The Story of Ona Prunskis-Garūnas
Compiled and written by Donna (Sula) Sauder
Prunskis Family and Žvilbučiai
Ona Prunskis was born in Utena, Lithuania, on June 28th, 1921, although American records would show her date of birth to be in 1922. In hopes to be a bit younger in America, she underestimated her age by one year when immigrating into the country. She was the youngest of five children: her oldest brother Juozas, who eventually became a priest; her sister Anelė, who spent time in the convent to be a nun; her second oldest brother Vladas, a physician; and her youngest brother Jonas, a veterinarian.
Her father, Juozas Prunskis, born in 1869, married Ona’s mother Ona Gineitis-Prunskis in July of 1904. Ona Gineitis, born September 2, 1887, was the oldest in her family and was 17 years old at the time she was married through an arranged marriage. Juozas Prunskis was a veterinarian and bought their farm land, called Žvilbuciai (pronounced “zhvil-bu-cha”) in 1900. Žvilbučiai was 156 ha of land, according to Ona, in Utena, Lithuania. (“ha”, or hektaras, is a metric measure equal to 10,000 square meters or 2.271 acres.) As recorded by Russian documents at the time of the Russian occupation, the document lists a number of workers, buildings, farm animals, and farm equipment Juozas owned on his property:
“Prunskis Juozas, Mykolas’s was born in 1869 and had 148 hektaras of land … 4 workers, 2 rural laborers, a home to live in, a barn, a cattle shed, a granary, a cottage for rural laborers, a pig shed, a shed for firewood, a warehouse, a cornkiln, 9 horses, 15 cows, 3 pigs, 14 young, 4 plows, 5 harrows, 2 discs, 1 rake instrument.”– From the Siberian records of Juozas Prunskis
Ona describes countless happy memories of her and her family in Žvilbučiai. She describes her parents as being very nice and religious people who she was very close with. “I loved my parents very much…I was the youngest and that’s probably why they spent the most time with me. All in all, my mother was an ideal mother sacrificing for her children. We all grew up in an environment of deep love for each other, and at that point, it seemed to me that there was no one luckier than me.”
Ona’s Childhood Stories in Žvilbučiai
Ona (Prunskis) Garūnas (middle right next to little boy), Ona (Gineitis) Prunskis and Juozas Prunskis next to bishop (left and right), bishop in white in middle, Anelė above bishop, left of Ona Prunskienė are Vladas and Kun. Juozas with unknown man in between.
Smiling, Ona remembers her past childhood and describes it as a “beautiful life.” She was especially close to her father. She describes a story when she was a little girl cutting her father’s hair. Only she would cut his hair. When she was at school, her father would tell others they couldn’t cut it and only his daughter, Ona, would. Though, Ona recalls, he didn’t have much hair; as she remembers sitting on the bed ready to cut with dull scissors.
She also remembers a time laughing when her family was all sitting to eat. Her dad said, “Don’t laugh when you eat because you can choke. I knew a Jewish man in Canada that choked that way.” Her father wanted all his children to go into the medical field. He would say, “Our country is small, you will survive in the medical field because other countries will take you [referring to Germany, Russia, or other nearby countries].” Ona says she remembers when she was just a few years old; her father told her he wanted her to be a dentist. The only problem was, she didn’t like to go to school and enjoyed sleeping in until 11:00 in the morning when she was little. She would tell her father, “I want to stay home. I would rather take care of the cows and animals than go to school.” So, her dad was not sure what to do when Ona was in high school because of this. To prove his point to her, he chained a horse up close to the window so her mom could watch her and know she was safe. He then had the hired help who took care of the cows and animals wake her up early in the morning to saddle the horses. She hated waking up early to do this, and so, “I decided I should go to school. And so I went to school and I was a good student.”
