Tornakalns deportation memorial, Riga
--- featured in TOURS
A cluster of memorials at Tornakalns railway station in the south of Riga
that commemorate the deportations of Latvians to Russian gulags
during the first and second Soviet
occupation of the Baltics, in particular during the Stalin
What there is to see: The memorial consists of several parts, which are a bit unconnected stylistically and have apparently been erected at different times, but they are all within close proximity of each other and follow the same thematic thread.
The first thing you'll notice when you approach the old Tornakalns station from the south or west (which is most likely) is the old railway car that's been placed on a short stretch of tracks that have obviously been laid there specifically for this purpose.
It is of exactly the type you'd expect a deportation train carriage to look like, i.e. the reddish-brownish cattle-wagon type that was also used by the Nazis
to cart their victims to the concentration
and death camps
. So in that respect (mode of transport) the Soviets
were indeed no different to the Nazis.
Steps lead up to the (closed) door of the carriage and next to it is a small white text panel in three languages (Latvian, English, Russian) that states that it was in a car like this that in June 1941 the Soviet communists
deported some 15,000 Latvians to distant parts of the USSR
A memorial stone in front of the carriage also has the year 1941 etched into it. These two parts of the memorial were put here in 1996 by the Occupations Museum
. This reflects the focus on just the first Soviet occupation that the museum had back then (today it is much more comprehensive).
A second, larger memorial stone a short distance from the carriage points out (in Latvian only) that there was another wave of deportations to the Siberian gulags
, this time of well over 42,000 Latvians, in March 1949 as well.
On a square a short distance east of the railway station building several marble stones are scattered around, most of which have the names of the various destinations of the deportation trains on them (such as Tomsk
, or Vorkuta
Beside the approach road to the station some glass panels have been erected, also by the Occupations Museum
– but clearly much more recently (going by how clean and intact these panels are) – and these provide a little more information. This includes a timeline (also with years between 1944 and 1948 as well as beyond 1949), relative numbers of deportees and a map of the Soviet empire on which the locations of the various gulags
and resettlement areas are marked. Given the reflecting glass, these info panels are a little difficult to read, though.
When I was there (in April 2014) there was also a temporary poster attached to the back stairs to the railway station building. It seemed to indicate that more refurbishments and expansions may be in the planning here.
The text was all in Latvian only, so I can only go by the few cues that my limited (practically non-existent) understanding of that language allows. But it included words like 'projekts', 'restauracija', 'video/audio informacija', 'ekspozicija', and the years '2012 – 2015'. So maybe the old station building itself will in the near future be refurbished and given its own auxiliary exhibition with multimedia elements? Next time I'm in Riga I'll also have to check out Tornakalns again, I guess …
right next to today's Tornakalns regional railway station, which is the first stop south of the Central Station and the river en route out of Riga
Access and costs:
a bit out of the centre of Riga
, but not difficult to get to; free.
Getting to Tornakalns is easiest by tram: line 10 goes from the road bridge over the train line just south of Tornakalns station straight to the centre of Riga
. In theory you could even get a proper train direct to Tornakalns from Riga Central Station, but I don't know if that is a practical (and economical) option.
If you are visiting Tornakalns in conjunction with the Soviet Victory Monument
, then you could just as well walk it from there: just proceed further south through the park beyond the monument, cross Uzvaras boulevard and amble through the pleasant Arkadijas park. At the far end of this you have to cross the actual railway line to get to the memorials.
If that strikes you as a dicey thing to do then you are probably from a Western country where such crossings of railway lines on foot are usually even forbidden. Not so here, though, where it's quite a normal thing to do. Alternatively you could walk all the way round the park and cross over the bridge that also takes the tram over the railway line.
In theory, the memorials at Tornakalns are freely accessible at all times, but I wouldn't go there after dark.
Time required: about half an hour or so.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Riga
The nearest other dark site is the Soviet Victory Monument
a bit further north (walk or take tram line 10 two stops in the direction of Riga's Old Town). Thematically it would be quite a contrast, but Tornakalns is of course a fitting counterpoint to the old Soviet
glorification that the monument conveys.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Riga
- Tornakalns 1 - deportation memorial
- Tornakalns 2 - when it all first began
- Tornakalns 3 - glass panels and memorial stones
- Tornakalns 4 - names of gulags
- Tornakalns 5 - station building
- Tornakalns 6 - plans for the future
- Tornakalns 7 - platform
- Tornakalns 8 - it is still an active station
- Tornakalns 9 - crossing the train line