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Learning, speaking and even forgetting languages are major markers of the experience of deportation.

Deportation often meant encountering new languages, either Russian, which children learnt at school and spoke among themselves, or those of other deportee communities, when resettlers and prisoners sometimes learnt each other’s languages.
But the issue also arose of preserving (or learning in the case of the youngest children) one’s native language or languages, which in many families symbolised their identity, a link to a culture or land, and a heritage to be passed on to younger people. There might be more than one language, because these communities had lived in a variety of places. In Lithuania, for example, they may have spoken Lithuanian, Yiddish, Polish, Russian or Belarusian. Preserving and passing on these languages was also seen as a way of resisting Russification or Sovietisation.
For those who opted for it on release, returning home also meant returning to a language. Those deported when very young, or born in deportation, often had to re-learn or improve a language learnt only colloquially in private.
Then after returning and settling in again, came the question of passing on to future generations these many languages that carried so much personal, family and political history.
French original: Jeanne Gissinger, translated by Roger Depledge

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Multilingual childhood: Sonia Bory

Sonia Bory, deported from Wołożyn in Poland with her mother and brother, remembers the many languages (Russian, Yiddish, Polish, Belarusian, Hebrew) she spoke, heard and learnt in her childhood, before the family was deported to Kazakhstan.


Multilingual childhood: Anna Barkauskienė

Anna Barkauskienė, deported from Kaunas in 1941, remembers the many languages (Russian, Lithuanian, Yiddish) she spoke in her childhood in Lithuania, and then in deportation in Altai.


Antanas Kybartas: Russian as a way to survive

Antanas Kybartas, deported from Lithuania in 1947, describes how his grandfather, who spoke fluent Russian, managed to negotiate with the Soviet soldiers who came to send them into deportation. So the Kybartas family were able to take two pigs, carpentry tools and an eiderdown.



Aldona Okrug: learning Russian on arriving in exile.

Aldona Okrug, deported from Lithuania in 1949, describes learning Russian at school in her deportee settlement.


Bogdan Klimcak: learning Russian from Ukrainian

Here, Bogdan Klimcak, a Ukrainian deported because the village where his family lived was being ceded to Poland, describes how he learnt languages in deportation. He mentions an incident when his schoolmistress asked him in Russian what he was laughing at, but not understanding her, he continued to smile and was told off.



Antanas Kybartas: growing up in Russian

Antanas Kybartas, deported from Lithuania in 1947, describes his childhood as a deportee in the Tyumen region. He says that all the children, wherever they came from, spoke Russian to each other.


Grigori Kovalchuk: learning Ukrainian in exile

Grigori Kovaltchouk, deported from western Ukraine with his mother, brothers and sister at the end of the War, describes how he learnt both Ukrainian from his mother and Russian at school.


Jaan Isotamm: a language university in the camp

Here Jaan Isotamm, arrested in 1956 and sent to labour camps for political prisoners, describes how a sort of informal university was set up in the camp as prisoners learnt each other’s history, literature and languages.


Sandra Kalniete: Forgetting Russian on return from deportation

Sandra Kalniete tells how, as soon as she arrived in Latvia, she completely forgot the Russian she had learned in deportation from other children. She also talks about her parents' reluctance to let her speak Russian and "lose her Latvianness".


Abram Lešč: using Russian and Yiddish after deportation

Here Abram Lešč, who spoke Yiddish with his family before being deported from Lithuania to the Komi Republic in 1941, describes his gradual loss of the language.


Sonia Bory: Whether or not to pass on languages

Here, Sonia Bory (deportated from Wołożyn in Poland with her mother and her brother) and her daughter Annie Attia-Bory, discuss the fact that Polish and Yiddish were not passed on to later generations. Annie Attia-Bory tells of her surprise when she learnt that her grandmother spoke Polish.