Someone asked me about the legacy of the June 1941 deportations from Estonia. About 10,000 people were loaded into cattle cars in the span of two days and removed to Siberia. More than half of them were women. A quarter were children.
I would say that the deportations not only destroyed lives in the sense that many of those who were deported died from disease, hunger and horrendous working conditions, not to mention execution. They destroyed the families of those who remained behind. And even if the person who survived the deportation managed to return to Estonia, he (or she) was often a shadow of the person he once was.
For Estonia’s younger generations, the deportations are less tangible. But for the post-war generation, the memory of the broken families and broken people created by the actions of the Soviet state linger. I wonder sometimes how it is possible that Estonians, who can really be considered historical activists, like Mart Laar or Imbi Paju, are driven so passionately to tell the story of this period of history.
Then I remember that they were raised by those very people whose lives were destroyed by Soviet actions. And what a contrast it must have been to be a small Soviet child in the golden 1960s surrounded by adults who were not keen to talk about themselves or their childhoods or what had happened to their various relatives. Even for them it must have been hard to fathom a situation where they were woken up in the night and placed into a cattle car bound for Siberia.
I don’t know what to tell my own children about the deportations. I had a hard time explaining to my eldest, now seven, that Estonia was at one time not free. She did not understand the concept of an Estonia that was not independent. How do I explain to her how people were rounded up and loaded into cattle cars? How do I even try to explain to her what the motive behind such actions was? As time grows between the present day and the collapse of the Soviet state, its ideology becomes even more far-fetched and preposterous. Its crimes are inexplicable.