Excerpts from Odyssey of Hope

Odyssey of Hope :: The BookWorld War II Begins

"I learned of the invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939 when I reported for work at the Ministry of Transportation the next morning. None of us got much work done that day-we were too busy talking. How would the war affect Lithuania? What would the future hold for us now? No one had any doubt but that Poland would soon be crushed, probably within a month. Many believed that Germany would quickly win the war. But one of the employees, a man of German descent, named Bremerts, prophesied on that first day, 'My dear friends, this is only the beginning. You'll see what kind of a stew gets cooked up from this. The present war, like the earlier one, is going to last no less than four years.'"

The German Occupation

"I requested permission to retain the Jewish employees at the workshop constructing bus bodies, explaining in a note to the Gehietscommissariat that I could not replace them. I was granted the permit. Our office had to take the responsibility for seeing that they did not run away- nor could they leave the workplace during the working day. At the end of their shift, they were to be led under guard back to the ghetto. I ignored these instructions and let them go to a nearby suburban area to shop. That way they were able to take food back to the ghetto. This state of affairs didn't last long. Our permit for retaining Jewish employees was revoked, and thereafter no more Jews worked for us. In all likelihood, these people suffered the same tragic fate that befell the great majority of Lithuania's Jews."

Fleeing Dresden

"SS troopers are trying to stem the surging crowd threatening and forcibly pushing people away from the train. By now nothing was going to stop this crowd. Panic washed over me; I looked around trying to spot Juozas. I couldn't see him anywhere in the mass of people, shouting and streaming towards the train. It came to a full stop and the door of one car opened not far from me. I could see that the car was filled with soldiers, most of them injured, their heads and arms wrapped in bandages. Several soldiers were looking out a window at the crowd right in front of me. Unexpectedly one of them called out to me, 'Give me the girl. Climb in the window here, over to us.'" 
— From Alexandra's diary

The War Ends: April 20, 1945

"The other day we could hear American artillery firing very near our town. The whistling bombs began to explode all around us. We huddled in the cellar, praying to God that no bomb would hit our home. There would be silence for a while; then the shooting would start up again. At long last, we no longer heard bombs exploding. Juozas said he was going up to look around and see what was happening in town. Suddenly, we heard a roar of motor vehicles. I shouted at him to be careful-the SS might still be riding around. 'No, these are tanks rolling by and they're not German. They're American tanks,' Juozas replied in a happy voice."
— From Alexandra's diary

Yale University: A gift of Fate

"With the letter from Yale in hand, I went to the United States Consulate in Stuttgart to apply for a visa to the United States. The Vice Consul was astonished as he read my letter. 'Do you realize, young man that you have been accepted by one of the finest universities in the United States? A great many Americans would love to change places with you right now.'

This tremendous success marked the fate of the rest of my life. A prestigious University offered even more than an excellent education. I understood that social status was also important in the United States. And I knew that forming advantageous acquaintanceships could lead to many opportunities."

Keeping The Hope of Freedom Alive

"I had many opportunities to speak at various émigré functions where I would lay out my views about the future of Soviet occupied Lithuania. After the end of World War II, I was convinced that the Russians would be in Lithuania for a long period. I never had illusions like some of my fellow countrymen did that the West would quickly liberate our homeland; they kept waiting and waiting for such a moment.

However, it seemed that over time, I turned out to be the greater optimist as compared to many of my acquaintances. I did not believe that the Soviet Union could survive forever. In my speeches, I always said that we must never lose hope. The time will arrive, I predicted, when the Soviet Union will begin falling apart. Our job was to remind the world consistently about the case for the liberation of Lithuania.” 

The Independence Movement

"Sajudis was established on June 3, 1988, at a meeting of intellectuals in Vilnius, as a Lithuania citizens movement calling for greater political, economic, and cultural autonomy in response to Gorbachev's policy of perestroika. A few weeks later, a rally of 50,000 people demonstrated support of Sajudis and demanded that delegates to the 19th Communist Party Conference press for greater freedom in the country’s economic and cultural matters, including reinstatement of the prewar flag and anthem. The movement, which was essentially one of national rebirth, gained massive public support, and the lives of Lithuanians changed irreversibly."

Independence

"We arrived just as the session was starting and stayed there until late that night The whole time, I was very excited, waiting for the historical moment-the declaration of the Reestablishment of Independence Act. To think that I had been waiting fifty years for this moment! One-by-one, the delegates announced their votes. The tension was almost unbearable. In the end, out of the 130 deputies in the chambers, 124 voted in favor, six had abstained-and no one was against an independent state of Lithuania.

Everyone in the hall took hold of each other’s hands. Unexpectedly, a massive yellow, green and red flag rolled up from the floor at the front of the room to cover up the giant bronze hammer and sickle over the wall. For decades, our national flag had been outlawed and now it reappeared to obliterate that despised symbol of Soviet power which had loomed over the chamber for so long.

Tears flooded my eyes; the pent up sorrows in the depth of my heart broke loose. I thought I was in some fabulous dream. It was one of the strongest emotional moments of my entire life."

Lobbying For Recognition

"The meeting with the President took longer than had been scheduled. Bush listened calmly to Prunskiene's words. She told him that Lithuania had the right to re-declare, and the West had the obligation to recognize the statehood of the country. Bush replied that, although he understood and supported our position, the United States had an exceptional global responsibility to assure world stability. That hinged on relations with the Soviet Union. Bush emphasized that the United States wanted the reforms undertaken by Mikhail Gorbachev to succeed. In the meantime, the pursuit of independence by Lithuania and the other Baltic countries was in effect undermining Gorbachev's position. For this reason, the United States was keenly observing the state of affairs; however, no risky steps were being taken for the time being."

Meeting with Margaret Thatcher

"Unbelievably, our planned visit with Margaret Thatcher continued for over an hour. The British Prime Minister took a serious interest in this discussion and extended the time of our talk several times more. The ending of our visit was absolutely astounding. Unexpectedly, Margaret Thatcher stated that she endorsed most of the ideas she had just heard. She said that she intended to telephone Mikhail Gorbachev in support of Lithuania's position. And that was not all. She went on to say that she would sign a letter to the leader of the Soviet Union in which the goals of our country were to be defended."