The place is Tallinn harbour during the Second World War. It is late summer. The harbour is very busy. The war has not been going well for the current foreign occupants of Estonia. They are in a rush to get out by sea to escape to safety from the oncoming forces of the other side. It looks fairly certain now that they will lose the war. Their supreme leader, who will go down in history as a monstrous mass murderer, probably the worst ever, is in complete shock at the recent military reverses and seems incapable of making rational decisions. He is almost unhinged. At the beginning, things had gone remarkably well for him. He had even been in cahoots with his counterpart dictator over the division of Poland and who was to take control of the Baltic States and Finland. These agreements were of necessity, not given much publicity and were considered secret. As with most secrets, they eventually leaked out.
Among the evacuees are ethnic Estonians and their families who cooperated with the occupants. Some had returned after leaving Estonia years before and completely assimilated into the fabric of their new country having forgotten their language and culture. Some have become so immersed in their almost fanatical ideological outlook that they no longer even consider themselves Estonians. Afterwards, many rationalize their choice to collaborate as being an unpalatable choice picking the lesser of two evils or choosing what was best for Estonia under the circumstances. Also among the Estonians are some who simply want to get away from the oncoming war and yet another terrible occupation by a murderous foreign regime. Of course space is limited and they will be at the end of the line of those attempting to board.
This latest occupation has been has trying for Estonia. When the foreign power first took over, certain groups, including women and children, designated solely by ideology and not their individual actions were slated for destruction. Some were summarily shot; others were deported in cattle cars to foreign locations under horrific conditions. In their haste to clear out their stock of prisoners quickly, mass executions took place at several locations. In the rush, the evidence of what had taken place was not particularly well eliminated with the result that the other side enjoyed a propaganda bonanza with horrific pictures of piles of corpses. Many decades later, suitable memorial monuments will be erected at these sites with appropriate ceremony. Those unfortunates unable or unwilling to escape either surrender and are liquidated or take to the woods as partisans, later to be hunted down like wild animals.
Many Estonians have joined the military units of the occupying power. Some by choice and many simply conscripted against their will. A few will show such conspicuous bravery in battle that they are awarded the very highest military medal. Unfortunately, later depending on the time and circumstances, these medals cannot be worn in public. In particular, the younger generation will regard them with distaste. Senior Estonian officers even include those holding the rank of general. One well-known officer receiving this highest of decorations achieves the rank of full colonel and much acclaim. He dies in bed after enjoying a long life with a generous pension but his last few years are difficult.
The sea voyage across the Baltic Sea will be treacherous. Many ships will be sunk with much loss of life, some of it innocent. Most, however, will make it to safety in Leningrad.
A short Estonian history tale (2)