of the Gulag
Liberation OF DISPLACED PERSONS FROM LITHUANIA
The liberation of special displaced persons from the Western territories occurred slowly after Stalin’s death. This slowness reflects the authorities’ considerable hesitation and reluctance: deep distrust of groups who might resume insurgent activities; fear of tensions on their return home; reluctance from the regions they had been deported to, which would lose cheap but valuable labour.
In Lithuania, the liberation occurred in two ways:
• Decrees from 1954 to 1965, collectively liberating groups of deportees, corresponding to the decrees that had prompted the deportation: first, a relaxation of the restrictive conditions the deportees were subject to, and then gradual liberation of the various “contingents” of deportee—“families of bandit accomplices”, “families of bandits”, etc. However, many of the people freed were not allowed to return to Lithuania and had to apply individually for permission from the Republic’s authorities.
• Commissions appointed by the Republic’s highest administrative level also processed complaints and other requests from special deportees for liberation, permission to return or the return of their property. Many farming families were liberated in this way, before the collective decrees extended the number. Thousands of letters were sent from before 1953 and continuing into the late 1980s, leading to police inquiries, witness statements from fellow villagers, etc.
Alain Blum and Emilia Koustova
Request from a police officer describing the procedure followed in liberating deportees
On 16 March 1959, an employee of the Ministry of the Interior writes to the First Secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party to dispute his arrest and continued custody. He is accused of corruption because, he says, he is suspected of having had a family of deportees freed in exchange for alcoholic drink, which he firmly denies. To support his claims of good faith, he describes in great detail the way he works, making this document a rare description of the daily work carried out after Stalin’s death to respond to the thousands of requests from deportees to be freed.
Letter from a police officer
To the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania
From [K., Nikolay Fedorovich]
Arrested by the special inspectorate of the MVD of the Lithuanian SSR
Held in Prison no. 1
Member of CPSU since 1932
I worked up to and including December 1958 as an officer in the 1st Special Department of the MVD [Ministry of the Interior] of the Lithuanian SSR [Soviet Socialist Republic], in charge of complaints from and files on families deported from Lithuania.
In December 1958, after 24 years’ service with the law enforcement agencies I was dismissed and on 3 March 1959 arrested and charged under Articles 109 and 117 of the Penal Code of the RSFSR [Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic] for misuse of my official position and bribery. The preliminary inquiry has been carried out since November 1958 by the Special Inspectorate of the MVD of the Lithuanian SSR, which, in search of fictitious accusations and in order to bring me illegally to court, has still not completed its inquiry, as it is still seeking new baseless criminal accusations.
Summary of case
In August 1957 I carried out some of the functions of the former deputy director of the 1st Special Department of the MVD, N., on his oral orders, to examine requests from special settlers and prepare the files on resettled families for re-examination by the Commission of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR, headed by Comrade Preikšas.
Under the Commission’s instructions, the operational staff of the Commission, of which I was a member, were subject to the following rules:
1. Present to the Commission only the files of those special settlers whose application for release had received a negative opinion from the operational staff.
2. Consider as non-contentious the files of those special settlers whose application for release had received a positive opinion from the operational staff; not to present them to the Commission but to include them directly on the previously prepared list enclosed with the Commission’s draft decision. These non-contentious files, which were not to be reported on during the Commission meeting, were those with the following characteristics:
a. The family did not employ any salaried staff, had less than 30 ha of land; there were no convicted persons in the family, or convicted relatives had been living away from the family before their crime.
b. The family did not employ any salaried staff, had less than 20 ha of land (and the same objective facts as above): consider this family to have been deported without justification and include them in the list and the Commission’s draft decision, and to be released from deportation with restitution of property confiscated at the time of deportation.
To accurately determine the social and land-owning status of the family and the day-to-day relations between convicted and unconvicted relatives, we based ourselves on the written statements of the Executive Committee of the district where a given family was living before deportation. Under these instructions from the Commission, their operational staff examined the files of special settlers either following their initial complaints or requests, or subsequent ones if these included new elements presented by the applicants that justified the reasons of a given family.
Those were the instructions from the Commission given to me by N., former deputy director of the 1st Special Department of the MVD, who was on exceptional leave.
