Kazys Romanas Valys
My grandfather Kazys Romanas Valys was born on May 25th in 1942 in the Raseniai district municipality, Lithuania. His mother Bronė Valytė, born on April 2nd in 1920, lost her life after being hit by a grenade in August 1944 in Jurgaičiai, the Jurbarbas district municipality. Until 1949 my grandfather was raised by his maternal grandmother. After her death, he grew up with his aunt, i.e. the sister of his mother, who replaced him both the mother, of whom he has never seen even a photo, and a father, whom he saw only once. In this interview my grandfather shares not only how the World War II changed his and his parents’ lives but also how one German and two Soviet occupations influenced the lives of his numerous uncles and aunts from maternal side.
Please introduce yourself.
Kazys Romanas Valys. Two names.
How did it happen that you have two names?
Previously, there was such a tradition, even now it still exists. Firstly, I had been baptized as Romas. After that, the priest said that Romas was not a saint‘s name. So the name of my father Kazimieras [Kazys Kazimieras — R. B.] was added to that because Kazimieras is a saint‘s name. That‘s why two names. Many people have two names, especially those born before the war. Even now when people are baptized…
You said that you didn‘t know your father, but his name was Kazys, right?
Yes. It is because of the war, people had to flee. My mother Bronė, who was named after her father Bronius, was born on April 2nd in 1920. I was told that she was tremendously beautiful, but very raffish, she liked going to dances. Her cousin said that she had a photo of her, but I didn‘t visit her back then. Later on, I drove there with Jurgis [the uncle of my grandfather – R.B.], she was no longer alive.
My mother loved me. When I was born, the war had already begun. Our birthplace was next to Kalnujai, where in August 1944 the middle of the front line was. Russians were on the hill in Kalnujai, Germans were farther, some 10 kilometers behind us. We were in this gap of 4 kilometers. Civilians used to be evacuated for them not to die. At that time they were evacuated to Butkaičiai, Jurbarkas district. When my mother died there, I was two and three months old. She was sitting, I was lying next to her. During an artillery shooting, a grenade was thrown next to her, just like now civilians lose their lives. After that she was alive for a while, Germans drove her to the military hospital, but she didn‘t survive. At first, she was buried in Butkaičiai where she died, now in Girkalnis. Before she died, she had been conscious and asked for me.
My grandmother Kazimiera, born in 1870 or 1871, had been raising me for 7 years until 1949 when she died. She wasn‘t very old, but she died because of the hardships related to the war. Besides, she raised 9 children. We all used to sleep in one bed. I wanted to go to her on the last night. She was feeling bad, so I was told: “Don‘t go, grandma is very ill.” So I had to stay apart from her. She loved me very much, and I loved her very much too. I still remember and think of her.
And the grandfather?
My grandfather Leonas died in 1939. He was 20 years older than my grandmother. When Lithuania was being built as a state, he or his father – I think it was him – belonged to the volunteers in 1918 and for this got some land, some 8 hectares, added to the land he already possessed. In total, he had 18 hectares of land and 2 hectares of forest. 16 hectares were in Vengerskai (4 km behind Kalnujai) and on this side of Kalnujai, some 6 km, 2 hectares and also in Andriušaičiai, where after the death of my granny, I came to the sister of my mother named Kazimiera, born in 1913, who raised me. I used to call her mother. She didn‘t do me any wrong, loved me as her own. She had one son, Algis. She loved us both equally. I was angry when I was called an orphan by the women in the village. She died in 2010 in Vilnius.
If my mother hadn‘t died, maybe she and my father would have lived together, but after she died, he married another woman.
Did he live in your village?
No, farther away, some 20 kilometers away. He was a friend of my mother‘s brother. Together they fled because of the war, then came back again.
The only time I saw him was when he visited his cousin. There was a celebration, a lot of guests, we were there too. I know he was bald, wanted to catch me, but I was some 9 years old, ran away, didn‘t dare. Life was very hard after the war, so he used to help, give us potatoes. Mother [the aunt who raised my grandfather – R.B.] used to go there to pick them up. Or sometimes he would send someone. He lived better, so he would help us with potatoes or hay. We didn‘t have anything to feed the cows with, so he gave us hay or grain to bake bread. Life was hard for all people. During the first 20 years after the war people had a very rough time. Born in a village, you had to work in the village.
Where did they flee to during the war?
To Germany, to the farmers.
As forced laborers (Zwangsarbeiter) or volunteers?
No, they went into hiding voluntarily, used to show up from time to time.
So they were on the run from the Germans?
