restricted access Hans Lebert
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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 began working in my uncle ­ Eduard Kreek’s auto mechanic shop, in the courtyard of the building where we all lived. Since the good old Swedish era,1 my father ’s forebears had been farmers in Riisipere, in Nissi county (vald). He probably got his German-sounding name from a German baron, who found it easier to say Leberti Hans than Lepiku Hans. My mother , along with her brother and sister had moved from Russia to Estonia during the Revolution. For some reason, Mother’s parents stayed in the Soviet Union. My mother’s father was a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church. Later he was said to have worked as a cobbler, perhaps because religion was banned during the Soviet era. For the first four years of my life I lived in Tallinn. Then all of us moved to Rakvere. Uncle Eedi expanded his repair service, founded a large vulcanizing workshop, and acquired representation at a Soviet Union oil concern. Long trainloads of oil and gasoline came from Russia to Rakvere, and were distributed from there all over the country. 1  “Good old Swedish time,” reference to the time of Swedish rule in the 17th century, a respite between the turbulent times of war and famine during the Russo-Livonian war in the second half of the 16th century, and the submission of the territory of Estonia and Livonia to the rule of the Russian Empire in 1721.The “good old Swedish time” was “good” particularly due to the Swedish kings’ progressive policies in the areas of education and the Lutheran church. Hans Lebert Born 1924 i3 Kirss.indb 265 7/17/09 5:47:43 AM 266 Estonian Life Stories Besides that he owned a number of taxicabs in Rakvere. When I was six years old, my brother Heino was born. When we had lived in Rakvere for two years, the worldwide economic crisis hit. Uncle Eedi’s businesses went bankrupt, all of his activities stopped, and he found himself deep in debt. Our family moved to Riisipere. Grandfather had a small farm there. Grandfather and Grandmother were getting old, and they wished for my father, the eldest son, to take over the farm. I got my basic education at the Nissi elementary school. I had learned to read and write before starting school, and I was put in the second grade. In spring 1936 I completed the Nissi elementary school, and the question arose of what would become of me. The school director said to my parents that they should send me to the city to continue my studies. My parents were poor, and thought it was impossible for them to send me on to high school. At that time tuitions were high. Finally it was decided that I would attend the Tallinn Boys Business School, which was four years old, and where, in addition to general education subjects, a range of practical subjects was offered, such as bookkeeping, typing, business correspondence, etc. My mother hoped that I could become the business manager of the Riisipere general store. I went to live with aunt Anni and uncle Eedi on Koidu Street. After the economic crash they lived in modest circumstances in a tworoom basement apartment in a three-story apartment building. Aunt Anni was the caretaker in the building. Uncle Eedi had turned one room of their apartment into a workshop. So the three of us all lived together in one small room. There was an electric burner and cold water . That was about the extent of it. After I had attended the Business School for three years, I transferred to the commercial high school, which was located in the same building. I had to take some subject examinations. In the spring of 1942 I went to driving school just in case, and obtained my truck driver’s license . During the war they were only training truck drivers. I thought that in turbulent times, it would be an advantage to know how to drive. In spring 1943 I got mobilization orders for the German army. The Germans had already had plenty of time to demonstrate what they thought of Estonians, and of Estonian efforts to...