In Lithuania there is a famous fortress hill at Meškuičiai called the Hill of Crosses. At one time it was covered with a great number of crosses erected by many Lithuanians, but atheists have desecrated this sacred place many times, tearing down the crosses and burning them. People however have continued to cart, carry, and erect both large and little crosses on this hill so dear to the heart of every Lithuanian.
The Hill of Crosses had almost recovered from the damage it suffered during the devastation of 1961. Unfortunately, at the end of April, 1973, it was grievously ravaged once more; there was no sign left that once there had been crosses here. The desolate, denuded hill seemed to be waiting for believing hands and loving hearts to once more crown its desecrated head with the symbol of the Redemption—the Cross.
At midnight on May 19, 1973, an unusual procession appeared on the outskirts of the city of Šiauliai. A small group of serious and meditative young men and women were carrying a cross. They walked quietly, pensively, saying the rosary. From time to time the cross, measuring three meters (nine feet and nine inches) and weighing forty-five kilograms (ninety-nine pounds) was transferred from the shoulders of one youth to those of another. The cross was decorated with symbolic ornamentation: a heart pierced by two swords. On the handle of one sword was a swastika, and on the other, a five-pointed star.
Lithuanian youths were carrying the cross, not in the quest of health, but in atonement for the desecration of the Cross and in reparation for the sins of our nation against the Redeemer. They carried the cross as a symbol of victory. On the night of May 19, many people knew about this procession with the cross, and they devoted an hour to prayer and the veneration of the cross. During that hour, many, with hands joined in prayer, carried the Cross of Christ in spirit. All the crossbearers had received Holy Communion the previous evening.
As preparations were being made for this procession with the cross, it was discovered that someone had informed the security police about the proposed journey. Security police agents traveled back and forth throughout the night along the proposed route from Šiauliai to the Hill of Crosses. To the crossbearers, the success of the procession seemed miraculous. At 2:30 a.m. on May 20, 1973, the Hill of Crosses was adorned with a beautiful new cross. Flowers were planted around it, and a candle was lit. Everyone knelt and prayed, "Christ our King, may your kingdom come to our country."
At 6:45 a.m. the sound of an automobile could be heard. The security police rubbed their eyes—all night they had been chasing the cross, and here it was! Evil hands uprooted the cross and hauled it off. By noontime, however, another cross stood in its place. The atheists kept destroying them, but the crosses seemed to sprout from the earth.
Interrogations Concerning the Carrying of the Cross
to the Hill of Crosses in May, 1973
In the evening of May 20, 1973, several security agents arrived at the home of Mečislovas Jurevičius, a resident of Šiauliai born in 1927, and took him to security headquarters.
There he was interrogated. Had he carried the cross? What route had they followed? How many persons had carried the cross? Who had organized the procession with the cross? Who had constructed the cross? Which priests had encouraged the carrying of the cross? Jurevičius replied that he had made the cross and carried it himself. Jurevičius was further asked on what charges had he been tried previously.
"For Stalin's errors."
"Stop slandering Stalin!" the interrogator shouted. "Oh, how such as you need Stalin now!"
Jurevičius was further questioned as to which priests he knew, who served mass in the church, what people he had dealings with, etc. Jurevičius stated that he would answer no more questions. The interrogator called Jurevičius a fanatic and threatened that he would get a longer jail sentence than he had received the first time, that he would be hauled off to a lockup, be injected with drugs, etc. Finally, he was ordered to stand against the wall. Undaunted by the threats, Jurevičius was seated. This continued throughout the night.
In the morning the interrogation was resumed. Who taught the children to serve mass? With which priests did he speak most often? Who served mass? In the afternoon, the procurator came and asked him why he was remaining silent. "You're going to give me ten years anyhow," Jurevičius explained.
In the evening they allowed him to return home, with orders to present himself again on May 23. On that day, he was once more interrogated and threatened, but Mečislovas remained silent. He was again ordered to return to security headquarters on May 29. A security agent demanded that he write down everything; then he proceeded to explain about the freedom of religion—that supposedly priests were deceiving people, and so on. Jurevičius exclaimed, "If I'm guilty, put me on trial!"
"It's easy enough to convict someone," explained the interrogator, "but a man must be steered in the right direction." Letting him leave for home, the interrogator declared, "We know that you carried the cross in honor of Kalanta."
At noontime on May 20, 1973, several security policemen came to the residence of Zenonas Mištautas, fourth-year student at the Polytechnical Institute of Šiauliai, and took him away to their headquarters. They questioned him repeatedly as to what he had been up to the previous night, whether he ever served mass, which church he attended, who else served mass, who took part in adorations, and what priests said in their sermons.
At about 4 p.m. the security police brought Zenonas home, and without a warrant from the procurator, conducted a search. The security men ransacked all his books and notebooks. In the course of the search, they seized an exposed film and a notebook containing religious ideas. They returned the film after developing it but kept the notebook.
