European Memories

of the Gulag

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Letters from far away

In deportation, in the remote corners of the Russian Far North and Kazakhstan, Micheline Herc’s parents got letters from Paris, Châteauneuf-la-Forêt, and Moscow, all from relatives. These letters bear witness to the sparse but real communication between these worlds distant from each other.

The most surprising one is probably the letter that left Châteauneuf-la-Forêt on 18 March 1941 and arrived at “Lake Shirb point, Osinov postal centre, Priozyorny district, Arkhangelsk region”, a remote place deep in the Soviet Far North. Unfortunately we do not know how long it took to arrive. It appears to have been forwarded via the Red Cross.

There are also a number of letter sent to Sayram, where Micheline spent her Kazakh childhood. The delivery times were long: one written in Paris on 14 June 1945, passed through Moscow on 12 January 1946, Alma Ata on 12 March and only arrived on 5 April, after going through the military censors. It took just under a year to reach its destination. Micheline Herc received it, but only just, because she left Sayram for Poland one month later.

The letters from France came from Marie (Mary in the letters) Rosenberg, Micheline Herc’s mother’s sister, who was living in France.

There is also a letter from Ida Radilovski, a lyrical singer, the wife of David Radilovski, Micheline’s great-uncle on her mother’s side, who was the director of the GUM department store in Moscow after the Revolution. The letter was sent from Moscow on 10 September 1945 and arrived in Kazakhstan on 18 September.