Dear reader. A lot has been written about the crimes of Natzies. Germany has apologing for those crimes. Much less has been written about crimes of communists. Moscow has not even acquired this all. Even more - some Russian historicians have said, that this all was for the good of deportated people.
I am still thinking of them who were taken away
Till heaven raises their distress.
* * *
In the previous chapter the husband of one of my relatives described the survival of his in-laws during and after the war. This chapter tells about another trip. A trip of innocent people to another direction. One may call them luckier, because they did not have to obtain their own transport, they were taken to the railway station and put on the train. Not one of them missed it. No one had to worry about their point of destination. In a word: everything seemed to be all right. But was it?
In addition to executions and conviction to labor camps, the Communist regime established in Estonia after the Soviets invaded the country in 1940 organized mass deportations with the aim of isolating the better part of the Estonian society by whole families. Of all the deportations the people have the worst memories of those of 1941 and 1949. In the first major deportation on 14 June 1941 more than 10,000 people, of those nearly 80 percent women, children and the elderly, were taken away from their homes under the threat of arms and without any court order, loaded into railway wagons normally used to carry cattle and transported to outlying parts of Russia, mainly the Kirov and Novosibirsk Regions. Many of the deportees died en route or during the first year of banishment. In the second major deportation on 25 March 1949 more than 20,000 people were taken from Estonia to Siberia in the same manner, mainly farmers who were better off or had spoken out against the Soviets. Some of the deported remained buried away from home, while others were permitted to return to Estonia after 1956, but often not to their former homes. This souvenir sheet was issued to commemorate victims of the Stalininist genocide of the Estonians.
This story began in June 1941. I was in our office at the stocking factory where I was working as a book-keeper. I had just had my lunch when someone called me and told that I had to go to the manager`s office. I did that. There were two unknown men sitting at the table skimming through some papers. When I went in one of those men stood up and went to the door so that he was standing between me and the door. Another man looking at me asked my name, my date of birth, address and my husband`s name. I answered, though all this seemed a bit strange to me. They could get those dates from the employment office any time. The man sitting at the table wrote something in his notebook and then standing up announced to me in very official tone, that I was under arrest and would be deported with my husband. I was speechless. This time we had not heard much about deportation yet and I never believed that this could touch me or my family.
Our manager had not said a word during this episode. Now he came to me, shook my hand and said in a low voice:"I hope you will be well, whatever happens." I saw tears in his eyes. We had known each other for 15 years. (He shared my destiny about a month later). Then I was told to take my things and not to say a word to anyone. They allowed me to go to the toilet but I had to leave the door half open. I dressed and took my handbag after they had opened this. We went out from the factory to a waiting car. I was taken home first to take my things. They allowed me one hour for packing.
My mother was home alone. When she saw me coming in with two armed men (they did not even try to hide their guns), she burst into tears. She did not understand what had happened or what I had done to be arrested, though we had heard about deporting people to Siberia. She was so weak that she could not even help me pack. I tried to take some warm clothes with me and my sewing box. There was not much food at home but I was not allowed to go to buy any. I asked mother to tell my husband what had happened. The last thing I saw was my mother crying broken hearted and calling my name. This was the last time I saw her. I never saw my father again, either.
I was taken to a big house and one of the men pushed me through a door into a long corridor. This was full of women. Someone were with their children, young and older. One woman was carrying her 5 months old baby in her arms another child about 4 years old was standing pressed himself against his mother`s feet. In the corner of the corridor there was a soldier standing, his rifle with a bayonet on it was in his hand. There were some older boys too in that room. I sat on my suitcases. We were ordered not to speak to each other. Now and then the door was opened and some women were taken in. There was another door and through this names were shouted. Those who went through that door did not return. After an hour it was my time to go in.
