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At the Varena Training Grounds

(1941.05. - 1941.06.22)

1. Political Education, “Politruks” (Political Instructors), “Komsomolets” (“Young Communists”), & Others

“At the start of March 1941, the famous order #30 of the NKO (National Defense Committee) was received with the “ingenious” Soviet Marshal's expression: “To teach only that which is necessary for war and act in the way that is to be acted at war.” At that time, a major attempt was made on planning to send the Lithuanian Army Corps to Svencioneliai, Pabrade, and Varena training grounds. Because of the ill feelings of the Lithuanian soldiers towards the Soviets, it seemed that dispersing of the corps was the only way by which it might be possible to avoid the excessive action and to execute the devilish plan - to completely liquidate all the military officers, more conscious non-commissioned officers and soldiers. And in such manner, it would be possible to rectify the comedy of the Lithuanian Corps, which was daily becoming more dangerous for P.R.I.B.O.V. (Baltic Special Military Region). (“Red Terror in Varena Training Grounds” by Lt. B. Arunas, published in “Karys” No. 4, January 17, 1941, pgs. 2 – 3).


Having finally reached the training grounds, after the long march, our subunit spread out by the Varenele (or the Varene) stream, which had its source from Varene Lake. One division from the so-called “29th Rifle Corps” was located there. The other part of the army of the former independent Lithuania was distributed on Pabrade training grounds. In such way it was easier for the Bolsheviks to hold under control and order our soldiers according to their wishes.

In the middle of May having arrived to Varena woods, we found it already full of busy soldiers from other subunits. Everybody was preparing their camps. Our “17th PTO” division ended up at the edge of the structured campsite, next to the stream. From the other side, right next to us, the Reconnaissance Cavalry Detachment were erecting their tents, and father on, following the stream, other subunits: Anti-Aircraft Artillery Detachment, 616th and 617th Artillery Regiments, Signal Battalion, and 306th Separate Pioneer (Field-Engineer) Battalion. The Division Headquarters were farther to the southeast behind the railroad.

“It was an old Varena Artillery Ground Camp, situated two kilometers north of Varena-1. The camp was in the sandy woods in the delta of the Merkys and Varene rivers, in the southern corner of which was part of Varena-1 town. And at the northern border, Varene, Glukas, Glukaitis and Ezerelis Lakes were interspersed. In the west, and from the north to the south, the Varene River was flowing with steep banks, up to 2 meters deep at some spots, and about 5 meters wide. To reach the camp, two wooden bridges were built across the Varene river - one by the sanatorium and the other by the eastern border of the camp. Adjacent to the right bank of the Varene River is the highway Alytus-Varena, which at Varena, connects with the other highway running from Merkine. The rapid river Merkys, with sandy banks and no vegetation, flows in the east.

In addition to the buildings of the camp, there were remains of an old brick railway station with three brick warehouses and a water-supply tower. In the western campsite, a brick tuberculosis sanatorium building was located, and inside, alongside TB patients, NKVD agents were lodged.

Natural obstacles surrounded the camp itself, and it was very appropriate to close off the Lithuanian Military Subunits of Territorial Corps (see diagram).

It can be seen from the diagram, that all the exits from the camp were closed off by natural barriers, or by the subunits of Bolsheviks, and it can be added, that it was barricaded by barbed wire between Varena Lake and Glukas Lake. Russian soldiers kept watch on the bridges, and patrols walked, around the perimeter of the camp and in between the lakes, completing the image of a concentration camp”.

(B.B. “Activities of 184 Rifle Division Against Bolsheviks 1941, June 22 – 24”, “Karys” No.15, 1942, April 4, Pg. 3)

Here it may be mentioned that in the aforementioned Varena sanatorium, in which NKVD spies were hidden, my father Kazimieras Cerskis (Chersky) - a volunteer from the wars of Lithuania's independence - in 1929 was undergoing treatment (two years prior to his death).


After the commanders had assigned borders for our location, and after receiving the order, we began to raise our tents and clear the area. The arrangement was very cramped, so the tents were being lined up in lines that were very close together. Almost on top of one another, only a small gap between rows was left. Those 5 meter aisles were used for morning and evening roll calls. The stream left a small square open lower, for military lessons as well as for the field canteen and kitchen.

For making our division visibly separate from the one next to us, the leaders ordered to mark it off. Digging small ditches separated it and the banks of the ditches were covered with turf dug from the edge of the woods. Such clearly visible ditches and the borders of dry turf quickly spread through the whole camp territory and separated us from the Reconnaissance Cavalry Detachment. Such turf was also used for pressing down the sides of the tents and also for making the interior of the tents soft and ready for sleeping arrangements. So we needed a lot of “this kind of building material”, and a large patch of ground was left bald at the edge of the woods.


