Director: Imbi Paju
Scenario: Imbi Paju
Camera: Ants Martin Vahur
Montage: Riitta Poikselkä
Music: Arvo Pärt, Lepo Sumera
Production: Pille Rünk, Allfilm (Estonia), Tiina Butter, Filmmagica (Finland)
The elderly women in the film ””Sisters across the Gulf of Finland” have all experienced hard times, but with their warm and kind nature, they give the viewer hope that good can defeat evil. In the light of their humanity we can see the darker side of mankind, that which comes to the fore through political violence, when people are forced to remain silent, to withdraw into themselves and to forget. The past is connected to the present when we see UN Special Representative Elisabeth Rehn, herself once a Girl Lotta, assisting civilian victims in crisis areas. The film shows how the patterns of violence tied to war keep repeating regardless of time or place.
Review by Roland Campbell :
The film (Sisters Across te Gulf of Finland)tells the story of the bond between the women’s military auxiliary movements in Estonia and Finland, leading up to and during WWII and their subsequent disbandment and omission from popular history. The story is told by way of present day interviews with former members of the movement and rare archival footage from WWII. The interviews, pristine in appearance, provided personal time-filtered recollections of various elderly members compared to the grainy black and white archival footage which allowed for historical context and drove the narrative forward. They both act as windows to the past, one through the eyes, the window to the soul and the other through the lens of a camera.
Toronto, Estdocs 09
ABOUT IMBI PAJU
Film director, author and journalist Imbi Paju has won international
attention with “Memories Denied” (2005), her awardwinning
documentary film and book of the same name. Both the
film and the book deal with her mother’s experiences in a Soviet
slave labor camp, the occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union
and Nazi Germany, and the attempts by totalitarian regimes to
destroy human memory. Paju has been praised for her ability
to visually portray traumas of the past, something that is hard
to do with words alone. “Memories Denied” shows us how the
tragedy of an individual family repeated over and over gradually
becomes a national tragedy, a part of the collective but interrupted
European narrative, silenced by occupations and the cold
reality of politics.
“Memories Denied” has been translated and published in Estonian,
Finnish, Swedish, English and Russian.
In 2007 it was selected for use in the Swedish school program
“Living History”, which deals with both Nazi and Communist
crimes. In 2008 the film “Memories Denied” was translated into
Russian, as was the book in 2009. Since then Paju has travelled
around Estonia presenting the book to Russian-speaking
communities and has had the pleasure to meet with students,
teachers, community groups, and others.
In 2009, Paju and Finnish writer Sofi Oksanen publisheda collection of essays entitled
“Fear Was Behind Everything.How Estonia Lost its History and How to Get it Back”(WSOY)
which further develops the same themes. The year 2009 saw the premiere of her new documentary
film “Sisters across the Gulf of Finland”, which deals with terror, totalitarianism and humanity
in the next step on the search for the truth.
2011/2012- She published psychological-historical best-sellers nonfiction Sisters Across the Gulf of Finland. Watching the Pain of Others.
(publisher Like 2011/Finland;2012 Hea Lugu/Estonia). Is a story about how Estonian, Finnish and other Scandinavian women around Baltic Sea worked together to prevent
the onset of crisis and war their own unique actions. “Sisters Across The Gulf of Finland. Watching the Pain of Others ” reveals the pains left to us as an inheritance by the past.
Imbi Paju examines the way in which we look at each other, ourselves and our history. The stories of these women refresh our memories and call to mind
the pages of our story hidden in the silence of history.
Imbi Paju has lectured and taken part in numerous seminars and deliberations
about the crimes of communism and historical denial. Discussions inspired by her book and film in
Estonia, Finland, Germany, Norway,Sweden,Denmark,Taiwan,Ireland, Greece,Israel and the United States have helped open a dialogue in Europe as well as North America.
This discussion continues with increasing clarity and urgency.
