05 April, 2008

Sobering and moving excursion last week

From the late 1930's to the mid 1940's, female relatives of executed victims of political repression in the USSR were sent to a gulag in an area not too far from here. There is a new memorial site with a small internal museum -- previously the museum had been a small room lovingly tended by an adult grandchild of one of the women.

This gulag area is called ALZHIR. Approximately 8,000 women of many "nationalities" (ethnic breakdowns in the Soviet republics) were sent here, along with some of their small children. The children were kept with their mothers for about a year, but then sent on to orphanages. Our group of international women were all moved when the nationalities of many of the group were compared to the listing of the interned women - including Dutch, Japanese, Korean and a Norwegian.

The memorial foundation is attempting to track every woman for a data base system based on what we have in the US at Ellis Island. The foundation is also just about finished with an outer wall of engraved names, again, similar to what we have in the US at the Vietnam Veteran's Wall.

The visit was quite sobering. Women who survived tried to return to their "homes" (remember how large the USSR was then) but often, because of internal Soviet travel retrictions, were forced to stay in the area. On display were lovely letters that the mothers had saved from their children in the orphanages, pieces of embroidery, and many photos.

One woman in our group broke down: it turns out her grandmother had been interned there, and her name was found on the wall. Our group member was Russian by birth, and knew her grandmother had been "kept" in this area but didn't know where. The amazing thing was the "rest of the story": her grandmother, a native of Baku,(Azerbaijan)returned to Baku with two other women from the camp, and lived a long and healthy life to the age of 101.

1 comment:

fluffbuff said...

Sobering indeed. I had no idea that women had been interned in gulags with their children, without being accused of any crime, or that they had been prevented from going home after their imprisonment.