photos by Maaja Matsoo
The fund-raising event „RANNA kohvik“ or „Seaside Cafe“, which took place on November 20th at the Toronto Estonian House was organized to celebrate the 20th anniversaries of two local Estonian charitable organizations - the Canadian Estonian Women’s Alumni Association (AKEN) and the Estonian Ecumenical Relief Organization (EERO) - as well as the 40th anniversary of the Estonian Ethnographic Society in Canada (EERK).
The net profits from the Seaside Cafe event were to be applied toward the purchase of a bedside monitor for the Children’s Clinic of Tartu University Hospitals. But the good news is that the net proceeds exceeded expectations and the full amount of the purchase price - fifty thousand crowns - was earned and has already been turned over to the Children’s Fund in Tartu (Lastefond) for the purchase of the monitor. More details to follow as the monitor reaches its destination at the Children’s Clinic in Tartu and is put to use to benefit sick children in Estonia.
The other aspect of the Seaside Cafe event with long-term benefits was the exhibit, which was organized by the Ethnographic Society in the gallery hall of Esto House. The „Põgenemise teelt“ exhibit, loosely translated as the „Flight to Freedom“ exhibit, featured items taken along from the homeland by refugees seeking refuge in the west
as well as items subsequently ingeniously fashioned in refugee camps in Germany and Sweden.
A thorough digital record of all the items displayed at the exhibit has been created and an old-fashioned hard copy - otherwise known as a book - is also in the works!
Among the items featured at the exhibit were two sewing machines, which accompanied their owners on their flights to freedom. Two Singer sewing machines, two different tales.......
Most Estonians fleeing in advance of the Soviet troops took along what they could carry in their hands or on their backs. But Hedvig Jääger, an islander from Hiiumaa, had the opportunity to take along something quite extraordinary – her Singer sewing machine, table and all.
Fortunately for Hedvig, the captain of the ship with which her family was about to set sail for Sweden was her mother’s godson Robert Saul. And so it was that arrangements were made for two strong men to carry the machine on to a rowboat and from there on to the three-masted ship named „Enge“. The captain kindly allocated his own cabin to the two most elderly refugees on board – his own mother Anni and his godmother (Hedvig’s mother) Helene Vahtra….and to the precious machine.
As the ship was about to set sail from Õngu harbour, a storm arose and the winds blew so fiercely that the captain decided to delay departure. While waiting out the storm, a steady stream of refugees joined those already on board so that by five in the morning when the Enge finally began its journey westward, 700 people were so tightly packed together aboard the ship that they could barely move. Despite the lack of space, Hedvig’s Singer remained among the ship’s passengers, its table drawers stuffed full of family photographs.........
The journey was treacherous. The captain had to battle not only the elements but also some of the male passengers who, despite requests to the contrary, insisted on striking matches to light their cigarettes thereby potentially giving away Enge’s presence to possible enemy ships. But fortune was with them and after many hours at sea, the Enge reached the safety of the Swedish seashore with all its passengers and Hedvig’s Singer sewing machine unharmed. Only the ship’s crew was a little perturbed at the mess left behind by 700 seasick passengers!
Hedvig’a Singer was loaned to the exhibit by her daughter, Elle Rosenberg, who honed her own sewing skills on this same treadle machine, which is still in perfect working order and, which has now become a family heirloom to be passed on to her three sons.
The second sewing machine featured at the exhibit was an anniversary gift from Evald Timusk to his wife Aliide on their first wedding anniversary in 1933 in Estonia
On February 24th, 1944 Aliide Timusk and her two young sons, Toomas 11 years and Jaan 9 years, boarded a mine trawler rescued from the bottom of the Baltic Sea at Suurupi harbour in Northern Estonia. The trawler was to take them westward to Sweden and to safety. Thinking ahead as to how she might support herself and her two young children in a foreign land, Aliide wisely took along her sewing machine.
Aliide’s early escape from Estonia was arranged by her husband who stayed behind in Estonia to continue his work with the underground movement fighting, in a last-ditch effort, to free Estonia of all occupying forces. Evald Timusk knew very well what fate awaited him and his family if the Soviet forces, which in February were already positioned across the Narva River, were to reoccupy Estonia. Although at one point, he was imprisoned by the Germans, he managed to evade capture by the Soviets and eventually made his way to Sweden to join his family.
The mine trawler, with Aliide and the boys aboard, departed Suurupi in the middle of the winter in the midst of a full gale windstorm so strong that nine-year old Jaan remembers a lady’s feathered hat flying overboard. The family weighed the risks – to undertake the journey with a fifty-fifty chance of reaching safety in Sweden or to stay and face a much higher risk of death in Siberia, where they would surely be sent by the Soviet occupants. A decision faced by tens of thousands of other Estonians who undertook the same journey in September and October of that same fateful year.
Aliide’s sewing machine was loaned to the exhibit by Jaan and Tiina Timusk, who will pass on this treasured family heirloom to their two sons.
Good news from the organizing committee of „RANNA kohvik“ - „Seaside Cafe“ (1)