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PART II
ANTANAS - OFF TO SIBERIA

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With what little my father told us just prior to Anantas's arrival, our curiosity was just itching to find out what happened to him. The questions started as soon as he arrived. Antanas went non stop for hours telling us what he experienced. It was better than a movie on the television.

In 1944, after we left, Antanas felt confident that the Russians would treat him properly. The hydroelectric project he was working on would require another two years and since he was a US Citizen born in Philadelphia he had nothing to fear.

Well, the hydroelectric project ended by 1947. Antanas was ready to go home to the US. But no, the Commissars wanted Antanas to help on another project. Antanas packed his bags and took a train ride toward Moscow. Somewhere along the way he was transferred to a box car without explanation.  It became clear that his reward for working on the Hydro project would be an all expense paid trip to Siberia.

The train went on its way toward Murmansk. The line was one of several built during the war to transport supplies from Murmansk and to return with wood and tanks that needed repair. Every so many kilometers there was a wood stop. Barren waste land as far as the eye would see.

The train stops again to drop off wood. This time all passengers are told to get out. They are welcomed to their new home. Broken down shacks, junked war equipment consisting of tanks and trucks and a few guard towers. Someone asked why there were no fences. A guard replied "So where you going to run?"There was just open space for at least 50 kilometer around. Frozen tundra in the winter, bug infested swamp in the summer and a railroad line north to south. Who needs a fence. An escapee will either freeze, drown or get caught.

Great "Welcome to your New Home"! The train crew threw out shovel, picks, hammers and other assorted tools and supplies. "Here now build your new housesand plant your potatoes. Spring is just around the corner."  The train continued north and left its passengers and a small contingent of Russian guards.

It was very cold. Someone suggested that everyone might as well find shelter. Very quickly little groups formed for self protection. The new colony (prison) was made up of Russian criminals, German prisoners of war, American and British fighter pilots that got shot down and landed in Russian occupied territory, Poles, Jews and other ethnic groups including Lithuanians whose only crime was being educated or non Russian and thought to be a threat by some Commissar.

Gradually the shacks turned into habitable shelters. Some groups got jealous of other groups who managed to have better quarters. Antanas was an engineer and in his tight group were a few other Lithuanians, a German, several Brits and a Frenchman. Antanas noticed the shells of broken down tanks just outside the compound and got permission from the Russian guards to scavenge the area. He devised a way to make shears to cut metal. With the cut up metal his group made various other items. They built a stove, some large vats and sundry other items. Some of their products they bartered with several other groups for needed commodities. The Russian criminals got better treatment by the guards. They also got better rations. They were also very lazy. Antanas's group started a good little business and seemed to have as much as the Russians.

However, it was difficult keeping certain rations. When the sugar distribution came (monthly) Antanas would swallow it right then and there for fear of it being stolen.
  

All prisoners were allowed to receive one letter a year. Antanas never got one because no one knew he was there. Some of the prisoners started to die off. Strong husky men dropped dead from lack of determination. They huddled in a corner and gave up. Antanas and his group were determined that they would eventually be free again. They learned from each other. Antanas taught Lithuanian and he learned German, Polish and French. This determination kept them going in a land where there was little to do after dark. There were many dark nights this far north and the winters were extremely long.

Then gradually the prisoners of war were sent home. The German told Antanas that he would not forget him. The German went home. Instead of a greeting, he found that his wife had sold his business, remarried and lost all his money. She thought her husband was dead. The German was devastated. He made plans to go to Australia. However, prior to leaving he wrote to a major Philadelphia newspaper telling them that a citizen of the US born in Philadelphia was being detained in a Russian prison camp in Siberia.

A reporter in Philadelphia did a follow up on this letter and found that Antanas's parents now lived in New York City (Brooklyn). Antanas was not aware of what was happening. The German knew that if he wrote to Antanas his yearly letter would be wasted. He contacted the Red Cross and told them about Antanas.

Everyone, as usual, gathered for the mail call. Antanas was shocked when his name was called.  He got a post card from the Red Cross requesting that he confirm who he was. Finally after all these years he could send a letter out.

Boy could he tell a story. We were riveted to his every word.

Every night he told great stories.



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© copyright Raymond Balta