Estonian Life Stories

Estonian Life Stories

Edited and translated by Tiina Kirss
Compiled by Rutt Hinrikus
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Pages: 554
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  • Book Info
    Estonian Life Stories
    Book Description:

    This anthology contains 25 selected life stories collected from Estonians who lived through the tribulations of the 20 century, and describe the travails of ordinary people under numerous regimes. The autobiographical accounts provide authentic perspectives on events of this period, where time is placed in the context of life-spans, and subjects grounded in personal experience. Most of the life stories reveal sufferings under foreign (Russian) oppression.

    eISBN: 978-615-5211-75-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE On the Collection of Estonian Life Stories
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Rutt Hinrikus
  4. Introduction Estonian Life Stories and Histories
    (pp. 1-32)
    Tiina Kirss and Jüri Kivimäe

    Life stories are a border phenomenon, poised—sometimes precariously, between autobiography and history. According to Eberhard Jäckel, “human life consists essentially of relations with the past.” He adds, “History is remembering subjected to order, a report of what has occurred; in another, colloquial meaning of the word, History also means narrative.”¹ Undoubtedly a life story is a narrative about the past, but history is not the summa of life stories, of remembered “great lives.” Though they share a common anchor in the past, life stories taken together do not yet constitute history. The relationship between life stories and history is...

  5. Hilja Lill Born 1905
    (pp. 33-56)

    My father Jaan Vehmer was born in the year 1876 in Latvia into the family of a poor farmer. My mother, Miili Taba-Vehmer, was born in Taagepera township in the village of Karjatnurme, the daughter of a blacksmith. At the time of my birth my parents were shopkeepers in the village of Karjatnurme, both had completed sewing school and earned extra income by sewing. I was born on 7 October 1905 in Karjatnurme.

    My first memory is of the day of my younger sister Alviine Vehmer’s christening (she was born in 1907, and her married name is Suurorg). I remember...

  6. Tuuli Jaik Born 1910
    (pp. 57-72)

    My parents were country children from south Estonia. My mother was born in 1864 near Otepää, my father in 1861 in Sangaste. Both were the children of manor servants.¹ Since they were the children of poor parents, both of them had hard lives, and as small children they had to work in the summer as herders. As they grew older they helped their parents with household work. Later, when she was 20, my mother had the good fortune to get work as a kitchen hand at the Vidrike estate.

    Fate brought my parents together, and they married in 1892. Mother...

  7. Elmar-Raimund Ruben Born 1918
    (pp. 73-94)

    “The others were out in the potato field when I realized that today was the day.” That is how Mother talked about my coming into the world. Father drove straight from that potato field to town to get the midwife. I was put to my mother’s breast at ten o’clock that evening. It was the 30th of October 1918.

    My father chose my name from a list he and my mother had jotted in the margin of a newspaper. My mother liked Raimund, and my father Elmar. There was no argument. The boy was named Elmar-Raimund. Life in that quiet...

  8. David Abramson Born 1923
    (pp. 95-106)

    I was born on 10 July 1923 in Tallinn.

    Before the Second World War there were about 5,000 Jews in Estonia. I believe there are only 500 people left in Estonia today of the Jewish families that lived there before the war. My father, Max Abramson was born in Tallinn in 1880. My paternal grandfather was also born in Tallinn, around 1840. All that I remember of my grandfather is his great white beard, and I remember nothing about my grandmother. It is known that the Abramson clan came to Estonia from Lithuania. My relatives on my mother’s side came...

  9. Evald Mätas Born 1921
    (pp. 107-124)

    I first saw the light of day on 15 November 1921 in Tallinn, in a little house owned by the Rotermann flour and bread factory near the Russalka memorial in Kadrioru. I was the third child of my father Oskar and my mother Minna, their only son. My two sisters were born before the First World War in Russia, near Jamburg, at the Breluga manor, where my father was head gardener. He had gone there around 1900, soon after completing his gardener’s training at Telliskopli in Tallinn. My mother’s family had also gone to Russia many years before the war....

  10. Heljut Kapral Born 1923
    (pp. 125-144)

    Most of my forebears on my father’s side came from a fishing village on the Kandle beach in Haljala township. Father would tell stories about his grandfather Joosep, who had served for many years in the Tsar’s army. After attaining the rank of corporal, he was assigned to train soldiers. After his retirement people started to call him Corporal-Joseph, and this was how we later got our family name. In 1914 my father, was mobilized into the Tsar’s army. During World War I, while on the front lines, he was wounded by shrapnel. After his recovery in hospital he was...

  11. Hans Karro Born 1923
    (pp. 145-160)

    Estonian boys who had come of age on the brink of the Second World War had no way of anticipating that most of them were already destined for death, like Briar Rose in the well-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. Only a miracle could save them. I, too, belonged to that unfortunate generation.

    My name is Hans Karro. I was born on the Day of the Innocents in 1923 near Põltsamaa, in the village of Võhma-Nõmme at Palgimäe farm. My childhood and adolescence were no different from that of an ordinary rural boy of that time. After completing the...

