Back to Lithuania Again


At home in Kaunas there were many refugees from Poland.  There were not enough beds so the dining room floor was covered with straw mattresses on which people could sleep.  Lisa, our cook, grumbled at having to cook for so many people.  All the refugees were from Central Poland which was proclaimed by the Germans as a guberniya (province) wiping Poland off the map.  The refugees did not stay for very long; they left either for Sweden or Portugal, trying from there to go to USA or to South or Central America.

It was late autumn when Zygmunt came.  We stayed a few days in Kaunas as my parents had ordered a couple of suits and coats for Zygmunt and the tailor was not yet ready.  I saw that Zygmunt felt odd at our place, just as I felt odd at his place.  Everyone was fussing about us; nothing was too good for us, according to my parents.  Zygmunt loved food; therefore Mother was always bringing some from an exclusive delicatessen.  He once showed a preference for some bread rolls and now each morning they were bought; also ham, eggs and cream which had to be fresh; all meals consisted of dishes we loved and so on.  Zygmunt once asked me:

“How long will your parents behave like this?”

“How do you mean ‘like this’?”  They don’t behave any different from usual and they will behave like this always.”

“But why?”

“Don’t you understand that they love not only me but you also?  They love giving us presents, they like to see us happy.  They were always like that.  Why should they change now because of war?  What has war to do with loving us?”

As Zygmunt and I were going to stay in Karmelowo, Mother wanted to give us expensive presents to make expensive improvements, etc. but Zygmunt was against it, explaining that he came to work and not to be pampered.  Father was the only one who seemed to understand Zygmunt and convinced Mother to stop interfering, explaining that Zygmunt had principles, that he wanted to be independent of financial help.  Mother thought that Zygmunt was pig-headed but she did what Father asked.  I was allowed to ask for what I wanted, provided Zygmunt did not mind.

We went to Karmelowo where Zygmunt worked really hard all day.  He worked even harder than the farmhands; he was up before the labourers and was the last to come home.  In addition, he beautified our backyard, planting hundreds of willows along the fences.  I was getting bored; I had nothing to do as even the meals were cooked by “Fat Kasia”, the laundry was done by someone else, I could not go riding as my horse had already been sold.  There was no loom in Karmelowo.  I started knitting.  A friend of mine spun the wool which was beautiful and soft.  I wanted to make a pullover for Zygmunt.  It was a Sunday when I finished it and Zygmunt was sleeping.  I went to awaken him but he only grumbled something.  I was so excited as the pullover was really nice.  I started to tickle him … he jumped up, looked at me full of hate, started to yell at me and even grabbed a chair and banged it a few times; I had never heard such a row in my life.  The worst I had ever heard before was when my parents had a row.

My mother had brought quite a crowd of people home for a drink after a ball and when they left it was already getting light.  Father was telling Mother off, calling her intoxicated and something else; but Father did not shout the way Zygmunt did.  What was the reason for this yelling?  I did not do anything wrong; I left the room feeling very unhappy and deeply hurt.  He was a brute.  It was time that I realized that our marriage would never work.  I decided to go by the next available bus to Kaunas and straight to our solicitor who should help me get a divorce as soon as possible. 

Our marriage was breaking up!  I was deeply unhappy.  Zygmunt came to me and started talking but I would not even listen to him.  He came again, apologized, explaining that he was always impossible when being awakened by tickling; he explained that I should look at it like a disease – such as he being handicapped, crippled or hunchback.  I calmed down and started thinking:  Crippled?  Handicapped like a hunchback? … How wonderful!  That is nothing, only bad luck.  I would be able to deal with him being handicapped, no trouble.  Simply, I would never awaken him by tickling – and I never did – and we were so happy together.

 Zygmunt strained his back and could barely walk.  I loved looking after him.  His mother came and stayed with us for a while.  One day when she was leaving, I had another row with Zygmunt.  When Zygmunt started working on the farm he allocated me the duty of supervising the milking.  I had to check that the cows were cleaned before milking, that they were milked dry so that not too much milk would be stolen.  It would have been all right except for the first milking which was at four in the morning.  It was late autumn and still quite dark and cold.  I started to give the first milking a miss as I hated to get out of bed at such an ungodly hour.  Just before his mother was leaving he started telling me off:  “You behave like a spoiled brat; you have no concept of duty, you don’t keep your promises, you are like an old wet rag – soft without any backbone.  I am disappointed at being married to such a hopeless female.  This morning there was a lot of milk missing which probably went to the farmer’s piglets!”  I yelled back:  “To hell with the milk!  We have enough; let them have the milk.  I hate getting out of bed in the dark and the cold!” 

