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Museum delves into Siberia’s bloody past
Published on: Sunday, July 14, 2019
By: Lorena Binisol


The mention of Siberia used to bring unfavourable reaction in people, especially due to its bloody history. In the communist era, it was a dumping ground for prisoners, convicts or those seen as traitors to the government. Most of these captives were left to die under harsh conditions and subzero temperatures.

Today, however, Siberia has become one of the most sought-after places by students for higher learning.

This writer was told during a trip to KGB Museum located at Lenina 44 Street in Tomsk city, one of Siberia’s oldest.

KGB stands for Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti in Russian, meaning an internal security agency for the Soviet Union to identify “traitors”. 

Those captured were tortured and eventually sentenced to death. The system ended in 1991 after more than three decades.

Vladislava Lozano @ Lada who took the writer on a one-hour tour in the museum said not many tourists visit the place as there was nothing to brag about. 

However, its local students visit to learn how their country emerged from the communist era to today’s capitalist government. 

Lada shared how her family ended up living in Siberia. Her great-grandparents, who were originally from Syktyvkar city, were forced to live in Siberia in the early 1920s. 

“My great-grandfather spoke something about ‘Kolkhoz’ and that he was not going to be part of it. His words were probably something against the then government and the whole family was exiled. Here we are today, everyone is living in Siberia because of that incident.

“His origin was from a city far away from Siberia, about 2,520km apart,” said Lada recalling back how her ancestors started a new life in the unforgiving weather.

She said during winter it can go down to minus 35 (-350) degrees Celsius in Tomsk city. Any exposed liquid will be frozen over, like the river. 

“Perhaps this was one of the perfect ‘tools’ by nature in Siberia in torturing the exiles. People die in the extreme cold weather. That’s why the KGB chose Siberia.”

 

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The wooden carving of a man depicting how a convict was tortured in the cell.



The museum stores original wooden doors of the prison cells. The door is thick and heavy, with multiple lockers still attached. Even the window grilles are original and were never replaced.

Inside the cell, there is a metal bed with chains believed used as part of the torturing devices. At one corner, there is a long wooden box used to suppress inmates. 

A wooden sculpture of a man depicts how the torturing position was carried out on the convict.

“No one wants to brag or talk about this. It is something the Russians want to bury but we cannot forget it because our families were part of the history.

“Today, the museum exists with the intention to remember and respect those who were brutally killed, met an untimely death and so on,” said Lada.

She remembered one of the stories where prisoners were forced to stay awake for weeks and later forced to confess to something they did not commit.

“When a person is forced to stay awake, their mind is no longer able to think straight. That’s how the KGB made the prisoners admit to something they did not do.”

In another room, the stretch of wall was hung with pictures of musicians and singers in the Stalin era. Some of the musical instruments were kept inside a wooden cupboard for display. This writer thought they must be popular performers chosen by Stalin government to entertain them.

This writer was, however, horrified to discover that the people in the photos were tortured and killed after being accused of spreading negative influence on students. 

In the early years, no one dared to utter words openly in public out of fear that they could be taken in as suspects.

“That’s what happened to my great-grandfather for speaking openly,” she disclosed. At another corner, there was a table with several sheets of paper, an antique telephone and even part of cigar on the astray displayed on the table. 

 

Lada demonstrating how the commander made the instruction for the execution of convicts. Inset: Stalin



Behind the table was a dummy clad in military uniform. Lada said it was the spot where the commander of the day made the instruction for the execution of the prisoners. Below the museum, there is a passageway linking to another building where the present children’s art school is located. 

“Previously, the pathway below the building was actually a secret place where some of the convicts were brought in to be killed. It was a perfect place to torture the prisoners as no one could hear their screams in the underground,” said Lada.

Outside the building, there is a nice little garden with some colourful plants and big trees and between these, there are tombs with carvings on the stones.

“These are people who died in the brutality of the KGB. We just want to remember them for their sacrifice. 

“This little garden just outside the museum is like a memorial park which is a good place to have a walk while we remember those who died. Some of them may have been our ancestors.”

Today, Tomsk city is prospering, leaving behind the sad memories. However, some still find it depressing.

“We need to move on. We can forget about what happened for a while but we cannot totally forget everything. It happened and it is a fact. 

“The only thing now is to move on with our life. Siberia today is a good place to live in with many foreign students coming here to study. Tomsk is known as a place to gain knowledge. We have nine big universities around the cities and many foreign students enjoy their stay here,” said Lada.

“Let us not repeat what had happened in the past but we need to move on for the betterment of our future generation and the world.”

Today, despite the extreme climate in Siberia, the people embrace it with open heart. What they appreciate most is the dark episode in the past would not occur anymore.

“We choose to have a peaceful life in whatever climate we are in,” said Lada.





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