I entered the Kaunas diocesan seminary still during the times of Khrushchev, in 1955. Probably, I was lucky since no one tried to recruit me to be a spy, no one threatened me with anything for which I could have been expelled from the seminary if I did not do. In the third year of my studies, I was called to serve in the army and upon returning encountered a different situation: both the administration of the seminary itself and its spirit had changed. The former rector of the seminary Kazimieras Žitkus (Vincas Stonis) was replaced by Rev. Alfonsas Lapė. I was unpleasantly surprised by some seminarians who agitated for eliminating prayer. When in the summer of 1961 I was called to the Lazdijai district passport division, from which I was delivered to the KGB department where the officer Jonas insistently urged me to "be a friend," I understood who had mixed up the seminary's spirit. Although the bloody period of Stalin was fading, ever denser clouds were gathering over the Homeland and the Church. The 'always correct and never misleading' communist party was planning 'a bright future' for us, which nationalism and religion could hinder. The Council for Religious Affairs diligently implemented the party's program - to destroy religious belief. Not only were the activities of the seminary restricted, but attempts were made to isolate the priests in their parish houses behind a barbed wire of laws and instructions. Punishments ranging from a ban to carry out the duties of a priest to imprisonment threatened those who did not obey them. There was a lack of necessary articles for believers: catechisms, prayer books, and even rosary beads. Under such circumstances one had to decide whom to obey: God or a man? The first opposition steps that led to the origin of the Kronika were made at this time.
Like-minded priests from time to time met to discuss current events and questions concerning priest affairs. The vague future was one of the greatest problems: scores of priests passed away every year, while the seminary admitted only five students each year, leaving other candidates behind the seminary's gates. The plan of the Soviet authorities was clear: to reduce the number of priests to a minimum as quickly as possible, to lock up those working in their parish houses, and make some of the priests their agents. In this way, the Church will be fatally injured - after losing its pastors, it will lie still in agony.
What to Do?
This question made everyone who cared for Church affairs feel uneasy. In 1968 while discussing Church problems, the idea arose to demand the abolishment of the limit on the number of students admitted to the seminary and to try to notify the free world about the persecution of the Church.
The first petitions, which frightened both the communist party and state security, were begun in the dioceses of Telsiai and Vilkaviskis and some of the priests who signed them were scolded and others were forbidden to carry out their priestly duties. It was a very difficult, but possible, task to pass through the iron curtain at that time. We began by typing with a typewriter some information on a white fabric which was then sewn into a dress of a woman traveling to the U.S.A. Later we succeeded in establishing ties with Moscow dissidents. Arimantas Raskinis, who was studying in Moscow, got acquainted with Sergei Kovalev, who became a great friend of Lithuanians.
In 1969 I was deprived of the right to work as a priest and had to find other employment. That summer together with another priest sharing the same fate, Juozas Zdebskis, I worked at the Prienai Melioration Works. We were hired by the superintendent, engineer Jurgis Brilius. He helped us to leave the melioration work and do church work. During that year I gained new acquaintances and acquired experience in working under underground conditions. That year was a real favor of God - it gave me that which I had not acquired in the seminary. It became clear to me and other priests that the Soviet registration certificate which granted the right to work as a priest was not salvation. The most important thing, as exiled Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius said at that time, was to have God's registration certificate.
My appointment to Simnas as a vicar was another favor of God because I had a good pastor Juozas Matulevičius and enough spare time. In meetings with other priests we started discussing the press question: a publication which would awaken national and especially religious consciousness and would reflect the problems of Catholic life was very necessary. The necessity to issue such a publication was supported by the majority of zealous priests, especially Juozas Zdebskis. At that time Zdebskis, Antanas Šeškevičius SJ, and Prosperas Bubnys MIC had been sentenced for teaching children.
With the assistance of Petras Plumpa, I prepared the first issue of the publication. We chose the name Vivos voco [I call the living] for the publication and wanting the Church to bless it, I visited exiled Bishop Sladkevičius and showed him the prepared material. On the bishop's desk I saw the Polish newspaper 'Chronicle', and the 'Chronicle of Current Events' was very popular in Moscow. The bishop looked through the material, thought a little, praised the idea of issuing a publication, even if it was modest, and suggested the name Kronika. The Bishop expressed his opinion: "Would it not be good if the publication would describe some event and then add a brief commentary? Would not such a publication be the most necessary?" There was nothing to do except support the good idea. In this way Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius became the godfather of the Lietuvos Katalikų Bažnyčios Kronika (The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania). Having received the approval of the bishop, I brought the completed publication to Jonas Danyla SJ because the approval of my direct superior (at that time he was the Provincial superior of Lithuania's Jesuits) was necessary for such an important step. Danyla doubted that I would be able to find material, but approved the proposal.
