In May, 1982, as has been the practice annually for almost forty years, many of Lithuania's young sons were drafted into the Soviet Army. On May 13, Robertas Grigas, of the Rayon of Lazdijai, City of Leipalingis, was also drafted. On May 25, 1982, in Yany-Kurghan (Kazakh SSR) in the presence of soldiers and officers, Robertas refused to take the oath, as contrary to the religious convictions of a Catholic, and to the patriotic convictions of a Lithuanian.
In one of his letters, Robertas Grigas writes:
"Up to the last moment I was praying, undecided how to act with regard to this vexing problem of the oath. On May 25, 1982, in Yany-Kurghan, it was our group's turn. I was second in line. I saw how the young man in front of me grasped the machine gun and reading the 'oath' from a book, signed it, —and I still did not know what I was going to do. I agonized as never before in my life, and repeated in my heart, 'Mary, Mary, let me do as God wants.' Then it was my turn. I took the machine gun, stood between the formation and the major administering the oath, and understand me, forgive me for my ignorance, which will bother you after reading these lines — I said in Russian, 'I, Robertas Grigas, citizen of Lithuania, declare that I refuse to take the oath, as contrary to my religious and patriotic convictions.'
After castigating him in the vilest words, and threatening him with physical punishment, officers of the local battalion sent the young man that very day to brigade headquarters in Chimkent. The following day, the relay of threats was taken over by the brigade leadership.
Colonels Chutiyev and Andriyevsky threatened to turn him over to the KGB, if he continued to reject his "sacred duty". In response, Grigas wrote a statement, the gist of which is:
"I, Robertas Grigas, son of Antanas, and a citizen of Lithuania, declare that I refuse to swear fealty to your party and to your government, since they have no jurisdiction over me. I am a Catholic and so I can swear loyalty only to God, the Eternal
Truth, who becomes incarnate in the teachings of Christ and the Catholic Faith. Only to God am I obliged to be faithful in all areas of human life.
"I will not carry out the orders of the party, government or army which contradict Truth and my Christian conscience, and I don't want to warp my soul, so I will not pledge, I will not promise something I cannot perform. In life I will strive for only one thing with all my might: to maintain a clear, peaceful conscience; it is just such a conscience I am defending now, by refusing to pledge allegiance to anyone but God. Because of these my convictions, and my own decision, and depending not on my own strength, but on that of Jesus and His Blessed Mother Mary, protectress of our Lithuanian homeland, I am prepared for any suffering."
Afterwards, Robertas was taken to the guardhouse of the military zone of Chimkent "for interfering with the schedule", as indicated in the official order.
The Commander of the guardhouse, Major Mielnik, carried out a body search of Robertas, tearing from his neck a rosary, which he never did return. After ordering the guard, who was armed with an automatic rifle, "Give this one some special discipline!" the Major locked Robertas up in a cell with military criminals awaiting trial. He himself, strangely, surpassing even these criminals, presided over the "re-education". Pooling their efforts, they ridiculed spiritual values, threatened to fill the cell with prostitutes and make him by force a "normal Soviet person".
At night the criminals tried to persuade him with their fists to swear allegiance to the Russian homeland — "his sacred duty". After he had been in jail for a day, they took him to Dzizach, where Robertas met some Lithuanians of his own persuasion, screened out back at the Badam point of dispersal. Among them was the Baptist Oskaras Gumanas (a German from the Rayon of Siauliai, Kužiai District, Village of Amaliai). From the very first, both were condemned to constant public and secret persecution and terror tactics.
The two began, as much as possible, to show each other more solidarity and Christian love, prayed fervently and offered up the sufferings experienced and the insults. They were repeatedly summoned one at a time by the captain of the local unit, who tried to forbid them from speaking with one another, threatened to "take care" of them physically, and to force them to take the oath. The harassed soldiers would say to him and each other that they are strong not of themselves, but by the strength of Christ, and with Him they would be able to bear anything.
They were ridiculed every day. One sergeant, striking them, tried to force them to smoke and to curse. In front of the whole formation, he would place his ear against the chest of one or the other and tell everyone to quiet down, because he wanted to "hear Christ in there". In the mess hall at one point, when all were seated, the two were ordered to continue standing, with the jibe, "Let Christ feed them!"
Nevertheless, during this first period of trial, all difficulties faded before the happiness of understanding more deeply the words, "...He suffered under Pontius Pilate". When rehearsals began for the swearing in, Robertas and Oskaras refused to learn the text. After some unsuccessful attempts to coerce and intimidate them, the captain summoned Robertas and told him to prepare for a journey. Seeing the youth's happy face, the officer blurted out with bestial hatred: "Wipe that smile off! They'll kill you there!"
So Robertas found himself once more at brigade headquarters in Chimkent, where he met with a hailstorm of hatred, ridicule, and threats. Major Chutiyev shouted that a believer has no right to proclaim himself in public as a religious believer, or to try proving the truth of religion, but only to pray silently in his own cult's houses of worship; otherwise he automatically becomes an enemy of the Soviet Union and a fascist, to be liquidated.