This was a small room with a table, some shelves full with papers and an armchair at the table where a man dressed in uniform was sitting. There was no more chairs in that room. I was ordered to stay at the table and to answer the questions. my name, my date of birth, my address and again my husband`s name. I tried to ask the reason, why I am here, but the officer barked, that only he had the right to ask questions. He spoke Estonian with a Russian accent. After he had finished asking he declared to me that I would be deported "to the farther district of the Soviet Union for indefinite time" as a wife of a public enemy, because my husband owned three small workshops with 5 - 6 men in each of them. I tried to argue, but the officer yelled at me again. After that I was taken to another, bigger room, where at least 50 women, children and young boys were standing and sitting. There were no men in that room. Most of children were crying and so were their mothers. Two soldiers were sitting with their arms. They were all Russian soldiers who did not speak Estonian.
We spent hours in that room. There were a lot of people inside it and it was warm and very stuffy. About 5 - 6 hours later were were given a piece of bread and what you might call tea without sugar. I was not hungry but I forced myself to eat for I knew how little food I had with me. We were allowed to go to the toilet but the door must be opened soldiers watching us. It was about 11 o`clock the next day when we were put onto trucks and taken to the railway station. The area was surrounded by soldiers and barking dogs. A lot of cattle cars were standing a bit farther from the station and we were put into them. We all had become dejected and moved like machines. Suddenly I heard someone calling me by name. This was my neighbor who had heard from my mother about my destiny. She spoke freely Russian and asked that the officer who leaded the convoy allow her to give me a parcel. At last the officer agreed and she gave me a rucksack with food and the most important, big warm felt boots. It must be said, that this footwear saved my life.
The beginning of our trip
There were almost 50 women and boys in our car. It was completely empty, only some bundles of straw were in the one corner and a bucket which had to serve us as a toilet. We sat on the straw and tried to make ourselves as comfortable as we could. Almost no one had slept the night before so we were very tired. The doors of the car were half opened and we saw new trucks with people coming and coming. At last after 3 - 4 hours we got some water and bread, the doors were closed and the train began to move. There were no windows in the cars, but we still could see Tallinn being left behind through the cracks in the walls. People were still. Everyone thinking his or her own thoughts. Only one thing was sure, we would never see our home again. Those women with children were most worried. How to get food for them, how to keep them warm in Russian frost? It was June, and warm outside. There were not windows to open and it became too hot inside the car sometimes. We stopped some times and new cars was connected to our train. Sometimes we were allowed to bring water and empty our "toilets". I tried to count, how many cars were there. I could count more than 40, all full with woman, except the four first cars where there were only men. I was not sure but it seemed to me that I saw my husband among the other men. I might be wrong. One thing I knew for sure was that he had been deported also as a "public enemy".
Then we left the last railway station in Estonia and arrived in Russia. Most of us were crying. Since we had been in our motherland we had got some strength, but now we were strangers in the hostile country. We were fed with bread and water. For dinner we got a dishful of some kind of soup made of fish and potatoes. Fish was usually unrefined with heads and tails and potatoes were often with peel. Those who had their own food ate this, but I tried to eat everything I was given. My neighbor (God bless her) had brought me some canned food, dried bread, onions and sausages. And soap. There was even a small pocket knife which helped me a lot.
The train continued moving to East. Day by day. Stopping in railway stations. Strange places, strange nature, strange people standing and watching us. No on was allowed to come nearer, because the train was full of enemies which meant fascists to Russians. Hot and stuffy though there were a lot of splits in the walls of the car. A 3 month old baby died in her mothers arms. The mother was unable to do anything. She sat and held the small body who`s pain had ended on her arms. The guards took the baby away the next morning. The mother was still sitting with empty eyes, she noticed nothing. She gave no attention even to her 4 years old son who was trying to wake her from her stupor. There was an older woman, Magda, in our car who took care of the boy. Only the next week the mother began to move again. (She died in the same year when we were in the Kirov district)
We, who survived have to thank Magda, who tried to keep up our spirits, telling stories and making people clean themselves and our car. She confirmed us, that everyone of us is able to live anywhere if we only have the strength to meet our future and not to look at the past. She was about 50, but her spirit seemed to be younger, than most of ours. And she was right. Those, who could not understand the situation and continually thought only about their previous life, did not survive.
Two of us in our car died a bit later. They were an 80 years old woman and a young boy who became sick. There was no doctor in the train. We could not bury them ourselves. The guards took them and I never knew if they were buried or just left somewhere on the railway bed. Rest in peace, dear innocent victims!