  12. Hillar Tassa Born 1923
    (pp. 161-180)

    My story got started in Tartu on a Saturday morning, 10 February 1923, when an eight-and-a-half pound boy arrived in this wondrous world. Slowly my identity began to take shape: a little box of mandarin oranges under the Christmas tree, a leg gashed by a nail, a hand pounded by a hammer. Every once in a while my basic human rights were violated, most commonly with a leather belt.

    In 1930 my father took me by the hand and we made our way to the smaller building of the Treffner Gymnasium.¹ Soon I had to trade Treffner in for the...

  13. Leida Madison Born 1925
    (pp. 181-200)

    History has scattered the Estonian people all over the world, like dandelion seed that the wind has carried long distances. Wherever they have landed, they have put down strong roots. This shows how hard-working the Estonian people are.

    My ancestors, pure-blooded Estonians for many generations back, originated in the township of Kuusalu in northern Estonia, but in 1884 they found themselves a new place to grow roots, in Abkhazia, on the shores of the Black Sea.¹

    In those days, the land was covered by virgin forest—oak, chestnut, beech, and sinari trees,² and there was not a living soul except...

  14. Valter Lehtla Born 1924
    (pp. 201-222)

    A journalist once asked me the question: “What do the people think of you as a former ‘Red Baron’?”¹ I answered that I was a Red Count. The title of baron was too low for me. I was the director of Estonia’s largest state farm for 34 years. In the West a count’s lands are measured in acres; my domain far exceeded 50,000 acres: it was 21,800 hectares.

    I come from a hereditary farm Metsahansu No. 13, in the village of Läsna in western Viru county. I was born on Friday, 8 August 1924. My mother had wanted to name...

  15. Linda Põldes Born 1928
    (pp. 223-246)

    My father’s father, Juhan Martinson, was born in Saaremaa as the son of a farmhand¹ on the Muratsi estate. He began as a herd boy; during his adolescence years he tended the baron’s pack of hunting dogs, and went on to be a stableboy. My father’s mother Marie came from a family of free peasants in Muratsi village. Her parents had been able to purchase their land from the baron’s estate.² My grandmother was strong-boned, with long, healthy, black hair that hung down below her hips in braids. Despite her strength, she was tender-hearted. After their marriage Juhan and Marie...

  16. Tanni Kents Born 1920
    (pp. 247-264)

    I was my parents’ first child, born in Kuressaare on 22 July 1920. My mother and father met as university students in St. Petersburg in 1918, where they were both studying law. Turbulent times and the Russian Revolution brought each of them by different routes back to Estonia, where they met again at the opening of the Constituent Assembly on 23 April 1919.¹ My father, Timo-theus Grünthal was an elected delegate from Saaremaa and my mother Veera Poska, the daughter of foreign minister Jaan Poska. Their lively correspondence culminated in the decision to get married. Their wedding took place in...

  17. Hans Lebert Born 1924
    (pp. 265-284)

    I was born on 8 March 1924 in the Tallinn Old City, on Aida Street near St. Olaf’s Church. In the old days this part of town was known for its grain warehouses. At the time of my birth, my father was an engine driver on the railroad, but soon afterwards began working in my uncle Eduard Kreek’s auto mechanic shop, in the courtyard of the building where we all lived. Since the good old Swedish era,¹ my father’s forebears had been farmers in Riisipere, in Nissi county (vald). He probably got his German-sounding name from a German baron, who...

  18. Voodel Võrk Born 1925
    (pp. 285-302)

    There were two children in the family before me, my brother Erlich, and my sister Helju. I saw the light of day in the wintertime, on the 24th of February 1925. Hence I am exactly seven years younger than the Estonian Republic.¹

    The beginning of my life was promising. My aunts came to look me over, bringing the customary cakes and pies, which they ate up themselves, and praised me for being a good boy, the spitting image of my father. I have had to hear the second of these two comments all my life, the first one, unfortunately, not...

  19. Peep Vunder Born 1936
    (pp. 303-330)

    I was born the son of a constable on Sunday, 8 November 1936, at 18:45 in the district of Palmse. The time of my birth is recorded in my mother’s little pocket calendar. I have tried to convince myself that being born on a Sunday means coming into the world under a lucky star. That is how I have explained to myself that I am the only one left of our family of seven. On 14 June 1941 our family was deported, and eleven months later I was the only one left alive. My mother died of starvation on 30...

  20. Selma Tasane Born 1926
    (pp. 331-350)

    I was born on 27 July 1926 on the island of Saaremaa, near Orissaare, in the village of Lahe, at Linnanuka farm. Since my home is near the Small Strait, near the ruins of Maasilinna, I have gotten used to the sea and to an open view. I could never live in the woods, as it would seem like a prison to me.

