13 February, 2016 in Toronto
VEMU/Estonian Studies Centre
Chair of Estonian Studies, University of Toronto
The Baltic University was a unique institute: it was created in the midst of chaos and started under most difficult conditions in devastated Germany. At the beginning there was no scientific equipment and no means to acquire anything, no salaries for teachers. Despite these facts academic people of the three Baltic states organised within a few months a university in Hamburg with eight faculties with 17 departments.
It gave refugees within the British zone, for whom it was hardly possible to achieve a place at German universities, a chance to leave the, sometimes depressing, refugee camps and start to study at the university.
The British Military Government was in favour of a university for displaced persons and so was the first UNRRA representative Mr Riggle. But later UNRRA gave less support for this idea – the word Baltic had to disappear from the name and then university as well. Teachers had to be dismissed and less and less students were allowed to study and only for a very short time.
But dismissed professors continued their teaching activities. At the university more students were allowed to study than numbers officially approved.
The work at the university was an adventure and struggle at the same time, but nonetheless the university was able to exist three and a half years and gave many Baltic students the possibility to start an academic career.
The Baltic University is, if not the best, than the most remarkable example of the creativity, determination and energy the refugees of the Baltic Countries showed in post war Germany.
The Baltic University was not the only result of their efforts. A large number of schools was set up for children, both elementary and secondary set up, but there were also workshops, choirs, theatre and newspapers. The adults felt an urgent need to keep the children and young adults busy, but also to work on their future.
What was achieved? In what circumstances? What was the effect of these efforts after most people had emigrated?
But there is also another side to the story: what did it mean to the home countries that so many teachers, professors and other intellectuals had fled the country?
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