About this iReport
  • Not verified by CNN

  • Click to view MRastas's profile
    Posted April 22, 2014 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    In Memoriam

    Journey to Freedom

    Born in Vilkaviskous, Lithuania on a small farm by a creek, Vytautas Rastapkevicous was a man that fought for his freedom. Against all odds he escaped the clutches of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany making it to America. In America, even though he did not speak English, he was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania, quickly picked up the English language and became a veterinarian. He married a beautiful woman from Minnesota named Adeline Jane and together they raised four children in Wisconsin - two daughters and two sons. The eldest son is my father. Vytautas Rastapkevicous is my grandfather, but I know him as Vytas Rastas, a much shortened American version of his Lithuanian given name.
    As a child, Vytas lived on a farm with a mill that supplied electricity to their neighbors. The mill often trapped European eels, a snake-like fish that provided food for Vytas’ family. Vytas attended a small school where his father was the school master, which impeded his learning ability. The school system chose which students would attend college around the age of 10 and Vytas was not one of the students chosen. Instead, he was sent to a monastery where they would shut the massive, iron fence every night and teach him how to study.
    The Soviet Union entered Lithuania in 1940, bringing about the Communist system within the country. People were unable to get jobs. If they did not agree with Communist system, entire families were taken in the middle of the night without any warning and deported to foreign places like Siberia. Vytas and his family were afraid that their farm, their source of income and way of life would be taken from them but fortunately at that time it was not.
    When Germany invaded Lithuania to fight the Soviets, the farm was hit with a bomb. While the battle between the Germans and the Soviets raged on, Vytas and his family tried to survive. Vytas had been riding his Arabian horse, Honeybee, whom he had raised since she was a foal through the forest near the creek when a grenade landed underneath the horse. Fortunately, the grenade never detonated.
    The Germans only had control over Lithuania for a short time before the Russians returned and forced the Germans out. Thousands of people fled from Lithuania in fear of being deported, including Vytas’ family. They took two wagons, one filled with feed and the other filled with the family and their belongings. Because they had small children, they also took one cow that followed behind so they would have milk for the children. Vytas’ uncle, Yonas, was in the hospital while their name was on the railroad station ready for deportation. Yonas’ family stayed with him at the hospital and they were all deported to Siberia where the 14-year-old girl in the family had to become a logger. Vytas and his family were lucky to escape.
    After leaving Lithuania and entering Germany, Vytas and his family tried to make it to the Elba River, which was the crossing line between the West and East side of Germany. While traveling in their wagons, many of the family members got lice but Vytas was able to kill the eggs by realizing that they were all in the seams of their clothing. At one point while traveling across Germany the family took refuge in a bombed out building. In the building there was large painting of Adolf Hitler and one of Vytas’ uncles opened his coat filled with lice and screamed at the painting, “Look what you gave to us!”
    After eventually making it to the West side of Germany, Vytas and his family had to go their own separate ways for a while. In order to stay out of the German army, Vytas acquired a job working on a farm where Allied bombers very often flew over but fortunately never strafed him.
    Eventually Vytas was able to attend Hanover Veterinarian School in Hanover, Germany. While attending the veterinary school, Vytas worked on a trolley making very little money. Vytas was often starving and would periodically faint from malnutrition. After receiving schooling at Hanover, Vytas was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. Since he was already approved for immigration in Germany, he did not have to go to New York and was able to go to Pennsylvania. After immigrating in 1951, he attended the University of Pennsylvania but lost two years of school due to his inability to speak any English.
    After an intense amount of schooling and enduring incredible hardships, Vytas became a veterinarian in Morris, Minnesota. While doing tuberculosis testing in cattle, Vytas went to a café. At that café he met a young, beautiful waitress named Adeline. Adeline Rastas is my grandmother but she prefers to be called by her middle name, Jane.
    Vytas Rastas was an extraordinary courageous man who truly defied every opposing force he faced and fought tooth and nail to find success in the United States of America. Sadly, Vytas passed away in 1991 from congestive heart failure. I was born a year later.
    His perseverance, bravery and courage to survive in such a difficult time are prodigious. I am proud to be related to such a courageous individual and only wish I could have met him in person. I know he is watching over me from above and I can only hope that he is as proud of me as I am of him and what he endured to come to America and make a life for himself and his family.
    Add your Story Add your Story