No one was sure how many days we had traveled and where we were exactly. At last, after two weeks of traveling we were taken off the train. It was a quite empty place, only an old wooden railway station with some small tumbledown buildings around it. Farther there were some houses, all unpainted. I did not have time to look around, because we were ordered to take our suitcases and walk about 200 meters, where some men were already waiting for us.
The next what happened reminded me a slave market, though I had never seen one. Those men waiting were the chairmen of the local collective farms, who were looking for new workforce. We were just standing and those men walked and looked at us. I was almost waiting, for one of them to open my mouth and look at my teeth, like buying a horse. It took some time, because none of them wanted to take older women or women with small babies. I was thinking about my poor Russian and I complained about this to a younger woman, standing next to me. She smiled and suggested to say that we are relatives, because she could speak Russian almost fluently and so she could help me, too. I was glad for the first time of the last month. Even the surroundings did not look so dispiriting any more. And when at last a cripple man came to us asking what we can do we told him, that we were born in the countryside and could do any work. This was not a complete lie, because I had been living in my aunt`s farm for two years and really could do some country works, for example milk the cows. The man did not seem frightening, either. Without saying a word he went forward. We first thought, that he did not believe us, but returning with some women and older boys with him he told us to follow him. The slaves had got their master.
The lame man ordered us to gather around his big sledge which was pulled by a tractor. Baggage was allowed on the sledge, but not people except the three babies and a woman who had to take care of them. And we began to move. The chairman with two solders were sitting on the sledge.
We could not walk fast. It had been raining for some days and the road with no pavement was very muddy. The tractor was faster and it often had to wait for us. Our new owner did not criticize us. He already knew well what it means to walk in the mud. But solders abused and hurried us all the time. So, supporting and helping each other we could move on this bottomless road. We did not see anybody coming towards us or passing us. After an hour we passed a small, strange-looking village, where people were standing and looking at us with horror. Dogs were barking and children were hiding behind their mother`s back. There were no middle aged or younger men. Only some age-worn man was standing at his gate and making cross on his chest when we passed them. They saw foreigners for the first time in their life.
At last we got to a big building which seemed to be a warehouse, but had a smaller room in the other side of it. There was a stove and we were allowed to lit a fire and dry our footwear and ourselves. We got some water, but not food, though we had been walking almost three hours.
We stayed there till the next morning. Then we began to move again. We were hungry but no one gave us any food. It was a bit easier to walk, because the road had become dry during the night and we could move faster. After three hours we stopped in a small village again. We, or at least some of us had reached our point of destination.
This village was not the point of destination to all of us. There were many small villages like the one we were standing and waiting in. They all belonged to one collective farm. The chairman had to place all his new slaves. Some of us stayed there, most people had to continue to the next village, including me and my new friend. This was not far - only about 5 km. It was a bit bigger, but looked like the first one. One-story houses built of logs. All unpainted, gray, with dilapidated roofs. Some of them a bit newer and higher. Fences made of rarefied stakes. No trees or bushes around the houses. No flowers anywhere. There was only one street or road in the village. Houses stood on the both sides of the road. The forest on one side was thick. The river on the right with high banks. Later I discovered, that all Russian villages were situated near the river. There were no wells in those villages. All water inhabitants had to bring from the river, no matter what the quality it was. No one bothered to boil it before using. In Winter when it was very cold, they had to hack holes in the ice and keep them open. Often the ice was quite thick - about 40 cm. This was what our new living place looked like. In the end of the village there was a bigger building. This had been the church. Part of us were placed there and ordered to stay there until the commandant comes to see us.
A Russian village (Oil painting)
The Kirov District
"The Kirov district is one of the largest in the Nechernozyemnaya zone of Russia, the district is situated in the north-east of the European part of Russia. The district is a part of the Privolzhky federal okrug, neighbors with 9 regions of Russia. The district area is 120.8 thousand km2.
