In his letter of September 10, 1981, Petras Paulaitis writes: "Most of us (eleven Lithuanians) are doing tolerably well as far as our health is concerned. Naturally, all have suffered much, are exhausted and worried. I believe that our parents and grandparents would not have had cause to lament over them, and I also think our children — the future generation replacing us — will not
have cause to do so either. For these ordinary simple people, mostly from our countryside — now prisoners and martyrs for our country's freedom have returned all that has been invested in them, with good measure. Only God grant endurance!
"On October 10th of this year I will commemorate thirty-four years already suffered for our beloved homeland. With the help of the Almighty, I hope and wish during the remaining thirteen months to reach the shores of freedom and to see you once more . . . They don't give me many of the letters which arrive.
"My respects to all Brothers and Sisters of good will."
Vytautas Vaičiūnas writes:
"On August 10, 1981, I was taken from Pravieniškiai to the Vilnius Prison. On August 15th, they took me from Vilnius to Smolensk Prison where I spent an entire month, and on September 15th I was issued a ration of dry food: a small loaf of bread which seemed made from bran, and some salty fish. I did not eat the fish because it was very salty, and those who did eat it later had to drink a great deal. The soldiers who guarded us were very cruel; they cursed and vilified the prisoners. After one day's travel we reached Voronezh where, for an entire day, we were given no food. From there, almost nonstop, on September 19th we arrived at Chelyabinsk, from where on September 21st they took us to the City of Bakal, located in the southern Urals some 200-250 km. (120-150 miles) west of Chelyabinsk. We arrived there on September 22nd.
"While in Vilnius, I fell unconscious twice, severely injuring my hand. For some reason, a sore which did not heal appeared above my palm. No one heeded my plea for medical assistance. Only after a long time and then without my asking, they treated the sore, which healed.
The labor camp where I am interned is intended for 700-750 persons, but some 1,500 are imprisoned here, mostly drug addicts. They want to devote the entire camp to drug addicts. The atmosphere is very depressing. Everything is run by '"hustlers" who take the clothes off the backs of those better dressed and beat those who resist. After taking their clothes they give the victims their own rags in exchange. There is no one to complain to because no one will help. Later you are beaten even worse to instill fear. A pillow, sheet, towel, socks, and handkerchiefs were also stolen from me. I now sleep with my prisoner's clothing under my head. We are allowed to spend seven rubles from which a sum is deducted for articles lost. There is a store which sells only plain candy and margarine. I'm working as an electrician. They demand that I write my letters in Russian and that letters written me also be in Russian, and if they are written in Lithuanian they are not let through. Write to me only in Lithuanian, by registered mail with return receipts, and if I don't receive them, I'll manage without letters."
The address of Vytautas Vaičiūnas:
456902 Chelybinskaya obi. g. Bakal 2 uchr, p/č JAV 48/9-10-100
Vaičiūnas, Vytautas Antano
In his letter of September 29, 1981, Mečislovas Jurevičius writes:
"P.B.J.C.! (Praised Be Jesus Christ! — Trans. Note). I am writing my first letter to you from a foreign land. I had already become accustomed to my situation in Marijampolė. As I headed for work on August 3rd, I was stopped and told I was leaving that day. Where and how I did not know. This is where they exiled me: abroad. I never did learn why. In other words, another punishment was added: exile from the homeland, our dear, beloved land sprinkled with blood. She is especially dear to us Lithuanians and Catholics because much sacrifice and suffering has been expended on her. From her we received the Catholic faith so precious to Lithuanians, which many are attempting to eradicate from the hearts of Lithuanians. However, their attempts were and continue to be fruitless. This battle the godless are waging is hopeless. We are marching with Christ and Mary, we fight and will fight for the kingdom of Christ in Lithuania. The godless say that the faith was brought to the Lithuanian nation through the sword and force. Now, it cannot be taken from the Lithuanian with either sword, threat of prison or the crudest persecutions.
"We can thank the godless for the persecutions because that is precisely what strengthens the Faith-The more and the worse it is persecuted, the stronger and more precious it becomes. Judases have always existed and will continue to exist.
"You, also, must cherish the Faith, practice it, not superficially but from your hearts. Especially cherish Sunday Mass; participate in it conscientiously. This is my strongest yearning, what I wish from you, your greatest means of supporting me.
"A few words about myself: The evening of August 3rd I was already in Vilnius, the evening of the 5th they took me away from there. A new way of the cross began. Conditions were inhuman. I was imprisoned with all kinds of recidivists. In Voronezh, thieves stole my last warm underwear. It is truly miraculous that, with my health and under such inhuman conditions, I survived that torturous journey. It is impossible to relate everything.