During the Soviet occupation in the 1940s and 1950s, tens of thousands of Estonians were arrested and deported to Siberia. Among them were Imbi Paju’s mother and her twin sister. For those who grew up in the time of the terror, denial of memories has been the only way to survive. Memories Denied emerged from Imbi Paju’s need to understand her mother’s experiences.
She has interviewed people who lived through the Soviet occupation and the cruelty of the terror, as well as academics who have researched the subject. In her book Imbi Paju discusses the occupation of Estonia in psychoanalytical and philosophical terms, in which the traumatic experiences suffered by an individual are set against the background of major historical events.
Memories Denied shows us how the tragedy of an individual family repeated over and over gradually becomes a national tragedy, a part of the collective but interrupted European narrative, silenced by the occupations and practical politics. The weakening and destroying of memory, of intimacy, and of family ties was one of the goals of Sovietization.
MEMORIES DENIED was originally written in Estonian, but first published in translation in Finnish by Like Publishing Ltd. in 2006. Memories Denied was published in Estonian by Estonian Encyclopaedia Publishers and in Swedish by Atlantis in 2007. The Swedish edition, Förträngda minnen, became the best-seller of Gothenburg Book Fair in 2007 and has stimulated a far-reaching discussion in Sweden. A Russian translation will be published in 2009.
With her book and filmImbi Paju has been able to help open a discussion between Eastern and Western Europe as well as in the USA. The discussion continues and has already led to practical results. By a wide majority on April 2, 2009, as part of a Resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism, the European Parliament proposed August 23 as a Europe-wide day of remembrance to help Europe reconcile its totalitarian legacy, both from the Nazis and the Communists. For more and more people it is becoming clear that you can not, should not and must not deny memories any longer.
Written by author and film director Imbi Paju, Memories Denied is an impressionist work of art, which creates its images by abandoning the traditional rules and techniques of historical writing, instead using psychology, psychoanalysis, belletristics, philosophy, historical facts, personal memories of her countrymen, and the recollections of those close to her. It succeeds in creating an image of what a violent regime can do to people, showing the evil that man inflicts on man when the darkness lurking within his soul seizes power and when the political atmosphere fosters this kind of violence, and showing how a dictatorial regime manipulates remembering in order to hide its criminal actions.
The narrative emerges from Estonia’s experience, from the author’s own family story and personal childhood memories. In her work, Paju is not saying “never again!” On the contrary, the book tells us that events such as these might well happen again. If we make no attempt to keep remembering, we shall never escape the consequences. This book explains how violent regimes founded on totalitarian philosophies persuade people to follow them, thereby stripping them of all their humanity.
The early 1940s saw the immediate imposition of the Russian SSR Criminal Code, which defined the “objective enemy”– a bandit, an enemy of the people, a kulak, an undesirable element, a hostile nation. According to the renowned Gulag researcher Anne Applebaum, every memoir, every document on the history of the Gulag is but a fragment of the puzzle, a fraction of the explanation. Without these pieces, we might wake up one day not knowing who we are. And without these pieces, words such as “human rights”, “compassion” and “trust” will become mere clichés.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia
“Memories Denied is an impressive and essential
work. An important contribution to
cultural memory in Europe!”
-Prof. Peter Hanenberg
“I can recommend two books that make good reading for those
wishing to get a deeper insight into the large themes of Oksanen.
I’m thinking of the works by the Estonian documentary filmmaker
and author Imbi Paju: Memories Denied and Sisters across the
Gulf of Finland. In both books she uses material from her documentary
films (2005 and 2009) bearing the same titles, but deepens the
subjects in well-documented, essayistic reflections on the sexualised
violence of the occupation and the power of propaganda over human relationships.
…one can…read the books by Oksanen and Paju in parallel,
combine the former’s dramaturgic drive with the latter’s reflective
depth. No author is an isolated island, and Finnish – and
Nordic – literature needs Imbi Paju.”
Pia Ingström is a critic and scholar, currently
Pia Ingström is a critic and scholar, head of the cultural editors at the Finland- Swedish newspaper Hufudstadsbladet.
