BaltHerNet’s 10th Summer School “The Sea and Islands” in Hiiumaa

July 15, 2022

Baltic Heritage Network has had a long-term partnership with the Estonian Literary Museum in gathering material for Estonian diaspora archives, maintaining and organizing them, and doing further contributive research. The idea to create BaltHerNet began to form in 2005 in Piret Noorhani’s office, who was the director of the Estonian Cultural History Archives at that time. Currently, she is the director and chief archivist at the Estonian Museum Canada/VEMU in Toronto and still continues to be the leader of and driving force behind the network.

BaltHerNet’s main mission is to allow for an exchange of information between three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – in pertinence to the diaspora communities of those three respective nations and their cultural heritage. An equally important goal is trading archival experiences, facilitating and improving the availability of archives, and researching and researching them. The latest BaltHerNet summer school was already the 10th and took place from 28.06-1.07.2022 in Hiiumaa. It was dedicated to the stories of the Great Escape of 1944 and bore the title “The Sea and Islands.”

The school began in Tallinn on June 28th, where historian Sander Jürisson introduced the Estonian Maritime Museum’s new exhibit titled “Juminda’s Hell” at the Seaplane Harbour. The exhibition depicted the evacuation of Tallinn on August 28th, 1941 and the resulting mass demise of ships in the mine-laden Gulf of Finland.

Summer school presentations took place in Suuremõisa, Pühalepa municipality in Hiiumaa, at a beautiful and historically rich, 250-year-old manor where the Hiiumaa Vocational School currently operates. School participants were provided overnight accommodations in the vocational school’s student dorms. A trip brought the summer school to a fitting conclusion, where the legendary Helgi Põllo, the former long-term director and current educational director of the Hiiumaa museum, acted as a fantastic and informative tour guide.

Since many of the refugees who reached the shores of Finland or Sweden were from the islands and shores of Estonia, the central theme of “The Sea and Islands” summer school was the stories of fugitives who escaped by boat in the fall of 1944. Presentations from the collections of Haapsalu, Saaremaa, and Hiiumaa museums gave a good overview of what kinds of materials and items can be found in those respective collections and how collection work takes place. For example, Piret HiieKivi from the Saaremaa Museum introduced the personal archives of artist Eerik Haamer and Eve Otstavel from the Foundation of Haapsalu and Läänemaa Museums presented the archive of Sir Arvi Parbo from Australia. Katariina Sofia Päts, master’s student at the University of Tartu, discussed Toronto-based Estonian Museum Canada/VEMU’s video collections, and Piret Noorhani introduced unique boat stories that will be displayed in VEMU’s future permanent exhibit. Krislin Kämärä talked about her experiences designing an exhibition at the Seaplane Harbour focusing on the Great Escape of 1944. Riina Reinvelt from the Estonian National Museum spoke about the museum’s permanent exhibition that featured stories of escape from 1944 told through videos. Helgi Põllo’s presentation theme was “How Do People and Things Travel? The Collections of Estonians of Hiiu Background Abroad at the Hiiumaas Museum”. Mirja Anshav presented online lectures from Sweden (“The Materiality of the Great Escape – Boats and Belongings From an Archaeological Perspective”) and Dwight Storring from Canada (“Making the Documentary “Anna Kaljas: The Untold Story”).

Another noteworthy event was the screening of Jaak Lõhmus’ 1991 film “The Escape” and the following postfilm discussion with the director.

What I found to be the most interesting was the presentation titled “Boat Stories from the National Archives in Image and Text,” during which Tiiu Kravtsev and Ivi Tomingas brought forth data from Arvo Horn’s archive, for the first time, about how the Estonian Relief Organization provided aid in September 1944 by helping organize the boats and ships that were sent to Estonian refugees in Sweden. In addition, Gabriel Doherty provided an enthusiastic lecture based on the current Ukrainian war titled “Victory’s Story: Estonians and a Voyage to Ireland and Beyond.” Throughout the presentation, the author drew attention to Ireland’s issues when it took in refugees in 1949.

BaltHerNet’s organizational partner for the 10th summer school was the Hiiumaa Museum, which has done a superb job of gathering information and stories of Estonians of Hiiu background living abroad. The summer school aimed to inspire historical memory organizations and communities to consolidate and investigate materials of Estonians abroad by specific regions that diaspora Estonians are from. Helen Kõmmus from the Estonian Folklore Archives has done just that. Her presentation titled “The Love Story of the Century in Hiiumaa: The Escape to Sweden in 1944 and Return to Hiiumaa in 1947” about her grandfather Jegard’s family story was a dignified representation of the Estonian Literary Museum.

BaltHerNet’s summer school isn’t all presentations, and it’s also about gaining new contacts and the fantastic company of the participants. Besides people from historical memory institutions, we also had voluntary archivists from the Stockholm Estonian House and participants from younger generations of Estonian communities in the United States and Canada.

The summer school was supported by the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research.

Marin Laak

The Estonian Cultural History Archives This article has appeared in Estonian in the Estonian Literary Museum’s newsletter. Translated by Kati Kiilaspea