Letters on birch barks were written by people who were in prisons, concentration camps or settlements in Siberia. They were sent to relatives between 1941 and 1956 by people who had been deported from Latvia and Lithuania - they were members of the middle class and were arrested for having anti-Soviet views, for taking part in resistance movements, for being farmers, for belonging to political parties, or for refusing to join a collective farm. During the cult of Stalinism, some 167,000 people in Latvia were repressed, including thousands of children who were sent to Siberia.
The letters from Siberia that were written on birch bark are of key importance in Latvia’s history, because they offer testimony about the Soviet era. This was one of the most tragic periods in the 20th-century history of Latvia – arrests and deportations which were undoubtedly human rights violations. The existence of the letters, along with their content, their language and the censorship stamps that are seen on them describe the ability of the totalitarian Soviet regime to control people’s lives. Indeed, the letters can be seen as charges against the Soviet regime.
Birch bark was often the only available material on which letters could be written at places of deportation, and that was particularly true during World War II. This was the only way to preserve links with the motherland and relatives. In the context of other documents and visual materials, they inform viewers of the fates of individuals and families from the Latvian middle class, helping people better to understand the tragic pages of the history of Latvia and the former Soviet Union during the period of the so-called cult of Stalinism. The letters also vividly express the mentality of the Latvian nation – faith in that which is good, care for one’s loved ones, the hope of surviving and returning home.
The nomination “In Siberia Written Letters on Birch Bark” which was submitted in 2009 and contained 19 letters at the time, has since been amended with newly identified testimonies. Now 52 letters have been identified in the collections of eleven museums in Latvia.
1. Rasma Kraukle’s letter to her cousin Ilga Silgaile sent from Krasnoyarsk Oblast, Mezhdurechye Village, to Krasnoyarsk Oblast, Lebyazhna Village. May 19th, 1945, the Museum of the River Daugava;
2. Greeting card sent by Lithuanian teacher Gražina Gaidiene for her neighbour Sofija Milda Meldere on her Name Day – sent to Novostroika GULAG camp in Zavodovka forestry, Ingash District, Krasnoyarsk Oblast. May 15th, 1949, the Tukums Museum;
3. A greeting card by Voldemārs Mežaks for Tekla Rivare in Riga. Sent from the Irkutsk Oblast, Taishet Region. June 29th, 1947, the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.