March 25, 1949.
The Second Mass Deportation.
More than 42000 people are sent to Siberia in cattle train cars.
The darkest day in Latvia’s history.
My grandparent’s history.
Pitalova, Latvia (“transferred” to Russian SFRS in 1946).
She woke up as unknown men entered their home; they were holding riffles and shouting orders. She was five, born in 1944. Too young to understand the seriousness of this situation, but old enough to feel the fear. Her grandmother was laying next to her, trying to protect, but at the same time making sure that they see: it’s only a child. Not the mother they were looking for. Her mother was not here. She was still on her way from St. Petersburg; the delay in her homecoming saddened the daughter but saved her own life.
They searched the house, they went outside and found nothing, but they did not leave. Truck cars became their settlement. That day she did not play in the yard, catching butterflies in her small, plump hands. That day when the night approached nobody slept in the house, for the first time in her life hoping that her mother will not return early. Three days passed, and the eagles soaring over their house left. The sky was still full of clouds, but some sunshine seemed to approach them. Though, the weather was mutable[JB4] that year.
Her mother came the following day. She stepped out of the train; the station was full of people. They were in rush. Somebody passed by, and his dissatisfaction as the chimney’s smoke condensed under his nose, giving him black mustaches of grumpiness. She just took her bags from the platform when the familiar face seemed to appear among the emerging faces of the crowd. For a second, she might have believed that it was her husband. Taken away in 1946, without trial. Said to be the traitor of the country.
58-1a. Treason to the motherland, i.e. acts done by citizens of USSR in damage to the military power of USSR, its national sovereignty, or the inviolability of its territory, such as espionage, betrayal of military or state secrets, crossing to the side of the enemy, flight (by surface or air) abroad, shall be punished by-
the supreme measure of criminal punishment– shooting with confiscation of all property, or with mitigating circumstances– deprivation of liberty for a term of 10 years with confiscation of all property [20 July 1934 (SU No 30, Art. 173)]
Of course, it was not her husband. They received at least four death subpoenas from the prison in Khabarovsk, South of Russia. One of them even stating that her husband died three years before she gave birth to his child.
The truth about his life and his death stayed imprisoned in the files that never came to light.
She recognized his brother, who stood in the crowd, waving his hands too hard to be just excited. No, there was no sparkle of excitement, only anxiety. He was warning her. She grabbed the bags tighter and left the open area as fast as she could to receive the news that they are waiting for her. That day she did not return to her daughter.
The weather changed and the soldiers returned. This time, with the new order. Regardless of the lack of success to find the mother, they required my family members to leave. A five-year-old girl and her grandparents were denied their own house and home. The order stated that they had to pack food for three days and leave. It was not the same as “birds leaving their nest to fly in freedom”.
No, it meant to “leave” in cattle trucks.
When she heard that her parents and her daughter were taken away, there were no reasons to hide anymore. Every mother knows that a baby does not give meaning to life, but once this love is born the loss of a child can take away the purpose to live. She left the house that was not her home to return to the family, who had no house anymore. She was ready to go with them, to be next to the people who were taken away from their homeland and waited for one destination. But saviors don’t save just once. Her relative, who warned her in the train station, who gave her shelter, now was the one, who locked her up in pirts (pirts – Latvian traditional bathhouse), regardless of the screams and cries that tore up her and everybody’s else’s hearts. That day she did not return to her daughter as well.
Sitting in the truck, the five-year-old girl observed people behind the window. The location that they had arrived looked confusing. There were people, soldiers, and trains. She liked trains and people.
Her grandmothers turned to the soldier and asked the questions that every mother would have asked.
-“What will happen to my daughter if you find her?”
-“She will be executed.”
A harrowing scream followed. Her grandmother hid her face in the palms of the hands. She saw blood jet from her grandmother’s nose and drain down her age knotted hands. It did not matter, she put her head in her grandmother’s lap. She felt safe in the hugs of these hands. Regardless of the nightmare that was happening outside, where men were separated from women and children to be sorted to different trains, taking different trails, going to the same destination of hunger and fight for life in the harsh regions of Siberia. Their truck was the last one. Nobody knows and never will know why it turned back. That day they returned home.
The reunion of the mother and daughter would have been a beautiful end of this story. However, it is difficult to find something resembling happiness in this time of Latvia’s history. More than 42000 people who were deported from Latvia does not show the true numbers of destruction and death that were caused by the USSR’s mass deportation aimed to end armed resistance to the Soviet regime.
The woman and children who were left without their fathers, the whole families that were taken away;
children separated from their parents; brothers from sisters
and those, who were left, but could not live with this trauma.
The five-year-old-girl met her mother again, but death took her mother from her in 1955. The experienced trauma had weakened her body and soul, and left it exposed to illnesses. After three years of fighting tuberculosis, she left her now 11-year-old daughter. This time – forever.
This story is only one of the hundreds of untold stories about the terrors realized by the USSR. This story should not be kept in silence.
This is not my story.
This is my grandmother’s story.
This is the story of the other tens of thousands of people.
I am its teller.