As with other years, I’m doing a commemorative post for June 14, 1941. This is the day when tens of thousands of Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians were deported from their homelands by the Soviets to the far reaches of Siberia. Men, women, children, the elderly, the rich, the poor… people of all walks of life.
This year’s selection of readings is from Dear God, I Wanted to Live by Ruta Upīte, a young girl sometimes called “Latvia’s Anne Frank”. She was deported on June 14, 1941, at the age of fourteen, along with her younger sisters Dzidra and Maija, mother and grandmother. She kept a diary chronicling this time. Her mother and grandmother died, but she and her sisters returned to Latvia in 1946, only to be deported again, this time with their father, a few years later. They were able to return home to Latvia in 1956, though Ruta died not long afterwards of tuberculosis, which she had contracted in Siberia.
They drove us to the freight station at Torņakalns, but we were not let on the trains, which were already packed with people. Then we were taken to the junction Šķirotava and told to get out of the truck. A long train with barred windows stood there waiting for passengers. People from many trucks were herded into cattlecars. We were placed in the middle of the echelon and found ourselves in a car with some acquaintances. The box car was furnished with bunk beds, two at each end. There were more than thirty of us…. Shortly after midnight on June 15 we left Riga, heading for an unknown destination, and an unknown future. The night was dark and full of terror. The rain kept falling, the windows howled, the thunder roared and lightning slashed across the sky with bolts of fire. Moans and sobs were audible in the dark.
Such grief and sorrow! It seemed as though tonight the whole Latvian land were trembling with pain and tears. None of us could sleep an instant on this fearful, stormy night. As we took leave from our homeland, its name, Latvia, was a whisper on our lips. This dark night of dread can never be forgotten.
Starvation and death in Siberia…
Hunger had come to Bilin. Who could survive on the meager portions of food? Those who had saved a few garments of better quality, set out on Sundays for the nearest village to trade them for edibles. The hungriest would rummage through the villagers’ garbage, hoping to find potato peels to cook and eat.
Several women became ill with dropsy, swelled up little by little and died. There were five such deaths within a week. The swelling was caused by lack of nourishment, and by freezing. It started in the legs so that walking became difficult, then spread through the whole body. Soon the face puffed up beyond recognition. Dropsy also affected the brain, and speech became incoherent. The skin turned yellow and waxen like that of corpses. Most deaths at Bilin were caused by dropsy.
Starting with December, there was not a week without another life lost. We got up in the morning wondering who would be the next to go.
In the first days of December, I received a message from some Latvian friends in Kolpashev that my mother, ill with dropsy, had passed away on October 17, 1943.
So many lives ended, so many more destroyed, such pain and suffering. Perhaps the most painful part is that so few people outside of the Baltic countries and their diasporas know about these events. So I ask all of you who are reading this, be you of Baltic origins or not: Tell someone else. Share the stories of those lost. Talk about it, blog it, Tweet it, however you wish to pass on this piece of history. Make sure that the world does not forget about the events of June 14, 1941.