Stolen Childhoods

In March of 1949, after the Second World War, the Soviets deported over 20,000 Estonians in cattle cars to Siberia. “Crimes” of the fathers often included being successful farmers, businessmen, or educators. Family members were also deported into what the official documents called “perpetual exile.”

Among these deportees were girls and boys, who even today remember well the deportation itself and their lives in the Siberian collective farms and work camps around the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. 

A few years ago a group of now retired men and women, all of whom had been sent to the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia, decided to write their stories so that the world might remember what happened during that Stalinist time. This book presents their first-person accounts of exile in Siberia, as well as their stories of returning to Estonia to rebuild their personal and professional lives.

Vändra

The horrors of the Eastern Front crossed Estonia twice, first with the Germans pushing the Soviet Red Army to its limits, and then, in a reversal of fortunes, the Red Army decimating the German forces. Ordinary people who lived during these years in Estonia were faced with many choices such as cooperation with the Soviets, assistance to the Germans, or fighting both occupiers with the hope of regaining freedom for Estonia. In this cauldron lived Karl Kingsepp, the son of poor tenant farmers, initially attracted to the church as a means to escape a bleak future, but then drawn into the fighting that raged around him. Through all those years, while scrambling to stay alive and to protect his family, he also had to deal with the problems of his parishioners, who ran the gamut from hardworking farmers to star-crossed lovers and fanatical nationalists. In the end he had to decide whether to stay in Estonia or to flee to the West on board a German ship bound for Danzig. This is the story of one man’s decision, a decision that affected many people and had great ramifications for the future. Beautifully written with empathy and understanding by Enn Raudsepp who has first-person understanding of the events in the novel. Compelling and unforgettable reading.

Enn Raudsepp is a journalist living in Montreal, Canada.

Escaping the Russian Bear: An Estonian Girl's Memoir of Loss and Survival During World War II

Kristina von Rosenvinge's mother died in 1940 when two Russian warplanes shot down the unarmed Finnish airliner Kaleva. This unprovoked criminal act occurred in what was technically peacetime, but the fragile relationship between the USSR and Finland, and the occupation of Estonia by the Red Army, prevented further inquiry. All Kristina knew was that her mother would not be coming back. When her father, serving in the German army, died on the Eastern Front, she was adopted by her aunt and uncle. They understood, after the deportations in 1940, that they had to escape occupied Estonia or be destroyed by the Russian Bear. This book is a fascinating and moving account of how the family first masqueraded as Baltic Germans, made their escape, and came back to Estonia, only to have to make another last minute departure on a German troop ship on the last day before the Soviets returned to Estonia. Kristina's family survived the war as it swept through Austria, and the days that followed were dominated by a search for enough food to eat. After winning their struggle for normalcy and stability in Austria, they nevertheless decided to resettle in the  United States. 

If I Could Paint the Moon Black

Nancy Burke

If I Could Paint the Moon Black is a gripping and illuminating story from the first page, when Soviet cattle cars roll into the Vaivara, a town in Estonia without cows. It is a story of childhood, but no ordinary childhood, a nine-year-old and her mother caught in the nowhere land between Hitler and Stalin. It is a childhood under occupation, a childhood in hiding and ultimately in flight to freedom. Imbi Peebo Truumees seems to have remembered everything, and Nancy Burke had the great sense to recognize a great storyteller and a great story the moment she encountered them. Burke has translated memory into memoir, giving it an unforgettable shape and form, a form all the more powerful for its concreteness, its revealing lack of adornment. It is a magnificent collaboration, a precious gift to historians, who are only now beginning to realize how much of the War played out in the Baltic “Bloodlands,” and to all the rest of us, for the ages. 

James Goodman, PhD, Professor of History and Non-fiction Writing, Rutgers' University

The Indrawn Heart: An Estonian Journey

Is Estonia home to the most introspective nation in Europe? The stereotypes of Estonians might suggest so, depicting a reticent and uneffusive people for whom, according to their own proverb, speaking is silver, silence is golden.

Early one summer, Max Boyle departs his native West Yorkshire to travel the country, of which little beyond the capital, Tallinn, and a Eurovision song contest win in 2001 is known in Britain. He takes with him a copy of "You Are So Little, Little" (Sa Oled Väikene, Väike), a poem by tragic nineteenth-century writer Juhan Liiv which speaks of Estonia and its "indrawn heart." In an adventure which supplements a backpacking journey with an offbeat behavioural and literary enquiry, he explores his ancestral home, inviting Estonians to comment on Liiv's verse and their own view of themselves.

 

Red Terror on Saaremaa, 1941

As the Germans were occupying mainland Estonia in the summer of 1941, it became clear to the Communist military and political leaders on Saaremaa that eventually the island would also fall into German hands. Their response was to unleash an unprecedented terror on the people of Saaremaa. In this gripping book, Endel Püüa, director of the Saaremaa Museum, recounts in detail the horror of these times, and identifies with pictures the Russian as well as Estonian terrorists and their collaborators. The retribution by the people of Saaremaa, once the Germans had occupied the island, was swift and equally brutal. Historian Püüa captures this horrible time in first person accounts and in gripping pictures.

When The Noise Had Ended: Geislingen DP Children Remember

Touching memoirs of children who were torn from their Estonian homeland and who survived the horrors of the Second World War while escaping to the West with their parents. These "mudilased" have vivid memories of being refugees after the war and being resettled in strange lands where they had to learn new customs and a new language. Compiled by Mai Maddisson and beautifully designed and edited by Priit Vesilind, this is the book to give to those who ask Estonian immigrants -- "How did you get here?"

Mai Maddisson / Priit Vesilind © 2009

Estonian Jokes Volume I

Estonian Jokes

...These are jokes told by Estonians, and often about Estonians...

Warning: Non-Estonians may think that these jokes are not at all funny. Estonians are discouraged from trying to explain the jokes to their non-Estonian friends.

P. Aarne Vesilind

Coming Home

The Saga of an Estonian Family Torn Apart by the ravage of war.

Charles Ehin has written a moving and profound memoir of his early years in Estonia, the shattering of the family, the escape to the West, and finally his reconciliation with his sister who, along with his mother, were left behind in Estonia as the Red Army advanced on Tallinn. Heikki Nikunen, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Air Forces, writes of Ehin's book: "... a powerful and awakening reminder of the fate of a small nation caught in the middle of the struggle between two totalitarian superpowers vying for world supremacy. It is also an excellent description of the individuals and families in the shadow of political tyranny; the feelings of insecurity, danger, longing, desperation and hope."

Charles (Kalev) Ehin © 2011

Estonian Jokes Volume II

The success of Estonian Jokes (Volume I) made Volume II inevitable. Estonians are funny people, and they have great jokes that are told on their neighbors the Finns, Latvians, Swedes, and of course the Russians. But most of the humor is still self-deprecating and thoughtful. This companion volume to the original Estonian Jokes is a must read

 

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