92 results

Rafael Genis

At that time the military unit, located 23 kilometers away from Rietavas, had a vacant position of a mechanic. I went there and was hired right away. My salary was 450 litas per month. I rented a room not far from the military unit. I went home to Rietavas only over the weekend. I gave almost all my salary to Mother. Here I started studying Russian and soon I could speak with my pals fairly fluently. I was a mature and materially independent young guy. I even had a Lithuanian girlfriend, whom I indented to marry in the future.
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In the late June of 1940 the Soviets came to the Baltics [5]. My parents took it calmly and didn't discuss this issue with us. A Russian officer was housed in one of our rooms, but our store was not taken form us. At first, our lives practically didn't change. Our town wasn't affected by repressions and arrests [6] and deportation [7]. Nevertheless, life was getting worse. Many products vanished from the stores. People only bought primary goods because of high prices. I was thinking of how I could help my family.
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We were going towards the Russian border. We were stopped by Lithuanians in Mazeikiai [town in North-West Lithuania, close to the Latvian border]. They had already taken the German side and they were not willing to let us through. Our activists had weapons, they shot a couple of times and the Lithuanians ran away. There was a covering force of Russian Army soldiers [8]. They didn't let any single civilian car, a cart or a pedestrian pass. There were a lot of people. At that time a low-flying German plane started firing at people a couple of times. Many weren't moving. Our car was crushed. The passengers scattered. My sandals were torn so I went barefoot. My feet still remember the hot July asphalt. At that time a military column was passing the border, and I got under the tarpaulin of one of their trucks and went with them. We reached Pskov [town in Western Russia, close to the Latvian border]. I was afraid that they would find me, so I jumped off the truck and sat on the curb.
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There was one truck in our unit. I drove it - I had recently learnt to drive. I drove three members of the party, the commanders. I remembered one of them: Vaikus. In general, I was lucky to be able to drive and was ordered to take the Communists. There was no gas and I could not fill the car up. We went to the district town Telsiai. I was worried about my relatives, but I had neither a chance nor time to go to Rietavas. People weren't permitted to go there any more. Rietavas was closer to the border and the Germans had already occupied my town, besides my passengers were getting nervous and made me hurry. We arrived in Telsiai. I saw a large truck by the building of the district administration, where the leaders of the district, party members were sitting. My passengers joined them. I didn't think long and also jumped in the truck and we headed off.
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My birthday was on 21st June 1941. It was Saturday and my pals from the military unit wanted me to celebrate it with them, so I didn't go home. My pals and the head of the cart fleet Shalin celebrated with me. We drank a bottle of vodka and went dancing to the club. We stayed there until midnight. I went home and fell asleep straight away. At 6am I was awoken by Shalin: 'Get up, the war has started!' I should say that I wasn't surprised. We understood in the military unit that the war was inevitable. There was talk about it. We said that we wouldn't give up a single piece of our land. Shalin sent me over to the garage and ordered us to dismantle the cars for the Fascists not to take them. There were a lot of them and it took us a long time. We dug a huge pit and covered the cars with timber waste as the saw mill was nearby. By that time the town, where the military unit was located, was almost vacated. Some people ran away, others were hiding.
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Margarita Kamiyenovskaya

Then came the day of deportation: 14th June 1941 [see Soviet Deportation of Estonian Civilians] [23]. It was probably the darkest day in the history of Estonia. It didn't just change the fate of the people deported from Estonia, but also the destiny of the remaining Estonian Jews. The list of people to be deported was made beforehand and we found out about that only later. The car with NKVD officers went to people's houses and these people were given half an hour to pack. Then they were taken to the train station, where all arrangements were made for their departure. The men were sent to the Gulag [24] and the women and children were exiled. Politicians, people who disapproved of the Soviet power, rich people, i.e. the owners of real estates, well-off peasants who came to prosperity by working hard, were to be exiled from Estonia. There were cases where people were exiled for no reason.

