On Wednesday Todd and I went to the KGB museum in Tartu. It was in the basement of a very unassuming building. We were told that it was hard to find because the signs directing tourists to the entrance were very small. When we got to the site where the map said it was, we walked around looking for it. We asked a postal worker who directed us to talk to the people in the building on the corner.

Looking hard, we found very small sign for the museum in a doorway on the side of the building. We went in and descended a steep stairwell into the basement . As we descended, I felt heavy. In a way, for thousands of people arrested by the KGB and tortured here, this truly was a descent into hell.

We got to the basement and turned right. There was a room with a curator sitting behind a desk. She was an older woman with grey hair wound up in a bun. Her hair was thin and not very well behaved. She looked stern but not aggressive. She didn’t speak any English but pointed to where we were to sign in. She stood and showed us where to begin, directing us to a plaque that talked about the subjugation of the Estonian people. It was a sad history of a people who were oppressed by cruel regimes.

We walked through rooms with metal doors and massive bars. There were artifacts from many of the thousands who were ferried from here to slave labor camps in Siberia. It told a story of a people persecuted by Hitler, only to be enslaved by the Soviet Union.

We passed through rooms that spoke of great cruelty, great bravery, great sadness and great loss. It told a story of a people who continued to survive in the face of massive persecution.

One of the main reasons the Tartu Academy of Theology exists is because there was an absence of pastors and ministers in Estonia from the Soviet Union’s deportations.  Most of the religious leaders were sent to Siberia, and many of them did not return. Tartu Academy of Theology was founded to fill empty spaces left by the Soviet Union.

The Estonians we have met have told us where to find the museum. It’s not a major tourist attraction. It is not easy to find. The museum was empty of anyone but us. It is a history that is etched on a psyche of a people, who acknowledge a tragic past, but will not be deterred from a hopeful future.

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