of the Gulag
The territories annexed by the USSR – 1939-1941
Under the German-Soviet Pact in August 1939 and its secret clauses on dividing Central and Eastern Europe between the two new allies, Stalin’s USSR began in 1939 and 1940 a new phase of expansion towards the west. The Sovietisation of the new territories involved purges of the former elites and other counter-revolutionary “socially alien elements”, etc.
Three waves of deportation were organised in the Polish territories annexed to Ukraine and western Belarus in 1940: these banished former settlers, osadnicy, local elites and some of the refugees (mostly Jews) who had fled the German occupation of Poland. The deportation resumed in spring 1941: from western Ukraine on 22 May; from Moldavia in the night of 12-13 June; from the Baltic republics on 14 June and from western Belarus in the night of 19-20 June.
Some heads of household were sentenced to forced labour in the camps, and their families and children were often exiled to “special resettlements” in Siberia or Kazakhstan. Nearly 500,000 were sent to the furthest depths of the USSR.
Refusal of citizenship
When the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939, Henry Welch and his mother fled to the east. They found themselves in the Soviet zone. At first his mother refused to take Soviet citizenship, and when she finally came round to the idea, it was too late and the family was arrested.
Silva Linarte’s mother leaves behind the baby’s things
Expecting to be deported to Siberia and choosing warm coverings when arrested turned out to be an essential factor for survival. Some people took winter clothing. Others, harried by the soldiers, left crucial bundles behind. This happened to Silva Linarte’s mother, who left her youngest child’s things – the baby died on the train.
© Eela Lohmus Eela’s house before her deportation
© Eela Lohmus 2 years old Eela Lohmus
© Eela Lohmus Silva’s parents’ wedding photograph
© Silva Linarte Silva and her parents
© Silva Linarte The Zalcmane sisters and their parents
© Austra Zalcmane The Zalcmane family’s khutor before the Soviet annexation
© Austra Zalcmane
Before annexation – the pre-Soviet period as the deportees remember it
The resettlement in June 1941 meant the families were separated. Often it was the last time that children saw their father, sentenced to forced labour. The last time, too, that their mother could display any femininity or elegance, before her face and shape were marked by forced labour.
Recalling the arrest is an opportunity to recall an idealised pre-Soviet past. The photographs of relatives, houses, and peaceful family scenes are miraculously preserved relics of a bygone age. The nostalgia of these childhood pictures is combined with pain at the loss of dear ones.