Petras Plumpa corrected and rewrote the first issue. Some articles were rewritten by the sister of the Congregation of the Holy Family Genovaite Navickaite, and I finished the remaining part which after binding I gave to acquaintances. In this way in the first half of March 1972, the first issue of the Kronika appeared in a small room in the Simnas parish house*. Honoring Juozas Zdebskis who was imprisoned in the Praveniskes camp at that time, I wrote the date - the 19th of March. Plumpa promised to make about 100 copies of each issue of the Kronika. He had lots of experience in this field since he had published several religious books using an ERA copying machine located in the attic of a house on Kalniecių Street in Kaunas.
When I began publishing the Kronika, I did not think of its periodicity. We would prepare an issue when a sufficient number of articles was collected. Actually, it turned out that collecting enough material was quite difficult. We could not place an ad in the main republican daily newspaper Tiesa (Truth)* stating that an underground publication wanted to receive stories about the crimes of Soviet authorities, violations of human rights. Fortunately, I had a large group of priests, nuns, and laymen whom I could trust, who would not betray me and knew how to keep silent. Their justice, honesty, and desire to help were guaranteed. They were very concerned about the affairs of the Church, but perhaps lacked experience.
Not all people easily told or wrote about their troubles especially if they knew that their stories would be published in the Kronika. Often even very good people preferred to be unknown - they did not want to attract the attention of the KGB and maybe even face interrogation. Nevertheless, there were priests and laymen who very bravely supplied the material they had. One of them was the Rev. Bronius Laurinavičius.
At first everyone did not understand why it was necessary to register and publicize the facts of persecution. Those who did not want to write about some event would make the excuse: "Everyone already knows what the Soviet authorities are doing!" But we wanted to present as many facts of brave opposition as possible so that other people could learn from them. Such articles in the Kronika especially helped people to overcome fear and decide to oppose evil.
Some of the articles we received were written with a typewriter; people more aware of the situation would send the fourth or fifth copy. Nevertheless, the majority of the information was written by hand. There was a real danger that the KGB would find the original texts during a search and then be able to identify without great difficulty their authors. So, one of the major concerns was to hide the hand written texts very well and to rewrite them with a typewriter as quickly as possible. I examined my room scores of times and considered all possibilities, but failed to find a suitable hiding place. I did not dare to share my problems with the other good people living in the parish house and load them with such a problem. Perhaps, without reason? It was quite inconvenient and risky to give material to other people for concealment. I rejected this thought at least initially. Seeking a solution to the problem, I went to the Simnas church, where I walked from corner to corner,examining attics, looking and looking... A hiding place had to be both secure and easily accessible. Thus, for several years the Lord hid a large number of hand written articles in the Simnas church. Upon receiving an article or a short news items, I would immediately wrap and place it in the most secure (as it seemed to me) place. After a while it would occur to me that the hiding place was not safe and I would look for a new place in which they would be safe from rats and evil people.
The typewriter on my desk was like a time bomb - it could be confiscated and examined at any moment. Where could I hide it so that it would not be a danger in the months when articles were being collected? It was quite large and could not be hidden in a crack. I had the idea to obtain another set of letters for the typewriter so that I could use one set for the Kronika and the other - for official correspondence even to the KGB. I succeeded in buying several sets of typewriter levers in a shop in Pushkin Street in Moscow. We replaced the Russian alphabet with a Lithuanian alphabet, and the dangerous typewriter was on the desk only when an issue of the Kronika was being typed. It took about 20 minutes for the 'operation' after which a totally innocent object for the KGB remained on the desk. My colleagues also easily mastered this operation. The removed letters fit in the palm of a hand and could be easily placed in a pocket and taken away for concealment.
To diminish further the incriminating evidence I sometimes also changed the dangerous alphabet. I would alter some letters using a soldering iron or pliers and readjust the knocking position of some letters. Later, during various interrogations, I learned that these operations had perfectly misled experts seeking to determine the ‘guilty’ typewriter.
When I began editing the Kronika, I recognized the need to find colleagues as I did not trust my literary talents. While working in Vilkaviskis, I became acquainted with the brother of my pastor Konstantinas Ambrasas - the Lithuanian linguist Kazimieras Ambrasas. I found him in Leipalingis in his brother's home and told him about my concern. I was very happy that Kazimieras did not hesitate to help. We would agree beforehand when he would visit his brother and after preparing the next issue, I would hide it under my shirt and travel to Leipalingis. I did not inform Konstantinas about this so that he would be worried. A few days later I would travel again to Leipalingis and bring back the corrected text to Simnas. After making the operation on the typewriter - replacing the alphabet - I would retype the issue in a few days. Kazimieras made all the corrections by hand and thus the risk was very great. The KGB could have confiscated the texts on my trips or during the retyping and easily identified who had assisted me. I think that Kazimieras also understood this, but he worked and did not show any fear. I only saw the great desire to help. Of course, this could not last long, especially after the KGB started making searches on a mass scale and started case no. 345.
The work with the Kronika became much easier when Sister Elena Šuliauskaite began to help. For several long years the major portion of the work was loaded on her shoulders. I knew what dangers threatened her. She was also aware of them, but we trusted in God and continued working.
