I'm reading the new book by Orlando Figes called The Whisperers (subtitle: Private Life in Stalin's Russia). There's lots of photos in the book. I love to stare into the eyes of these faces from long ago - trying to read the secrets that they tried to keep inside.
Back in 2000 an aunt sent us one of those popular custom-made photo calendars. She'd inherited a box of photos from my mother's much older brother after he passed away. In this calendar were three photos of my mom as a child. It was the first time I'd seen photos of her this young. I thought everything had been lost after the Russian destruction of East Prussia in 1945.
At first I found the photos difficult to look at. Why? Because my eighty-something year old mother couldn't look at them. They were too painful. And so, out of respect for her, I just gave them quick, secretive glances once in awhile. But I couldn't resist and eventually pinned copies of them up near my bed and stared into those long-ago eyes until finally I researched and wrote their story.
Here are the photos. (Sorry about the quality.) The first one is from the fall of 1930 - just before the family is forced from their Federofka home and exiled to a 'special settlement' near Yaya, Siberia. The second photo - with my grandfather - is from the spring of 1931 - after the death of my grandmother and the baby on her lap.
The Kulak's Daughter happens in between these photos - during Stalin's second wave of collectivization. My mom is the eleven and then twelve year old - top right in both photos.
I hope today's digital photos withstand the decades. Our children will need them to help tell our stories - and hopefully, they'll be happier tales.