This book is a list of names. It is
also an endless gray line of prisoners forced to march through the streets of a
conquered city. Those who did not share their fate should stop for a moment on
the sidewalk of history and watch them pass by. Can you feel compassion towards
this faceless gray multitude? Or does your compassion arise only when you look
at another human face and thinkit could have been me, they might have
taken me, they might some day take me to march in these lines of prisoners?
Let us look back to the year 1941. The
Baltic States had been occupied by the Soviet Union for one year, and people
had been continuously taken away behind jail walls that suppress the sounds of
gunshots and cries. On the night of June 14, ten thousands of persons in the
countryside and the cities of Latvia were suddenly awaken by heavy pounding at
their doors. This was an ominous sound, repeatedly heard in later years. It is
also heard today and tonightpounding at the doors by Cheka agents and the
This horrifying and until then unknown
experience of mass arrests and deportations in 1941 shocked the Latvian nation.
It scorched the souls of the people and rallied them to resistanceto
fight for their national survival. It also led to a later mass escape to the
safety of the West.
Mass deportations1941, 1945, 1946
and 1949. Arrests, orders to pack one's necessities, then into the trucks. Off
to the railroad yards, into cattle cars, the doors shut,and a dark
journey into the unknown began. Trainloads of peoplemen, women, and
children packed like cattle into the trains, heading eastinto Russia. At
some point husbands were separated from their wives, children taken away from
their mothers;destination still unknown.
The human flow of deportees, starting
with streams of truckloads, converged into rivers of trainloads. These
trainloads of Latvian prisoners briefly met with Estonian and Lithuanian
prisoners in the far reaches of Russia, only to be separated again. Separated
into boatssome to follow the Ob, some the Yenisei, or the Lena rivers.
Many were destined towards the Siberian North, to the Arctic, further and
further away from home. . .
On every prisoner's mind were these
questions: Why have I been taken like this? Where are they taking me? How shall
I survive? Where are my loved ones? Will I ever see them again?
Most of them never met again. Some died
by a roadside, frozen to death in a blizzard;others died of starvation,
sickness, or exhaustion. Many were shot and then buried in unmarked mass graves
of slave labor camps.
These new prisoners and deportees were
introduced to a whole new world: the world of Gulag, the Soviet labor camps,
and other sordid points of destination. Joining an army of about sixteen
million prisoners in the Gulag, they often wondered why they had not listened
when told of the mass arrests, deportations, executions, and starvations
occurring in the Soviet Union, next door to their Baltic homes. Even today, in
London, Paris, or Washington people may still wonder why they did not hear of
16,200 persons were scheduled for
deportations from Latvia on June 14, 1941. Only a few managed to escape. In
1940/41 Latvia lost more than 40,000 persons in the terror of Soviet
deportations and executions. In later deportations and executions by the
Soviets, about four times as many persons were lost to Latvia. With time, as
more records and population statistics are discovered, and new eyewitnesses
come forward, these numbers grow in spite of the Soviet secrecy and cover-up.
Altogether, about 600,000 prisoners were taken from the Soviet occupied Baltic
StatesLatvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Proportionately, the number of
Baltic prisoners would be equal to a loss of 20 million in the United States or
5 million in Great Britain.
Who were these people taken from their
homes in Latvia and then forced to march on and on like captured soldiers
wounded and exhausted? They were men and women: some old, sick or crippled,
some young and healthy, some very young. They came from all walks of life. They
were office workers, farmers, businessmen, officers, laborers, clergy,
students, government employees, professionals, and elected representatives.
Some had been active in their communities and in different organizations, but
they were basically people of modest means from a small democratic country
without privileged classes or old families with accumulated wealth. Neither
their country nor they as individuals constituted any direct or immediate
danger to the huge Soviet State, yet they were marked by it to slave labor
until their death.
Open the pages of this book and try to
guess why the thousands of people listed here were arrested and deported. Two
elderly women63 and 65 years old, same last name, same address. Perhaps
sisters? Someone's maiden aunts living in a small town on a back street? Who
brought the ever-watchful eye of the suspicious state to turn toward these old
women? Were one of their relatives in hiding perhaps, and thus the fury of the
Soviet state was vented on two old and helpless victims?
Further, we find a family listed: a
father, mother, and child. From the address we can see that they lived on a
farm. He was 39, she 44, and the child only 6. Was this little boy their only
child? Did he survive? Those who experienced the Gulag say that the very young
almost always perished; older children had a greater chance of surviving.
Another family: a father, mother, and
four children. After years in the Gulag, the mother and three of their children
returned home; the father and one child died.
Another case: a father, a mother, and a
20-year old daughter. Only the daughter returned from the deportation, crippled
by arthritis and toothless.
