IN THE SOVIET SCHOOL (1940-1970)
When Lithuania was occupied in 1940, the Soviet government's first priority was given to the schools, in an effort to make them atheistic.
Immediately, prayers before and after lessons were banned, and crucifixes were removed from the rooms. In one intermediate school of Panevėžys, the principal gave orders that without letting the pupils know, crucifixes should be collected from classrooms and destroyed. The pupils, however, blocked the custodian's path.
"We will not allow the crucifix to be profaned!" the pupils shouted.
"I'm only carrying out the principal's orders," the custodian explained. The pupils seized the basket in which he was collecting the crucifixes and divided them up to take home.
At the vocational school in Panevėžys the teacher ordered the girls to take down the crucifixes, but not one pupil obeyed.
"Well, you certainly are cowards!" fumed the teacher. "Suvei-zyte, you're a member of the Communist Youth League. Show everyone a good example. Take down the crucifixes in all rooms."
The girl blanched and began to weep. "Teacher," she pleaded, "my conscience won't let me do that."
That day no one touched the crucifixes. The next day Russian soldiers took the crucifixes down from the walls and threw them out the window into the street. People, weeping, picked the crucifixes up off the street and respectfully kissed them.
* * *
With the end of the war, prayers was again ruled out of the schools. Sometimes pupils, ignoring the prohibition, would stand up as the teacher entered and begin to pray. Many teachers "failed to notice" the children praying.
In one school the principal visited a classroom, and when she saw the children praying, gave a cry and fled from the room.
"Our principal must be possessed by the devil, since she's afraid of the cross," the pupils laughed.
As a matter of fact, the principal had until recently gone to church and had urged her pupils to go. Then she abruptly became "re-educated". Evolution is a gradual process. "It seems as though our teacher is descended from a special species of ape—the change in her was quite sudden," the pupils commented.
Not all teachers "were re-educated". In Vilnius, Principal Povilonis of the middle school was summoned before the Ministry of Education, where he was ordered to forbid prayer before and after school. Since the principal refused to do so, he was discharged from his duties.
* * *
"All teachers are required to be active atheists," Director Chmieliauskas, of the Department of Education of the Region of Rokiškis, shouted to teachers gathered for a conference shortly after the war. (World War II — Translator's Note)
"Teachers who do not shake off religious superstitions will not be able to work in Soviet schools."
Persecution of teachers who were believers began. In the Region of Rokiškis alone, more than fifty teachers were discharged. The order from the Director of the Department of Education would contain the hackneyed phrase, "Dismissed for religious superstitions".
The persecution produced noble individuals, too.
"You're a good teacher. Renounce your superstitions, stop going to church, and I'll assign you to the best school in the entire region," Chmieliauskas tempted Teacher (Mrs.) Slepštienė.
"I will not sell my convictions for a mess of pottage. Without religion or church I would not be a good teacher."
Teacher Slepštienė was soon assigned to a small village school.
Some teachers, unable to put up with the pressure, changed careers. Frequently a teacher with high qualifications would be forced to go into heavy physical work, while his or her place was taken by one who had "shaken off superstions", even though the latter's qualifications were lower.
"Since you believe in eternal truths, you can splash around in the mud," Principal Vilkys, of the Middle School of Salantai, derided teachers working in construction.
* * *
Party functionaries berated Principal Pakrovskis of Skuodas Middle School, for greeting the local pastor.
The principal explained that a priest is a human being, worthy of respect.
"If you want to work in a Soviet school, and all the more if you want to be its administrator, give up your friendship with the priest!" shouted one official.
* * *
One teacher describes her impressions of the postwar years:
"When they took Teacher X off to Siberia, I was left to work alone. With the children, we decided to pray the 'Our Father' before school and the 'Hail Mary' after. It was unusually beautiful, and no one betrayed us.
"Once an inspector from the region came and asked the children which Soviet holidays they were familiar with.
" 'Easter and Christmas,' the children replied.
"The inspector smiled and said that the children should know the anniversary of the Revolution and May Day.
"On Sundays, we used to go with the village children to church. The school was established in a building belonging to a farmer who had been sent to Siberia.
"In the storeroom I let the village children set up an altar to Mary. Every evening during May the room would be full of people. We would all sing together in Mary's honor. However, someone reported us, and I was discharged from my position. In the record the notation could be plainly seen: 'She established a church in the school storeroom.'
"In 1951 the school at X was ordered to establish a branch of the Communist Youth League. The regional officials came. Summoning the teachers one by one to the principal's office, they urged them to join the Communist Youth League.
"No one would do it. For three weeks the functionaries kept returning, and for days they would give no one any peace. They finally decided that the greatest obstacle was Teacher V. She was warned that if she refused to join the Communist Youth League, she would be discharged. Nevertheless the teachers did not waver. They considered enrollment in the Communist Youth League a betrayal and a scandal to the parents and pupils.
