From the letters of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius:
"From Staro-Sainakov, they transferred me to Krivoshayn. I am living on the bank of the River Obe. I delivered mail only two days and after that they took the job away. The postmaster explained that "policy" does not allow me to work in the communications network. That same day, I found work in a factory making athletic equipment. Here, they make ice-hockey sticks and I plane the handles. There could be less noise and dust: my eyes, ears and lungs are full. Of course you must not imagine that this is some unbearable burden.
Father Sigitas Tamkevičius
People work for years on end and nothing happens.
"Moreover, for five years I was at the loom and in dust and... and everything else. And thank God that I did not forget to pray. I did not forget how to laugh, I did not forget that I am supported by very many good people to whom I am so indebted for their prayers and moral support. The work itself is not heavy. I only have to stand from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM at the loom. In camp, the work at the loom was easier, and it was even easier to pray. Here, it is only during breaks that one can say the rosary and pray. However, because of this, I shall have Saturdays and Sundays free, while in camp, I was free only on Sundays. For everything I am grateful to God. He grants enough of everything, as much as necessary: whether health or strength or time or anything else, only we must not bury our God-given talents ...
"When, year after year, you see around you strange faces, looking askance at your plight, and often even antagonistic, you become spiritually hungry. It is our good fortune as believers to have learned spiritual communion with the invisible world, and we are fortunate if we know that there are those who are praying for us and giving us moral support. I knew this even when they were confiscating my letters in stacks and they used to disappear without a trace.
"It used to happen like this: the camp censor comes and begins reading the names of individuals writing to you (greetings, good wishes, encouragement), but you will never see those letters, nor read them. He reads the names one after the other: ten, fifteen, twenty... and looks to see how you will react. I used to tell him thanks, and leave. And how many letters there were, which were not even mentioned, as though they had not even been written. Such is the prisoners' lot. At that time, apparently, they wanted to convince me that I was not missed by anyone. However, I was never tempted to think so, for the people of God were praying. Now many write. Thanks to all. I receive letters from Germany and England. I would like to write all of them at least one or two words.
"Jesus Christ, during His temptation, expressed a very important idea: in order for man to live, he needs bread and the word of God. If these things are lacking, man does not live, but vegetates. The word of God often reaches me through people, when they pray for me, that I might persevere. When they write, when they wish me success, at least in their hearts. Because of that, I am blessed, and I thank every single one for their prayers and letters of support. True, many of them when I was in camp, ended up in the censor's wastebasket. For those, a special thanks.
July - August, 1988
Father Sigitas Tamkevičius' address in exile:
Ind. 636000 Tomskaja obi. KrivoSeino Pionierskaja - 3
Petras Gražulis writes to the L.S.S.R. Procurator:
I wish, Mr. Procurator, to describe to you briefly in what conditions prisoners are living in the Pravieniškiai 06-12 8 Zone. When they first brought me to our zone's dining hall, I was shocked to see the greatest disorder and misery prevailing. The dining hall windows, doors and walls had not been painted for a long time, and they were peeling and dirty; the condition of the tables and benches was the same. It was full of dead rats and an unbearably bad odor. The soup was black and smelled like dishwater.
Tea meant for the prisoners here ends up in the black market, bringing six times the price in the commissary. Hence, the convicts never receive any. In place of tea, they give boiled water, and in order that it might have a brown color, a little burned sugar is put in. There is a dearth of dippers, spoons and other utensils. Hence, sharing them among the prisoners often gives rise to conflicts. The dishes are poorly washed, greasy, and have bits of old food sticking to them. Whether meat is alotted to prisoners or not, I do not know. I can only say that I've never eaten any here yet.
Sometimes in the evening, a little piece of very bad fish is given out, but even that is half the size it is supposed to be. In the morning, they pour a scant spoonful of sugar out on the table, which you do not know what to do with - lick it up with your tongue, or dip it up with bread, since, as I mentioned, they issue no cups for tea. We drink it from the same vessels from which we eat soup or porridge.
Bread is baked for us from hulls, and is often only partially baked. Sometimes, the serious suspicion arises that it is baked from flour swept up from the ground. You find eveything in it: dirt, ashes, coal, bits of cement and even rat droppings. Sometimes it has been gnawed by mice or rats. Convicts who work under noxious conditions (although everybody here works under such conditions) receive half a liter of milk daily, but it is always diluted with water.
