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of the Gulag

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Antanas Panavas’s survival strategy and philosophy

“…everywhere, everywhere in life, I say, there are paradoxes… If you find yourself in a difficult situation… it seems they’ve thrown you into an abyss… Afterwards, it depends, whether you try to get out or don’t try. There were situations… getting out by force… it depends…

They say it’s very important for a man to know what he is capable of doing and what he can’t do. Know what you are capable of doing so as to continue doing it, and what you can’t do and had better not start because it’ll come to nothing.

As it was for us in 1951-1953, it seemed we’d turned into kolkhoz workers and nothing else, they would say to us, “We brought you here for ever, you can’t do anything, stay as kolkhoz workers and that’s it, adopt our customs and live”. But the Lithuanians still kept visiting each other for Lent, Easter and Christmas, they dressed the same, sang hymns and remembered their families… Later, it opened up a bit after 1953. If you wanted, you could lift yourself up a little out of that quagmire.

When people saw that you were making an effort to get out of it, they would give you a bit of support. But you had to know… as they used to say then, “Know your limits. Don’t get out too soon, because the guillotine may still get you…” They said there was an invisible guillotine walking around… so that you would know your place and not move too far from it… Those were the rules of life…”