Thirty Years of Underground Translation
As told by Ona Mockutė
In April 1962, I was on trial in a packed courtroom in Klaipeda, Lithuania, accused of crimes against society. The previous October, I had been arrested and charged with religious activity that was considered a crime against the Soviet State. Let me explain what led up to my arrest and subsequent imprisonment for doing underground translation of publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I WAS born in 1930 in western Lithuania, not far from the Baltic Sea. Mother had prayed before giving birth to me that her child would become a nun. Yet, she once told me: “In no way can I pray in front of St. Peter or other lifeless idols.” Remembering this, I avoided kneeling in church, although I would do so before a crucifix when I was on the road going home from school.
Later, during World War II—from 1939 to 1945—I saw indescribable brutality, and it weighed heavily on my heart. One day during the German occupation, I was berry picking in the forest with my aunt. We happened upon two large pits where we saw recently spattered blood. Knowing that a group of Jews, including my school friends Tese and Sara, had recently been murdered, we concluded that we had stumbled upon their mass grave. Stunned, I cried out: “God, you are so good! But why do you allow such horrible atrocities?”
In 1949, I graduated from high school in Klaipeda near our home, and after that I continued my study of music. In 1950, I joined a student underground political movement but was soon betrayed and arrested along with 12 others. I was imprisoned in Klaipeda, and while there, I first met one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Learning Bible Truths
A middle-aged woman was shoved into our prison cell. She smiled kindly at us seven young women. I asked her: “My dear lady, prisoners are usually sad when they are put into prison, but you are smiling! May I ask why you are here?”
“Because of the truth,” she answered.
“But what is truth?” I asked.
The woman’s name was Lydia Peldszus. She was a German who had been arrested because of her faith as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We had many spiritual discussions. The heartwarming Bible truths Lydia taught us not only changed the course of my life but also the lives of three others who shared the cell with us.
How My Bible Knowledge Grew
For my underground political activities against the Soviet occupation, I was sentenced to 25 years in prison, as well as another 5 in exile. Through the Witnesses I met during my years in prisons, as well as in work camps in the Siberian expanse, my knowledge about God and his purposes grew. These Witnesses, like Lydia, had been punished for their beliefs.
Besides growing in Bible knowledge during those years, I also shared my faith with others. Although I did not have opportunity to get baptized in symbol of my dedication to God, other inmates and prison officials considered me to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1958, after serving eight years of my sentence, I was released. I returned to Lithuania in poor health, yet strong in my faith in Jehovah.
Underground Translation Begins
There were then only a few Witnesses left in Lithuania. The others were in prison or in exile in Siberia. In 1959, two Witnesses returned from Siberia and suggested that I translate our Bible publications into Lithuanian. I gladly accepted the challenge, viewing it as a privilege.
In March 1960, I began translating, and in July, I was secretly baptized in the Dubysa River. Because of opposition from the KGB (Soviet State Security Committee), I couldn’t find work to support myself, so I lived with my parents, who were favorable toward my beliefs. I cared for cows that belonged to my father and to other neighbors. While looking after the animals, I also did translating. I had a beautiful office as I sat on a stump of a tree surrounded by a carpet of green grass. The ceiling over my head was the blue sky, and my lap served as my desk.
However, I came to see that translating in the open pasture wasn’t safe, since I might easily be noticed by KGB agents or their informants. So when hideouts became available in which I could do translating, I moved out of my father’s house. Sometimes I worked inside barns where farm animals were on one side of an enclosure and I was on the other side hammering away on my typewriter.
There was no electricity, hence I worked while there was daylight. To camouflage the plunking of the manual typewriter, a specially built windmill whirred away outside the barn. When it got dark, I would go inside the house to eat supper. Then I returned to the barn and slept on a bed of hay.
In October 1961, along with two other Witnesses, I was arrested when my work promoting religious activity was discovered. This led to the trial in 1962 that I mentioned at the beginning of this account. The authorities granted us a public hearing, and we rejoiced to be able to give a witness to many observers. (Mark 13:9) I received a three-year sentence and was sent to a prison in Tallinn, Estonia. To my knowledge, I was at that time the only person incarcerated there for my faith. City administrators visited me, and I shared my beliefs with them.
Resuming Translation Work
Upon release from prison in Estonia in 1964, I returned to Lithuania. There I continued translating our publications, generally from Russian into Lithuanian. The workload was considerable. Although others helped, I served as the sole full-time translator for the Lithuanian language. I often worked seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. Without Jehovah’s help, I would never have had the strength to do that.
Realizing how vital the work was, I always tried to be cautious. Christian brothers and sisters often risked their own safety, as well as that of their family, to hide me, provide me with physical sustenance, and protect me. Such cooperation drew us very close together. While I was working, the family with whom I was staying would be on the lookout for those who might report me. As a warning signal, someone would hit the heating pipes twice with an iron object. Upon hearing that warning, I quickly hid anything that might give away the work I was doing.
If we found that the house where I was working was being watched, I quickly moved to another location. Having a typewriter without official approval was then a serious crime, so someone else would take my typewriter to the new workplace. Then, usually during the night, I would leave for that new location.
Jehovah truly protected me. Officials, although unable to come up with any evidence, knew what I was doing. For example, in 1973, when eight of Jehovah’s Witnesses were on trial, the prosecutor called me in for questioning. He asked me straight out, “Mockutė, how much literature have you printed throughout the years?”
I replied that I couldn’t answer that question. He then asked, “Well, to what kind of question can you give an answer?”
“To a question that is not related to this work,” I replied.
Winds of Change
Toward the end of the 1980’s, the situation in Lithuania began to change. It was no longer necessary to hide from government agents. So, in 1990, others began to do the translating work. Then, on September 1, 1992, a small translation office was established in Klaipeda, the city I ultimately settled in.
Altogether, I worked as a translator for 30 years in 16 locations. I didn’t have a home of my own. But how delighted I am to see the fruitage of our work! Today there are about 3,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Lithuania. And the work of translating that I once did while hiding in barns and lofts is now carried on in the comfortable Lithuania branch office near the city of Kaunas.
I still remember the remarkable encounter in that cold prison cell almost 60 years ago in Klaipeda. It changed my life! I will always be thankful to our great Creator, Jehovah, that I found the truth about him and his purposes and that I dedicated my life to him to do his will.
[Blurb on page 13]
The heartwarming Bible truths Lydia taught four of us while we were in prison changed our lives
[Picture on page 12]
My trial was featured in a Soviet newspaper in 1962
[Picture on page 14, 15]
Some of the Bible literature I translated at the risk of my freedom
[Picture on page 15]
Lydia introduced me to Bible truths in prison
[Picture on page 15]
Two Witnesses (at left) taught me more about God while in a prison camp in Khabarovsk region, Russia, 1956
[Picture on page 15]
A typewriter I used when working under ban