Between 1941 and 1953, thousands of Lithuanians were deported by the Soviet Union as far from their homeland as the northern reaches of Siberia. While many perished as they contended with hunger, thirst, illness, harsh weather, ill-suited clothing, and poor housing, several survived, returned, and recounted their experiences. Returned adult deportees often recall solidarity among Lithuanians, interactions with locals and authorities, and efforts to maintain agency and continue cultural traditions. Children remember going to school, relying on their parents, and returning to Lithuania. Deportees and others involved in recording their memoirs wrote them in Lithuanian or translated them into English for different purposes and with different intended audiences. The ways in which deportees describe their experiences and what they omit from their stories have shaped Lithuania’s national identity when it reemerged as the Soviet Union fell following Stalin’s death in 1953 and Lithuania redeclared its independence in 1990. The years in which memoirs were published also likely influence their contents. Despite the horrors of deportation, returnees describe positive aspects of the experience. Many deportees portray themselves as struggling for survival, but not as helpless victims. Relatively rare mention of conflict among Lithuanian deportees and identification of non-Lithuanian deportees’ ethnicities suggest the importance of Lithuanians striving together for a common goal: survival and return to Lithuania. The creation of museums focused on deportation, incorporation of memoirs in school curricula, observation of a Day of Mourning and Hope, and portrayal of deportations in works of literature and film demonstrate their lasting impact and significance.
- The Contribution of Lithuanian Deportees’ Memoirs to Lithuanian National Identity
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