Last night Freedom Square here in Tallinn was covered in candles to commemorate those who were taken away from Estonia in the March deportation of 1949.
By that time there had already been a huge death toll and mass exile and forced emigration. Half of Tallinn was still in ruins following the bombing of the city by the advancing Soviet army in 1944. The leaders of the pre-war republic were in gaol or dead- not just the politicians, but civil servants, priests, teachers, in fact any one with a position of any kind of authority.
Then came 1949.
The MGB (the predecessor to the KGB) called it Operation Priboi and they swooped on all three Baltic countries in the few days leading up to March 25th. The rounded up their targets- mostly entirely innocent people, with over three quarters being women and children together with many older people, and packed them into cattle trucks and sent them to the remotest corners of Siberia. Those who survived to return many years later were changed beyond recognition. Often even family members could not recognise those who survived- and many, especially the children, did not return. As always in Soviet practice, records were poor initially and have been lost subsequently. An educated guess is that about 94,000 were taken. A few descendants still eke out a living in far flung corners of Siberia, even after the majority of the survivors were allowed to return in the late fifties, however it is probable that the majority of those who were taken did not survive.
The commemoration was a quiet- even family occasion. A small group listened to prayers. Wreaths were laid. And the whole square was covered in candles.