Lithuania – a country of blue lakes, green fields, and impassable forests. For long centuries these poet chanted and its rulers praised forests were giving shelter and defending its people from grievous dangers. In a small 14th century town called Birstonas, now known as the royal resort for its spa centres, we meet the protagonist of our story – Elena Gecioniene.
“At the time I was living in a village located nearby – on the other side of the river. My mother Veronika and father Mykolas were farmers. Besides me, there were six other children in the family. Three older sisters, two younger sisters and a younger brother, so I was in the middle.” – begins to tell her story Elena and takes us to the 50s Lithuania – one of the most painful periods of the country.
To set the background to the story, in 1940 Lithuania was occupied by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ruled by Joseph Stalin. In 1941 the armed forces of Nazi Germany stepped in and took the land to itself. In 1944 soldiers of the red army drove Germans out and once again, Lithuania fell under the repression of the Soviet Union. The aim of Russians was to Russify the citizens and eventually make it a part of the huge empire. It became compulsory to learn Russian language and to praise the great leader Stalin. All of the Lithuanian symbols, including the flag, got banned, the Lithuanian history and their heroes became forbidden to speak about as well. Anyone, who would proudly show off their Lithuanian patriotism would be called a public enemy and be sorely punished, with words of all – banished to Siberia or one of the gulag camps. To find out about such enemies, the government established The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs also known as NKVD.
“When the Russians came, my father became a partisan.” – proudly declares Elena. “One day I and my siblings came back from school and saw father packing a bag. Later, we all sat at the table for the dinner, it was the moment when father announced about leaving to the forests, to fight for the freedom of our homeland.” Everyone at that table was in shock, describes the woman, no one had any clue about this decision of the head of their family. “He told us to tell everyone that he left the family and we don’t know where to find him. It was for our own safety.” Everyone cried themselves to sleep that night. Going to fight for resistance was almost the same as a death sentence. “When we woke up next morning, the father was gone. It was one of the saddest moments of my life.” – she adds.
From that moment none of the kids had a chance to see or speak to their beloved father ever again. Only on some occasions the mother would go out somewhere to those dark forests always bringing a basket filled with the best food they could have as well as the necessities such as warm clothes. As much as children would beg the mother, she would never give a positive answer to the question whether they can meet their father.
Weeks and months passed, life with only their mother was getting harder and harder, so “my two oldest sisters, who had just graduated from the school, decided not to seek to get a higher education and start to work to help support the family. Then the winter came, we had a fire in our barn, till this day no-one knows what caused the fire.” – tells Elena describing the hard times. Then the spring came, as the heavy winter snow was melting, the grass was getting green again and flowers were starting to bloom. By the end of March, it started to seem that the better days are finally coming. However, that was not the case at all.
“One afternoon I and all of my siblings were all at home. We were cleaning the house when my mother ran inside and slammed the door. All of her clothes were dirty and she was crying as if she has just seen something indescribably terrible. After a moment she invited my oldest sisters – Monika and Dana – and told something to them. They looked shocked. Then the rest of us were told to grab all that was precious to us and as much food as we could.” After approximately an hour all of them left the house and ran into our cache. Before the Russians even marched into the country, Mykolas Gecionis build a small bunker under a hill located at the very end of their backyard. As our protagonist describes it was just a small door outside covered with moss, so it was almost invisible. Inside it was like in a basement – cold, damp and dark. There was some conserved food left there in case of emergency, so they were not starving. “My mother told us by no means not to leave the hiding-place. She said that we were in a danger. After a couple of hours when she got calmer, she told everyone what happened. It was the worst that we could hear…”
Apparently, the mother went to visit the father, however, she had no chance to really talk to him. On the way to their meeting spot, she heard obtuse sighs. As she found where they were coming from, she found, the father. He was laying in a pit. He was shot. He was not really conscious anymore. Veronika Gecioniene witnessed her husband to take his last breath that time. She did not know what actually happened, but she decided that it will be safer to take her kids out of the house for some time in case the NKVD agents ar their collaborants would show up.
“I think that we spent around two days in that place hiding, although I can not be too sure how long has it passed because it looked like an eternity for me as a child. All I had was my family, my plush doll and a tragedy on my mind.” – tells Elena. “After that time mother left and came back in 20 minutes. She said that it was safe to go out now. We went back home and saw more horror. Everything was turned into a huge mess. Everything from drawers and wardrobes was toppled down. There were shatters from dishes and other ceramics as well as a kitchen window on the floor. Each of us packed some clothes and some of our belongings and went to the yard. I took a long look at the house. Then we went to the bus stop and left the village.”
The family went to stay with the sister of their mothers until they would get back on their feet. They never saw their home again. It was too dangerous to come back at the time in case they would be really related to the ‘crimes’ of their father. They gained their land back after the country regained independence in the 90s, but by that time it was just a field.
“We left our lives fleeting like some criminals when actually we were not. Our father was a hero and even though the resistance forces were captured eventually, they gave its hope that one day we will beat the Soviets and be free again.”- says Elena. “And yes, losing my father was the biggest tragedy, however, he did what he had to do – he fought for all of us – and I will be forever thankful for that.”