The Kirov district is in the East of the East-European Height. In the district center there are the Vyatka ridges, in the north-east there is the Verkhnekamskaya height, in the districts North there are the Northern ridges. Along the Vyatka river there are the Verkhnevyatskaya and Chepetskaya lowlands. There are some manifestations of the karst topography - caves, sluggies, lakes. There are deposits of iron ores, slate coal, phosphorite, etc. The climate is moderately continental, the winter is long and cold, the summer is short but rather warm. The mean temperature of January is from minus 14°С to minus 16°C, of July – plus 17°С - plus 19°С. Annual precipitations are around 500 mm.
The district`s rivers belong to the basins of the Volga and the Severnaya Dvina rivers. The district`s principle river is the river of Vyatka. The length of the navigable waterways along the river of Vyatka and its tributaries exceeds 2000 kilometers.
The Kirov district is situated in the taiga zone. 53 % of the taiga area are covered with woods rich in flora and fauna. The woods are mostly of coniferous species, as well as mixed woods (spruce, birch, pine)."
This description is taken from the official site of the Kirov district. Passionless numbers, geographical review, nothing personal. For us this place was the most awful place, where we had to spend the next 15 years of our life.
We were placed in what had previously been a church. As a rule there were no churches, even historical ones in use in Russia at that time. All buildings were used as warehouses, clubs or schools. In our case as a prison. A prison? No, I was not right. We were not prisoners, though we had been arrested first, kept behind locked doors and at last transported under guard far from our homes. In the new place we must get used to calling home, doors were not locked, we were free to walk everywhere. But we had no passports, we had to stay in given area, which was quite large, but still surrounded by an invisible barbed wire. If this is not a prison, then what is it?
The commandant himself arrived the next day riding horseback. He was an older man, a lieutenant we were told, because none of us knew Russian ranks yet. We had to stay in line when he spoke. He used a lot of swear words and his story in short, was that we, the deported were all enemies and he was to teach us how to live and work, if we only could stay alive. It was obvious, that he enjoyed his power and order, his right to decide who would live or die. After some useless actions he demanded that we take our baggage and follow him. We were placed in the village houses.
My friend, Epp and I got shelter in a small house where only the old hostess lived alone. Outside the house looked like it is going to break down any minute. But inside it was quite clean. Most of inhabitants of this village and in the area were Old Believers, who usually keep their houses as clean as it is possible in this circumstances. There were only two rooms in the house. The first one was the kitchen. The very first thing I saw was a very big stove in it. This was called Russian stove. This is the most extraordinary thing in the kitchen of a Russian villages, especially in Siberia. It is made of clay and it usually takes up about 1/3 of the whole kitchen. It is used to cook and to heat the room. Since clay preserves heat well the kitchen is warm during the cold night. People use to sleep on it. The second room was a living room with a metallic bed and a lot of pillows on it. Later I understood, that pillows are very important dowry and often men boasted, how many pillows his wife had. There was no stove but a whitewashed range instead. I never saw it used for cooking.
Two different Russian stoves. People sleep on the lower part of the stove
The hostess was an old widow, who had two sons. Both of them were soldiers. After the war was over I saw one of them. Another son died in Germany. The first thing I understood was that she was afraid us. She was more frightened, than we were, though she tried to hide this. My friend calmed her down, but I am sure, she did not sleep the first few nights we were in her house. Later, when I heard what the local authorities had told them about us I wasn't surprised by her first reaction.
Like almost all inhabitants of the villages she was very poor. I never saw her wearing any dress other than the first one I saw her in. It was patched hundreds of times and it was difficult to understand what its original material was, but it was clean. Every Friday she cleaned her household and washed floors, for her religion ordered this done. She was the most kind-hearted and unambitious woman I have ever seen. When we had won her confidence she told us with her quiet voice about her life, which had been very hard. Listening to this story I was almost ashamed, because I had had a very happy childhood and youth.
It was warm and we decided to sleep on the floor under the table. Our hostess gave us a mat and two pillows. I had taken a blanket with me when I left home.The hostess gave Epp a quite old, used woolen covering. We ate our bread we had got in the morning. Our hostess, Leena, made us some tea of raspberry. And then we laid down to have our first sleep in our new home.
