Lessons from History

April 24th, 2013 → 3:08 pm @

“What experience and history teach us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deducted from it.” G.W.F. Hegel

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Estonia to keep ex-Soviet military sites as tourist attractions

February 2nd, 2013 → 6:59 pm @

“Estonia will keep some of the abandoned Soviet-era military sites on its territory as historical legacy and potentially as tourist attractions, the Estonian television reported.

Culture experts discussed on Tuesday during a meeting at the Museum of Estonian Architecture the creation of a database categorizing the hundreds of ex-Soviet military installations in order to determine their historical value and importance as potential tourism venues.

“There are opinions that all traces of the hateful Soviet legacy in Estonia must be wiped out. However, we must widen our historical vision,” Leele Välja, the director of the museum said. “We cannot keep silent about these periods or pretend they never existed.”

The participants of the meeting also agreed that some of the facilities, especially the abandoned missile bases and storages for nuclear warheads could become ‘magnets’ for tourists after repairs.

The controversy over the post-World War II period when Estonia was part of the Soviet Union remains a sore point in Russian-Estonian relations.

The Estonian authorities claim that their country was occupied by the Soviet Union along with Latvia and Lithuania between 1945 and 1991, while the Russian government and its state officials insist that incorporation of the Baltic states was in accordance with international law and gained de jure recognition by the agreements made in the Yalta and Potsdam conferences and by the Helsinki Accords.”

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Another Narrow Escape

March 31st, 2012 → 5:18 pm @

After Father and I narrowly survived the British bombing raid in Ulm (the topic of my previous blog) we somehow found our way back to Bregenz, Austria

“…In Bregenz we immediately went to the employment office. This time, though, we were treated with obvious contempt. The administrator with whom Father dealt with considered him to be a deserter having fled a city that needed all the help it could get in order to restore its vital infrastructure. Eventually, we were given train tickets for Salzburg, Austria, and directed to report to a camp on the outskirts of the city.

A day later we disembarked at a railway station on the fringes of Salzburg. The camp, where we had been told to report, was only a short walking distance from the station. As we arrived at the main gate we saw hundreds of people who appeared to be refugees like us, slowly coming from the direction of the station with their belongings, making their way into the facility. To put it mildly, the place looked quite ominous and suspicious, particularly to my father. By word of mouth he had heard of concentration camps but never mentioned a word about them to me. That skepticism would shortly end up saving our lives.

The camp was quite large and made up of multiple extended rows of wooden barracks. It was surrounded by about a fifteen foot high barbed wire fence curved inward at the top, obviously meant to keep people from leaving. In addition, two armed soldiers were posted at the gate. After being liberated by the French, father told me that the place had probably been a temporary holding area for “undesirables” who later would most likely end up in a concentration camp.

Father and I were among a large group of people as we entered the camp. We had barely gone through the gate when Father stopped suddenly. He intuitively sensed danger and wasn’t about to be interned voluntarily. Without looking directly at me, he whispered to me that we would slowly turn around and walk back out of the gate. He also asked me to be as casual as possible in order not to attract any undue attention from the guards. I remember that it all came about so quickly that Father didn’t even set down either the suitcase or duffle bag he was carrying.

We were lucky because a lot of people were still entering the camp and the sentries weren’t paying much attention to what was going on around them. We walked quickly back to the railway station and boarded the next train headed back to Bregenz. I suppose that father’s newly acquired identification paper from Ulm was still working since I don’t recall anyone at the station questioning us as to where we were going. We met an Estonian refugee on the train who was on his way to a small village called Götzig, not far south from Bregenz near the Lichtenstein border. He was going to work in a shoe factory there and suggested to Father that he might also want to seek employment at the same plant when we got to Bregenz…”

Before long my father would be threatened with execution by a German military police unit close to the Swiss border. But that’s another story reserved for another blog.

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Divide and Conquer in Estonia

March 22nd, 2012 → 1:56 pm @

In no small way the aftermath of the 50 year occupation of the Baltics after WW II by the Soviets continues. “Divide and conquer in Estonia,” http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/30851/ , provides a classic example of how the Russian Government refuses to stay out of the affairs of its independent neighbors. I guess for them it is a form of “International Relations.”

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Wars are Unavoidable

March 20th, 2012 → 4:49 pm @

Wars are unavoidable unless we make a determined attempt to change the world’s social dynamics from “winners takes all” to “we’re all in this boat together.”

