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An Ever-Present Past

Four generations of Moldovan teachers talk about the lessons of Soviet-era deportations to Siberia. From Ziarul de Garda. 

by Maria Svet 6 September 2017

In 1945, Ilie Tataru, the principal of a school in the village of Pojareni, in the Ialoveni district of Moldova, was declared an “enemy of the people” and sentenced to 10 years in a Mordovian prison (in western, present-day Russia, then the Soviet Union). On 6 July 1949, his wife and three-year-old child were deported to Siberia. That is where Ileana was born. Both children later became teachers. One of them taught for 40 years in Siberia and the other – in Pojareni. Their grandchildren are also teachers. Now even their great-grandchildren are studying pedagogy in the European Union. All of them have learned the lesson of deportation directly from a primary source. These four generations of teachers migrated from Siberia to Moldova and later, to the EU.


They came during the night of 5-6 July 1949. They entered the house. There were two soldiers and two Komsomol (the youth organization of the Communist Party) members from the village. The parents woke up. Domnica, along with her three-year-old son Gheorghita (a diminutive for Gheorghe), were sleeping in the next room. They were told to get dressed, take what they have with them, and be ready to leave in two hours.


“We could not take anything, we didn’t know what to grab. I cried, my mother and father were shaking, the child was crying,” Domnica Tataru-CapaĊ£ana recalls. She was deported to Siberia with her son, four years after her husband, Ilie Tataru, a teacher and the principal of a Pojareni school, had been arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison in Mordovia for being an “enemy of the people.”


Father and Son Meet in Novosibirsk


After Ilie’s imprisonment, he was forbidden to return to Moldova for five years. He re-married and stayed in Novosibirsk (in southwestern Siberia), where he worked as a schoolteacher. His son, Gheorghe Tataru, had been born in 1946 – on the day that Domnica turned 20. Ilie found out about the birth of his son only in 1965. At the time, the young man was serving in the army in Moscow. His father searched and found him, at last.


After serving in the army, Gheorghe decided to travel to Novosibirsk, to get to know his father.


“I came home from the army and told my mother that I wanted to visit my father. My mother had told me about him but, because he was still alive, I wanted to see him. I was an adult, nearly 25 years old. I made a decision. I told my mother that I was leaving, but that I would come back. I left and I stayed,” he says.


Gheorghe remembers little about the day of the deportation. He was still very young.


“An image is imprinted in my memory: we were walking to the train, and the guard scared me. This feeling of fright stayed with me for a long time. I started to understand certain things when I started first grade. I remember the taiga [boreal forest], fishing, and swimming in the river. I remember people chopping firewood. In 1956, when I returned, a new chapter of life had begun here [in Siberia],” the man remembers. Since then, 68 years have passed. Gheorghita is now 72 years old, 47 of which he has spent in Novosibirsk. Every year he goes to Moldova to visit his mother.


The Last Supper Before Deportation


“The evening they deported us, my mother had made mamaliga (traditional corn porridge) and branza (traditional sheep’s milk cheese), which they put into a container for me. By the time we got to Straseni (in central Moldova), they had gone bad. We threw them out,” Domnica recalls.


Four generations of a Moldovan family whose members experienced deportations


They were brought to the train station and loaded into wagons. They stayed there for two days, until the train filled up. It took two weeks to travel to Omsk (in southwestern Siberia). “They let us out there, put us on a ferry, washed us. We had lice, and we were dying of hunger. After that, they put us in rowboats and we floated down the Irtysh River, alongside the forests. After several kilometers, they let out three to four families ...When we landed on shore, there were around 52 of us. They told us ‘Build houses, plant gardens, you’re here for the rest of your lives,’ ” Domnica says.


They were put into barracks. Each family got a corner of a room. They stayed there for two days. On the third day, they were given axes and saws, and sent to chop trees. “We girded ourselves with rope, stored a handful of cooked grain in our shirts, and with axes on our backs and with saws, set off to fell the forest with other people. The trees leaned on one another, and we tried with all our might to fell them; later, Russians came and laughed at us ...We sat on the cut-down trees, started fires, and cried: ‘Will we see our country again, our fields, our homes?’ ” Domnica remembers.


In 1952, Domnica’s daughter Ileana was born. “I gave birth in the room where I lived with a family of Kalmyks [an ethnic minority in the Soviet Union, also deported to Siberia during and after World War II]. An old lady who had also been deported helped me,” Domnica says. That year, they moved to Savenka. Domnica worked in a bakery. Gheorghita went to school, and later Ileana went to kindergarten. In 1956, seven years later, they were freed. Domnica took the children and returned home. “I found my parents and lived with them for some time, after which I joined the kolhoz (collective farm), so that we could get our house back. The house was old, there was a kolhoz apiary in it. After that I worked on the farm for about 10 years, so that I could raise the kids,” Domnika explains.


A Family of Teachers


Having set off for Novosibirsk to meet his father, Gheorghe got into the local pedagogical institute. Over the course of 40 years, he taught Russian history, world history, social studies, and law in Novosibirsk. “When I finished my studies, I fell in love and got married ... And my father was still alive. I settled down here, had children – like it or not, I had to stay. Now, civilization is different from how it was in the 1940s. Then, as my mother told me, they brought them [to Siberia] and told them ‘Now you’re here forever.’ Say you’re young, you’re 23 years old, and someone tells you that, in the taiga, in those forests – ‘forever.’ That’s frightening ...” Gheorghe says.


Gheorghe and Ileana


In response to a question of whether he had told his history students about the deportations, Gheorghe said: “There, in Russian history, the subject of deportations is covered. As a witness of deportation, I told them how I lived in a camp, what we ate, how our parents worked, what we did. I am a live witness of everything that happened,” he says.