“On the grounds, on which a whole month (before our arrival, L.C.) Work Companies were working, but nothing had been prepared for the benefit of the soldiers except many hole-pits, which were dug, in disorderly rows. They were supposed to mark the locations of the tents. <...>

The first difficult problem for the leadership to solve was the question of the tents. The famous P.R.I.B.O.V. calculated an overabundance of tarpaulin but when it came to outfitting the campsite, it turned out that there was not enough. For several weeks, some companies slept under the open sky, suffering cold May nights and other spring weather conditions. Meanwhile, political instructors, commissars, and other true “Reds” accommodated themselves quite comfortably and with plenty of room, while settling themselves in pairs and singly in tents designed for 10. At the end, people were crammed into the remaining tents and the so-called mass works began: building the main roads, laying pedestrian pathways, building Lenin's squares and corners. Regarding the training and tactical exercises, even though grandiose programs was on paper, there was no time left even to mention those programs. Only one item of the daily program was followed diligently, and that was physical exercises: half naked soldiers woken at the earliest hour (the wake-up time was 4 a.m. Moscow time) were being chased around for a full 20 minutes under the careful supervision of political instructors and their assistants. And after that, the whole day through, work, work, work without any plan or organization.

For instance, before noon the company builds a main road of the camp, pours gravel out and marks it with white stones. In other words, makes it look like a real highway. Upon finishing the job, the famous Colonel Vinogradov (Deputy Commander of the 184 Rifle Division) arrives. He looks at it, makes a face as if he is thinking very deeply, and says: “That road is not in the right place. It isn't according to the camp's plan. It should be re-grounded with turfs right away and a new road built in this area.” (By Lieutenant B. Arunas)


The 306th Pioneer-Field Engineer Battalion was also disposed on that summer training ground. My brother Vincas - - Junior Lieutenant - served there. His subunit ended up almost in the very middle of the relocated division.

Next to our division, closer to Varena, several pure occupants all-Russian Red Army divisions were disposed. At the nighttime they would surround our positions from afar and, supposedly protecting us from the imaginary “enemy”, were imitating “maneuvers”.

After finishing all the works concerning our base camp surroundings, various lessons in “war education” and marching instructions for field fighting started. At the same time, some socialistic contests for the most beautiful “Red corner” and similar “political education exercises” (“politpadgatowka”) took place. This was taught by the Commissar while his confidential assistants - political instructors (most often Lithuanian Jews and Russians) would translate the instructions directly from the Russian language.

There, at the Varena training grounds, I got to know new soldiers who were recently transferred to our subunit. They were: Political Instructor Navickas (if he could be called a soldier) and Private Bzeskis. The latter was born in 1917 and was from the “Old Guard”. Private Bzeskis had served one and a half years but was not sent to reserves. We had more of such “older” soldiers.

As mentioned before, the Commander of our subunit was Colonel Jackus Banys, from Zemaitija, - a great person. He used to teach at the President A.S. Military School in Kaunas. The Commissar of the battalion – political instructor was a Russian G. Abramenka. He was of small stature and had a pockmarked face.

During the years 1932-1936, G. Abramenka was the Red Army's “political activist” (as A. Martinionis writes in his book -“The Tragedy of the Lithuanian Army”, Vilnius, “Mintis” 1993). In 1937 he was appointed as “politruk” (political instructor), and as commissar in 1938. In August 1940 he arrived at the “Special Baltic Military Region”.

He shares quite interestingly the remembrances of “political leader’s”” in that booklet:

“At the beginning of September, 1940 I arrived to Lithuania with other friends (from Riga - L.C.). At that time, the 29th Territorial Rifle Corps was being formed. The political Lithuanian leaders were dismissed and we took over all the responsible political posts because we were loyal and trusted. We were watchful and mindful. At the start, we were introduced to the military officers. The Commander of the 7th Division, Colonel J. Banys, his Chief of Staff, P. Petronis, and military officers all spoke Russian. Three political instructors, who arrived at the same time as I did, helped in my squadron. At that time fifty commissars and political instructors arrived at the 184th battery. I was pretty much in accord with the officers, especially with Petronis. He helped me to prepare orders for the officers. I would write them down in Russian, and Petronis would translate them into Lithuanian, rewriting them in Cyrillic. Though it wasn't smooth, this allowed me to read the text in Lithuanian. I was very much amazed by the dutifulness of the Lithuanian officers. All orders were executed precisely and in a timely manner.”

The Commander of the detachment in which I served also a Russian - Junior Lieutenant Istognyj - was appointed. He was born in 1922, just out of military school in Leningrad and was sent to the occupied Lithuania. A Lithuanian Russian- Lieutenant Itomlenskis whom I knew pretty well also served in our detachment.

The chief of staff of the “17th PTO” detachment was a hypocrite, Captain Pranas Petronis. He became “chief” when the so-called “Peoples army” was renamed into the “29th Territorial Rifle Corps”. He was sent to us, it seems, also from The First Lithuanian President A.Smetona’s Military School. Already while there, among the officers, he became famous as fierce pedant with sadistic inclinations. Others just simply called him “a sadist”.

