United States. Congress. House. Select committee o.

Baltic States investigation. [First interim report] (Volume pt. 1) online

. (page 20 of 75)
Online LibraryUnited States. Congress. House. Select committee oBaltic States investigation. [First interim report] (Volume pt. 1) → online text (page 20 of 75)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Mr. McTiGUE. TVHiere were you arrested ?

Dr. Devenis. On my farm.

Mr. McTigue. You were taken from your farm to where ?

Dr. Devenis. To Ukmerge. I was taken without formal charges,
without any accusations. They just told me to come to headquarters
for further qiiestioning and for an explanation of a half hour and I
would be back. But after sitting there the officer came out and said,
"Well, you are a dangerous person for public safety. You are going
to be detained." And I was held in the prison for a year.

Mr. McTiGTJE. In the city?

Dr. Devenis. In the city of Ukmerge.

Mr. Kersten. How do you spell that name ?

Dr. Devenis. U-k-m-e-r-g-e.

Mr. McTiGUE. And were you charged with being a person danger-
ous to public safety ?

Dr. Devenis. That is a provisional charge, but later on they tried,
you know, to fix some crime. They charged me later on for anti- Com-
munist activities, espionage, and for following capitalistic, bourgeoisie

Mr. McTiGUE. You spent 1 year in that jail ?

Dr. Devenis, I was arrested on July 22. I spent there until March,
and then was transferred.

Mr. McTiGUE. Before we go on from there, during that period of
nearly a year, did you continually protest that you were an American

Dr. Devenis. Yes, sir.

Mr. McTiGUE. That you as an American citizen had certain rights?

Dr. Devenis. Well, I protested, and well, I was not allowed to
communicate and was not allowed to send any letter or any notice.

Mr. McTiGUE. During this period, how were you treated ?


Dr. Devenis. Well, just like a prisoner I was treated. I mean I was
at first put in solitary confinement in a cell, and after several weeks
was put in with other prisoners in a small cell, probably G feet by 12
where there were about 10 or 12 prisoners, a newly built cement cell.
The walls were dripping with water. The straw mattresses on the
floor were just blue from rotting straw.

Mr. ]\IcTiGUE. While you were there in this prison, were you sub-
jected to any kind of punishment, beatings?

Dr. Devenis. Not beatings, except probably just moral and mental
torture during interrogation.

Mr. ]\IcTigue. But continually interrogated?

Dr. Devenis. After almost 3 months I was continually interrogated
for 4 days without being allowed to sleep, and during the interroga-
tion I was ordered to stand at attention for about 8 hours. The in-
terrogation usually began at night when the other prisoners went
to bed. They used to call me about 10 o'clock and probably return
back to the cell at 6 o'clock in the morning.

Mr. McTiGUE. The interrogation went on all night long?

Dr. De\t:nis. Yes.

Mr. McTigue. What did they interrogate you about ?

Dr. Devenis. Well, they interrogated me — for instance they found
on my American passport that I had visas to foreign countries, Eng-
land, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and so on. They tried to fix that
I was spying for those countries. They tried to find out who I saw,
to whom I talked and what I talked about, and so on. They couldn't
imagine that a free American citizen could travel to foreign countries.
Then they interrogated me, well, they tried to fix that I was anti-
communistic because I exploited the workers, because I didn't divide
equally my profits from the farm. They said I probably underpaid
them all, although I actually paid more than anybody else on the
surrounding farms.

Mr. McTiGUE. Because you owned a large farm and because you em-
ployed a great many people, you were anti-communistic ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes, yes.

Mr. McTiGUE. Were you finally tried ?

Dr. Devenis. Well, I was never tried. At the beginning I was
•told that I was going to have an honest people's trial by a court se-
lected by the people, that I was going to be allowed to have an attorney,
and then after being in prison for about 8 or 10 months, one night
about 1 o'clock I was called by guards and was brought to a secret
service man, and then he just read the sentence, that I was condemned
to 8 years of hard labor.

I asked, "Where, how condemned, where was the trial?" Well, he
said the trial was in Moscow, that I was tried and condemned in

Mr. ISIcTiGUE. You were tried in absentia in Moscow ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes.

Mr. McTiGUE. Under, I suppose, paragraph 58 of the Russian
Criminal Code?

Dr. Devenis. Yes, and that paragraph included almost everything —
anti-Communist activity, espionage, and even, due to the solidarity
of the international proletariat, they could condemn a man even in
foreign countries, in America, for instance if he lived in America, and


if he did something against Communist activity they could try him
under that paragraph.

Mr. McTiGUE. I was just wondering whether there might be a trial
in absentia after this morning's press conference. But I guess that
is beside the point.