There was a Jewish family, Olephson, who lived not far from our house. They owned a small store in front of our house. They didn't have any hired employees. They did all the work by themselves to make a living. I remember that one night the NKVD stormed their apartment and took them away. It was dreadful. 10,000 people were exiled, whereas the total population of Estonia was about 1,000,000. There were mostly Estonians among the exiled, but there were also Jews, Russians and Belarusian. Nationality didn't matter. It was ideology that mattered. It can't be compared to the Holocaust, but Stalin's camps weren't much better than Hitler's. Of course, it's clear why Estonians started to hate the Russians after that. The atrocities happening in Estonia during the war, when Estonians murdered Jews, commenced on that very day. Estonians recognized fascists as liberators from Soviet oppression and strove to do anything for the Germans. They chose the lesser of two evils.
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In 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact [20] was signed between the USSR and Germany. Soviet military bases were founded in Estonia [see Estonia in 1939- 1940] [21]. The USSR motivated it by acerbated international environment and the necessity to protect adjacent countries from attack. At that time the Soviet military didn't communicate with the local population. Probably their commanders had forbidden them to do that. We felt the Soviet presence in 1940. At that time the parliament was dissolved and the government resigned due to numerous demonstrations of the workers demanding resignations from the government. A new government held elections and the communist party, which was previously banned, came to power. After that the government addressed a request to the Soviet Union regarding Estonia joining the USSR. This took place on 6th August 1940. Estonia became a Soviet Republic.

Many things changed in our lives. It was the first time when I saw the queues in the grocery stores. My mother, having been in the USSR and having a better picture of Soviet reality, was deterred. She said that we would have to look for a smaller apartment as they would start accommodating new- comers from the USSR. The NKVD office was in front of our house so the dwellers of the houses nearby and in front of it were evicted. My mother found a small apartment for us and we moved in there. People's property was expropriated. Enterprises, and stores were taken over and they called it nationalization. The owner was merely turned out and the management was taken over by the commissar assigned by the Soviet regime [see Political officer] [22]. It was scary. Every day was boding new trouble. There was no resistance as everybody was aware that nothing could be done against the military power of the USSR.
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Henrich Kurizkes

I remember well the events of 1940, before Estonia was annexed to the USSR [19]. The Soviet army openly entered Estonia. They expected no resistance. In towns, the Soviet military installed stages where Soviet ensembles performed dancing and singing. However, they were not allowed to communicate with the locals. The communists, who were working underground in Estonia, organized a rally of workers in Tallinn. This was a time of economic crisis and unemployment in Estonia. Unemployment is always bad for people. One could go to any extreme fearing losing one's job. I remember how my parents feared to receive a notice of dismissal from work each time they went to receive their wages.

My friends and I went to watch the rally. The workers were carrying the slogan 'We want bread and work!' They went to the government headquarters demanding resignation of the government with the President of Estonia at its head. On both sides their rows were demonstratively guarded by Soviet armored cars and tanks. When they came to the government building, carrying posters and chanting slogans, it was announced that the government had resigned. The new government was appointed and shortly afterward the State Duma was dismissed and elections to the Supreme Soviet [20] were conducted. The Estonian army was dismissed. All political parties were forbidden, except for the communist party, which became legal.

Then the new government announced the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic and appealed to the Soviet government with the request to annex Estonia to the USSR. On 6th August 1940 Estonia was annexed to the USSR. The majority of residents had a negative attitude to this fact, but there was too much fear to openly protest.

The Soviet power established in Estonia dropped an iron curtain [21] around Estonia. It actually existed in the USSR from the moment of its appearance. Boats and planes to Finland were canceled. It was not allowed to communicate with relatives living in other countries [22]. However natural it might have been for Soviet residents, we found it strange. Struggle against religion [23] began. Religious classes at schools were canceled and we were not allowed to celebrate religious holidays.

Nationalization of banks and commercial and industrial enterprises began. There were commissars [24] appointed to each enterprise. The commissars, who were from the Soviet military, went to stores and factories, took keys and documents from their owners and dismissed them. There was no reimbursement offered to owners. They were just informed that from then on his or her property belonged to people, and that they needed no assistance in accounting the commodities. Some workers and other employees were allowed to keep their jobs. The result was that some Estonian residents were for and others were against the Soviet power.

My parents had a rather loyal attitude toward the Soviet power. They had no property and had not lost anything. They kept their jobs and were no longer afraid of losing their jobs. They received the same salary for their work while all prices dropped significantly after Soviet power was established. So we could afford a lot more and there were many new food products supplied to stores; for example, concentrated milk in tins, tinned crab meat and Georgian wine. So our life improved with Soviet power. However, my parents were skeptical about the very idea of communism. They thought it was nothing more than utopia, and that the idea would never be implemented.
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Isroel Lempertas

