of the Gulag
Marytė Kontrimaitė was born in Vilkaičiai in Soviet Lithuania in 1947. In 1948, her parents were included on a list of people to be deported. They managed to hide for a year and then in 1949, they were arrested and sent with Marytė to Siberia. She was only two years old. During the journey, a guard in the military escort, seeing her lying motionless, decided she was dead and asked her father to throw her off the train. Her father refused point blank and demanded a doctor’s opinion. The guard found a deported doctor in another wagon, and he saved her.
When they got to the Irkutsk region, they were placed in the village of Bodaybo. The doctor who had saved Marytė on the train was deported to the same place and helped them on a number of occasions when they were ill. They lived in communal huts. Marytė’s father used his skills as a handyman to work for some of the local people. As a result, the family lived more comfortably. Her mother, who had been a primary schoolteacher in Lithuania, set up a free school for the Lithuanian children, teaching them in that language.
In 1956, her parents sent her back on her own to Lithuania. She travelled to Plungė, the market town near her native village, where her aunt, who had been wired, was supposed to meet her on the station platform. There was no one, she started to call out for the police to come and tell her where to go, but a railway employee told her to be much more discreet and took her to her relatives’ house. At the start she was disappointed, because all she knew of Lithuania came from children’s books, and she had imagined a country with flowers everywhere, even in the fir trees.
She attended secondary school then university, and went to work in Yerevan, Armenia, where she settled. She formed some illusions about the regime during the Khrushchev Thaw, but was soon disenchanted, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia put an end to her idealism. Then she came back to work in Lithuania and now lives in Vilnius.
Homesickness and patriotism in Siberia
In Siberia, the Lithuanians would get together and sing “Let us go back to our motherland” and read poems. Marite Kontramaite’s mother often spoke to her daughter of their traditions and legends. The little girl built up an idyllic image of her motherland.
Refusing to join the Party
Marite Kontrimaite’s father refused to join the Party, despite the request of the director of the sovkhoz collective. He recalled his deportation to “justify” the fact that he “did not deserve” to be a member.
Young Pioneer then Komsomol member
In Lithuania, Marite Kontrimaite joined the Young Pioneers during the Khrushchev Thaw and then the Komsomol. Her mother was angry and her father wept. She thought they didn’t realise that now they were really going to control their future.
© Marite Kontrimaite Marite’s mother with her pupils, Vilkaičiai, Lithuania, 1946
© Marite Kontrimaite Marite’s mother in Lithuania, 1927
© Marite Kontrimaite Marite’s mother in Lithuania, 1930ies Marite’s father in Lithuania, around 1935
© Marite Kontrimaite
© Marite Kontrimaite The Kontrimaite family in Bodaybo, Siberia, 1950. (Marite, centre, sitting on her mother’s lap)
© Marite Kontrimaite Marite’s father; first year in Siberia
© Marite Kontrimaite Marite (1st row, 1st from left), her sister Regina (2nd row, 1st from left), in Bodaybo with other Lithuanian children
© Marite Kontrimaite Marite’s father and his work brigade (1st row, 2nd from left), 5 September 1952
© Marite Kontrimaite Marite’s mother
© Marite Kontrimaite A boat in Bodaybo
© Marite Kontrimaite Marite’s father (1st row, centre) in Cheremkhovo, 1958
© Marite Kontrimaite As life got better: the Kontrimaite family in Bodaybo in 1952
© Marite Kontrimaite Before the return
© Marite Kontrimaite Goodbye to the dog, before the return
© Marite Kontrimaite