and when children grew up, they mixed again. One cannot understand who they take after anymore.
But in your family, did your children speak Yiddish?
Yiddish? Very little! I talked to my husband in Yiddish. While my husband talked to the children in Russian – to make their accent better, one had to talk like that. They went to a Russian school, and in order not to confuse them, he’d speak with them in Russian. I would argue, but he was used to that language. But I talked to him in Yiddish. The children would understand, but they did not speak. Still, it is a great sin – one must know one’s mother tongue! That’s the first duty. But it did not happen so. The more so that previously Russians would always despise anybody else’s language. Whenever you went out, you had to speak in Russian.
When you moved to Vilnius in 1953, were there many Jews here? Were there any communities, organizations?
No, none. I knew that there was a community, that it existed. But I wouldn’t go there. No, somehow, we were far from all that. We knew the festivals, the Jewish festivals, but we would go not to the community but to the synagogue. Yes, yes, to the synagogue on Pylimo Street. So, people would gather there during festivals, all Jews would go there, if anything. As many of us as there were, so many, you could not pass along Pylimo Street, it would be so crowded – with people on the street, in the yard, everywhere. This was not forbidden. When the government so how many of us there were and what we did, they had no choice. […]
Most probably you remember the time when everyone would go [to Israel]. Did your family have any thoughts of leaving?
I personally wanted to leave. Just […] when it became possible to leave. They gave a deadline for two weeks to leave. Of course, you had to get the permission, but when you had acquired the permission, you had two weeks to get ready. Only two weeks – and you had to manage. If anyone had any business they had to leave everything behind, and there was nobody to leave it for. My sister-in-law was in the hospital then, the wife of the younger brother, there was something with her hand. So, her sister and I would go everywhere to collect things, to buy what was needed. They themselves ordered the boxes. And what could you buy back then? What could you take along – some utensils perhaps, and cutlery-buttery, bed sheets… So her sister and I, thank God, managed to deal with everything. But they gave only two weeks. […]
But you said you wanted to emigrate, to leave Lithuania, didn’t you?
Ah, yes, yes, yes! My brother left with our mother. Mother used to live with me. But she was the first to go with him – so that she could demand the reunion of the family. It was very difficult to get those permissions for leaving, and everything. My mother left so that she had the right to request us, as a family, to join her. Then my younger sister left with her husband. While her husband was a Polish Jew, from Vilnius. My sister left from Vilnius. Later my older brother left with his family, the one that I had stayed with. My mother requested them to come. I say, we were five children. Seven: one sister perished in Zarasai. Then my sister who lived in Utena left. That one also left. And I started saying that I wanted to leave as well, everyone went, and I would go! What’s here for me – to sweat in that factory, I can find such work there as well. Everyone goes, why to stay here. But my husband wouldn’t have it! […]
I wrote a letter to my sister-in-law, and I told her: that’s the situation, he wouldn’t have it, Tanka, what should I do? Maybe I should take the children and go with them. But she replied to me, “Do not do such a stupid thing. Don’t think it will be easy here when you come. You’d come with two small kids; it won’t be so simple.” To sum up, that was her piece of advice: it’s not worth ruining the family for the sake of Israel! You would see when the time comes. It seemed, yes – she was right.
I went to work, and an elderly Polish lady was there. She used to be like a mother to us. […] A clever woman, she wished only good for us. I said to her: this and that, I want to leave, but my sister-in-law sent me such a letter. She said, “Liuba! Spit on that! Just think, you have two boys and there’s a constant war going on there. Where’s the guarantee that they wouldn’t take your children to the army, when they grow up?! People get killed there, where are you sticking your nose? Where are you dragging your children? What, is your husband a drunkard? Does he beat you? Is it so bad for you here? Does your husband abuse you?” So, she said this to me, “Stop! Get it out of your head. When the time comes, your children would grow up, everything settles down, and they’d find their own way.” That’s it. Again, clever words! That’s how I calmed down. I thought: OK, Tanka also wrote this to me, and one must listen to a clever person. Maybe it’s true – the fate settles everything!
 A town in eastern Lithuania.
 A city in Latvia.
 Sotka – a colloquial Russian term to denote 100 square meters.
 The term kulak (Lith. buožė) is a disapproving term that denotes peasants (or farmers in Lithuania) who were richer than others of their class and thus were considered “the enemy of the people” under the Soviet regime.
 Pood – a unit of mass equal to approximately 16 kg.
 Registration to a place of living.
 A historical suburb of Vilnius.
 The two most popular annual festivities in the Soviet times: namely, the 1st of May was an International Workers’ Day, and the 7th of November (or 25th of October according to the old calendar) was the anniversary of the so-called “Great October Socialist Revolution”, i.e., the Bolshevik Coup, which took place in Russia in 1917.
 A town in the middle of Lithuania, before WWII known for his numerous Jewish population.