I could not go to sleep for a long time. I was thinking about my future. Shall I stay here till the end of my life? What kind of work is waiting tomorrow? Can I do this? How are my mother and father? Where is my husband? Questions, questions, questions, but no answers. At last I fell asleep.
We woke up early. The chairman knocked on the door ordering us to work. We were divided into two groups. The first group had to go to the meadow, the another that Epp and I were in had to go to the cowsheds. We were hungry but there was no time to complain. In a hurry we ate some bread and a very small piece of ham from my tin and then we went. Sheds were about 2 km from the village. If the houses were in bad condition they were palaces to compare to the sheds. There were no doors which could be closed, roofs were full of holes, and the smell.. ! I had seen and taken care of cows before, but this was awful. These animals reminded me more of goats, than cows. Small, scraggy and dirty. Later I saw that no one ever cleaned them. Only udders were swept with a rag, which I would not use even to clean my boots. And as they looked like goats, they gave milk also like goats. I knew that my aunt`s best cow gave milk about 6000 liters in a year. Those pained creatures gave not more, than 1000 liters in a year.
First thing we had to do was clean the floor. No one had done this for at least a month. We were given spades and a wheelbarrow and we tried to get rid of dung on the floor. The first though was why they don`t use this as fertilizer. Every farmer in Estonia would be lucky if he had got this quantity of dung. Later I was told, that the soil in this area is so fertile, that even a small amount of dung would burn everything. What a difference between this place and Estonia where farmers have to gather their harvest among the stones! Here we could not find even the smallest stone anywhere.
The work was hard. We were not used to physical labor, at least most of us. The wheelbarrow was very heavy and after a couple of hours we were all very tired. For lunch we got some soup of fish and a piece of wet bread. This food was completely tasteless, but we were very hungry and could have eaten much more. After lunch we had to go on working. I did not know how I could stay on my feet, but at last this day ended. We hobbled to our village and lay down. I was sure, that I would not be able to work the next day. Aunt Leena, as we began to call her, made us some tea again and gave us small pieces of bread. We had no strength to wash ourselves. This night we slept like the dead.
The next morning was awful. My hands and back were full of pain, so were my legs. Somehow I got up and ate a little. Epp felt as bad as I did. There was not more than a small piece of bread and our hostess had made a soup of potatoes with no meat. We both ate a small piece of ham again. And then we had to go no matter how bad we felt and didn't want to.
I don`t know where we got the strength to stand but we did. After working some days we discovered their secret of work. Russians never did more than what was urgent. Maybe this was some kind of self-preservation or laziness, I don`t know. But this is the reason there was nothing around their houses that had any decorative meaning. If it could not be eaten, it was useless. As soon as we became wiser we began to work as they did. And no one blamed us for this was normal.
We got 300 gr flour made of peas and 300 gr wet bread for a day. If someone could work, she got nothing. We milk cows but we were not allowed to drink it. We picked nettles and orach to add to our soup. Sometimes we happened to get some very small and half rotten potatoes. This was our menu. Food we took with us from Estonia had ended long time ago. We were always hungry. Not the kind of hunger most of us feel when dinner is late or you go without food for a day or two. The hunger I am talking about is gnawing, incessant, pathological. It was the result of being underfed to the point of starvation for years. Some of us died. Two older women and a younger boy were taken to the hospital. There was only a medical assistant in the hospital. No doctors - they all were taken to the front. And there was no medicine, either. Not for nothing Russian women in our village made the cross sign, when our people were taken there. They already knew, that those people would not return. And they were right. The cemetery, where Estonians were buried, grew again. Our people could not be buried in the public graveyard, because they were not Old Believers. Though any kind of religion was forbidden the habitants still went on following their rules.
The commandant visited us every week. Not to listen to our complaining. No! He had already made it clear that we could not complain even in the worst situations. According to his words we were brought there for dying and the quicker we did this the better it was. We had to sign the paper where we accepted that we had no human rights any more. At last he announced, that we must all visit the commandant`s office each week and register ourselves. To do this we had to walk 8 km every weekend to the center of the district. And back of course. Only young children could stay home. (From April of 1942 up to March of 1943 one had to register 3 times per month). What could we do? Nothing else than keep our mouth shut and obey. We had no rights, as we were told .
