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Do you remember? Do you know? Where were you, your parents, or grandparents during “Christmastime” and where did you/they ring in the New Year 65 years ago? In how many places across the world have “Silent Night” in Estonian and the Estonian National Anthem sounded devotedly over these 65 years?
65 years ago were the first holidays spent in exile; far from home, homeland, relatives and, for many, also from one’s family members who were dwelling somewhere in the shadows of the unknown. Estonia was, once again, occupied by its Eastern neighbor and many, who hadn’t the opportunity to head secretly towards Sweden, had to reconcile themselves with conditions in wartime Germany. One can only imagine, and still not fully understand, the feelings of these people caught in the unknown, unable to make plans for the future, but who did not lose faith that their Estonia someday would be free again.
The future was dark, but hope persisted in the victory of the Western Alliance, following which the rights of all nations would be restored. Exiles, prisoners of war, soldiers and forced laborers would return to their homelands to begin the necessary reconstruction in both freedom and peace. This was the hope.
During the Christmas season and new year of 1944, people were happy simply in the existence of the possibility to gather in small groups with one’s compatriots, sing Christmas carols, listen to the Christmas liturgy or even poems and children’s Christmas verse, which had to be taught from memory, because there was a nearly complete lack of Estonian language literature. Many marked the holidays together with war-exiles, prisoners of war and forced laborers of other countries, if at all.
Everything progressed differently from expectations. After that armistice, one was required to battle against extradition to the Soviets, to live through the problems of DP (Displaced Persons – a.k.a. refugee) camps, UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) screenings and demeaning attitudes of their operatives. All of this while at the same time attempting to pass on an Estonian-language education to one’s children and to preserve the “Estonian mind” and culture, until it began to become evident that the hope of a prompt return to the homeland, for a longer term, would remain only a hope. It would be necessary to find new opportunities for arranging one’s life and circumstances, to locate roads, to find work even farther from home. Even the majority of the intelligentsia had to accept whatever work was offered to provide for their subsistence and their children’s schooling. Although the expatriates were hurled everywhere across the globe, with tenacity, persistence and will-power, they achieved, in a relatively short period of time, a new life while simultaneously founding organizations for political battle as well as for the purpose of preserving Estonian-mindedness and Estonian culture; to bring into the future that culture and that spirit in which they had been raised and had grown. From which, in fact, they had built the very Nation [Eesti].
65 years is a long time and many generations have sprouted and grown abroad in the interim. The larger portion of the former expatriate population has, already, left he physical world. Even those who, at the time were in toddlers shoes are now seniors and grandparents themselves. Many have found the complete return to their beloved homeland unsuitable, due to the length of elapsed time and the progression of concepts and notions along their varying routes. For the younger generation, who aren’t burdened as heavily by war-time experiences and exile life, the return seems easier and yet, few of them have returned to reside in their forefathers’ land either, especially when compared to the outflow of youth from Estonia. And we know all too well what it means to acclimate to a new culture even if the individual’s roots spring from it.
We must honor and give great credit to the generation who has raised its children as Estonian-minded progeny and preserved the Estonian language as well as possible in the midst of another culture. To them belong our thanks who on the tenebrous [dark] nights, wherever they happened to be at the time, never lost faith and remained determined; to those who were devoid of the spirit of surrender.
With gratitude, I wish all of those who have lived through the war-exile experience, their expatriate descendants and estophiles; once more, a pleasant end of the year and the will, desire and strength required to take action for the good of Estonian ideals and customs (the Estonian Mind) and for continued and even increased activities in the interest of the Estonian nation; in the spirit of our Grandparents and in the firm belief of a better Estonia in the coming year. Also to the newly arrived Estonians immigrants, the fortitude to preserve and advance the Estonian language and Estonian culture, at large, as the expatriate generation had and did.

by Aime Andra,
VES #51, 2009
Translated by: Tenno Andra

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