    My father’s name was Jüri. Father, his brother, and my paternal grandparents left Tooma farm in the village of Koguva on the island of Muhu, on the other side of the strait, and settled in Saaremaa. My...

  21. Asta Luksepp Born 1932
    (pp. 351-364)

    I was born on 29 October 1932 at Mäksa farm, in the county of Viljandimaa, in Tarvastu township, in the village of Kuressaare.¹ My family had been a farming family for many generations: my father Juhan Rennit’s forebears had begun keeping Mäksa farm at least as far back as 1780. My mother, Alice Johanna Rennit (born Lamson) was from Otsa farm, in the village of Kivilõppe, township of Suislepa.

    Many times in my life I have had to write the story of my life and hide the truth. Recently I found a copy of an autobiography I had written in...

  22. Heljo Liitoja Born 1923
    (pp. 365-380)

    I was born on 7 February in Tartu, as the first child in my family. My mother and father were both teachers. I lived in Tartu until I was 13. Then my father changed jobs and the family moved to Tallinn.

    What do I remember about those Tallinn years? I could easily fill twenty pages just with those memories. But that would not be a life story. As I sift through my memory fragments, what rises to the top is not so much what happened, but my thoughts, feelings, wishes, and longings. What surprises me even more is that most...

  23. Juta Pihlamägi Born 1927
    (pp. 381-400)

    I was born in Valga in 1927. My father was a career officer, commander of the Valga Motorized Tank Division. As a decorated hero of the War of Independence,¹ he had been awarded a piece of land from the Sooru estate, located near Valga, where he began building a home for his later years. The local elementary school was in the Sooru manor house, and the teachers boarded there. Father met a capable, pretty young schoolteacher, and they were married at midsummer in 1925. I was born two years later, and I was to remain an only child.

    The first...

  24. Volita Paklar Born 1937
    (pp. 401-418)

    The first time I decided to take stock of my life was when I turned thirty. By that time, others my age had already created a home and a family; some even had school-aged children. My own achievements were limited to a conservatory diploma and a very good job. I was living in my mother’s small apartment, sharing the middle room with an aged grandmother and a brother who was a student at the university. The only way to get one’s own apartment, a two-week vacation package, a kindergarten spot, and other “luxury” goods in the land of the Soviets...

  25. Raimo Loo Born 1929
    (pp. 419-438)

    The story of my life began with my parents making a little mischief, as a result of which I came into this world on 5 December 1929, in Tallinn. We were living at the time in Helsinki, but my mother came to Tallinn to give birth to me. My father was working at the Vesijohton Liike in Helsinki, laying pipeline for the municipal waterworks, while he was also coach for the Finnish national wrestling team. But then the times turned paskased as they said in Finland, and there was unemployment and financial shortages all over the world. Everyone was shouting...

  26. Aili Valdrand Born 1936
    (pp. 439-456)

    My name is Aili Valdrand. I was born in 1936 in Saaremaa, on a small holding. My maternal grandfather kept the estate store, across the street from the estate tavern; that is where our family name—Poe—comes from. The store was burned to the ground in 1905, so Grandfather hastily built a new house in one summer, where he then set up shop. His daughter Linda—my mother, that is—found herself a quirky husband who wanted to farm, and bid farewell to shopkeeping. That is the kind of house we lived in, then—shuttered windows, a shop counter...

  27. Valdur Raudvassar Born 1939
    (pp. 457-476)

    My family name comes from a distant forefather, the blacksmith of the Vastseliina church manor, who crafted the rooster that is still perched on top of the Vastseliina church tower to this day. That was the era when people were given family names, and the story goes that the pastor at the time, Carl Masing (1814–1859) suggested he choose a family name to correspond with his trade. After all, what matters most in blacksmithing is iron (raud) and a hammer (vasar). Several generations continued in the blacksmithing trade. The family moved to Noodasküla at the edge of the township,...

  28. Ene Ergma Born 1944
    (pp. 477-494)

    What is a life history? Does it mean writing about how my own choices have shaped my success, or are there other things to take into consideration? It seems too early to be writing about my life, even though, according to the way Estonians understand it today, I have achieved the maximum that a normal scientist can achieve. I will try to look at myself from a neutral point of view, even though this is far from easy, since love and compassion for oneself always come first.

    I recall what Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince said: our childhood is where we come...

  29. Tiia Allas Born 1973
    (pp. 495-510)

    I can clearly imagine the August night when my mother, already in labor, walked two to three kilometers to her sister’s house in Rõuge. From there they drove her to the hospital. Father stayed behind at the neighbor’s house, partying in the sauna, along with some Latvians, probably. He never cared about “women’s business,” and children began to matter when they could be put to work and to good use. But maybe the situation just before I was born was not as bad as I think. From what I have been told, my paternal grandmother Emilie Allas accompanied my mother...

    (pp. 511-526)
  31. Index of Places
    (pp. 527-532)
  32. Index of Proper Names
    (pp. 533-540)
  33. Back Matter
    (pp. 541-541)