Upon the return to security headquarters, once again an interrogation. Zenonas was asked how many people had carried the cross, who made the cross, what route had they taken, at what time was the cross erected, etc. When they failed to get anything worthwhile out of him by using friendly tactics, the security police proceeded to try to intimidate him. Four interrogators surrounded Zenonas, threatened him with their fists, and showed him the kind of "sausages" would pop up on his back if he were to get a taste of the "banana" [club]. Three times they went out to get the "banana," saying, "Now we're going to bring in the 'banana.' When we pull down your pants and give you a thrashing, you'll tell us everything." The interrogators talked all sorts of nonsense about the Hill of Crosses, being unsparing even of obscenities. In concluding the interrogation, the security police tried to frighten Zenonas from ever carrying another cross to the fortress hill of Meškuičiai. He was ordered to present himself to security headquarters again on May 25. On that day once again he was questioned repeatedly about the carrying of the cross and about serving mass. When they failed to squeeze anything out of him, one riled security agent said that he would report everything to the school and that Zenonas would be expelled. Sending him home the interrogator gave him his telephone number and ordered him to call on May 28. Zenonas refused to call.
When the school year began, an attempt was made to "educate" Zenonas in the school, threatening him with expulsion if he insisted on sticking stubbornly to his principles.
On October 3, his homeroom teacher ordered Zenonas to present himself at security headquarters, but he demanded a written summons. Zenonas was reminded that he would be expelled if he refused to go to security headquarters. He did not go.
On October 10, the security police took Zenonas to their office. The interrogation lasted three hours. He remained silent for the most part.
Up to the present time, Zenonas Mištautas has not been expelled from the Šiauliai Polytechnical Institute.
At approximately noon on May 20, 1973, Virginijus Ivanovas was taken to security headquarters together with Zenonas Mištautas. At first the interrogator spoke calmly and read them the articles from the Criminal Code dealing with political offenses. Then he ordered Virginijus to describe in sequence everything he had done Saturday evening and night. When Virginijus stated that he would say nothing, the "politeness" of the security agent ended abruptly. Virginijus was called a fanatic and an ignoramus. "There's no place for you in a school of higher musical education, for if you become a choir director, you'll agitate among the choir members."
In the afternoon, Virginijus was brought back to his home, where a search was carried out (without a warrant from the procurator). During the search, the security police took several notebooks containing religious poetry. Afterward, the interrogation was continued. The security police would at first speak kindly, but after losing their patience, they would threaten to beat him and to stick him down in the cellar. The interrogation lasted until nighttime. During the night they did not permit him to sleep. Every two hours, a security agent would come and ask him questions about priests, church functionaries, and worshippers.
On Monday, at about noon, a security agent ordered him to sign a statement promising not to tell anyone about the interrogation. If anyone were to ask where he had been, he was to answer that he had been at police headquarters and not at the security headquarters.
After that, Virginijus was summoned several times to meet with the security police. He did not go, and so he was expelled from the music school on the grounds that he had not taken his examinations. As a matter of fact, Virginijus had been excused from taking the examinations by a physicians' commission.
In July Virginijus' mother wrote the following complaint to the Procurator General in Moscow:
"Not far from Šiauliai is the Hill of Crosses. It has been dear to believers since ancient times. My sixteen-year-old son, together with several of his friends, carried a cross to that hill on the night of May 20. For this the security organs of Šiauliai took my son to their headquarters and kept him there a whole day and night without sleep or food. Aside from that, just recently my son was ill with in inflammation of the brain. He was excused from taking the spring examinations and was ordered to avoid emotional stress to prevent a relapse. Nevertheless, he was expelled from the freshman class of the school of higher musical education solely for carrying a cross to the Hill of Crosses.
"I request the Procurator General to investigate the above facts in detail and to reply whether the security organs were correct to have acted thus, since the Constitution guarantees the freedom of conscience and the freedom of worship to all believers. [Signed] Viktorija Ivanovą"
Attached to the complaint was the note from the physicians' commission excusing the boy from the examinations.
In early September, 1973, the following reply was received from the Procurator's Office of the LSSR in Vilnius: "This is to inform you that upon investigation of your complaint of July 23, it has been determined that on May 20 representatives of the Soviet government spoke with your underage son Virginijus in the presence of his father, Ivanovas, concerning impermissible activities in which your son took part together with other persons in connection with an archeological monument—the fortress hill at Jurgaičiai.
"No impermissible actions on the part of the agents of the Soviet government who spoke with your son have been uncovered. [Signed] Bakučionis, Deputy Procurator of the LSSR"
This persecution by the security police not only failed to frighten people, but even inspired them with greater courage. One woman who had carried the cross has written: "Lithuanian, become aware of your strength! It is found in Christ and in our unity! Stand immovable, bravely guarding what is sacred and dear to your heart! Don't let them desecrate the Hill of Crosses. Don't leave it desolate and expectant. Bring to it your joys and sorrows, your hopes and victories; bring your love of God and your faithfulness to Him there: carry the Cross to the Hill of Crosses!"
The desecration of the Hill of Crosses gave rise to a new idea: if it is impossible to erect a cross on the Hill of Crosses, let us begin erecting them on our farmsteads, in our homes, in our own and others' hearts.
