Memory Office: L. Stirbienė

I am Laima Kedytė-Stirbienė. I was born in Šiauliai on the 26th of December 1932, on Christmas day. My father Juozas Kedys is from Suvalkija region, born in a large family in Ąžuolų Būda. He was the creator of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, member-volunteer of the Lithuanian Nationalist Union and the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union, and he also worked in the military intelligence. He was very demanding, and always required us to follow order. He told us to study and read a lot. Even though he has not completed any studies, he also taught his youngest sister Ieva at the same time. Before the war, she worked as a maid in a Jewish household next to the current Kaunas Fire Station. From them, she learned to cook various fancy Jewish dishes. We have saved those recipes to this day; my daughter wrote them down in a blue book. For example, cakes from matzo flour. For the occasion of her grand-niece’s wedding, aunt Ieva baked 6 cakes. I remember Ieva was very pedantic, organised and strict. She was always dressed well and looking dignified.  When we already lived in Kaunas, she taught us many things: that you can stir the dough only in one direction, a raisin should be cut into eight pieces and a plum into 16...

My mother Magdalena Budrytė-Kedienė was a teacher, from a peasant family with little land. Her father was a carpenter. He made wooden clogs, spoons, toys, and in 1910–1911, he left for America to earn some money. He promised to send a ship card – a permit for the entire family to come to him in America. We have been talking about this ship card for my entire youth. But it remained a promise. He disappeared and never wrote another letter. My grandmother and her two daughters opened a tea house in Salantai, baked baronkos, made tea. People from a nearby market came to drink that tea. All three of them were working: one cooked, another kneaded and the third one baked. They tried to survive.

We were a simple family of intelligents. We did not have any land or property. My fathers, myself and my older sister Milda did not live in one place: we moved wherever my father need to be: to Telšiai, Baltakiai, Kėdainiai. As a teacher, my mother used to get a place to live next to the school. I remember those houses were very lovely, with paintings, good dishes and toys. March 19 was the name-day of my father – St. Joseph's day. It was the most memorable and major celebration of our family. We used to go to church every time. Aunts and friends with children used to come... It was very fun. Even though I remember my childhood very foggily.
It was good, fun and then the Russians came, as we then called them. Suddenly, our neighbors started disappearing. My friend Edita, we used to play dolls with her. Where was Edita? I even remember the name. She was gone... Deported... Parents started talking, whispering, fearing, looking through the windows. They used to list the names of neighbors: these ones were gone, these ones have been deported...