Another colonel, gnashing his teeth, demanded that Robertas be turned over immediately for trial, shut up in a psychiatric hospital, and sent out to the uranium mines, where he would "croak in half-a-year".
The youth retorted that they were powerless to do anything to him which God did not allow, and everything which God allows in our lives is the greatest good. So he would go with a smile to meet the future, whether this meant prison or the uranium mines. Robertas looked at those elderly officers, who were trembling with hatred, and understood clearly as never before how empty and terrible their ideology was. They were a living replica of those fascists whom they show in their films. They were not even offended when this was remarked to them. "Yes", they would say, "the fascists destroyed their betrayers, and we are destroying our betrayers. That is how it must be!"
Once, when the talk turned to the religious spirit among youth, one of the colonels, unable to contain his anger, shouted, "When I see young people with crosses hanging from their necks, I want to tear them off and to stuff them down their throats!"
That very day they drove Robertas to Badam, where for almost three months he worked in a brickyard with the Second Corps of the 1902 Special Construction Battalion.
Here the behavior of the officers was emphatically polite (at least it seemed so on the surface) and, even though one of them boasted that in a couple of months he would teach Robertas cursing, smoking, drinking and immorality, they did not engage in more specific harassment (at least openly).
Exchanges such as these used to take place with the officers: the soldiers would be standing in formation, ready to go to work. Stopping before Robertas, one would begin to shout, "I'll teach you to oppose the Soviet Government! Within a couple of months I'll teach you to curse, smoke, drink and to engage in immoral actions!"
"Surely all those things are not the Soviet government, Comrade Officer?"asked Robertas.
The officer was stunned. "Don't give me any of your dema-gogery! He shouted after a minute.
The oath seemed to be forgotten by all. Could it be that they had decided that the young man who believed in God had been punished sufficiently with prison-camp labor, and were satisfied with that? For peace of conscience, Robertas was resolved to bear even more, and even though the brickyard's quota was inhumanly high and working conditions were injurious to health, he rejoiced at the peace which had come over him and prayed to Christ for strength for the future.
But even this relative respite was brief. More and more often, without any reason, the soldiers would rain blows and kicks on him, with their sergeants and corporals intervening symbolically for appearances' sake. Increasingly these sessions were accompanied by "political education" sermons about the "sacredness" and "necessity" of the oath. On the average, Robertas would receive about forty blows. Soon the company medic, to whom he went with a sharp pain in the chest, decided that he had a broken or cracked rib. No one, however, was in a hurry to take him to the hospital, and he had to work under the same conditions as those who were well. The pain interfered not only with his work, but also with normal walking and breathing.
To the young man's complaints, Corporal Safarian replied that such things were of no concern to anyone in the army: "Even if you have to die, make the quota!"This was in complete keeping with the Soviet view of human beings, which First Lieutenant Satarov constantly pounded into the soldier-slaves: "You might be an ideal person, but if you do not fulfill the plan, you are nothing!" Robertas did not complain to the officers, even when they asked, because he did not think it would improve matters.
Later, 1st Lt. Dzhuzupov made life easier for Robertas by transferring him to the 4th Company (till then he had served in the 1st Company, where he used to be the object of much undeserved abuse.). Now the soldier-slave of the Soviets regularly received only 5-10 blows a day. In the brick-works also, working conditions were more normal.
However, along with the chest pains, a general weakness showed up. Complaints were met with the answer that there was a shortage of manpower, there was no substitute, and the quota had to be fulfilled.
On July 31, 1982, the Chief of the 1092nd Technical Battalion for Construction, Lt. Col. Akmataliev, arrived for an inspection tour. Summoning Robertas to the office, he expressed great surprise that in the U.S.S.R. there are still religious believers. The high-ranking officer, cursing the young soldier in the vilest language, happened to mention a staff-member of the special section, Capt. Sinyayev. The latter had earlier summoned him for a talk and had explained very politely that the colonels in Chimkent had no right to curse a soldier, nor to ridicule religion. He promised to show that people who do so are not representative of the party nor its essence, that the party in general was healthy, and that the public needs organization.
Robertas replied that up till then the party had shown him the same kind of face which the aforesaid colonels had shown him, and then and there he refused to collaborate. At this point, the party representative turned on him once again with his customary expression, distorted with hatred.
When the young man refused again to take the oath, he swore to shoot Robertas' parents, to court-martial the Military Commissar of Lazdijai for not uncovering the "bandits" in time, and to hand Robertas personally over to the KGB organs.
Besides the aforesaid sharp chest pains, the young victim of this terrorization was beset by some kind of intestinal illness, doubtlessly the result of unsanitary conditions prevailing there.
