Thursday, June 15, 2006
Historians and Human Suffering
Kristin, a native of Estonia left a very thoughtful comment on my post dealing with the 14 June 1941 deportations. It got me thinking again about the limits of a historian writing about such horrible events. No matter how much I learn about them it is impossible for me to fully know the trauma of these events. The human imagination does not allow people to feel the suffering of others in its full force. I have long been convinced that saints and other people who are more sensitive to the plight of their fellow men must be in constant overload at the world's pain. I think I feel a little bit of this suffering and that is what motivates me to write about it. But, I am a very unenlightened and unempathetic individual in the large scheme of things. At anyrate I try everyday to be a little bit better in this regard. In light of the 65th anniversary of the deportations from the Baltic states I am going to try and explore this issue further in the next couple of days. I will be focusing on Estonia since I have been there three times. Last time I was there I picked up an English translation of memoirs by Estonian women. It has some powerful first person accounts of the events. I will post some quotations from these writings. Maybe the ability of even the best historian to try and convey the essence of events like Stalin's deportation of people to Siberia is limited to just a skeletal framework of facts. But, maybe some of the human experience can be conveyed.