Monthly Archives: September 2022

The Great Baltic Escape – And The Armada Of Boats That Saved So Many

In the late summer of 1944, tens of thousands of Baltic people were compelled to flee their homelands. They fled in desperation with the intensifying war front in the Baltic lands and in fear of the pending terror of a Soviet reoccupation of their nations. Some fled via limited land routes, and several thousand crammed onto the last departing freighter ships. In Estonia, over 30,000 Estonians fled to the Baltic sea coast seeking passage to Sweden on boats large and small. Those fortunate to find space on boats would embark on a perilous journey – across the Baltic sea. Many boats capsized in the stormy seas; the invaders’ gunboats ruthlessly sank some boats. Several thousand perished at sea. Yet over 27,000, crammed on their small boats for two or more days and nights, survived the journey and landed on Swedish shores. They disembarked into an uncertain future but felt heaven-blessed for their deliverance. The escapees hoped that the war would soon come to an end and envisaged a return to their homeland and to their loved ones left behind. But this was not to be. The lives of those escapees were irreversibly diverted, and a return to the homeland would not be possible for decades. Nevertheless, the drama of their Great Escape would be indelibly remembered by the escapees as a life-altering event. The Great Baltic Escape (or as it is referred to in Estonian, “Suurpõgenemine”) was commemorated this past September in several countries. An all-day “Suurpõgenemine 1944 ja meie” conference was held on September 19 in Tallinn at the parliament convention centre. A summary of that conference’s presentations and forums was presented in Eesti Elu’s September 23 edition. This past July, the BaltHerNet (Baltic Heritage Network) summer school in Hiiumaa featured several presentations on the archival research and exhibitions of the Great Escape. One of the presentations was by Dr Mirja Arnshav, a Research Coordinator at the National (Swedish) Maritime Museum. Dr Arnshav’s interest in the Great Escape and her ongoing research is fascinating and noteworthy. Dr Arnshav’s personal connection to the Great Escape can be traced back several years to a serendipitous encounter that she had with what turned out to be the wreckage of a small escapee boat. Over the years, Arnshav spent her summer holidays on the Swedish island of Gotland, and during those sojourns, she realised an interest in history, the sea and boats. Old boats are seemingly everywhere on the shores of Gotland, as there is a tradition of leaving boats to disintegrate by the sea after reaching the end of their service. However, while strolling along the shores during one of her visits to Gotland she noticed a boat, unlike the other abandoned boats due to its construction. Based on her growing maritime knowledge, she suspected the boat was built in eastern Europe. Subsequently, an elderly local confirmed that the boat had been beached and abandoned by Estonian escapees in 1944. Arnshav’s curiosity about the boat revealed that the maritime heritage agencies did not list such refugee boats. Although Arnshav does not have family roots in Baltic escapees, she felt that the legacy and stories represented by such escapee boat wrecks were important and worthy of research and documentation. Arnshav’s formal research into refugee boats began with her PhD thesis at Stockholm University in 2017. Her extensive study of the refugee boats for her 2020 dissertation has been documented in a book entitled “De Sma batarna och den stora flykten” (The small boats and the Great Escape). The scope of Arnshav’s research work was to seek and identify as many Baltic escapee boats as possible that still remain on Sweden’s shores and to document their condition. This research is not only an archaeology of the escape and its aftermath based on these escapee boats. The forsaken boats also quietly evoke stories, images and memories of those escapees who stepped out of those boats in 1944 onto Swedish shores. Arnshav’s research examined 34 boats confirmed as Baltic escapee boats. They are located on several shores, on Swedish islands and the mainland and are ageing in varying degrees of degradation. In her role as Research Coordinator at the National Maritime Museum, Arnshav commenced a second and broader research project on “The Materiality of the Great Escape”. The three-year project investigated, documented and archived hundreds of essential and cherished items brought along by the escapees on their boats. In addition to the collection of items, interviews were held with several of the 1944 escapees or their descendants – all of which were compiled into a compendium for the museum. A book on this research, “Foremal pa flykt” ((Personal) Objects of the Escape), has also been published. Exhibitions, public lectures and school education programs have been organised to share the research results and the stories of the escapees. This past June, many Estonian diasporas in Sweden were in attendance at the Maritime Museum forum, where Arnshav’s book was presented along with various panel discussions. Dr Arnshav’s research work and the two books were originally written in Swedish. There is interest in having the works translated into English and Estonian. A recent Estonian TV news clip of Dr Arnshav and her research can be viewed in clip number 2: “Mis on teisel pool vet”. This research work and interest in the Great Escape is timely, recognising that the 80th anniversary of the 1994 Escape will be commemorated in 2024. Steps are being taken to formally acknowledge September 19 as the Day of Remembrance of the Great (Baltic) Escape. In leading up to the 80th anniversary, there may be interest in preserving at least a couple of the escapee boats on the Swedish shores and to erect suitable plaques at those sites, inscribed with the historical context and a recounting of the Great Escape. Such memorial sites on Swedish shores might be a fitting complement to the Puise, Estonia statue “Minna et taha, kuid jääda et saa” which commemorates the Great Escape departure from the shores of Estonia. Toomas Eichenbaum First published in Eesti Elu/Estonian Life

