One of my favorite people in Latvia spent his nineteenth birthday in a labor camp in Siberia. A spry octogenarian today, he doesn't talk much about that time in his life. He doesn't reveal much about how he managed to escape and make his way back to Latvia. But I know some details.
I know he made friends with an Estonian and a Lithuanian who made the trip with him. I know he spent time in a prisoner's hospital and that he weighed 38 kilograms at one point despite being 180 centimeters tall. I often want to ask him to tell me his story, but I hold back. Despite my fascination with these events in his life, I respect his need to forget.
The history of the Baltic countries is rife with stories of intrigue, betrayal, adventure, cruelty, heartache and triumph. In every old building and on every street corner there is a person like this man whose story unfolds so dramatically that those of us from the west can only relate them to books we have read and films we have seen. History is a part of the fabric of the Baltics and it must be explored if we are to begin to understand the art, culture, language and social life of this place.
Some say history is destined to repeat itself. This is a good reason to take some time to visit some of the museums, exhibitions and monuments that dedicate themselves to the events of the past in this part of the world. Knowing what happened is important. Making sure that the negative events can't be repeated is everyone's responsibility. And let's face it, knowing some of the facts can make life so much more interesting.