During the season when the heat is on, in order not to have to bring drinking water from a distance, they dilute it with hot water from the heating system. In this way, people working in noxious conditions are being poisoned. In the Lukiškai Prison in Vilnius, 9 rubles are allotted to feed one convict. But here, 18. Many here do not eat breakfast or supper because having slept an hour longer, you will save more calories than you obtain by eating. Like many, I too eat neither breakfast nor supper; only, like many, I take the bread.
Convicts who have earned money have the right to buy 15 rubles worth of food a month at the zone commissary. However, not everyone earns money, regardless of the fact that they have no judgement against them, and they have worked more than a year. Meanwhile, the factory fulfills plans, someone receives thousands in prizes, while the convict gets less than 10 rubles a year. In my personal account there is also no money, and I do not know when I shall earn any. Perhaps, I shall finish my sentence before I receive any compensation. With money sent from outside, we are not allowed to buy anything. Hence, tormented by hunger, I pay no heed to the rules and often "beg".
There are good people here. They feel sorry for you, and smear some margarine on your slice of bread, or treat you to some preserves. Those whom no one treats and have no money to buy with gather scraps of food from the ground, or earn a piece of bread by scrubbing the corridor, the hall, or the like. Smokers pick up all the butts from the floor. There are shrewder individuals who know how to obtain food from the outside through one means or another.
Necessity is the mother of invention. If someone had told me earlier, I would never have believed that they could feed a convict in such conditions and with such food in a labor colony. This is possible only in the Soviet system. Convicts demanding that the food and conditions in the mess hall be improved would cooperate in proclaiming hunger strikes, and whole groups of them would not eat. This year, on the eve of February 16, prisoners armed with crowbars, pikes, sticks, pipes, clubs and other weapons tore down fences and attacked dining hall workers. There were casualties. To put down the riot, they brought in the army. However, regardless of the prisoners' demands, the situation in the mess hall never changed.
The zone is often visited by commissions. But what they ascertain, what they do, is not clear. Probably as is customary, they have coffee and cognac with the administration, and leave. When I complained about the rats and dirt in the mess hall to Chief Nesterov of the Operations Section, he merely smiled and replied, "Gražulis, you haven't come to a resort. I haven't seen rats in the mess hall for ten years." The chief's eyesight is bad, but why should it be good? He doesn't eat here.
During the interview, Nesterov tried to convince me that I am an American CIA agent, only now, isolated. It is too bad that I cannot write abroad from here. Perhaps the Americans and Lithuanians abroad would hear me. Perhaps, as Nesterov said, the CIA would help me as one of their own, send me food through the Red Cross, and I would not have to starve. They would provide me with vitamins and medication, since everything here is very very low quality - rejects. They would send poison for the rats which are taking over the camp.
In our zone, there is an infirmary, but real patients cannot get in, because four or five healthy people are always being "treated" there. Some of them are "treated" a half-year or longer, sometimes right up to the end of their term. And those who should be excused from work are not; e.g., A worker in our brigade named Gintas. He injured his hand with an electric saw. The wound was sutured, but he was never excused from work, even though he was unable to work for a whole month. When I came down with the grippe, and my temperature rose, I was excused for just two days. I had to go to work while still feverish.
In cell-like quarters, and punishment cells, Chief Nesterov and Colonel Gruodis of the Operations Section, dispense medication. The physician here has no rights. This an abuse of medicine. It is common talk among the convicts that for 25 rubles, one can be confined to the infirmary to rest. For the same price, it is possible to purchase a "diet" - better food. This is done by paying money to one of the healthy patients who is confined for the duration of his sentence. It is his task to collect the tribute and share it with the chief physician. For this reason, the doctors keep their own friends who are well in the infirmary. There is no other way to explain such lengthy "treatment".
Those who were constantly on the first shift are utterly unable to get to see the dentist, who works three days a week from 8:00 AM until 1:00 PM, since they are not excused from work. There is no use forcing one's way in. She herself says that in the zone, treatment is bad, the "drill" is old, the bits are worn, fillings and other material are sub-standard.
At work we assemble boxes, the shop is cramped and badly lit. Since there is little room, it is difficult to pass by workers to get to materials: you tear your clothing and cut your hands. The work benches are broken down, not at all designed for assembling boxes. They don't even have hammers. Instead, we use a piece of metal fastened to the end of a pipe, so we often smash our fingers. We have no work clothes, several times we requested them from the foreman. He told us there were none. So we work and live in the same soiled clothing.