After you were sentenced, Doctor, what happened ?

Dr. Devenis. Then I was transferred to prison in Vilnius. That
is the ancient capital of Lithuania. There men were waiting for
transports to concentration camps.

Mr. McTiGUE. Were you transported from the prison in Vilnius?

Dr. Devenis. Yes, I was transferred there in March, and I stayed
there until June 22.

Mr. McTiGUE. Were you transported from Vilnius ?

Dr. Devenis. From Vilnius I was transported to Kozva in the
northern part of Eussia.

Mr. McTiGUE. Is that in Arctic Russia?

Dr. Devenis. In the Arctic region.

Mr. McTiGUE. Is that near tlie Ural Mountains ?

Dr. Devenis. That is not far from the Arctic Ocean, the Ural

Mr. McTiGUE. Were you transported along with other men?

Dr. Devenis. Yes, I was transported with other prisoners. The
transport consisted of about 80 to 100 cattle cars. In each car there
were approximately about 40 to 50 people. They were so packed that
when you laid on the floor the other men couldn't move around. If
he wanted to turn on the other side, somebody had to get up from the
line and allow the man to move. That lasted for 16 days.

Mr. McTigtje. Sixteen days?

Dr. Devenis. Yes. In hot weather, in June, we were without water,
without hot food, and besides that they gave us a small piece of salted
fish that increased thirst. The people in every car were just yelling
for water, but nobody would supply water.

Mr. McTiGUE. Were there any women and children ?

Dr. Devenis. Not in our car. In other cars there were.

Mr. McTiGUE. You saw women and children being deported from
Lithuania ?

Dr. Devenis. Usually the families were split. The children sepa-
rated from families, the w4fe separated from her husband.

Mr. McTigue. Was your wife in Lithuania with you at the time?

Dr. Devenis. When I was arrested she was in Lithuania, and I was
very much upset because I had three children, American-born chil-
dren. I later found out that my wife escaped to America. That
relieved me and gave me moral support and courage to stand that
brutal treatment.

Mr. McTiGUE. What was your point of destination in Arctic

Dr. Devenis. In Arctic Russia I was transported to a region, Vor-
kuta. That was a city in the Arctic region that administrated a newly
formed coal mine and construction of railroads, they were building
some new camps there, experimental farms.

Mr. McTiGUE. Was this a distributing camp ?

Dr. Devenis. No. At first I was in Kocva.

Mr. McTiGUE. Did there come a time thereafter that you were taken
to Kozva, a distributing camp ?


Dr. Devenis. Yes. All the prisoners from Lithuania, Estonia,
Poland were brought to that camp, and then they were distributed
to different camps.

Mr. McTiGUE. How long did you stay there ?

Dr. Devenis. About 2 months.

Mr. McTiGUE. What were your duties ?

Dr. De\t:nis. Well, I was assigned to work as a physician. I
wouldn't say I practiced medicine there because that was just sham
practicing because there were no drugs and no facilities to practice
medicine. A physician's duties were just to find out whether a man
was able to work, and, well, just sign a statement that he was free
from work.

Mr. McTiGUE. After your time at Kozva, were you transferred to
another camp ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes; to the Red City. That is where the Pechora
flows into the Arctic Ocean.

Mr. jNIcTigue. How were you taken from Kozva ?

Dr. Devenis. From Kozva I was taken by boat.

Mr. McTiGUE. By transport?

Dr. Devenis. Yes. .

Mr. McTiGUE. Do you recall anything happening on that transport ?

Dr. Devenis. Well, an unusual thing happened. On the second
day I was called to the hull of the boat. One of the guards — they were
transporting sick people on that boat — got sick. They found out that
I was a doctor, and they called me to treat that guard.

I experienced an unusual sight there. There were about 80 people,
invalids, some without arms, without legs, with frozen noses, ears, and
so on. I was wondering what was happening. If they were taking
them to hospitals, they would be taking them in the opposite direction,
but they were taking them north to the Arctic Ocean.

Later on, about several months after, when I was in Sovchos, I met
that guard, and I asked what had happened with those people. He
was rather friendly to me. He said, "What do you think? Don't you
know the Russian constitution ? Everybody who eats is supposed to
work. Who don't work don't eat. They are invalids, they are unable
to work. Why should we feed them? We just took them to the ocean
and dumped them into the ocean."

Mr. McTiGUE. These were live people?

Dr. DE^'ENIS. Those were live people.

Mr. McTiGUE. How many?

Dr. Devenis. About 80. I didn't see that they were dumped.