Many eyewitness stories tell of the
fate of groups of Latvians. A group of 2,500 Latvians was deported in 1941 to
prison camps in the Perm district, near Chusovoy, Vsesvatska railroad. A
survivor of this camp, Roberts Verovs, reported that in 1952 there were only 17
Latvians left alive. Voldemars Krinte tells of camp no. 11 in Vorkuta where no
barracks or tents awaited 1,200 prisoners. A mere wooden sign in a snow bank
indicated the camp siteonly 5 prisoners survived. Another survivor of a
camp in Kalinin, veterinary doctor Edwards Atrens testifies that during 6
months in 1945, at least 50 Latvians died there of starvation and
There were 50 prisoner camps in the
Usolog-Sollkamsk region, Perm district. Each camp had between 1,000 and 1,500
prisoners. None of the 1,000 prisoners deported there from Latvia on June 14,
1941 survived. All but 17 of the 400 women and children deported to a desolate
Yenisei River region of Siberia died in the harsh winter of 1942.
Many who suffered at the hands of the
Soviets were young and innocent children. Ruta Upite, a Latvian girl who was
deported twice to Siberia, cried out her sufferings in her diary "Dear God, I
wanted to live!" On Bilina Island, Ob River, in the winter of 1943, she saw
one-fourth of all Latvian in the group of 200 deportees die of cold and
starvation in a period of four months. Her health was destroyed by the slave
labor conditions in Siberia, and she died while still young.
The Latvian people did not submit
meekly. Their armed resistance continued until the 1950's without outside help
or publicity. This brought new arrests and deportations, with the suspected
resisters and their supporters being persecuted. The largest mass deportations
took place in the late 1940's, and they were used as an instrument to enforce
the collectivization of the Latvian farms.
While these deportations from Latvia,
Estonia, Lithuania, and other countries under Soviet rule occurred, the
democratic Western world paid scant attention. The Soviet Gulag prison camp
system was the largest mass extermination of people in the history of mankind,
but no one intervened. In Kolyma, the far northeastern part of Siberia where
the Soviet need for gold was filled by prison work, there were at time tens of
thousands of prisoners gathered in one place for a forced march to a new slave
labor camp. They were an expendable and ever-renewable labor source. Among them
were thousands of Latvians. The chances of survival were low. From a group of
2,500 Latvian prisoners who arrived in Kolyma gold mines in 1945, only 500
survivors were released two years later. While a visiting United States vice
president and other dignitaries marvelled at the magnitude and success of
Soviet projects at Kolyma, Lend-Lease tractors were burying masses of dead
prisoners on the opposite side of the mountain.
The names of forced labor regions,
camps and prisons like Vorkuta, Solikamsk, Norilsk, Dudinka, Magadan, Potma,
Vyatlag, Vladimir, Kotlas, Novaya Zemlya, Kolyma, Karaganda, Mordavia, and many
others bring memories of horror to their survivors. The names also remind those
who escaped the deportations of the sorrow at having lost their fathers,
mothers, children, relatives, and friends.
Those who honor life and humanity
should demand that all Soviet prisons, slave labor camps, and mass graves be
opened for international inspections. These inspections should include prison
institutions now closed, as well as those still in operation. On the sites of
some old defunct Soviet prison camps may now be sizeable towns, but most of the
other sites are accessible and could be easily explored and investigated. There
were no gas furnaces in the Soviet labor camps to dispose of the bodies, and
the permafrost of the far northern regions keeps and also reveals secrets.
The many millions of people who died In
the Gulag should be honored and remembered with monuments and historical
markers. Future generations should be reminded of the crimes committed by the
Soviet government, so that these evil forces are stopped from ever gaining the
This book lists names, mostly of the
deportees of 1941, which were compiled, however incompletely, after the first
Soviet occupation of Latvia in the first edition of These Names Accuse
(Latvian National Foundation, Stockholm, 1951). Additional names and
information have been collected recently by the World Federation of Free
Latvians, and are included here in the second edition. As evidence of
individual tragedies, they help to corroborate and explain the tragic fate of
over 150,000 unlisted prisoners and deportees from Latvia.
The Soviet authorities warn against
testifying. Because of the fear of reprisals by the Soviet against them and
their relatives, many survivors and witnesses of the deportations, executions,
and horrors of the Gulag do not dare to testify. The Soviet files and documents
are kept secret and have not as yet been investigated under Nuremberg type
trials. The Soviet criminals against humanity, responsible for the deaths of
many million of people, continue to live and rule untouched.
Today, a new generation of Latvians
carries on the resistance to the Soviet dictatorial regime. They work in the
underground democratic movement and are not Soviet dissidents, because their
goal is the existence of free and independent democratic Latvia and Baltic
States, separate from Soviet Union or any other form of a Russian empire. Their
short-range demands are for the Soviet authorities to respect the United
Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the Helsinki Accords, and their own
constitution. These freedom fighters suffer and die for their noble
convictions, and they hope that the men and women of the world are listening
and supporting them.
As you leaf through the pages of this
book, remember that the names you see belong to humans who wanted to live
peacefully, but whose lives were interrupted by the most horrid criminal acts
which still continue today. The criminal is the Government of the Union of the
Soviet Socialist Republics.
Dr. Ilgvars Spilners
Federation of Free Latvians