Friends of Lithuania
The editing of an issue of the Kronika was only half the work. Everyone with whom I discussed the matter agreed that the Kronika would only fulfill its role when the information it contained was distributed not only in Lithuania but also the free world. At that time we did not have the capabilities to make and disseminate many copies of the underground publication because only typewriters were available and other more efficient methods of copying were strictly controlled. After a lot of hard work, Vytautas Vaičiūnas managed to assemble an ERA copying machine which enabled us, always risking arrest, to make several hundred copies and to distribute them in Lithuania.
The most difficult task arose: "How to send the Kronika to the West?" At the time we started publishing the Kronika only a very small number of tourists from the West visited our country and they could not deviate from the established route, let alone travel from Vilnius to rural areas. Moreover, any passed on issues could always be discovered during searches at the customs department.
Our attention again turned to Moscow. We restored our ties with Sergei Kovalev and received his permission to bring him the latest issue of the Kronika. And from there friends of Lithuania in Moscow helped to send the issue to the West. Sometimes we waited for a very long period until 'Radio Liberty' or 'Vatican Radio' announced that a new issue of the Kronika had reached the West. We were very happy to hear this news. We realized later that we should bring two copies of the issue to Moscow and not one - one copy was necessary for the editors of The Chronicle of Current Events who would translate suitable material into Russian and place it in their publication while the other copy could be handed over immediately to Western correspondents.
With great gratitude and honor I mention Lithuania's friends in Moscow: the calm Sergei Kovalev, the always smiling Aleksandr Lavut, the very practical Tatyana Velikanova, the seething with energy priest Gleb Yakunin, etc. All of us, people of very different nationalities, religions, and social groups, were united by the joint task to inform the world how human rights were being violated in the Soviet Union. We were convinced that this information was the most important weapon fighting against the slavery being implemented by the totalitarian system.
Trips to Moscow were very dangerous - one could attract the attention of the KGB anywhere and be detained. Thus, after they introduced passport check at airports, it was no longer sensible to use air planes. To obtain a seat for the Moscow train in Vilnius or Kaunas was also a risky enterprise because railway stations were one of the most watched places. There was an alternative - to get a seat in the Moscow train at a station not in Lithuania.
The trips to Moscow were usually very romantic. Some friend, for instance Rev. Alfonsas Svarinskas, would drive me to some place in Byelorussia from where I would hitch-hike to Minsk. I would buy a ticket there, and by taking the train around 20:00 would arrive in Moscow early in the morning. This route seemed to be quite safe. When I lived in Kybartai, I would travel to Chernyakhovsk to buy tickets.
Often I traveled to Moscow alone, although sometimes I had a companion who would protect me by carrying the dangerous material. May the Lord reward those (the nuns Nijole Sadūnaite, Brone Vazgelevčiūtė, and others) who risked their freedom so that the Kronika would be safe.
After arriving in Moscow it was very risky to go to the apartment of any dissident and we therefore always agreed in advance where we would meet the next time. The Moscow residents would give a specific address, and we would agree on the date and time of the meeting. I was amazed by their punctuality and sense of responsibility - for a long period there was not a single instance when they did not arrive at the agreed time (except several times when they were a little late for serious reasons). They would take the Kronika from us, and later also Aušra and in return give us The Chronicle of Current Events and very often something from the current samizdat publications, such as The Gulag Archipelago. After exchanging the publications and discussing the latest events, we separated - they returned to their working places, while I would wait for the train to Vilnius.
To Whom to Send?
At the beginning it was not even clear to whom to send the Kronika in the West. I knew that there was a Catholic daily newspaper Draugas ('Friend'). So, after finding the address of its editorial staff, I wrote this address on the cover sheet of our publication and sent it. We were convinced that it did not matter to whom our publication was sent as long as it did not get into the hands of the communists. Later I became acquainted with Rožė Šomkaite from the U.S.A., who told me about Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid, Inc., about its director Rev. Kazimieras Pugevičius, and about their efforts to help Lithuania. Afterwards I would write to this address. Today I think that the Lord sent needed people when they were needed the most. Such people were Šomkaite, Pugevičius, later the nuns from Putnam (Connecticut, U.S.A.), and other people.
The KGB undoubtedly understood in what ways the samizdat was reaching the West and tried to block them. The most active dissidents were detained one after the other: Kovalev, Velikanova, Lavut, Yakunin, and others. With time, the road of the Kronika through Moscow became more difficult. However, at that time tourists from the U.S.A. began to arrive more and more frequently. It would have been very easy way to give the issue of the Kronika to some tourist from the West asking him to sent it to the indicated address, but the issue could not only be confiscated at the customs but also make many difficulties for to the tourist. What should be done?
While I was serving in the Soviet army, I took a large number of photographs and thus decided to make microfilms and hide them in a souvenir, which would be given to a tourist from a western country. This method served successfully for a long period of time. I would photograph the just completed issue of the Kronika. The full issue would fit in a very small package that could be easily hidden. Then, I had to only pray and wait for a guest from the West who would have the desire and sufficient courage to take a little risk. Maybe it was a happy coincidence, but from numerous cases only one guest refused to take the microfilm and to stop me from crying gave me a pack of cigarettes ... I now understand that one can not demand from anyone more than he is able to give. I am amazed how very much the tourists loved Lithuania if after a brief explanation they would immediately say: "Good. I will take it."
