Letter from Estonian Writer Ülo Tuulik. Part 3:
I spent a poor and unpretentious and yet wonderful childhood on this island. The war was over, my family was alive, the sky was blue, the sea was filled with fish and we were surrounded by friendly neighbors. The island did not have electricity, a telephone, nor even a single radio, a general store or a doctor, but we did not starve. And, in the spring of 1945, when 20,000 Estonians were deported into Siberia, many neighboring families were saved by the break-up of sea ice – the Soviet Russian deporters did not dare to cross the thin ice.
In the summer of 1994, four young married couples, including both my daughters and their husbands, reserved tickets to go to Stockholm on the ship Estonia on 26th of September 1994. For different reasons, my daughters and one son-in-law could not go through with the trip. Five young people, our neighbors and friends from many summers, young beautiful people in their prime went and never returned. The three who survived erected this cross and made sure that the memory of what happened is never forgotten.
Letter from Estonian Writer Ülo Tuulik: Part 2:
In 1935, my father came to this island to be a schoolteacher. He spoke Finnish, Russian and German but also taught the local young people how to play bridge and chess. In May 1936, (my brother) little Vaino fell ill. Father and a local fisherman took a very small boat through a heavy storm to Kuressaare in order to fetch the doctor. The doctor came to the harbor but said that he dared not get into so small of a boat in such stormy weather. Father and the fisherman drove back. Little Vaino died that night.
On the 23rd of August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed in Moscow. The secret protocol of this pact decided the fate of Estonian people for half a century. We were victims of geopolitics. In the autumn of the same year, the first Soviet Russian soldiers came to Estonia. A garrison of 150 men was set up in Abruka. Four officers lived in the village while the soldiers were in the barracks on the other side of the island. In July 1941, German planes first appeared in the sky above Abruka. A young Russian boy did not run straight back to the barracks, as he should have, but instead waited in the forest for the planes to leave. The Commissar (military official) saw this as an act of cowardiss and lack of discipline. An old fisherman of Abruka saw with his own eyes the boy getting shot in front of a line-up. He was buried so quickly and carelessly that his toes stuck out of the ground. Before the Germans reached Abruka, all the Soviet officers fled. The Russian soldiers were taken to concentration camps from where most did not make it back. As we know, a human life is sacred. So the people of Abruka buried the young Russian soldier, shot by the Commissar, in their village graveyard. He was buried along with his spoon and aluminum mug. Twenty years later, we erected a memorial stone to the unknown soldier. All over the world there are burial places for unknown soldiers. During the long years of Soviet reign I spoke to known communist officials and politicians and told them that here lies an unknown soldier who fell in the battle against the Germans. He is no longer unknown, however, because we found his name in the archives, Aleksander Haritolov. And if for the sake of truth and history you would also like to know the name of the man who shot — it is Pjotr Lukonin.
During World War II, the school in Abruka was closed and father went to teach for two years on Sorve Peninsular in Saaremaa. In autumn of 1944, some of the toughest battles of World War II that took place on Estonian soil were fought there.
We, about 3,000 habitants, were taken to camps in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Children and old folks were buried on foreign soil. When we returned in 1945, our village was no longer on the map – it had been destroyed. Father’s library of thousands of books had also burned down. We were poor, no clothes, homeless and decided to return to Abruka. Father once again began teaching the fishermen’s children and my sister Safme (sp?) became the head of the local library, a job she carried on for 58 years running. This could also be added to the Guinness Book of World Records ….
This Fourth of July I received a most special gift — an American flag, found in the waters off the coast of Morocco 36 years ago by a very courageous Russian fisherman and sailor. In 1974, the sailor, Mr. Gennadi Gamov, today an Estonian citizen, found our flag floating in the water, and out of simple respect for our national symbol, brought the Stars and Stripes on board his Soviet fishing trawler. A great personal risk to himself, Mr. Gamov first hid our flag in his cabin for 3 months and then in his home in Estonia after his return — until Estonian re-independence in 1991! Mr. Gamov’s sense of honor and courage is deeply moving and a tribute him and to Estonians of Russian extraction. Thank you again, Mr. Gamov, on behalf of the American people.
Today is the day of final decision for Estonia’s switch to the Euro on January 2011. Another clear signal for Estonia’s about to be completed journey into the full range of European and Transatlantic institutions. At the same time, I have read with interest about the recent meeting between the Estonian Confederation of Employers and the Russian Association of Entrepreneurs, and their expressions of mutual hope for improved economic ties between the two countries. Literally and figuratively, Estonian President Ilves’ call for a new bridge across the Narva river called for a bridging of the gap between the two countries. The Euro and Russia relations — a contraction for Estonia? I think not. An emminently rational and pragmatic progression of relationships for a European free market democracy that is interested in solid and profitable business relationships across the globe.