Estonian World War II refugee story

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TITLE:  Refugee: Refugee Life in Pictures
AUTHOR: Endel Kõks, Arnold Sepp / Ilvi Jõe-Cannon, editor
PUBLISHER: Eesti Diasporaa Akadeemia (Estonian Diaspora Academy)

Already last year, many observances marked events that took place 70 years ago as World War II drew to an end.  Among those events for Estonians was the massive flight to the West in the fall of 1944 which was observed in Tallinn last September with a conference at Tallinn University and a day of former refugees’ personal reminiscences at the Occupations Museum.  The latter included the presentation of the reissued book Mis tehasiin ta on (“Refugee”) which was  authored by Arnold Sepp and Endel Kõks and published in the refugee camp in Germany in 1947.

The reissue was edited by Ilvi Jõe-Cannon and translated into English.  That publication was intended to complement the 70th anniversary observance by providing information about the difficulties and dangers faced by Estonians who fled to the West.  The reissue also endeavored to make available the refugees’ narrative to the Estonian reader, especially the readers who grew up during the Soviet occupation when the fate of Estonians who fled to the West was a taboo subject.

For Cold War students the book offers a case study of the role that relations between the victorious powers in 1946 had in the lives of Baltic refugees in Germany.  UNRRA had been established in November 1943 primarily for the purpose of repatriating the displaced persons.  Mis teha – siin ta on was written in 1946, a time when disagreements between the Western powers and Soviet Union solidified.  One recalls that Winston’s Churchill delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech at Fulton, Missouri, that year. One of the consequences of the rift was the decision in Washington and London not to pressure repatriation on the displaced persons from the Baltic States, Poland, and several other East European countries in which Communist regimes were in control.

The publication includes an Introduction by historians Maarja Merivoo-Parro and Sander Jürisson in which they write, “It is the first story to appear of displaced Estonians which manages to portray in one swoop the large picture as well as the details of the refugee experience, and to present it through the prism of humor. The writer and the artist together have produced a work in which a reader unfamiliar with refugee history can grasp its human essence and inform himself of the nuances in that existence.”

The historians continue by presenting a chronology of events leading to the massive fleeing and explaining what eventually became of the Estonian refugees and why.  They conclude their article by briefly describing the Estonian Diaspora presently.
The reissue of Mis teha – siin ta on is published by Eesti Diasporaa Akadeemia (Estonian Diaspora Academy), a non-profit organization founded in December 2013 by Maarja Merivoo-Parro, Sander Jürisson and Aivar Jürgenson, and the book can be purchased at the Occupations Museum in Tallinn,  and Apollo and Rahva Raamat bookstores in Estonia.  Readers abroad with questions about the book may contact  sander.jyrisson@gmail.com  or maarjamerivooparro@gmail.com.

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