of the Gulag
Peep Varju was four and a half years old in 1941 when he was separated from his father, who was sentenced to forced labour, and deported from Estonia to the Tomsk region with his pregnant mother, brother and sister. No member of his family survived the camp and resettlement. He was placed in a Siberian orphanage, where the children, left to themselves, had to face unimaginable daily violence. Peep fell ill with typhus and miraculously survived.
In 1946, following an exceptional measure allowing Latvian and Estonians orphans to return, initiated by the authorities (although even today the resettlers cannot believe in this unexpected clemency from the Soviets), he returned to Estonia and was adopted and brought up by his mother’s sister.
Later he became an engineer and followed an ordinary career in a state-owned enterprise. In 1989, together with other escapees, he founded the Memento association, whose aim is to bring together all those deported from Estonia and document and make known the memories of the Soviet era. Today he continues as the volunteer chair of the Tallinn office and actively collects archives and life stories.
1. Peep Varju’s father’s family in 1926. © Peep Varju
2. Peep’s father (left) and a friend leaving military school in 1928 © Peep Varju
3. Peep’s family just before his birth, 1935 © Peep Varju
4. Peep Varju (2nd from right) with his brothers and sister, Estonia 1940 © Peep Varju
5. Siberian orphanage, 1942 © Peep Varju
6. Children in the orphanage, July 1946; Peep, first left in first standing row. © Peep Varju
7. Peep Varju, 1947, just after his return to Estonia
1. Peep Varju’s father’s family in 1926. From top left: an uncle (fought with the Germans and died of war wounds), Peep’s father (died in Viatlag camp), a woman, an uncle (shot by the Soviets in 1941), an uncle (hid in the forest for five years after the war and was amnestied in 1950); below, Peep’s grandmother with an aunt, his grandfather and an aunt.
2. Peep’s father (left) and a friend leaving military school in 1928.
3. Peep’s family just before his birth, 1935. From top left: his maternal aunt, who took him in on his return from Siberia, his sister, a farm worker, his mother with his brother on her lap, his grandmother and his father.
4. Peep Varju (2nd from right) with his brothers and sister, Estonia 1940.
5. Siberian orphanage, 1942.
6. Children in the orphanage, July 1946; Peep, first left in first standing row.
7. Peep Varju, 1947, just after his return to Estonia.
Creation of “Memento”
In this extract, Peep Varju explains how in 1989, together with other survivors, he founded the Memento non-profit with the aim of bringing together all the deportees from Estonia, and documenting and publicising the memory of the Soviet period.