Vilnius Museum of Occupation

We had a list of museums we thought we wanted to visit on Saturday (our flight out was at 6-30 PM, so we had most of the day). The Museum of Occupation was something new on the list of Vilnius museums, and I saw that it was very popular. Since this museum was the furthest from our hotel, we decided to start there and see how much time we had left for other museums. 

But that museum impressed us so much that after spending 2.5 hours there, we realized we could not go anywhere else, so we spent the rest of that day walking along the streets of Old Town and talking about what we saw. 

There is no other museum like this in any of the former Soviet Republics, and I think that if such museums were open in all the Russian cities, maybe, maybe… maybe things would look differently today.

The museum is located in a former Lithuanian KGB building, and the KGB internal prison is still preserved in the basement. Exhibits on the first and second floors present the history of Lithuania’s fight for freedom from 1940 to 1991. 

After leaving the museum, Boris said: I am trying to figure out which parts we didn’t know. We knew most of the facts, but in some cases, we were not aware of the magnitude of the events, and in some, we simply never gave it enough thought, which I am now ashamed of. 

I knew about deportations in 1941, right before the start of the war, but I didn’t know that there were multiple waves of deportations after the war. The number of displaced people might not look so big until you think about the total population of Lithuania and realize that it was more than 10% of the total population.

We knew about the Forest Brothers, but I had no idea that they kept fighting until 1953! I didn’t know how well they were organized, how much support did they have in the country, and I didn’t know about their multiple unsuccessful attempts to get some support from the West. 

Knowing these facts, there is no wonder to see such overwhelming support for Ukraine everywhere in Lithuania! 

The exhibit explains how “a quiet resistance” rolled out after the Forest Brothers were defeated. And once again, it made me think about the time I visited Lithuania when I was a teen and a young adult. I am ashamed of myself now that I think about how we were coming there, the occupants, and how we were oblivious that we were seen as occupants. Also, I know many Russians who moved to Lithuania after the war and after the mass deportations, and they were completely ignorant about their role in the occupation. 

The part of the museum that talks about the labor camps was somewhat less impressive because I knew a lot about them. But the KGB prison left a completely grave impression, even though, theoretically, we knew how the suspects and the prisoners were treated. 

And one of the most impressive parts of the exhibit was the room where they presented the complete organizational chart of the Lithuanian KGB organization, with names and photographs! That’s where I thought – we should have had this for each KGB organization on the territory of the former Soviet Union! Then, maybe… 

I am not sure whether the pictures can add much, but I tried to make them informative. As for the prison, the most horrifying thing is that it is real, and not only real but also very recent.

Continue reading “Vilnius Museum of Occupation”

Summer 1969: The Sanatorium

As it often happens, after I started the daycare (detskiy sad), frequent colds started, but in addition, several times, they ended with pneumonia. Back in the 1960s, that sounded even more serious than now. A part of the reason for our trip to the Black Sea in 1968 was a belief that it should strengthen me against the frequent colds. At least that partially influenced mom’s decision.

Most likely, the situation somewhat improved, but not drastically, and the doctors recommended a sanatorium. Back then, a sanatorium mostly meant that I would stay “on fresh air” more than I would do otherwise. Also, it meant almost free boarding, which was a relief for mom. 

That summer, she sent me to the sanatorium in Solnechnoe, in Karelia. It’s not like she had a choice where I would go; pediatric clinics were getting quote, and they would decide who should go and where. 

Solnechnoe, former Finnish Kuokkala, was the most southern resort in the “Russian” part of the Baltic Seashore. This territory has a long history of changing ownership; some details can be found here. It is not like I cared back then, and I do not even think that mom cared. She mentioned that they routinely called Karelia “Finland,” so there was no confusion about this land. 

I came to Solnechnoe in mid-May, shortly after “the May holidays” – the sequence of May 1st, 2nd, and 9th, which were all days off, plus the weekends in between. In the beginning, it didn’t feel at all like summer, we wore coats outside, and the spring bulbs just started to bloom. 

I do not know why I remember this boy’s name – he is Seriozha Morev

Other than that, I didn’t see much difference between being at the dacha and in the sanatorium. The building was somewhat better, and for sure, it was somebody’s summer cottage nationalized by the state. In the picture above, you can see how close the building is to the seashore.

