Birch Bark Letters from Siberia

The project was undertaken by the Tukums Museum and seven other Latvian Museums. Since 2009 they are working with the unique collections of letters written on birch bark.

Some of the birch barks letters from Siberia that were submitted. On top: a greeting card sent by Lithuanian teacher Gražina Gaidiene to her neighbour, Sofija Milda, on the occasion of the recipient’s name’s day. On the reverse of the card is a poem by the Lithuanian poet Maironis (né Jonas Maciulis) in Russian, 15 May 1949. TMNM 21017

One of the authors of the letters, Little Elza (Elza Serdane, née Trumekalne), at the opening of the travelling exhibition "Birch Bark Letters from Siberia" at the European Parliament in Brussels, 14 June 2011. © Z. Paševica, 2011

Latvian museums possess 43 letters written on birch bark by 12 people who were deported to Siberia in either June 1941 or March 1949 because of their civic position or opposition to the Soviet regime. Many survived and maintained a sense of belonging to their nation, as demonstrated in the letters preserved and donated to the museums.

The eight museums that hold birch bark letters are Tukums Museum, Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, Latvian National Museum of History, the Aizkraukle Museum of History and Art, Daugava Museum, Madona Museum of Local History and Art, Talsi Regional Museum and Latvian Museum of Literature and Music.

In 2009, the Tukums Museum joined with six other museums in Latvia to submit 19 birch bark letters to the UNESCO Memory of the World programme. The letters were listed on Latvia’s register, digitised and are now available in the World Digital Library.
In 2013, this original submission was supplemented with another 24 letters, which present further nuances about the deportees, their intellectual lives and dreams, and their relationships with friends and loved ones.

The Tukums Museum also organised two projects funded by the EU’s Europe for Citizens programme, one of which was the virtual exhibition “Letters to the Future”.
In 2011, in partnership with a number of other museums, the Tukums Museum developed a travelling exhibition, Birch Bark Letters from Siberia, in Latvian, English, French and Russian. It was exhibited in more than 60 locations in Belgium, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, the Czech Republic, the United States, Canada and Russia.

Tukums Museum

The traveling exhibtion

The virtual exhibiton

The director of the Tukums Museum, Agrita Ozola, the chairman of the Tukums City Council, Juris Šulcs, and the general secretary of the UNESCO National Commission in Latvia, Dagnija Baltina, at the UNESCO sign at the Tukums Museum on the day of its unveiling, 14 June 2012. © G. Rugaja, 2012

Find the Project on Birch Bark Letters from Siberia and other examples of museums and their work with their collections in NEMO's publication "Museums' 4 Values - Values 4 Museums"!