GRIEVING OUTSIDER. How to commemorate an absent deportation trauma.

25 March, 1949, was the date 42 125 people were loaded into cattle wagons and "cruised" all the way down to the furthest bits of Siberia after WWII ended and the Soviet Union fully established its reign over Latvia. It was a second time after 14 June, 1941, when such "activity" covered 15 424 more souls only multiplying the damage of this national tragedy. But then, none of my kinship, including great-uncles and aunts, were affected, and there were not many stories around from my childhood neighbours, too.

So, where do I stand - constantly looking back and deeply channelling the deportation through myself, despite it being absent to my family, or commemorate a national tragedy, while looking toward the future with no strings attached?
train in flames. deportation 1941, 1949, riga, drawing
Sometimes the very difficulty of such commemorative dates for me is hidden in being in between. From one hand, I am more than open to always feel sorrow for those great minds, who suffered or died on the way to or in Siberia for only being too intelligent, too educated, creative, successful, enterprising, or renowned. No one in the right mind would disagree of WWII and its first aftermath years being an inconceivable and unjust ravage to the Latvian and Baltic potential and achievement.

But then, on the other hand, I also understand it is difficult for me to take it too personally and keep it in my heart or memories too deep and for long - none of my parents were born in Siberia, or my great-grandparents deported while my grandparents still being children or infants to them. The absence of such memories from the elderly has kept me distanced and confused - I can only mourn for the past implicitly.

More and more it is harder for me to genuinely relate to the whole tragedy. In fact, every time I feel like a grieving outsider. In my childhood there were a handful of children at school, who had this story of their grandfather or grandmother, or any other relative being sent on a "vacation" to Siberia. They got all the attention, their families were cherished, and every meeting with them on 25 March and 14 June, was loaded with emotions and empathy.

Meanwhile, as a child, I felt I was somehow "marginalized" and so was my family. I did understand the importance of such witnesses and was and still am impressed by such gloomy stories (spying and the Cold War theme in general was a subject of my personal excitement), but I could not relate to them fully. It might sound rough, but it even angered me that, presumably, my grandparents, uncles and aunts were too boring for Soviet Union to care. Not successful, or exceptional, or important enough to be endangered.
At some point at school, I even remember having a devilish wish, imagining, what if at least one of my grand parents was deported. Only so then I could finally fit in with this mandatory "national sorrow"...
Sounds terrible, you are right. And today I realize am very blessed with actually being born because of my family being spared. But looking back at my "wish", I totally admit - such type of constant nationalistic tempering was and is not very healthy globally to any mind after all. Yes, I truly understand I can and must share deep condolences related to collective consciousness built in the last 3 - 6 generations of Latvians. But I also feel a made-up patriotic push that we ought to sorrow generously in order to constantly determine the Latvian "fate" - to always be "the sufferers".

Again, admittedly, last couple of generations (including me) can be extremely thankful to those, who did not break under the Soviet rule. But such generations, as well as I, are very much looking forward to keep the "healed and friendly" attitude rather than "hurt and offended". For some today it is still hard time to understand - suffering and hating is not a part of Latvian or anyone's identity, and it can't define, who we are now and how we should live. A scar reminds of trauma, but it must heal in order to get well.

Still 25 March is and will be an enormous tragedy. I think it is even a larger tragedy of humankind - for someone to be able to fall so low in order to achieve this enormous amount of brainlessness and cosmic-size lack of empathy. One might feel a terrible nausea when contemplating of such ways being a normal practice to any human being executing one's individual personal agenda.

Also I strongly believe the former Museum of the Occupation of Latvia house at Rātslaukums in Old Town was one of the most impressive places to tell this story about such agenda. Now it's under construction to be modernized and enlarged, and we can only hope it brings back the museum I remember at full capacity.

We all understand, it is essential to remember. But does it mean to pull all of us back? It is very easy to refute me for I can only imagine the pain felt or transferred via generations since I don't have any subjective insights in deportations. But is it necessary to pinpoint it as a national patriotic mission to mourn any more? And are you only a patriot of your land when you mourn?


Find: a lean representation of The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia is now located at Raiņa bulvāris 7 (during the reconstruction). You can also visit the KGB Museum at Brīvības street 61, both addresses located in Riga.
What else: next to Torņakalns train station there is a compact memorial depicted to Victims of Communist Terror. You can see an example of cattle wagon on display used during the deportations of 1941 and 1949 - each of them once filled with as many as 50 people for a several week journey.

Mārtiņš Eņģelis