In June 1957, one of the Commission’s operational staff (K.), in line with the Commission’s instructions as described above, examined the file concerning the return from deportation of the family of F. A., who, according to the Executive Committee of the district and the regional council, owned 16 ha of arable land, employed no salaried labour and whose farm had not been included in the kulak category. This implied that F. A.’s family had been wrongly deported as kulaks. However, considering that one of the sons had been convicted of collaboration with the German occupiers, after the family’s deportation, K. in examining the file came to the following conclusion: to release this family from deportation on exceptional grounds with no restitution of the confiscated property. The F. A. file was thus included in the Commission’s draft decision, without being examined by the Commission, as a non-contentious file, and the draft was then signed and approved.
In August 1957, the MVD received a second request from one of the deportee F. A.’s sons, enclosing written statements from the Executive Committee of PanevėžysDistrict and the regional council, indicating that F. A.’s convicted son had been called up in 1942 into a German labour battalion by the German occupiers, and had no longer been materially dependent on his family after that time. Other evidence in the file showed that this convicted son had had no further relations with his family from his entry into a German labour battalion, that he lived in Vilnius (and his family in Panevėžys District) and that his collaboration with the German occupiers was not the cause of his family’s deportation and had not been mentioned in the deportation decree in 1948.
In delegation of the functions of N., deputy director of the 1st Special Department on leave at that time, I instructed the Commission employee who had worked in the prosecutor’s office, S., to examine this second request. He examined all the documents in the file again and after consulting me concluded that F. A.’s family were not kulaks, that the convicted son had been living apart from his family since 1942 and that consequently the family had been wrongly deported. The family was therefore to be released from deportation as wrongful deportees and their confiscated property returned. Only the convicted son, who after completing his sentence had joined his family in deportation, was to be released with no restitution of property.
I agreed entirely with S.’s conclusions and recommended he should terminate the A. file, giving as reasons that the family was to be released from deportation as wrongful deportees and the property returned that had been confiscated at the time of the deportation, and that the convicted son was to be released with no restitution of property, and S. did this.
The file for release from deportation with restitution of confiscated property for the A. family was included a second time in the Commission’s draft decision, with the conclusion that made it a non-contentious file not to be examined by the Commission. It was approved and signed.
F. A.’s family returned from deportation and the property confiscated when they were deported was returned to them.
In October 1958, just over a year after F. A.’s family’s return from deportation, the 1st Special Department of the MVD, suspecting that this family had been wrongly released, carried out a special further investigation into their social position by questioning witnesses from the family’s place of residence in Panevėžys District. It was then discovered that the A. family had had a nanny before their deportation, who, after bringing up the family’s young children, had continued to work for the family as a farmhand (batrak) in the fields, evidence of the family’s kulak status.
This investigation also showed that all the written statements from the Executive Committee in Panevėžys District, dated 1957, signed by the chairman of the District Executive Committee, and the written statements from the regional council
were on the basis of which the A. family file had been examined in June and August 1957, were inaccurate. Their statements omitted the family’s use of salaried labour and thus their kulak status.
On the basis of the special investigation report, the A. family file was presented to the Commission, which issued its written decision: to invalidate the August decision to return the confiscated property to F. A.’s family as an inappropriate decision, and to open an inquiry.
Since then, the inquiry is still continuing at this time, I was arrested on 3 March this year and am under investigation. I am accused of corruption, because in delegation of N.’s function as deputy director of the 1st Special Department of the MVD, who was then on leave, I inserted into the Commission’s draft decision the file on the A. release from deportation with restitution of confiscated property.
But did not staff member S. come to these conclusions, like me, on the basis of an analysis of the file and in line with the Commission’s instructions, basing ourselves on the official written statements signed by the chairman of the Panevėžys District Executive Committee himself and other documents that fully justified us in considering that the A. family, not being kulaks and separated from their convicted son, had been wrongly deported in 1948? Could S. and I really have known or guessed that these official written statements were inaccurate, when S. and I trusted these official statements as we had those written statements from Executive Committees in hundreds and thousands of files? The A. file was for that reason considered non-contentious and since no doubt arose was included in the Commission’s draft decision.
