European Memories

of the Gulag


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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.


Entire interview with Maryte Kontrimaite in original language (Russian)


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.


Rehabilitation and return

Marite Kontrimaite’s father was rehabilitated in 1959, after 10 years of deportation. On his return, he bought back his former house and set up a sawmill and foundry. He was popular in the sovkhoz collective because of his skills.


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.


She kept her silence

She  did not talk about their past: “What would be the point? It was nothing extraordinary.” But in 1987, she spoke out publicly.


Nationalism and fight for independence

The Kontrimaite family on their way to the Seimas (parliament) with an Armenian flag to show that it is not only Lithuanian nationalists that live and fight in Lithuania!