Stasė B. (born 1942) came to Vilnius as a child with her mother, brother and sister from a village in Ukmergė region in 1952 (when her father died in the end of the war). Finished school in Vilnius, graduated from the Vilnius University. Profession: mathematician. Nationality: Lithuanian. (Interview carried out in Lithuanian by J. Jonutytė ir M. Lukošienė. Transcribed by M. Lukošienė and R. Racėnaitė. Translated to English by A. Gedžiūtė. Translation edited by L. Būgienė).
I moved [to Vilnius] together with my mother. We [were] three children, and I was the oldest one. I do not know precisely when; my mother moved around 1950, yet I reckon, I [came to Vilnius] in 1952, probably, because my brother and I were ill and stayed in the hospital for quite some time […].
And how old were you then? A schoolgirl already?
Well, yes, I suppose I was in the fifth grade. […]
And in which region was your village?
It was in Ukmergė region. I finished the fifth grade there and afterwards I went to Salomėja Nėris School [in Vilnius]. Well, what can I say? Vilnius looked very grim then. Where Salomėja Nėris School stands now, the entire Vokiečių Street was destroyed, there were only ruins. […] Ruins were still there [when we moved]. When I started going to school, there was still a convent behind the St. Catherine Church, so in the building of the convent [the school was established]. Afterwards, they cleaned the ruins and built the present school. Well, the school was also smaller, now they’ve erected that mighty building at the front.
And do you know why your mother decided to move to Vilnius? What was the story of your family?
They shot my father in 1944 because he was a rifleman. So, my mother still lived [in the village] until kolkhozes were established. When kolkhozes appeared, you know, as a woman, how many workdays they’d put down for her. […] After a year, she said, she [only got some] grain – not even a sack, but [a handful] on the very bottom of the sack. “How am I to raise my three children, how can I feed them?!” And her youngest sister worked here in Vilnius already. And she started coaxing her, she said, to come here, and stay together with her. My aunt rented a flat in a basement near the present Presidential Palace, and my mother [came to live] together with her there. Some disabled person let this flat and later sold it to them. He sold the flat to them, but nobody would officially acknowledge it yet. They had a lot of trouble with this. And my mother had three little children, I was the oldest. So how old was I in 1952 – around eleven, when I moved here. Others were younger, my youngest brother was born in 1945. Well, afterwards they somehow registered [the ownership of the flat].
And why was there a problem registering the ownership?
It was so on purpose. On purpose. Indeed, I do not know whether he [the former owner] had owned it legally or if he just occupied [that flat] in the basement [without a leave from the authorities]. But there was a flat, one room and a small kitchen adjoined to it. However, the kitchen did not have a single window – it was completely dark. And nothing else. […] So, my mother later started working in the verdure trust. Afterwards, she found some job in the dispensary of skin and venereal diseases, and finally she got a place as a worker in the dairy enterprise. And then everything was fine, the dairy enterprise was building a house in Žvėrynas and we got a flat there. We ourselves had to work at [the construction of] it. I was a student already, I can’t recollect –whether in my first year or in the second, but I used to go and work on the construction site.
And what did you study?
And when you went to Salomėja Nėris School in your sixth grade, what were your impressions as a child about the city?
Well, I was fine, you know, children get used [to things] very quickly. I can only say that very few Lithuanians were here. Very few Lithuanians. In our yard, maybe there was one [more] family of Lithuanians, but in general there were mostly Russians, Polish, Jews, and so on.
So you had to learn all those languages somehow, didn’t you?
Children learn very quickly, though when we came from the countryside, we knew neither Russian nor any foreign language. And I had much trouble with the English language because in the fifth grade, it seems to me, a mathematician taught us English. So, when I came, it was very difficult, I had hard time struggling with the English language. I also had to learn Latin for one year, but then they abolished this, and I didn’t have to anymore.
So the old education program was still in force?
Yes, the old program. But then they abolished it. And ours was a gymnasium for girls only, when we started going there, just for the girls. But probably [when I was] in the ninth or tenth grade, they joined it with the gymnasium for the boys, like two halves. Then everything changed.
