- Reede, 21 November 2014 18:15
- Riina Kindlam - Estonian Life No. 47 2014
Many of these boats never reached the shores of Sweden, due to capsizing in the stormy conditions, naval (floating) mines, (mere/miinid), like the one in the photo, or warships or aircraft torpedoing and sinking them. Many of the small craft headed westward were on their maiden voyages and not very seaworthy, since they were usually constructed secretly and quickly. Manu people in such small vessels were also picked up mid-journey by large German ships and taken south-west to Saksamaa instead.
Later, Soviet authorities demanded the return of the small boats which had reached Sweden. That is, if they hadn't sunk after arriving at their destination-harbour, which is what happened with many. I have heard historian Jaak Juske describe one of the places where the "reclaimed" boats were gathered post-war as being along Kalaranna (meaning Fish Beach / Coast), below the Kalamaja ("Fish House") district of Tallinn. Needless to say, these boats, a stinging reminder of departure and freedom, were then destroyed; one of the many steps made to land-lock and imprison a seafaring people, who over the course of the following decades became estranged from their nautical traditions, including fishing and sailing.
About 27 000 Estonians reached Sweden as refugees. Another 42 000 headed for Germany by ship or rail. There are currently two small wooden boats that were used to escape in 1944 on display in Eesti: this one at the Museum of Occupations and another at the Meremuuseum, the Estonian Maritime Museum.
Riina Kindlam, Tallinn