Libby and Aarne
Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a poem about Cologne, Germany, in which he described the town as being full of “monks and bones, and pavements flanged with murderous stones”. He could just as well have been talking about the Old Town section of Tallinn.
Not only are the streets paved with cobble stones, but there must be thousands of nooks and crannies that have stories. The vast majority of these stories are lost, but some come to life when you read the placards attached to the buildings.
I stumbled on to one of these the other day. It was an ordinary enough building, somewhere down on Pikk street, but the placard told me that this building was far from ordinary.
A rough translation of the placard would be: “Here was housed the offices of the soviet occupation repression headquarters. FROM HERE BEGAN, FOR THOUSANDS OF ESTONIANS, A TRAIL OF SORROW AND SUFFERING.”
In 1941, after the occupation of Estonia , the Russians decided to deport 10,000 Estonians to Siberia. A knock on the door in the middle of the night, a harrowing train ride in cattle cars, many days without food or water, and then being dumped into labor camps.
Who were these people who had to be deported ?
The people in this building decided that they were “enemies” to the Estonian Soviet, but actually they were ordinary people who had either achieved something in life or had any grain of leadership potential. Politicians, professors, engineers, school teachers, shop owners – the list went on and on.
Enemies all. But the most cruel part of this was that these people had been incriminated by their own neighbors – neighbors who either held a grudge against them, or were jealous of some achievement, or just wanted to ransack the house after the owners had been arrested. And the Soviet functionaries were under orders to fulfill quotas demanded by Stalin.
So in this building the Russian bosses and the Estonian stooges decided who was to be deported and who was to stay, and this is the place where the perilous journey for many Estonians began. Of the 10,000 people deported in 1941, only a third made it back alive to Estonia. Most perished in forced labor camps, or just died of hunger.
Imagine having your parents or grandparents disappear in this way, and then walking past the building that housed the offices where their names first were put on the list.
Tallinn, in the course of Estonian history, has seen many cruelties inflicted on the Estonian people. Most of these places and incidents have been forgotten in history, but I hope we don’t ever forget what went on in this building.