When you moved from the city center to Žvėrynas you were already a student. So, did you spend your whole childhood in the Old Town of Vilnius?
Still in my freshman year I used to go to my lectures from that basement.
So you spent your whole childhood, youth and the teenage years in that basement, you grew up there. There must have been gangs of children, various occupations, games… Could you remember, what did you do?
Where there is now the L. Stuoka-Gucevičius Square, there was no monument then, just a small square. So we used to play there when we were little. We used to make those so-called secrets. And now children remember, they [also] make them. […]
Did children fight with each other because of their different nationalities? Or did everybody get along well?
No, we did not get into fights. There was a conflict with one boy once, so later his parents came to my mother to have it out because my sister and brother called him a bandit. So, the parents were really upset. I do not remember how the conflict started, but he thrust a small jack-knife at them. He missed and did not hurt them, but those two did not hesitate to say, “You’re a bandit!” And this was a mighty offence to his parents. So, they came to my mother to have it out –how it could be so. Well, they had to learn how it all started and that the boy provoked it himself.
Were there many neighbors around? Did your mother associate a lot with her neighbors?
My mother did not have much time for associating. She had to raise three children, she worked without vacations, without days-off, she used to take the job on holidays so that she would earn more money and would be able to [take good care of us]. […]
Did you ever starve? Did you feel any shortages, or that something was lacking?
We never starved, thanks to my mother, she tried really hard; maybe she would not eat enough herself, but we never starved. At least we had enough of bread and butter. There, when we lived in the village that used to be our main snack: you’d rush in, grab some bread, spread butter on it or put some salt on the bread, and rush out again.
And was your house [standing] in a village or was it more like a [separate] farmstead?
It was more like a farmstead. It must have been some half a kilometer from the village.
So, everything must have changed when you moved from a farmstead to the center of the city. Were you afraid, maybe, or did you long for the countryside?
No, I wasn’t afraid.
Did you get used to the city easily? It didn’t appear too big, did it?
Well, no, we did not go anywhere too far, there was no huge transport in those days. So here, [we mostly stayed] in one place. We also used to go to the Hill of Crosses to pick up sorrel in spring. When the fresh grass grew, we’d go there and pick it. […] Here in our square [currently, L. Stuoka-Gucevičius Square] champignons used to grow, but since we were from such a region [from the countryside] so we only used to watch how old people would come and peck at something, peck with a stick and pull those things out. Then they would explain to us that these were champignons. What else I remember from those days? It used to be a huge event, when children would run shouting, “Trisku prodajut, trisku prodajut!” This meant that smoked cod was on sale. That was a delicacy, and everyone would rush like crazy to buy that cod and eat it. It was very delicious.
Where did they sell it? Was it in the shop, or just somewhere?
In the shop. Though usually there was not much to buy in the shop. For instance, to get some flour, I used to stand in a queue for the whole night, the whole family would stand together in that queue –to get more flour. Bread was only very rough in the beginning, later some better varieties appeared, they started baking that “Borodino” bread. And afterwards, when they started baking that Lithuanian bread […] it was very delicious! […] It tasted like the home-baked bread in the country. Delicious, but I cannot remember what it was called. Such huge loaves! It was very delicious indeed; though, to tell the truth, that “Borodino” bread was also good. Yet, it was too little of it in the beginning. We were used to tasty bread baked by my mother while in the countryside, so it was very unpalatable, but when you get hungry, it’s OK, as everything is delicious then.
Did you miss the countryside? There used to be much more space there, right?
I missed it very much, and my mother tried to arrange for me to go and stay with my relatives in the countryside during summer.
So not all of your relatives left, someone stayed, didn’t they?
My mother’s sister stayed in the country, yet in another place already. And my cousin stayed, but her parents… You see, the neighbors killed her father during the German times. According to my mother and my aunt, he must have been somewhat of a bully. […] And so they got drunk, went out and beat him to death. And my mother’s sister later suffered a very tragic death, it was sometime around 1950. There was a combine harvester or a threshing machine, and they slowed it down. And she was passing crops to that thresher, and as she was climbing she slipped, fell inside and the machine tore away her whole leg and the hip. And so she died. And my cousin remained [an orphan]: she was maybe twelve, maybe thirteen years of age. […]
And how about Vilnius, you said there were some ruins still there?
