I have wondered for years when will people in the former USSR stop being scared of talking openly about life under communism. I have read several books of people talking about the repression their families faced but they hide their identities or withhold their last names.
The latest development on this topic is beyond shocking and something I never imagined would ever happen in the former USSR.
Memorial, the Russian-based organization that researches the atrocities of Soviet times, is pounding in signs on houses in Russia and Ukraine that announce residents who faced death for fake crimes during the Soviet Era. This is the choice of relatives who aren’t afraid to speak up about the family secrets.
I have relatives from Russia in their 40s who were upset that I talked about a relative who was killed during the communist era over e-mail. The idea of someone nailing down plaques and announcing former residents of a particular house died from communist persecution is a bit shocking.
I can imagine elderly neighbors seeing these plaques, gasping at the sight of these plaques and muttering, “What the hell are they thinking? Keep these matters within the family, not within the community and for everyone who walks by.”
This project, started in March 2017, already has had about 40 signs put on homes. It doesn’t look like much but this is a sign of change in the former USSR. (Watch this project grow each month here. Copy and paste text into Google Translate if you don’t know Russian.)
Researchers disagree about how many people died from persecution in Soviet times but about 2.5 million persecution deaths have been documented during Stalin’s reign, according to this Wikipedia article.
These signs that show people aren’t afraid to speak openly about their family’s persecutions could lead to larger online databases on the repressed and more people posting online about their family’s secrets. Finding long-lost family could become easier soon as people talk more about their “secret” relatives.
Too many people who have relatives from the former Soviet Union know how hard it is to have their family talk about life in the former homeland. More information will be coming as the fear of talking about the past decreases in the former USSR.
Memorial has already posted an online database of people from the former USSR who were persecuted during Soviet times here. The database can be searched here. (Use this website to translate names into Russian.)
The organization is working on a database of USSR citizens who were forced labors of Germany during WWII. I can’t imagine the closure so many people will have when this information is revealed, giving them a new understanding as to why some relatives want to keep the past secret. (Follow this blog with the top black right button to learn when the database is available.)