Letters from Siberia in the European Parliament

On June 14th, the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels will hosted an exhibition “Birch Bark Letters from Siberia.” The exhibition was organized by MEP Sandra Kalniete (EPP,Latvia), in collaboration with the Tukums Museum in Latvia. For one week, MEPs, staff and guests were able to acquaint themselves with letters which were written on birch bark and sent to the loved ones of Latvians who were forcefully deported to Siberia. Today, from several thousand such examples only 19 remain in the collections of Latvian museums, as historical evidence of this most tragic past. Elza Serdāne, the author of one such letter which has miraculously survived to this day, also took part in the official opening ceremony of the exhibition. At the age of 73, Elza is the active leader of the Politically Repressed Society in her home town of Madona. 

“These letters tell of the terrible tragedy which was suffered by the Latvian nation. They represent great sadness, yet they also symbolize hope; humankind’s resilience, belief in justice, and the unrelenting optimism of victims even in the face of overwhelming odds. I am confident that this exhibition will touch the international community and will allow for a better understanding of Latvia’s tragic past, ” said S. Kalniete. 

Letters from sites of deportations were written on birch bark, because very often it was the only material available. They were the only way for those deported to keep in touch with their homeland and loved ones. They were written in Gulag prison camps and displacement sites in Siberia between 1941 and 1956. Today, the letters help people to get acquainted with the fate of those deported and allow for a better understanding of Latvia and the former Soviet Union. They are witness to the terrible violations of human rights endured by millions during the tragic years of Stalin’s dictatorship. Due to their great historical significance, these letters have been included in the UNESCO “Memory of the World” national register forLatvia. 

This historical evidence, written on birch bark, was displayed in the European Parliament until June 17th.

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