Ileana worked as a biology teacher for 44 years in Pojareni. For the fifth year in a row, on 6 July, she came to the “Train of suffering,” a commemoration event to honor the memory of those who had been deported. “They deported the most hard-working people, the most curious. The people who came in their place were different, they wanted to tell us what to do, and that the Russian language is better, that Russia is better and so is the Siberian soil,” Ileana says.


“My mother, having gone through all that she went through in Siberia, grew physically and psychologically stronger. I recharge myself with her optimism, in order to never allow hatred toward anyone in my heart. That is true even today. We must fight our enemies, and be optimistic so that justice prevails,” the former teacher explains with conviction.


From his experience as a history teacher, Gheorghe Tataru says that he has made a few important observations about the Stalin-era deportations. “Today, there are many discussions about the deportations, but most of the people who talk are those who weren’t there. Many suffered under Stalin. He is guilty, but in villages where people were tried, local enemies had them put on [secret police] lists. The order came to arrest, for example, two families, but they would put five, six, or 10 families on the list, in order to seize their property. Ukrainians were deported, and Moldovans, Chechens, Estonians, Lithuanians, and other nationalities, but when we arrived there, there was a friendship among the people, because we were all equal,” the former history teacher says. He also explains that, even though the Moldovans seriously suffered, no matter where they were they would quickly find work, build homes for themselves, and would climb the social ladder.


“A Moldovan is not someone who has only suffered. He has moved forward in life and has left his mark. “There are many of us – children of the exiled, those who stayed or who were forced to return there. Those who could, however they could, made a career,” Gheorghe says.


Siberia Became Their Home


The third stage of the Expedition of Memory (a program aimed at teaching Moldovan youth about the deportations that took place in the 1940s through trips to places in the former Soviet Union where the deported people were sent) to Irkutsk, eastern Siberia, happened in September 2016. Over the course of 10 days, a group of nine people covered around 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles). Historian Octavian Ticu was part of the team. “We’ve established cases, during the expedition, of Moldovan-Bessarabians [Moldova’s historical name] who stayed in Siberia because they did not find themselves at home [in Moldova]. We found them in Kazakhstan, where there is a community of 33,000 Romanian-Moldovans, most of whom had been deported. Most of those who were deported returned, in the end, but there were people who chose the places they had been deported to, for several rational reasons, not the least of which was that they did not feel at home anymore when they returned here [to Moldova]. Their land had been sold off, their houses were lost, and they lived with the mark of being ‘enemies of the people.’ In the end, they chose this fate, which is not easy at all, because this is its own kind of exile, except this time, it is deliberate,” the historian says.


“The Whole World is Full of Moldovans”


After two years without visiting Moldova, this summer, Domnica’s granddaughter Ana returned home with her husband, Vladimir, and their son Grigoras (the diminutive of Grigore) – that is how his great-grandmother lovingly calls him. The economic situation 15 years ago forced them to migrate to Spain, but the longing for their motherland makes them occasionally return home.


“They finished pedagogical institutes, but if there are no children in the schools, they have no opportunities,” Domnica laments. “They had to go somewhere, to earn money for a piece of bread. Now, no one stays at home – they travel to earn money. The elderly stay behind, but the young people leave and the elderly struggle with their old age.”


It took them years to get on their feet. They live in the Palencia province (in northern Spain). Vladimir is a truck driver and Ana has had a stable job for the past four years, as a caretaker in a psychiatric hospital. She studied in this field for two years to get a job in a hospital. “It was difficult, but we were lucky to encounter kind people, and there were many locals who helped us overcome challenges. And now we have to constantly put in an effort, and to show that we seriously intend to assimilate, to respect the culture, traditions, and the language,” says Ana.


Ana, Ileana’s daughter, decided to become a teacher like her mother. She taught the Romanian language and Romanian literature in a village school for seven years. Vladimir, her husband, worked 10 years as an elementary school and music teacher. His father and grandfather were also teachers in the village. In 1998, he had to go to Spain. After two years abroad, he could not stand being away from his family any longer. They all emigrated.


“Those who say that emigrants are not patriots are wrong. There are many people who stay in Moldova, get rich, but forget about these elderly people, who live off of meager pensions,” Vladimir says. “The financial situation of the old women and men depends on us, the ones who left. The government forgets about these people,” Ana adds.


When they left, Grigoras was three years old. Now he is 18, and he speaks Romanian. He is studying at the pedagogical university of Palencia. He wants to become an elementary school teacher, like his father. Because he likes sports, he has decided to become a teacher of physical education. “I want to live and work in Spain. I don’t see a future for myself in Moldova. A teacher’s salary in Spain is 10 times higher than here,” Grigoras says.


Cicu confirms that, after 1991, Moldova lost a whole generation of people who were the makers of the country’s independence, but who felt they lived better in foreign countries.


Meager Help


The state assistance for the victims of deportation is 100 lei (around $5.60).


“We passed separate restitution laws, but they were designed in such a way that there was only a very narrow window for their implementation and, as a result, we did not have full rehabilitation [of those who were deported].Yes, there was politics involved, and, through a decree of [first Moldovan President Mircea] Snegur – this law about rehabilitation [came about]. Everyone was given documentation, and there is a certain quota that will be paid out, but we have to understand that, since 1991, we have been ruled by a neo-communist elite that has managed to avoid the explicit condemnation of communism, and the atrocities committed by them [under the old regime] have been concealed to a large degree. People did their best to have their rights restored through bureaucratic means, but there was no decisive condemnation at the political level,” Ticu says. 

This article was written by Maria Svet, and originally published on Ziarul de Garda, a news and analysis site based in Moldova. TOL has done some editing to fit our style. Reprinted with permission. All images via Ziarul de Garda. 


Translated by Anna Bisikalo.

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