“It is high time that you learned the concept of duty!  If you want to, you can give them milk, but you promised that you would supervise the milking. Time that you grew up, you spoiled only child!” 

“To hell with the milk and to hell with you!  If you think me so awful, why don’t you go?  Go now with your mother.  I don’t care if I never see you again, you and your damn duty.  I hate you!”

A few minutes later, he and his mother left.  I looked through the window, hiding behind the curtains which wasn’t necessary at all as he never looked back.  He did what I told him to do; he left me and went back to Wilno with his mother!  How I hated him for leaving me as I knew that I still loved him, milking or no milking.  Our marriage had lasted just over a year!  I did not want the marriage to be finished.  He and his stupid DUTY!  It was our milk, or rather, Father’s.  But Father would rather have less milk if I could stay in bed as long as I wished.  I was standing there for ages and then it hit me.  I will never see him again!  I started crying, feeling so very sorry for myself.  I threw myself on the bed and started sobbing.  I felt someone touch me … it was Zygmunt!  He kissed me and hugged me and explained to me what he thought about the words “duty” and “responsibility”.  He explained calmly, wiping away my tears.  I listened and had to agree with him; he was right and I was wrong.  He told me to forget about the milking in the morning; he would do it.  But never you fear, I was the first up and never missed milking time – at least for a while.

I got a cold and was not feeling well and went to see the doctor.  The doctor told me that I was pregnant.  Zygmunt was happy.  I was neither happy nor unhappy.  It was a fact of life; nothing new, nothing startling.

The howling wind made the house in Karmelowo hard to keep warm.  The toilet was very far away.  I was feeling all right but was fainting fairly often.  One mare died during foaling and I had fainted for some length of time so Zygmunt and Mother decided that I should move back to Kaunas.  I did not mind as I did not see Zygmunt during the day anyway; he was working or in the forest chopping wood for next summer.  In Kaunas a lot of fuss was made about my being pregnant.  I was again spoiled and loved every moment of it.  Zygmunt came often and when the real snow came I went for visits to Karmelowo.  He would not let me go on skis behind the horse but we went on sleighs and he always managed to topple me over a hill and I went rolling down, landing on the soft, dry snow; it was lovely.

The baby was due in September or October.  I felt quite well apart from the fainting which did not worry me; I rather liked to faint and was sorry when brought back to consciousness.  I picked only at Zygmunt but he never grumbled, the darling, he was always ready with a smile and was always forgiving, always trying to understand.

Summer came and my parents suggested that we should go to Palanga, a spa along the Baltic Sea.  Zygmunt was happy to get away from the farm for a while.  We went together with Father’s friend, Pan Wasary.  I loved him dearly.  He was an exceptional person.  He was an atheist but, to me he was the nearest thing to a saint that I have ever met.  He was a professor at the Kaunas University in the faculty of mechanical engineering.  I loved to go to his place at the end of the month as it was his payday.  It was fun watching how he distributed the money.  One-third went into a box labelled “students”, one-third was put into an envelope marked “relatives” (as he had some relatives in France who were very poor, being refugees from Russia) and from the remaining one-third a chunk was taken out and put into a jar labelled “emergency” and the rest was divided between him and his son, Kostia.

Each Xmas he received the so-called “thirteenth wage”, the majority of which he spent on toys for children of different age groups.  He used to put these toys in various bags which were labelled with the age group of children, the bags were put in the back seat of the car and he went (sometimes with me) to different slums in Kaunas.  Peering through dirty, curtain less windows, trying to guess the age group of the children, he would select toys, put them on the doorstep, knock at the door and go to other houses.  Sometimes I would stay behind and watch the children when they picked up the toys.  The expression of wonder and happiness is something I will never forget.