“School in Lithuania at that time was reverse of what it is in America. There were four years of grammar school and eight years of high school.” Many of Ona’s girl friends went to school in Ukmergė, a town in Lithuania. It was far from Utena, where her father’s farm was, and the school there focused on education to be a teacher. Ona’s friends persuaded her to go to school there because it was easy, you didn’t have too much to study, and they had a bed and room available for her if she decided to come. So, she asked her parents if she could go, but her father wanted her to go to dentistry school. Ona’s oldest brother Juozas, who was at the time a priest, talked to the University’s dean of the dentistry school to see if she could get into the dentistry school. She didn’t know Latin, and Latin was a prerequisite to be accepted to the school. The dean told her brother they had three openings and she would be accepted if she worked hard and got good grades. And so, Ona states, “I was a good student, I studied hard, and got high grades.”
The Russians Take over Žvilbučiai: Ona’s Story
During the time Ona was in school, Lithuania was already occupied by the Russians. “June 15 of 1941, people were starting to be taken to Siberia. At that time at our house a few years back, my dad’s brother lived with us, Father Petras Prunskis, with his sister Aunt Ona. He was the pastor at Paluš, his sister was there too. That place was taken over by the Communists a couple years ago, and that’s why they moved over to our house. At that time, I knew nothing about the fact they were taking people to Siberia. Soon my brother Vladas came over.” Ona’s brother Vladas was in medical school in the town of Kaunas at this time. To travel to visit Ona during his last year of school, he had to go from Kaunas to Ukmerge, which was a “very long distance to travel.”
“He only had two exams left to finish medical school. He went to neighbors by our home and they explained the situation to him. So that is why I was told “when the school year finishes, come by me to Kaunas,and in two weeks we will both come back together.” He said that when he was at the neighboring community, our parents were brought for questioning in Vilnuis, and when you finish school they won’t be back yet. And I answered him “No Vladas, I really miss my parents and I will go home directly. I will walk from Utena … and Aunt Baleišien after she gives us something to eat she will take us to Antaliept by my brother Jonas who was already married almost a year to Vanda Volkaite from Šauciu, a grammar school teacher.”
Vladas knew what happened to their parents, but only told Ona they were not home and were taken for questioning. He wanted to return to Žvilbuciai together, but she was anxious to get home. Ona’s girl friend told her she was traveling to an area about twenty-five miles from her farm and she could come along with her.
Before Vladas came, a teacher that lived close by approached Ona. She didn’t know him, but sometimes saw him walking when she walked to school. She knew he was a teacher and a “big communist,” but also “a good person.” The teacher told her he knew someone was taken from her house but he didn’t know who. He said “maybe it was your uncle priest [Petras Prunskis] but probably not your parents.” As Ona reflects on this memory, she says, “He probably just said this to ease me [from the truth].”
So, Ona decided she will take up her friend’s offer to drive her and then walk about twelve miles to her mother’s sister’s house, Aunt Baleišien, and ask her for a ride to Žvilbuciai. Aunt Baleišien had dogs at her house and Ona typically didn’t like going there alone. “I’m usually afraid because of the dogs, but at that time, I didn’t care and I just wanted to go home.”
When she arrived, Aunt Baleišienė embraced her and told her the truth, “your father and mother have been taken to Siberia and are not home.” Ona sadly looks back, “… this is where the tears started.”
Her youngest brother Jonas, who was at that time a veterinarian and married to a grammar school teacher, Vanda, lived approximately six miles from her father’s farm. Aunt Baleišien took Ona to the town Antaliept to Jonas’s apartment. “Our family lived in peace and loved one another and wanted to help each other.” The next day, Jonas, Vanda, and Ona returned to Žvilbuciai together. There were two girls there who were hired help and typically took care of the garden. When seeing them, she remembers having a terrible feeling inside. And then she began to cry; wondering if she will ever see her parents again. The tears were “running down to her elbows.”