Mr. Kersten. But that was the information you got ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes, that was the information I got.

Mr. McTigue. The guard told you that ?

Dr. De\'enis. Yes.

Mr, McTigue. When you arrived at the Red city what happened ?

Dr. Devenis. There was a camp of prisoners. Before, I was told
there were about 5,000, but when I was there there were about 1,500.
Those prisoners had to unload ships that came in with machinery, with
supplies, with food, from a Russian transport, coming from a Russian
port. Archangel. Their duty was to unload machinery and food and
supplies from the barges that went through the river. We stayed there


Mr. McTiGTJE. Before we get away from that, Doctor, it was very
cold there, wasn't it ?

Dr. Devenis. Well, in the winter about 55 below zero. That is
almost the same as 55 below zero Fahrenheit.

Mr. McTiGTJE. Do you happen to know where the machinery that
you just referred to as being unloaded at Archangel came from?

Dr. Devenis. Well, from different parts of Kussia. It came prob-
ably by railroads from deeper Russia.

Mr. Kersten. Might some of it have originated in the United
States ?

Dr. Devenis. It could be, yes.

Mr. McTiGUE. Were you the only doctor among the prisoners in the
Red City?

Dr. Devenis. Yes, I was the only one.

Mr. McTiGUE. ITow many prisoners w^ere there ?

Dr. Deatsnis. "V^'lien I was there, about 1,500.

Mr. McTiGUE. Did you have any medical supplies ?

Dr. Devenis. Hardly any except a few tablets of aspirin and
quinine for malaria, but that is not enough.

Mr. McTiGUE. AVliat happened to people when they became sick?

Dr. Devenis. They just let them deteriorate and then later die,
especially from — there are not so many infectious diseases there —
lack of vitamins, from scurvy and pellagra. A man used to get sick
and physically deteriorate in about 4 or 5 or G months. I was sur-
prised to see men in the prime of life, about 25, 28, 26, with their teeth
just shaken, they could be pulled out by hand. The gums were swollen
and there were sores over their arms and all over their bodies.

Mr. McTiGUE. Did you try to do anything about the scurvy ?

Dr. Devenis. The only thing I could do — from reading literature
I found that some vitamin C was in the pine needles and pine cones.
So I used to cook them in a big kettle, and all the prisoners were given
about a glass of that concoction to drink every night. That, to a
certain extent, prevented scurvy, but it was not enough to cure well-
developed scurvy.

Mr. McTiGUE. Your home remedy enabled a great many of these

Dr. Devenis. Yes, to stand it all and to prolong the deterioration.

Mr. McTiGUE. You went out into the woods, collected the pine
needles and pine cones ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes.

Mr. McTigue. Boiled them ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes, and filtered through a cloth, and then I gave it
to those prisoners to drink.

Mr. McTiGUE. Were there many cases of frostbite and gangrene?

Dr. De\T5Nis. Yes, quite a few because the clothing was very poor.
Every prisoner wore cotton-padded mackinaws and cotton-padded
pants. But those were probably given out once in 2 or 3 years. And
then when they wore out they tried to patch it, but still they were in-
sufficient to prevent from cold.

Mr. McTiGUE. "V^Hiat kind of food did you have ?

Dr. Devenis. Just a moment. The footwear was very poor. The
only footwear they had was from old rubber tires made Avith burlap.
And then in the cold they were wrapped with sacks, and then dipped


their legs in cold water and then let it freeze to prevent slipping ; they
wrapped it again with sacks, and they walked like that.

Pood was mostly bread mixed with sawdust. About 20 percent
sawdust added to the poor flour.

Mr. McTiGUE. What did you have to drink, water ?

Dr. Devenis. Water, and then thin soup from millet seed.

Mr. Madden. Could you explain again how those shoes were made
with the burlap, and then freezing, and then wrapping them again?
I didn't get that.

Dr. Devenis. Well, ice is a poor conductor. So if ice froze around
the burlap it prevented cold and prevented frostbite. It w^as very
difficult to walk, but still, to such an extent it kept a man from

Mr. Madden. Then they would rewrap it over again ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes, to prevent slipping.

Mr. McTiGUE. Were you exposed to any kind of sickness while you
were there?

Dr. De^tenis. Well, I was exposed. I had toothache and I prob-
ably suffered for 3 weeks because there was no dentist and there was
no medicine and there were no instruments to extract. If I would
have instruments I probably would have done the extraction myself,
but I suffered for 3 weeks, and later on forgot about it, got used to
that pain. I was suffering, probably from lack of food and scurvy.
Tliere was more suffering from that than from toothache. The Rus-
sians are used to that. They say that if you have a toothache, you
just take off your shoes, go outside in the snow and let your feet
freeze and then your toothache will be gone because you think about
your frozen feet, not about your toothache, you would forget all about
the toothache.