Before departure for Russia, my mother's second sister Anna (it was the name she was called during the soviet times, and her original Jewish name is unknown), who was 2 years younger, worked as a child-minder in the Jewish kindergarten in Mazeikiai. In early 1920s Anna illegitimately ran away from Moscow, USSR with her Jewish husband Kabo. Before Lithuania was annexed to USSR in 1940 [5] mother did not keep in touch with the sisters. Then she began corresponding with them. In autumn 1941, when fascist troops approached Moscow, Anna and her daughter Rina decided to get evacuated and came to us in Kirov oblast. After war Anna and Rina came back to Moscow. Anna died in the 1980s and Rina lives in Moscow now.
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When soviet soldiers came in our town in June 1940 many people welcomed them hoping for a better life. [Editor's note: In reality probably it was rather few people who welcomed the occupying Red Army in Lithuania. This is more than 50 years of Soviet propaganda, that regarded the occupation of the Baltic states as 'Liberation', that makes itself felt at this episode.] There was a train with soviet militaries and couple of tanks. I remember I and other boys rushed there, encircled the soldiers and tried to speak Russian to them, though we hardly knew anything in Russian. Many guys boasted on stars from the fore-and-aft caps the soldiers gave them. First there was a state of all-in-all euphoria. During the first day there was a meeting on the central square. My father took the floor. He welcomed soviet soldiers in his mother tongue-Yiddish. For the first time within many years Yiddish was heard from tribune in Mazeikiai. Then meetings were held almost every week and almost the whole town got together to listen to the speakers. Euphoria gave way to disillusionment. Many products vanished from the stores. Only one sort of bread remained and it was low-grade. There were hardly any manufacture goods, including soap and napkins. Nationalization was commenced. The bank where father was employed, was nationalized, but father kept on working there. People who owned any type of property or hired workers, were arrested and exiled to Siberia [Deportations from the Baltics] [14]. Tulia and his family were exiled and many other. Tulia died in Siberian camp. His wife died in exile, but his daughters managed to come back to their native town in middle 1970s at an adult age. They did not stay in Lithuania long and left for Israel.
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Dina Kuremaa

When the Soviet regime came to power in Estonia, our life changed. Our Jewish lyceum was closed down and remade into a Jewish school with the teaching in Yiddish. All of us became pioneers [10]. At that time I didn't quite understand what it was all about. I did what others did and became a pioneer like others. The new-comers from the Soviet Union were housed in the apartments of other people, but it didn't happen with us, maybe they didn't have time for it.

My father's workshop was nationalized and turned into a cobblers' artel [11]. Father transferred all equipment to the artel and kept on working there. Strange as it may be our family avoided deportation, carried out by the Soviet regime on 14th June 1941 [12]. A lot of people who used to own stores and workshops were exiled to Siberia from Estonia within one day. Men were sent to the Gulag [13], and their families were exiled. Now I wonder how come our family was not touched. Maybe several stages of deportation were planned and the unleashed war was in the way of that process.
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ruth laane

My uncle was a great supporter of the Soviet Union and admired the principles of the Soviet regime: equality, internationalism and fraternity of all people. This was all he heard about from Soviet newspapers and radio programs. He had never been to the USSR and could not have his own opinion. When in 1940 Estonia became Soviet [9], Philip was probably the only one in our family who was happy about it. The rest of the family, my parents and my mother and father's parents believed it to be inevitably evil. There was nothing to be happy about, and it was impossible to help it.

During the War

It goes without saying that Soviet authorities confiscated my grandfather's shop and store. Besides, the bill that my grandfather had signed one day played its role. My grandfather had never seen the factory and was just a stooge, but for Soviet authorities he was a factory and a store owner, a bourgeois and an enemy of the people [10]. Mama told me that people had been arrested before overall deportation [11].

My grandfather had no doubts that this was going to happen to them. He had his belongings packed to avoid the hustle when the time of arrest came. They expected arrest each day. Mama told me they had such a vague idea about what was happening in the Soviet Union or where they were to be taken to that my grandmother did not dry any bread or store any food products to take with them for the road. She made a cake every day, and they ate it, and then grandmother made another cake. It never occurred to them to buy any tinned food.

However, for some reason our family was left alone. Deportation took place on 14th June 1941, when about 10,000 people were deported from Estonia. Whole families, including elderly people, children, handicapped and ill people were deported. Men were sent to the Gulag [12], and women and children were exiled to Siberia. A week after the deportation, on 22nd June 1941 the fascist German armies attacked the Soviet Union.
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Bluma Lepiku

I cannot remember what my parents thought about the Soviet military bases in 1939 [9]. The adults must have discussed this issue, but there was a solid rule in our family: the children were not to be present, when adults were having their discussions. They did not touch upon policy in our presence. Even when we had guests, we had to leave their company at 9 in the evening. Without any reminder we had to stand up, say 'good bye' to everyone politely and depart into our room. This was the rule. Therefore, we never knew what they were discussing.

