LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 24, No.2 - Summer 1978
Editor of this issue: J.A.Račkauskas
Copyright © 1978 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Alain Stanke, SO MUCH TO FORGET: A CHILD'S VISION OF HELL, Agincourt, Ontario, Canada: Gage Publishing Company, 1977. 164 pp. No price indicated.
Despite laudable efforts on the part of Baltic American groups and individuals, the plight of the Baltic peoples during World War II has not yet become a part of the general historical knowledge of the English-speaking world. Whereas accounts of persecution suffered by persons and groups at the hands of either Nazis or Russians are commonplace on the trade lists of American and Canadian publishers, very seldom do narratives describing the sufferings of peoples enduring the rule of both of these oppressors make their appearance in print. It is therefore a welcome event that Alain Stanke's childhood impressions of life in occupied Lithuania have been published, especially given the vividness of his account and the highly readable, albeit not very consoling contents of his prose.
Stanke, at present the operator of his own publishing house in Canada, was six years old when Russian troops overran his native Kaunas and initiated a reign of terror among the populace that was to recur in greater intensity some five years later. His father was the owner and operator of a radio station and thus doubly suspect to the Russians as not only a bourgeois but also a possible communicant with the enemy, namely the outside world.
The author's memoirs are narrated as though being recorded through the eyes of a child, with the boy's initial innocence gradually being replaced by a feeling of terror and horror as the enormity of what was happening around him gradually dawned upon his consciousness. The Stankes and their fellow countrymen lived in a state of constant apprehension and fear as undisciplined Mongol troops caroused in their midst, looting, raping and killing as they willed. The author's description of a naked young woman being dragged between two Mongols on horseback through the streets of Kaunas evokes folk memories of Genghis Khan and a prior state of barbarism that presumably had disappeared forever from the western world.
After a time matters seemed to turn for the better as Russian troops disappeared and were replaced by the German invaders, following the onset of hostilities between the two giants struggling for mastery in the East. The Germans, however, were little better than the Russians had been and again the cycle of looting and physical violence began. The Jews of Kaunas lived increasingly onerous lives and finally, with Stanke's boyhood friend amongst them, were transported westward to concentration camps and death. Stanke and his fellow pupils in the schools now learned Aryan lore where a few months before they had been besieged with wisdom concerning the proletariat and the great father Stalin. As the war turned bad for the Germans, Russian planes increasingly bombed Kaunas and food ran short. More and more of the population was seized and sent off to Germany to labor in work camps, with finally the Stankes being included among that number.
The shipment of the Stankes to Germany may have ironically proved to have been their salvation, since they were off the scene when the Russians returned for an even more devastating round of violence directed at the Baltic peoples. Survival for the Stankes was often a precarious thing in Germany, given the allied bombing raids and rampant disease and malnutrition, but the family prevailed and finally made its way safely into France and relative security.
Stanke's book supplies graphic descriptions of the trials and tribulations endured by the Baltic peoples during World War II. Given his excellent prose style and his ability to capture the essence of experience, Stanke's work deserves a wide audience, especially among those ignorant of what a proud people were forced to undergo during the greatest catastrophe of human history.
Washtenaw Community College