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 ….