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Estonian Life Stories

Edited by Tiina Kirss

Publication Year: 1930

This anthology contains 25 selected life stories collected from Estonians who lived through the tribulations of the 20 century, and describe the travails of ordinary people under numerous regimes. The autobiographical accounts provide authentic perspectives on events of this period, where time is placed in the context of life-spans, and subjects grounded in personal experience. Most of the life stories reveal sufferings under foreign (Russian) oppression.

Published by: Central European University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Preface: On the Collection of Estonian Life Stories

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pp. vii-xii

More than 30 years have passed since, after graduating from university, I was hired at the Estonian Literary Museum and got my first taste of collecting manuscript sources—the personal archives, correspondence, manuscripts, and memoirs...

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Introduction: Estonian Life Stories and Histories

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pp. 1-31

Life stories are a border phenomenon, poised—sometimes precariously, between autobiography and history. According to Eberhard Jäckel, “human life consists essentially of relations with the past.” He adds, “History is remembering...

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Hilja Lill

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pp. 33-55

My father Jaan Vehmer was born in the year 1876 in Latvia into the family of a poor farmer. My mother, Miili Taba-Vehmer, was born in...

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Tuuli Jaik

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pp. 57-72

My parents were country children from south Estonia. My mother was born in 1864 near Otepää, my father in 1861 in Sangaste. Both were the children of manor...

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Elmar-Raimund Ruben

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pp. 73-93

“The others were out in the potato field when I realized that today was the day.” That is how Mother talked about my coming into the world. Father drove straight from that potato field to town...

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David Abramson

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pp. 95-105

I was born on 10 July 1923 in Tallinn. Before the Second World War there were about 5,000 Jews in Estonia. I believe there are only 500 people left in Estonia today of the Jewish families that lived there before the war. My father, Max Abramson...

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Evald Mätas

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pp. 107-123

I first saw the light of day on 15 November 1921 in Tallinn, in a little house owned by the Rotermann flour and bread factory near the Russalka memorial in Kadrioru. I was the third child of my father Oskar and my mother Minna, their only son. My two sisters were born...

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Heljut Kapral

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pp. 125-144

Most of my forebears on my father’s side came from a fishing village on the Kandle beach in Haljala township. Father would tell stories about his grandfather Joosep, who had served for many years in the Tsar’s army. After attaining the rank of corporal, he was assigned to train soldiers. After his retirement...

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Hans Karro

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pp. 145-159

Estonian boys who had come of age on the brink of the Second World War had no way of anticipating that most of them were already destined for death, like Briar Rose in the well-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm...

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Hillar Tassa

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pp. 161-179

My story got started in Tartu on a Saturday morning, 10 February 1923, when an eight-anda- half pound boy arrived in this wondrous world. Slowly my identity began to take shape: a little box of mandarin oranges under the Christmas tree, a leg gashed by a nail, a hand pounded...

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Leida Madison

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pp. 181-199

History has scattered the Estonian people all over the world, like dandelion seed that the wind has carried long distances. Wherever they have landed, they have put down strong roots. This shows how hard-working the Estonian people...

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Valter Lehtla

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pp. 201-221

A journalist once asked me the question: “What do the people think of you as a former ‘Red Baron’?”1 I answered that I was a Red Count. The title of baron was too low for me. I was the director of Estonia’s largest state farm for 34 years. In the West a count’s lands are measured in acres...

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Linda Põldes

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pp. 223-245

My father’s father, Juhan Martinson, was born in Saaremaa as the son of a farmhand1 on the Muratsi estate. He began as a herd boy; during his adolescence years he tended the baron’s pack of hunting dogs, and went on to be...

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Tanni Kents

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pp. 247-263

I was my parents’ first child, born in Kuressaare on 22 July 1920. My mother and father met as university students in St. Petersburg in 1918, where they were both studying law. Turbulent times and the Russian Revolution brought each of them by different...

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Hans Lebert

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pp. 265-283

I was born on 8 March 1924 in the Tallinn Old City, on Aida Street near St. Olaf’s Church. In the old days this part of town was known for its grain warehouses. At the time of my birth, my father was an engine driver on the railroad, but soon afterwards...

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Voodel Võrk

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pp. 285-302

There were two children in the family before me, my brother Erlich, and my sister Helju. I saw the light of day in the wintertime, on the 24th of February 1925. Hence I am exactly seven years younger than the Estonian...

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Peep Vunder

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pp. 303-329

I was born the son of a constable on Sunday, 8 November 1936, at 18:45 in the district of Palmse. The time of my birth is recorded in my mother’s little pocket calendar. I have tried to convince myself that being...

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Selma Tasane

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pp. 331-350

I was born on 27 July 1926 on the island of Saaremaa, near Orissaare, in the village of Lahe, at Linnanuka farm. Since my home is near the Small Strait, near the ruins of Maasilinna, I have gotten used to the sea and to an open view. I could...

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Asta Luksepp

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pp. 351-364

I was born on 29 October 1932 at Mäksa farm, in the county of Viljandimaa, in Tarvastu township, in the village of Kuressaare.1 My family had been a farming family for many generations: my father Juhan Rennit’s forebears had begun keeping Mäksa farm at least as far back...

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Heljo Liitoja

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pp. 365-380

I was born on 7 February in Tartu, as the first child in my family. My mother and father were both teachers. I lived in Tartu until I was 13. Then my...

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Juta Pihlamägi

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pp. 381-399

I was born in Valga in 1927. My father was a career officer, commander of the Valga Motorized Tank Division. As a decorated hero of the War of Independence,1 he had been awarded a piece of land from the Sooru estate, located near Valga, where he began...

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Volita Paklar

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pp. 401-418

The first time I decided to take stock of my life was when I turned thirty. By that time, others my age had already created a home and a family; some even had school-aged children. My own achievements were limited to a conservatory...

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Raimo Loo

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pp. 419-437

The story of my life began with my parents making a little mischief, as a result of which I came into this world on 5 December 1929, in Tallinn. We were living at the time...

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Aili Valdrand

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pp. 439-455

My name is Aili Valdrand. I was born in 1936 in Saaremaa, on a small holding. My maternal grandfather kept the estate store, across the street from the estate tavern; that is where our family name...

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Valdur Raudvassar

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pp. 457-475

My family name comes from a distant forefather, the blacksmith of the Vastseliina church manor, who crafted the rooster that is still perched on top of the Vastseliina church tower to this day. That was the era when people were given family names, and the story goes that the pastor at the...

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Ene Ergma

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pp. 477-493

What is a life history? Does it mean writing about how my own choices have shaped my success, or are there other things to take into consideration? It seems too early to be writing about my life, even though, according to the way Estonians understand it today, I have achieved the maximum that a normal scientist can achieve. I will try...

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Tiia Allas

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pp. 495-509

I can clearly imagine the August night when my mother, already in labor, walked two to three kilometers to her sister’s house in Rõuge. From there they drove her to the hospital. Father stayed behind at the neighbor’s house, partying...


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pp. 511-525

Index of Places

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pp. 527-532

Index of Proper Names

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pp. 533-539

Life trajectories

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pp. 540-553

Back Cover

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p. 554-554

E-ISBN-13: 9786155211751
Print-ISBN-13: 9789639776395

Page Count: 554
Publication Year: 1930

Edition: 1st