On August 1, 1982, he was taken in the battalion commander's automobile, together with a whole entourage: driver, Assistant Battalion Commander for Political Affairs, Maj. Belokony, and tin-Secretary of the Battalion Communist Youth League, to battalion headquarters at Kzyl-Orda. During the entire 400 km. journey, the addle-headed sarcasms, threats and accusations did not let up, it was said that he dared to spoil Soviet bread, etc. At Kzyl-Orda, in the words of the Battalion Commander, "a secure Soviet room" awaited him.
There the young man, already seriously suffering from dysentery, was shut up in the guard-house where the only "furniture" consisted of newspapers on the concrete floor. No one paid attention to the patient's request for at least a simple bucket. The illness worsened; blood appeared. It looked like dysentery, but they would let him out into the yard only twice a day Yet the young believer in God and martyr rejoiced that he could meditate in peace and pray, incorporating into his prayer the hardness of his pallet, all the inconveniences associated with imprisonment, and his debilitating illness.
His joy did not last long. He soon had two cell-mates, sentenced to a few days for being absent without leave. One of them had spent a year in jail before his army service, and the other had been on probation.
Their talk was all of women and whiskey; and once they had discovered what Robertas was in for, their talk about religion and clergy was no different from most Soviet officers or soldiers. There was the same degeneracy, the same ignorance, the same bad will and aversion to truth, lest the conscience be stirred.
The cell-mates, peaceful at first, became daily more aggressive. There was the customary combination: along with all the amorality and looseness of behavior went ardent Soviet patriotism. They began to threaten Robertas with physical force if he did not take the oath to his "homeland". After a few days like that in the guard-house, the battalion commander had Robertas brought out before the first and third companies in formation, acquainted the troops with the "bandit's" biography and, vilifying with all the sordidness of Russian profanity first his mother, then his father, for having reared "such" a son, and threatening to take vengeance on all his relatives and to drop a five-kiloton atomic bomb on the Baltic States, they demanded, "Will you take the oath?"
"Then you can rot in there!"
Robertas "rotted" in the guard-house until the morning of August 5, when they finally let him out to wash his filthy clothing and go to the store-room. The next day a medical commission swooping in discovered an epidemic of typhus in the battalion. Soldiers poured into surrounding hospitals. At the guard-house an argument took place between the medics and Robertas' officers. The former finally managed to convince the killers that it was "not important whether he is a Catholic or whatever. . . what is important is that he is a sick man who needs help", and Robertas wound up in the Kzyl-Orda city hospital with a diagnosis of "acute dysentery".
The storm tossing the boat of the prisoner of war has temporarily subsided. The battalion leadership is still putting up with various commissions. Even Alma-Ata has become interested. However, it is not likely that any commission will see the guardhouse cells, or learn in what "sanitary" conditions 20th century recruits are imprisoned. Or if they do find out, they will never report it. And who will count all the guard-houses throughout Soviet territory?
What will the fate of the martyr Robertas Grigas be? Will the occupation machine ruin his physical health, or destroy it altogether? Only the future can tell.
Asked how he reacted when they beat him, Robertas simply admitted that he used to repeat, "Lord, grant me the strength to bear all hardship as you did on the cross. Let me bear it as punishment deserved for my sins, and for despising your love . . ."
The Catholics of Lithuania, and especially the youth at the present time, are asking God to grant Robertas courage and perseverance.
On May 12, 1982, a group of Lithuanian youth, sending their friend Robertas off for two or more years of suffering in the Soviet army, as a sign of giving meaning to this suffering, and of union with the sufferings of Christ, erected on an embankment along an obscure little road an artistic five-meter cross with the inscription, "Lord, do what you will with me, but have mercy on my nation and on my loved ones."
Immediately the faithful of Leipalingis and neighboring villages began visiting the cross. Kind hands decorated it with flowers, cleaned up the area and cut steps from the road to the cross. It seemed as though this symbol of Christian faith, hope and love, standing out of the way in the woods could not and should not have bothered anyone.
However, it did bother some. The question of this cross was the subject of bitter discussion in the plenary session of the Lazdijai Rayon Party Committee. For the erection of the cross and other "sins", Robertas' father, Antanas Grigas, a teacher at the Leipalingis Middle School, was attacked both in the plenary session in absentia, and at school, with threats that he would be discharged from his position. At school the attack was led by Secretary (Mrs.) B. Zuzevičienė, of the teachers' party organization. The teacher's response to all accusations and threats was, "First of all, please do not pry into my conscience; second, why do you want to credit all the good works of all food people to me?"
After this "ideological-expository" introduction, the atheists did not waste time getting down to action. The night of June 8-9, 1982, certain persons came with several vehicles (as was apparent from the tracks), dug up the cross and bore it away. Neither the names nor the work-places of those who perpetrated this vile deed are known thus far. Some party and, government officials affirm that it was the work of hooligans, and that is doubtlessly the truth, with a small correction: it is completely irrelevant whether the cross was torn down by the hands of common street hooligans, or drunkards, or hooligans from this or that office. It is important only that this foul deed was directed, as always, by government atheists.