A father's letters from Siberia (4)
Many Estonian families were and still are affected by the purges and deportations orchestrated by the Soviet authorities under Stalin. Personal tragedies and how they entered into people’s lives years later are easily forgotten when totals are quoted. This is the story of Leonhard Raukas and his family. Raukas was deported to Siberia in 1950.
Prisoner of war
Leonhard Raukas was drafted into the German forces in 1944, just months before the Soviet army occupied Estonia the second time. On Sept. 21 the same year he became a prisoner of war and was taken to a camp in Karelia.
Raukas returned to Tallinn in 1947, where he worked as an accountant for three years. During an inspection, an officer spotted the fact that he had served in the German army - this was enough to bring him before an NKVD troika.
Sentenced to 25 plus five years in Siberia
Troikas were three-member committees that had the authority to issue sentences after rudimentary and speedy investigations. The troika’s investigation brought to light that Raukas had graduated university in Germany in 1935, and that sealed his fate.
Without a trial, Raukas was sentenced to 25 years in a labor camp, plus five years banishment, which meant that even after getting out of the camp, he wouldn’t be able to return to Estonia for years.
At the time of his deportation to Nahodka on the Pacific coast, Raukas had two children: a daughter, Reet, born in 1947, and a son, Tiit, born in 1949. The letters and Christmas cards in the images below this article were some of the rare instances when the family heard from Leonhard.
Leonhard’s son Tiit Raukas is one of Estonia’s more successful businessmen. His construction company, Kontek, became successful in the 1990s in the former Soviet Union. Today, Raukas lives on his family’s old property in Pirita, Tallinn.
The family was reunited on Christmas Day 1955, which was the first time Tiit met his father. After his return, Leonhard Raukas went to work in the Kalev chocolate factory - where he happened to meet the same inspector again that had initiated his deportation to Siberia years earlier.
Raukas asked the inspector what he got out of delivering him to the Troika. The inspector’s offhand response was that it got his kids into the then fancy Artek Young Pioneers camp.
Someone trading summer camp for his children for years of a man’s life isn’t the only absurdity in the Raukas’ family history.
After their property in Pirita was taken from them in 1940, virtually the only reason why Tiit Raukas’ grandmother was allowed to remain there throughout the remainder of the war was because the Tallinn office of Soviet counter-intelligence agency SMERSH was located in a neighboring house. Raukas’ grandmother had a cow - and the families of the officers needed milk.
75 years since the grandparents were deported
Tiit Raukas’ grandparents were deported along with over 11,000 other Estonians in June 1941. They were taken to Tomsk. After their arrest, the couple were separated, but ended up in camps on the same area.
When the dire conditions in the winter of 1941 made it near to impossible to keep feeding the prisoners, the authorities decided to simply open some of the camps and leave the deportees to their own devices. Raukas’ grandparents met after the camps were opened.
His grandmother had managed to hide a brilliant earring, which she traded for 100 buckets of potatoes. This got them through the winter, although they barely survived the harsh conditions.
In their time in Siberia, the couple built three houses, each one a little bigger and sturdier than the previous one. They were allowed to return to Estonia in April 1955, almost 14 years after their deportation.
Letters from Nahodka
Christmas card to Leonhard Raukas' son, Tiit, 1953 (Museum of Occupations)
Christmas card to Leonhard's daughter, Reet, 1953 (Museum of Occupations)
Letter to Leonhard's daughter, Reet, 1951. How Raukas managed to get colors to make the drawings for his daughter isn't known, but it couldn't have been easy (Museum of Occupations)