March 1949 deportations' 71st anniversary to be marked by home candles

There will be no traditional public candle lighting on the anniversary of the March 25 deportation this year (photo from 2019's event).
There will be no traditional public candle lighting on the anniversary of the March 25 deportation this year (photo from 2019's event). Source: Anna Aureia Minev/ERR

Wednesday marks the 71st anniversary of the 1949 mass deportations of over 20,000 Estonians to the Siberian Gulags and other destinations by the Soviet authorities. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, traditional candle-lighting events across towns and cities in the country have been canceled, though organizations involved in the commemoration are urging people to light a candle in their window at home instead.

As reported on ERR News, on Wednesday evening, the sea-facing side of the former Patarei Prison, one of the symbols of the crimes of totalitarian regimes, will be lit up red to commemorate victims of Communism.

Members of the Memento Association will place flowers and light candles at memorials on Wednesday, where possible. Church bells will toll at noon and at 3 p.m., inviting people to remember the thousands of people who were deported to Siberia and never returned.

An evening memorial concert "Mööda linnuteed " which was to be held in the Jaani Kirik in Tallinn has been postponed as well.

Riigikogu speaker: We must not forget, even in current crisis

Riigikogu speaker Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) addressed the public on Wednesday morning, recalling that exactly 71 years ago, on a beautiful Friday winter morning, the Kremlin's operation "Priboi" ("coastal surf") commenced.

"The occupation regime had decided to methodically destroy the smaller nations. Four deportation waves left from Estonia, the most severe of which were in March 1949. Twenty-three thousand Estonians were removed from their homes," Põlluaas said, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.

"They were crammed into cattle carts and began their journey eastward toward Siberia. The youngest deportee was only a three-day newborn and the oldest, - a 95-year-old grandmother There were 900,000 Estonians suffering from the grief left behind. Less than a million."

Põlluaas noted that on March 25, 1949 and during the following days, Estonians and the people of Estonia stood alone in their sadness, as did Latvians and Lithuanians deported at the same time.

"The pain of our souls has plagued us all, young and old, on board and behind the train. Great uncertainty awaited us," Põlluaas went on.

For many, this actually meant starvation and death. For some, however, fate was also for their return. For those who were at home, waiting and fear under the omnipresent communist regime were the lot.

"March 25 is a day every year to commemorate our history and what happened to the Estonian people. We sympathize with everyone who had to feel the pain during those tragic days and years of suffering. There were many of these around us, who had no one to blame."

Põlluaas also stressed a personal duty to talk about what happened, even when facing completely different crises, as we do today. We must not and cannot forget the crimes of the past, he said.

"I invite everyone to light a candle on their home window and bow their heads. We will remember and will not let history repeat itself!"

Rescue Board safety recommendations

The Rescue Board (Päästeamet) reminds those planning to mark the occasion that a candle lit on a window sill must be placed on a heat-resistant base and away from flammable materials. The candle should not be left unattended. Only candles marked as suitable for indoor burning should be used.

From March 25-28 1949, more than 22,000 people in Estonia alone, and altogether nearly 95,000 people across the Baltics, from infants to the elderly, were forced from their homes and deported to Siberia under the Soviet Operation Priboi ("Coastal Surf"). Several thousand of these deportees never made it back home

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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