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SENTENCE: SIBERIA

Ann Lehtmets

Edited By Brian Lewis

SENTENCE: SIBERIA

The story of Ann Lehtmets:

This is an amazing true story of survival against all odds. A book that everyone should read. It is a reminder of the depths to which society can sink under authoritarian rule. It is also a reminder of the capacity of the human spirit to endure and overcome hardship, cruelty and extreme privation over many years and yet to emerge intact and rejoin society and family.

Strong & Bold Publishing is proud to bring you this first edition of Sentence: Siberia as an e-book of 144,000 words and 404 pages. Available now only via Amazon.

Ann Lehtmets was born in southern Estonia in 1904 and educated at a girls’ college. She settled with her lawyer husband in Rakvere, Estonia’s third largest city. In 1941 she was arrested and transported to Siberia, where for seventeen years she was forced to live and work in appalling conditions.

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DETAILS

Category Memoir
Number of Pages 404
ISBN 978-0-9954493-4-3
Edited by Brian Lewis
Cover Designer Brian Lewis

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PREFACE: BEFORE THE TIDE

PREFACE: BEFORE THE TIDE
On the night of 14 June 1941, Ann Lehtmets was forcibly removed from her home in the city of Rakvere, Estonia, and transported to Siberia. In 1959, when she was reunited with her daughter in Australia, she became one of few to survive this other holocaust and rejoin the western world.
***

The June 1941 action by the Soviet Union, involving tens of thousands of Baltic citizens, was one ruthless step in the Kremlin march to demolish Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as sovereign states and incorporate their territories into the USSR.

Each of these three nations, across the Baltic Sea from Finland, has a language and culture distinct from any in Russia. Each had no ties, ethnic or otherwise, with that country and no desire whatsoever to become a part of it.

The Ribbentrop-Molotov pact had been signed two years earlier, in 1939, on the eve of Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Hitler’s and Stalin’s foreign ministers had been authorised, in exchange for ‘peace’ on the eastern front and in anticipation of non-intervention from the west, to tear central Europe apart and divide it between Germany and Russia, like spoils between raiding wolves. Perhaps the supposedly stronger wolf thought to satisfy its voracious rival for a while by allowing it the tasty offering of access to the Baltic Sea.

On 15 June 1940, almost exactly a year before the mass deportations, with central and Western Europe in turmoil, the Russian dictator Stalin claimed his share. An ultimatum was presented virtually simultaneously to the individual Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian governments, demanding for the USSR the right to send troops anywhere in their territories. The ultimatum also demanded that the present governments ‘retire’ and new governments friendly to the USSR be formed. On the same day Soviet troops poured into Lithuania – the closest Baltic country to Germany, thus isolating all three – and within forty-eight hours into Latvia and Estonia.

The only possible allies against this invasion, Britain and France, were by then totally engrossed in their own desperate struggle. There was no hope of assistance; certainly none of surviving physical opposition.

Thus the elected governments of three nations were no more, ‘retiring’ to avoid bloodshed. The same applied to Latvia and to Lithuania as to Estonia, where President Päts, General Laidoner and all other members of the Estonian parliament were deposed. Local communists took their place, occupying all the important positions in parliament and soon in any civic institutions left. The Soviet legation in Tallinn gave Moscow’s orders: the puppets had them carried out.

Those deposed were now nothing. Except marked. Newspapers and radio stations were seized and controlled. It became an offence to receive overseas broadcasts, the only remaining contact with the outside world, and all ‘news’ was communist-issued.

***

President Päts and Laidoner, the Commander of Armed Forces, were arrested and deported. The judiciary was discharged, police and militia scattered, banks and news media taken over, and parliament dissolved. Hundreds of once-influential people now had no money, no income, and, in many instances, no home.

This was Estonia’s and Estonians’ uneasy state for the year before Ann Lehtmets’s removal from her home.

***
Elmar Lehtmets, Ann’s husband, a lawyer by profession, was editor-in-chief of Rakvere’s principal newspaper at the time of the occupation, and a member of Estonia’s democratic parliament. Ann was a commissioner of Girl Guides and active in local community service.

***

Inevitably, some people met on the way through the years these pages cover are just that – transients: temporarily substantial before dissolving into mists of time and distance. No invention has been employed to achieve a neat ending; no apology is offered for the inability to tie up loose ends infinitely more unsatisfactory to writer than to reader.

All people in this book are – or were – real people. Some names have been changed, some abbreviated, as at the time of writing there was fear of reprisal, embarrassment or retaliation to friends and relatives behind the Iron Curtain. It is largely this fear that has held her chronicle back some thirty years from Ann’s liberation, and even now is not entirely dispelled.

The Russian political turmoil of 1994 warns us that imperialist ambitions are far from forgotten in the Kremlin, and that Ann’s unease was justified.