Pan Wasary’s wife was a doctor by profession but now she no long practised.  They lived a very quiet life and theirs was the happiest marriage I knew.  That summer Pan Wasary was very quiet.  Last autumn his wife had died.  He himself was in pain and we knew from Kostia that he had cancer.

Palanga was fun.  I still could go swimming although the baby was due within the next two months.  But I could not swim far and often felt uncomfortable and was jealous of Anett who used to swim far out with Zygmunt.  We left after a few weeks as Pan Wasary was due for an operation.  The operation was to be performed by his friend, also a professor.  We knew that there was not much hope of success but not until much later did we learn that the operation had no hope at all, that it was more or less a legal suicide.  Since the death of his wife, his Zoniczka (Sonia) he had lost interest in life.  He was still kind to all of us; he adored his grandchild, but he did not want to live anymore.

When Zygmunt and Anett were swimming we used to sit and watch them or do mathematical puzzles which we both liked, and simply talk.  He was an atheist, me an agnostic; we talked about life and death, about love and the purpose of life and about loneliness.  I understand only part of what he meant but the meaning stayed with me and only much later was I able to understand what he tried to express.  Zygmunt and I went to see him on the day of the operation.  He was in a single room.  He gave us a smile; he looked happy.  When I started hugging him his eyes closed, the eyelids twitched, he gave a sigh and his hand which I was holding became heavy.  I kissed him but there was no response.  The sister and the surgeon came and spoke in whispers and pushed me away – and I realized that he was dead!  He died just when I was holding his head in my hands.  It was so cruel.  Why did he have to die?  He was loved and needed by so many.  Why should he die without his son, his granddaughter?  Why now?  Why him?  It was not fair!  God or Omnipotence should have arranged it differently!

That same night I started bleeding badly and was put to bed with strict orders from the doctor not to move.  I did not care.  Mother was trying to cheer me up, speaking about the baby about to be born.  She said that it would be wonderful when the child came, that nothing could compare with the feeling of the first moment when the child is born. A straight translation from my diary, as my memories are vague: 

During the early afternoon of 21st September, 1940, I felt some peculiar pains.  Mother called the doctor, thinking that the bleeding would start again.  The doctor examined me and said that everything was normal and it is just a labour pain and that I should go to the hospital.  As the hospital was not far, I walked, accompanied by Zygmunt and my parents.  I had pains but they were bearable.  Although the room was nice, I did not like the hospital.  After they left I tried to find a comfortable position but could not, neither standing, walking nor lying down.  Early next morning it was Sunday; I left the hospital and went home; but it was no better at home and in the afternoon Zygmunt took me back to the hospital.  He stayed with me for a long time but, as the pains grew stronger, I asked him to leave.  I began to walk the long corridor up and down but not for long because at one end of the corridor was the labour ward from which one could hear screams.  What screams!  They did not sound human, more like that of animals in pain.  I decided on the spot that I would not scream; MY child would not be born hearing those horrid, animal screams.  My child will come into this world quietly, not scared.  When I was put on a high bed in the labour ward I asked the doctor and sister to speak quietly and not to shout.  The pains got worse, then really bad.  The doctor asked me to push and to scream.  I pushed but would not scream.  I clenched my teeth and would not utter a word.  It was ages.  How long?  Already 34 hours!  I was very tired and the pain was not getting better.  Time seemed to stand still but my watch was still ticking.  36 hours!  Of God, let me have some minutes of peace.  3:00 am – it is getting really unbearable … incoherent thoughts … I must stand it … a fact of life … for the old sins … you will bear your children … pain …  A cool towel on my face, drops of water on my lips and I heard the doctor speaking about a caesarian!  And I yelled:  “No caesarean, no forceps” and continued quietly “You might damage my child, don’t touch it, I can stand it much longer, just give me time.”

3:11, 3:12, 3:13 … and I pray:  “Zygmunt, my Zygmunt, help me; it is your child too!  You always help me, help me now, NOW!  Zygmunt! HELP! HELP!  Help me stand it another short while; I know you will help, but hurry, hurry!  Help!  It is your child too!  ZYGMUNT!  Another voice in the room, like that of Piglet.  The doctor was bending over me and saying – “Congratulations.  A lovely, healthy baby boy!”  A boy?  I don’t care.  I would have preferred a girl but Zygmunt wanted a son.  At last it was over but the doctor told me that I would have to wait a bit longer as I needed stitches.  And once again the pain comes, a different pain but it hurts just as much.  There were already 28 stitches but the doctor say it is not quite finished and only two or three more.  I thought that I would not be able to stand it any more and I knew that now Zygmunt could not help me.

