The Melanija Vanaga Museum                         

The virtual exposition of Museum

 "Be Yourself!"   

  On 17 June 1940, the Soviet Union occupied and annexed Latvia. The occupation lasted until 4 May 1990. Throughout this 50-year occupation, the totalitarian Soviet regime carried out repressions against the people of Latvia. On 14 June 1941 and 25 March 1949, two massive deportations swept across Latvia. Through the use of force, 55 568 Latvian citizens, including 14 728 children and adolescents, were sent to Siberia against their will.

The writer Melānija Vanaga, her husband Aleksandrs Vanags and son Alnis Vanags were deported in 1941. Their experiences and those of many like them have been recorded in Vanaga’s brilliant autobiography – „Veļupes krastā” – reprinted several times since its publication in 1991, being one of the most revealing and impressive testimonies of the most tragic events of 20th century Latvian history. It tells of the crimes against humanity carried out by Stalin’s regime and the cultural damage it inflicted on Latvian society, the consequences of which are still felt today.

The autobiography recounts the sufferings of adults together with the experiences of deported children. For several years, the Melānija Vanaga Museum has researched and collected the memories of these deported children. The museum’s collection includes 18 such video testimonies.
The museum’s virtual exhibition – „Esi pats!/Be Yourself!” – relates the experiences of five deported children. They include then five-year-olds Inta Broka, Andris Eglītis and Ivars Kārkliņš, eight-year-old Alnis Vanags and eleven-year-old Ilga Hāgemana as well as those of their parents, all wrongly accused by the Soviets of ‘betraying the homeland’. Despite all the suffering and hopelessness, the children survived. As children and later as teenagers and young adults, they often had to rely on their wits, to think for themselves, decide and act. They had to make their way in life overcoming what seemed like insurmountable obstacles. Each child’s story is a remarkable feat in itself, a feat that is part of Latvia’s heritage. This heritage is important to all of us living in today’s Latvia and who see our own futures as part of Latvia’s. To draw visitors’ attention to the power of human endurance, the worth and dignity of the individual confronting totalitarian power, and to remind visitors of the opportunities given them by a democratic state, the exhibition is entitled Be Yourself!

Elīna Kalniņa
Author of the exhibition concept and coordinator of its development