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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. Only a miracle could save them. I, too, belonged to that unfortunate generation. My name is Hans Karro. I was born on the Day of the Innocents in 1923 near Põltsamaa, in the village of Võhma-Nõmme at Palgimäe farm. My childhood and adolescence were no different from that of an ordinary rural boy of that time. After completing the six-grade elementary school at Põltsamaa, I obeyed my father’s wish and stayed at home. As the family’s only son, I was to prepare to take over my father’s responsibilities as farm owner. Our farm was large and prosperous enough to acquire a tractor and other modern farm equipment. We employed Polish farm workers as hired hands, and through conversation with them the farm children quickly became fluent in Russian.1 Farm children and paid farmhands worked side by side, and were on equal footing. In the crisis year 1940, our farm was declared to “belong to the people,” and most of it was divided among three “new landowners.” Fifteen out of eighty hectares were left to the former owner, of which only 9.3 hectares were arable land. The tractor was confiscated, along with all the other farm equipment. My father clearly understood that from this point on a farmer could no longer count on being established 1  Polish farm workers: due to poor economic conditions in their homeland, Polish farmhands were a relatively frequent sight in Estonia in the time of the Estonian republic. Hans Karro Born 1923 i3 Kirss.indb 145 7/17/09 5:47:34 AM 146 Estonian Life Stories and wealthy, so that fall he allowed me to continue my studies in the so-called supplementary class at the Põltsamaa Progymnasium.2 I remember what a delight this was for me—to start on my way to school in the mornings in the company of my two sisters, instead of driving to the dairy with heavy milk containers or walking behind the spring-plow under the burning sun. During my two years away from school, there were some things I had forgotten, but this did not cause me particular difficulties. I was two years older than my classmates, and more mature in many ways; I could manage my time better. So I began to study the flute in the school orchestra under the direction of Ants Kiilaspea. When the supplementary class was combined with the regular class the following fall, I was chosen class elder. Those school years have remained in my memory as the most beautiful time of my life; my intellectual abilities were blossoming, and I experienced the unforgettable intoxication of first love. After all, at the time I resumed my studies, I was seventeen years old. The next year, in the summer of 1941, the war began. The boys in the upper grades were mobilized into the Red Army, and many of them we never saw again. The front held near Põltsamaa for fully two weeks; drunken Red Army soldiers and members of the Latvian destruction battalions3 looted the surrounding farms. My sisters and the neighbors’ girls were forced to disguise themselves as old women to stay alive. All around us there was death, destruction, and weeping. When the fighting finally died down, the Germans brought with them a new regime and new laws. My father got his land and farm equipment back. To replace the horse the Russians had forcibly taken from us we were given a huge, wounded Ardennes horse from the German army; instead of Polish farmhands, there was a Ukrainian war prisoner named Grigori. In his civilian life he had been a teacher of Russian language and literature. I gained a friend and an incomparable Russian language teacher. Considering that the times were uncertain, the future even more so, my father no longer expected me to interrupt my education and come back to the farm. In the fall I continued my studies at Põltsamaa with my sister Aino. The war made its presence felt at school: instead 2  Class for adult students to complete their education. 3  Destruction battalions, see Glossary. i3 Kirss.indb 146 7/17/09 5:47:34 AM 147 Hans...


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