A short story about correspondence.

Jul 10, 2020

A short story about correspondence.

What do your write when there is no chance you are going to see each other within a short span of time? What are you going to write when borders are closed and the person you would like to contact is out of reach? Does everything come down to the basic question: how are you?

During Soviet times this situation was even more complicated. For those who had fled and for whom it was dangerous to return, but still decided to write to their family back home, there was also the question of censorship - trying to take care you would not endanger the other person by the content of the letter, as receiving a letter was already a risk.  

My father must have written a first short note in 1947, as he received a short answer to his letter that year, sent to the Baltic University in Pinneberg, where he lived at the time. It was written in Russian, not by his parents, but by an aunt, who wanted to let him know how happy they were they received the news he was alive and healthy: our happiness did not have any limits.

His aunt writes to him that his parents are also alive and healthy. What follows is a sentence which will be repeated in later letters, whether these are written by his father or his mother: we all live like we have lived before. Because of the censorship not much more could be said, though it was possible to communicate some emotions: your parents are yearning very much for you.

When someone from the KGB brought an elaborate letter written by my grandfather to my father living in Holland in the mid-fifties, the length alone made it clear there was something not in order. The first sentence still fitted in a certain pattern of writing: And now by accident we heard that you are alive and well and studying in the university, we were exceedingly happy. And then we would be even happier if you would try to come home, so that we could see you before our demise.

But what follows is quite different from the short notices and makes clear someone must have been dictating the lines: I think that your life there is not easy, you have to struggle with difficulties. But in your homeland it would be easier and better for you. Here it is not anymore like during old times that you had to tremble in front of your master lest he might fire you from the job. Now we are all masters by ourselves and now there is no unemployment, and secondly there are no class distinctions like you have on the other side of the barbed-wirefence.

My father did not feel tempted to return home. But he was very much afraid – for his family, for himself. He stopped organising activities within the Estonian community. He no longer wanted to be part of it. And maybe this was just the result the KGB had been aiming for.

Some years followed without any correspondence, or at least I have not been able to find any letter, but at end of fifties his parents started to correspond with him. Small letters, sometimes a card: we are all healthy and living the old way.

In a last letter which he received from his father, in which his father wrote he was in need of an operation, a words make a farewell almost tangible: be a good boy. Not long after my father received the news his father had passed away. The funeral had already taken place. Not being able to go to the funeral, being so far away, made it painfully clear what it meant to be a refugee.

His mother continues writing, about the weather, about the health of her and the family, but also expressing her longing for the past as there is no chance to see her son again in the future. Time has passed so quickly, only memories remain.