“We went into the home and tears are coming from my eyes and I said, “Oh Lord, oh Lord I cannot believe that this is the truth. I always believed that my parents will come back, will come back so that I can see them… Oh God, how hard it was for me. And I had to be there for two weeks until Vladas would come back after he finished with his exams. Jonas could almost not hear in one ear. My mom would tell me that he was just a few weeks old before the big war, and my parents were asked to move from their home within twelve hours. Mom said she knelt and prayed that they would let them stay a few days since her child [Jonas] had a high fever. Nobody sympathized with the situation. They treated him as they knew how, but it was not possible to make him completely well.”
“My brother Jonas was a good man and wanted to try to keep peace.” After visiting Žvilbuciai, she went back to Jonas’s apartment and waited for her brother Vladas to come back from Kaunas after finishing medical school. He came back for the summer to live with his siblings at Žvilbuciai until he found a job.
“Vladas got back in two weeks and we were both in the homeland. He was so good and concerned. He wanted to get mail from Antaliept and asked if we should go together, would I be afraid by myself. Jonas was also very good, but what can you do, he has to worry about his life which as I saw was not very easy.”
“We went into the home and tears are coming from my eyes and I said, Oh Lord oh Lord I cannot believe that this is the truth…”
“At Žvilbuciai all the animals and the foul remained but there was no meat. One time a worker came by us at home and told us that there are many grains where the pigs are, and then I remembered my dad as he would drive me by the bus to school told me that where the pigs live there are “sixty coins” of grain dug up by the pigs incase there is a famine. Then I also remembered that my mom said that she will bring some ham to Jonas. With these memories, I remembered there [where Jonas lived] should have been enough meat stashed one on top of the other at their place. Vladas said to me “we will go by Jonas and he will give us some meat.” So we went there as Vladas said… Then Vladas got a good idea. He said we need to go to Tauragnai and bring back Kristina who lives not far with her relatives. When Uncle Priest [Petras] and Aunt Ona were at Pluše, Kristina was their house keeper and was very good and she was old but capable. When Uncle and Aunt came to Žvilbuciai, mom said to dad that the house keeper (Kristina) should come with too so she could take good care of the priest because she knows what the priest likes to eat. So that’s how everyone came and it was a happy and pleasing way to live. When they were all taken to Siberia, Kristina ran away to her relatives and said that people were mocking her. We went to Tauragnai with a worker and grandfather was still alive, and Karolis and Vale Gineitis [Karolis is brother of Ona Gineitis- Prunskis] gave me their worker who knew where to go to get Kristina. So then we had everything butter, cheese, a chicken, and so forth.”
“All the siblings were good together.” Vladas told Ona not to worry and not to cry. He will take care of her and be “her mother and her father.” After summer, Vladas said he can’t live on the farm anymore but he will still take care of Ona. He got his license in a month and opened up his own office as a physician in Utena. He also wrote references to the University so Ona could go back to dental school. And so, Ona was accepted again into college, and Vladas came to visit her in Kaunas while she was back in school. Furthermore, for the children whose parents were taken to Siberia, they didn’t have to pay any “dues” (tuition). And so now, her brother, Vladas, was working as a physician, Ona was in dental school, her brother, Jonas, and sister-in-law, Vanda, worked on the farm at Žvilbuciai, and her sister, Anel, was in the convent to be a nun.
“My sister, Anel, was the second after the priest [referring to order of birth] and she was a holy person. She always wanted to join the convent, but my dad would not let her. No way. In 1940 when the Communists came, without telling anyone except for mom, she joined the convent. She had not given her vows yet and Vladas began to ask her to come back to Žvilbuciai; I was a graduate; he just wanted me to study and offered me his help. Vanda and Jonas also moved to Žvilbuciai after Vladas left. Anel still did not move back. Vanda stocked boxes of products meat, butter, and so forth and sent it to Šaucius by her parents.”
