European Memories

of the Gulag

BioGraphie

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Antanas  SEIKALIS

 

Antanas Seikalis was born in 1933, the son of a cobbler in a town in the north-east of Lithuania. He and his brother actively supported the Lithuanian resistance fighters, the so-called “Brothers of the Forest”, who continued to fight against the Red Army long after the end of the war. In 1950, Antanas was denounced and arrested along with his brother. After tough interrogations he was sentenced to ten years of forced labour, which he served in several Gulag camps, ending up in the Steplag, Kazakhstan. Here he learnt that his brother had died in the prisoner revolt at Kengir camp in the summer of 1954.

After Stalin’s death, Antanas was granted amnesty and returned to Lithuania. But as a known nationalist he found it difficult to fit back in with his former home. It was only in 1990, when the regime collapsed, that Antanas started his “real life”.

While going through his file in the KGB archives in Vilnius, he discovered that the person who denounced him all those years ago was his girlfriend at the time.

“She felt a gun in my pocket as we were kissing, and that’s how the state police found out about it and that’s how my life was destroyed. She was so pretty, we were so in love... It’s so sad.”

 

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Eliminating spies in the camps

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The various nationalities in the camps

“The biggest group was the Ukrainians, then the Russians; sometimes it was the Lithuanians who came second. Then there were the Belarusians, former prisoners of war, Frenchmen, who nearly all died, Germans, Japanese, and so on. There were even Indians, Americans, Brits, Turks and also Jews. So many nationalities in fact that I had to make a list. There were a lot of Jews, celebrities, including all sorts of specialists.

I must say I was in one camp for political prisoners where people didn’t fight each other. You know, in that camp, if I had lost three or four kilos of gold, whoever found them would have returned them to me. Daily life was not so hard, except for morale.”

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About eliminating spies in the camps

"There were some cases, rare cases naturally, but there were some. It was mainly in 1950-51 that we began killing the informers in the camps. An informer could only be killed by someone of his own nationality. If there was a Ukrainian informing the camp authorities about me, it was not for me to kill him. I would go and see the Ukrainians and the Ukrainians would decide on his fate. They would warn him once, then twice, and if that was not enough, he was done for, but we weren’t allowed to execute him ourselves.

I was often transferred from one camp to another; in Mordovia there was a transfer camp where we were brought from a large number of camps; there were cases of personal revenge because people did not know each other. That was in 1951-52. I know, for example, that a doctor was killed at that time, a Russian doctor, but no one knew who killed him. He was practically killed in front of me. I think he hadn’t agreed to sign someone off work. So he wasn’t killed for political reasons but out of personal revenge, if you like. At the same time, I can tell you there were more crimes in the outside world than inside the world of the camps."

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In the camp the day Stalin died

“The day of Stalin’s funeral, we were not taken out to work. They brought us all together on the central square in the camp and at noon on the dot they ordered us to take off our hats. The weather was still cold.

And among us there were some Poles. They were hidden by other prisoners. They took off their hats and started throwing them into the air.

But they didn’t know there was a KGB captain watching everyone from the watchtower. He saw what happened but didn’t know who had done it.

For a long time no one was punished, but a fortnight later they interrogated us one by one. No one told on the Poles. Anyway we had a good laugh when they started to throw their hats into the air to celebrate the event. I’ll always remember Stalin’s funeral. In the end, these are good memories.”

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Life in exile

Since Lithuania’s independence, Antanas Seikalis has spent much of his time collecting documents and photos about the Kengir uprising in the Steplag in Kazakhstan. On the first day of the uprising in May 1954, when the guards over-reacted and fired on the prisoners, his brother Pavilas was killed.

Antanas has taken part in a number of conferences on prisoners’ resistance in the Gulag, has visited the sites of the uprising and, with others, has managed to get a cross erected in memory of the victims.

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Difficulties on returning home

“I suffered a lot before I managed to fit in.
I had no propiska, the residence permit you had to have then, and without that you couldn’t live. For a whole year I lived in lavatories. They weren’t working as lavatories, of course. But I had my folding bed and table. And I even had to pay rent for the lavatories. I was sent from one job to another, I would work for two months, or one month, and when the KGB found out, they ordered that I should be sacked. The most important thing was that I should not work with young people; they said ‘sack that misfit!’”