In conjunction with Amarillo College’s Common Reader Project, The Ranger features a series of articles written by Dr. Mary Dodson’s Composition I class that focus on locations, customs, history and background related to the book. This issue’s installment features a look at the 1941 deportations of Lithuanian citizens, which is featured in the Common Reader, Between Shades of Gray.
On the evening of June 14, 1941, the Russian NKVD (the forerunner of the KGB) rounded up thousands of Lithuanian citizens, forced them into cattle cars and deported them from their homeland. The citizens were part of an organized list of individuals whom Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin deemed “socially harmful or undesirable,” according to Ludwik Seidenmann in his article, “Deportation From Lithuania.” The list included, but was not limited to, military members, clergy members, business professionals, professors and students. Some were given as much as one day to pack their belongings; others were given barely 20 minutes. Families were divided; many of the men were “transported to concentration camps in the Krasnoyarsk territory, while 13,500 women, children and elderly people were transported mostly to Kazakhstan, the Altai Mountain territory,” wrote Rokas Tracevskis on The Baltic Times website. Many of the Lithuanian deportees were mere children, younger than 16. In the novel Between Shades of Gray, author Ruta Sepetys tells the story of fictional protagonist Lina Vilkas and her family, who faced such a deportation in June 1941. In the novel, Lina and her family are forced from their home, given less than 20 minutes to pack their belongings. They are loaded into “cattle wagons which were … waiting for them on a side track of the railway station,” according to Seidenmann. The Vilkas family endured many of the same horrific conditions that have been detailed in historical accounts of the actual deportees. Sepetys has provided an accurate and thought-provoking account of this “dark day in history.” The story of the fictional Vilkas family’s deportation, along with the actual experiences of the deportees, undoubtedly, may not have been brought to the world’s awareness without Sepetys’ countless hours of research.In the novel, Sepetys has captured these “voices” in her emotional, yet credibly written, account of the Vilkas family’s deportation. She has eloquently brought this “dark day” in Lithuanian history into the light.