This post is part of my exploration of the question about whether historians can convey anything about past human suffering other than a basic factual outline. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn asked this same question in the Gulag Archipelago. He concluded that it was not possible to transfer the experience of the Gulag through the medium of words to people who had not been there. I am not convinced this is the case. While the knowledge absorbed by the reader is of course only a very pale imitation of the actual suffering, I believe some small amount of understanding can be transmitted. Since it is the 65th anniversary of the Baltic deportations I am using examples from Estonian survivors. Estonia is also a country which I have travelled through a couple of times. It is also small enough that one can get some sense of the nation as a whole. Finally, I know I have at least one reader in Estonia. My overall readership is quite small so Estonians in fact do make up a big portion of it.
The following quotation comes from a book called She Who Remembers Survives: Interpreting Estonian Women's Post-Soviet Life Stories. It has nine short memoir pieces by Estonian women. It is one of the more impressive life history projects that I have seen. Below I have quoted an excerpt from one of women regarding her memory of the 14 June 1941 deportation.
"Aino's Story: The Story of a Simple Estonian Woman"
...They took us by lorry to the station where we were loaded into boxcars. The train was surrounded by trees and a Russian soldier was positioned atop each tree, his rifle cocked, ready to shoot. The boxcar had one small barred window high up under the ceiling. Double bunks lined the walls and we were able to get one of the lower bunks. Everyone in our car was a Tapa resident except Ms. Maria Parmas with her five children, the youngest six weeks old. She was from Ambla, the wife of the town's constable and daughter of a schoolteacher. There were no men in our car. In some cars, however, there were men and they were pulled out by force. It was a dreadful sight to see. There was much crying when the men were separated from their families, perhaps never to see each other again. Noone knows where their bones finally ended up in the Siberian soil. The doors closed. The train started to move during the night (p. 227).
Here we have "a simple Estonian woman" providing more truth about the experience of communism than dozens of leftist university professors in the US who sought and in some cases still seek to justify, minimize and outright deny such crimes. The moral idiocy of the tenured faculty in the US is of course incurable. As my uncle says, "You can't fix dumb." But, most of the rest of the planet can understand the basic human truth articulated in the quotation above.