"In the school of Sangrūda, youngsters refusing to enroll in the Communist Youth were shut up in the school basement for three days and nights. The next morning some of the pupils 'voluntarily' joined the Communist Youth League.
"Mrs. Landsbergienė, a teacher at the Middle School of Palanga, used to go to church every Sunday. To the harassment of officials she retorted,
" 'Don't interfere in the affairs of my conscience. I am a mature person; I have a firm philosophy of life, which I will not change. If that does not suit you, you can discharge me.'
" 'What shall we do with her?' the official asked. 'It's difficult to obtain teachers who know foreign languages so well.'
"Teacher Landsbergienė even defended pupils who were being pressured, 'Do not persecute the children,' she would say to the other teachers, 'Let them decide for themselves whether to go to church or not.' "
* * *
At the end of August, 1952, teachers gathered for a regional conference. The speaker addressed himself mainly to the problem of religion, saying that many students go to church, etc. He reminded his listeners that there are still teachers who believe in God. One of the teachers was invited up on the stage. A deathly silence came over the auditorium, which held 300 teachers from the district.
The secretary of the Communist Youth League demanded, "Well, now, do you believe in God?"
"Yes, I believe," the teacher replied.
"Leave the conference, and pick up your papers at the Department of Education. We have no need of such teachers."
The teacher was discharged, even though she had performed her duties conscientiously.
* * *
Teacher (Miss) Lazinskaite was discharged from her position with the Telsiai Institute of Applied Arts just because she had helped decorate a church.
"Aren't you sorry that you had to suffer on account of the Church?" someone asked her.
"I don't regret it," the teacher replied, "Even though I might have to suffer for it again, I would not refuse to help the Church."
* * *
Teachers relate all sorts of experiences which they underwent when they had to collect ballots. The Saturday before elections lessons would be curtailed and extensive preparations would begin, with dancing in the evening. Elections usually fell in Lent, and the red guards would make it a point to dance, emphasizing their disregard for Lent. Some teachers would absolutely refuse to dance, while others comprised. This was their first step in conforming.
"We left at six in the morning to collect ballots," says one teacher. "There were three of us: myself, a red guard and the driver. People were still sleeping. We would knock on the door and rouse them to hurry and vote. Whether they voted or not, we had orders to mark "Yes" for everyone.
In one home, we found a sick old man.
"Vote, Dad! Stick these votes in the ballot-box," said the red guard, pushing the ballots into the patient's hand.
"Get away, you evil spirit! You see that I'm about to die, and yet you want me to sell my soul to Satan."
The guard began to explain that voting was mandatory, and besides, it was a great honor.
"They say that the rosary is the only defense against the devil," said the old man, pulling a rosary out from under his pillow, and he began to make the sign of the cross over the guard, saying, "Get back, satan!"
The guard cursed and left the old man in peace.
We drove on. Some people we visited, and some we skipped; but the ballots wound up in the ballot-box. On the lists the word "Yes" stood out.
* * *
One middle school was being visited by the Party Committee and the Department of Education. The officials dropped in on a geography class, and listened attentively to the lesson.
Afterwards, the visitor said, "Teacher, you did a good job on the lesson — we were quite pleased. However, there was no anti-religious element in your lesson. That is a great defect in your work —see that you correct it."
"What does atheism have to do with geography?" asked the surprised teacher.
The visitors called the geography teacher a retardate and reported her to the Department of Education, which ordered the school inspector to check this teacher's lessons regularly.
"Once again, there was no anti-religious content," complained the inspector during a visit, "How many times yet shall I have to visit during your lessons?"
"You can visit every day if you want," replied the teacher, "I will still not talk against religion."
* * *
In the middle school at Kaltinėnai, Teacher Lazdukas was ordered to prepare a lesson on the atheistic theme.
"You'll never get me to do it," said the teacher, who was a believer. "Even if you fire me, I will not prepare an atheistic lecture, nor will I give one."
The teacher was discharged. With a large family of eight children to support, the teacher took on physical labor. Only after a few years did he get some teaching to do in a middle school for adults.
* * *
Homeroom teachers must give an account to the Department of Education of how many Pioneers and how many Communist Youth there are in the class.
In the elementary school at Skudutiškis, in the Region of Molėtai, matters had deteriorated in this regard. Believing parents rigidly resisted and would not allow their children to join Godless organizations.
The principal accosted the daughter of the director of the dairy and the daughter of the area chairman, saying,
"Both of you must join the Communist Youth League."
"We don't want to, and we won't."
"No one cares what you want. If you don't join the Communist Youth League, we will expel you from school, threatened the principal, Miss Jackeleviciute.