I ask myself why I should bear the responsibility for this case and not the Panevėžys District Executive Committee whose written statements were the main evidence for F. A.’s family’s release from deportation with restitution of confiscated property.
I am accused of not having informed the Commission about the A. family file, and of having directly included it in the Commission’s draft decision on the basis of S.’s conclusions. But, under the Commission’s instructions, a file of this sort, for which the operating staff had given an opinion in favour of release from deportation with or without restitution of property, was not to be brought before the Commission, like all the thousands of similar files that have been included in the Commission’s decisions with no concrete evidence, under the Commission’s technical instructions valid at that time. Consequently, to accuse me of this is poorly thought out and totally baseless. Neither S., who suggested the conclusion to the A. file, nor I ever thought that this non-contentious file that aroused no doubts should be presented to the Commission.
I am accused of having included in the Commission draft the release from deportation of the A. family as wrongly deported after being treated to alcoholic drinks by an acquaintance of mine, close to that family, Citizen B., amounting to an interested motive.
This baseless accusation invented by I don’t know who is totally devoid of reality. I have known Citizen B. since 1950, as a former member of the security authorities. I have drunk with him more than once, almost every year. But not one of these drinking occasions had any connection with the release of the A. family from deportation and I have not received any remuneration from him in favour of that family. On the contrary, B. sometimes drank at my expense, having no money himself. For example, in December 1957, he borrowed 50 roubles from me to drink, a sum he has still not repaid.
All the other accusations of bribery levelled against me are purely imaginary and baseless. They have been brought by some person to cover the Panevėžys District Executive Committee, who gave inaccurate written statements concerning the family of special settler A., and to falsely accuse me of having wrongly released this family from deportation as wrongly deported.
Since the special MVD inspectorate investigating my case has still not understood the instructions of the Commission of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR valid in 1957, concerning the review of deportee files and the actual reasons behind the release of the A. family as wrongly deported, they are collecting a whole pile of unverified or false evidence to falsely accuse me and thus obtain from the public prosecutor support for my arrest.
I was arrested and have now been in prison for two weeks, although I do not understand and have no feeling of fault about all the things I am reproached for. I am nearly 49, with 35 years of my adult life given to my motherland, first as a workman — plumber, mechanical engineer, machine builder in a defence industry enterprise in Moscow, then posts of responsibility in the USSR NKVD central apparatus with the troops — head of a counter-espionage corps, specially seconded as deputy director of one of the largest shipbuilding factories, and other functions. I have always fulfilled my obligations, for which I have been awarded with nine decorations and medals, which were illegally taken from me on my arrest.
As a member of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] since 1932, I have always been guided by the interests of the Communist Party and our Soviet government throughout my career, in civilian life, at the front in the Great Patriotic War, where I served from Moscow to the fall of Berlin and the Reichstag. I have always believed in my duty of service to the Motherland and, whatever my daily concerns and moods, I have never been involved in the commission of any crime.
My arrest, based on the illegal release from deportation of the A. family, is an act of gross violence and a violation of Socialist legality that is not compliant with the standards of the legislation on criminal procedure.
After a concussion to my forehead, I have suffered from severe nervous exhaustion and my imprisonment has considerably worsened my condition; I can no longer stand this act of violence against me. I no longer have the strength to prove my innocence to the inquiry, which is collecting all sorts of imaginary and mendacious evidence in the attempt to accuse me of crimes I have not committed.
I request you to intervene in my favour and to take measures to ensure that an objective inquiry is held, and to release me from this provisional custody, which isolates me from society in a precipitate and illegal manner.
16 3 1959
City of Vilnius
Prison N° 1
(Manuscript letter of 12 pages)
Source: Lithuanian Special Archives, f. 1771, ap. 205, d. 23, ff. 99-103
Collective liberation — decrees concerning Lithuania
Collective liberation was carried out by decrees that corresponded to the special settlement decrees: they concerned some or all the categories listed in the latter, with some exceptions according to territory of origin (deportees from Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, for example, were omitted from the first decree relaxing deportation conditions). Below the main decrees concerning special settlers from Lithuania.
