Jerry Kenney is a travel writer in Northern California. He is a frequent traveler. He has been on all the seven continents and visited 100s of countries in every parts of the world.
In 1941, Lithuania was a nation of 2.2 million citizens located on the Baltic Sea between Poland and the Soviet Union. It was an extremely dangerous place to live as Irana and her family quickly learned.
The Soviets had occupied Lithuania and established a repressive totalitarian regime. Stalin`s cruel directive to his occupying forces was “There will be a Lithuania, but without Lithuanians!” Two thousand “political activists” were arrested, twelve thousand “enemies of the people” were imprisoned, and seventeen thousand Lithuanians were deported to Siberia where they experienced inhumane treatment in forced labor camps.
Thirteen year-old Irana and her mother were arrested on June 15, 1941, put into a railroad car, and deported to a gulag located in a forested mountain area of southern Siberia. During their first winter in Siberia, Irana`s mother died from exposure to the extreme cold. Later, Irana learned that the Soviets had executed her father because he was an officer in the Lithuanian Army.
On June 22, 1941, the German Army invaded Lithuania and quickly drove the Soviet Army out of the country. At first, some Lithuanians had welcomed the Germans as “liberators” for freeing them from the repressive Soviet regime, and some even joined the Germans in fighting the Red Army. However, the Germans had not come to free the Lithuanians; they had come to seize men, supplies, and materiel to strengthen their forces for their invasion of the Soviet Union.
During the spring of 1942, Irana and a group of girls and women prisoners were transferred to a gulag at the mouth of the Lena River on the Arctic Ocean. Irana had traveled 6,000 miles by train during her captivity. The group was assigned the task of unloading US war materiel and food from small Russian boats that ferried cargo from American ships anchored in deep water to the port. Long hours and physically demanding work in the extreme cold led to exhaustion; diseases were rampant, prisoners were malnourished, physical abuse was widespread, and many prisoners succumbed. Stalin`s plan was to work the prisoners to death. He had some, but not complete, success.