Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1976.
We were not left without news – they brought us daily a sort of half-sized newspaper. I sometimes had the task of reading it aloud to the whole cell, and I read it with expression, for there were things there which demanded it.
The tenth anniversary of the “liberation” of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania came around at this time. Some of those who understood Russian translated for the rest (I paused for them to do so), and what can only be called a howl went up from the bed platforms as they heard about the freedom and prosperity introduced into their countries for the first time in history. Each of these Balts (and a good third of all those in the transit prison were Balts) had left behind a ruined home, and was lucky if his family was still there and not on its way to Siberia with another batch of prisoners.
But for the Baltic States in 1940,it was not exile, but the camps – or for some people, death by shooting in stone-walled prison yards. In 1941, again, as the Soviet armies retreated, they seized as many well-to-do, influential, and prominent people as they could, and carried or drove them off like precious trophies, and then tipped them like dung onto the frostbound soil of the Archipelago. (The arrests were invariably made at night, only 100 kilograms of baggage was allowed for a whole family, and heads of families were segregated as they boarded the train, for imprisonment and destruction.) Thereafter, the Baltic States were threatened (over Leningrad radio) with ruthless punishment and vengeance throughout the war. When they returned in 1944 the victors carried out their threats, and imprisoned people in droves.
The main epidemics of banishment hit the Baltic States in 1948 (the recalcitrant Lithuanians), in 1949 (all three nations), and in 1951 (the Lithuanians again). In these same years the Western Ukraine, too, was being scraped clean, and there, too, the last deportations tool place in 1951.
For every nation exiled, an epic will someday be written – on its separation from its native land, and its destruction in Siberia. Only the nations themselves can voice their feelings about all they have lived though: we have no words to speak for them, and we must not get under their feet.