“The Flight” by Albinas Hoffman

Both my mother Marta and my father Andrius came from Vainutas, which at the time was in Tauragė County, Lithuania. My mother’s parents, Marija Nausėdienė­ Šneideraitienė and Kristopas Šneideraitis, sold their farm near Vainutas and bought another one in Akmeniškiai Village, Katyčiai County, Klaipėda Region. At that time Klaipėda Region was already returned to Lithuania. The distance between Akmeniškiai and Vainutas was approximately 3 kilometers. Akmeniškiai was on the borderline between Klaipėda Region and Lithuania. My father Andrius Hofmanas served as Vainutas postmaster. Later on, father’s job took him to Kalvarija in Marijampolė County where I grew up.

Germans occupied Klaipėda Region in March of 1939. However, we were still allowed to visit our grandparents who remained in Akmeniškiai and Vainutas. My grandparents were issued German citizenships even though neither of them spoke a word of German.

The Soviet occupation of June 1940 caught up with us in Kalvarija. Although I was only about 10 years old at the time, I remember quite well the changes that took place in Lithuania. After the Soviet occupying forces came into Lithuania, you could feel restlessness everywhere. Soviet soldiers were sweeping goods from the shelves of the stores. At that time. many interned Polish officers lived in Kalvarija. Even though they were former enemies, Lithuanian soldiers showed them respect according to their rank. After “Stalin’s Sun” was brought from Moscow to Lithuania, these Polish officers were taken under the supervision of Soviet militia units. Later (1940?), they were driven to the depth of Soviet Russia. At that time we, the children, were saying to each other (of course we heard this from the adults) that the Polish officers were taken to be executed, which later proved to be true. It was the Katyn massacre, the tragedy of the Polish nation.

After Lithuania was incorporated into the Soviet Union, my father was dismissed from his job without compensation. He was considered to be “unreliable”, and his name and the names of our entire family were included in the list of those to be deported. We found out about that from a Lithuanian communist who had not lost his conscience entirely.

We had to seek shelter in Germany with our grandparents. Before we left Lithuania (winter of 1940-­1941), a Soviet leader who settled in our house, told my mother that they were “to find us even there”. It turned out that he was right. After we moved, our living conditions changed. We had to attend a German school and learn a new language. Germans gave my father a job in the post office, because he had studied in the Tvankstė (Koenigsberg) University and knew German well. Father died in 1942, and grandfather died in 1944. Those left were grandmother Marija, mother Marta, my brother John, sister Ruth and I, Albinas, the eldest of the children. Then the east front came close.

Our family was one of many that fled from the red plague. At first we reached Labguva (Labiau) in East Prussia. Since my German skills were the best out of all of us, it was I who had to go into a house by the roadside and ask if we could spend the night there. The owners of the house listened to my request and then started talking among themselves in Lithuanian. They spoke in a dialect that I’ve never heard before. Those Germans were actually būrai lietuvninkai. I started speaking Lithuanian as well. Our request was granted. Since neither my mother, nor my grandmother spoke German, they were extremely happy to find Lithuanians in that corner of the earth. There is a Lithuanian saying: “Anywhere you see a sparrow, you’ll find a Lithuanian.” I remembered that while studying in school we learned about those local inhabitants ­ Prussian Lithuanians or lietuvninkai. I regret that at the time I did not find out if there were more lietuvininkai living in that area.

As we moved on, we reached Labguva by a steamship, and then took a train through Koenigsberg to Dancig. There in the fall of 1944 German authorities took me against my will to dig trenches. This way I was separated from my family. My grandmother, mother, sister, and brother went on further to the west. After much struggle they succeeded reaching western occupation zones of Germany. However, the road of my life took me back to Lithuania. The very first order of the occupational authorities was to go back to the place of origin. We went back by train. The first stop was Grodno. Here we were held for questioning, and temporary documents permitting residence in Lithuania were issued. In Lithuania, I had to go to the office of the local militia, register, and start living a new life. Even though I was lucky to get a temporary shelter with good people, I had to live through all kinds of post­-war deprivations. While the Soviet-­occupied Lithuania was slowly improving economically, as in every dictatorship, the free word was prohibited there.

My grandmother, mother, brother, and sister were given a new name, “DP”, and in 1949 they settled in Chicago. Meanwhile In Lithuania, I married Elena Liepytė and we had three children: Brigita, Alfredas, and Jonas. I made every effort to escape from the Soviet “paradise”. Finally my goal was reached. After staying for two years in Germany, we received documents that allowed us to get green cards, and in 1960 we came to Chicago. Our children now have their own families and live in Chicago. My start in the United States was hard because of the lack of English speaking skills. However, with the help of local Americans, I learned English quite well, and then I had an opportunity to advance in my job. I worked for the company that was making display materials for large industrial exhibits in such exhibit spaces as McCormick Place in Chicago. I retired in 1991 at the age of 62.