USSR Council of Ministers decree “On lifting certain restrictions on legal status of special settlers”
Cancellation of USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium decree of 26/11/1948 (“On criminal responsibility in case of escaping”)
Children of special settlers (up to 16 years old, if studying)
On lifting certain restrictions on special settlers (except family members of Anders’ Army soldiers, bandit accomplices and kulaks, displaced from Lithuania, Ukraine, … between 1945 and 1952)
On lifting special settlement restrictions on former kulaks and other categories.
Removal of special settlement status from participants in the Great Patriotic War, teachers, lone invalids, etc.
Removal of special settlement status from Germans and their family members, displaced during the Great Patriotic War
Removal of special settlement status from family members of people removed from that status in previous decrees
Exiles assigned to special settlements after serving sentences for particularly serious crimes against the State, if their family is not assigned to special settlements
People leaving for repatriation to Poland
Removing special settler status from Party members and candidates, and their family members
“Measures for the intensification of mass political agitation among special settlers”
“On amnesty for Soviet citizens who collaborated with the occupiers during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945
USSR Council of Ministers decree no. 1963-1052-c “Concerning the removal of certain categories of special settlers from the special settlement register”
Lithuanian SSR Supreme Soviet Presidium decree “On banning former leaders of Lithuanian bourgeois governments and bourgeois political parties, active members of Lithuanian nationalist underground organizations, leaders of anti-Soviet organizations, convicts and discharged convicts, from returning to the Lithuanian SSR”
“On lifting restrictions on persons elected to town councils, etc.”
“On lifting restrictions on national underground accomplices and their family members”
“On lifting restrictions on former kulaks and their family members”
“On lifting restrictions on family members of former landowners, industrialists, etc.”
Without the right of return to the place they were deported from
Former soldiers of Anders’ Army and their family members
Family members of leaders and members of nationalist underground and nationalist gangs, displaced from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia; former shopkeepers, landowners, industrialists, members of bourgeois governments (without the right of return to the place they were deported from)
Former members of the nationalist underground and nationalist armed gangs, sentenced for crimes committed before they were 18 years old, with the right of return to the place they were living before they were displaced
Leaders and members of nationalist underground and armed gangs
Former members of underground nationalist organizations (sentenced by decree of the Special Commission of NKVD/NKGB/MGB/MVD of the USSR)
“Jehovah’s Witnesses”, “True Orthodox Christians”, “Reformed Adventists”, “Inochentists”, and their family members
Sources: Selected decrees and the summary in LYA, f. V-135, op. 7, d. 549, ll. 3-5. The English translation is based partly on Pavel Polian, Against Their Will: The History and Geography of Forced Migrations in the USSR, CEU Press, Budapest, 2004, pp. 335-372
Release — a Russian dictates the application
Domas Laurinskas was the first of his family to be released, in 1958, after submitting an application that he wrote out himself in Russian, but dictated by a Russian he knew well. The other was willing to dictate it, but not to write it, for fear of being identified.
A tragic fate
In 1954, Iossif Lipman submitted a long petition to be released from deportation, where he had been sent in March 1949, like so many other Lithuanians in Operation Priboi (Coastal Surf). Before the war, he had been a butcher’s assistant and was probably considered as having escaped deportation in June 1941, when small shopkeepers and artisans were sent away. His letter of complaint, however, is that of a man and his family who, less than 5 years after their liberation from the horrors of German occupation, were deported to Siberia. Iossif Lipman, a Jew from Kaunas, was one of the few survivors of that city’s ghetto, and his letter tells of his tragic fate as he went from ghetto to Siberian exile. The tragic fate of an entire family, because his sons were arrested just after the War (not mentioned in the letter), one for having tried to escape to Poland, as many Soviet Jews did, and the other for knowing of this attempt and not reporting it, and not least for preserving documents concerning the ghetto, which caused the NKVD to accuse him of Zionism.
The accompanying photo shows a number of survivors, including Iossif L. and his wife, just after the liberation of the ghetto, standing in front of the bunker where he had hidden (in the basement of a building in the ghetto).
