24 November 2007

Two Birthdays, Two Continents, One Uncle

On November 16, at the Õnnela Külalistemaja in Ohepalu, Kadrina vald, Lääne Virumaa, Estonia, EU, my good friend Tiit celebrated his 30th birthday.

On November 18, at home in Petersburg, Logan County, Illinois, USA, Ava, my sister's younger daughter and youngest child, celebrated her first birthday.

Yes, I was at Tiit's party. For a month's salary, I could have made it to Ava's party as well, but I would not have been able to get back to Tapa for my 8.55 class Monday morning. In Tapa, your 20th, 30th, 40th, 50th, etc., birthdays are juubelid, or jubilees, and they are often done up with a bit of pomp and pageantry.

04 November 2007

This Time the Party's Over for Real

What's the saying? If you don't like the weather in Chicago, just wait a minute.

In a speech about New England weather that he delivered in December 1876, Mark Twain said: "You fix up for the drought; you leave your umbrella in the house and sally out, and two to one you get drowned. You make up your mind that the earthquake is due; you stand from under, and take hold of something to steady yourself, and the first thing you know you are struck by lightning."

Yes, the lovely pictures below from November 3 were taken in Pärnu on Friday. Then, it snowed all day Saturday here in Tapa. Unlike the snow of October 20, this snow did not melt by noon. I took this picture Sunday morning.

Mark Twain ends his speech with a tribute to the ice storm, something I am all too familiar with having lived in central Illinois: "...when a leafless tree is clothed with ice from the bottom to the top - ice that is bright and clear as crystal; when every bough and twig is strung with ice-beads, frozen dew drops, and the whole tree sparkles cold and white, like the Shah of Persia's diamond plume. Then the wind waves the branches and the sun comes out and turns all those myriads of beads and drops to prisms that glow and burn and flash with all manner of colored fires...the tree becomes a spraying fountain, a very explosion of dazzling jewels; and it stands there the acme, the climax, the supremest possibility in art or nature, of bewildering, intoxicating, intolerable magnificence.

Twain might have cursed the Good Lord for the weather in Estonia; Kilmer would undoubtedly have praised Him. I think I will start my own praising in December, when the civilized world generally welcomes snow, and start my cursing in March, when everyone else has bid it adieu.

03 November 2007

POWs in Tapa

The Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes against Humanity (EICICH, in Estonian Rahvusvahelise Inimsusevastaste Kuritegude Uurimise Eesto Komisjon) focused on three distinct periods in the history of Estonia: 1) its occupation by Soviet forces in 1940-1941, 2) its occupation by German forces in 1941-1944, and 3) its second occupation by Soviet forces beginning in 1944.

According to the EICICH, German forces took control of Tapa on August 4, 1941. Soviet forces, also known as the Red Army, took Tapa back from the Germans on September 21, 1944.

From 1941 to 1944, German forces had five main centers in Estonia with Soviet prisoners of war (POWs). One of the five was in Tapa. In October 1941, Stalag XXIB in Tapa was supplying Tallinn with a prison labor force, first for agricultural work, then for industrial work.

Stalag XXIB eventually became Stalag 381 (and later Dulag 110). According to the EICICH, Stalag 381 had 11,372 POWs from which 69 escaped and 8 were shot dead in attempting to escape.

AGSSt17 was also a POW center in Tapa but was one that was constantly on the move. Stalag 375, while located in Tapa, was a subsidiary of a center in Viljandi.
Moreover, there was a special seven-man unit of the Home Guard (in Estonian Omakaitse) in Tapa. The Home Guard was formed nation-wide in the initial period of the German occupation to carry out executions. The EICICH found that in August and September 1941, the Tapa unit drove nine people to their executions.

A Tree along the Sea in Pärnu

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day;
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer, 1886-1918