Mr. McTiGTJE. How long did you stay in the Red city ?

Dr. Devenis. I stayed in the Red city until December, and then
when the Germans got into the war and began to bombard, when
the bombardment got very active, they couldn't transport any more
of those supplies. Then that camp was dismantled and we were
transferred to Ovwbor. That is about 200 kilometers, or approxi-
mately 140 miles, from the Red city. It happened in the middle of
December. The weather was very cold. As I said, at that time it
was about 40, 50, 55 below zero. The rule was that we shouldn't walk
when the temperature was below 35.

Mr. McTiGUE. You walked, then, from the Red city ?

Dr. De\t:nis. We walked from the Red city.

Mr. McTigue. In 45° below zero weather?

Dr. Devenis. Yes ; up to 55 below zero in almost knee-deep snow.

Mr. McTiGUE. How much of a walk was it from the Red city to
your new point of destination ?

Dr. De\trnis. About 140 American miles.

Mr. McTiGUE. About how many men were in the march ?

Dr. De\tenis. Well, they were divided into groups, from 50 to 80
men. They didn't want to have bigger groups because they didn't
have enough Red guards to accompany the prisoners, so it was from
50 to 80 men in a group. That lasted about 14 to 15 days.

Mr. McTiGUE. "VH^iat would happen as far as resting was con-
cerned ?


Dr. Devenis. In the Arctic area there, there are no farms, no vil-
lages, no cities at all. "When we rested we were lucky if we found
some empty shed to stay in a few hours overnight. If not, then
under the trees. If we found a shed it was empty, unheated.

Mr. McTiGUE. You were walking through deep snow?

Dr. Devenis. Yes. On the fourth or fifth day I collapsed and
couldn't walk any more and I didn't remember what happened.
Later on I was told that the guard ordered them to pick me up just
because I was a doctor. He said, "We will pick him up. Don't
leave that man behind because we need him because he is a doctor,
and we don't have very many doctors there." So I was saved.

Mr. McTiGUE. What happened to the other men who fell out?

Dr. Devenis. The other men were just left behind. I don't know,
probably wild wolves and wild animals devoured them.

Mr. McTiGUE. Were wolves stalking the column as j^ou were march-
ing from the Red city ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes, I saw wolves following us.

Mr. McTiGUE. As men collapsed or fell out of the line of march,
they were left there ?

Dr. Devenis. They were left behind.

Mr. McTiGUE. This march took how long?

Dr. Devenis. About 14 days.

Mr. McTiGUE. What happened when you arrived at your desti-
nation ?

Dr. Devenis. Well, I was again put there to take care of the sick
people, but I wouldn't call that practice of medicine. It was mostly
to check whether they were able to work or not. If a man refused
to go to work, he would be tried for sabotage. If he had a doctor's
certificate that he is sick, that he can't work, then he was excused from
the work. But many a time, if many people were on the sicklist, they
overruled the doctor's decision ; they just took even sick men and made
them go to work.

Mr. McTiGUE. Did you have any kind of difficulty with the Soviet
authorities while you were at that camp ?

Dr. Devenis. Well, the only difficulty I had is that when I was in
that Red city one time the men were unloading wine, probably for
the NKVD officials. They made a hole in the barrel and several
prisoners got drunk. One man got so drunk that he was unable to
work that afternoon, and he was sleeping.

Then at night when the men were returning, about 150 of them,
they made them stand and I was to find out who was drunk and who
was sober. I happened to miss that man. The next day I was trans-
ported to headquarters of NKVD, and I had to give excuses, expla-
nation of why I missed that man, I was probably sabotaging. They
said, "Well, we are going to give you another 8 years for that."

Well, I explained that the man was drunk several hours and he was
sleeping and he had already got sober. Well, there was a strong
admonition, he said to me, "Look out. You are going to get another
10 years and you will never get out of this camp."

Mr. McTiGUE. How long did you spend at that place ^

Dr. Devenis. I was liberated on April 13.

Mr. McTiGUE. What were the circumstances of your liberation, how
were you released ?


Dr. Devenis. Well, one day I was told that the administrator of
the camp received a telegram from the administrative center of all
the camps. They read me the telegram that said, "Repeat. Immedi-
ately free Dr. Devenis." I was told to get ready in 1 hour. The horse
with the sleigh was standing already. In an hour I had to get ready,
and I was transported to the other camp.

Mr. McTiGUE. Why were they so anxious to get you out in a hurry ?