When I was a guest in the U.S.A., I visited Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid and examined the Kronika issues and microfilms, which had arrived from Lithuania. I did not find everything that was sent; some issues disappeared in Moscow during searches and others some where on their way to the West. However, I was very happy to find more than one issue of the Kronika which SOMEONE had sent to the West. Thank God, that at that difficult time there were many who cared for the affairs of the Church and their Homeland.
Kronika in the hands of the KGB
On 23 June 1972 during a search carried out at the home of Sister Jadvyga Stanelyte the KGB found the first issue of the Kronika and on 5 July 1972 began the criminal case No. 345. The KGB watched all suspected persons for more than a year and on 20 November 1973 made a large number of searches. The greatest loss was the arrest of Petras Plumpa, a talented, hardworking, and fearless personality - such workers are rare. The KGB rejoiced in triumph that the Kronika was destroyed, but on 12 December issue no. 8 appeared in which there was a lot of information about the searches and arrests.
During the publication of the Kronika, there was everything - romanticism and painful experiences. The arrests of close people were always very painful. Very close, necessary people whom I had drawn into dangerous work! This was like a heavy stone hanging on my neck, which I had to carry for a long time.
Virgilijus Jaugelis volunteered to make copies of issue no. 6 with a rotary press and the stencils were found during a search. He was tried along with Plumpa. There are very few such idealists like Virgutis (that was what we used to call him). For God, for the Homeland he was willing to go not only to a labor camp but also into a fire. Imprisonment was very difficult for him because he was seriously ill and when he came back, people could hardly recognize him. He sacrificed so very much for the Kronika.
Nijolė Sadūnaitė already knew the paths leading to Moscow and could assist a lot both in distributing and editing the Kronika. Unfortunately, she was also arrested and sentenced to a long 6 year punishment.
Juozas Gražys, Vladas Lapienis, Povilas Buzas, Anastazas Janulis, nuns Ona Vitkauskaitė, Genovaitė Navickaitė, Ona Pranckunaitė, Nijole Sadūnaitė, Bemadeta Mališkaitė, Ona Kavaliauskaitė, and Birutė Briliūte -they were all idealists, who were very concerned with serving the Church and their Homeland anyway they could. When I was arrested in 1983, one KGB officer - captain Raimondas Rainys called me a happy adventurer and when asked explained: "You were able to choose good colleagues." Indeed, both those selected and those who volunteered for the collective work were valiant workers, noble personalities.
I was very sorry for arrested colleagues Sergei Kovalev and Aleksandr Lavut with whom I had the opportunity to cooperate for a long time. They always met me with briefcases full of samizdat publications, they always were businesslike and pleasant people.
The arrested Petras Plumpa, Povilas Petronis, Virgilijus Jaugelis, and Jonas Stašaitis were still being interrogated in the Vilnius KGB, when the lens of the KGB turned to Simnas. In the early morning of 14 March 1974 I took home two copies of the Kronika after mass and was preparing to go to Kaunas after breakfast. KGB captain Vytautas Pilelis accompanied by three KGB arrived and thoroughly searched my room and the garage. Except for the two copies of the Kronika, they did not found anything interesting. After finding in the course of search a sheet of paper with the handwriting of a pupil, they cried: "Is this the latest material for the Kronika?" I understood what concerned them the most and that I had to be more cautious.
Virgilijus Jaugelis was arrested on 9 April 1974. A week later I also received a subpoena for interrogation in the Vilnius KGB. I did not anticipate any major danger, but knew not to expect anything good from the KGB. The first interrogation was not difficult. They asked me what I knew about the 'Kronika and from where had I received the two copies of the Kronika found during the search. Captain Pilelis was also interested in the underground seminary for priests. He remained very dissatisfied when he did not learn anything useful.
The month of December 1974 was very hard for underground publishers. The court proceedings against Petras Plumpa, Povilas Petronis, Virgilijus Jaugelis, and Jonas Stasaitis lasted almost the full month and an especially heavy cross was placed on the first worker of the Kronika, Petras Plumpa. He received an eight year sentence for his fight for the future of the Church and the Nation. Perhaps the communist party and KGB officers tried by this show trial to intimidate those who dared to speak the truth, but the effect was opposite - repressions fostered the determination to fight.
Right away after the completion of this trial, on 27 December Sergei Kovalev, a great friend of Lithuanians (a former deputy of the Duma of the Russian Federation), was arrested. He was one of the first people with whom we established contacts and who without personal interest helped Lithuania for a long time. His interrogation in the Vilnius KGB lasted for almost for a year, and afterwards he spent ten years in the camps of Perm and exile in Siberia.