During Ona’s first summer vacation, she stayed with her brother Vladas and didn’t go back to the farm. Vladas had his office in the house, and women from the hospital brought chickens to his house as pay, and he dropped them off in the basement. “I was not smart enough to help and my brother said not to help, and he’s just happy that we are together.” And so, ironically, a cheerful expression is brought to Ona’s face as she mentions memories of them going to the restaurant near his house to eat. “Anel arrived to Žvilbuciai and she was very peaceful and proper, a true nun. Kristina was there too and Jonas and Vanda moved in. I moved to study. Vladas always said that for vacation we will go by him in Utena because at home it will be difficult. And to Žvilbuciai came Vanda’s family – they seemed like very nice people. In the summer, I went by Vladas just like Vladas said and all my life I will remember how nice we lived there. I missed Anel and knew that it was hard for her, and for Easter or Christmas I would go by her. When my parents were taken to Siberia June 15th, 1941, in a week the war broke out between Russia and Germany; the storm went through Lithuania very quickly and the fighting was in Russia. Lithuania was occupied by Germany until 1944. The first Russian occupation was from June of 1940 to 1941.”
The Russians Take over Žvilbučiai: Ona’s Parents’ Story
On June 15th, 1941, Ona’s parents were taken from their farmland by the Russians to Siberia. The stories of what happened that day were later told to Ona. When the Russian Communists came to the house, they knocked on the doors strongly. Her father, Juozas, opened the door. They asked him to take a hammer, clothes, and a bucket and to get in the truck. They expected the Russians were going to take them to Siberia. There was a stone cross across the street where the truck was parked. Ona’s mother cried and prayed by the cross. She asked those taking them where her children were. They told her they will be in the same place she will be.
Her mother then embraced the cross and fainted. The Russians put her parents along with Ona’s uncle, Priest Petras, and Aunt Ona in the truck. They left the family cook at the farm who went back home. (Later, when Ona and Vladas moved back to Žvilbuciai, they brought this cook back because they didn’t know how to make cheese and butter since the hired help did this.)
Uncle Petras, her father’s brother, used to be a priest in Poland. Poland was occupied by the Russians before Lithuania, so he came back to live in Žvilbuciai. On the day the Russians came to deport them to Siberia, Petras was sleeping at the church because he said Mass the day before. Petras, who was very old at this time, and the sister of Ona’s father, Ona, were taken to Siberia from the churchfire. A widow of one of Ona’s father’s brothers was also with them. When the Russians came for Ona and Petras, the widow didn’t come with them. Instead, the Russians killed her by pouring gasoline on her and lighting her on fire.
The women and men were separated as they traveled to Siberia. The Russian Communists were worried people may revolt on the way so some were killed before they got there. Ona’s uncle and aunt, Priest Petras and Ona, as well as her mother traveled in the same wagon. Her father traveled separated from the rest.
The three lived on a farm in Siberia. Ona’s mom lived in one farm and Ona’s aunt and uncle lived in another. Ona recalls her mother telling her she lived with a Russian family who was deported to Siberia and she lived “pretty good and there was a cow for milk.” Where Priest Petras and Aunt Ona lived, they weren’t as lucky and did not have much to eat. They didn’t know much about Siberian mushrooms so they picked and ate them; as a result, both ended up getting sick and eventually dying.
In Siberia, the men went to work and cut trees. They were given very little to eat as well. As the story goes, Ona’s mother’s sister’s husband was with Ona’s father. He was able to give paper to Ona’s father to write a message to his wife. And so, the letter got passed down and into the hands of Ona’s mother. It read, “I don’t have clothes or shoes, good bye, we will not see one another anymore.” In the concentration camp, when the men were too weak or too old to cut trees, they took their clothes and shoes, and let them freeze to death. Here, Juozas Prunskis died in Siberia on October 14, 1942.
In Siberia, Ona’s mother heard her sister-in-law, Marcele, passed away and so she went to pay her respects and visited the casket. She could recognize it was her in the casket from the cross she was wearing. Beside the casket, there were two young children crying. These two children, Romas and Vidmantas, were Ona’s mother’s brother’s children and only approximately seven or eight years old. Ona’s mother approached them and said, “You will live with me. Come with me and we will eat whatever we have.” And so, she took the boys to the farm where she was living in Siberia.