I had the opportunity to meet many soldiers and non-commissioned officers who recounted a lot about P. Petronis' behavior. He was especially cruel to those soldiers who were fervent patriots of their homeland. Captain P. Petronis dealt with them like a true wild beast, concocting all kinds of unorthodox physical and moral penalties, which degraded soldiers' human integrity.

Apparently these and similar characteristics of P. Petronis were very suitable to the Red Army and he, having avoided Siberia (translator’s note: many Lithuanian Army officers during Soviet occupation were deported to Siberia), from a regular captain became their chief of staff. And later, after the war, he even became a general. Later he became Military Commissar of the L.T.S.R. (the Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania) and President of “Rodina” (“Homeland”) Association -K.G.B. affiliated society.

Recently I was very astounded and angered when, after Lithuania had regained its independence, I read about Soviet General Petronis as someone who was a victim of the concurrence of circumstances. In the recently revived magazine “Karys”, issued by the Lithuanian State Ministry of Defense, in the issue No.2 of 1992, he speaks in his interview:

“I sometimes ask myself, how I, a Lithuanian military officer, came through alive, did not end up in some prison camp, but later became a Soviet general. Is it a person's fault that he was not assassinated? My conscience (emphasis noted by L.C.) is at peace, and my old colleagues, upon returning from the prison camps, don't mention me in bad words either. And in those days, in 1941, even one word, one glance was enough to seal your fate ... etc.” (from the article “Fate Doesn't Question Your Path”, - written by Liutauras Zvanginis).

The same article is illustrated with a large photograph of Petronis in which the “innocent”, smiling and well-groomed general, on a background of Paleckis’ flags (translator’s note - Paleckis was the puppet president of Lithuania during the Soviet occupation), is parading down the streets of “liberated” (1940) Vilnius together with V. Karvelis and other “brothers-in-arms” from the 16th “Lithuanian” Division - of whom “fate doesn't question the path”, and you almost hear a Russian song “V Day” in the background...

I'm not amazed that “comrade general's” so-called “conscience” is at peace and his “teammates” (probably from the 16th Division) do not mention him in a “bad light”. Petronis simply does not have a conscience, as he didn't have it then, in 1941.

It is sad that there was enough space found in the official magazine of the Ministry of State Defense of the independent Republic of Lithuania to praise this Communists’ General as a “faithful servant of the Soviet rule”, as well as any other bootlicker of the N.K.V.D. – K.G.B., who not so long ago slandered priest Alfonsas Svarinskas and other freedom fighters in Lithuanian “Pravdas”, and to accept them unto the editorial board of the magazine and publish their work (A. Caikovskis is being in mind).

But for the common “fascist” there was no room left in that magazine ... When I was advised by a historian of the Vytautas the Great War Museum of Kaunas to write (and “only for ‘Karys’ magazine”), I trustingly sent them a fragment of my remembrances in the year 1991, but I didn’t see any publication nor I received any answers from the editorial staff regarding it.

Therefore at present I observe with worry, the future of the present Lithuanian army. It is very close (in terminology, personnel and ideology) to the “Populace Army”, the “29th Rifle Corps”, and even the “16th Lithuanian Division”.

When the newly minted leaders or the young Lithuanian soldiers take oaths while raising two fingers in the “Zeligowsky Way” (for “Honour” and for Homeland - firstly for “Honour”, and for Homeland only in the second place), and afterwards they sign into some book, in a very soviet manner, (that they will protect their homeland!), I am thinking which ones among them will become Karvelis-like, Petronis-like, Vitkauskas-like generals...

And why “a Lithuanian military officer remained alive and did not end up in some Lama camp, but later became a Soviet general”- as “Comrade Petronis” is “asking himself”, - the answer may become more clear in my further account.


One Saturday in May, during the military training, Commissar G. Abramenka unexpectedly called me. He alone was waiting for me by the stream. Knowing that I spoke Russian pretty well, the Commissar, without a translator, started the conversation from “afar”. At the beginning he questioned me about my family, my social status and other biographical facts, although it was evident that he already knew a lot about me.

After such a devious introduction, he finally got down to business:

“I invited you, “comrade soldier” in reference to state-loan bonds to be issued in our country. These bonds will be designated to improve agriculture of our country so that we would march faster on the road to socialism. All the working people of the Soviet Union are buying them out, so we, the military, cannot lag behind either. Our division also has to join in. As you know the Russian language well, I'd like to ask you that tomorrow during the morning lineup, you'd come in front of all the soldiers and read this proclamation in Lithuanian. (He showed me a page of a written text). I will read to you in Russian, and you will translate.”