"... Write me as soon as possible because I received not a single letter in Marijampolė and here they are very dear guests, especially from home and friends. Tell them to write more often, I very anxiously await letters from Lithuania.
"You can imagine how my health is, for it was not good even in freedom . . . Everything is in God's hands! My spirits are good,
at peace. I pray for you all. Please convey my wishes to all who know me.
"God be with you. I rely on your prayers." The address of Mečislovas Jurevičius:
456870 Chelyabinskaya obi., g. Kyshtym,
uchr, JAV 48/10-3
Jurevičius, Mečislovas Jurgio
Viktoras Petkus writes in his letters from Kuchin Prison: "I have somehow become accustomed to my surroundings. In
gratitude to Divine Providence, I therefore nightly repeat a prayer I learned thirty years ago:
" 'You come through tick stone walls, armed guards and bars; you bring me a starry night and ask about this or that. You are the Redeemer, I recognize you. You are my Way, my Truth and my Life. Even my cellar blooms forth with stars, and peace and light pours forth. You sprinkle beautiful words on me like flowers: "Son, what are you afraid of? I am with you!" In a corner we whisper psalms to which the deaf prison listens.'
T received your February 20th letter on May 19th. Perhaps my letter will also take three months to reach you ... It is not much better with Russian letters. For instance, I received an April 7th letter from Kaunas on May 19th, although the local postmark reads April 12th! I took the occasion to ask the administration whether they have begun to translate my Russian letters into Lithuanian, because they justify the long travel time of Lithuanian letters by claiming they have to be translated into Russian.
"On February 23rd, I sent a 52-page letter about Thomism and Neothomism in philosophy and their influence on Lithuanian belles lettres, and in the afternoon of April 2nd I was already informed that it was confiscated for so-called ideologically harmful expressions.
"I am very sorry that I lack the opportunity to answer more diligently the letters I receive because my hands are tied by the quota. Good people understand this and patiently continue to write even though they receive no news from me. Those letters bring me a breath of air from the homeland and the whisper of the pines on Birute's Hill, the sound of hymns sung by crowds making the Stations of the Cross and the poet's words:
" 'Whoever bears my Calvaries, will celebrate my feast of joy!'
With the poet I would like to wish:
" 'May the words ring out, like the rustle of my homeland's forests,
May they echo in the hearts of living Lithuanians.'
"Today I am celebrating the Birth of the Virgin Mary. And in my thoughts I am near the rocks where the children of Mary have gathered for the past 400 years. How quickly our days pass! It seems like yesterday that my parents took me every year as a child to those solemn ceremonies, and now for the past several decades they have been waiting for me on the sandy hill of Raseiniai. How short are the days of our earthly existence!
"I have been doing quite well during the past year. I was left a uniquely beautiful impression by over forty thieves and other kinds of fellow prisoners who, at Pope Paul VI's death, asked me to tell them about the Popes and then explain the difference between the Catholic and Orthodox religions. I attempted to fill their request, with the help of the Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev (1853-1900) whose ideas should be more familiar to them. How they would quiet down and for hours listen with the utmost curiosity, then afterwards they would overwhelm me with questions! I will never forget how several of them gathered in a corner, unraveled a nylon sock and worked on something all afternoon. After supper they presented me with a cross made from those threads, thanking me for sharing my knowledge with them. I have probably never received a more precious gift in my life!
"Poor people, how they hunger and thirst for truth! And how hard their earthly road."
In his September, 1981, letter, Julius Sasnauskas writes: "At the decisive moment of life, when one must evidence one's human worth and the vitality of one's ideals, how important it is then to understand the necessity of sacrifice. In the face of those great virtues which we are called upon to protect and defend, personal losses pale.
"I simply pay homage to that miraculous religion which unites men's minds and hearts and is an inexhaustible source of love. May the Lord open the eyes of all who have not found their wav to it.
"We can lose our homeland, freedom, the warmth of home and friends, but so long as our spirit remains alive, we shall find those values within us: all-creative faith will produce this. If in the various cross-currents we manage to maintain the clarity of our youthful ideals, later not even the worst hardships, losses, failures, nothing will be able to defeat us: an inexhaustible source of renewal will surge within us. The cultivation and defense of great ideals demand constant struggle, they demand sacrifice. Faithfulness to them is demonstrated not by short-lived enthusiasm, but by one's whole life, often at the price of great losses or even at the cost of life itself. There can be no abstract love for either God or homeland, there is only love whose existence in our hearts we prove by our actions. The Apostle John said:
" 'Love in deed and in truth.'
