“Jonas Žemaitis, commander of fighting Lithuania”, is a project created by the Baltika-Baltijos Istorijos Association and LithuanianStories to remember the figure of the commander of the partisan resistance, with the pivotal support of Kotryna Buono, great granddaughter of Žemaitis. The initiative is partially financed by the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Lithuania. The work consists of a series of video interviews with people from civil society in today’s Lithuania: historians, representatives of institutions, ordinary citizens, people who are interested in and hand down the memory of the partisan resistance against the Soviet occupation.
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Who was Jonas Žemaitis? What is his legacy? How to remember him in today’s society? This is the testimony of Aušra Juškaitė Vilkiienė, niece of the commander. Aušra was deported to Siberia at the age of five. She survived the exile. Currently she lives in Kaunas with her husband. The daughter Elena and her husband also live in the same city. Aušra has four grandchildren, two live in Vilnius, one in Milan in Italy, the fourth in Germany.
Memories of Aušra
The interview with Aušra is an important testimony that tells the most personal and familiar aspect of the Commander of the resistance.
“… My uncle Žemaitis, during his years of military service in free Lithuania, often came to visit us in Šiluva. I remember that he was a handsome man: tall, friendly and very generous with us children. While he was studying at the Fontainebleau Academy of Artillery in France, he gave me a beautiful French doll, which walked, moved its head and even said “mama”… Since 1941, the year we were deported to Siberia, I haven’t seen my uncle”.
“…Once he came to us in the middle of the night with nothing – Aušra remembers – We started crying, my brother Ramojus and I, and Jonas had to go to the city to buy us something: my dad prepared the cart with the horses and the uncle bought the long-awaited candies”.
Aušra’s story continues with the memories of her exile, escape and return to Lithuania in hiding in 1948.
“…In Lithuania I was welcomed into the home of my godmother Antonina Berziniene. I lived with her throughout my stay in Lithuania. In 1948 I went to see my uncle Antanas in Kiaulininkai… A family friend, director of the school in Pagegiai, came to see me. I spent a few days with him and his wife. I remember they asked me to tell about my parents, about my escape, if I had met my uncle Žemaitis who at the time was already one of the partisan leaders. Luckily I hadn’t met him, otherwise I certainly would have told him. Later, I was captured again, imprisoned and sent back to Siberia”.
After Lithuania regained its independence in March 1990, Aušra found some documents in the archive of the KGB (the secret services of the Soviet Union). These documents show that Pagegiai’s acquaintances were intelligence informers and wanted to steal information from her to capture Jonas Žemaitis.
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