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War and the Resilience of the Young – Part Two

March 17th, 2012 → 1:39 pm @

As I recall, the event below, like many of the others, seemed to be more of an action-packed adventure for me than being concerned about my personal safety. Of course, there was a notable exception. I’ll discuss that episode in a future blog.

“Father and I departed Tallinn for the earth works (construction of infantry fortifications) on September 5, 1944. The destination of our group was a little village called Luua, less than twenty miles north of Tartu. The mood of the men and women riding on flatbeds and in open freight cars was almost festive. They joked, laughed and sang folk songs for most of the trip. Of course, Estonians are known to sing for any reason, even if they were headed for locations not too far behind the front lines.

In Luua we were housed in the main building of an old German manor. From the village we were transported back and forth to work in open trucks. The location where we built all sorts of infantry trenches, machine gun nests, and bunkers, in addition to clearing away a lot of the underbrush to improve the line of fire from the trenches, was only about a mile south of Luua…

…Most of the twelve days at the earth works and at the manor were uneventful. Occasionally we could hear muffled artillery fire from the direction ofTartu. Once we were even strafed by a lone Soviet fighter. Fortunately, the plane only made one relatively high pass at us. By the time Father had pulled me into one of the dugouts the aircraft had already disappeared.

Before long, however, the peace and quiet of the countryside was shattered by the thunder of war. Since the nights had become chilly, Father and I were sleeping with several other people from our group on the floor of the manor’s large kitchen. At precisely six in the morning on September 17, we were awakened by the sudden shaking of the concrete floor. The Russians had launched their anticipated massive attack. For two hours the ground shook beneath our feet, and from the south we heard the continuous rumbling of heavy weapons…

…Eventually the defenders (in Tartu) were overwhelmed by the sea of Soviet troops, tanks, artillery and planes. Once the Soviet forces broke through, there were hardly any combat ready troops left to fall back to the newly constructed fortifications behind them, and there were no available reserves. It was the beginning of the end forEstonia.

Since it was Sunday, the trucks that normally ferried us back and forth from the work site were not at the manor. We were told, nevertheless, that the vehicles would be there early Monday morning as usual. If necessary, they could then take us farther northward away from danger. Luckily, Father’s survival instincts were as sharp as ever. After hearing about the vehicle situation I recall him telling one of his friends, who was from the local area, “By tomorrow morning Russian tanks will be here instead of the trucks. I’m not willing to risk wasting valuable time waiting and hoping that we may be picked up at daybreak. With the enemy on our heels the only possible safe way out of here will be through the nearby forests and swamps. No, I’ll take my son and start walking for the nearest train station immediately”…

…We walked what, for me, seemed forever and we were without any food or water. At one point in the late afternoon we even came close to being run over by a column of fleeing German panzers. Finally, by nightfall we arrived at the Kaarepere Railroad Station. There we were momentarily scared out of our wits by the Station Master when he informed us that no more trains were expected to arrive from the direction ofTartusince the city had been overrun by the communist forces.

A German troop train, however, was already at the station ready to depart for Tallinn at any moment. The man suggested that we check with the commander of the unit and see if he would allow us to board his train. I remember nervously going into the caboose with my father. There several German officers were warming themselves around a red-hot potbellied stove.  As they saw me some of them immediately began to smile and pat me on the head. They also offered me food and drink. We stayed in the caboose until we reached Tallinn…”

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History

November 30th, 2011 → 11:26 am @

History is a legacy of every family. Thus, it should be recorded as best as possible so that it can be passed on to the present and future generations. The main problem with family history is that someone has to take the time and effort to record it. That task is seldom easy. Work and other family matters take precedence leaving little time for anything else.

Much of Coming Home deals with a significant part of my extended family’s history. However, that was not my primary intent when I first took a stab at writing it almost 30 years ago. At that time Estonia was still occupied by Soviet troops and run by a very repressive Moscow lead communist government. In addition, Estonia and the other two former independent Baltic republics, Latvia and Lithuania, had been forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. That meant they no longer were even considered to be separate countries as was not the case with the other occupied nations behind The Iron Curtain.

Therefore, my foremost goal was to bring as much world attention as possible to the plight of the Estonians and its Baltic neighbors. Considering that most people are not fond of reading history per se, I thought it best to use my extended family as a focal point to the narrative. I assumed by doing so it would make the book more interesting and palatable.

Having been quite naïve about the book publishing industry, I was taken completely by surprise what little chance, if any, I had as a “no name” author in having my work accepted for publication. As a result, the manuscript lay on the self for years before a close friend of mine offered to print it so that at least I could give it to our children and grandchildren as Christmas presents.

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