On 27 August 1974 Sister Nijolė Sadūnaitė was arrested for making copies of the Kronika. No information about the course of the interrogation seeped out of the dungeons of the KGB. On 11 February 1975 quite unexpectedly I received a subpoena for questioning in the Vilnius KGB. For two days captain Pilelis interrogated me and everything was directed around Nijolė. He wanted me to admit that I had given Nijolė an issue of the Kronika to copy. I was accused of publishing the Kronika. He was assisted by the head of the interrogation section - captain Antanas Rimkus. They wanted me to admit at least that I had given Nijolė the Kronika to read and explained that then Nijolė would be freed. When they did not receive this admission from me, they were very disappointed and lieutenant-colonel Kolgov tried to humiliate me, calling me a coward and a heartless person, who knew how to involve an innocent woman, while trying to avoid any personal responsibility. The angry KGB veteran said: "This coward is abiding by the principle 'you can't make an omelet without breaking the eggs'."
In September 1974 an anonymous letter appeared in Lithuania signed in the name of a group of priests of the Vilkaviškis diocese. It was sent to all the heads of the dioceses and severely condemned priests who did not obey the Soviet authorities. These priests were accused of destroying the unity of the priests and the desire to be famous abroad. Bishop Juozapas Labukas was urged to condemn "the fighters who wanted to turn back the wheel of history" when he visited the Vatican. It was very clear who was the author of this letter. While the Kronika was being issued, such anonymous letters quite often tried to form negative opinions against priests who were not loyal to the authorities and the Kronika. Not being able to destroy them physically, they tried with these methods to silence them.
However, they were not silenced. In April 1975 five priests of the Vilkaviškis diocese wrote a protest statement in defense of the people sentenced for the underground press. Academician Andrei Sakharov read this letter to foreign journalists but did not mention the surnames of the priests who had signed it. However, in the course of a search the KGB found the statement and sent it to Vilnius to establish if it has been really signed by us (or perhaps they wanted us to renounce our signatures). At this time we were inspired by the recently completed Helsinki conference, and the Final Act signed here. When I was called to the KGB, I briefly explained that I had signed the statement. I think that for the KGB this was another piece of evidence proving my contacts with Moscow's dissidents.
Two months later the representative for Religious Affairs ordered Bishop Juozapas Labukas to transfer me from Simnas to some other place where I would have more work or otherwise I would be arrested. On 15 October issue no. 19 of the Kronika was completed and I was appointed the pastor in Kybartai. Everything was completely strange since up to that time no disobedient priest had been transferred to a larger parish. I unwillingly started thinking that the transfer was made so that it would be easier to arrest me in the place... What will be the fate of the Kronika in a new place? I did not have an answer to this question. The only person who already had experience in editing the Kronika was sister Elena Šuliauskaitė. I knew that like-minded priests would help collect information and care for the future fate of the Kronika.
Some priests would give good advice, but it was difficult to fulfill it. One of the suggestions was to form in Lithuania three or four editorial staffs of the Kronika, which would take turns in publishing it. In truth, there were frequent moments, when I wanted to live calmly for at least several months, without feeling the danger hanging over my head, particularly at the moments when KGB cars appeared in Kybartai which for a while would accompany me everywhere, even on visits to an ill person, and then for some unknown reason suddenly disappear. I was never able to realize the advice to establish several editorial staffs. One of reasons was that my closest friends had their own important tasks to do, whereas the work of creating a new network of correspondents and the necessary conditions for publishing was very difficult. (Perhaps, I should have paid more attention to this matter for then after my arrest fewer problems would have arisen in publishing the Kronika...).
In Kybartai, the conditions for editing were very unfavorable. For half a year I had to live in a rented room since the parish house was occupied. In addition, I had a lot of work. There were no problems in gathering the material. When the time came to release an issue, Šuliauskaitė would come to Kybartai and we would select the material and determine the full issue. I would then drive her with all the articles for the future issue to Simnas to a remote house in which its two good residents Julija Juskauskaitė and Eugenija Dainauskaitė allowed her to live. Here the issue was finally rewritten and at least 20 copies of it were typed. Sister of the Eucharistic Jesus Congregation Monika Gavenaitė helped us to retype the new issue. Juškauskaitė would bring some issues to me from Simnas, while other issues were taken by the women who retyped them so that they could make more copies. I was surprised by the bravery and dedication of Julija. She would be on watch for several weeks in a row to make sure that no one would come unexpected. For weeks she had to withstand great pressure, but she never complained and was always ready to help. Thank God for such people.
Shortly after I began to publish the Kronika I became acquainted with Vilnius resident Vladas Lapienis who without any urging became one of the most diligent supporters and distributors of the Kronika. He knew several women typists who would make more copies of the publications he brought them. Moreover, he would provide information for new issues. Vladas enthralled me not only with his assistance but also his spiritual life, which many priests could envy. To my great sorrow, he was arrested with Jonas Kastytis Matulionis on 19 October 1976. Somewhat later Congregation of the Holy Family Sister Ona Pranckunaitė, who with great sacrifice made copies of the Kronika and other religious literature, was also arrested. After each arrest all the more frequently would arise the idea that it would have been better if they had arrested me. Under calm contemplation, it seems, one can understand that in any fight victims are inevitable, but to lead one good person after the other to agony is somewhat more difficult than personally to accept their fate.