This Russian text sounded more or less like this:

“I, private (such and such), being totally aware of the aspirations and efforts of the working people of our country - the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic - on the uneasy road to the bright future, and while supporting the much-needed progress of the whole socialistic national economy, firmly decided to assist my socialist homeland and I allocate my humble soldier’s annual wage for the undersigning of those bonds. I'm also asking you, my fellow servicemen, to understand the importance of this matter and join in this signing. Ura! (Hurray! – in Russian - translator's note).

After reading this communistic prayer, Commissar passed the text over to me and continued:

“You'll have to learn this speech by heart, and will have to recite after my introductory speech. On your own behalf, you won't be left uncompensated. As your name will be the first on the list, after the speech you will sign it without naming the sum. Later I will mark down only one month's sum, that is, as it is allotted - five litas, and all the following months you'll come to my quarters and pick up the soldier's wages that belong to you. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, I understand”, I answered him in Russian, instantly understanding into what kind of betrayal the Soviet Commissar wants to entangle me. “Forgive me, but I will never be able to do the speech”, I answered him after a moment.

“Why?” he asked surprised.

While I was looking at the received “speech”, I was trying to further extricate myself from such an offer of betrayal: “I would not be talented enough. I have never ever made such a complicated speech. I'm sorry but I really wouldn't be able to do it. I would get all mixed up”. I didn't have to explain further. He understood that in any case I should excuse myself. Abramenka scowled and retorted angrily:

“Well, fine. I understand ... please, do not tell anyone about this conversation or it could damage your further career in our division”- he ordered harshly, definitely threatening me.

So our conversation ended. I saluted, turned around and returned to the day's training. At that time, it happened to be a break. And friends who had heard when I was invited to meet with the Commissar were watching from the distance towards the stream and saw how our conversation was going. Only they didn't hear its content. Therefore upon my return, at once a crowd surrounded me with questions. I got out of it pretending nothing extraordinary happened and just mentioned that we all would have to sacrifice our wages for “some kind of state bonds”, or something like that. I was helped to escape from other questions by the bugle that summoned us to gather for the training. Only later, I told my best colleague Seredinskas from Suvalkija, who I could trust, the true content of the conversation with the Commissar.

The next morning (it was Sunday) our detachment was lined up as usual in the square between the tents. A table was brought out from one of the tents, put in front of the lineup and covered with a red rag. On the table, several books quickly appeared alongside with a pen-stand, ink and several holders. In other words, it was prepared for the communist “mass”. The table of “Antichrist” was laid. Now, in our lineup, we were waiting only for the “priest” of the Bolsheviks.

After several minutes, the whole bunch spilled out from the officers tent: Commissar Abramenka (“chaplain”), Chief of Staff Captain P. Petronis, Division Commander Colonel J. Banys, and Junior Lieutenant Istognyj, a few “politruks” (the “sextons”) and a few officers. All of them lined up, according to rank, behind the red table. First, as he had promised, the Commissar presented his “homily”. Afterwards, Colonel J. Banys and Captain P. Petronis delivered a short speech. In comparison to Banys' speech, Petronis' speech was much more fiery and more Communistic. He had well integrated the occupier's terminology, lauded the “might” of the Soviet Union, and did not forget to mention Stalin “the father, friend, and teacher of all nations”.

I was listening to those boring “homilies” and thought who would say the “prayer” that I had refused to say? And here, at the table, unexpectedly appeared “politruk” (political instructor) Navickas. He recited without an error or faltering the same “prayer” that yesterday I was so unsuccessfully urged by Commissar to proclaim. It turned out he was drilling all night to learn that speech by heart. For that reason, he was designated to keep watch by the tent of the headquarters. We were told later about “his achievements” by one of the soldiers keeping watch with him that night.

The night watchmen would notice other strange happenings. Under the cover of night, small groups of certain “recruits” would be brought in from Varena railway station. They would already be dressed in Lithuanian army uniforms but did not know a word of Lithuanian. Later I found out from them themselves that these “soldiers” were chosen in Leningrad and Moscow from the Young Communists who had distinguished themselves, and having briefly trained in military knowledge and appropriately instructed, were sent to the subunits of occupied Lithuania to form the kernel of the Lithuanian Young Communist League.

After delivering “his” stormy speech, the political instructor Navickas bent over the table and was the first to sign the book, held open by the commissar Abramenka, promising to buy the Soviet bonds. Several political instructors and the young officers plus those new “recruits” stepping out of our lineup followed him. Other soldiers - Lithuanians - were in no hurry to approach the table, where the Soviet “communion” was being doled out. They still felt they were free people and able to decide on their own what to do with their money. The particular explanations didn't help, neither did threat or pressure that Abramanka and Petronis resorted to after they saw that there were not very many “volunteers”. That Sunday the “mass” fell through as most of the soldiers held their lines. But they were not called Communists in vain…

A little later, the Commissar would call one by one by name to the tent and, threatening, he would forced them to sign putting down in writing the sum they were allocating. But (probably fearing mutiny) he came down to the sum for one month's salary, that is, only for 5 litas. So it turns out that Navickas sold himself out quite cheaply. After I “signed”, at every occasion up until the beginning of the war, the political agent Navickas tried to persuade me to join the Young Communists League. It was always very annoying but it was not easy to avoid him. Probably under obligations and instructions from the Commissar, he was using all kinds of “arguments” to achieve his goal.

