My apologies – this post should have been up yesterday, but my Internet provider had an outage, so thus this post comes to you today.
June 14, 1941 is a day that remains emblazoned on the Latvian psyche – this is the day when thousands of our countrymen and women were deported to Siberia, along with thousands of others from the other Baltic countries of Estonia and Lithuania, as well as thousands also from Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova.
The train voyages to Siberia were long, and some died enroute. Many of those deported died in exile and were never able to return to their homelands. Most of those that did return suffered from numerous health ailments that were acquired as a result of the time spent in harsh conditions.
These stories need to be told. If you, reading this, experienced or witnessed these deportations, or other aspects of the war, do not let your stories pass out of memory. Write them down or otherwise record them, share them with your children and grandchildren. You can also share your stories with me and I will publish them here. If your parents or grandparents told you the stories of these times, record and share them as well.
I have a number of books that have been written thus far, that provide stories and experiences of the deporations, so I will provide some excerpts here. These stories serve as a witness to a historical event that too many have forgotten. Let us never forget.
“At 3.20am on June 14, 1941, m parents and I were arrested without a court order or the public prosecutor’s authorisation. We were taken out on the street, loaded into a truck, driven to the Torņakalns station in Rīga and put on a long train of cattle wagons, one of many. At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the doors of the wagon opened and my father was called away. He said goodbye to us quickly and pressed into my mother’s hand his gold pocket watch and silver cigarette case, on which, in gold letters, his friends had written their initials and the words ‘For you, it may come in handy!’ In the winter of 1943, this proved to be true. 14 June 1941 was the last time I saw Father as he got off the cattle wagon.”
-from “I Was Twenty-One” by Aleksandrs Birznieks, in We Sang Through Tears (NB: A memorial stone now stands at Torņakalns train station in Rīga to commemorate all of those who were deported)
“I remember one day, on my way back from pulling logs, I tripped and fell. As I struggled to get up, I saw that I had tripped over a foot, the owner of which was lying there, covered in snow. The famine was appalling. I was still able to divide my little bit of bread into three portions and eat three times, but some people would eat it in one go. Occasionally some tiny fish were issued. In the -40°C to -50°C Arctic cold, we could only drag out one or two logs a day, later on we couldn’t even manage that, but then we didn’t get any bread, either. Day and night, we were continually tormented by the thought of food.”
-from “The Dark Pages of My Life” by Lidija Vilnis, in We Sang Through Tears
“My mother had hidden our gold items in cloth bundles, and her most expensive one was a bracelet with gems, but she didn’t know which bundle contained it. That she brought back, even though at times it was difficult to find food. Without a doubt, someone would have taken it in exchange for half a bucket of potatoes, but that would be the maximum. Gold does not always have the worth that we think it does.”
-Zigurds Bētiņš, in Sibīrijas Bērni (translated by me)
“My father ended up in the Vjatlag camp in Kirov oblast, and already in the first year working in the forest, he was not in good health… as much as we can understand from books, the camp had hard work, hard conditions, without groceries. He died there on December 3, 1941. We waited for a long time after the war, always hoping, that no matter how he was – old, stiff, crippled, just that he would be, that he and our mother would be home! That our mother had died, we knew… but our father we waited for long and hard. Officially we heard about his death during the Atmodas period. Before that, there had already been all sorts of news, that he had died. This we learned from those that had returned.”
-Harijs Ešenvalds, in Sibīrijas Bērni (translated by me)