The girls remained standing all day in the teachers' room. The next, it was the same thing all over again, but the pupils held firm.
"On your way home, now! And don't let me see you in school again!" screamed the principal.
The girls went home weeping.
Two weeks later, the pupils were allowed to return to school, but the terror continued.
"Join the Communist Youth League, or we'll put you out of school for good."
The girls were suspended for a week—"to think it over". They had the sympathy of schoolmates, and even the faces of some teachers showed sympathy.
When a week had gone by, the approach changed; regional Party representatives took over the threatening.
"If you don't join the Communist Youth League, we will put your parents out of work, we will not let you take the examinations, we will not give you your report," shouted the government officials.
The girls, after standing all day in the teachers' room, would not fill out the application.
In protest against such unfairness, the entire class went to church together at Easter.
"Well, you churchmice, you were in church," shouted Principal Jackeleviciute and Teacher Tropikas.
"We went!" replied all the students in chorus.
"Take your books and go home. Tomorrow, everyone come in with your parents," ordered the principal.
When the parents came in, they defended their children.
"What makes you so unreasonable?" the principal shouted at the girls.
"It's your pressuring that has made us get our backs up. You're wasting your breath; we are not about to join the Communist Youth League."
The principal, unable to control her anger, ran from the teachers' room, while both girls went off to May devotions. The pressure had been withstood.
* * *
Teacher Buržinskas, of the Applied Arts Institute of Telšiai, coming to the dormitory after examinations, told students of the third year that they had received only a 3, and so none of them would receive a scholarship.
"If you join the Communist Youth League, we'll let you have a re-take. I'll give you three hours to think it over."
Two of the students filled out the questionnaire. Later, it became known that they had made a 4 in the examinations, and that Teacher Burzinskas had lied, hoping by deceit to enlarge the ranks of the Communist Youth.
Third-year sdudent Marytė was summoned to the teachers' room and plied with threats to join the Communist Youth League. The girl fainted and was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
"If you joined the Communist Youth League, the other girls would join. They won't join because in your class you have influence," the teacher said to one student. "If you do not join the Communist Youth, we will cut you up in the examinations, and you will not receive your diploma. And even if you do get your diploma, you will not get a job."
The girl prayed and determined to put up with anything, but not to give in to force.
"Explain in writing why you do not join the Communist Youth League," ordered the dean.
The girl wrote:
"The Soviet Constitution gives all citizens—Party members and non-Party members—the right to education and work. Why do you teachers force me to join the Communist Youth League and threaten that I will not receive my degree or get a job? Even though I am not a member of the Communist Youth League, I know how to work and how to study well."
In the faculty meeting, after the girl's response had been considered, it was decided to suspend her stipend for three months. The girl almost starved for a time. Later, people, finding out about her difficult situation, began to help her. Three months later, she received a scholarship again and she was left in peace.
* * *
In the Middle School of Klaipėda, a first-year pupil was being pressured to join the Little Octobrists. The child began to weep.
"I want to ask my father first. If he lets me, then you can sign me up."
"Don't tell your father that you're a Little Octobrist.—He won't know and so he won't scold you."
"My father loves me and I tell him everything. If he doesn't want me to do something, I won't do it."
The next day, the child told the teacher to delete his name from the Little Octobrists, since his father did not approve of the organization. The teacher was forced to delete the boy's name.
* * *
In the Region of Skuodas, Teacher Macijauskas of the middle school at Šatės brought pupil Kušleikis to the teachers' room and pushing a pen into his hand, pressed him to fill out an application to join the Communist Youth League. The boy slipped out and ran home in tears. His father, going to the school, defended his son.
"So you told the old man about it." said Macijauskas. "Even though he is your father, you don't have to obey the old man."
"Would you like it if someone taught your children to disobey you?" the boy retorted.
Teacher (Mrs.) Benetienė badgered one sixth-grader to join the Pioneers. Unable to influence the pupil, the teacher summoned his mother.
"I am religious, I taught my son his prayers, I take him to church, and so I will never agree to let my son join the Pioneers. I will not sign over my son's soul to the devil. Do not invite me here on this matter ever again," the brave woman declared.
* * *
In the middle school of Kulautuva, pressure to join the Communist Youth League was stepped up when Principal Stropus and Associate Principal Jauniškis took over.
During 1957-58, tenth-grade pupil M. Sieravičiūtė was expelled, to intimidate the pupils. Party Secretary Strelcov of the Kaunas regional Party advised the administration to take this course of action. Only after considerable effort was the Sidaravičius girl allowed to finish middle school.
This is what Paragraph 124 of the Soviet Constitution, "The school is separated from the Church" means in practice! Editorial Note: For security reasons, we have deleted some names of persons and places.