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May 15 , 2010

A Stolen Childhood


Ilmars Salts was only 10 years old when - on the morning of June 14, 1941 - his father, mother, brother, sister, and grandmother were awakened in their rural Latvia home and put into a cattle train bound for Siberia. To enable Russification, in one day alone, more than 15,000 men, women, children and elderly were rounded up and taken to Gulag death camps and deportation settlements. "A Stolen Childhood" evokes graphic scenes and acts of grave injustice, cruelty and unconscionable inhumanity as the brutal Siberian winters kill deportees, one after the other. There are no coffins and half-naked corpses are dragged by the arms of legs to their final resting place; a newborn is buried, still in the cradle. Dishes are scarce and food is ladled into a hat, or directly onto the table top. When deportees are put to work pulling logs out of the frigid Chulym River, their soaked garments freeze stiff in the Siberian air, but guards won't let them near the bonfire - to hasten their demise. There are no toilets; human waste piles up or is eaten by starving pigs or dogs. The Salts children, orphaned in the third winter, incredibly, withstand the extreme hardships and return to their homeland as living witnesses and the keepers of history. In the decades under the Soviet regime, crimes were deliberately hushed up. Not until 1995-96 did the secret archives gradually become accessible, and deportees were free to speak about their experiences.
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