restricted access Elmar-Raimund Ruben
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“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 to get the midwife. I was put to my mother’s breast at ten o’clock that evening. It was the 30th of October 1918. My father chose my name from a list he and my mother had jotted in the margin of a newspaper . My mother liked Raimund, and my father Elmar. There was no argument. The boy was named Elmar-Raimund. Life in that quiet farm in the woods, out of the way of the village, took its peaceful, ordinary course. My parents worked hard and raised the boy they hoped would be the future farm owner. But then… Bands of Red Army men forced their way across the Narva River. The Estonian War of Independence began.1 Three women were left at home: my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother. I was the only male in the house. Very soon the Soviets had taken control of the area.2 Rumors about their brutal deeds spread even before they arrived. The township’s courier served my mother orders to appear before a tribunal at the Vasta estate. I was a month and a half old at the time. Mother packed me up and got on her way. A large group of frightened people 1  Estonian War of Independence, 1918–1920, see Glossary. 2 The period of Bolshevik power in Estonia, under the Estonian Military­Revolutionary Committee, lasted from 27 October 1917 to the beginning of the German occupation on 25 February 1918. See Glossary (Russian Revolution ). Elmar-Raimund Ruben Born 1918 i3 Kirss.indb 73 7/17/09 5:47:28 AM 74 Estonian Life Stories was standing in the yard of the Vasta estate. The armed guard on the steps was calling out names. Our turn came. In a large room three people were sitting at a table. My mother knew one of them, Anna Leetsman . They had chatted and danced at the same parties. Now they were strangers to one another. “Where is your husband?” was the first question . Of course, my mother had no idea. Then she was taunted: “What kind of woman are you if you don’t know where your husband is?” I was told that after questioning my mother, the middle-aged interrogator turned to me and asked, “Where is your father?” Of course, I had no way of knowing, let alone responding. My mother said the look in the man’s eyes had been so hostile that she had put up her hand to shield me: Such hatred was not a good thing for a child to see. Then the tribunal motioned to the gunman standing behind them, and he accompanied us into the next room, which was also full of frightened people. Every now and then the gunman would call people out of the room again. After an hour or two, our turn came, and again we had to face the tribunal. We were finally allowed to go back home, with strict orders not to leave. So I really have something to boast about: I already had to face a tribunal at the age of one-and-a-half months. It was not to be the last time. Late one night toward the end of that year someone pounded loudly on the door and shouted in a foreign language, demanding to be let in. When the frightened women opened the door, gunmen marched in, their bayonets pointed at us. They shoved their way into the hallway , from there into the kitchen, from the kitchen into the back room, then the front room, and back into the hall again. Just to make sure they made another round. Then they sat down in the front room and demanded something to eat. Only after they had put the food in front of them did the women dare to ask whether they could close the door to the hallway. The intruders kindly gave permission. When they were pounding on the door, my mother had been bathing me near the warm bread oven. Cold winter air blew in through the doors they had left open, and I got pneumonia. Time passed. Father came back from the War of Independence healthy and unharmed, with three stars on his collar. The farm that the women had tried to keep up was...


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