“You may not be successful in your future life because your father was a volunteer Lithuanian independence fighter and fought against the Bolsheviks, and your mother belonged to the Sauliai (translator's note - para-military organization, kind of Lithuanian National Guard) and yourself, you appear to be disloyal to the authority of the working people”,- he would warn me in a “friendly” way.

“You see, I am still not very familiar with the new order”, I said. “Therefore I cannot suddenly join its organizations”. I tried to extricate myself as much as I could.

“Think very hard about that, as because for this the Russians can deport your mother and all your family to Siberia!”

“Yes, I will think about it...” I always answered to get rid of him.

I believed that the constant pressure from Navickas was the outcome of my refusal to do the propaganda speech. His last “argument” was the strongest one and it made me really worry.


On May 1, 1941, during the “International Workers Solidarity Day”, the whole division conducted a parade of soldiers in one of the squares in the woods. Two “Lithuanian” Generals participated in that “festival” - traitor V. Vitkauskas and Russian- friendly F. Baltusis-Zemaitis sent from Moscow. The latter one took over the leadership from General Vitkauskas. Each division was lined up around the square; only one side in the south was left open. Exactly from that direction came communist Vitkauskas (riding on a white horse!) and F. Baltusis-Zemaitis with his entourage. After acknowledging the international holiday and after brief speeches, the ceremony of the “transferring the authority” (or in other words, - “the selling off”) was finished and all divisions marched in formation past the Bolshevik leaders, proudly sitting on their horses. Among them was the chief “politruk”, the gravedigger of the Lithuanian army, Jonas Macijauskas. After the parade, all divisions returned to their assigned places.


One Sunday in June, my brother - Junior Lieutenant Vincas , came to my detachment. His subunit, as I mentioned before, was located nearby. It was our first meeting on that training camp. Although we had been living near each other for two months, he had been so busy and didn't have time, and I, as a private, had no permission to leave my subunit or associate with soldiers from other subunits.

We walked further from the tents up to the stream so that we could have a normal chat. My brother complained that now our family was practically half-starving. After my father's early death in 1931, my mother was regularly receiving a pension from the Lithuanian government as the widow of the government servant who had died while on duty. (My father died after he had been severely wounded while on duty as the chief of the frontier police force in Trakai). That pension for a teacher with six children was a very big help. Now the occupier took away the government pension and the family ended up almost in poverty. I, because of the Army obligation, didn't work. And at home, two brothers and a sister were in high school, and the youngest sister Onute was still in elementary. Brother explained that mother couldn’t find a job anywhere. That's why he sent his salary – 170 litas - home. He asked me to do the same:

“If you have saved any, even a few litas, you could help mother”, he said.

“OK, I still have 20 litas and I will send it”, I promised.

After having talked a bit about this and that, we said our good-byes and departed. The next day in the morning, unexpectedly, Commissar Abramenka called me in and asked: “What were you talking about by the stream with the lieutenant from the other subunit? Who is he? And what did he want?”

As I understood, political instructor Navickas “marked us down” and at once reported to the commissar. As that time I didn't have any secrets about the conversation with my brother, I retold with no trouble about the difficult situation of our family, etc.

Having listened to the explanation, Abramenka consoled me with a false sympathy: “Do not worry, the Soviet government won't dessert any of its families and will help as much as it can.”

Having “consoled” me in such a way, “Comrade” Commissar asked me once more not to mention that conversation to anyone.


At that time, for all of us from the Lithuanian Automotive Brigade, lessons were being given about caterpillar traction-engines and armoured cars. One day in June, all drivers were lined up and it was announced that now we had to go to Varena railway station. We were taken to the station by a truck and there we saw for the first time the Russian “technology miracle” - the Soviet light tanks with the expressive name “Komsomolets” (a member of the Young Communist League) sat on the open wagons. Those were the caterpillar traction-engines, the special “battle” qualities of which I would get to know a bit later, during the war.

These Russian “Komsomolec”, visually and in construction , were very similar to English “Vickers” which existed in the Lithuanian Army subunit of the Armoured Motor Vehicles in Radviliskis. Perhaps Bolsheviks simply copied them over and gave them a new “idealistic” name. Later my brother Vincas, who, as a junior lieutenant just out of military school, had been undergoing probation at Radviliskis Armoured Vehicle Brigade, also confirmed their extraordinary similarity. Besides, one of the detachments from that subunit was relocated in Kaunas, in Azuolynas, not far from the Sports Hall. So I had seen those “Vickers” not only in pictures.