Read more September 30, 2022
TC 50+2: A True Party for the Ages

Only the biggest and best parties last for days and are multi-faceted – you get some good food, have great music and entertainment, and have an amazing time with friends and family. Tartu College’s birthday “week” in Toronto had all of this and much more, bringing together friends and acquaintances over the course of a fantastic series of events over five days, lasting from September 21st to the 25th. The festivities brought stellar local artistic guests and renowned Estonian musicians, something you’ll be able to read more about further in the article. Unfortunately, during two long years in the heart of Covid, Tartu College’s 50th had to be celebrated through Zoom, with no one being able to come together physically. But now, this pillar of the Estonian-Canadian and worldwide diaspora community, a great vision of architect Elmar Tampõld, was able to have a proper celebration in appreciation of its continuing contribution to keeping the Estonian spirit alive and thriving over 50 years later. The fantastic lineup of festivities kicked off on September 21st with local “street-jazz” band Big Smoke Brass turning up the heat at the barbecue party for Tartu College students, family and friends. Jazzy and rhythmic covers of modern, well-known pop songs brought smiles to the faces of the crowd and had everyone grooving along. While all of this was going on, a modern version of the London doubledecker buses pulled up and the Shuffle Demons, local Toronto funk masters who have also visited Estonia twice during their 38-year career, are piling onto the open second level and soon begin to wow curious onlookers and partiers with a set of groovy tunes. When Estonian legends and monsters of funk Lexsoul Dancemachine started their set atop the bus in matching, eye-catching burgundy tracksuits, the crowd went wild, shaking their hips and showing their best dance moves to soaring melodies and catchy rhythms. Along with a few lucky contest winners who could catch a ride with the bands on the bus, the Shuffle Demons and Lexsoul set out on a night of taking over Toronto, with three pop-up concerts in total around downtown. What a kickoff night to the celebrations it was. The VEMU-run Estonian Music Weekhosted luncheon on September 22 brought together top music industry professionals from Toronto and offered them a window into Estonian music of the past and present. Speakers included Vaiko Eplik, Henrik Ehte and Robert Linna from Estonia, moderated by Sebastian Buccioni. The talk concluded with a survey of Estonian festivals, conference and music service organisation. EMW looks forward to welcoming many participants back to the 2023 festival as delegates. The celebrations moved to Hamilton, ON, for the evening of September 23. The evening, entitled “Funk at the Factory”, brought together Toronto, Hamilton and Tallinn-based artists from a wide range of disciplines at the historic Cotton Factory hosted by Adrian Bernard. The band Aleef & Friends was kicking off the evening with their signature blend of jazz fusion. Taking the energy to the next level, a group of four professional dancers took to the floor in a friendly dance battle. Raoul Wilke, Janessa Pudwell and Lacy C used every street dance style in the book to answer the acrobatic feats of breakdancer Ali Muhammad while DJ B Bad kept the music flowing. The clear winner, though, was the audience, and they were rewarded again with a characteristically high-energy performance from Lexsoul Dancemachine to close the night. As all of this unfolded, so too did Curtia Wright’s large-scale artwork, with flowing brushstrokes and rich, eyecatching colours. Audience members were treated to thirst-quenching seltzers and craft beers by Clifford Brewing and the satisfying cuisine of the Flyin G’nosh Food Truck. Truly a feast for all the senses. But if you’ve already had two nights of phenomenal parties, the third night has to turn up the heat; as the saying goes: “third times the charm.” September 23rd at the Axis Club in Toronto was a funky, soulful get-down in every way; the crowd was teeming with energy throughout the night. DJ Henrik Ehte (Estonia) created a mellow atmosphere, followed by host for the night and famed multi-instrumentalist and composer Vaiko Eplik (Estonia) stepping up for a sentimental