History has a way of repeating itself. The war in the Ukraine and the refugee crisis have brought back memories of being a refugee from Lithuania as the Russians were pushing the Germans out of Lithuania in the late summer of 1944.
I was an 18-month-old boy in the arms of a 25-year-old young mother, a nurse, along with my father, a teacher and author. My aunts and uncles also fled. We were part of the larger group of refugees fleeing the Soviet takeover.
My father had told the family to run toward Germany and locate the American front lines and turn themselves in to the American soldiers as refugee seekers of asylum. The journey was done by car, train and by foot. I was carried by my mother, friends and strangers. I also learned to walk at an early age; it appears I was a resourceful 18-month-old.
This group of refugees was captured by the retreating German army. They were put on trains and sent into Germany. My father along with the other able-bodied males were sent to repair airfields damaged by the allies.
At the end of the war these workers were to be sent back to Lithuania by the Russians. Instead, they were sent to the gulags, the labor camps of Siberia. My father was not heard of until 1954.
My mother, a nurse in Lithuania, and I, along with other medical personnel in the refugee group were sent to Berlin to work in hospitals. The hospital my mother worked in had an orphanage, and there is where I spent most of the months toward the end of the war. The orphanage was in the basement of the hospital and served as the local bomb shelter.
The bombing of Berlin at the end of the war was continuous and as such we spent the dangerous time crammed in small spaces waiting for the shock waves to subside. Today, sirens, basements and explosions still send shivers down my back.
After the war, the hospital ended up in the American sector of Berlin. My mother and I ended up in Displaced Person (DP) camps. For the next three years we moved from one DP camp to another. As a quirk of fate, my mother was born in America and as such was an American citizen (that’s a story for another day).
On presenting her birth certificate to the American authorities, she was welcomed to head for the U.S. on the next troop carrier. Unfortunately, she could not bring me with her. I was a citizen of Lithuania of a Lithuanian Dad who was missing and could not be found. All paperwork relating to my birth were destroyed in the assault by the Russians on Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania and my birthplace.
It took three years before I was vetted and allowed to emigrate to the U.S. with my mother.
My heart goes out to the mothers and their children fleeing Ukraine. I hope America does not lose its grit and stands up to the Putins of the world. If not, the Baltics will be next, of which Lithuania is one of them.
Julius (Jay) V. Sakas is a Sequim resident and retired Delta (Northwest) Airline captain.