She writes for Norwegian Newspaper Klasskampen.
“One of the best books on the history of
Estonia and the fate of its people.”
-Stefan Brunow, Arts and Culture
Journalist, Tv YleFem/Finland
Stefán Jónsson, director and professor of acting, Iceland Academy of the Arts:
“In 2011, I directed Purge by Sofi Oksanen, at Iceland´s National Theatre. When researching the work, I discovered that Oksanen had been inspired by the book, Memories Denied by Imbi Paju. I read the book and found it both overwhelming and yet beautifully honest. It´s a great testimony to the love that the author has for her mother and her homeland, for humanity. It´s how history should be written. It was essential, both for me and my fellow artists, to have such a source of knowledge and inspiration, when working on Oksanen´s Purge. My utmost respect to Imbi Paju.”
“Imbi Paju’s book opens doors onto dark rooms.” – Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War.
“By describing the fate of her mother – arrested, imprisoned, deported to the Gulag as a young woman – Imbi Paju has, in effect, told the story of an entire nation. Widely admired in her native Estonia and elsewhere, Memories Denied could bring that country’s history alive for many others too.” – Anne Applebaum, Author of Gulag
“Memories Denied is without question one of the books that will contribute to both the knowledge and the understanding of what our Estonian sister nation and the other nations that fell under the communistic oppression after the Second World War were confronted with.” – Dag Hartelius, Ambassador of Sweden in Estonia, Svenska Dagbladet
“Imbi Paju’s book is equally impressive and neccissary. It
focuses on the denial of atrocies suffered in Estonia during
the Soviet occupation: both the unspeakable and the
unspoken. On the one hand it is about the denial of the
victim. And on the other, it is a history of perptrators and
the dark powers that followed.
Imbi Paju’s book is an important contribution to a critical
update of cultural memory in Europe. Such stories are
critical, because only they can remind us how secretly
memories can be denied.
As the author says, it is personal memories that give history
a human face. The book does, however, also reflected
on the larger story: the history of a country that aspires
to retain its independence – and has put its hopes into
the EU for freedom and security.”
Prof. Dr. Peter Hanenberg
Professor of Cultural Studies
Universidade Católica Portuguesa
“I find myself now believing that, in the spirit of Dante’s divine author genius, Imbi Paju’s books can coach us – as individual citizens, as
independent nations and members of ever growing national organisations – to grow ourselves, and to grow a moral cosmos to combat and
treat evil – repression, submission, decimation and devastation.”
-Heikki Majava, psychiatrist, psychologist and psychosemiotician, Finland
“If you don’t even try to dismantle the evilness of the past, you will undoubtedly be met by it again.” – Risto Lindstedt, Suomen Kuvalehti Journal
“The time of shame is over.” – Suvi Ahola, Helsingin Sanomat Newspaper
“As certainly as Paju believes that man can be changed, she also unwaveringly believes in the healing power of calling forward and unravelling
the nightmares of the past. Unprocessed stories breed pain; the stories which are talked of, in turn, help understand the past and avoid
evil deeds of the future.”
– Rutt Hinrikus, literary and memoir scholar, Eesti Päevaleht newspaper
FIRST THERE WAS A PHOTO OF MY MOTHER
When I look at the picture of my mother, I see sadness. The photo was taken in 1955, about a year after she had been released from Stalin’s forced labor camp. Mother’s melancholic look brings the reality of that time into the present day. The past lives on in her expression, and a perceptive observer can see her nightmarish experiences engraved on her face. My mother does not like to look at that photograph. She thinks the look on her face is too frightening. “You don’t know how hard it was,” says Mother. I failed to grasp the full meaning of my mother’s expression “frightening” until the beginning of the 21st century, when I began collecting materials for the documentary Memories Denied.