Both from the Germans and the Russians because they didn’t want to join the army. It was such a time when people used to hide as well as they could. The men were taken to work, so they left as volunteers and worked for the farmers in Germany. It was better there, especially compared to those who had to work as forced laborers like my two uncles. One of them, Marčius, was 14 years old, he was quite chunky, and another, who later lived in Belgium, was smaller, but he was 18 years old. Germans were on the hunt for men. The so-called militia, gendarmes, would suddenly appear, I think in Germany they were called gendarmes. They would pick up men and transport them to Germany. So they ended up in Belgium, which was occupied. One of them didn‘t return, whereas Marčius stepped on a mine during the expulsion and was torn apart, he died on the spot.
In which country, in Belgium?
No, they hadn‘t reached Belgium yet by that time.
Maybe in Germany or somewhere else or maybe still in Lithuania. I don‘t know that.
So two of them were taken from home?
There were a lot of captured men from the village. Some of them returned when Russians seized Lithuania. Bronius didn‘t return, he stayed in Belgium.
So the one who stayed in Belgium was your mother‘s…
Brother. The one who lost his life was also her brother. He lived there, but he used to come back here. It was already allowed in the 1980s, he returned to Lithuania for the first time. The Russians didn’t allow it before, they didn‘t want people to come and go here.
So he was also here [Šiauliai, where my grandparents live – R. B.] on a visit, right?
Yes, he was here, there are photos.
But he could still speak Lithuanian?
He knew Lithuanian. At first, it was difficult for him to speak, his language was rusty. He had to work there, there were almost no Lithuanians, he rarely met them. Then he started coming back here more often, he remembered the language again.
When did he die?
Well, I think he died in 2003, maybe in 2004. He was more than 70 years old, born in 1925. I still have a jacket and jeans that he brought me when the Russians were still commanding everything here.
Who informed you about his death?
When he came back for a visit, he took a daughter of his nephew with him to Belgium, where she got married and lives till now. The “Belgian”, we used to call him the “Belgian”, “Belgian”, had six children. The oldest one named Jonas lived in Germany. There you have Germany, then you have a river, and then you have Holland. The river separates Germany and Holland. So he built a house, got married and lived there. Jonas came to Lithuania too, but he didn‘t know the language.
The wife of the “Belgian” was a Belgian, right? He had children with her?
Yes, yes, he married a widow. Her husband died during the war, she had one child, but somehow the child died later too. So she was a widow, not a maiden, and he had 6 children with her. Either they were born in the same year, or she was a little bit older.
But she didn‘t come to Lithuania with him?
No, she had already died when he returned. He came here with Jonas and later on with someone else, but I didn‘t see that. He used to come here as a guest. Until Lithuania wasn‘t independent, they were being spied on. Can you imagine? When they came to Vilnius, they weren‘t allowed to go anywhere else, neither to go to their birthplace nor to visit the graves of their parents. In the hotel the agents of the state security were working, so they had to be bribed with something brought for them, then they would close their eyes, saying: “But don‘t stay there long“.
So he couldn‘t have come to Šiauliai?
No, no, no.
So it was illegal?
It was illegal, the occupants were bribed, so to speak. The Lithuanian communists.
So you met him for the first time when he came here in 1980?
In 1980 for the first time. We came to Vilnius, the aunt lived there, my cousin Algis too. We met there, celebrated, went to the restaurant ,,Lithuania“. The hotel was like a dormitory, it was called a hotel for foreigners. The rooms were not tidy, full of covert listening devices, you couldn’t speak with each other, only outside. If he had been caught, he wouldn‘t have been able to visit again. But since they were bribed, he came to Girkalnis, where his parents and siblings are buried, the grave of my mother, of the grandparents. Farther than Raseiniai, I think he didn‘t go but came back instead. Also, he stayed for a day in Kaunas. Jurgis organized a celebration, a family meeting, he had enough space. So after the first visit, he left. Later on, when Gorbachev came to power in 1987, it was freer, he was allowed to come for the second time; in 1989 he came for the third time. At that time Jurgis (my uncle, his brother) went to meet him. Bronius, the “Belgian” was born in 1925, Jurgis in 1933. So the latter and his friends called Bronius, who was driving from Vilnius. At that time it was already free, communists no longer prohibited it, they saw that Lithuania was becoming independent. So they stopped on the motorway before Kaunas with a Lithuanian flag, having said to Bronius before: “When you see a Lithuanian flag, here we are.“ So at that time they traveled a lot, visited us, also Raseiniai, Dana [the cousin of my grandfather, the sister of Kęstas, whose daughter lives in Belgium – R.B.], who lived behind Gruzdžiai.
