The Omaha community is invited to attend a public presentation by award-winning author Julija Šukys about her latest book – Siberian Exile: Blood, War, and a Granddaughter’s Reckoning. The book is a telling recognition of and a reconciliation with a painful family story.
When Julija Šukys was a child, her paternal grandfather, Anthony, rarely smiled, and her grandmother, Ona, spoke only in her native Lithuanian. But they still taught Šukys her family’s story: that of a proud people forced from their homeland when the soldiers came. In mid-June 1941, three Red Army soldiers arrested Ona, forced her onto a cattle car, and sent her east to Siberia, where she spent seventeen years separated from her children and husband, working on a collective farm. The family story maintained that it was all a mistake. Anthony, whose name was on Stalin’s list of enemies of the people, was accused of being a known and decorated anti-Bolshevik and Lithuanian nationalist.
Some seventy years after these events, Šukys sat down to write about her grandparents and their survival of a twenty-five-year forced separation and subsequent reunion. Piecing the story together from letters, oral histories, audio recordings, and KGB documents, her research soon revealed a Holocaust-era secret—a family connection to the killing of seven hundred Jews in a small Lithuanian border town. According to KGB documents, the man in charge when those massacres took place was Anthony, Ona’s husband.
Šukys weaves together the two narratives in Siberian Exile: the story of Ona, noble exile and innocent victim, and that of Anthony, accused war criminal. She examines the stories that communities tell themselves and considers what happens when the stories we’ve been told all our lives suddenly and irrevocably change, and how forgiveness or grace operate across generations and across the barriers of life and death.
Julija Šukys is a writer and an assistant professor of creative nonfiction at the University of Missouri. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto (2001) and is the author of three books (Silence Is Death: The Life and Work of Tahar Djaout, (Nebraska, 2007); Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaitė (Nebraska, 2012); and Siberian Exile: Blood, War, and a Granddaughter’s Reckoning (Nebraska, 2017), one book-length translation (And I burned with shame: the testimony of Ona Šimaitė, righteous among the nations: a letter to Isaac Nachman Steinberg (Yad Vashem, 2007) and of more than two dozen essays. Epistolophilia is the winner of the 2013 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award for Holocaust Literature. Šukys draws on archives, interviews, bibliographical research, and observation to write about minor lives in war-torn or marginal places, about women’s life-writing, and about the legacy of violence across generations and national borders.
The Omaha presentation program for author Julija Šukys is organized by the Omaha Friends of Šiauliai programming committee (Omaha Sister Cities Association), and we gratefully acknowledge the collaboration with The Bookworm and the financial support provided by sponsor Long Dog Fat Cat natural pet food and supply stores of Omaha.