Throughout the Soviet occupation, the people who had survived the Siberian forced labor camps and persecutions either kept their painful memories to themselves or shared them only within the confines of their family, even then keeping the most horrifying details to themselves. Fearing renewed persecution and hoping to conceal the fact that they were marked, they remained silent. When they did speak, they were often met with indifference and a lack of understanding, making communication of these bitter experiences even more difficult. Social memory had suffered the systematic elimination of the actual past, a socially designed amnesia. This was the case throughout Central and Eastern Europe.
People living in the countries formerly within the Soviet system, countries that had once enjoyed freedom and democracy, have reacted with awkwardness, sometimes even hostility toward those who have suffered, especially when this suffering can not be reconciled with the belief that, despite the terror its system had inflicted, Communist ideology had actually been good. To a person who has survived the Gulag or the Holocaust, his or her experience is sacred, making the person all the more vulnerable.
Any humane approach to history must include the belief that concentration, forced labor, and death camps cannot possibly serve progress, no matter how good the ideology. In other words: when looking at a destructive system that claims millions of victims, one can not presume that this brutality was inflicted on behalf of a good ideology.
Recollections from my childhood include a plywood suitcase that I often played with, filling it with my doll clothes and toys. It was the same suitcase that my mother had carried on a summer’s day in 1954 as she stepped off the train that had brought her back home from a place 1,500 kilometers away in Russia. She was then 24 years old, having spent 6 years in a forced labor camp in Archangelsk oblast. She was released during the amnesty after Stalin’s death in 1953, having been labeled as someone “behaving in a hostile manner” against the Soviet system as a young girl. She had survived amid the terror, although death had often been too close. Her own mother Helene and her mother’s sister Heldi with her two small children Pille and Helve had also been deported to Russia in 1949. Their home, which could have offered them safety and reassurance, had been demolished by the new Soviet order and dismantled; its planks used to build a sauna at some collective farm. My mother’s passport bore the stamp “Enemy of the People,” making it hard for her to find work. Upon her release from the camp, she signed a promise to keep silent about what she had experienced there. Upon returning home, she had to register with the Soviet security apparatus (NKVD – Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennykh Del – People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, the Soviet Secret Police in the 1930s and the Second World War), and was forbidden to live in any coastal town, since the Soviet Union considered such towns to be strategically important.
I was born five years after Mother’s release from prison camp. At the age of forty, I began making a documentary film entitled Memories Denied about the story of my mother and her twin sister. I wanted something to endure from my mother’s life; something that would create a new sense of continuity. I believe that any kind of pain that is recreated on film, in a book, in a work of art, changes the source of its meaning, creating a new event. The screen is like a mirror in which the viewer does not directly see oneself; what the viewer sees gives birth to a feeling, which in turn creates an experience, an experience through which the viewer becomes a participant in the process of laying open this pain. And this pain often has universal significance.
As a child, I often awoke to hear my mother crying out for help as she struggled in nightmares. Her dreams were of Stalin’s forced labor camps and the Soviet soldiers who threatened her life. In those dreams, she was never able to return home to her mother. In my childhood, those dreams of my mother’s caused me great distress. The script of this story began taking shape in those childhood years. The forced labor camps and death camps filtered into my subconscious through my mother’s dreams.
This story is the untold story of all Estonian society, a story of sadness, arbitrary power, and images of violence – a puzzle. Many different feelings flow from mother to child; at that time, I did not know that my mother was suffering from something called remembering.
(From the film Memories Denied)
Even a documentary film can be dreamlike. A dreamer always stands within the events; the dreamer’s experience is actual and immediate. The film Memories Denied is the symbolic expression of those nightmares. Dreams themselves are moving pictures, abundant with events and meaning.
The French historian François Dosse claims that historical processes may be viewed through the prism of psychoanalysis. People today actually expect the historian to assume the role of psychoanalyst or psychologist. Two parties are required for the preservation of historical memory: the one who talks and the one who listens. Psychoanalytic treatment supports the “work of remembering,” forcing the person to break through the screen of memories and confront their pain and mourning. “Mourning does not consist only of sadness, but in actual discussion of the loss of a beloved person, a slow and painful surrender to reality,” Dosse writes. “This ‘work of remembering’ helps one to recollect, and the ‘work of mourning’ helps to create distance, and the necessity of such ‘work’ indicates that the normal functioning of memory can be guaranteed only if painful images can be eliminated and forgotten.”