The contents of the Kronika changed more than once. At first, it seemed that the wisest policy would be to register only facts, disclosing only the persecution of the Church. This approach was approved by almost all the people who knew about the issuing of the Kronika. However, there was no other publication which would awaken the consciousness of the nation and register the facts of the forced denationalization at those times. The Kronika was criticized that it cared only for the interests of the Church. Although it was evident that by defending the faith we also defended the nation, we, nevertheless, wanted to describe everything that happened in the enslaved country. For this reason, gradually other facts bearing testimony about the violations of human rights in various spheres of life began to appear in the Kronika.
During a meeting of like-minded priests of the Vilkaviškis diocese, Rev. Pranciškus Račiūnas MIC suggested resuming the publication of Ausra*. Everyone approved of this idea and one had only to find someone to complete it. Raciunas himself wrote the introduction, and the editorial staff of the Kronika had to help it make its first steps. Probably after about six issues, I asked Rev. Lionginas Kunevicius to be its editor and he kindly agreed. With God's blessing Aušra was not detected by the KGB until the Atgimimas (National Reawakening).
Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers
In 1978 the Orthodox priest Gleb Yakunin with two friends visited me in Kybartai. They said that they had established in Moscow the Christian Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers and suggested that we join them. I told the priests Alfonsas Svarinskas and Juozas Zdebskis about this idea. Both of them gladly approved. Later the priests from Telšiai Vincentas Vėlavičius and Jonas Kauneckas agreed to join us. All of us had individually to find the correct decision: to be or not to be a member of the being established Committee? Its existence at that time was very necessary, but this would further intensify the attention of the KGB. If I do not join the Committee, will the KGB officers not begin to wonder why did I remain aloof? What am I doing? I thought, prayed, asked for advice, and, nevertheless, decided to join the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers (hence TTGKK). Collecting material for the Kronika became much easier. All of us understood that the taken step was correct in all aspects, although risky.
* Ausra - a journal promoting national reawakening during the period of the prohibition of the publication of anything in the Lithuanian language with Latin letters. It was issued in 1883 - 1886 by Jonas Basanavicius, Jonas Sliupas, Martynas Jankus, and others.
We wrote and distributed 20 documents of the Catholic Committee and did not received a single reply - as if our cry for help had fallen into a well. Only five years later did I learn that the KGB scrupulously collected all these documents, - and were even very concerned that they did not have document no. 46. The Soviet authorities were particularly annoyed by documents no. 18 on the Violation of Rights of Children in Lithuania and no. 5 on the Regulations for Religious Societies, which 520 priests and the two exiled bishops supported. While they could have endured the pain of the contents of the documents, the KGB could not tolerate that these documents reached the West.
On 29 August 1979 I was summoned to the Republic Prosecutor's Office where the prosecutor read an official warning that if I continued to carry out anti-state activities I faced punishment in accordance with Art. 68 of the Penal Code. After being warned by the republic prosecutor, prosecutor Jurgis Bakucionis, who supervised KGB cases, led me to his office and began to explain that the Kronika is a publication of the Catholic Committee and we have to stop publishing it. The next day Svarinskas also received a warning at the Prosecutor's Office. The danger was evidently increasing and I had to decide either to stop my activities in the Committee or ignore the warning. Without any doubt we chose the second option.
At the beginning of 1980 two diligent distributors of the Kronika, Povilas Buzas and Anastazas Janulis, were arrested in Lithuania. The latter not paying attention to his age was a man of inexhaustible energy and diligence. God give us a larger number of such Jesuits! And in Moscow the secretary of the Christian Committee Viktor Kapitanchyuk was arrested. We seriously pondered that if the KGB undertook to liquidate the Christian Committee in Moscow, our time would also come soon.
Searches and Arrests
On 17 April 1980 while returning from church I saw a group of people. Their leader greeted me by saying: ,Glory to Jesus Christ!' I thought that maybe some pastor had come with a group of tourists... Unfortunately, my "tourists" were prepared to search through everything even a dog house. They thoroughly searched not only my rooms, but also those of my housekeeper, of the deceased Rev. Virgilijus Jaugelis, and of Ona Kavaliauskaitė. Thank God they failed to find any of the hiding places and took away only what was on the desk and in the bookcases.
The very same day a search was also carried out at the home of Petrikienė in Kybartai, where Congregation of the Holy Family Sister Genovaite Navickaitė was making copies of the Kronika. After the search, she was arrested. The next day the Sister of the same Congregation Onute Vitkauskaite was also arrested. This was a very painful loss for both the Congregation and the Kronika. However, a little while later Sister Bernadeta Mališkaitė, who became one of the most important workers, joined the editorial staff of the Kronika.
After the search, I was not summoned for interrogation for a long while and this made me anxious. Only two months later I received a subpoena to go for interrogation in Moscow, but I decided not to go. A week later a repeat subpoena arrived. I prepared the Catholic Committee's document on the freedom of religion and began waiting for being arrested. But everything gradually calmed down. In July my mood improved because Sadunaite was released. When one worker after the other departs, it becomes truly difficult, but when they begin to return the world becomes brighter.
