European Memories

of the Gulag

BioGraphie

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Diāna  KRATIŠA

 

Diāna was born in Latvia in 1933 to a practising Jewish family of the lower middle class. Her father owned a little shop and was one of the targets of the 14 June 1941 deportation as a member of the property-owning elite. But he was away from home when the arrests took place and the NKVD did not catch him until 17 June. His family was then sent to Siberia.

Diāna’s father was sentenced to three years and returned to Latvia after the end of the war to look for his family, which had been exiled to Siberia. By chance, in Riga market, where people were looking for wartime displaced persons, he ran into a friend of his wife’s who knew where she had been deported to. After some months, the family was together in Riga in 1946 and began their difficult social reintegration, when most of their family and friends had died in the Holocaust in German-occupied Latvia.

In 1950, as part of the 1949 deportation, the family was sent back to Siberia, since they could not prove that their return to Latvia in 1946 was legal. They were finally released in 1956. Diāna studied pharmacology and married a Pole. Even today, her family’s fate, caught between deportation and the Holocaust, continues to trouble her considerably.

 

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Arrest in June 1941

Because their father was away,  Diāna Kratiša’s family were arrested two days later. The archive documents published at the time of rehabilitation, however, record the family as being in the 14 June contingent.

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Gift of food

On the train, other deportees gave Diāna and her family hunks of bacon – and this Jewish family was forced, in order to survive, to break kosher. But this solidarity was welcome. Even the guards, attracted by Diāna’s sister’s good looks, gave them pieces of bread.

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“i” and “y”: the subtleties of the Russian language

At the start Diāna did not speak a word of Russian. She was above all struck by one feature of the language, the two sounds i and y, which she could not tell apart.

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First return, 1946

Once they had settled back in Riga in 1946, the family enjoyed a brief respite before being exiled again to Siberia.

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Second journey to Siberia

Diāna Kratiša remembers songs from the journey into exile.

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Diāna Kratiša’s treasure trove of photographs

Diāna Kratiša kept, or found at relatives’ houses, many photographs of her large family. She shows some of them here. These portraits, one after another, reveal the identities of relatives who are now dead, some of old age, but most as a result of the war. Diāna Kratiša’s family was dispersed in the 1940s: some exiled to Siberia, some conscripted into the Red Army, some evacuated to the rear, and some who stayed in Latvia and were massacred during the Nazi occupation. Their destinies were different and some were fatal.

Others escaped the war years and ended up emigrating to Israel after trying with difficulty to rebuild their lives in Latvia.

This large family with its diverse destinies was the subject of an article in a local publication.

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The Latvian scarf

Diāna tells the story of the typically Latvian scarf that she took with her on the second deportation. That scarf got her out of the toughest work. Another Latvian woman deportee recognised her as a compatriot and showed her what to do so as not to be sent to a forestry kolkhoz and be allowed to study. This national solidarity based on a detail of clothing was a salvation for Diāna and so she avoided being exiled to an even more remote and unpleasant place.