On October 30, 1973, Leonas Šileikis, a seventh-class student at Šiauliai Secondary School No. 5, was summoned to the teachers' room, where two security agents were waiting for him, and who took him to the students' room. Here they searched his book bag, examined his notebooks, and questioned him as to his friends. Then they took him to security headquarters and showed him some leaflets that Leonas had distributed in downtown Šiauliai. The leaflets contained the slogans "Down with the Soviet government!"; "Russians, scram from Lithuania!"; "Freedom for Lithuania!" Among other things, the interrogators wanted to know who had taught him to write such slogans, where he had gotten the idea, whether his parents criticized the Soviet regime at home, whether he went to church and to confession, whether he served mass or visited priests, whether his parents listened to the Voice of America, whether they had any religious literature, from what kind of prayer book they prayed—new or old. The interrogation lasted five hours. The following day Leonas had to undergo another interrogation.
A few weeks later, the principal attempted to "educate" Leonas and questioned him about the leaflets and particularly about church.
"I've been going to church, and I will continue to go," declared Leonas.
On hearing this, the principal announced her decision: to lower Šilekis' conduct grade.
On November 1, 1973, [Miss] Virga Šileikyte, an eleventh-class student at Šiauliai Secondary School No. 5, was summoned to security headquarters. An agent questioned her. Did Virga attend church? Who took part in adorations? How could one reconcile religion with science? Why hadn't she joined the Young Communist League? Which atheistic books had she read? Had she been at the Hill of Crosses? Did she know Ivanovas or Mištautas? Which priests did she know? He also asked many other questions.
The girl explained to the security agent that she did not know those who participated in processions, that she saw no good examples among League members, that the activities of the Pioneers had especially displeased her, that Ragauskas' books Ite, missa est [Go, the Mass has ended] and Anuo metu [At that time] had aroused feelings of disgust in her because of the nonsense they contained.
The security agent tried to explain to her that priests behave badly, that they had shot people.
"I believe in God, not in priests," declared Virga.
As he let her go back to her classroom, the security agent promised to summon her for another talk.
On October 31, 1973, Joana Šileikienė, the mother of Leonas Šileikis, was summoned to security headquarters and interrogated about her son's misdeed and other matters, such as whether there was anti-Soviet talk at their home, whether the children were given a religious upbringing, whether they met with priests, who else in their house attends church, and whether they had relatives abroad. The interrogation lasted two hours.
On November 1, 1973, Juozas Šileikis, the father of Leonas, was summoned to security headquarters. The interrogator asked whether the carpenters from the combine of the blind had not made the cross which had been borne to the Hill of Crosses, whether he went to church, whether he took part in processions, and who was in charge of processions?
Šileikis explained that he goes to church on Sundays and whenever he has time during the week, that he had never been in charge of a procession, that when he goes to church he prays and does not go around asking people's names. Šileikis was asked about Mečislovas Jurevičius and Stasys Cilinskas. He was upbraided for listening to the Voice of America, for Leonas' misdeed, for teaching religion to his children, and for not allowing them to join the Pioneers and the Young Communist League. The interrogator wanted to know whether Šileikis had any new religious literature.
On November 28, 1973, Juozas Šileikis and his son Leonas were summoned to a meeting of the Šiauliai city commission concerned with the employment of minors, at which some twenty-five persons from various agencies were present. The members of the commission asked about the leaflets which Leonas had distributed and about church attendance. Some members of the commission said that such a father ought to have his parental rights revoked, for he was ruining his child. The commission decided to expel Leonas from school but later contented itself with fining the father the sum of thirty rubles.
Šileikis blurted out to the commission, "If going to church is not allowed, then you should write on the church door that entry is strictly forbidden." One of the members of the commission replied that in that case the believers would go underground.
On October n Urbonavičius, chief of the Šiauliai security police, gave a lecture to students entitled "Contemporary Ideological Warfare and Youth." The security official spoke about the unrest in Šiauliai: how anti-Soviet leaflets had been posted in public places and even in schools; how on May 19, Jurevičius, Ivanovas, and Mištautas had carried a cross to the fortress hill at Meškuičiai. This had been done on the anniversary of Kalanta's self-immolation. The security chief said that in Jurevičius' case it wasn't surprising since he was a troublemaker; but there was concern for the youths. Priests, in the opinion of the security chief, were causing great harm. As he ended his lecture, Urbonavičius urged them all to renounce their "religious superstitions."
In May, 1973, [Miss] Janina Ivanauskaitė, a tenth-class student at the secondary school in Surviliškis, was ssummoned to the teachers' room. There she was questioned repeatedly by Principal Stasys Bogušaitis, her class advisor [Mrs.] Nijolė Šilkaitienė, and some kind of rayon official. An attempt was made to shame the student, because it was supposedly not fitting for a member of the graduating class to go to church. If she continued to go to church, she would be expelled.
On the following day, the homeroom teacher reminded Janina that if she wanted to go to church so badly, she should go where no one knows her.
On the last day of the school year, Ivanauskaitė was again "educated." Why didn't she join the Young Communist League? Did the priest visit her home? When did she become a sanctimonious granny? Did she go to church often? What did she do in church? What did she do on Easter morning? Did the priest ask her to scatter flowers in a procession?