No rights? This is not quite correct. We had one right. The right to work for 12 hours or more a day without holidays. When Winter arrived and in this area winters usually arrived quite early, we were sent to the forest to work in the woods. There are always a lot of snow in winter. We had no warm enough clothes and most of us did not have suitable footwear, either. How thankful I was to my neighbor, who had brought me warm felt boots, when I was taken away from home. I put on all my warm clothes, but it never seemed to be enough. We were allowed to light fires and warm ourselves a little. The food they brought us was cold in most cases. We tried to heat this on the fire. And so women, who never had held a saw in their hands were sent to do the hardest work. But we managed! With a stiff upper lip we tried to get our work done. Not all of us were able to do such exhausting work. New graves were added to our graveyard.
I am not going to bother you with all of our suffering. It`s enough to say that all those days were alike. This horror lasted till the end of the war in 1945. Only after that could we send our first letters to Estonia. We were not allowed to tell anything about our condition and all letters went through the hands of the censor. We just tried to encourage our relatives in the homeland. They could send us parcels. The life became a bit easier. My mother sent me barley, macaronis and clothes. She also sent me some money. But there were women, who`s whole family was deported. They could not get help from anywhere. In many cases their friends in Estonia were afraid to keep in contact with them, to avoid deportation, too. This fear was not unsound. The next deportation began in 1949 and a lot of them who escaped the first time, were arrested and deported now.
A bigger village in Kirov District
We had became more familiar with inhabitants of the village. They did not believe any more, that we were enemies or fascists. We had told them about our life in Estonia and though they could not believe all they hear, they took us as normal, unhappy people. I have to confess, that a Russian, when he or she had become a friend of someone, he/she is a real friend, who tries to help you. They taught us to work, to prepare local food etc. We in turn tried to teach them to take better care of the cows, to clean them and told about life in other countries. Those women were almost all uneducated. They had studied some of them for three, and some for four years. But their inner education which is impossible to study at school was high. And this was not their fault, they happened to live in the country, the government had chosen the destruction of some populations.
My mother had not heard anything about my husband. The only thing I had been told was, that all the men were sent to forced labor camps to the North. No one had returned from these meat grinders yet. But mother sent me a very sad letter where she told about the death of my father due to a heart attack. I cried like a child, because I had always loved my father very much. And now he had gone forever. All women, Estonians and Russians were very pitiful and tried to cheer up me. Mother had sent me a photo of my father. I put it on my chair and it was the dearest relic to me.
At last came the day, when our worst butcher died in March 1953. I was in the shed, when our old chairman came to tell this. Russians were in distress. To them Stalin was like the everlasting god, who could not die. I showed my respect to Russians though my heart was overflowing with joy like all Estonians. We were not sure about our future, but something inside us told us that our situation must change. We did not know, that we had to spend three more years in the Kirov district.
In the end of 1955 we were told that soon we could leave to Estonia. The chairman of the collective farm asked us to stay there, because we had really done something good. Since our women worked in cowsheds, the cows were clean and sheds were more or less in order. We had taught Russians to plant potatoes in furrows. Till that time they used to make a hole with a crowbar, put a potato in and let them grow themselves. I remember when they first saw our method. They laughed, but we got four times bigger harvest of potatoes, than they ever had gotten.
Mother had sent me flower seeds and aunt Leena`s small garden was the first in the village where grew flowers. These were the simplest ones - marigolds, cresses and phlox. But these were flowers from my homeland. Soon after that I got the second news of death. My mother! The last close human I had! Now I was an orphan. No one was waiting for me any more. I had some relatives in Estonia, but even the closest relative could not take of place my parents. My neighbor who sent me this letter din`t know anything about my husband`s destiny.Sometimes after that I even thought that maybe it will be better to stay where I was. I already spoke Russian fluently and I had some friends among the Russian women. We were offered a small empty house to live in. But those thoughts lasted only for a short time. No! This place was not my motherland. I must go home no matter what was waiting for me. At last we got our passports. The new chairman of the collective farm tried for the last time to talk us into staying, but we refused. Politely but strongly. Some Russian women were sad. Our kind and helpful aunt Leena was crying. She had treated us like her own daughters. We were sad, too but our homesickness was stronger. We had to leave for home!