Can you find me? I am the one with the white bow

Our building housed the “younger group” and “the older group,” which included children from 5 to 7 and even two school-aged girls, Lilya and Laylay (the very back row on the left). Looking at the class picture, I remember most of the kids, how they looked in real life, what color their clothes were. For some reason, I do not remember the names of the kids with who I played most often but remember others My best friend was a girl who is the fourth from the left in the second row, but I don’t remember her name. And I remember that the girl on the very left of the second row was Ira Kolesnikova, but I was not that close with her. Also, I am surrounded by boys in all pictures, but I do not remember hanging out with the boys that much. I mostly remember the fights :).  

That summer, I learned to jump a rope, and there are lots of pictures where I demonstrate that skill

Looking at these pictures, I remember one funny thing: there were some rules about what we should wear in certain weather. For example, we had to wear sweaters over the dresses when the temperature was below 20C (68F). On the other side of the building, the beach was right there, but we were not allowed into the water until both the air and the water temperature reached a certain degree (I have no idea what it was). There were still days when we swam, and that was a real delight!

One of these warm days

More pictures in the next post!

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Spring 1969

I am six, and I am walking with my mom along the Griboedova Channel embankment in Leningrad. The weather is exactly what you expect in March – grey, foggy, a little bit over freezing. Once again, since mom and I are both on one of the pictures, my father had to take them. What was so special about this day, I can’t tell. But here I am happy and smiling.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Spring 1968

I can’t tell for sure whether these pictures were taken in spring 1968 or later in the fall after we returned from Loo, but most likely in spring.

As in many other cases, they were taken during my father’s visits with me. One the first of these visits, he came close to the end of my afternoon nap time (there was no option of going to bed without changing into a nightgown, even though I didn’t sleep).

Continue reading “Spring 1968”

Loo, September 1968

I asked mom whether she remembers why we chose Loo, did she know anybody there, and how she found these landlords who rented a room for us. She does not remember, so there is no way to find out. neither how the arrangements were made, nor how much it cost.

I remember walking to the house, which will become our temporary home for a month. It must have been a five-story building, and I think we lived on the third floor. The owners rented all the rooms they had during the season. I remember that the owners slept on the couch in the living room. They had three children – two older boys and a girl around my age named Ania. Most likely, they got their apartment from the government because they had three children, but I can’t recall where all these children slept when they rented all the rooms except for the living room. Since the people were moving in and out, mom and I spent the first two nights on the huge balcony and then moved into a small room with two twin beds and a desk.

We had breakfast at home in the morning; then, we would go to the beach and stay there till noon (no sunscreen in existence). I saw these beaches from the train window; I had never seen anything like that before – they were covered with flat pebble stones instead of sand. We stayed inside for the hottest hours, and then we would go to the beach again until dinner time. Usually, we had dinner in a cafeteria by the beach and then often returned to watch a sunset.

Afternoon nap
At the beach

I was not tired of that repetitiveness – everything was new to me!. The Black sea, the beach, the mountains which started right behind a narrow strip of houses, the abundance of fruits at the market, the corn on the cob sold right at the beach from large buckets – ten kopecks an ear.
I am skeptical about the medical benefits of this trip, but it made great memories.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

The First Trip I Remember: September 1968

In the Soviet Union, virtually everybody had a month of vacation time a year, no matter how long you worked in a particular place. Taking vacations in parts was rarely an option. Under these circumstances, everybody wanted to take vacations during summer, but if everybody took a month of vacation in summer, it would not be easy to keep operations running. Most workplaces had a vacation schedule for a year, and there was a lot of drama around who should have a preference for summer months vacations. Priority was always given to parents because if you recall, a good parent had to do everything possible and impossible to provide an opportunity for a child to spend summer in the countryside or resort.

Granted, childless people would get summer vacation time, too, and sometimes even parents of small children had to compromise. Thus, in 1968, mom had her vacation in September. After spending summer at the dacha with my detskiy sad, I got one more month of summer – we were going to the South. That’s how people used to say these days: not to Georgia, not to Crimea, not to Krasnodarskiy region – just to the South. I recently asked mom why she chose Loo – a suburb of Sochi in the Krasnodarskiy region as our final destination. Did she know somebody there? Did somebody give her the address of our future landlords? She says she does not remember. It was not uncommon that people would come to small resort places that lived off the tourists and rent a room or just a bed on the spot.

I have more pictures from our second trip t the same place a year later and just a few from September 1968, so I will try to write down what I remember.