and touching short set of songs, among them tunes by Peeter and Olaf Kopvillem, well known and appreciated within the local Estonian community. Tartu College’s president Jaan Meri shared a heartfelt birthday wish to Tartu College, and a teaser for Kaisa Pitsi’s film “Meie Tartu” was shown to gather even more interest for the premiere of the film on Sunday. Both lead sponsor Northern Birch Credit Union’s president Anita Saar and major funder Estonian Foundation of Canada’s president Eva Varangu extended best birthday wishes to Tartu College as well. It’s safe to say that both the Shuffle Demons and Lexsoul Dancemachine brought the house down with their funky beats and captivating melodies, the energy onstage was thoroughly mirrored within the crowd and an absolutely amazing night was the result. Following three nights of hard partying, the afternoon of September 24th offered a formal get-together to appreciate the mark that Tartu College has left fully, and its lasting and continual impact on the livelihood of Estonian-Canadian diaspora communities. Famed Estonian textile artist Anu Raud presented a Dr. Vello Soots memorial lecture on the topic of “Thread of Thought – Cultural Thought” and the chief archivist of VEMU/Estonian Museum Canada Piret Noorhani had a touching speech and officially opened the “Our Tartu: 50 Years of Tartu College” exhibit. Several heartfelt birthday wishes were shared by guests, including Tartu College president Jaan Meri, the new Estonian ambassador to Canada Margus Rava, Estonian honorary consul general in Toronto Laas Leivat, KESKUS project lead Ellen Valter and many more. Closing remarks were presented by Tartu College board vice-president and president of the board of the Chair of Estonian Studies University of Toronto Peeter Einola. Of course, an Estonian event would not be complete without pirukad, kringel and coffee; many thanks to Ülle Veltmann catering for providing a delicious, traditional buffet. And so the last day of the festivities had come around, the September 25th premiere of the long-awaited Tartu College documentary film “Our Tartu” directed by Kaisa Pitsi. The film was a true heartfelt and poignant testament to this monument that represents not only a second home and heart of Estonian culture to our Toronto Estonian community but also to diaspora Estonian communities at large. The movie’s focus was the idea of keeping together in these changing times and how Tartu College continually acts as an anchor for our community. That was one of the aspects that touched the audience most, as was heard from their post-screening comments. A more fitting end to the festivities would not have been possible, leaving us all with the idea that Tartu College is truly “our Tartu,” our cultural hub and home. We would like to extend a huge thanks to Tartu College, VEMU, Estonian Music Week, Koger Valuations Inc., the Cotton Factory, the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, Northern Birch Credit Union and Estonian Foundation of Canada; without all of your support this fantastic series of events would not have been possible. A heartfelt thank you to all of the performers and artists, especially Lexsoul Dancemachine, Vaiko Eplik, and the Shuffle Demons, who made the festivities truly special and unique. Special thanks go out to Laani Teetsov, who did a stellar job with designs for TC 50+2 celebrations as well as for the “Our Tartu” exhibit (her first standalone job of the kind) and for the film credits. Thank you to Estonian Music Week’s executive and artistic director, Sebastian Buccioni; without you the musical experience would not have been as unique and superb as it was. Thank you Tartu College’s general manager Linda Karuks, your continual work and effort keeps “our Tartu” running as smoothly as it does. And a very big thank you to VEMU/Estonian Museum Canada chief archivist and Estonian Music Week’s festival director Piret Noorhani, your vision and tireless work is what keeps our culture here alive, you are the embodiment of “our Tartu’s” cultural spirit. And last but not least, thank you to all of our hard-working volunteers, you helped all of the festivities run smoothly. See you soon at our upcoming events! Kati Kiilaspea and Sebastian Buccioni First published in the Eesti Elu / Estoinian Life newspaper

Read more September 28, 2022