European Memories

of the Gulag

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Antanas Panava recalls his daily life on the kolkhoz

 

“I was a student and suddenly, two weeks later, I was already working on a kolkhoz. And they said, ‘You’re going to work here, shifting the straw, etc.’ Since I knew about land work, I thought there was nothing for it, we would do it if we had to, and that’s how we lived. Out there we met some Lithuanians who had been taken there earlier. They had given a particularly good image of Lithuanians, the Russians knew that the people being brought were not enemies, bandits and so on as the authorities had said. The people there said, “We know you people already”. The good thing for us was that they offered us somewhere to stay at the outset, because the local Russians were leaving the kolkhoz for towns, but they were afraid of leaving their houses to just anyone, it was difficult. So they wanted to find reliable people who would look after the houses, and wouldn’t burn the fences or break the windows. They wanted to live somewhere else and said that they were leaving the place for a while. 1951, 1952 and 1953 were hard years, because they paid very little for the work. We were short of bread… bread was essential. Potatoes, people had, they planted them themselves, but getting food was hard. But there was nothing for it, people got used to it. We worked in the fields from very early in the morning. In the spring, we sowed, then there was hay-making, then harvesting until the snow fell.”