On 16 June 1941, they stormed into our home in Pužai village. There were several Russian officers and a couple of Lithuanian civilians. They started shouting at us to prepare and dress quickly. They were shouting: you have one hour to take your belongings, whatever you want, whatever you have. My father was speaking something with them in Russian. My mother was collecting things while crying. My sister and I, we stood side by side shivering and crying. I did not even take my favorite doll. Neighbors came. They told us: bring warmer clothes. They brought their own furs, some grain in bags. Parents took as much as they could, how much they could take in their hands. After an hour had passed, they told us to go outside. A truck in the yard brought us to Tauragė train station. It was a large, very long echelon. Wagon doors opened and we were told to get inside. There were people everywhere, all crammed: old and young, babies and a pregnant woman. Then the guards came and told all the men to go out. My father obeyed. My sister and I, we jumped after him and we all hugged. This was the last time I saw my father. I have never seen him afterwards.
The train was completely full, only with pallets to lay down and a small window with bars very high above. Dark. It was possible only to sit. Moving towards Russia, one woman gave birth to a dead baby girl. Passing a forest, the guards ordered to through the dead body away through the door. This was what they did. Threw away a dead body of a little baby girl... We traveled for a very long time. When we passed Moscow, the guards told us that the war had started. So, we started speaking that maybe we are going to be released, while others said that we would probably be killed. These conversations affected us very much. We were shaking and crying. There were no toilets. Only one hole in the wagon. They were shouting to us: “Do your business in the forest, not in settlements.” Russia is so vast, full of forests. We traveled to the East on and on... The train used to sometimes stop in some settlements. The guards used to open the door and shout at us: “Kipetok!” meaning that we can go out and bring water. We, the children, were allowed to go out and have some fresh air. There were taps. We used to bring churns and poured water into them... No one tried to run away. We were afraid: they used to stand with guns, look at us and shout: “Faster! Faster! Get inside!” Eventually we did not have anything to eat, and they gradually started giving us some food.
Only at the end of June we reached Kotlas, a city next to what is now the Komi Republic. We were brought to Vychegda, a large river wider than Nemunas. We collected our things and went from the train to barges already waiting for us. Others continued to travel by train, while we sailed. Then they started letting people out in certain stops. My mother did not want to disembark in those places, she still stayed. Eventually, they made us leave. We ended up close to Syktyvkar, the capital of Komi Republic. There we were seated in a truck and brought to the territory of a brick factory. There were these large, old, and what it seemed, wooden, barracks. We went to one of them. There were either beds made of still raw wood or metal beds. Several families in one room. We ended up with Vilkas family. I keep in touch with them to this day. And other people. All with children.
Autumn came soon, and we were assigned to works. My sister was a fourteen-year-old. Tall and strong. She was assigned to work in the forest. Chop and trim trees. My mother was assigned to the brick factory. No one had anything: proper clothes, skills or language. We, children, stayed in the barracks. The most terrible year started. Winter came, temperature was minus thirty-five or forty-five degrees of Celsius. There was a stove in the room. We brought raw wood from the nearby forest. There were lots of smoke, they burned poorly. The ice on the windows was so thick. Snow on the windows mixed with those smokes and it became completely dark inside. And nothing could get warm...
Rats felt that there was life and attacked us. So did bugs and cockroaches... Diseases and deaths started in the very first winter. Mrs. Vilkienė was the first to go; she was a mother of three children. Then this landowner Mrs. Monstavičienė. Her son died before. The only one to survive was her daughter Lidija, and my mother started taking care of her. She lives in Kaunas today.
Bread ration for a working person was 300 g, while children got 150 g. We used to receive some soup made from cabbage leaves. Completely without salt. Sometimes we got some millet porridge. Those where some better days. My mother and sister started swelling from this kind of food. Their teeth fell out and their gums started bleeding... But food in the canteen belonged only for those who were working. Later adults understood that something must be done. They started selling things to local Komi people. Clothes, rings and other belongings they took from home. I don't know how the locals got oats, but I remember them very well. Those pure, wholesome oat grains. We roasted them and crushed in some wooden dishes. They smelled so nice. We were waiting for them to cook...
In spring, nettles, goose-feet and plantains started sprouting. We ran to look for them, because everyone collected herbs: not only the deportees, but the locals as well. Later we found berries and mushrooms in the forests. We used to walk 20-25 kilometers. Right now, I cannot imagine how we managed... This was how we sustained ourselves. My mother, sister and I, we all survived.
Gradually Lithuanians started gathering together. While angry, irritated and sick, they were all together. They used to come from other rooms, poke their head and ask: “Have you had some fire? Maybe we will come by.” And then those endless conversations: “How did you live, how did you eat, what did you cook?” And all the children used to moan: “When will our mother stop speaking about food? What did they cook and eat in Lithuania...” It was so hard for us to listen to these conversations... We were constantly hungry. We anticipated the holidays. We knew the dates anyway. Before Christmas, we agreed not to eat bread for the entire month, save it to have a loaf for the holiday. We hung it very high for rats not to reach. We protected that bread, so God forbid, they would not attack it. And we smelled it. All children used to sigh laying in their beds: “Mother, oh how nice it smells... Oh Mother, when the Christmas come...” When it finally arrived, all the family sat together in the room. Next to the Christmas tree decorated with rags. And then we took out the bread. My mother used to take the first slice and break it into pieces and share it as a Christmas wafer. And we ate it wishing something for one another. For the war to stop soon, to seeing Lithuania ever again. How we would come back, what we were going to find. Would there be any of our things or relatives remaining. The bread was horrible. Black, sticky... But then it was so delicious for us.
The years went by, maybe after the war, people started running away from there, somewhere around 1947–1948. I don't know how, but some way, this Lithuanian brought us and our mother back to Lithuania. To Šiauliai, my mother's sister, aunt Stasė. I went to school. But I attended it only for a year and a half. Soon the relatives started talking that we were being followed and that we would soon be arrested. This happened for most of the people. They were brought back through prisons. So, we returned on our own.
In 1950, I started working at an office, where I drew something, later as a waiter at a restaurant “Sever”: I could not do anything quick enough there! Another Lithuanian from the deportees working in the buffet encouraged me: “You ought to go to study, kid.” I started attending an evening school, completed seven classes and that was enough to get into the technikum. Later I completed accounting studies with the red diploma. One Jewish teacher advised me to go study to the trade-economy university in Lviv (Ukraine). Even though I did not have a passport, I left and studied there with his help. I was the only Lithuanian in that institute. When I graduated and since I was a Lithuanian, I was assigned to Lithuania, even though other friends were sent across the Union to very horrible places.

Lithuania, to which I came back, was the Soviet one. But it was Lithuania nonetheless...
I remember very well, the self-immolation of Kalanta. We worked in front of that place, in the Management Office of Trade Organizations. It was forbidden to go that day anywhere, but we went to Laisvės Alėja anyway. It was full of people and policemen... They were bringing a boy, maybe a seventeen-year-old, one of those who rebelled and shouted “Kalanta!” My colleague and I, we grabbed this boy and told him: “Where are you going? Did we allow you to leave the house?” Even though he was a complete stranger for us. “Oh, you are going to regret the consequences of your actions. Who did let you go here? Go with us right now.” And policemen let us go. We brought this shivering scared boy into a bedding store. We knew that its manager was a nice lady. We asked her to shelter him...

In Kaunas, the place I love the most is Panemunė. My daughters grew up here, this is where their friends are. We walked across this pinewood that we later referred to as a tiny forest. It was full of wild strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and our nooks. Later grandchildren appeared. I tried to bring them to the Zoo, a museum, but they only wanted to go to the little forest.

After the recovery of independence, there was an article in Respublika daily about my father: how he organized a rebellion in the lager and rallied everyone. There was plenty of names there, and they were all sentenced for that. He fought there too, did not run away. Even back there, Lithuania was dear to him.

Now it seems to me that my life was quite nice. Even though sometimes I think that maybe we had to run away; we got time for that. How did Smetona run away? And other people? But my parents were great patriots... On the other hand, my sister was very talented. How beautifully she sang on the stage... “Milda Spoi, Milda Spoi” (line in Russian). Poor girl, after such a hard labor... Used to sing in her golden voice... She could have achieved something. But nothing came out of it.

Date of the interview: 20-09-2018