Before Marcele and her two sons were taken to Siberia, they lived in Lithuania where the father of the family, Pranas Gineitis, was a high school teacher. Pranas came home from work to find his wife and children were gone. So, he walked to the train station where the Russians were taking people to Siberia. While looking for his family, the Russians took him. The women and men were in separate carts and typically, they shot the men as well. Marcele and her children never ended up seeing Pranas again.
The family who lived with Ona’s mother allowed the children to come live with them. There was a river nearby the farm and the boys would catch fish for them to eat. “It was a hard life.”
At this time, Ona’s father already passed away as well as many of her uncles. The Russian leader, Stalin, died and people were allowed to return back to their countries. Khrushchev took the place of Stalin, and Ona’s mother returned to Lithuania with the two boys. By this time, Ona and her siblings already left the country. The two boys then went to school and her mother went to work at a nursing home in Lithuania by a relative who helped her there. They were out of Siberia and back in Lithuania, but were still not free. They were not able to leave Lithuania because it was still occupied by the Russians.
One of the boys Ona’s mother cared for, Romas, ended up going to medical school, moved to America, and practiced medicine in Dayton, Ohio. Years later after Ona’s mother passed away, the boys frequently visited Ona and gave her flowers for her mother’s grave. When telling the story, Ona pointed out the pink roses in a vase she kept on her coffee table.
Other relatives also moved back to Lithuania, Ona’s mother’s sister returned and “worked as a maid for a Jewish family, but she was arrested and put in jail.”
The Russians Take over Žvilbučiai: Ona’s Brother Juozas
“In June of 1940, the Communists came to Lithuania. Before Ona’s parents were taken, the bishop told my brother, Father Juozas, and two other priests they should leave Lithuania as soon as possible. In July, Father Juozas came to Žvilbuciai to say farewell to his parents. There was a knock at the window at 2:00 in the morning, and two nuns came to say that he should go to Antaliept, a town nearby, in the morning, and there will be somebody there who will take them over the boarder by bus.”
Ona’s brother Juozas was not only a priest at this time, but also the main editor of a newspaper in Lithuania. After her brother came home to say his good-byes, Ona’s mother took Juozas to the bus station. Before they got there, Juozas told his mother when they say goodbye don’t cry. Other people will be watching and they’ll know he’s running away. Someone could take him immediately. So, her mom “didn’t cry and they tried to smile and make jokes” as he left.
During his trip out of the country with the two other priests, a security officer shot through the arm of one of the other priests. Other than this incident, they successfully traveled out of the country where the two priests went to Berlin in Germany and stayed there until the war was over. Juozas traveled through Spain from where he was able to go to Bridgeport, IL in America. “He was already corresponding with someone at a rectory there,” states Ona.
“When Priest Juozas in July of 1940 left Lithuania, in a week they [the Russians] were looking to arrest him and were looking for him at his work and his living quarters but fortunately he was already gone. And how good that he ran away. What would have been the point if they would have killed him in suffering. The Communists would have made fun of that because he was very supportive of Christian literature and so forth.”
When Ona was still living with her brother Vladas in Lithuania, her brother had a friend who stopped by when he wasn’t home. Ona answered the door and the man asked her if he could stay there over night because he’s traveling from out of town. Ona let him in and recalls telling him, “My brother isn’t home but will be home later. You are welcome to stay and my brother will be home before it gets dark and he’ll tell you if you can stay or not because I don’t know you.” Ona then called her friend and went to her house. When Vladas came home, he told Ona he knew him, and he can sleep there and have something to eat. The man began to write her letters from then on.
