In 1941, the Meri family was deported to Siberia along with thousands of other Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians sharing the same fate. Heads of the family were separated from their families and shut into concentration camps where few survived. At the age of twelve, Lennart Meri worked as a lumberman in Siberia. He also worked as a potato peeler and a rafter to support his family.
Whilst in exile, Lennart Meri grew interested in the other Uralic languages that he heard around him, the language family of which his native Estonian is also a part. His interest in the ethnic and cultural kinship amongst the scattered Uralic family had been a life-long theme within his work.
The Meri family survived and found their way back to Estonia where Lennart Meri graduated cum laude from the Faculty of History and Languages of the University of Tartu in 1953. On 5 March 1953, the day of Joseph Stalin's death, he proposed to his first wife Regina Meri, saying "Let us remember this happy day forever." The politics of the Soviet Union did not allow him to work as a historian, so Meri found work as a dramatist in the Vanemuine, the oldest theatre of Estonia, and later on as a producer of radio plays in the Estonian broadcasting industry. Several of his films were released to great critical acclaim.
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