The Catholic Witness
of Nijole Sadunaite
Trans, by Rev. Casimir Pugevicius
and Marian Skabeikis
( c )Trinity Communications 1987
"Goodness and kindness pursue me
every day of my life." (Ps. 23:6)
T a b l e of C o n t e n t s
This is a contemporary, Catholic, counterpart to the Diary of Anne Frank. It is the fragmentary story—in her own words —of a very courageous and deeply spiritual woman who at this very moment dares to stand up to tyranny and falsehood, and is willing to pay the price.
The author, Nijole Sadunaite (pronounced knee-YOH-leh suh-DOOH-night-eh), was a year old when Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 to divide Europe between the Communists and the Nazis, bringing on World War II. One of the pawns in the act was Lithuania, a modern democracy about the size of West Virginia, across the Baltic Sea from Sweden, whose population of some 3 million was 85% Roman Catholic. In 1987, Lithuania celebrates 600 years as the last European nation to accept Christianity—the "youngest daughter of the Church".
Nijole was two years old when Lithuania was absorbed by the union of Soviet Socialist Republics. She was three when some 38,000 Lithuanian leaders, intellectuals and peasants were packed into cattle-cars by the Russians on June 14-15, 1941, and deported to a living death in Siberia, the beginning of mass deportations over the next decade, in which one out of every ten Lithuanians were sent to Siberia.
Nijole's earliest memories are associated with the Nazi occupation of her country, 1941-1945, the return of the Russians, and a decade during which Lithuanian partisans courageously resisted the Red Army, waiting in vain for help from the West.
From the first, every effort was made by the Communists to destroy the Church and if possible to uproot the religious faith of the Lithuanian people. Nijole began her formal education in a school system intent on instilling atheism in the children.
The leaders of the Lithuanian hierarchy were killed or imprisoned. Half the churches were destroyed, closed or desecrated; half of the clergy were killed, imprisoned or exiled; all religious orders, church institutions, publications and organizations were suppressed. Those who continued to practice religion became second-class citizens.
The terror continued after Stalin's death. Bishop Vincentas Sladkevicius was exiled from his diocese in 1959, and Bishop Julijonas Steponavicius in 1961. The newly built Church of Mary Queen of Peace in Klaipeda was confiscated and converted into a concert hall in 1961, and the clergy who built it were imprisoned. By the time Nijole was a young woman, national and Church resistance to the Soviets in Lithuania appeared broken.
Then, during the 60's, a spiritual renewal gradually manifested itself, leading to the appearance of the clandestine Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, and a score of other Lithuanian samizdat ("self-published" material, without government approval).
Since then, there have been scores of petitions, signed by hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians, who brave harassment by the KGB and worse to demand their rights under Soviet and international law. There have been other signs, too, of stiff religious resistance to the imposition of atheism on a population with deeply Catholic roots, including the Lithuanian version of the Solidarity movement (although there seems to be no formal connection with that Polish phenomenon).
Nijole Sadunaite has been a leader in the contemporary revitalization of Catholicism in Soviet-Occupied Lithuania. This is her story, in her own words, which she entitled How I Became a Target of the KGB.
Dr. Thomas Bird
Professor of Slavic Studies and Political Science
Queens College of the
City University of New York
Publisher's Note: This book has been edited into a unified whole from separate manuscripts smuggled out of Lithuania over a period of years and translated under the auspices of Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid in New York. To provide detailed information about the nature of the manuscripts and the manner of their arrival would only jeopardize those who have risked much to make their publication possible.
As I close these reminiscences, the struggle for truth in Lithuania continues. On December 9, 1986, raids took place in Vilnius, in a search of religious literature. They confiscated many books of a religious nature (bags of them), and typewriters. One man about forty years old, named Gediminas —I don't remember his surname—was arrested. He was accused of reproducing religious literature. Then, in early 1987, the authorities began to increase the jamming of foreign radio broadcasts— religious programs, Vatican Radio, even the broadcast of Mass...
In view of our continuing struggle, my account has been written very hastily, and I beg the reader to forgive me for my mistakes and handwriting. The style can be edited and abridged where necessary, but I would like to close with a spiritual reflection.
I often repeat the words of my confirmation patroness,
Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus:
I want nothing except what You want, O my Love,
and as you want it,
And let that which is mine because You give it
be Thine because I return it,
You gave me this, now take it back
that I may use it as pleases Thee.
Oh lead me as you will and know,
for You are truly Love!
The Sacrament of Confirmation was conferred on me, June 10, 1945, by the Lithuanian martyr-bishop Vincentas Borisevicius. Thirty years later, to the day, they put me on trial. I believe that the intercession of the martyr-bishop, Vincentas, protected me and protects me still. How fortunate we are that they saints and martyrs constantly pray for us, so that even the weakest easily bear up under all trials.
I thank all those who have supported me and continue to support me by their prayers. Let us pray for everyone, but especially those who lack love, who do not know God, for they are our most unfortunate brothers and sisters.
Let us all be grateful and rejoice that Lithuania, during the jubilee year (1983) of the redemption, was given two new martyrs, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and Father Sigitas Tamkevicius. These spiritual giants, powerful beacons of Christ's teaching for many years, giving unstintingly of their strength, provided light and warmth for thousands of Lithuanians, and now they will light and warm millions throughout the world.
To suffer for Christ is a special sign of election. I would
like to end with this hymn of thanks:
You are God: We praise You;
You are the Lord: We acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships You.
To you, all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, Holy, Holy
Lord God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory!
in the Gulag
In August of 1974, Nijole Sadunaite was arrested by the KGB in Lithuania for the "crime" of helping to circulate the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithunaia—an underground journal which records the heroism of the Church behind the Iron Curtain. Thereafter, she was sentenced to three years in the Gulag and three years in exile in Siberia. The conclusion was inevitable: a broken spirit, another crushed Catholic to be used in the Communist cause.
But Nijole Sadunaite wouldn't crush. Nourished by an everdeepening Faith and trust in God, she endured her ordeal, embracing both her fellow prisoners and her captors in an unquenchable Christian love—and steadfastly refusing to betray her contacts in the larger underground Catholic world.
Fighting error with truth, Nijole has managed to smuggle her story out of Lithuania. Here, for the first time, she presents the dramatic account of her precarious family life under an enemy regime, her own defense of the Church, her trial, imprisonment and exile, and her continued efforts to serve Our Lord while evading the ever-watchful KGB.
A Radiance in the Gulag is the story of one woman's challenge to the vast power of an atheistic state—a truly awe-inspiring story of courage, faith and love.
COVER ART BY PATRICK DIEMER ISBN 0-937495-08-5