Sunday, 30 June 2013

Celebrating 10,000 pageviews!!!

A few days ago Estonia - Paradise of the North reached its first milestone - ten thousand pageviews! When I first started writing I had no idea if anyone outside of my family would find this blog interesting but apparently you do! Thank you! Every day people from all corners of the globe read my blog and when I check my stats I'm genuinely surprised where some of you live. People in Asia, Africa, the Americas, Australia and Europe all have an interest in Estonia and it's great to see!

Although there may be many things on this blog you might already know about Estonia, if I'm able to bring new things to your attention, increase your knowledge in some way, I'm glad I was able to be of assistance. My original intention behind Estonia - Paradise of the North was simply to provide a few facts and figures, share a bit of information but before long the ideas kept on flowing! There are so many wonderful things about Estonia I would like to share and I feel as though I've barely scratched the surface!

Thank you to everyone for your support. It's much appreciated. Some people have suggested that I should perhaps put advertisments on this blog but the answer to this will always be no. I want to keep this blog pure and ad free, I don't want to make any money from it. In some posts I have recommended different businesses but it's only because I tried them myself and know them to be of good quality. I'm happy to give credit when credit's due.

Thank you once again!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Eesti Vabariik 95 - Then and Now

Estonian Women's Fencing Team Wins Gold at the European Fencing Championship

Congratulations to the Estonian women's fencing team who won gold at the European Fencing Championship held in Zagreb, Croatia recently. The team comprised of Erika Kirpu, Irina Embrich, Julia Beljajeva and Kristina Kuusk won the epee compeition beating Romania 27-20.

In January this year the team also won silver at the Fencing Grand Prix and World Cup in Doha, Qatar.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Estonians in Displaced Persons Camps After WWII

I have been researching my family history for many years now. Since the tender age of fifteen I have been making enquiries into my genealogy and in 1993 when I received my first document from Estonia - my grandmother's birth certificate, I was thrilled. Not even my father had seen a copy of his mother's birth certificate before so it was a special moment for both of us.

Since moving back to Europe in 2011 my main focus has been on locating information about my family during their time living in Germany. Not all of my family migrated to Australia after WWII, my great, great grandmother and her daughter's family decided to settle permanently in Germany and I have been following up those leads. For the past year I have been busy writing letters to various government derpartments in search of relevant information. It's a time consuming exercise but well worth the effort.

A few weeks ago my research took a new direction - the displaced person camps in Germany after World War II.  I always knew my grandparents and great-grandmother lived in these camps before immigrating to Australia but I didn't know much about the camps themselves. I also assumed my family lived in the same camp in Hamburg but I recently discovered they didn't. My grandfather Alexander Lestal lived in Study Centre Pinneberg Camp whilst my grandmother Hertha Pralitz (nee Lindsaar) and my great grandmother Margarete Lestal lived in Zoo Camp. Prior to WWII my grandparents didn't know each other, they met in the camps. My grandmother had been previously married and had a young son, she was alone in the camp with no other family. It was while my grandfather went to visit his mother that he met his future wife Hertha who was living at the same address. They fell in love and married shortly after arriving in Australia.    

From the enquries I have made in recent weeks it appears I am not alone in the quest for information on displaced persons camps. It is particularly difficult to find information about "Zoo Camp". I have contacted the United Nations archive office in New York but they weren't able to supply much information. Only the names of some of the Estonian doctors who worked at Zoo Camp and reports relating to the overall health of the refugees were found. They were not able to supply information on people's individual files.

If you would like to know more about the displaced persons camps in Germany, here is a brief overview.

After World War II Germany was occupied by the allies and divided into four zones - British, American, French and Soviet. Millions of people were left displaced and had to rely on foreign aid for survival. Approximately 200,000 Baltic people were registered as being displaced in Germany in 1945 with 33,000 of them being Estonian. During the years 1941-1944 many Estonians fled their country due to the repression and brutality of the Soviet Army who invaded Estonia in 1940.

In 1945 military missions in the British, American and French zones established displaced persons camps to  provide temporary shelter, nutrition and healthcare to refugees. Hundreds of camps existed all over Germany. Later in 1945 the running of the camps was handed over to The United Nations Relief and Rehabiliation Adminstration (UNRRA) and then later to the International Refugee Organsation (IRO) in 1947.