The convicts photographed by Algirdas Pilvelis for The Ranks of Youth, are show pieces, with clean new padded jackets and shined shoes. Pilvelis should have photographed the prisoners of brigades 21,23 and 24 in our zone. Their clothing is ragged, and one of them keeps his shoe tied on with a rope. All of them are exhausted, unshaven, their bodies and faces covered with sores. Since they are unwashed and their clothing unlaundered, their bodies give off a stench. In their pocket is a piece of bread, so that they might not faint before the end of the workday. Without exaggeration, they can be compared to the concentration-camp prisoners in Balys Sruoga's Forest of the Gods, whom he called "staggerers".
Convicts employed at the radio factory work without a day off, even though by law there is supposed to be a day of rest, and only an eight-hour workday. As it is, they work from 8:00 A.M. until 9:00 P.M, and sometimes even until 1:00 A.M.. That is slave labor. But slaves used to be bought, purchased. One had to pay money for them, so the owner took care of them as his own property, took care of them like things which were expected to serve him for a long time. We are government property, convicted, demeaned and voiceless. Our health and our complaints are of no concern to anyone. They do not care whether we have anything to eat, or in what conditions we live and work.
When they bring a new prisoner to the zone, they confiscate his civilian clothing, sell that which is better, and send the rest off somewhere. Those leaving for home never get them back. It is fortunate if friends or family come to meet you and bring clothing. But what if no one comes?
In the living area, there is practically no room. The whole area is full of rats' tunnels. The toilets in the living area, as well as the work zone, are dirty, never cleaned. The sewer pipes are clogged, and an unbearable stench hangs in the area. The sections (that's the name of the quarters where the convicts live and sleep), are orderly, the walls freshly painted, but they are so small that there is no room even to set up a stool. There is no radio. One is unable to complain about the smallness of the area, since, as Major Barškietis says, "The law does not provide any square footage, or any area for convicts". They have no right to it.
A prisoner brought to the camp has a number of problems. There is nothing to shave with. Use whatever you want to shave, but you must be clean-shaven. Where to obtain needle and thread, soap, buttons, shoe polish, a shoe brush, a clothing brush, writing paper, envelopes, or something to write with, etc., etc.? Where to wash one's clothing and what to change into while this is being done, if only one set of clothing is issued? There has been no tooth powder in the zone for over half a year. Toothpaste is forbidden because the prisoners consume it. Nor may sugar be sent from home. The convicts use it to make moonshine.
Around April 20, two stills were discovered in the work zone. This is nothing new in the zone. Addiction to narcotics, alcoholism and homosexuality are widespread in the camp. When someone brings in drugs through illegal channels, half the zone gets high.
In this statement, I wish to mention also prison conditions in the Lukiškiai Prison in Vilnius. In the cells, whose length is about 4 meters and width about 2 meters, in Czarist days, two prisoners were kept, and sometimes one. Today, the same space holds six, eight or even nine prisoners. In the cell, there are three double-decker bunks, a mat, a sheet of metal welded to a frame in place of springs. So six prisoners sleep in bed, the rest on the floor. The ninth gets to sleep under a bunk since only two mats fit on the floor. In the same cell is a toilet (you can imagine the stench), a washbasin, and a little cabinet for food. There is so little space that all the prisoners cannot get out of their bunks at once. There is no room for them to stand. Convicts living in such conditions, getting out for only one hour to exercise, live like this for up to a year. So, lice and illness are frequent guests.
When they were hauling us from Vilnius to the camp in Pravieniškiai, in a space about the size of a train compartment intended for four persons, they crammed seventeen prisoners. In order to get us in, the soldiers had to kick shove us in with their canvas boots.
This is a brief overview of our life in zone Oc 12-8 and the conditions of confinement at the Lukiškiai Prison. The purpose of this petition — that a system of order applicable to all prisoners be established at the prison camp, that better conditions be provided not for me alone. If the camp administration supplies only me with dental care, a cup (as it has done), a chair, work clothes, and so forth, I reject them.