(see Alain Blum and Emilia Koustova. « L’effacement d’une expérience » [An experience erased], in Emilia Koustova (ed.), Combattre, survivre, témoigner: Expériences soviétiques de la Seconde Guerre mondiale [Fighting, surviving, bearing witness: Soviet experiences of the Second World War], Strasbourg, Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2020, pp. 273-308).
Petition from Iossif Lipman, dated Krasnoyarsk, 27 July 1954
To the Minister of the Interior of the USSR, Com[rade] Kruglov
Cc: Head of Directorate, Ministry of the Interior, Vilnius
From Cit[izen] Lipman Iossif Naumovich, 84 Lebedev Street, Appt. 1, Krasnoyarsk
I, Iossif N. Lipman, was born in Kaunas in 1889 and lived there continuously until 1945. Since my childhood, I have specialized in meat, and so I worked from 1920 to 1940 as a manual operator in the Kaunas meat factory.
During the occupation of Lithuania by the German invaders, my family and I were obliged to survive all the horrors of German persecution; on a number of occasions, we were close to dying, and our survival is simply a miracle. We only stayed alive thanks to my two sons who during these years were in contact with the Forward detachment of partisans (headed by Com[rade] Ziman, known as ‘Jurgis’). Unbeknownst to the Germans, they managed to build a safe shelter where we hid during almost the entire occupation, and stayed underground and didn’t go out during the four months before the final defeat of the Germans.
It was only the arrival of the Red Army in Lithuania that saved us; a detachment of sappers dug us out because the Germans, before leaving, had blown up the house above us. That was in July 1944.
When I came out of the shelter, I learnt that all my relatives had been killed, my sisters, my brothers, other relatives, and friends. I could no longer live in Kaunas, nor did I want to, a city full of memories of what happened to us. So I moved with my family to Vilnius.
There I immediately joined the October C ooperative as a butcher, and I worked there until 1948. In 1948, I joined the district cooperative, also as a butcher. I worked there until the unhappy days of March 1949.
In March 1949, I was told, unfairly and unexpectedly, to resettle in Krasnoyarsk.
Throughout my long, hardworking life, I have never owned a house or a shop, and so I was offended by this turn of events just as I was getting old. Wherever I have worked, I have always done the work honestly and conscientiously because it is not in my habit to relate to work any other way.
My eldest son, Lipman Ruben [Ruvim] Iossifovich, born in 1907, was resettled with me because, not being married at that time, he was living with me. Five months later, when we were already in Krasnoyarsk region, we learnt of the sudden death of my wife, who had not stood up to this new shock.
From 1949 to 1951, my son and I worked in the village of Solgon, Uzhur district. Because of our honest work, in 1951 we were sent to exercise our special skills at the Uzhur meat factory, where I received many rewards and bonuses for my work.
In February–March this year, my son, who was living with me, fell seriously ill. Because of the seriousness of his illness, a brain tumour, he was sent to Krasnoyarsk for treatment and stayed in hospital for more than a month; then because there were no brain surgeons in that city, he was sent to Novosibirsk to be operated on. He died during the operation. That was on 12 June 1954.
After this second misfortune for my family, my other children (my younger son and my two daughters) came to stay temporarily with me in Krasnoyarsk so as not to leave me alone, because I have stopped working and depend on my children.
My younger son Lipman Efim [Chaim] Iossifovich, born in 1913, worked as a chief drainage foreman on the building of the Volga–Don Canal until the end of the mission; he received many rewards and bonuses for his excellent supervision of the work, some personally from the Chief of Construction, General Shiktorov, the Minister of the Interior, Com[rade] Kruglov, and his deputy, Com[rade] Serov; you can easily confirm this .
My children only came to Siberia on my account and will have to return home; I hereby request, therefore, that you re-examine my situation and remove the restrictions to which I am subject, for I have no sense of guilt; all our family, to the contrary, has always sympathized with the Soviet government.
I request that you allow me to return freely to my homeland so that I can live as a free man in the few years I have left, and that I no longer bear the burden of being a man with restricted rights, a burden I find intolerable. I request that you authorize me to live where my children live and be able to visit the grave of my late wife.
27 July 1954, [signed] Lipman
Typed letter with handwritten signature of the author, LCVA, R-754 collection, inv. 13, d. 512, pp. 164-165.