The purpose of individual as well as collective memory is the preservation of the integrity of identity that is connected to a particular time and activity. The English moral philosopher Jonathan Glover writes in Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century3 that by keeping the past alive, we can prevent the repetition of horrifying events. These events, which people are sometimes required to forget, may be horrifying, particularly for the victims who survived them. In a speech given to SS soldiers heading for Poland, Hitler ordered them to mercilessly kill men, women and children. He hinted that these deeds would eventually be forgotten: “Who remembers the Armenian genocide any more?” This is strikingly similar to the comment Stalin made as he signed an execution order: “Who is going to remember all this riffraff in ten or twenty years’ time? No one! Who remembers the names of the boyars Ivan the Terrible got rid of? No one!”
Politics and politicians frequently have a hand in the demand for silence. A dissertation written by Turo Uskali, a scholar at Finland’s Jyväskyla University, investigates the work of Finnish correspondents in the Soviet Union during the Cold War (1957-1975). In it, he lists three topics that the KGB forbade foreign correspondents to write about: the exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union, the Winter War, and anything involving the Baltic States. Journalists were not to talk or write about the past of Estonia and the Baltic States, or if they did, only under strict self-censorship. Honesty and openness would have endangered the dictatorial regime, the guilty conscience of the Soviet system. Whereas the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians experienced actual Communism, the Finns, Swedes, French and other free nations experienced only the ideas of Communism. Communism has always had a wonderful brand – the “uprising of the working class.”
Talking about the victims of Communism has never been fashionable in the West. Nazism has been the “easy enemy;” it lived and died along with Hitler. The Soviet Union was enormous, with plenty of places to send people. Any person could be exchanged, unnoticed, for another. After arguing with Lenin’s widow Nadezhda Krupskaya, Stalin threatened to find Lenin a new widow… Communism in the Soviet Union resembled an enormous anthill, and it was hard to sympathize with victims who seemed not even to exist. Communism never had its Anne Frank.
My good Finnish friend Carita Rosenberg-Wolff has a startling example from one of her school geography lessons in the sixties. Her teacher, describing the location of the Baltic States and Estonia, told the class that these states existed before the war, but that it was no longer appropriate to talk of them. The teacher then went on to a different topic, leaving Carita with the feeling that those countries must be part of some great secret. The teacher had behaved just like her parents when they hid sexually explicit materials from the curious eyes of their children. The child realized that this must be some kind of secret, something forbidden and thus all the more exciting. Playing on the beach in summer, she and the other children had cupped their hands and called across the Gulf of Finland: “Estonia, Estonia, where are you?” But Estonia did not answer until the early 1990s.
At the time of this writing, Estonia has been independent for 15 years, after half a century of forced silence. Occasionally, there is still discussion about whether the Baltic States were occupied or whether they joined the Soviet Union voluntarily. Those who delve into Estonia’s recent past and the crimes of Communism are sometimes labeled “Russophobes.”
Every so often, someone will claim that life was good during Soviet times or that traveling in the Soviet Union was easy. These people were not directly affected by the terror, the murders, the persecution inflicted by the Soviet system. The Soviet occupation authorities preached the equality of all peoples, while in reality there were always some people more equal than others. At certain store counters, some people could purchase “deficit goods,” i.e. household items and food not sold to the public; there were special hospitals that tended to the so-called superior people; there were special schools in which the children of the Soviet elite could study foreign languages. Labor unions handed out car purchase permits, apartments, and vacation travel packages to particularly loyal citizens. Whenever anyone was fortunate enough to acquire an item that was in short supply, such as toilet paper or a sack of sugar, that person would feel uplifted, superior. It did not take much to make someone feel special.