In the front of “Komsomolets”, there was an armoured cabin with two entry openings on the roof and two seats: for the driver and for the machine-gunner. The cabin was quite comfortable with engine and caterpillar track wielding system (steering sticks). The engine was for petrol, four cylinders (“GAZ AA” type), and speed up to 60 kilometers per hour. There was a truck-like body with low sides behind the cabin. Inside the body itself, alongside, there were another two bench-like seats with backs for three soldiers to sit on each side. So the whole crew for servicing the LAP 105 mm weapon could fit in there. The body was covered with a tarpaulin that could be taken down quickly from the dismountable frames.

The Russians who accompanied the “Komsomolets” to Lithuania in one of the passenger cars helped us to unload the tanks, and they also instructed us a little bit how to control those machines. Having learned quickly, we returned to the training grounds by ourselves without their company. We prepared the parking area for them near the tents, at the edge of the woods. I don't remember precisely how many of those tanks and ordnance we had in our detachment, but I remember several names of the soldiers who, together with me, were driving those machines. They were: Vitas, Seredinskas and Bzeskis. In the tank that I was driving, the ordnance leader was Soviet junior lieutenant Istognyj who always sat in the front, in the seat of a machine-gunner.

By the way, just want to mention that before I joined the army, Bzeskis' father worked in the AMLIT joint stock company, and that I knew him.

2. Bzeskis’ Sabotage

One day after maneuvers, in which all lighter tanks participated, the demobilization of the “old edition”, that is, soldiers born in 1917 was announced. We had several such soldiers in our subunit.

Next morning everyone who had served more than one-and-a-half years, the so-called “old army” wearing Lithuanian Army uniforms were released into reserve without any solemnity. After saying their good-byes, they quietly left for Varena railway station. It was a big surprise for all of us that they were let go in their uniforms. In Lithuanian military forces, the soldiers left for reserves usually in their civilian clothes in which they first came to serve. After seeing off our friends, and after an hour or so we had to get ready for the maneuvers again. After private Bzeskis left for reserve duty, the towing tank he drove had to be taken over by others; this duty was given to private Seredinskas.

After having filled the engine with water, Serediskas tried to start Bzeskis' “Komsomolets” up to check it out how it performs. However, the engine would not start up. Then Seredinskas called over our chief mechanic, who was a re-enlistee, non-commissioned officer Jucaitis, and asked for his help. But even the chief mechanic could not start the engine. Then all the drivers from our subunit gathered at the broken Bzeskis’ tank - trying to find solution to the problem.

At the end the non-commissioned officer Jucaitis, after thoroughly checking the engine, found out that because of the driver's previous negligence there was no water left in the motor, and the iron-forged head of the motor-block cracked from the heat. The seam of the crack was between the first and the second cylinder of the compression chamber - the water got into the cylinder and into the oil carter. In other words, Bzeskis' “Komsomolets” was broken.

Our “politruk” Navickas sped away with that “happy” news and with traitorous satisfaction to announce it to the commissar of the division. Very soon the commander of the subunit Colonel Banys and our other superiors found out about that. Right away the frothing Commissar Abramenka came running into the area together with his bootlicker assistant Petronis.

Like crazy they screamed and shouted abusively, and running from one driver to another they screeched:

“Sabotage! Sabotage! Who organised this bloody sabotage!?”

We stood by and watched those two with our eyes practically popping out of sockets, confused and not understanding what they wanted from us. No secret that some of that Russian “military terminology” we had already learned. I understood everything except that new curse-word “sabotage”. Finally we perceived what they were asking and calmly explained the reason for the breakdown. While we were explaining, the leader of our subunit came over. Commissar Abramenka and Petronis, after finding out that the broken tank had been driven by the demobilized Bzeskis, right away ordered to send two soldiers to the railway station, to apprehend the “saboteur” and bring him back to the subunit.

“It is a clear “sabotage”. Bzeskis is to be shot, or in the best case – incarcerated!” The white faced and fuming Captain Petronis, with some sort of unnatural satisfaction, parroted the Russian Commissar in Lithuanian. In their and the mechanic's opinion, it was practically impossible to fix that breakage, and therefore the new vehicle had to be written off.

“Hold on and don't lose your cool. I don't think that Bzeskis broke the motor on purpose. This probably is the result of a simple human foolishness. It could be understandable... the inexperience with the new technique...” Colonel Banys tried to soften the situation. He tried to quiet down these two enraged beasts, asking not to send the soldiers to the station, but to look for some humane solution and not to sacrifice anyone for a scapegoat.

After the superiors withdrew, suddenly I remembered that exactly such an incident had happened when I was working as a motorist at the AMLIT concern. There (together with the condemned Bzeskis' father), I worked with very good locksmiths who then were able to successfully weld a cracked iron alloy detail.