In June 1956 we said good-bye to our friends and our trip began again. This time in the opposite direction. Now we sat in a compartment of the passenger train, with tickets we had bought ourselves. With no guards!
In Moscow we had to change trains. It was very strange to see well dressed people walking, chatting and laughing everywhere. We had seen only people distressed with hard work, who`s only joy was sitting at their gate and chatting with their neighbors. And this all was a little more than 1500 km from here. How different the world can be!
At last we were sitting on the train taking us to Estonia. When we arrived at the station in Narva, the first Estonian station most of us cried. We had spent 15 years far from home. What is waiting for us next? What surprises life can offer?
After three hours the towers of Tallinn were visible. An aching prick went through my heart. No one was waiting for me. Only two graves in the graveyard. I was alone in the whole world. Where to go first? Do I have any friends anymore? We must go to the militia office first to register ourselves. Since I was not in a hurry I decided to do this. Along with some other women we went there. They let us wait for about an hour. Then a self-confident officer called us one by one to his room. Until now we thought that we were free citizens after all our suffering. Wrong! We were not. We were told, that only for mercy we were set free and that we actually still belonged to the lower class. He told us, that we had no right to live in the capital of Estonia, we had no right to require our belongings. The only difference between interrogation in 1941 and now was, that there was no soldier standing at the door with his gun. We had to sign the document where we renounced all of our property. In this moment I remembered the Kirov district where we were offered some property if we only agreed to stay there. What an irony of destiny!
A person released from special settlement had to sign for the following information: release is not accompanied by return of the property confiscated during deportation and it does not give the right to return to live in the original location of residence without the permission from that Soviet Republic’s Council of Ministers, from the territory of which that person had been deported.
According to this document I had signed I had no right to live closer to Tallinn than 30 km. Where could I find the lodging there? There were some small settlements around Tallinn which met this requirement. Which of them? At last I discovered a place named Keila. It was a bit closer, but I was allowed to live there. I knew that one of my schoolmate was living in her own house with her mother. Let`s go there! But first I let my baggage in the station and took the train to my home.
Our small house was empty and the door was locked. I searced the key in its usual place, but did not find. Then I decided to go to our neighbor. She was home and seeing me she burst into tears. I heard of the experiences of my father and mother. She had been with my mother when she died. Mother`s last words were: "If only Linda (me) could come home before I die." Her wish did not come true. After sitting and eating a little we went to the graveyard, which was not far from our home. Two graves where my dearest people were resting. How I`d like to see them even for an instant to tell them, that I am back and how I missed them during my years of misery. But graves did not open and no miracles did not happen. Quietly we walked back to the neighbors house. She gave me the key and I opened the door of my home first time after 15 years! Nothing had changed. I laid down on my mother`s bed and cried bitterly.
Now what to do next? Should I go to the home of my schoolmate in Keila without knowing if she is still living there or if she would be willing to take me in? Or should I stay here at least for one night? I looked at the photo on the commode. There was the picture of me with my dear parents. I decided to stay for night. I took my baggage from the railway station and laid down. First time after 15 years I slept in my own bed under the roof of my home. What a feeling!
Next morning my neighbor awoke me quite early. She had made the decision to go to the State Department with me. I did not agree but she demanded for me to go. There she found an officer who agreed to meet with us. My neighbor told him, that my home belonged to my mother and had never taken away from her, so I had the right to live there. The only problem was the prohibition which disallowed me to live in Tallinn. I had signed that document myself. But this was my lucky day. I was allowed to stay in Tallinn and to live in my home! What else could I want? At last I saw the sun shining behind the clouds. I was free, I was home!
* * *
This was the story of my mother`s cousin, Linda, for short. There were many more things that happened to her, but I chose only the most important of them. Linda`s destiny was much better, than the destiny of most deported people. She could stay in her house, her husband returned from Siberia in 1958, they had a child and two granddaughters. Linda died in 2007 in Tallinn. A lot of victims of communism were buried somewhere in Russia. Their graves have been lost forever. Those, who returned, were not allow to live in Tallinn or in the biggest towns for years. They could not go to any of the universities to study. Those, who went to study were removed from the list of universities during the first year. The most ironical is, that some of them could go on with their studies in Moscow.