As I said, when we moved in, the whole place was completely in ruins. […] Where Salomėja Nėris [the present school is located], you don’t know, probably, in Vokiečių Street, there were only ruins there, and from the present Salomėja Nėris School, from the St. Catherine Church [all the way] up to the Town Hall – only terrible ruins there. We did not go there much, my mother used to warn us, “Do not meddle there lest something should happen.”
Was it dangerous there?
Maybe it wasn’t really dangerous, but she was afraid lest [something] should happen. And afterwards they started cleaning those ruins and building the whole [new] house – a long one, throughout the whole Vokiečių Street, and left some trees in the middle. A street on the one side and on the other. In the beginning there was only one street there, but they did not rebuilt all the ruins, only that street they made here and the whole house. And also they built [a new building for the] Salomėja Nėris School. […]
You told us that you had lived in the basement for some time when you were a student and afterwards, when your mother got a job in the dairy enterprise you moved to a flat, didn’t you? And you had to contribute to the construction, right?
All employees of the dairy enterprise had to work [at the construction]. My mother herself worked, so we also went there.
To do what?
Well, to carry various bricks, to pass things… It was assistance work, kind of it. A small house that was, comprised of only twelve flats. […]
Were you happy about the house when you moved in?
Well, it was very difficult in the beginning, because here [in the basement] our flat was heated by the stove, and it was rather damp, while there [the flat had] central heating. The air was very dry there, not that it was too hot, but very dry, and that was very unusual until we got accustomed. In general, it was fun. Central heating was not common then, not in the whole [city], only in our house. […] There was a stoker to heat [our house] and sometimes he fell asleep or got lazy and then it got cooler, or [over]heated. It could happen both ways. […] But in general, it was fine. Water also, at first, came only through one pump in the kitchen, such a heated one, and afterwards they connected the water-supply system to the city [facilities]. […]
And when you lived in the basement, there was no hot water, was it?
There was nothing. Only cold water, no toilet (toilet was only in the yard), no showers, nothing. One had to go to the bathhouse.
Did you go to the bathhouse? How many bathhouses were there around?
The one on Tiltas Street was the closest for us. Then, when my mother started working in the dairy enterprise, we used to go there to wash ourselves. There were showers there.
How often did you go to the bathhouse – once a week?
No, probably more rarely, must have been more rarely. Maybe every other week, I can’t recall for sure now.
Did it cost anything to go to the bathhouse?
It cost something, but I don’t remember this for certain. However, Vilnius was, now that I think, it would be unrecognizable [now]. There had been fields behind the “Tėvynė” cinema, and now look, how it spread. Where polyclinics of Antakalnis [is now], there were fields behind it as well. Nothing was there. Now when you look, wherever you’d go, there is no ending of Vilnius. […] They started building Žirmūnai around the same time as my mother’s house was built – around 1960 maybe. They built that house of ours and then started building others. Ours was of brickwork, while in Žirmūnai they started building houses of blocks. Blockhouses have almost fallen down [now already]. Unless they were renovated, they look terrible.
Did you go on foot or by some transport while in the city?
Mainly we used to go on foot, they introduced trolleybuses rather late. The first [trolleybus] line, I think, commuted to Antakalnis. Afterwards, to Žvėrynas. In Žvėrynas, where our house stood, on the edge of the neighborhood, there was a final roundabout for trolleybuses. Now they go further. Why, when they introduced trolleybuses, then we’d use them, [when going] to the lectures or just so, to the town.
So at that time Žvėrynas was on the edge of the city, wasn’t it?
The very edge of it. Žvėrynas was made of wooden huts, there were no big houses; it was an outskirt, yes. […]
What did you read?
Whatever I could find [in the library]. The Teachers’ House was nearby, up on Liejyklos Street. […] And there was a library, I used to borrow books from there, it was not far to take them. But then they moved the Teachers’ House to a new place, to a large building, while there, very small [buildings] only stood. Why, whenever any election occurred, they used to show films for free so we all used to go there. [That] was an agitation, though what kind of election it was, when you think about it – a parody! And yet, they used to agitate. Concerts also used to take place. […]
Tell me please, was it difficult for you to enter university because your father was shot?
