Letter on Birch Bark from Siberia by Kārlis Roberts Kalevics, January 30, 1943


On August 5, 1940, the independent country of Latvia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, after having been occupied by the Red Army in June of that year. Estonia and Lithuania suffered a similar fate. Thousands of Latvians were arrested for having anti-Soviet views, taking part in resistance movements, being farmers, belonging to political parties, or refusing to join a collective farm. Many were deported to Siberia. People who were in prisons, concentration camps, or settlements in Siberia wrote letters to friends and relatives on birch bark, which was often the only available material at places of deportation. This was particularly the case during World War II, when paper was very scarce. Only 19 such letters, dating from 1941 to 1956, survive in Latvian museums. They are important documents for the history of Latvia and of the Soviet era and a vivid record of the effects of mass repression on individual lives. This letter of January 1943 is from Kārlis Roberts Kalevics (1877–1945), a former justice of the peace and attorney of the Tukums District of Latvia, to his wife, Vera Milda Kalevica (1890–1972), a doctor. Kalevics was arrested in 1941 and interned at the Vyatlag concentration camp at present-day Lesnoy, in the Kirov District; Vera Milda Kalevica was in the Kalachinsk District of the Omsk region. Their son Theodore was also deported. Of the three of them, only Vera Milda survived to return from Siberia. Letters from the concentration camps of Vyatlag during World War II are written in Russian, not Latvian, because they had to be reviewed by military censors. Letters that were sent from settlements after the war are written in Latvian.

Last updated: June 19, 2017