The original plan for the displaced person camps was to repatriate people to their country of origin as quickly as possible. By the end of 1945 the military managed to repatriate over six million displaced persons but soon realised that it was not possible to do the same with the Baltic peoples. Even though the war was over, their countries were still occupied by the Soviet Army and returning home would mean persecution, deportation or even death. Some camps tried to pressure and force people to return home, particularly in French camps where officials bowed to pressure from the Soviets. There have been documented cases of Polish refugees being forcibly sent home, arrested and then executed for their involvement in resistence fighting during the war. Many Estonians residing in the French camps became aware of France's backdoor dealings with the Soviets and, under various guises, were able to be transferred to American or British zone camps in order to escape this threat.

People were grouped together according to nationality in displaced persons camps. Upon arrival they registered their details and were given a DP identification number. For example, my grandmother Hertha's number was 064057. Accommodation varied from camp to camp, buildings such as military barracks, private homes, hospitals, schools, hotels and airports etc were used to house people. My family were living in Hamburg in the British zone and given a private home in which to live. I'm not sure how many other people lived in the same building but the address was Heimhuder Str.81, Hamburg.

Camp life, particularly for the Baltic people was very culturally rich. As many of the people who fled Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were intellectuals, artists and farmers they brought a lot of skills with them to the camps. They established their own workshops, newspapers, schools and training centres etc. Many very finely made wooden, leather and embroidered items were produced by Baltic peoples residing in the camps.

Many Estonians had hoped that the American Army might go and liberate Estonia from the Soviets but this never eventuated, in fact it was never on their agenda. For the Estonians living in the displaced persons camps, all they could do was wait to see what their futures held. They made applications to resettle elsewhere but places were limited and they always lived in fear of being handed over to the Soviets.

Zoo Camp, Hamburg

Zoo Camp

Zoo Camp, Hamburg

In 1947 the Australian government entered into an agreement with the IRO to allow displaced people to migrate to Australia. Single men and women had the best chances of migrating as long as they were in good health and fit for manual or domestic labour. The following year, the US congress passed the Displaced Persons Act which modified their existing immigration policy, enabling more refugees to enter the United States with less restrictions. These new laws led to a mass exodus of people from the camps in 1948-1949 to the United States, Canada, Australia and Britain. The United States accepted 415,000 displaced people outside their regular quota and Australia took in 182,158 refugees of Baltic and Polish origin. France, Belgium and Brazil also accepted small numbers of refugees but some DP's favoured Australia as a location as it was as far away from Europe as possible.

When leaving the camps, displaced persons were issued with a  "Good Conduct Certificate" stating their name, date of birth and the date they first started residing at the camp.

My family emigrated separately to Australia. My grandfather Alexander was the first to arrive. He departed Europe from a port in Genoa, Italy and arrived in Melbourne on the 23rd December 1948 on board the ship "The Protea". The journey took one month. My grandmother was the next to arrive with her son Kuno, they travelled on board the "SS Dundalk Bay" which departed from Trieste, Italy and arrived in Sydney on the 16th April 1949. My grandfather sought permission to bring his mother Margarete to Australia and on 7th September 1949 she arrived in Sydney on board the chartered US army ship "Marine Jumper" along with 843 other refugees.

Photo of my grandmother and uncle Kuno on board the SS Dundalk Bay.

If anyone has any information on Zoo Camp or Pinneberg or if you knew my family while they lived in the camps or on board the ships, I would love to hear from you. Please write to me at Photos and stories from Zoo Camp and Pinneberg would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance!

N.B. Zoo Camp was located within the grounds of Hamburg Zoo. The actual zoo was destroyed during  WWII and became a forced labour camp until the end of the war. The camp was built by the Blohm & Voss, a shipbuilding and engineering company, to house the forced labourers that worked in their factory. The wooden barrack style accommodation was later used to house displaced persons. When the DP's arrived the barracks were in poor condition, wet and cold and many of them contracted tuberculosis as a result. Compared to other camps Zoo Camp had food shortages and people often felt hungry.
The address of Zoo Camp given on offiicial paperwork was:
Zoo Camp
Hamburg 36
b.d. Kirchhofen

Pinneberg Camp or otherwise known as DP Study Centre Pinneberg was located 18 km northwest of Hamburg. It was located in a former Luftwaffe school and later housed the Baltic University from early 1947. The living conditions for displaced persons at Pinneberg were much better compared to Zoo camp as the buildings were made of stone.