We were really afraid of this, really. But luckily, our dad was not included in any of those lists. Then [Soviet soldiers] shot many of them – they were organizing to go to the wood. And my father, he was a rifleman, as they say, and a neighbor reported on him.
A neighbor? From your village?
A neighbor from our village. He did not live near us, a bit further, but he must have spotted something and reported on. And many were shot then, well, the whole group who were going to the woods as partisans. And afterwards they found that poor neighbor [dead] under some bush. Someone must have taken care of him. My mother was truly scared, she did not want to go to the funeral, she was really afraid afterwards.
So she did not go, probably, did she?
She did, she did. Everyone was terribly afraid, they tried not to participate in those elections and to avoid joining the kolkhoz – by all means they tried. People used to hide during the meeting, or run away, yet afterwards they [the Soviet authorities] just took a census of each and every one, whether you wished [to join] or not. […] When the deportation campaigns started, I remember how we used to run and hide in summer because it was dangerous. We’d come to school and [learn] that somebody had been deported. Some kids would suddenly go missing – [that meant they were] deported.
So you were afraid, weren’t you?
My mother was really afraid as our father was shot; [she was scared sick] until she got to know that she was not included [in the lists of the ones to be deported]. Later my aunt went to work in the office of the district, and she told us that there were no indications that our father had been listed anywhere. Yet another trouble occurred when we came here [to Vilnius]. It was really pestering that the chief officer of the police in Ukmergė was also V. – the same surname as my father’s. My brother became friends with some Russian boy, and his father said, “Antanas is not a bad boy, but his father though…” “No,” he said, “my father was absolutely not [a policeman], he had a different name.” […] They shot my father at night, the soldiers came and surrounded the house. And there was a stream running nearby full of alder trees, so my father rushed through the window and ran – he tried to reach that stream. Then he saw that soldiers were coming up also from the stream, so he rushed in another direction, along the fields, and there they shot him. And my mother told that they said, “Sobake sobachaja smert.” And we couldn’t say anything to them [to the soldiers], we could not claw at their eyes, we had to keep calm. My father was a tailor; he had never done any harm to anybody. […]
Do you remember that time when, at one moment around 1956 – you had to live [in Vilnius] – when the majority of the Polish people left? Maybe your friends too; there must have been some around?
One of my classmates left. I do not even know, we did not think she was a Polish girl, but perhaps her parents or one of them must have been Polish. […] She had hard times here: she had to wear very strong glasses and they could only be ordered in Poland. There were none such here. I remember, during some physical training class someone involuntarily hit her and broke her glasses. She cried terribly. I thought at first, what a big deal, why to cry so hard. But then she said, “No one will repair them here.” She must have seen nothing without those glasses. So maybe she glued them somehow and tried to wear them until her relatives, probably, ordered them from Poland and brought her [new ones]. […]
And how do you remember Vilnius from your childhood? Did you have to speak Lithuanian more often, or Russian?
Russian, Russian was more frequent. As I say, there was only one Lithuanian family in the same house as ours. So mainly everywhere, yes, [we had to communicate] in Russian. I say, I’d never say that “cod was on sale”, but only “trisku prodajut”. And so all of us would rush to buy that cod. […]
Do you remember your childhood period in Vilnius in bright coloring?
Well, yes – as a child. My mother was working, trying really hard, it must have been very difficult for her. Only later when we talked about it, I realized what a hard life she had. She used to say nevertheless, that she was happy because none of her children turned off the track, all [three of us] studied, all graduated, all worked. […]
How long did your mother live?
She died at the age of 92.
And she lived in Vilnius all the time, didn’t she?
She did, in Vilnius all the time ever since.
Did your mother miss her native village?
I think perhaps not, because after her sister had fallen into that threshing machine, she said she could no longer set foot there [in the village]. She said, “Whenever I go, I see either Astutė or Antanas, my husband.”
So the village bore only these associations to her?