Hilja Heinsoo

Born in 1932 in Estonia, in 1949 deported with parents to Irkutsk oblast in Siberia, back home in 1955.

Hilja Heinsoo (née Veeranna) was born on 14 May 1932 in Kaku village, Lasva parish, Võrumaa. She had two older brothers: Ülo (b. 1928) and Seebald (b. 1930). The family had a 10 hectare farm, most of which consisted of marshland. Her father Eduard (b. 1903) was also a smith. Hilja’s mother Adelvine-Meeta (née Rist, b. 1903) was a housewife.

Hilja vividly remembers the day when a passing Red Army unit stopped at their farm in the summer of 1940. The soldiers were thirsty and gladly accepted the water that was offered. However, a Red Army officer arrived in the farm and started blaming Eduard of attempting to poison the soldiers while threatening with a gun. Eduard, to prove his good intentions, drank the water and the situation resolved peacefully.

The end of warfare in autumn 1944 and the beginning of the Soviet occupation intensified the resistance movement in Võrumaa. Some people went into the forest with a purpose of fighting against the occupation, whereas others went into hiding out of fear, as any ties with the German authorities might have been fatal and indeed in many cases were. One such person was Hilja’s future husband’s father Voldemar Heinsoo (b. 1903) who hid in the forest, but visited home from time to time. While visiting home in June 1946 he was killed by state security officers, one of whom was Hilja’s former schoolmate Erich Lett.

On 25 March 1949, Hilja was deported with her parents; her brothers already lived separately. Prior to the deportation, they had been declared kulaks which in turn lead to an overwhelming tax burden. On the deportation day, people were first taken to Lasva School before being transferred to Võru railway station. During the train ride, Hilja was responsible for supplying her train car with food, which meant that she had to go to railway stations to fetch food while accompanied by soldiers who were usually benevolent and agreed to deliver the letters of the deported to their loved ones in Võrumaa.

Finally, they reached the Tulun railway station in Irkutsk Oblast. The local kolkhoz chairmen, who had come to receive them, were bewildered when they saw that the workers they had been brought were mainly elderly and feeble people.

Hilja’s family managed to get a paid job in a sawmill, which was situated in the Yevdokimovsky settlement on both shores of the Iya river. The work was hard which is why the workers were allowed to go on a holiday twice a year in a sanatorium within the Soviet Union and their oblast. Due to her deported status, Hilja did not manage to realise this privilege until 1955 when she went on holiday in a sanatorium 50 km from the Baikal Lake.

In the same year, Hilja’s family got a note of release that her brother Ülo had applied for already while serving in the Soviet Army. He got a leave of absence in 1952 and went to visit his sister and parents for ten days in Siberia. It is unknown whether Ülo’s letters to various offices helped or not but in 1955 Hilja and her parents received a notice saying they may return to their homeland where they arrived in the same year. After marriage, Hilja moved to Tallinn in 1959 where she lives to this day.

The story was processed by Kogu Me Lugu, an oral history portal of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory.

Kogu Me Lugu (Gather Our Story, also translates into Our Entire Story) was launched on 14 June 2013 as an appeal to young people of Estonia and the world to gather their family stories. The objective was set not only to document Estonia’s oral history, but also to make this heritage accessible on the internet. This is how the Kogu Me Lugu oral history portal (www.kogumelugu.ee) was born, which focuses on Estonia’s 20th century history through personal experience. To this end, we gather, research and share memories in video format of people (eyewitnesses and people close to them) who lived in Estonia during the Soviet or German occupations, fled from Estonia to escape those regimes, or ended up in Estonia as a result of the actions of these regimes. The portal can be accessed in Estonian, English and Russian.

The predecessor of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory (Eesti Mälu Instituut), the Estonian Foundation for Investigating Crimes Against Humanity, began its work in 1998. On this base, the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory (www.mnemosyne.ee) was born in 2008. in 2017, The Institute and the Unitas Foundation merged in order to jointly continue their work under the name of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory. This united institution combines long-term experience in academic research and internationally publicising research results with engagement and publicity work in history.
The aim of the Institute is the investigation of the international crimes and violations of human rights committed by regimes that have been hostile towards humanity, and of the totalitarian ideologies that were the starting point for those regimes, together with informing the general public of the results of its research. The Institute is also a partner of the national government in organising memorial events commemorating the victims of the crimes of communist and national socialist regimes.


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