So when did he come to Lithuania for the last time?
He used to come here often. The last time was probably in 2001 or 2002.
But he is buried in Belgium?
Buried in Belgium, I don‘t know how, I haven‘t been there. They lived in Belgium in a town not far away from the border with Holland.
So when he came and talked to you, didn‘t he tell you about the wartime?
He used to tell, didn‘t have enough time. He was surrounded by people. A lot of us were alive at that time. During his first visit, even the aunt Marytė from Vilnius was alive. Three sisters were alive.
Yes. My mother (she raised me, I call her mother), Poškienė in Vilnius and Alelė. Yes, there were three sisters when he came for the first time. Moreover, brothers Jonas and Jurgis. Five of them in total. Two brothers, three sisters and a lot of children. A lot, a lot, children’s children.
Coming back to your childhood and the Soviet occupation, you said that your grandfather had land. So when Russians came in 1940, did they nationalize a part of it? [As a result of the Secret Protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact on August 23rd in 1939, the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania on June 15th in 1940 – R.B.]
They didn‘t have enough time to take it away from everyone because the war with Hitler started in 1941. They took it away in 1944, people were herded to the kolkhoz, people had to work there and didn‘t get anything. After one year of working they would get 10-20 kg grains of the worst quality. They gave 60 acres for survival, everyone was made equal. If someone from the family took off to work in another place, they would take half of it away, 30 acres. Lithuania faced great hardships over the 20 years after the war, till 1965. After that, it was slowly getting better.
Do you remember the deportations after the war when you were a child?
How can I not remember? People were deported until 1953 when Stalin died.
What exactly do you remember?
Our aunt, the sister of my mother, was deported in 1945. She served a man called Butkus, they married him on one Sunday, and the next Sunday they were deported. Teresė, her daughter, was born there, so probably she was pregnant when they were deported. She said: “God, we need to find at least something…“So she ran away, stribai caught her. Ordinary Russian people were good, they faced a lot of hardships, but there were a lot of members of the NKVD. So she was helped, ran away on a train with a girl of three months, can you imagine? From Irkutsk, through the whole of Russia, more than 10 000 kilometers. The trains were not as they are now. They [the communists – R.B.] lugged her around, later started investigating. The chairman of the district interceded for her, he said: “What is her guilt — on one Sunday she was a servant, next Sunday she became a wife, what kind of a bourgeois is she?“ So finally they left her in peace. She faced hardships until she left for Vilnius, where she married a man called Poškus. Her husband Butkus ran away in the other direction, he was caught. Later he married there, he returned from Russia late. Teresė died last year, she lived in Kaunas.
Communism was terrible. A lot of people died of hunger, how many died in trains during the deportations?
When did you start working in kolkhoz?
Till I joined the army. After that, I didn‘t return. I had started for a while, but then I left for a builder school.
How old were you when you started school? How many classes have you finished?
Eight, I think.
Five. I was ill, thereafter I didn‘t want to continue. I was good at math, geography. If I had been good at the Lithuanian language, I would have studied further, I would have been allowed to study whatever I wanted. I used to make a lot of mistakes in the Lithuanian language, I couldn‘t do anything about it. Globienė, the teacher in the secondary school, used to say: “You are much better at German or Russian than at Lithuanian.” Even the principal of the gymnasium once came to our house to encourage me to study. After that, I went there for a week or two, then became ill again. That was all.
You mentioned once that your father belonged to Komsomol, that‘s why he hid from the Germans?
It seems that he didn‘t, but it is not clear. He kept in contact with the father of Kęstas, with whom my father fled to work in Germany. The father of Kęstas returned to Lithuania when Russians occupied it and had to join the army. After serving there, he returned. The chairman of the district kept in contact with the partisans. He was present when once the father of Kęstas drank with other men and told them: “I belonged to Komsomol in 1940, now I am a communist. Now I have a pistol with my name on it“. In fact, he wasn‘t a communist. He made the story up because he was drunk.
It was good that the partisans who came later were smart. They took him outside and said: “So, member of Komsomol, communist, give up your pistol“. “Well, I don‘t have it, I haven‘t even touched it. I told the story because I was drunk. I only had a pistol when I was in the army. “So where is your communist ticket?“ “I don‘t have it, you can search for it if you want.“ So they beat him with a stick on his neck and bottom, even though they could have shot him. After the war you had to know with whom and against whom to speak, you couldn‘t jest. It was no laughing matter.
The interviews are given in the original language or a transliteration of it with preservation of national, regional and individual speech peculiarities.