European Memories

of the Gulag


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Antanas Petrikonis was born in 1928 in the village of Mociškėnai in southern Lithuania. His family was of peasant origin, poor and very patriotic. After the war, when the Soviets returned, Antanas joined the armed resistance, first helping them and then, in 1948, fighting under the codename “Laivas [ship]”. In 1951, he was arrested in the bunker built near the house where he was born, and sentenced to 25 years’ forced labour. After spending time in various prisons, he was transferred to Kengir camp in the Steplag in Kazakhstan, where he joined the Lithuanian underground. He took part in the uprising in the summer of 1954. After the uprising, he was transferred to the Berlag in Kolyma and then to the Ozerlag in the Irkutsk region. In 1956, his case was reviewed and his sentence halved. In 1960, after another case review, he was released but not allowed to return to Lithuania. He returned anyway and through the incompetence of a young civil servant managed to acquire residence in his native village.

After his marriage, despite huge difficulties, he gained a residence permit for Kaunas, where his wife lived. He still lives there.

He often thinks about his country’s fate: “Lithuania lost too much blood after the war. If those 26,000 men who died in the forests – most of them young, men of ideas, patriots – had had children, the face of Lithuania today would be different. But they did defend Lithuania’s honour.”


Armed resistance in Lithuania

1. Especially in the later years, the fight was really hard... Everyone had lost hope. All their energy, all their ideas were stifled... Lithuania had bled too much, as they say, much too much... Those of us who were left were ready to die, we didn’t even believe ourselves that we would managed to change anything. The times were hard. I remember that when we were marching in 1945, it was something else completely. Everywhere you went, everyone invited you in, respected you, loved you. But later, people got fed up. Not that they were actually fed up, but they began to be afraid. Almost all of us were eliminated, only a few were left. When you went to someone’s house, they didn’t want you to stay. In the later years the fight was particularly difficult. You could say that these great difficulties began after 1949. Until 1947, the Russians did not set up any ambushes, we were masters once night fell. But later they set up huge ambushes and clearing operations, there would be tens of thousands of them surrounding the forest, setting fires all over and then searching the forest inch by inch. Later, we separated into larger groups. In 1945, the groups had 20-30 men. Later, it was just to keep the armed resistance alive. Morale fell, each of us realised that even if we weren’t beaten, the fight was lost. I survived by a miracle, I had seven bullets in me altogether, passing through my clothes and... 

2. Sometimes I think about it and I say to myself that Lithuania bled too much in the post-war years. If they were now all alive, those 26,000 who died in the forests, most of them young men, they would have started families. Most, perhaps 80%, were men of conviction, patriots. They would now have families and the face of Lithuania today would be completely different. But we saved Lithuania’s honour.


The Kengir uprising put down


“That morning, 26 June, I think I was in the women’s area, Hut 5. Suddenly we heard a loud noise, the sound of tanks, gunfire, blanks obviously. When a tank fired, the cloth wadding went up in the air. They were loaded with wadding, what mattered was the noise. They drove past at top speed, without looking to see if there were any men, with their tracks covered in blood. There was a Latvian woman, they drove over her and afterwards there were only strips of clothing left, no woman. They put us in huts and surrounded them. I was in a hut with a Ukrainian man, soldiers all around. I looked at the soldiers, they were in front of us, the hut door was open. The man put his head out to look, the other asked him how many they were. He put his head out and bang, right in his head, he fell down. He only had one year’s camp to do. We took him and laid him on wooden slats. He just gurgled, that’s all, he died. I say, a good thing it wasn’t my head. That’s what a man’s fate can be sometimes.”