On 12 August 1980 the house of the sisters of Eucharistic Jesus (Donelaicio St. 36, Kaunas) was searched. Thank God, the KGB officers failed to find anything dangerous there although they could have. During the whole period of publishing the Kronika a great deal of materials passed through the house. There was one hiding place protected by Providence, which, fortunately, the searchers did not find. Friends of the Eucharist, nuns, and priests would bring a lot of information there. Sometimes I did, but more often one of the sisters would deliver the material to Kybartai. Very often material was delivered by the hardworking Sister of the Congregation of the Holy Family Donata Meškauskaitė.
By this time Sister Jadvyga Stanelytė had already been arrested and was awaiting the trial in the Lukiškes prison. Gleb Yakunin was sentenced in Moscow in August. All signs were pointing that the end of the underground work was approaching. The year 1980 was a very difficult period since the oppression machine of the communist party and KGB was pitilessly devouring all the fighters for human rights.
In January at the offices of the Council for Religious Affairs the administrators of the dioceses were 'taught' how to obey the soviet authorities. The distributors and supporters of the Kronika Janulis, Buzas, Vitkauskaitė, and Navickaitė were arrested while Stanelytė and assistant professor Vytautas Skuodis, who during the time of court proceedings was accepted into the Catholic Committee, were sentenced. Juozas Zdebskis (one of the most active supporters of the Kronika ) was severely burned by chemical substances spilled on the seat of his car in an unknown way. Vytautas Vaičiūnas, who was with him in the car, was injured in a lesser degree. Nevertheless, the persecution not only did not frighten us, but on the contrary, it prepared us for a more active fight -the priests Algimantas Keina, Vaclovas Stakėnas, and Leonas Kalinauskas joined the Catholic Committee. I received various kinds of assistance from everywhere: those who could not or did not know how to help directly, provided material support - they would put a few hundreds rubles in my pocket and only said: "You'll know where to spend it."
During the whole life of the Kronika one could only trust in God. Everyone who collected information, articles, assisted in editing, distributing, and sending issues to the West lacked everything: experience, knowledge, and organizational ability. In general, there were few priests and laymen who wanted to place their heads in the lion's jaws. Often I had to rely on my Guardian Angel, often I repeated the prayer: "Lord, you know that I am working for You. If this work is necessary, care for me, if not - let it end". And God cared for me in a wonderful way. It seems to me that everything on which the Kronika reported and was distributed all over the world is only one side, and the other side was no less important - all of us became a little braver, became more conscious, began to understand that the legs of the Godless idol are made of clay, and what is the most important - we comprehended that we should not sit with our hands folded, but work and fight, for then God would help us.
I can hardly imagine the publication of the Kronika if there had not been beside us like-minded priests Alfonsas Svarinskas, Juozas Zdebskis, Jonas Kauneckas, Jonas Lauriūnas, Bronius Antanaitis, Pranciškus Račiūnas, Kazimieras Zemenas, and others with whom whenever there was a need it was always possible to discuss everything. We would discuss more difficult questions with the exiled bishops, and talk about other problems at the meetings of priests. When we were talking, we often did not even mention the name of the Kronika. And there was no shortage of problems. Frequently, questions would arise how to behave in one or another case (for example, whether to write in the Kronika only about the arbitrary actions of the atheists or also about priests who were not working for the Church.). I thank God for the bishops, priests, nuns, and laymen who were always beside me and on whom I could always rely.
The publication and distribution of the Kronika demanded a lot of time, sometimes I had to travel to Moscow. Priests from neighboring parishes always willingly helped me when needed and especially the pastor of Alvitas Boleslovas Ražukas. But the underground priest Petras Našlėnas was the most diligent helper. I would travel to Kaunas say: "Rev. Petras, I need your help for three days" and with the punctually of a clock he would arrive and help. Without this help I would have been powerless. Rev. Jaugelis assisted me for a short time, and in the last years before his arrest - Rev. Kastytis Matulionis and Jonas Boruta. More and more frequently, I began to think to whom should I entrust the Kronika if I was arrested.
Tenth Anniversary of the Kronika
The supporters of the Kronika wanted to mark somehow the tenth anniversary of the publication. The sculptor Jakstas from the Vilnius region was asked to carve something out of oak for this occasion. One dark night he brought a huge sculpture which a large group of men were barely able to unload from the car. The sculpture depicted the book -the Kronika from which were growing thorns - the agonies of the nation; above them a heart - perhaps that of the Lord or a Lithuanian who loves God and his Homeland; and from the sides - hands clasped in prayer (only on those clasped hands did the Kronika did the survive for 10 years). When I blessed this monument, I only explained to the parishioners that this book symbolizes the history of the tortures of the nation.
In my heart I carried a great deal of gratitude to God for protecting me ten years. When I started publishing the Kronika, I expected that this work would last some three years - at that time the thought did not enter my mind to keep the publication for 10 years... What is not allowed for man, God can do everything.