Certain portions of this petition do not state names. Names are irrelevant to impose order. For instance, during an inspection of the health facilities, it is possible to establish without knowing names whether a healthy person is lying in the bed and how long he has been there. Inmates formerly held in punishment isolation or similar cells can be asked who furnishes their medical care and dispenses medicine, the medical staff or the prison administration. Without knowing names, it can be determined whether the inmates work long hours or have days of rest. Even without names, it is possible to see how the prisoners assigned to brigades 21,23 and 24 are dressed.
From our conversation on May 4th of this year, it is apparent that you, Mr. Procurator, are totally indifferent to the imprisonment conditions we endure in our work and living facilities. Your purpose was simply to frighten me so I will not write or complain because, as you claim, I may be punished, etc. for writing.
What you might say and how you might punish is of no importance. Seeing these things, I cannot remain silent and write only about myself. As a believer, I am obliged to feel for my neighbor and help him. Exhausted by the hard labor and seeking some rest, the inmates hurt themselves by swallowing pieces of wire or welding rods, slashing their wrists and driving nails into them so they cannot even be seen, sometimes piercing their lungs. To remove these foreign objects, these self-inflicted victims are taken to the hospital. There they are able to rest.
Medical care at the labor camp is controlled by the administration, and the administration as well as the KGB are against me, so even if I get sick, medicine may be used not to cure me, but to cripple me. May 15,1988
Gintautas Iešmantas writes:
(Excerpts from a letter of November 8, 1987 to the editors of Literatūra ir menas - Literature and Art. )
"On August 11 of this year, I sent a letter to Secretary L. Šepetys of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party, requesting that measures be taken to return the poetry manuscripts confiscated from me by personnel of the Lithuanian S.S.R. Internal Security Committee, beginning in 1974 and ending in 1986. Secretary Šepetys did not take any action and without informing me, forwarded the letter to the Office of the Procurator.
This office informed me in a letter, dated October 10 and signed by J. Bakučionis, that the works I demanded "have been designated as material evidence, and the court's verdict in this case has not been overturned." Consequently it is not possible to return the manuscripts
I would like to ask openly whether such behavior is not in direct violation of the rules attributed to the restructuring movement? Did not this same Šepetys assert in the press that "it can be stated most reliably that no works of art are, nor ever were, banned here for ideological and political reasons..."
But it was precisely for such reasons that the satires of Vincas Kudirka were not published, nor were Dobilas' Blūdas, V. Pietaras' Algimantas and some of Maironis' works... Was it not for this same ideological, political rationale that J. Mikelinskas' novel Juodųjų eglių šalis (Land of the Black Firs) lay in a drawer for a good decade, that the publication of Kojelavičius' history of Lithuania was held up?
There were, and still are, even worse instances than with my manuscripts. Strangely, even works written on such innocent themes as nature, love, human existence and so forth are considered evidence. And these are in the majority! Just consider where, in what country, can works of poetry, regardless of their quality, become proofs of guilt, material evidence? But that is not even worth discussing! I read in one inmate's verdict that a transistor radio (allegedly to listen to foreign broadcasts) was determined to be material evidence. Consequently, by decision of the court, the poor transistor was condemned to destruction. These are the heights of stupidity attained when both conscience and justice are ignored! .. . Torpid reasoning is like a roadblocking boulder which cannot be removed without effort_ An end must be put to criminal and barbaric actions.
P.S. The editors of Literatūra ir menas refused to publish the letter from which we quoted above.
April 22, 1988:
It is wonderful to hear kind words from the homeland. They provide strength at times of sadness and anxiety.
While at labor camp, I received a letter which, like yours, spoke of gratitude and love. I was surprised, for what? Why?
"Why the thanks, my quaking heart?
Why me, a poor man who simply yearned to dare?
Could it be for the pain, marked by dedication?
Why the thanks, my quaking heart?
Could it be for the greed intervowen with despair?
Could it be for the sacrifice? The resolve blown by the wind?
Why the thanks, my quaking heart?
Why me, a poor man who simply yearned to dare?"
And it is truly so. We walked in the dark, without seeing the light, but believing in it. Today the situation is changing, we are seeing a small ray. We want to believe that it is not a mirage and our hopes will be fulfilled. It is easier now to see than ever before:
"And our weakness becomes our strength And despair turns into hope ... Oh misfortune! Against darkness and villany You go from agony to agony. Like hope... And tears, glimmering Like stars, rain on souls as fire."