When it was time to leave Lithuania, her brother’s friend from that day came to Ona and asked her if she would go with him to Vienna where he plans to get his doctor’s degree. Ona apologized and thanked him for his offer, but stated she is going with her siblings to leave the country. But, she asked him for a favor. Since he had German documents, she asked him if he could drive her straight down the road three miles from her parents’ farm. She wanted to go to the farm to get her winter coat and some gold money left over from her mother. The money was used to pay the workers and she remembered her mother told her she would give some of the gold money to her children too. She remembered digging it under a pear tree on the farm. Ona wanted to find it because she didn’t have any money. So, the man agreed to drive her there. On the way there, they stopped the car and were told twenty-five miles from Utena, near Žvilbuciai, the Russian Communists were there. Ona looks back, “If we went there any earlier, they would have taken us. We would be finished. I was not smart.”
“I was a good horse rider,” Ona recalls, “so I asked him if he was able to ride a horse.” He said he was able to, so she planned on taking two horses to the farm. But no one would let them ride their horses because they would kill them if they were caught. Years later, Ona is thankful no one let them use their horses. She ended up not returning back to the farm, left the small amount of money there, and drove back to the house to meet her siblings where she thanked the man again before he left.
“When we left Lithuania it wasn’t because we were looking for riches, we wanted to remain alive, we wanted to avoid Siberia.”
“In August of 1944 we crossed the German border, they let people in freely even though the Communist propaganda threatened that no one should run away because those people die of hunger and there is no water there. But people helping their lives went with carriages, with horses, and so forth. Some people went to towns where they got some sort of work, and others got together with unfamiliar families and went to work on a farm. In the town we were afraid of bombs. We worked outdoors. There were people who escaped Russia here too (we were very crowded, there were six Lithuanian families there). They gave us a room to live in and a food cart. We still got potatoes from the farm and waited for our end. Physicians were able to work in hospitals, but it was more frightening there because of bombs.”
“After the end of the war in the spring of 1945, we all went to the center of Germany because not far from there, there were Russians. We settled with a British family and now we had a better life. Every family got their own room and a large portion of food. I was always together with Anel. In the same house was Jonas and his wife. Vladas got married in Germany also, and got a room close by. I was able to finish my studies without pay and I left to Munster University where I finished dentistry. Vladas’s wife, Albina, finished medicine in Bonn. Anelė helped raise Vladas’s newly born daughter, Teres. The English government told who and what University to go to so people had to look for countries for where to live and where to settle. Many people went to England and among them was Jonas and Anel and many others. I stayed in Germany and took my exams and Vladas’s family stayed in Germany too.”
Ona was in Germany for a few years. She went from Lithuania to Germany because they opened the border up without the need of any paperwork to get in. “There were many possibilities to go to, but the best was Germany and we were students.” In Germany, she was with Jonas and Vanda, Anel, and Vladas and his wife. “The Germans were very organized.” They gave them cards which showed them where to go. They lived and worked on a farm and Vladas practiced at the hospital as a physician.
Ona’s sister, Anelė, and brother, Jonas, along with his wife, Vanda, went from Germany to England. While Ona was still studying in Germany, Jonas and Vanda went from England to Canada in order to get into America. Anel was alone in England and had to use a visitor’s visa to come to America. Priest Juozas, Ona’s brother, opened the doors to America because he was already there.
“Jonas soon moved to America legally through Canada and Anelė went straight to America with a visitor’s visa. She thought that priest Juozas would be able to take care of things so she could remain, but it was not that way, it took several years until her situation was taken care of and so she was not able to work except to help people here and there. In 1949, Vladas came with his family and so did I. Physicians that came were able to work right away in a hospital and get paid and they were given free food as well. They had living quarters and food given to them for free. To open up your own office you had to pass an exam in this country.”
In 1949, Ona left Germany and traveled by boat to Boston into America. From Boston, she went to Chicago where her brother, priest Juozas Prunskis, was already established.
When Ona came to America in 1949, she worked in the stockyards and a sausage factory during her summer vacations while finishing “American college.”