The train from Leningrad took three nights and two full days to reach the destination, and most of the time, we were going through Ukraine. At five, I was fascinated with a country that looked different from what I had ever seen in my life. Mom told me that the white-walled houses I saw along the railroad were called haty. Sunflowers were growing by each of these cheerful houses – I never have seen them before, and the combination of white and bright yellow instantly made me happy. I stood by the window and couldn’t have enough of the sunny sights.
We shared a sleeper compartment with another family heading South: mother, father, and daughter of approximately my age. Strangely, but I remember how this girl looked, and I remember that we were playing with dolls, and I even remember how her mom was explaining the bandaid on the girl’s chin ” That’s not us who put it in such an odd way, its a medical worker.”

We never went to the dining car, the conductor always had tea with sugar cubes, and we ate whatever rations we took from home, mostly boiled eggs and cold potatoes. The locals would come to the train at some stops and offer some homemade meals and produce, and I remember us buying hot, freshly boiled potatoes, buttery and mixed with dill, and sour cherries.

And then, on the third day, we arrived at Loo and disembarked, and the first thing I remember seeing was a giant cypress tree. I never saw anything like this before, and for the rest of my life, cypress meant warmth, resort, vacation – it meant South.

Detskiy Sad At The Dacha Part 2.

It has been two months since I posted my last historical blog. These blogs require more time and thoughts, and my life in November and December didn’t exactly have any room for extra thoughts. 

Following my New Year resolution, I will continue from where I left. My last post was about summer 1968 when I stayed at the dacha with the other kids from my detskiy sad. Although it was summer, fresh fruits were perennial “deficit.” Parents took turns to buy cherries or strawberries at the farmer’s markets and deliver them to the dacha. I asked mom recently, but she does not remember any details. It was definitely not every day, and the fruits would arrive after a nap. I remember slaying in bed and seeing somebody’s mom serving strawberries in the saucers. 

I am trying to recall how often we had “parent’s days.” Later, when I was at pioneer camps, we had parent’s days only once per three-week session. But I do not remember how it was with detskiy sad. I think mom was coming once a week. Sometimes, my father would come, too, and we would go for a walk in the woods. They always brought me some fruits and other treats. Once, my father brought me mango – they were non-existent, mango juice would come along sometimes as a rare treat. 

However, I do not remember missing my mom that much.

Sometimes, the teachers were cruel and punished us for no good reason. Sometimes, the night shift counselor would wake us up to pee into the bucket and not wet the beds (even though almost nobody did). But is was never like, “I want to go home!”

I do not think I had any unhealthy separation issues when I was a young child. As I mentioned, I had no problem adjusting to detskiy sad from the beginning. My completely unhealthy attachment to mom developed later, under her direct influence. 

I am not sure why she wanted me to be so dependent and miss her so much. Perhaps, she needed it for her self-esteem – to know that she is “in demand.” Perhaps, she does not know that there could be other relationships. Now, I feel sad when I observe that she developed the same emotional dependency on me. I try very hard not to abuse it. To my New Year resolution – I should be more emotionally invested when I interact with her. Simply to give her more. 

More Home Movies

I just received the digitized versions of two more home movies. I will need to write in more detail about their contents, but I short: they were filmed by my mom in summer 1975 when we went on a railway cruise through Ukraine.

I will need to spend some time identifying all the places. The trip started in Kyiv, continued in Lviv, then there is should be some footage from different places in the Carpathian mountains, Chernovcy, and Odessa.

The quality of the footage is really bad, there was something stuck to the camera lense, but it is what it is.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Detskiy Sad At The Dacha, Part 1

After Baba Ania passed away, mom had to figure out where I would spend the summer. Remember that all good parents had to find a way for their children to spend the summer in the countryside because nothing can be worse than a child left in the city’s polluted air for summer.

The only option she had was to send me to a dacha with my detskiy sad. That decision would make you somewhat a horrible parent because a poor child would be separated from her parent(s) for a long time, but you would make this sacrifice for your child’s health.

Unfortunately, I have exactly zero pictures from that summer. However, I have a lot of memories, so I will try to write down everything I still remember before these memories fade away.

The dacha was located in a village called Vyritsa, with a population of about 13,00 people at that time. There were lots of old dachas built at the beginning of the 20th century. I tried Yandex Vyritsa, and it comes back with many old dachas pictures, but I can’t identify ours. I would recognize it if I saw it unless it underwent a major reconstruction. In any case, the Yandex search brings me back a lot of dachas that look very much like ours; here is one as an example.

Not all the children from our detskiy sad would go to the dacha, and not all of them would go for the whole summer. I remember that about half of the kids there were the ones I knew, and others were from some different detskiy sad.

