European Memories

of the Gulag

BioGraphie

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Kasimirs  GENDELS

Kasimirs Gendels was born to a multilingual family and community in Latgale, Latvia, in 1934. He was deported with his father and sister in 1949 as part of the mass deportation at the time the Latvian countryside was collectivised: his father was considered to be a kulak, and, worse still, his brother had been called up into the German army during the war.

In Siberia, he worked in a forest kolkhoz in the taiga: sawing, loading barges, etc. After making several pleas to Nikita Khrushchev, Kasimirs Gendels was released in 1955. On his return to Latvia, he did his military service and became a mechanic.

Every three or four years he went back to Siberia to see the grave of his father, who died there. After Latvia’s independence, he made one last trip to Siberia and smuggled the body back home.

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Guessing the final destination

After miraculously finding his father again before getting into the wagon, Kasimir Gendels and his family were sent to the East with other deportees. With no information about the final destination, the group of deportees attempted to find out where they were from the successive directions the train took: northwards – were we going to the dreadful mines in the Great North? Southwards – would it be Kazakhstan?

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The soldiers’ surveillance relaxes

Once through the Urals, the soldiers stopped bothering to keep a close eye on the train that Kasimir Gendels and his family were travelling on – where could they escape to?

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Loading barges and the mark of the taiga

Kasimir Gendels, given the job of loading barges, was deeply affected by the taiga, which left its mark on him long after his liberation.

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Local and deportees helping each other

Kasimirs Gendels remembers the solidarity there was in that Siberian rural community.

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The death of Stalin

The death of Stalin, and especially its announcement, remains an extremely clear event in Kasimirs Gendels’s memory, even if in practice the dictator’s death did not bring any immediate radical changes; liberation came later.