“The head can be welded”, I announced joyfully to Jucaitis.

“Don't talk nonsense - this is iron alloy”, retorted the senior mechanic.

But after I explained about the skillful AMLIT masters, he reluctantly believed me and ran to call Banys. Then Colonel Banys went into “Comrade” Commissar and “Comrade” Petronis' tent with much bigger hope. Abramenka did not believe at first that the iron-alloyed detail could be welded. Especially one of such a complicated configuration, and asked for me. When I arrived, as much as I could reinforce the belief, I told the story from my civil life but that time in Russian. Finally, I convinced them and the Commissar unwillingly called off the order to arrest Bzeskis, but only “temporarily”. Colonel Banys was very much relieved by that. As soon as he got out of the tent he asked:

“How many days will it be necessary for this job?”

“At the most, a couple of days, sir.”

By that time Bolsheviks demanded that we address officers as “Comrades”, but we addressed in our old manner to non-mercenary superiors.

“Good that you are saving your friend. Here is the money to pay for the welding.”

The Colonel took out 50 litas from his wallet and gave it to me. He was visibly moved and tears glistened in his eyes. “Will it be enough?”

“Why, sir, it might not be necessary to pay so much.”

I was uncomfortable taking Colonel Banys' personal money.

“Take it, take it. If there is any left, use it for your own needs. And for the journey expenses, you will get the government's money.”

With a fast stride Colonel returned to the headquarters tent to prepare the papers for my mission. Meanwhile, I was already happy that after a long time, I would be able to be in my native Kaunas with my own people. After the “deportation” to Vilnius, for a long time nobody saw our soldiers in the temporary capital (translator’s note - before the Soviet occupation Vilnius had been under the Polish rule and Kaunas had been the temporary capital of Lithuania). At this time, Russians would not let anyone go on vacation, and especially not to visit Kaunas.

The cracked head of the engine was already taken off, and it took very little time to wrap it in paper, to tie it up with a string, and the important “package” was ready. Meanwhile I got dressed in a holiday uniform and was waiting for the documents. Shortly, Colonel J. Banys brought them himself and presented the permit for the mission together with the official travelling allowance, and warned:

“I have acquired almost a week - four days from Abramenka. I told him that's how much is needed for the repairs. Be sure that you do not reveal that you need any less.”

After wishing me a good journey, the commander of the detachment said good-bye, shaking my hand like a father and saying: “I'm very grateful that you're saving our man.” I saw in his face joy and trust in me. For me, a private, it was quite an honour to hear this from a Lithuanian colonel who did not play up for the Bolsheviks. (We, all the privates, were aware of it).


After I reached Varena railway station, the train to Kaunas came in quite soon, and already around 3 p.m. I was in my native town. Straight from Kaunas railway station, with my subunit’s “package”, I walked to AMLIT workshops, which were on the corner of Kestutis and Maironis streets (quite close to the Liberty Boulevard). It was a beautiful spring afternoon. The town was already festive in fresh greenness. It was very pleasant to stride proudly again through the streets of my native Kaunas, through the Liberty Boulevard. At the military base I missed seeing people in civil clothes, and there were many of them there. Approaching my old workshop I was happily nervous that soon I would see my old colleagues, “show off” my beautiful Lithuanian uniform, even though it got a bit “trimmed off”, would share my latest impressions and so forth. I was pretty sure of the successful repair of the engine detail. As I turned from Maironis into Kestutis street, I was stopped short and was struck speechless.

“Stop! Permit!” (in Russian)

By the gate of the famous American Lithuanian Joint Stock Company, a certain dark-skinned Asian in a shabby occupant's uniform and with a gun stood and did not let me go any further - he was demanding some permit. It wasn’t possible to ruin any more my good mood. So that’s my “show off a little...” ruined. After having recovered from my first shock, I asked the Russian soldier to send out a worker from the shop.

“Who are you looking for?”- He asked.

“My old colleagues. Please, ask someone from the mechanics out: Birulis - my former foreman, or Raudonikis, Kregzde, Stasauskas or Bzeskis...” I began to name the best-known masters.

“Oh, mate, they all are gone from here. When the Company was militarized, they all quit and most of them went over to the local administration coach garage, in Sanciai. There you might find your former foreman and the others”

After having received the address from that civilian, I thanked him for the information and loosing no time took to the road back, past the railway station, to Sanciai. It was on the way to Panemune - my home. I knew Sanciai pretty well, as well as my native Panemune and found the coach garage quite easily. There I found many of my old masters. They were very happy to see me and started questioning me right away.