“Would you like to see your baby?”
“All right”
“It is such a lovely baby – just look how beautiful”

He did not look beautiful to me, just wrinkled.  I thought about Mother’s promise that I would be unspeakably happy on seeing my baby.  Another lie!  I did not feel happy at all; I was just tired and wanted to be left alone.  I looked at my watch; it was just after 3:16 on Monday, 23rd September, 1940.  Next morning Zygmunt and my parents came and the first thing they asked:  “What time was the baby born?”  I replied:  “Between 3:13 and 3:16 am”.  Then Zygmunt asked how did I know the exact time and I replied truthfully that I kept looking at my watch and waiting for Zygmunt to help me with the pain.  They checked their watches which agreed to the minute.  Why were they fussing about the watches?  They explained, all excited, interrupting each other: 

In the middle of the night the bell of the house started to ring.  Zygmunt, who was not asleep, went to the front door but there was nobody there and the bell was ringing non-stop.  Mother and Father got up; they looked at the back door, Zygmunt was checking the wiring and the bell was still ringing.  Zygmunt got fed up with the ringing and tore the wiring out.  The time was 3:15.  They thought that maybe I was then having the baby … and I was …  Was my call for help transferred to the bell?  Who knows?  I am sure that it was.  I asked Zygmunt for help and he helped just as he always did.

We decided to call the baby Jerzy, Jurek for short or George in any foreign language.  Jurek looked old and wrinkled and was so long, but the doctor assured me that he was a normal, healthy baby.  It was the first new born baby I had seen and I felt more curiosity than love for this little defenceless creature.  I thought that animals produced better-formed babies of their own than I did.  It took days until I thought that Jurek was not ugly but rather nice.  My stitches healed nicely and I was allowed to leave after 12 days.  Zygmunt and I used to look at the baby for hours and I started to think that he was the most beautiful baby ever born!  The happiness did not last long as I got an infection of the breasts and a high temperature.  Feeding time was pure hell and there was more pus and blood than milk.  The injection did not help much and the doctor advised to feed the baby by bottle.  Zygmunt’s mother arrived and helped to look after Jurek but she received a letter from home advising that her husband was ailing and so she went home.  A few days later Zygmunt received a letter asking him to come as his father was very ill.  Zygmunt left immediately but he was too late; his father had died.  When Zygmunt came back he would not talk about the death of his father.  For hours he sat and looked through the window without talking; he had his thoughts from which Jurek and I were excluded. 

Only once did he say that it was now too late, too late to explain what should have been explained long ago.  The misunderstanding started when he was a child; there was disagreement and both sides felt hurt but kept quiet, not understanding each other.  Later on it was not possible to start talking when both sides were disinclined to show their feelings.  I could not understand it; I still remembered the look on Zygmunt Senior’s face when he was looking at his son through the window.  Why were they both so reserved?  Isn’t it the most natural thing to show what one is feeling?  It was not for Zygmunt or for his father.

Jurek was not baptized, only registered in Z.A.K.S. (Registration Office) against the wishes of both grandmothers.  The witnesses were Marusia Kruck and Czeslaw Mikolajunas.  Jurek was entered as “Jurgis Krusevskis” and was one of the first children born in the Lithuanian Soviet Republic. 

Zygmunt’s mother stayed with us.  Jurek became hers, not mine.  I was not allowed to give him a kiss as it was considered unhygienic; and before I was allowed to pick him up, my hands and my frock were examined; all doorknobs were constantly cleaned with methylated spirits.  Zygmunt’s mother looked happy and radiant; even my previous boyfriend then dropped me for dead when he saw her coming in. 

For Xmas she composed a verse about herself, Jurek and me.  According to her, I was a terrible mother, dirty, lazy, unhygienic.  My mother did not fare much better as she could not be trusted to have the dummy really clean.  Zygmunt’s mother was the only one who looked well after poor neglected Jurek.  She wanted to be called “Bama” (Babcia mama).