It seemed that the anniversary issue of the Kronika would never be issued. On 27 February 1982 KGB cars with eight people arrived in Kybartai. It was not clear what they were doing and why they had come. Parishioners mentioned that the license plates of the vehicles were changed. I noticed that some vehicles accompanied me even when I was visiting a sick person. This shadowing lasted until 17 March. Under these conditions the 51st issue was prepared. On the first sheet we wrote the date of 19 March. (Here, I would like to note that the date marked on the cover sheet of the Kronika often did not always corespond to the real date of issue - we had no desire to help the KGB learn the real date of issuing numbers of the Kronika). A week later the 52nd issue was issued. The KGB authorities could be 'satisfied' by having spent a month in Kybartai, while for the publishers this resulted in greater worries. But even at the most difficult moment the work did not stop.
The year 1982 was quite difficult. Probably, the work under greater tensions had an effect - I had to be admitted to a hospital in order to ,repair' my shattered health to some degree. The thought would haunt me: what will I do with such health in a KGB prison or labor camp? There was only one solution: "It will be as God determines." At the beginning of 1983 I went to Druskininkai for medical treatment. It was very good to forget everything - the KGB authorities, the Kronika, and other problems - for several weeks.
Who Will Continue the Work?
On 26 January 1983 two Sisters came to Druskininkai from Kybartai to tell me that Rev. Alfonsas Svarinskas was arrested and searches were conducted at the homes of Kauneckas and Keina. Very anxious days followed. Many people were summoned for interrogations, among them the members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers. On 28 February I received a subpoena for interrogation. For two days Captain Pilelis questioned me about Svarinskas, about my acquaintances with Moscow dissidents Gleb Yakunin, Viktor Kapitanchyuk, Dmitrii Dudko, and others. The interrogation clearly showed, that my days of freedom, were, probably, already numbered.
For many years Sister Elena Šuliauskaitė assisted me steadfastly. She would prepare the greater part of the manuscripts. I saw how much the week of intense work until the issue of the Kronika was fully prepared and its 8 copies were sent in various directions cost her health. She worked and never complained although I clearly saw that more assistants were needed. After her return from the labor camp Sister Nijolė Sadūnaitė diligently helped. It seemed that God had created her especially for this work. Sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Family joined in the work: Bernadeta Mališkaitė was able to edit, Ona Kavaliauskaitė - to collect and rewrite material, Birutė Briliūtė - to edit a youth publication, and was learning to take photographs and make copies of texts. I needed to find several priests who in the event of my arrest could lead the operation. Rev. Kauneckas willingly agreed to help and even visited me several times to learn how to edit an issue, but he was watched by the KGB no less attentively than I was. Before my arrest, when I was leaving for Vilnius I asked Rev. Boruta: "If there will be a need, help!"
The Clock Stopped
During the trial of Svarinskas, one KGB officer promised that my case would have 25 volumes. Although the faithful were not admitted into the courtroom, Kauneckas and I were allowed to enter it for the reading of the verdict. The verdict ended with the unexpected court decision: "to initiate criminal proceedings against Rev. S. Tamkevičius for anti-Soviet propaganda." A KGB officer who was standing next to me immediately ordered me to go with him to the room for witnesses and after the people departed, I was taken to the KGB dungeons. They stripped me of my clothes, made a thorough search, gave me an aluminum cup, a spoon, and a banged up bowl for porridge - my clock stopped. It was very strange, but the frequently felt anxiety about who would publish the Kronika disappeared? "If necessary, Lord, take care of it!"
Kronika Is Alive
In the spring of 1984 my interrogator Vytautas Urbonas traveled to Perm camp no. 37 and invited me for a talk. After several general questions he fixed his eyes on me and said:
"You were the editor of the Kronika" ? Most likely, he expected that now that I had been sentenced, I would acknowledge this.
"Has the publication of the Kronika stopped?" - I asked.
"It is still going." - I heard the reply that was as dear to my heart as bread is for a prisoner. "It is still going," - for a long time this phrase resounded like music in my ears.
After this I did not hear anything about the Kronika until 1988 when still being in Siberia I learned that even in the most difficult years of KGB fury several Sisters and Jonas Boruta SJ kept the Kronika alive.
The KGB was not able to destroy the Kronika for 17 years! This is a real miracle, knowing how many permanent employees and informers this repressive machine had. This miracle was possible only because in Lithuania there were people whom I could characterize by the same word: Miracle. After so many decades of darkness and violence there were people who could sacrifice everything for God and Homeland, for truth and goodness. I mentioned only some of them though I should mention many more of them. Can one forget Sister Teklė Steponavičiūtė from Klaipeda who provided a great deal of material for the Kronika or Sister Janina Judikevičiūte from Marijampolė, who was ready to help always and everywhere? Indeed, the Lord gives everyone a different charisma: Sister Julija Kuodyte knew how to encourage others, many could obtain support from her assistance; the elderly Sister Ona Dranginytė could keep watch like a Guardian Angel and care for our working conditions.
Thank God for those times and people who did not expect honors, but took their position with the undefeatable idea: "For God and the Homeland!"