“Tell me how is it to serve under the Bolsheviks order?”- they asked me with apparent sympathy, because they understood well the hypocritical situation of the Lithuanian Army. First of all I told them about the incident with Bzeskis and asked them to carry out my “order” as soon as possible. They knew Bzeskis' father - the locksmith mechanic very well just as I did, and they led me straight to the new local administration garage director. He was recently appointed and was also well known to me as the previous AMLIT's carpenter. After having found out that I arrived from the military base and the reason for it, without any hesitation he ordered the men that had accompanied me to execute the “military order” as soon as possible and without any charge.

The men took my “package” and led me into the cafeteria. They treated me with dinner and other delicacies, which as a soldier I had not tasted for a long time; they crowded around me – the workers that I knew and the ones that I didn't know, - and they questioned me overtaking each other about the life of our soldiers.

Very openly and not wrapping anything in cotton, they expressed their indignation and hate for the occupants, for the insolent destruction of our country and the army. They were also clearly very unsatisfied with the “working class” power and listened to my narration with sympathy. Most of them believed that the German-Russian war would start soon. I was very happy that I could be much more open with these workers than back at the maneuver base. Meanwhile, the other masters and welders were busy working on the head of the engine-block. They had especially difficult task - because the iron-alloyed detail was empty in the middle and it was impossible to weld it without putting it into a sandbox. In those days it was a complicated technology. After welding it, it had to be cooled off and only then it had to be sanded down. Therefore after they successfully welded it together, they promised me that the following day I would be able to retrieve it all completed.

After I thanked them I went by foot to the other side of Nemunas to Panemune - to my family. Actually there were three days off left for me. My arriving home made my mother very happy...

The next day I went to the workshop at the garage and received perfectly repaired detail. The rest of the day I spent with my family, but on the third day I began to feel uneasy and decided to return to the base not using-up the last free day. I felt responsible for the “package” and wanted to deliver it as soon as possible. I did not want Colonel Banys to worry about me or get into trouble somehow. After all it was through his efforts that I could save Bzeskis from the tribunal and had the opportunity to visit home. One could expect anything from those two communists - the Commissar and Petronis; they would have dragged Bzeskis even from his home. My mother also agreed with my decision. When she was saying good-bye to me, neither she nor I had any idea that that farewell could have been the last one.

While waiting for the train to Varena, I slowly walked around Kaunas railway station and, suddenly and very unexpectedly, I noticed the Lithuanian Army Military Commander, Brigadier - General Stays Rastikis in the waiting room! There was no doubt it was he, I knew him very well by sight, as before the occupation, I often used to see him in Panemune. I also often saw his young daughters as the General and his family used to live in the territory of the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, in a small separate outhouse.

I was quite well trained soldier; therefore without any hesitation I automatically straightened myself tall at attention and walking a steady step saluted the General appropriately, and went to the platform where my train to Varena was already waiting. Only when on the train, I thought over my behaviour - General S. Rastikis had looked at me rather strange... He was in civilian clothes and a bowler hat. Maybe he was hiding and was fleeing from Lithuania? Maybe, due to my stupidity, I had given him away? He was calmly walking in the hall, and there... of course, the passengers in the room noticed my behaviour towards a civilian. I felt I committed a big absurdity. While on the train, all the way down and later, I felt such remorse. When I returned to the camp, I recounted the happening to Colonel Banys. He was very surprised that Rastikis was leaving for somewhere, but he eased my fears saying that the General most likely was officially leaving for some work assignment.

Later it was confirmed that my fears were totally unnecessary. There were talks that Rastikis had completely legally emigrated to Germany, having obtained from their Embassy the necessary documents. Therefore my thoughts were well grounded that I indeed saw him before he departed. At that time I could not know that the General had crossed “the green wall” at the end of March and that he was already in Germany. NKVD ordered his arrest only on the 7th of May. The Army Commander avoided repression but his family didn’t: while his wife luckily escaped from the prison, his three young daughters were deported to Siberia. I found out just recently about this while reading Stasys Rastikis’ memoirs reprinted in Lithuania. So until today I don't understand to whom I gave my salute then. Maybe it was a simple mistake? Or maybe NKVD especially had selected a S.Rastikis’ look-alike and wanted to provoke his supporters. It could have been anything.

Upon return I found many new “younger commanders” who were sent by Russians into our subunit and who were wearing new Lithuanian Army uniforms. Colonel Banys was very happy that I returned having completed my assignment, but he refused to reclaim his money - 50 litas.

“Keep it for your needs!”

Thanking him, I decided to send it home, to my Mother. Officer Jucaitis remounted the engine and the completed “Komsomolets” was handed over to Seredinskas' responsibility. In that way the fate of private Bzeskis was luckily solved, and he peacefully returned to his parents and his native Sanciai, not even suspecting what black clouds had been hovering above his head. To tell the truth, his biggest fault was that he forgot to put enough water in the motor.

(translator’s note – this is only two parts of Chapter “At the Varena Training Grounds”; the rest of English translation – to be continued)


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