“For the dentists… one still had to study for three years, pay for your education, and have your own living expenses. Basically all those who have come here, have started from factory work. I was determined to study, so I would have the right to have a practice in America. But I don’t know the language, I have no money. So I like the majority went to work at a skerdykla, here the pay was the best, even though it was very difficult. I lived together with Anelė in an apartment. One had to pick up heavy sausages – and I wasn’t that big. After working three weeks I told Anelė, “Don’t tell anyone, but I will probably die or become paralyzed because I do not feel my shoulders, hands, half of me is numb.” Anelė explained to me, that it is this way because I am not accustomed to work hard, I will not die, it will go away. And so it was. Others went to work where it was easier, but I wanted to quickly save up, so I could hurry up and study. In the year 1951, I went to Illinois University at Chicago. Here we were, from all of us new comers, only four. Two of us had families and thus did not have financial problems, and I got to know another one just like me and we organized things ourselves. My person I could lean on was Anel, who herself had nothing. My friend received financial help from her brother’s family, and during vacation we both went looking for work. I never became sad, I was in good spirits, and then everything wasn’t so hard. In the year 1954, I finished my studies and passed the state exam. And then it took some time until the work license came in, and until I found a good place for my practice. I got money (a loan) to purchase a new good practice with x-ray equipment. (Others bought similar types of practices). In the year 1955, I was already working in my practice in my own office.” To tell you the truth, people really liked me, and things went well. The first year I worked every single day without a vacation, half a day Saturday and of course not on Sundays. I wanted to hurry up and repay my loan.”
Albinas Garūnas and the New Family in America
“I knew Albinas from Lithuania,” Ona stated. “Vladas and Albinas were good friends and studied together in Kaunas and were around the same class.” Albinas also worked as “a children’s physician in Germany” when Ona was studying there.
Ona remembers a time in the summer in Lithuania before the Russians took over. Albinas had an uncle who owned land right next to Ona’s parents’ farm. There was a party at the church one summer, and after mass,
“many people from out-of-town came in and relatives came over my house afterwards.” Albinas went back to his uncle’s house next door, and Vladas wrote Albinas a letter to come over to his parents’ house for a party. And so, Albinas came over.
In America, Albinas told Ona if “she would marry him, he would marry her and would do only the way she would like.” In July of 1958, Ona and
Albinas Garūnas got married.
The next year in September, they had a daughter, Ruta. Ironically, Ruta was born on September 2nd, the same birthday as Ona’s mother in 1887. And in 1960, Dalia was born, on the same birthday as Ona’s brother, Priest Juozas. When Ruta was born, “I was living together with Anel also. I had a lady who lived with us and she helped raise our daughter. Anel had received her American citizenship and was working.”
Getting Ona’s Mother into America
While in America before the other siblings arrived, Juozas would send his parents packages through the American Red Cross. His mother received them, but his father never did. In September of 1959, the Russian leader at the time, Khrushchev, came to America in Washington D.C. for a meeting with the President of the United States. Ona’s brother Juozas at this time was a priest, journalist, and knew many different languages. Juozas had a “journalist tag” in order to get close to Khrushchev during this meeting in Washington D.C. He approached Khrushchev, and in the Russian language, told him his mother was in Siberia and returned to Lithuania. He asked him if he would allow his mother to come to America because all of her children are in America and she is alone in Lithuania. Because Lithuania was still controlled by Russia, permission was needed to leave the country. People were listening to this request, and “so he would not be ashamed in public, he allowed it.”
Ona’s mother came to America a few weeks after Ruta was born, and lived with Ona, Albinas, and Anelė.
Living in America
“In 1960 in March, because of the effort of my brother priest Juozas and all of our written requests, my mom came by us to our family. After not a full year and a half came another daughter – Dalia. I remember, how my mom would say “children I love you very much, but know I will not raise your children.” Remembering that I say “mother dearest don’t worry we have a lady and will continue to have one for the kids, and for you this will be time to relax.” And so we lived, and soon we built a home with a loan, so on the first floor I would have my office and on the second we would all live, so everything is in the same place and it would be better for the kids. I was so fortunate, that Anel was together with me, after sometime she retired on a pension, and spent her entire days with our mother, they wrote together, they read together. My mom had a very good life in her senior years. Father Juozas and Jonas would come visit.”
