With all the scenarios that can happen in a social meltdown, I would like to take the moment and relate to everyone what actually happened in my mother’s time, a short 70 years ago. At the time, no one could foresee or plan for the catastrophic events that awaited them. Millions were displaced forcibly or by choice. Many lessons can be learned and in my case are being applied in my own preparations for a collapse, or worse yet, a collapse of society as we know it. The key is “as we know it”. An eastern European refugee who lived through WW2 “knows it”. Here is her story.
Her parents left impoverished Lithuania, before WWI erupted. They did so by bribing a Russian soldier at the border with a few small gold coins. They made their way to Chicago along with millions of refugees seeking the prosperity of the US. My grandmother ("Baba") worked in the stockyards of Chicago 12 hours a day, my grandfather started a small “store” operating out of their front room by day and maintaining apartment blocks by night. They had a daughter, my Aunt Sophie, born a US citizen. After 15 years of hard work and saving, they learned Lithuania regained their independence. Trading in their life’s savings for gold and silver coinage they went back to Lithuania in 1921 leaving Sophie to finish college. They bought a 200 hectare farm, mill, store and livestock. By the time my mother was born in 1932, her parents were very wealthy land owners. But political squabbling with Poland, Germany and Russia made Lithuania’s independence uncertain. Wars, political upheaval, and rumors of more war continued (1926-1939). For the country farmers, most events went unnoticed. Life went on farming and enjoying life.
In 1939, the Molotov/ Ribbentrop Pact assigned Lithuania to Germany, but in secret the areas east of Klaipeda went to Russia, and by 1940 the Communist Party of Lithuania had deported more than 50,000 people to gulags in Siberia, typically at night, arriving at the deportee’s house in a single truck with just a few “policemen”. They were trapped, hoping for some way to escape the Communists. Germany had just invaded Poland a few months earlier, the borders were militarized. One family at a time was disappearing – being shipped out to Siberia (mostly mayors, shop owners, and large farm owners). The day the Germans reached their farm (on their way to Moscow), they discovered they were to have been shipped out to Siberia in July of 1941. My mother recalls the Germans giving paper money while taking their horses and farm animals. They preferred the Germans to the Communists and believed the war would soon be over, and that Lithuania would once again be free.
Life on the farm went on for a few more years, information was scarce, no communication, many rumors. Lithuanian silver coinage disappeared, replaced by paper occupation money. No one could be trusted, farms were being raided for food, and many “bad things” occurred. Then suddenly the Germans were back, in full retreat. By fall of 1944 they followed the retreating Germans out on a horse and carriage, gold coinage got them across the many river bridges,(a stash was left behind-buried under their wooden kitchen floor)until the horse and cart was confiscated, then only what bags they could carry, then those to were gone and by the time they reached Dresden (bad timing), February 1945, they only had the clothes on there back. Dresden was bombed to a pile of rubble. They somehow survived Dresden, but were forced into work camps. When the war was finally over, they found themselves in a refugee camp near Munich. Stanislaus, my grandfather, had one last ‘trade’ item left, a gold pocket watch.
My mother’s sister, Sophie (a US Citizen), who was “left behind” in Chicago was able to sponsor the return of Baba and Stanislaus to the US by the end of 1945. My mother had to stay in the camp. My mother finally made it to Chicago in 1948, a 16 year old girl that had survived a world war and had seen too much. I have Stanislaus’s gold watch–kept as a powerful reminder of those turbulent times.
When I returned to Lithuania with my mother in September of 1991 (during the Soviet’s withdrawal of Lithuania) her parent’s farm was still standing, found to be inhabited by squatters. The “wooden” kitchen floor was no more, now just a dirt floor. A distant relative informed us the Soviet collective farm manager found the gold coins and threw the largest wedding party for his daughter the town had ever seen.
- Hundreds of millions of people have had to “relocate” (emigrate, flee) due to unforeseen poor economic times, changing politics, natural disasters, wars or merely rumors of war. Always expect the possibility you and your entire family may at one time have to move or flee suddenly and unexpectedly. Your “horse and wagon’ may be reduced to just what you can carry in your pockets. Refusing to leave your fortified shelter may result in a trip to Siberia. Lead out or stay?
- Fleeing one hazard may result in meeting more deadly hazards. Soviet Gulag or Dresden? Lead out or stay?
- The grass is not always greener. Stay in Chicago as a laborer or return to Lithuania as a Baron? Lead out or stay?
- Gold and silver is sought after by the conquerors , whereas food is the ultimate wealth for the conquered.
- Gold will get you across a border or across a bridge, and someone else’s gold will buy a huge wedding for a daughter.
- Trust no one in times of chaos, especially one who has very strong socialist or communist beliefs.
- Your plans are not God’s plans.