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Ilmars Knagis

There Was Such a Time

There Was Such a Time

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On June 14, 1941, more than fifteen thousand Latvians—about 1 percent of Latvia's population—were deported in a twenty-four-hour period to Siberia as "enemies of the state," following the occupation of Latvia by the army of the Soviet Union. Of those deported, approximately 3,400 were children. One of them was fifteen-year-old Ilmars Knagis. At the time of the 1941 deportation, the men were separated from their families and sent to the gulag. Some were sentenced to death, others to work in labor camps. Knagis's father, Emils Knagis, a hardy former soldier, perished at a Russian camp in Vyatlag later in 1941. Women and children were sent to remote districts near the Polar Circle, where many died. But here they also discovered others of Latvian heritage, deported to Siberia in earlier centuries by the Czars. Now in his eighth decade of life, Knagis recalls in this memoir his experiences as a child before the Soviet occupation, the frightful forced deportation to Siberia, the harsh lives and deaths of the deportees in the years that followed, his return to Latvia in 1947 and his re-deportation two years later, his homecoming to Latvia in 1962, and his later trips to Siberia to visit the places of his youth and to commemorate the Latvian dead. Knagis provides a gripping testament of cruelty, bureaucracy, and great privation, but he also writes of the stark beauty of the taiga, the resilience of youth, and the strange cultural life in the collective farms and towns of Siberia, to which many intellectuals and artists of many ethnicities and nationalities had been deported. As a memoir of life in Soviet Siberia as a "repressed person," There Was Such a Time is indicative of the experiences of the many thousands of diverse people with similar but untold stories and provides a view into a history that few Westerners know.








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