The Prison Hunt
Camilla Vidas is a 15 year old girl who is taken from her home town, Šančiai. Camilla is a student who goes to high school and has an younger brother, Andrius. She has a good friend Petras Lutkus, who has known her since they were children. Petras and Camilla’s families are both Jewish and targeted by the Nazis.
I would do anything to get my family back.
Suddenly I sensed someone behind me. “Hi”, whispered Petras. “I heard what happened, I’m sorry.” I didn’t say anything. No, I couldn't say anything.
“Elena and my mother also got taken. No one will tell me if they are alive or not” he finally said to break the silence.
“I’m really sorry.” I croaked out. My throat hurt from sobbing. “ We can’t go to school without our parents alive.”
“I know, but it’s going to be ok. “Petras said, his voice just barely over a whisper. “Let’s not think about that for now.” Petras said with sincerity in his eyes. I hugged him, for the first time since the Soviet’s annexation I felt safe. My brother Andrius’ jacket was left outside, sitting on the lawn. They took him. They just took him and didn’t even tell him that he was never coming back here. I went inside and found my house was a mess. Then I saw it. My father’s body limp and cold on the floor.
Blood was everywhere and I could tell that the NKVD stabbed him. I was going to my room to pack when I saw something in his hand. I knelt down and saw a slip of paper crumbled in between his fingers. The scrawled writing confirmed he wrote it.
Go far away. It’s not safe here.
I love you,
I stared into Papa’s vacant eyes. Why had he been killed if he had done nothing wrong? Unless… did he ever commit a crime? Why had he never told me?
I finally got the courage to walk into my room. They couldn't have stolen anything from me, I haven't done anything wrong. I took a breath and opened the door. My closet was bare and my jewelry was missing.
I had come in this room to pack only to find that I don't own anything to bring with me. I didn’t have anything I had to do in my room so I just left the house. Left the only thing I had left of my parents.
I just started walking, I didn't know where I wanted to go but I just walked. I found Petras sitting on his lawn and smoking. He looked horrible, his face red from tears. I sat next to him. This time the silence was very uncomfortable so I said, “ I saw my father.”
“Oh? At your house?” he mumbled.
“Yeah, stabbed” I said back.
I slipped the note to him. He quickly scanned it and looked up at me, “Let’s go then, we don’t have a school or a home. Really, anywhere is better than here. “ I just nodded in agreement. Petras was right, here is not safe. At least not for now…
We both didn’t have anything to bring so we just started walking. We walked almost to the edge of town by the time the sun was setting. We didn’t know how the security would be by the time we reached the edge so we decided to camp out until tomorrow night. I was actually surprised we weren’t caught. To be honest, we should have been inside a Jewish camp by now.
Petras had apparently been trained at this or something because he was quite efficient at finding a good place to hide. We broke into a nearby barn that looked worn down. It was below freezing and we had nothing to eat except for scraps, but it was better than nothing.
Petras violently shook me awake after hearing the sounds of marching outside. We couldn't move for hours because there was a constant stream of NKVD officers. Every so often, one would swing the large doors open and check if anyone was inside. Luckily, we were hiding behind one of the piles of hay and weren’t seen. The officers were walking around for hours and finally left when there was a shot of gunfire somewhere else.
We carefully crept the door open and snuck outside making sure we left no tracks. If one of the officers saw us we would have been captured and brought to prison or worse, killed. I remember once hearing my father and my older brother, Andrius, talk about Stalin and Hitler. They said that Lithuania will not be safe in the hands of either and that we are destined to die. Then, it made me scared but now, I am used to walking around and seeing the stoney faces of my dead neighbors.
When we went outside we noticed the amount of officers. There were at least 50 before but now half of them went to the source of the noise we heard earlier. Most of them were just lounging, smoking cigars and eating. They were sitting on the side of the border, in the shade of the leafy trees on the edge of the forest.
