Family Story of Petras Navazelskis and Irena Juodytė Navazelskis

Petras Navazelskis was born on May 24, 1921 in Daujėnai in north central Lithuania. He was the younger of two brothers —the older was Povilas. Both were the sons of a well-to-do farmer. Because the family was nearly deported during the first Soviet occupation, the brothers fled west in July, 1944 to escape the advancing Red Army. The parents stayed behind. Petras never saw them again.

After traveling to Šiauliai, the brothers separated, Povilas heading for Sweden and Petras hoping to work in Austria. Petras began a months-long struggle to find work and food, evade Soviet forces, and get to a haven. He dug and tilled land in Austria. Near Berlin, he worked in a munitions factory and was arrested for carrying false papers. He escaped and had the Lithuanian legation issue him new false documents. Heading north to Mecklenburg, Petras, hungry and alone, almost despaired of his situation. But he persisted and found work first at a flour mill and then at a bakery and store where he had a job and where food was available.

The brothers were reunited in Mecklenburg and then headed west to Schwarmstedt. After spending the winter of 1945 in a labor camp, they found work with a local farmer. As the western front moved closer, the brothers hid in a bunker under the famer’s barn. After days of living there, they ventured out, met British soldiers, and realized that the war was over for them. Before leaving, the brothers planted potatoes so that the family would have at least one crop the following year. For the next two years, the brothers lived in the Meerbeck DP camp. Petras worked as an auto mechanic and as a chauffeur. In 1947, he moved to England as a foreign laborer and was limited to work only in select “undermanned” fields like agriculture and coal mining. While working on a farm, Petras was certified and taught English to foreign workers. Later he obtained a job in an office and learned accounting. In 1951, he emigrated to Toronto, Canada where he eventually found an accounting job.

Irena Juodytė was born on December 13, 1926 in Kaunas, Lithuania, two years before her younger brother, Edvardas. Her mother was Marta Pagel Juodienė, a Lithuanian-German from Kaunas, and her father was Jonas Juodis, a baker from Skudutiškis. Irena’s father died when she was eleven years old. With the imminent return of Soviet forces, in early 1944 the widow and several extended family members fled the city. At the border town of Vištytis, after being held up for several weeks, the women were allowed to go further, while the men were conscripted to dig trenches.

The family traveled through various locations, witnessing plunder, rape, and other war-time horrors while working in a variety of hard, menial jobs. In the spring 1945, they reached Kühlungsborn, which was eventually occupied by Soviet forces. In January, 1946, the Juodis family learned that the Soviets were repatriating people back to their home countries. Irena and her mother claimed that they were from Hamburg. Asked by a German official for her street address in that city, Irena immediately responded: “Adolf Hitler Strasse 20”. She passed the test and was allowed to board a train going west.

Eventually, Irena and her mother reunited with the male members of their family and lived in the Hanover-Stöcken DP camp before emigrating to Canada in 1948 under the program which sought “domestics”.

Irena and Petras met in Toronto, married in the Gates of Dawn (Aušros Vartų) Church in Montreal in 1953, and emigrated to the United States (Boston area) in 1954. Irena became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1960 and Petras in 1961 .

Petras Navazelskis died in Falls Church, Virginia on January 15, 2010.