Leaving Home. We lived in...

We lived in Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia, with a population of sixty-five thousand. The city dates back to the Middle Ages when it was part of the Hanseatic League. With the University on Tartu, established in 1632 by the Swedish king, Gustav Adolf, it was the academic center of Estonia. /---/

We lived in a rented seven-room apartment on the second floor of a two-story duplex at 20–2 Riia Highway, now renamed and renumbered 54–2 Riia Street, about a mile from the center of Tartu. This is where Isa had moved us in 1940 to avoid having to share our home with Soviet soldiers. A wooden house, it is still there pretty much the way we left it, and many of us have visited it on our various trips to post-Soviet Estonia.

World War II raged around us. Food and most consumer goods were in short supply. We managed because we were able to supplement the rationed food provisions with help from various relatives and friends who lived on farms.

When the German siege of Leningrad was broken, the Soviet Army began advancing on Estonia and the Baltics, pushing out the Nazis, with the expectation of re-annexing these lands into the Soviet empire. The approaching front brought regular bombing raids on Tartu, so we spent a lot of time, both day and night, in a make-shift air-raid shelter. Our house did not have a cellar, so we crowded together into our bathroom because it had no windows. /---/

Though our home was not damaged by the bombing, dealing with frequent air raids became very difficult for our parents. /---/

In June 1944 the German authorities anticipated a major battle for the city on Tartu. To avoid the destruction of Tartu University, they planned to move its assets to Königsberg in East Prussia. The university resisted that plan by secretly moving important documents and highly valuable books to an estate in the country. Isa and his colleagues spent June and July executing this secret project.