Contest Winner’s Trip to Strasbourg

Viktorija Stundžytė, a tenth-grader from the Dukstyna School in Ukmergė (Vilkomir) and a participant in her school’s Tolerance Education Center, took part in the awards ceremony for the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania’s nation-wide contest “On the Trail of Suffering for Freedom and Struggle” held in Vilnius May 5. The high-school student and her teachers visited the Museum of Genocide Victims, the Lithuanian parliament and the Palace of Teachers, where the awards were presented. Viktorija won a trip to Strasbourg.

She submitted an entry about the woman Stasė Ruzgytė-Staputienė who lost her mother in childhood, was adopted and experienced the Soviet and Nazi occupations. Viktorija set the story down in 100 pages after transcribing and typing it.

Viktorija called the project an invaluable experience which she will be able to use in her life and pass on to her children and grandchildren to remind them what goes on in this world. “As I was listening to the audio recording sometimes I wanted to go to the places about which she spoke, but sometimes I just wanted to be a heroine and get all those people out of there so they wouldn’t have to suffer anymore and experience everything the people in these recordings experienced,” she said about her work.

Stasė Ruzgytė-Staputienė is one of only a handful of Ukmergė residents able to take pride in the Cross of the Life-Saver award. Her parents received the award posthumously for saving Jews during the Nazi occupation. Stasė remembers those events well, when a good acquaintance of the family entered the settlement and asked them to do something extraordinary: to harbor a Jewish woman and her children. The family protected their Jewish guests at their home for about one half year, from April to November of 1944. After the war they left Lithuania.

“Deportations, war, bullets, the murders of innocent people, children separated from their parents forever, discrimination against other ethnicities, revenge killings–it all reels inside my head like a movie. This woman was part of the movie. People such as she are living examples to us and a legacy to humanity, showing what happened before, when our parents were like us but our grandparents and great-grandparents suffered all misfortunes and the entire horror. Her every sentence, every recording, every sigh pulled me ever deeper into this whirlpool of information and stories. I learned something I never thought I’d know. This is many times greater than what is presented at school. A person’s voice, those eyes reflecting all the affliction experienced, speak to us and tell us we have to protect people such as her, to understand and help them. I am so glad that it was this woman who agreed to share with me such a priceless and very painful experience,” Viktorija said.

Lithuanian-language teacher Elvyra Augustinavičenė and history teacher Vida Pulkauninkienė helped her prepare her contest entry.

Information from Vida Pulkauninkienė, coordinator, Tolerance Education Center, Dukstyna School, Ukmergė, Lithuania