Siberian Exile and Remembering Historical Trauma
February 25th, 2018
Julija Šukys shares her new book, family history, and the difficulty of reconciling a past that is linked with historical trauma.
The Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences wrapped up their three-part series on remembering and commemorating historical trauma on Thursday with Julija Šukys and her talk about her new book Siberian Exile: Blood, War, and a Granddaughter’s Reckoning. It is the wonderfully written, emotional, and real account of discovery and family secrets. This book is the representation of years of research spent on discovering more about her family’s history and the more she uncovered, the more difficult the journey became. Julija’s grandmother, Ona, was arrested by three Red Army soldiers in June of 1941. They forced her into a cattle car and hauled her off to Siberia where she would spend the next 17 years separated from her husband and her children. Her grandfather, Anthony, was on Stalin’s list of decorated anti-Bolshevik sympathizers as well as a Lithuanian nationalist. Ona was innocent by every sentiment of the word, yet she was exiled anyway. The book initially started as an idea to bridge the gap of both her grandparent’s lives during her grandmother’s time in exile and to talk about how they survived and ultimately came back to each other later in life.
It wasn’t until Julija looked into her grandparent’s KGB files that her journey took a huge turn. Her primary focus started out with her grandmother, but what she uncovered about Anthony left her chilled to her core and changed the trajectory of her historical narrative and her understanding of her families past forever. It came to light that he belonged to a political group called Iron Wolf which was anti-Polish and anti-Semitic. This wasn’t the only thing she discovered; it also came to light that he was involved with the Ghettos in Lithuania during the German occupation in World War II and was the Chief of Police for a brief period. In Lithuania, it was common for the police to carry out the murder of Jewish Lithuanians on behalf of the German occupation. During her reading, you could tell that she had reconciled these facts that were uncovered, but it was also clear that it was still highly emotional. It was beautiful, yet a difficult presentation and the crowd was very thankful for her ability to share her journey not only via her new book but also through her reading of passages, accompanying PowerPoint with photos of her family and Lithuania, and through her honest and thorough answers to the spectator’s questions. It was an emotional night for all of us, and while the subject matter is sometimes hard to stomach, it is worth remembering the fallen and getting to know more about them through people like Julija sharing their emotional histories and the people that were intertwined within it.