“We have to go now. Later, all of the other guards will come back.” I whispered. Petras nodded in agreement. We quickly ran to the side of the barn where no one would see us and then sprinted into the forest. It was very dark and the ground was covered with with layers of dead leaves and parts of trees. We trekked for days eating the occasional fruit we found on the plants nearby. At night, we couldn't build a fire for fear of getting caught and had to sleep below freezing. Finally, we reached a train station at the edge of the forest. The next train left for Berlin where we would be safe. We quickly snuck onto the caboose and the train sped away, leaving the dark green of the trees looking no bigger than a mere dot. We found food left on board by passengers and water at the fountains located at the stops. There were even outhouses at the stations which was unbelievable. We were incredibly lucky to have escaped the ongoing battle of the Baltics and so easily survive. Which leads to a thought I had pushed to the back of my head, Petras and I had been very fortunate but there are others who were not as lucky. We are just leaving others behind to be slaughtered just like our parents. These thoughts would lead us to our death. Papa said to leave, and leave we must. We continued on our way to Berlin finding plenty of food and getting plenty of water. One day, the train passes through a dry area with nothing but grass. In the distance I saw a large building surrounded by tall wires.
As we got closer, I noticed that those weren't wires but fences surrounding a Jewish concentration camp. I saw everything. The people so thin you could see their bones, the guards shooting people left and right, the screaming children looking for their mothers. I needed to help. “We have to go and help.” I pleaded. Petras stared at me horrified. “Do you want to die? Do you want to get shot at the hands of the same people who killed your family! They took my mother’s only daughter, Elena! Elena was everything to me and my mother! My mother cried for days because my father died in prison! What if she finds out we died! I can’t do that to her.” Petras said. “You are in denial that Stalin has taken control. There’s nothing we can do. Please, Camilla come with me to Germany” Petras begged. “I’m really sorry Petras, but I’m going.” I said. If Petras wasn’t going to come then I was going to leave him. He would be safe once he crossed the border of Germany. “Camilla, I can’t leave you. If you are going to go, I will join you. I need you to be safe.” He said. “We’ll get off in that patch of tall grass over there and go toward the fence. When we get there we’ll pretend to be some prisoners trying to escape. Ok?” I said bluntly. “O-Ok.” He said shakily. “ Are you sure about this?” “Of c-course.” I said just as shakily as Petras.
Our spot to get off was coming up. “One, Two, Three, JUMP” I whispered. We tumbled to the grass while the train sped away. When we got to the fence we started running around trying to get the guard’s attention. He finally spotted and started to shoot. We narrowly missed getting hurt and stalled enough for the guard to come to the other side of the fence and drag us in. We were quickly brought to the headquarters and asked our names. I looked around as if the perfect name might appear on the dirty metal file cabinets surrounding me. “ Uhh… Lina Kanas” I blurted out.
“And yours?” The guard asked.
“Matis Rimas” Petras said.
“Hmm.” The guard grunted, “ Fine. Go to building number 7. Davai, quickly!”
We hurried out of the building. When we entered the new building, we saw at least fifty different people crammed into the room. There we just 20 wooden planks for us to sleep on and a bucket of water and grey mush to eat. At the prison, I met one girl from Lithuania who knew my mother and Petras’s mother. She said that she saw them once walking towards the bath house but never saw them again. “Oh? That’s weird…” I said. “Don’t tell anyone I said this but in the bath house there are rumors that they are poisoning us with gas. My mouth fell agape. I collapsed and started crying. My mother and Petras’s mother were killed, here. I regained my composure. “That is a horrible thing to do.” I whispered. If my mother and Petras’s mother were here then Andrius and Elena should have been here too. “We have to at least find their bodies to make sure they are here.” I told Petras. He agreed, we were going to find them.
The next morning, we were sent to work at the fields that were unoccupied inside the fence. On my way there, I saw a whole wall of bodies. They were all rigid and they seemed dead. When I got closer I saw that they were people I knew. At least a thousand bodies were stacked one ontop of another but I was able to see their faces. When I saw one face I immediately recognized it and my heart sank. It was Elena. Her cheeks were blue from the cold and she had frost bite all over. I was going to start to cry but if I did, a guard might shoot me. I had to survive this, at least to show other people what they are doing to us.