In summer 1939 we were on vacation in the country, the town of Algvida. There was a railroad nearby, and a train with Soviet navy men arrived there. They were entertaining, sociable and even arranged impromptu concerts for the locals. My mother found them enchanting, and when she discovered Jews among them, she was delighted. My mother spoke fluent Russian and she could easily talk to the Soviet officers. She met a few of them and was very much interested in what they were telling her about life in the Soviet Union. I remember my mother saying to a Soviet officer, 'How come you've never traveled here before?' At that time we did not know yet what the Soviet regime was bringing to Estonia. In 1940 the Soviet rule was established in Estonia [10]. Soviet Armed Forces came to the country. A few months later my mother was saying with horror, 'Why are they here?'

Estonian residents knew about the Soviet Union what they could read in newspapers or hear on the radio. This information stated that the USSR was the country where people were equal, all roads were open to all, healthcare and education were free and all nations lived as one fraternal family. Actually, these were the slogans that we were going to hear every day. In general, Estonians had a friendly attitude towards the Soviet newcomers. I don't know whether they were sincere or just realized that there was nothing they could do about having them in their own country. Anyway, the accession of Estonia to the USSR was undisturbed. The Soviet newcomers were even greeted with flowers.

Oppressions followed soon. They kept arresting politicians and the ones that failed to demonstrate their loyalty to the Soviet regime. The next step was the nationalization. They took away houses, stores and businesses, which became the property of the government. We were happy that Grandmother no longer owned the restaurant. Actually, our family had no other property. My father's 'production tools' were his hands and the violin. Therefore, our family suffered no implications then. Since we had no property we did not belong to the wealthy class of exploiters, according to the understanding of the Soviet authorities. The only change for me personally was that my classmate and I became pioneers [11]. However, this was a mere formality for me and the girls. We hardly knew anything about pioneers.

The population of Tallinn grew all of a sudden. The military were the first to come, and then their families followed. They were initially accommodated in local apartments. This was when we experienced living in shared apartments [12]. Nobody was accommodated in our apartment, though. Perhaps, they would have been, had there been more time. I don't think my parents were concerned about those on-going arrests. They probably believed there was nothing we should have been afraid of: we were decent people, we did not lie and our father was not involved in any politics. At that time my father was playing in the symphony orchestra at the drama theater.
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feiga tregerene

When the Soviet Army [8] came to Lithuania in June 1940 [9] and the Soviet rule was established, my brothers and sister were just happy. Poor people were happy. Shortly after the Soviet rule was established many food products disappeared from stores. Nationalization began: property was taken away from those, who had worked hard to make their living. The wealthiest individuals were relocated to Siberia [10]. My school friend Perez's family was sent to Siberia. After the war people told me that Perez survived, returned to Lithuania after the war and moved to Israel later. I never saw him again. In autumn I went to the new Soviet school organized on the basis of our former Jewish school. The term of education was extended by two years. I was happy to go back to school and see my school friends again. My sister Hanna became an active Komsomol member. Shortly before the Great Patriotic War began she joined the Communist Party. She worked in the passport office in Kaunas. My brothers Fayvel and Falk also became active Komsomol members. Fayvel was seeing a Jewish girl from Birzai and was thinking of marrying her.
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Cilja Laud

In 1940 Estonia became a Soviet republic. Of course, my parents were not happy about it, but what could they do? They had to adapt to the reality. Probably, Father's elder brother Simeon was the only one in our family who welcomed the Soviet regime as he was a hard-boiled communist. The rest of us just abided by that. There were a lot of newcomers from the USSR. They were to settle somewhere. The new regime took the houses from the owners, and strangers were housed in large apartments, where only one family used to be living. Our apartment was also turned into a communal one [11], two or three families moved in there. Then, we found out that it was not the most horrible thing.

On 14th June 1941, 10,000 Estonian citizens were deported from the country [12]. Maybe that number does not seem so big as compared to those repressions that took place on the territory of the Soviet Union [see Great Terror] [13]. It should also be noted that the entire population of Estonia was only about a million at that time.
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