Crimson Blight fictionalizes a short period in Lithuania’s history, between 1940 and 1941 when Russians occupied the country. It belongs to the genre of personal accounts of a horrible time during WWII. As a novel, it has a lot of weaknesses. As a fictionalization of memories or a diary, it offers something interesting: what was the daily experience of seeing the Russians come in and take over. The perspective is a land-owner’s in a small Lithuanian town.
Be warned it is also in the category of atrocity stories. A few things I learned here: Common Russian soldiers were mad to discover all Lithuanians lived better than they did, no matter what class; they were victims of Stalin’s forced conscription; and that might explain some of their anger and brutality.
The narrator’s experience of a level of brutality that shakes your faith in God and humanity explains why many Lithuanians who stayed through the German occupation that followed could not bear to live with Russians again—they fled and they would not go back to Russian occupiers after the war. Jews were not inside the Lithuanian social circles (in this story); they helped the Russian occupiers run the place; and this family of Lithuanians did not identify with them nor sympathize with them. Nor did they hate Jews.
Finally, I learned that it is very hard to figure out when you’ve had enough abuse and you are ready to run for your life. Clinging to routine, tradition, faith, work, and family is normal, especially when the devil starts living in your house.
A Woman in Amber: Healing the Trauma of War and Exile by Agate Nesaule. 1997.
The author is a professor of literature in America who captures as a memoir her journey from living as a child in Latvia during the invasions of the Soviets and the Germans, fleeing the country and living in a DP camp, and then immigrating to the U.S. There is a therapeutic theme as the author draws on her early traumatic experiences to explain difficulties she had in relationships later in life. It is a story of perseverance in spite of awful early experiences, and insights gained over decades that followed. People who shared similar experiences will find it especially meaningful.
Forest of the Gods by Balys Sruoga, translated by Aušrinė Byla. 2005.
Balys Sruoga was a literary intellectual in Lithuania and a professor at Vilnius University. German occupiers sent him to the Stutthof concentration camp in 1943. Like Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Forest of the Gods is written as fiction that tries to present an experience of war, in this case, the concentration camp, as a microcosm of civilization and its absurdities. Sruoga died in 1947, soon after the war. His manuscript (in Lithuanian) was banned, then finally published in 1957. It is a shocking and gripping story of the ordeal of victims of the Nazi invasion.