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"The Children of Siberia", 2nd VolumeDzintra Geka
The deportations of June 14, 1941, involved 15,425 residents of
Latvia – Latvians, Jews, Russians and Poles, including more than
3,750 children aged 16 or less. During the process, men were split
off from their families and sent to camps in the Gulag, where fathers
and brothers died of starvation and disease.
Women and children were sent to special settlements, mostly in
villages in the Krasnoyarsk and Tomsk districts. The first period of the
deportations was particularly terrible for them. World War II
continued, and many women and children died as the result of heavy
labour and disease.
A Russian song suggests that World War II was a holy war.
Mendacious propaganda ensured that the deportees were called
Fascists, and that is how they were treated, too. There is a place
called Agapitova on the lower reaches of the Yenisei River. It is
known as “Death Island”, because in the autumn of 1942, 700
people, including Latvian mothers and children, were put ashore
there. By the spring of 1943, only 70 remained alive. Among them
were six Latvian children who were interviewed for this book.
In 1946 and 1947, thanks to the dedication and efforts of employees
of the Orphanage Division of the Soviet Latvian Ministry of Education,
more than 1,000 children who had been deported on June 14, 1941,
were brought back to Latvia. Most were children who had lost one or
both parents. They were sent to the homes of relatives or to
orphanages. Alas, this did not bring their torments to an end. Many
were sent back to Siberia in subsequent stages of deportations, and
those who survived could return to Latvia only in the mid-1950s. The
children and grandchildren of the 1941 deportees can still be found
in Siberia today.
We have travelled thousands of kilometres over the course of six
years. Children who were sent to the Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, Yeniseisk
and other districts are now elderly people, often disabled. It was not
just their Motherland and their relatives who were taken away from
them. The Soviet Union’s policy of Russification also robbed them of
their language, and many speak no Latvian at all. Some of these
people never lost hope that they could spend their old age back in
Latvia, even if that meant living in a poorhouse, but this dream is just
a dream. Today they are separated from their Motherland by a
boundary that is not easily crossed. When we returned to Latvia from
each trip to Siberia, we were full of impressions about the natural
beauty of that land. We had video recordings and interviews, but we
always brought along deeply personal emotions, as well. We felt
sorrow and an endless feeling of guilt. Those who returned were
happy to return to their Motherland, but there can be no
compensation for loneliness, suffering, hunger and the loss of one’s
loved ones. This has had consequences across many generations.
Each story offers evidence and commemoration of brothers and sisters
who remained in the eternally frozen Siberian wasteland.
In terms of sheer numbers, Jews were the second largest group of
deportees in June 1941. Those who survived returned to Latvia to
find that their relatives had lost their lives during World War II. In the
1970s, most of these people were allowed to emigrate to Israel. We
found children of Siberia there, as well.
We have interviewed 670 people in Latvia, Russia, Israel and America.
We have received much light, love and confirmation of hopes for
Latvia’s future. We wish to present these to future generations.