European Memories

of the Gulag


Anatoly Smilingis

Detailed biography of Anatoly Smilingis

Anatoly Smilingis was born on 4 October 1927 in Plungė, Lithuania. His mother was a teacher and his father a headmaster and head of a local nationalist party. After two Soviet soldiers came to serve a warrant on them, the family was deported on 14 June 1941. His father was then separated from the rest of the family. Forever.
At the age of 14, Anatoly was left with his mother and little sister Rita. After a long journey they left the train at Kotlas and continued by river barge to the Komi Republic. A lorry took them to their final destination, “Второй участок (Second section)”, a former camp turned into a “special settlement” village.
His mother found an indoor job in the public baths, while Anatoly worked in the forest as a tree marker, measuring log sizes. At the start they still had food supplies, but by the winter of 1942 things rapidly got worse and famine was widespread. New “contingents” arrived, Poles, Chinese, Iranians, with the result that Anatoly learnt Chinese before Russian. All the deportees stuck together. After his mother was arrested and sent to a camp for stealing a few oat grains, Anatoly began to swell up from hunger and nearly died. He was saved by a bucket of wild berries that someone brought him out of pity.
Barely had he recovered than he went back to work in the forest. In 1943, he moved to Sobino special settlement village, then after the war, he got a job at the Negakeros forestry enterprise [Ust-Lekchim]. He fell ill from typhus following an epidemic transmitted by new deportees from western Ukraine. Thanks to another deportee, a military surgeon Anatoly had helped before, he managed to get a job as a hospital bursar. But all he wanted to do was to return to the forest. He so loved the forest that in the early 1950s he began running excursions for children, mainly the sons of Party members. He took them on hikes to the former camps and death pits, which was forbidden at the time. Anatoly still wonders how these boys could have been entrusted to him when he was still on the register of “special settlers”.
Before he left for Kortkeros, Anatoly went with his sister to that town’s landing stage from where Polish children were sent home. She escaped and made her way back to Lithuania. For two or three years, she lived underground. Later, when the USSR was collapsing, she joined the Lithuanian independence movement, working alongside its major figures. She now lives in Lithuania.
After Stalin’s death, Anatoly exchanged letters with an uncle exiled in the United States, who sent him food parcels, all carefully searched by the NKVD. This was before his release in 1955, the year Anatoly received an official certificate from the Republic of Lithuania announcing his removal from the special registers, and a passport limited to travel within the borders of the Komi Republic. Even later, Anatoly kept putting off his departure. He loved his work; hiking with children had brought him social recognition. He did not want to leave all that for the unknown, although his sister always urged him to return to Lithuania. He did however apply for Lithuanian citizenship: he now enjoys double nationality and receives compensation benefits from Lithuania.
Anatoly now supports memory work and memory tourism, which he has most probably pioneered in this region. He has copious archives and ten years ago he started an annual commemoration on 14 June, the date of the first deportation of Lithuanians, in the former special settlement village of “Second section”, near the cross erected in memory of the deportees. Former special settlers of all origins meet each year to share this time together.
Special settler women rafting timber 1959