“We had to leave our island home” (Part I)
In marking 2014 as the 70th anniversary year of Estonians escaping en masse from the second Soviet invasion and occupation, this column will periodically publish an article devoted to that topic.
Even though many decades had passed since the fall of 1944 recollections of escaping Estonia often found their way into conversations at gatherings, dinners etc. The escape was deeply traumatic for individuals, for families and for the nation.
In late 1943 and 1944, as my parents recounted, the defensive battles on Estonia’s eastern front included Estonian young men. This boosted the confidence of many that the Estonians will be able to stop the Soviet advance of overwhelmingly larger forces. This was reinforced by the Estonian language periodical, ‘Malevlane’, published in Finland, that a third power will be coming to Estonia’s assistance, and that England and the USA will be landing forces soon on the shores of Estonia. This bulletin was distributed quite widely in our village in Hiiumaa and found staunch believers there.
In their sad reminiscences, my parents also stressed the fact that they had somehow survived the ruthless foreign rule of the occupying Soviets in 1940-41 and that they would probably not outlast another, indefinite occupation. To think back to that time was deeply painful for them. My mother often recounted how guilty she felt visiting friends and relatives to bid farewell to hem.
In late September the glow from fires were visible in the night sky from the direction of Haapsalu, Pärnu and Tallinn. In our village, Käina, the head of the co-operative store was giving sugar to people, so as not to leave anything for the enemy. The mass escape had started. Many families and individuals from the mainland had travelled to the island of Hiiumaa convinced that all Hiidlased must have sea-going vessdels of some kind making it easier than on the mainland to find boat owners willing to take them aboard. My mother recognized her own teachers from the pedagogical academy in Haapsalu. She offered help to them. She said that it was heartbreaking to watch the young as well as elderly trudging along the dusty country highway in front of our house with resignation and desperation on their faces. (Pikemalt Eesti Elu 17. jaanuari paberlehes)
Flight to freedom – Põgenemise jutud