They would turn their eyes away from a fellow citizen who had fallen on hard times, because empathy was a relic of the bourgeois West, and dangerous in the circumstances of the occupation.
And the price of this superficial welfare? The destruction of hundreds of thousands of Estonian lives, disruption of traditions, and economic catastrophe – a loss which is still felt in this country that has now restored its independence.
The occupation brought about an abrupt and unexpected change in morality. It remained unnoticed by those outside the Soviet Union, particularly since the new morality was being described with expressions co-opted from the “rotting humanism and bourgeoisie”: freedom, equality, brotherhood and justice.
Those who had survived now lived in the shadow of the Gulag, concealing their personal loss.
Over the last five years, I have ventured into this nightmarish time, one step at a time. On my desk, I have copies of documents which the NKVD compiled about my mother in 1948-49. The KGB destroyed her interrogation files in 1962. I want to know the identity of the Soviet KGB agents who labeled my mother a “bandit;” I want to know how it all happened. It is for this reason that I must put everything in writing as well as on film. By opening these pathologies of history to the extent that I am able in this moment and at this time, I am attempting to re-create the lost era which engulfed my mother and her contemporaries, but which has sunk into silence and been denied the comfort of closure. This may not be reason enough to bring up these pathologies of history, but then again, there is no need to know everything, because total recollection could lead to madness.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Edward Lucas preface …15
First There Was a Photo of My Mother…21
Dangerous Elements Are Eliminated…29
The Work of History is a Twofold Work of Memory and Mourning…35
Heino Noor’s Journey from a Small Town in Europe to a Stalinist Death Camp…38
The Ill-Omened Idyll of 1939…60
Memories of the First World War…62
Kafka’s Prediction: An Apparatus That Tattoos the Text of the Law Directly onto the Flesh…69
Toward Freedom and Republic: Elsbet Parek Remembers…76
The War of Independence…91
A National Ideal That Respects National Minorities…104
The Faculty of Jewish Language and Culture was established at Tartu University in 1933. A celebration of the Estonian Jewish University Student Organization Hasmonea.Courtesy Estonian Film Archive.
Communist Historical Texts Have Their Own Truth…132
The Voice of KGB Propagandists Continues to Have Influence Today…134
Who Shall Rewrite the Past?…137
Erika Nivanka Remembers: Problems and Successes in Building a Civil Society…140
All Ours, All Together…146
The Spiritual Suitcases of the Survivors….148
Establishing a Disinformation Office…153
“Hang No Less Than One Hundred Known Kulaks”…154
Fear of the Nazis…160
1939: Swastika Flags Fly in Moscow…168
Foreign Policy Before the Fateful Year of 1939…172
How Did Soviet Russia React to the Pact Between Hitler and Stalin?…173
The Baltic Germans Return to Their Homeland…178
The Occupation Begins…182
1940: The “Joyous Union” and the World’s Fairest Judicial System…186
Stalin’s Theory of Species Transformation, Which Could Also Serve to Transform Estonians…188
Spoils of War from the Baltic States…190
Establishment of Soviet Justice in Estonia: “Confession is the Queen of Evidence in the Soviet Union”…191
Normalizing the Perversity of the Judicial System…198
End of July 1940: Soviet Cleansing Begins. Abolition of the Institution of the President of the Republic of Estonia…204
The Soviet Regime Rescues Children from the Grip of Fascism….204
From the Perspective of the Attacker, It Is the Victim’s Own Fault…231
Crushing the Country’s Spine…242
Extermination Battalions Are Put Into Action…250
Who Were They?…251
What Did They Do?…252
The Red Army Invades My Paentts Home Village…257
Hiding in the Cellar…260
Hitler Betrays Stalin…264
Forced Mobilization into the Red Army and the German Army:
A Fratricidal War…267
Schoolboys Fighting Against Each Other…268
The Fate of the Jews…270
The New Occupation…284
A Family of Bandits…295
Toward a Happier History…325
Chronology of Estonia History…330