"Celebrated deeds and anonymous patient daily work both have equal value if they are inspired by the love of Christ. Be our efforts the most insignificant, it is useless to doubt their value. What if we don't see (perhaps will never personally see) the fulfillment of those hopes, for even the farmer does not see the end result of his work as he sows his seed in the ground, but harvest time will come and the seed sown in tears will turn to joy, although perhaps it will be others who gather the fruits of the harvest. For centuries our soil has been known for its fertility, and once the years of frost and drought pass, it will again yield bountiful harvests. Let us therefore sow the seed with a bold hand.
"If more and more young people today want to prove their fidelity to God and country, let them steel themselves, let them learn and work: patiently, responsibly, lovingly. All this demands no less sacrifice than imprisonment. Let us always separate the chaff from the wheat: only the greatest values which must be defended give meaning to man's fight and suffering.
"Parabel has few indigenous inhabitants, mostly strangers seeking their fortune. People are withdrawn, engrossed in their own troubles. Their existence is obviously not easy and consolation is sought only in alcohol.
'Well, what does the Russian Ivan need? Bread and alcohol, nothing else!' is their own response.
"Of course, the picture is not the same everywhere; I've met some very fine and educated people. Their presence brightens that bleak impression. But on the whole, there is an overabundance here of both disorder and arbitrariness; it seems that no one even attempts to accomplish anything. Is that perhaps why such places attract vagrants, because one can live here with no compunction or regard for anything?
"... Can we discover the true values and be truly happy without ever experiencing suffering, hardship, or loss?
" 'Per aspera ad astra, per crucem ad lucem' ('Through hope to the stars, through the cross to light') states an old adage. And that is a truth tested through the ages. Transformed, meaningful pain is the prime reason for improvement; like a bolt of lightning, it sheds light on the depths of the soul, it jolts and refreshes. A calm strifeless condition amounts to vegetation. Even in nature, the sky is clearest after a storm. Unfortunately, we are not always able to assess accurately the reasons for and meaning of events and, as the time of trials approaches, we hide in fear to avoid them. That is merely self-deception; only by experiencing pain every time and giving it meaning can man renew himself, cleanse from his soul the coating of daily existence and attain spiritual heights.
"Indeed, we live at a critical time and we must therefore often stop to reflect: where are we headed, what will we bequeath to future generations? An exhausted, devastated environment; congenital mental defects ever on the increase; laws of universal indifference, vengeance and hatred, other vices of the times? Man's spiritual corruption has currently gained an unprecedented intensity which is most apparent here. I reread the thoughts contained in your letter, dictated by that deep concern for mankind, and for the fate of our civilization. There I find not only a statement of the tragic condition of today's world, but also a path pointing to how we can exit from the existing impasse. That is the fight for the great human values, a renewal in the light of faith."
Seven kilometers (four mile from the Vseviatskaya station, on the taiga, stands one of the countless labor camps of the Gulag Archipelago: VS-389-35 where Povilas Pečeliūnas, Gintautas Iešmantas, Yuri Orlov, Anatoly Scharansky and others are imprisoned. The Perm labor camps are the most terrible instruments of spiritual terror. The bodies of the prisoners are contained by seven rows of barbed wire, while an incredibly complex web of spying, betrayal, surveillance and degradation contains their souls. Long hours of slavishly meaningless labor exhausts physical strength. Even here Communist education finds various means of expression . . . Special laws are in force here. Diligent traitors and provocateurs are rewarded (additional visits, packages), while those who work conscientiously can only expect that their bare necessities will not be taken away. Defiant prisoners are continually persecuted. Gintautas Iešmantas suffers special retaliation. His poems are consistently confiscated. Povilas Pečeliūnas is continually harassed by a chek-ist from the Vilnius security police who promised to review his case on condition that he betray his former colleagues. Pečeliūnas wrote the Lithuanian SSR Council of Ministers and the USSR Prosecutor General requesting that his case be reviewed, but in the end, the chekists have the final say! Human rights advocate Scharansky suffers special KGB "harassment." At every step, he is degraded and hounded. He is ordered to perform the most difficult work and, when unable, he is punished.
In October, the prisoners called a general strike to commemorate Political Prisoners' Day and demand political prisoner status. Fourteen prisoners from Camp VS-389-35 joined the strike.
Let us ask God to grant them spiritual and physical strength, and people of good will the courage to help them.