Amsterdam based Helga Merits is a documentary filmmaker who has turned to the refugee/expatriate community in the past for help with her projects. For the last decade or more she has been focusing on her father’s generation. Paul Meerits was a member of the class of 1943 at the Tartu Poeglaste Gümnaasium, graduating at a tumultuous time in Estonia’s history.
Merits’ latest film, Klassikaaslased 1943 aastast – unustatud mälestused had its première on June 5th in Tallinn. As it is intended to also reach the English speaking audience to educate that large number the movie is subtitled. And as documentaries usually do not have the long runs at theatres that feature films do, this project, completed with Tallinn’s Exitfilm, will soon be available on DVD, where the viewer will have a choice of seeing either the English language or Estonian language version, both subtitled as necessary. The English language version is titled Class of 19434: Remember us when we’re gone.
One of the first DVDs produced reached my desk recently and in the process of introducing the project I would also like to extend the filmmaker’s thanks to Eesti Elu readers who have over the years provided her with additional information to complete her own research and archival material.
I hope to be able to find a willing critic from the Toronto Estonian community from Paul Meerits’ generation (or approximately so) who remembers the wartime years and can comment on the movie from an informed perspective. As I was born after the war I have only second-hand input. However, one of the values of this movie is the wartime archived film material from the Estonian Film Archives, which are blended with the narrator’s commentary and the voice-overs provided during the film. The narrator is, alas, an Englishman, thus some pronunciation of Estonian place names suffers, even with the best coaching. However, that is my only and admittedly very minor quibble with this documentary.
The project is gathering steam. Merits wrote to the undersigned that another screening is planned for Tallinn in the fall, and, of course, one for Tartu, the city of the young men uprooted from a normal life by WW II. Gita Kalmet, former Estonian ambassador in Holland, and now working for the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will organize a special screening at the ministry. Merits indicated that interest at the première was considerable, many stayed to talk to her after the screening, providing her with more material for her Geislingen project. She hopes that the feedback continues.
The packaging of DVDs is well under way. North America and the English language market would seem to be the logical destination for these DVDs. Although rumours in Toronto suggest that the estore in Toronto will be closing its doors soon let us hope that this is not the case and that Toronto’s only outlet for such Estonian material will elect to carry this DVD, make it available for the audience that it, pardon the pun, merits.
When one considers that the men featured in this documentary graduated 69 years ago, it is remarkable indeed that this movie could be made. Many did not make it through the awful war years, when two totalitarian regimes battled each other in the name of evil ideologies bent on eliminating class or race, religion or nation. The human cost was beyond belief, and it is incumbent on us, the survivors and the descendants of them to remind the world of what happened and why. Helga Merits has succeeded in this goal, ensuring that we will remember those who have already gone, that their memories will not necessarily be forgotten but, as the Estonian title of the documentary indicates, able to be recalled so that others will not forget.
Class of 1943: Remember us when we are gone (1)