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June 17 , 2009

Suddenly, a Criminal: Sixteen Years in Siberia


"Those among us who survived," says Melanija, "did so because we were unbelievably full of the determination and will to live, and faith in our ultimate liberation, as well as because all the disasters arose unexpectedly." From her own and some of her fellow victims' notes and diaries written while the experiences were raw, she portrays an authentic panorama ofwhat ethnic cleansing looked like on the ground during her involuntary Siberian exile (1941-1956). First on an animal collecting station near Tyukhtet when her son Alnis is only nine, and later in the village itself, she and the other women endure homelessness, borderline starvation, extreme cold, humiliation, insult, ill treatment and brutality, and all the while without any knowledge about their husbands' fate, the men having been separated from the women and children already at the first train station where their ordeal began. Add to that, black mud into which one sinks up to the knees, and in Melanija's case, a death's door operation. Miraculously, some survived, and a few, like Alnis, even ultimately regained a respected position in society. Indomitable, iron lady Melanija recorded uncounted biographies of those who did not-members of her extended family, neighbours, friends and acquaintances. She filled one hundred and ten large albums in her calligraphic handwriting, supplemented by photographs, and hand drawn maps and pictures.In Latvia, this documentary became an instant modern classic. In September 2014 it was published in Russian.
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