Dr. Devenis. I had an impression that they didn't want the other
prisoners should see that I was liberated. It was something unusual.
They were surprised. Even the administration didn't believe it, and
they sent another telegram to confirm the previous telegram that I
was liberated. So I was transported to a neighboring camp where I
waited for transportation to Russia.

Mr. McTiGUE. Did the Soviet guards have any comment on your
release ?

Dr. Devenis. One guard said, "Well, the American Government
must be good if they care for individual persons." It was something
unusual for a government to interfere and have a person liberated.

Mr. McTiGUE. Was your wife living in Connecticut then?

Dr. Devenis. I don't know, I didn't taiow whether she was living
in Connecticut, but I knew she was living in America. When I was
in Ukmerge a boy who went to school, 14 years old, a student, was
arrested for anticommunistic activities. He was in the same class
with my son. He happened to come in my cell. He said that he had
heard that my family escaped to America.

Mr. McTiGUE. That's the only communication you ever received?

Dr. Devenis. Yes; that is the only communication I had.

Mr. McTiGUE. Then how were you finally released, Doctor ?

Dr. DE^^3NIS. Well, when I was transported to that other camp,
Medvezieka, and then from there I was taken by airplane to the dis-
tributing camp, Kozva, where I had to wait for a train, the Ameri-
can Embassy

Mr. McTiGUE. It was through the intercession of the Embassy and
the continual efforts of your wife that brought about your release
through Admiral Standley who was our Ambassador to Moscow?

Dr. DE^^:NIS. Through the efforts of my wife, but the main credit
belongs to Ambassador Standley. I think he came on April 10 to
Moscow, and on April 13 I was already released. Previous to that
they used to tell my wife that I was not in Russia, I probably was in
Germany or somewhere else, or probably I was killed. They never
admitted that I was deported to a concentration camp.

Mr. McTiGTDis. Who never admitted it?

Dr. Devenis. The Russians in Washington, and so on, they said
they didn't know where I was. Then later when the Russians were
expelled, my father-in-law got a prison record that my number was
such and such, and that I was transported to such-and-such camp.
Then he telegraphed to my wife that information. With that infor-
mation she went to the State Department. She just confronted the
Russian Ambassador, and she said I was in such and such a camp.

Mr. McTiGUE. Finally, after 2 years' imprisonment in a Soviet
camp, you, an American citizen, returned to this country ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes, sir.

Mr. McTigue. And you are now a practicing physician ?


Dr. Devenis. Practicing physician, yes, in Waterbury, Conn.

Mr. McTiGUE. That is all.

Mr. Kj:rsten. Mr. Bentley.

Mr. Bentley. Doctor, what year were you released from the prison
camp ?

Dr. Devenis. April 13, 1942, but I came to America in September.
I had to go to Teheran, India, and other places.

Mr. Bentley. All the time that you were in those various camps
in the Soviet Union, how many other nationaMties did you see repre-
sented there ; have you any idea ?

Dr. Devenis. Well, Russians, Polish, Estonians, Latvians, Ukrani-
ans, representatives from almost all

Mr. Bentley. All the Satellite countries?

Dr. Devenis. Yes.

Mr. Beni'ley. Were those mostly political prisoners ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes. The criminal prisoners were rather privileged.
They were the officials of the camps.

Mr, Bentley. Those were the common criminals, the murderers and
thieves who were given positions of privilege ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes.

Mr. Bentley. You say there were Russians there also ?

Dr. Devenis. Yes; there were Russians, mostly those who were
arrested during the purge of 1934 and 1935.

Mr. Bentley. In other words, this system of slave labor, as you saw
it in these camps, was true not only of the Baltic countries but of all
the countries that the Soviet Union brought under its domination?

Dr. Devenis. Yes, sir. They were not only for the purpose of get-
ting rid of unreliable elements but they were cheap labor because they
didn't pay anything. For instance, as a physician, I got about 28
rubles a month, and for those 28 rubles I probably couldn't buy a half
a pound of butter a month.

Mr. Bentley. As a physician, would you say that the food, the
rations that you received in those concentration camps was deliberately
calculated to weaken a man over a period of time to the point where he
uesually just died?

Dr. I)e\^nis. Well, to a certain extent, yes ; but the}' were anxious
to exploit, to get as much as they could from that man in physical
work. Wlien a man got weak and when they saw that he couldn't do
any more work, that they couldn't get any more work out of him, then
they didn't care any more. They just purposely cut the ration and

Online LibraryUnited States. Congress. House. Select committee oBaltic States investigation. [First interim report] (Volume pt. 1) → online text (page 20 of 75)