Saturday, April 21, 2012

Uprooted: A Story of Estonia (Part IV)

THIS IS A CONTINUING STORY ABOUT ESTONIA DURING WORLD WAR II FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF RALPH KAND, A YOUNG MAN WITH A WITHERED  LEG.

Ralph lived with his mother Ida and brother Karl in Rahumae, a suburb of Tallin. Even though the Russians had passed a law making it illegal to own radios, Ralph and Karl, like many other Estonians, secretly owned radios in order to maintain contact with the outside world. The country's newspapers now only carried propaganda approved by the Communists.

At first, the Soviets established their presence by building army bases. But after a short time the terror began. As a policeman, his brother Karl began to see many dreadful acts in the streets of their homeland.

One day Karl was riding his horse along a narrow street in Tallin when he saw a terrible thing happen. A man, woman and small boy were walking along a sidewalk, followed by a large black car driving very slowly. The car window was open and a man inside was calling to the man. The family kept walking and ignored the people in the car.

The car pulled to the curb just ahead of them and two men jumped out, one of them clutching a pistol. They were secret police. Karl dug his heels into his horse's ribs and galloped to the scene, but was too late. The woman had been clubbed to the ground with the pistol butt and the man, forced into the car at gunpoint, was taken away.

These kinds of things were occurring all over the country.

* * *

Ralph and Mutti were best friends, but when it came to Eitzi they were rivals. Both of them loved Eitzi very much. That spring Mutti and Eitzi announced they were getting married. Ralph was happy for them, but sad at the same time because he never thought he would find someone as special as Eitzi. A wedding had been planned for the end of June.

But on June 14th a great and horrible thing happened. During the night, while Estonia slept, the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) broke into homes all across the country and abducted 11,000 men. The next morning the streets of Tallin were filled with the cries of wailing mothers and wives who lost their sons and husbands. One of the people whisked away in the night was Mutti. There would be no wedding.

Because Eitzi's family had a cousin in Sweden, they were able to send her on a vacation to get her away from this place. In a week Eitzi, too, was gone, never to return. Nearly overnight Ralph lost his two best friends and he was ill in his heart.

This was only the beginning.

* * *

As the cold northern winter came on there were more and more stories of Estonian men being taken away by the NKVD. The Soviet Union was now at war with Finland and they were taking away the men to help fight in the winter war.

Ralph's mother Ida was afraid for her two sons. Karl comforted her by saying that the Russians would leave Ralph home because of his bad leg. Karl knew that one day they would come looking for him and so he seldom slept in the same place two nights in a row.

Actually, the Russian soldiers were not so bad. They were seen here and there at dance halls, at stores and in the park. Rather, it was the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, that everyone was afraid of. It was the secret police who came in the night looking for you or your husbands and children.

The day finally arrived when the NKVD began arresting the Estonian police. The first arrests were made at the police barracks and headquarters downtown. Ralph's brother Karl was not there when the raid came. When he heard about it he went into hiding so that even Ralph and his mother did not know where Karl was. Ralph did not know why they began arresting police, but he guessed that it was because the police had guns.

A few days later, shortly after supper, Ralph and his mother Ida were sitting at the table talking about Karl when two army trucks pulled up in front of their house. Suddenly there was a rap on the door, but the intruders did not wait for an answer. A half dozen NKVD in civilian clothes and greatcoats burst into the house, pistols drawn, and forced Ralph and Ida against the wall.

Ralph could feel the steel barrel of a pistol jabbing into his ribs. He could see by the wincing face that there was a gun in his mother's back as well. He could also hear the radio playing upstairs and became afraid because radios were now illegal.

The secret police, however, seemed as nervous as the Kands. They rummaged through every room, cautious and reckless at the same time. Two of the men went out back with flashlights. Two men stayed in the dining room.

"You know where he is, don't you," the apparent leader barked.

"No, I don't know," said Ralph. "And I don't want to know."

"I don't believe you," said the officer. Even so, he finally gave the order to let them go. Then he turned to Ida and said, "Listen, when you hear from your son, let him know that his country, Mother Russia, needs him. If he turns himself in, everything will be fine. Otherwise, when we find him he'll be shot like the rest."

TO BE CONTINUED

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