On this cold grey November day we decided to take a trek to Pisarate Park (Park of Tears) in Tartu. I had never heard of this place, nor knew that this Park even existed. My husband had gone there earlier in the week. There is a paved path along Emajõgi in Tartu that one can walk or jog. If standing at the City Hall Plaza and facing the river, one begins walking toward Dorpat Hotel and the small Harbor Theater (Sadama Teater). Walking toward the theater out of town, the path takes you under several bridges.
There are many joggers and walkers on this path at almost any time of day. Eventually one comes to a final overpass and soon it looks like the path will end. This place is on the banks of Emajõgi and between Turu tänav (Turu Street), near the Jõe tänava (River Street) and Sõpruse bridge. Emajõgi is quite wide here with a gentle flow and it is a peaceful place. On this November late afternoon off in the distance we could see lights coming on in the center part of Tartu as the sky darkened. Along the path toward the end there are old railroad tracks that are still in place, but the rest of the tracks have been pulled up and everything looks quite abandoned. We walked a few steps further away from the tracks onto a grassy area surrounded by trees. Some bushes grow in little clusters here and there. Nothing noteworthy is to be seen. Jüri informed me that we are here – This is the park. Pisarate Park. I saw nothing in particular. Why would anybody have written about this place? What happened here that would place this small grassy area near Emajõgi in Tartu into Estonian history?
I looked and walked around and then came upon a small monument in the middle of a grassy area off to one side. There, surrounded by overgrown dried-up weeds, I saw a small commemorative monument with words chiseled on its front. Two dusty cemetery candle holders sat on either side of the monument, tilted to one side and forgotten – probably placed there near the small commemorative monument many months or even years ago. I set the candle holders upright. That was all that I saw there. When one thinks of the horrors that took place here in 1941 with the mass deportations that began in this very spot and the anguish and tears that must have been shed! All that we now have to serve as a reminder of what was done to tens of thousands of innocent Estonian victims is a small weedy patch with a barely visible monument.
In the spring of April 2013 I again took this same walk to the Park. This time it was a beautiful sunny spring day. In one area half way to the Park there was an elementary class on a field trip and it appeared they were learning about nature. Along the path are now wooden structures or kiosks with an overhang and in each is a placard describing trees and plants along the path, or Green Movement related information. In general it is nicely done. However, these information kiosks soon end and there is no description of anything as one approaches the Park of Tears. One change though this April, possibly a positive sign: instead of weeds, it seemed somebody had pulled them up and planted a peony near the commemorative stone.
The idea for this park, as explained in Tartu Postimees newspaper (9.11. 2010) by an article by Martin Smutov, was initiated by three organizations to commemorate the mass deportations that began from this spot in Tartu on 14th of June in 1941, then again in 1947 and in 1949. Three organizations, SA Mälesltusfond Ristideta Hauad, MTÜ Eesti Memento Liidu ja Eesti Vabaduspartei-Põllumeeste Kogu, wanted to establish this Park as a living memorial and to serve as an educational area. Plans were to have two train cars that had been used in the deportations placed there along with descriptions of what happened and how the mass deportations were carried out. Other educational posters and pictures, were to be arranged within the park along with benches for students to sit upon as lectures and programs were to be established to teach students and visitors about the horrors that were experienced in those years of Communist occupation. Yet almost nothing has been done, except the placement of a small monument that is lost among the weeds.
The city of Tartu is not taking care of it, nor apparently are even the organizations that initiated the project. Even the monument, as indicated by the above 2010 article, had been placed there without the blessings of the local city government. When we asked local people, taxi drivers, friends, relatives, the Tourist information center, nobody knew anything about this Park. My question is “Why”? Why were these plans not brought to fruition? Why is there no interest in Estonia’s history, as it relates to the Soviet occupation? It is a sad, but important, part of the history of this small country and neighboring Russia. Every generation should be reminded of what the Soviet occupation did to their forebears who were completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Men, women, and children, for no apparent reason were sent to Siberian forced labor encampments where so many subsequently died.
It appears the Estonians should learn from how the Holocaust has been brought to the fore almost on a yearly basis, whether in Hollywood films, books, literature, and documentaries. I was, however, heartened by the two articles that appeared in Vaba Eesti Sõna that there are those in Estonia who continue to honor and remember those who were deported and continue to remind us of our history. On another positive note, if one now googles the words “Pisarate Park”, it also brings up a web address and directions to the park (http://www.kultuuriaken.tartu.ee/?place=1434114173). This was not present even two years ago. Hopefully, we will continue to see future improvements to Pisarate Park, Park of Tears, and eventually have it serve as an educational area for students and tourists to understand the history of this beautiful small country.
Sources for some of the background of the above article: