By Steenie Harvey
Wax figures often look crass, but not here. In the dimly-lit corridors, the figure of a uniformed Soviet interrogator emerging from behind a maroon-colored steel door looks scarily realistic. So, too, does the poor sod crammed into an impossibly small cubicle--prisoners were given half a liter of water on days one and two of interrogation. If they survived until day three, they got half a liter of broth.
July 9, 1941 was a particularly bleak day. With the Stalin-Hitler pact in tatters, the German army had crossed Estonia's border two days earlier. Before retreating eastward into Russia, the NKVD shot almost 250 detainees in the Gray House courtyard and Tartu prison. Bodies were dumped in makeshift graves and the prison well.
After Estonia's brief period of Nazi occupation, the communist terror returned in the fall of 1944. The Red Army had marched back into the Baltic states, Estonia was a Soviet Republic--and the NKVD/KGB were again the masters of Tartu's Gray House.
The museum details both Soviet occupation and Estonian resistance. Numerous photographs show conditions in Siberian gulags and members of underground movements such as the Forest Brothers. Almost all exhibits have English translations; displays include plans of deportation operations and objects from the camps. (Imagine trying to survive a Siberian winter with home-made wooden shoes.) One touching exhibit shows five locks of blonde hair pinned to a handkerchief--they belonged to schoolgirls who joined the underground and distributed resistance leaflets.
You'll find the KGB Cells Exposition at 15b Riia St., Tartu.
Opening hours Tuesday-Saturday, are 11 a.m.
First Published: Feb 04, 2006