“Repatriated” Latvian and Estonian orphans
In 1946, at the instigation of the Latvian Ministry of Education, the “orphans and half-orphans” in the special settlements were allowed to return to Latvia. Many children had indeed lost one of their parents during the war and for the surviving mothers, sending them back to Latvia, for all the shock of separation, meant increasing their chances of survival.
So some 1,300 children, mostly Latvian but with a few Estonians, returned to the Baltic republics in 1946-1947. Often the escapees could not believe that their return was legal, although it is recorded in the Soviet archives, and put it down to a combination of luck and heroic individual initiative. For Silva Linarte and her sisters, arriving at the orphanage in Riga meant the discovery of (relative) abundance. When the children arrived after their exhausting journey from Siberia, they distrusted the food they were offered. The medical officer was the only one to understand and suggested cooking them potatoes, the only food they knew.
For these children, this return – ahead of other categories of resettlers – was a shock that is graven in their memories, the rediscovery of their homeland. Austra Zalcmane, her sister Lilija Kaione and Peep Varju benefited from this same exceptional treatment.