Juozas travelled a lot as a priest and journalist and he would take his mother along with him on these trips. Ona’s mother lived with them for twenty-four years until she was ninety-six years old. She passed away on February 22nd, 1984.
“When she came in March of 1960 [her mom] it is a shame that she no longer saw her deceased son Vladas. He died in 1959 on August 23rd of cancer. After coming to America, he worked a lot with his wife Albina. He took on two jobs and the third for a few nights out of the week, where he could sleep at work in a room and would have to wake up if he was needed. He was very good and concerned about his family. He took the highest possible life insurance at each place of employment. When he was laying in the hospital we all tried as much as possible to be with him. I and my husband Albinas would go there on Wednesdays and/or Sundays or Saturdays. He was religious and asked that we would pray the rosary with him and so forth. One time he said, it is so sad to leave my kids, especially Jonas, who was only three years old. But he said it is at least good, that Albina is left completely taken care of, will not have to work herself and be able to educate all her kids. But she herself worked anyways.”
Ona continued to work as a dentist in Marquette Park, Chicago, IL. “When my daughters started to go to school, all the time until they finished high school, in the summer when it was their vacation (for three months) I would not work but I was with them and also during Christmas and Easter vacation.”
“My sister Anel April 1st of 1985 was hit by a car. My brother Jonas died in 1990 of July; my brother Jonas was sick for a longer period of time, had surgery once, and then another time, and then another time it was kidney cancer, but all the time he was active even though he was very disappointed for the terrible accident [Anelė’s accident] and it was a shame that there was no help available. It was very hard to get over Anelė’s death not only because we lived together and that she was extremely good, but because everything happened so suddenly. I had a very hard time with it, my blood pressure went up and I almost ruined my heart.”
Ona and Albinas visited Lithuania after approximately fifty years during the summer of 1994. “In August of 1994, we both went there. We stayed in Kaunas by my husband’s brother’s son Rimas. We went everywhere and it was very moving and interesting. The following day we went to my homeland – Žvilbučiai. There was such a mixture of memories, very sad ones and very happy ones.”At the age of ninety-five, the last of Ona’s siblings, and also the oldest, passed away on April 26, 2003.
“At one time, my father wrote as I remember and he said “come here Ona and sit down here and he said to me; now I will write my will.” I remember how I answered my father; I don’t want anything and it seems like my dad is ready to die, and I ran away. Then my dad said to me again, come here this is the way things work and now tell me in which place would you like me to give you your share of property. Then I remember how I answered; if that’s how it is, then by the Šventosios River, where I go swimming with my mom. I saw that that’s what he did.”
In a letter written to her cousin Rimantas in February of 1996, Ona wrote:
“Perhaps in the summer I will go to Lithuania, I would like very much to erect a cross at Daugailu cemetery in remembrance of my father. Here are buried my grandparents, my dad’s parents. When my mom got married in 1904 my grandparents were already deceased, my mom never saw them. I approximately remember the place when we would visit my grandparents’ cemetery, but as I remember the area was eight times larger as now, that they read it but mostly felt the letters with their hands. My grandmother was Elena – but she could have written it as Helena, and my grandfather was Mykolas. I asked some relatives to keep an eye on things. And as it turned out; leaving the cemetery my father would always say, “You do not need to decorate my grave site, don’t trouble yourselves, just say a prayer.” That is my memory.”
- Garunas, Ona. Personal video interview. December 2008. (English)
- Garunas, Ona. Personal audio interview. January 2010. (English)
- Garunas, Ona. Letter to “Rimantas and family.” 6 February 1996. (Lithuanian)
- “Nikita, Wife Vow Action on Petition: priest asks release of kin.” The Spokesman-Review. September 28, 1959. (English)
- Siberia Concentration Camp: Documentation. Prunskis, Juozas. 1942. (Russian & Lithuanian)
- Sula (Garunas), Ruta. Lithuanian to English translation.