Sunday, April 13, 2008

KLOOSTRI 12


I was just five years old when we left this place. It was 1944 and the Russians were advancing on the eastern front. Estonians who remembered the Red Terror of 1940 when the Russians first invaded Estonia and were almost certain to be killed or deported, left the country for what they hoped were safer havens. They were convinced that they would return as soon as the war was over. The western powers would not let Russia occupy the Baltics, they argued. And even when Estonia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, there was still hope of the “White Ship” coming. But the West was weary of war, and taking on the nuclear USSR was too great a risk. So the occupation lasted, for fifty long years.

What I remember from my childhood are snatches of memory. One of the most vivid is looking out the cellar window one night in 1943 when the Russian planes bombed Tallinn, that stately medieval city with no strategic value, and set most of it ablaze. We were lying on a large pile of potatoes, I recall. On the picture below you see the old house, and the cellar window is to the right, hidden behind the shrubbery.

With independence restored in 1990, the new old Republic of Estonia (they still count their days of independence from 1918, the original revolutionary war when they pushed the Russians out at the end of the First World War) decided to give back land that had been expropriated by the Soviets. My grandfather had been an astute businessman (the gene died with him, unfortunately) and had owned some land in Pirita, just outside of Tallinn, including the old house pictured above. My brother Priit and I (and my mother who was alive at the time) became the new owners. We decided to sell some of the land and with the money build a new house at the same location. By this time the old house had badly deteriorated and could not be saved (I will write more later about the old house). Fortunately, Bill Vesilind, Priit’s son, had decided to live in Estonia for a while, and he became the chief builder. His efforts were rewarded with the construction of the new house in which Libby and I are now living. Here is a picture of the new house, taken by my brother when he was here a few weeks ago.


A prominent feature on both pictures is the west wall of the old Brigitta convent or cloister, constructed originally at the end of the 13th century. More on that later. In the meantime, Libby and I are enjoying the view from our living room, overlooking a peaceful river, grateful to all those who made it possible for me to return to the house at Kloostri (cloister) Street 12.

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