They made us dig for hours and when one of the men stopped to take a breath, he got shot. After we were allowed to get our rations from the building. We got 300 mg of bread which is barely enough to survive. When I got back to building number 7, there was only a matchstick to light a lantern. Petras looked very uncomfortable. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“Hmm. Nothing just saw something. It’s no big deal.” He mumbled.
“I saw Elena…” I whispered.
“So did I. And my mom, your mom, and your dad. He croaked. “I can’t find anyone else.”
He was talking about Andrius. Andrius must have been further away or something. I heard that everyone has a file. The file contains everything about you, your religious beliefs, your family, friends. If my parents were dead, then so was Andrius.
“We should really figure out a way back out.” Petras said.
“That’s impossible. I said. “We know now we can’t help theses prisoners directly, but what we can do is to spread the word about what happens in places like this. To do that we need to get out, but we can’t”
“That’s the thing! We can get out! If we convince them we are from the Soviet Union we can escape! Technically we don't exist so, if we convince them our parents are working for the soviets, we will be allowed back out!”
“That’s brilliant!” I exclaimed. I was starting to see hope.
“We’ll go to the office tomorrow and talk to them. Hopefully it’ll work.” Petras said confidently.
The next morning we requested to see the commander. When we walked in, the commander was smoking and talking to one of the guards. “What do you want.” he spat.
“We wanted to ask you to look our parents up .” I squeaked, barely audible.
“And why would I do that for you.” he said.
“Because we believe they work for the Soviet Union.” I said, more clearly this time.
“Fine. But if they aren't there I’ll make sure of it that you will be dead.”he yelled.
We ended up sitting in the office for an hour waiting for the commander. There was always a chance that no one would come up but we had chosen very common last names. Finally, the commander walked in and immediately let us go. Supposedly, our “parents” were very high up in the soviet government.
On our way back to building number 7, we saw a shadow behind the commander’s office. When I walked up, I saw that the shadow had been Andrius!
“What are you doing here!” I said.
“Camilla?” Andrius called.
“I thought you were dead!” I said.
“I convinced them I was dead so I have been stealing food and stuff.”
“That’s terrible!” then I dropped my voice, “ You should escape with Petras and I. We are leaving tonight.”
“What how?” Andrius stammered.
“Our parents are apparently very high in the administration.” I said with a smile.
“Yeah, we can leave tonight I guess.”
“Great, I’ll meet you here then.”
Later that day Petras and I got a suitcase from a friend we made at our building and since we had nothing to fill it with, it was the perfect hiding spot for Andrius. While we wheeled it to the back of the office, we got angry glances from the other prisoners who had found out who we were. I ignored them and just continued walking to the building. We quickly helped Andrius into the suitcase and wheeled it to the exit of the camp.
At first the guards looked suspicious of the suitcase but ended up letting us go. If they didn’t they would suffer some serious trouble. When we got out of the prison, we immediately snuck up and got on a train passing by. To our luck it was going to Berlin! We took Andrius out of the suitcase and rode all the way to Germany. Once we got there however, we received the news. Germany was not safe either. Hitler declared war on the Soviets and things were getting messy. We needed to go farther away. So, Andrius, Petras, and I snuck into another train bringing us to France. There we were stowaways on a boat to America. The trip took a total of 25 days and we only had food on occasion. We were in very bad condition by the time we reached Ellis Island. After we went through the Immigration officers, we immediately went to the local police station and begged for a translator. We explained to them everything and the officer was very surprised. If I do recall right I believe he had fainted.The chief of the station talked to us and we were immediately brought to D.C. We were the first people to have been in the Soviet Union and then had went to the U.S. Since the beginning of the war. None of the other countries knew how we were being treated in Russia. We instantly were bombarded with government officials and we had to repeatedly recite our story. Using only what we knew other nations were able to help save the prisoners.
Life was looking up, I didn't lose all my family and I had a new home. Later, Petras and Andrius went back to Germany to fight in World War Two.
Now many years later I think, what if we hadn’t seen that prison.