Abramas Leščius Spent His Childhood in the Gulag

Abramas Leščius, son of Chaim, always emphasizes he’s from Raseiniai.

“I am a resident of Raseiniai. Mother went to doctor Levitan in Kaunas to give birth to me. All the Jewish women went to him to give birth. So mother said. Our family roots were in Seda and Mažeikiai. My great-grandparents, grandfathers and grandmothers, lived there from long ago, you can count that in centuries. My parents and I lived in Raseiniai until June 14, 1941. That day the Soviet Russians deported us. Why did they deport us? My father worked as a so-called middle-man, he used to go to the farmers and buy linen and all sorts of grains. Then he’d drive by car to Klaipėda to see a rich fellow who used to buy everything from him. Father fed the whole family. There were three of us children, my two sisters and I. Mother didn’t work. We weren’t rich, we lived moderately. I remember there was a synagogue in our courtyard and father and I would go there. Father was a good Jew, meaning he was a Jew in his heart and always helped out with money if someone asked, prayed at the synagogue and observed Sabbath. Mother’s father was a rabbi in Seda, so she was more religious. I remember how when we went to synagogue, father and I would stop in at a tavern and father would take a shot, and mother would be very angry. Dad said there was a man in Raseiniai who used to say Jews were bad, and perhaps he informed on us so we were deported. Many Jews lived in Raseiniai before the war.

“They deported us to the Komi Autonomous Soviet Republic, to the Inta gulag near the Arctic Circle. They deported Jews and Lithuanians. I remember their names even now [sighs]. There my childhood passed in cold and hardship. I tried to escape the place in 1945. A Jew from Vilnius came to visit us and he was supposed to take two girls out of exile, and my mom asked him to take me, too, but she didn’t have anything to pay him. He agreed to take me. I traveled to the city of Syktyvkar, the capital of Komi. I went to spend the night at one Jew’s place, and in the morning I found out the man had already left with the two girls. I had to go back home alone and I didn’t have a ticket or any money either. So there was nowhere to hide and I knew I had to 68 kilometers to the place where my family lived. I was 13. As I was walking there was a horse foraging. I went over to him, he was such a sweetheart and was looking at me, so I mounted him and we rode off. Several kilometers away from the place of exile, I dismounted the horse and left him in a meadow and went off by myself. We lived the life of deportees. I remember how dad hurt his arm hauling logs and there was no doctor, just a midwife whose name was Frosia. She looked at us as ‘enemies of the people,’ told us to put iodine on it, and that was all. Infection set in and we took father to the hospital. He died, and I became the head of the family as a child.

“We lived in barracks, we had an oven, and when it was lit it was warm, and when it went out it was cold. The winters are cold there, it used to get down to minus 50 degrees. A non-working person got 400 grams of bread per day, a working person 800. I started working in place of my dad in order to get more bread. The years passed by and it was 1946. In the winter I hauled logs with a horse, in summer I made hay in the meadows with a scythe. I remember it was very difficult for me. The grown-up men went first, they got their quota of hay, and I lagged behind. They come back, stand behind me and say, ‘Abramuk, get to the back of the line.’

“Later I began working with a plough. We wore clogs. I tried to escape again and this time I succeeded. I reached Vilnius where my mother’s cousins lived, who survived the Holocaust by evacuating to Russia. My relatives took me in and the first thing they did was to undress me, because the lice-infested clothing had to be burned, then they washed and fed me. There was a kerosene store on the corner of Trakų street and next to it a suitcase salon, where I was employed. Three Jews worked there who took me on as an apprentice. We sewed purses, I used to make very little money and gave it all to my aunt and uncle with whom I lived. I began going to night school. In 1951 I had to go serve in the Soviet army. I did my service in the Black Sea Fleet. When I came back I worked at the Galanterija factory next to Halė Market and went from being a laborer and brigade leader to a master, workshop floor manager and finally head of production.”

Abramas Leščius says life led him into the synagogue, where he has served as head of the minyan for many years now.

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