Those who sent people to die were not merciful to anyone. The youngest deported was 3 days and the oldest 95 years old. In all far more than 50% of deported Estonians died in Russia. The United Nation declared the Nazism to be felonious, but the same organization did not say anything about communism. The president of West-Germany Willy Brantd visiting the previous ghetto laid down on his knees and asked for forgiveness of crimes done by Nazis. The government of the Soviet Union never confessed, that communists did anything criminal.
Most people know the name of a young Jewish girl Anne Frank, who`s diary is one of the world`s most widely read books. But no one has read descriptions of communist camps and prisons during and after the WW II and no one has never condemned the crimes of the USSR. * * *
Stories of eyewitnesses with photos: page 1, page 2
Immediately upon their release from forced settlement the deportees of June’41 met with new problems. The most essential one was to get the permission to go back to Estonia and settle where one had lived before, i.e. to receive the new residence permit stamp in the passport. Release without it for some people lasted even up to 1989. In addition to this, former deportees and released political prisoners, in accordance with official regulations of both central and local authorities, encountered special treatment at places of work and in educational establishments. One had to fill large questionnaires on repeated occasions, procure personal characteristics, and write autobiographies. There were enforced bans concerning places of residence and work, fields of education, border zones and large cities, foreign trips, etc. Special approach was implemented when one was in queue to receive a flat, purchase a car or get a voucher for a rest-home, while serving in the army, etc. For us, this was perceived as repressions of the second degree. Albeit we were at home again, but mostly we had no safe home. At our home farms, houses, former flats now as a rule lived influential strangers.
Repressions of the third degree, which started later but for many are present even now, are obstacles (all too often even taunting) in connection with getting back our confiscated property.
Younger people belatedly resumed their education and created families in very hard conditions. In most cases one had to start from the beginning, purchasing first chairs or a couch for one’s small rented room, procuring a blanket and a pillow, etc. At the same time we observed with sadness as our former homes were defiled and destroyed. Older people often established their new homes at a new location because they were not given permissions to reside where they had used to live.
Organised meetings began as shy celebrations of “birthdays” in obscure places and gradually these meetings became larger and more regular. In forest farms on such occasions the blue-black-white Estonian national flag was flown, earlier than many others dared to do that. We exchanged addresses and with lists of Russian Regions and villages began to arrange our memories. Sometimes the reason for a meeting was the funeral of one of our older companions in fate.
With the establishment of Estonian Association of Illegally Repressed Persons “Memento” in Tallinn’s City Hall 25.03.1989, the 40th anniversary of March’49 deportations, Memento branches began to be established in all rural districts. In larger cities next to the Memento associations emerged also other organisations of repressed persons (Former Political Prisoners, Freedom Fighters, Finnish Boys, etc.) as it was necessary due to the large numbers of members. They began publicly defending the interests of former repressed persons and supporting the independence movement. Demands were voiced for return of confiscated property, financial support and compensation for years of illegally imposed forced labour, etc. Now, 10 years later, Estonian Republic is acknowledged by Europe, and yet our demands have changed very little. Despite difficulties, organisation of former repressed persons became a massive and determined force that helped shape Estonian Republic that is independent from Russia.
Restoration of monuments destroyed by communists and erection of new ones all over Estonia – reminding people about mass deportations and political terror – is still taking place today. We participate in politics through Estonian Democratic Cooperation Chamber of National Movements that unites the leadership of Memento Association and other organisations of repressed persons, and also through political parties. The still unsolved problems of former repressed persons and many other Estonians concerning evaluation of communist crimes we endeavour to tackle through international conferences and congresses.
In addition to the centrepiece memorial at Pilistvere, monuments are erected everywhere in Estonia.
The monument erected in 1999 in Läänemaa, at the Risti railway station. Constructed from rails, it commemorates the people, who on this station were loaded into cattle cars of deportation trains destined for Russia, both in 1941 and in 1949.