There were several entries into the building. We had a big room to play in and several bedrooms. There were no bathrooms inside, and we had to go to the outhouse. We were not allowed to go solo, and it had to be a group of us heading towards the wooden shed. There was a bucket placed in each bedroom at night, and if you needed to go to the bathroom at night, that’s what you would use. A custodian would take it out in the morning.

I do not recall whether there was running water in the house. I remember that we washed our hands and faces in the morning using a rather primitive washstand, and we had a place outside to wash the dirt off our feet before heading to bed at the end of the day. Once a week, all of us would go to the village bathhouse, and our teaches and custodians helped us wash.

The dacha was situated in a relatively big lot, where we had a playground which included the swing, a small wooden hut, a sandbox, and a seesaw. There was also a flower garden and some shrubs.

The woods surrounded the dacha, and our teaches would take us there almost daily. We would walk until we found a clearing in the woods, and then we would play there, gather the flowers and make the wreaths, and collect sticks and build tiny huts. We also like collecting the pieces of bark from the pines. We would bring them back to the dacha and polish them on the concrete to take the shapes of boats. Then you could let these boats sail in the creeks. Sometimes, we would go mushroom picking or berry picking.

There were lots of gypsies living close by, and our teachers always warned us (or rather, they would tell scary stories about gypsies). Then we would retell these stories to each other with more horrifying details. As I already mentioned, using the children’s fears was an acceptable practice of disciplining there says, so “and the gypsies will take you away” was used quite often. I remember at least once when a gypsy girl came relatively close to us when we played in the clearing in the woods, and we started to woo at her and point thingers, and we might even start to throw something in her direction. Her clothes were dirty, and we yelled at her, “dirty pants!” And another time, I remember two gypsy horseback riders passing us in the woods. We were scared: the horses looked giant for small children, and the gypsy men seemed to be so high above! They wore loose white shirts and black pants, and their hair was black and longer than we would usually see on men.

You would think that the horror stories about gypsies stealing children belong to the Middle ages or the 18th century. But those stories were told when I was growing up. Once, when my mom and I were taking a local train, we were sitting close to a gypsy family, and one girl about eight years old was almost blond. And I thought: that’s a child who was stolen from her parents!

To be continued.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Disciplining Of Preschoolers In The USSR

During one of the recent online conversations, I’ve realized that many disciplining techniques applied to me when I was a small child are considered completely inappropriate nowadays. And I am not talking about spanking.

In fact, the only case of spanking I remember was when my father spanked me when I wet my pants when we were walking on the street. I remember it vividly precisely because it was something out of the ordinary. 

Mom never spanked me, but she was very creative with other disciplining techniques. For example, when I was between two and three, I was afraid of her umbrella. I do not remember the origin of this fear, but I remember that I was so afraid that I would cry when it started raining outside, and she wanted to open an umbrella while holding me. 

So when I didn’t want to take a midday nap, she would put that umbrella in the corner of the room and say that she would return and open this umbrella if I didn’t sleep. 

At about the same age, I was afraid of behemoths. And in this case, I remember why. The reason was one of the Korney Chukovskiy poems about “poor girl Lialechka”. Since my home name was Lialechka, I was sure that it was about me. Then there was a scene when the wild animals wandered around the city streets, and it mentioned the entrance to the courtyard (“podvorotnia”) where she saw a frightening behemoth!. And since our house had “podvorotnia”, it was in my eyes something that could happen to me! 

My mom knew about these fears, so she told me that if I didn’t do something she wanted me to do, she would call for a behemoth in red pants! (I have no idea about where the red pants were coming from, but that’s what she used to say).

Then in detskiy sad, I remember that I was always in trouble! I honestly felt like I was punished for something every day, and I thought that life would be much happier when I finally went to school. The most frequent punishment was putting us “in the corner,” but the worst one was sending to bed in the middle of the day. I remember how my best friend Nika and I got into trouble(I don’t remember what the crime was), and we were told to start undressing. And I thought it was OK, I could do it, but Nika started to cry, and we were forgiven. I remember how we played with the dolls, and we were disciplining them the same way the teaches were disciplining us, using the same words. Many teaches yelled at us regularly, and we called them “cruel teachers.” The teachers call some of us “bad children”, and some of us “good children,” and I still remember the names! And I am pretty sure that the parents were aware of what was going on, but it was considered nothing out of the ordinary. Moreover, they could additionally punish us at home if they thought that the “crime” was worth the punchment.