European Memories

of the Gulag


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Iser Šliomovičius was born in Kaunas in 1937. His father was a businessman and had founded his own metal trading business, employing two young apprentices. Iser was 4 years old when, in June 1941, NKVD officers came to their home, ordered them to pack up their things and follow them. At the station, they were separated from their father, who was sentenced to 5 years’ forced labour for “exploitation of other people’s labour”. The journey lasted two months. When they arrived at Sovkhoz 51 near the town of Kamen in Altai region, his mother was allocated farm work. He and his twin brother spent their days in the hut. The winters were long and freezing and they didn’t have warm enough clothes and shoes.

In December 1945, his father was released from his labour camp near the Urals and joined them in the Altai. But after five years’ logging in the forest, he was not fit for work. In 1953, when the time came to choose higher education, Iser’s stigma as a “special deportee” would count against him: he would have liked to study literature, but he could only register at the Tomsk engineering institute, where he graduated in 1958. He did not return to Kaunas until 1963. There he got a job making photocopiers and made a career of it, but he still says, “What ruined me is that they wouldn’t let me study what I wanted... They ruined my life and now I regret all the time that passed”.                     






Going to school as a deportee

“We lived opposite the school, but the problem was that in winter we had nothing to go out in the street in. It was cold and we had no warm clothing. We were not allowed to go out in the street. We could only go out into the yard ten minutes a day. From the yard to the street there was a little hidden alleyway. When anyone went along it, you couldn’t see them, because the snow came above their head, and that is why they were afraid to let us go there, because if we slipped and fell, they couldn’t have found us. So we stayed inside. When my brother and I had to go to school, my mother would wrap us in a blanket and take us across one at a time. To go to school we had to go up the street and when there was a lot of snow it was very difficult. Once my sister, who was 14, tried but didn’t manage it. My mother was very strong and she would take us. After New Year, we were at last able to buy some clothes.”


Food shortages in Tomsk


Deportee and student in Tomsk

“In Siberia, no one knew that I was an ‘expellee’, no one at the Institute knew, I didn’t tell anyone, I told them all that I was an ‘evacuee’... My best friend Lavrov, for example, hated kulaks [peasants deported in the 1930s], for him they were the most dangerous enemies. That’s why I never said anything. No one knew, even in the factory. I was even invited to join the Party!”


The legacy of deportation

“What ruined me is that they wouldn’t let me study what I wanted. I had to buckle down to technology, which never interested me, although I was a manager for years. I would have been talented in a creative job. They ruined my life and now I regret all the time that passed and I have so much left to read.”