I was allowed to take Jurek in the pram but not for long as I did a terrible thing; not realizing that the temperature had dropped below minus 25o C, his cheeks were frostbitten.  The doctor whom I rang said to rub his face with ice and keep him for a while on the front porch without heating.  Luckily, he was not damaged permanently, but I was so upset and cried at nights.  Bama was right – I was a horrid mother, stupid, dirty, etc.  I wanted to do the right things; I wanted to play with my Jurek and spoke with Zygmunt about it, but he was not sympathetic as his mother had experience with children, being a president or committee member for neglected children of prisoners.  I should do as told. 

He was allowed to pick up Jurek any time he wanted.  If Bama and Zygmunt were right, why was the boy of the doorkeeper’s family still alive?  He was born on the same day as my Jurek.  I was over at their place quite often and he should have been dead long ago; nobody cleaned doorknobs, his father – coming back home after sweeping the yard – would sit on the same bed where the baby was playing, his dummy was just wiped on the shirt - not even boiled, the nappies were never sterilized – just washed.  The baby had no carrot juice, no orange juice, other than that which I sneaked out from home.  This baby was not only alive but looked as healthy as Jurek.  I could pick up this baby and even kiss it!  How I loved this baby.  I was able to be there often as his parents were working in Mother’s shop and Zygmunt was working as the Commandant at the Red Army House.  It sounded grand but it was not really.  However, he liked his job, especially as he was entitled to beautify it, buying new pictures, new ornaments, new sculptures.

The war was still going on but we were on the outskirts of it and did not feel it to the extent as those who were bombed constantly.  We led a more or less normal life; we were neither hungry nor cold.  When Poland was overrun in September 1939, it was unbelievable that the Polish/German war lasted only 17 days.  Now we understood it.  We were the first to experience in our country what the word “Blitzkrieg” means.  In addition, we had not only Germany as an enemy but also Russia, as Stalin and Hitler had a pact of non-aggression and divided Poland between themselves.

Now in the spring of 1941 Germany had conquered all of Central Europe, Belgium, Holland and even France with her Maginot line and the help of the British who had surrendered after Dunkirk.  The question was, what would come next?  Could England be attacked?  Could the USSR try now to go west?  Zygmunt and I did not mind the Communists.  We both agreed that it was high time for agrarian reforms, for more rights for the labourers, time for annual leave for the labourer and home-help, time for old age pensions. 

The Communists were at least trying to do something.  But then came the exportations.  It was dreadful!  People were taken from their homes, usually at night, pushed into cattle trucks and railed somewhere deep into Russia.  Some might have deserved their fate as they were headed to the labour camps but the majority did not.  It seemed that the people were just taken at random, from all classes of society, even children, even those who had nothing to do with politics.  Nobody was safe, anyone could be deported.  There was no reason at all. 

We were baffled and very disillusioned.  Friends disappeared and were never seen again.  Bama told us that she had to go to Wilno and was taking Jurek with her.  She could not leave him here, it would kill her as I was incapable of looking after him and anyway, I would have my exams in June.  It was a special class; I had prepared my repertoire with Mr. Szpinalski for future concerts.  Zygmunt told me not to be silly, let Bama take Jurek, she loves him and it would be good for her to have Jurek.  My parents did not say anything.  Only Father saw that I felt distressed and in the morning he told me:  “Go for a walk and sort yourself out.  It is your child, your husband and your mother-in-law, his mother.  Do what you consider is best for all”. 

I was certain that Zygmunt adored his mother.  I was conditioned (or should I call it brain-washed?) never to interfere between my husband and his mother.  Her word should be law; I should never cause misunderstanding between them.  The word MOTHER was like law, like an institution, unshakable, always right, always to be obeyed.  It somehow never applied to the mother of his wife but always to the mother of the husband.  She and Jurek went and I spent more and more time with the caretaker’s boy, making quite sure never to be caught either by Zygmunt or by my parents.  Most of Jurek’s toys and spare clothes finished up at their place.  The baby always greeted me with a smile, stretching out its arms towards me.  I could laugh and cry, nobody took any notice.  I loved the baby and missed my Jurek.

Return to Table of Contents