For more information about Pinneberg you can contact the state archive in Germany at the following address.
Stadtarchiv Pinneberg
Bismarck Str.8
25421 Pinneberg

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Cute Estonian Girls Names

Two of my sisters are having babies this year. With one due in August and the other in November it's going to be an eventful year for my family. I'm very tempted to fly back to Australia at the moment as I don't like to miss out on important family occasions but I fear, like last time, I will end up staying much longer than I originally intended. Coming from a large family (I'm the eldest of six) there is always something going on and I usually want to be a part of it!

Finding the right name for a baby can be tricky. For the past few months my sisters and I have been emailing each other potential names but it seems they both currently like names beginning wit the letter "L". Today I decided to send them some Estonian names and who knows - maybe they might like one of them!

Here is a list of cute Estonian girls names that I quite like -

Liila   -   Liisu  -  Luule  -  Leili   -   Lüüdia   -   Leida    -   Liia  -   Liisi   -  Liis  -   Laine
Meeli    -    Juta  -   Silja  -  Kadi  -  Helgi  -  Tuuli  -  Ingel  -  Helene  -  Piret  -  Riina
Külli  -  Viia  -  Kaisa  -  Viivi  -  Mari  -  Maarja  -  Liina.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Estonian Independence Day 2013 - "Eesti Minut Competition"

On the 24th of February this year there was a national call for people across Estonia to submit photographs in honour of Estonia's 95th birthday. The goal of the project was to capture one minute in time (1pm) and share what you were doing on this momentous day. Photographs could be anything from celebratory images, group portraits, landscapes, work, home, hiking, cooking up a feast etc.

I was in Tallinn on Independence Day this year and contributed to the project.  However, it was only today that I remembered to follow this up and view the entries online. I was pleased to discover that 7617 photographs were submitted and I was impressed by the variety these images represented  - everything from family snapshots, the great outdoors, cute kids, and even people in hospital. They really capture the essence of contemporary Estonian life. Some people were really creative with their photos whilst others simply shared a candid moment. All are wonderful in their own way. I love seeing the colours of the national flag, the smiling faces and above all, the national pride.

You can view the photos online at the Eesti Minut website All photos are stored in the Estonian National Museum and are now part of history for future generatons. The project will be repeated again in 2018 when Estonia turns 100.

(N.B. The above photos are entries from the Eesti Minut project. If you are the author of any one of these photos and object to it being on my blog, please contact me via Facebook and I will promply remove it. I mean no offence, I simply admire your work.) 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Estonia Honours Victims of Soviet Deportation

Today, Estonia commemorates one of the blackest days in its history - the start of the Soviet-era mass deportations - with a number of memorial events held around the country.

On June 14, 1941, Soviet occupation forces deported over 10,000 people, mainly women and children, to Siberia in the first wave of several directly targeting the civilian population.
Public events in Tallinn will begin at the Linda Statue adjacent Toompea Castle at 12:00. There, speaker of Parliament Ene Ergma and Chairman of the Tallinn Memento Association Leo Õispuu will deliver speeches. The event will also include a  prayer by the Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Andres Põder and a wreath-laying ceremony. Survivors of the 1940s-era deportations, including those from local Latvian and Lithuanian communities, will be on hand.
From 13:00 to 20:00, Freedom Square will play host to an event called Kogu me Lugu (Collect our Story), which aims to gather stories and information from the families of the 1940s-era deportation victims. Organized by seven NGOs, the project invites participants to share their stories by having them recorded on video. Written documents and photos can also be scanned on-site. The stories will also be marked on a wooden map of Estonia, which will later become an exhibit at the Museum of Occupations.
The same museum will today be opening a new exhibition titled "Totalitarianism in Europe, Fascism - Nazism - Communism.
During the Soviet occupation, June 14 was recognized in the US as Baltic Freedom Day, as part of the country's policy of non-recognition of the Soviet invasion. 
Memorial events also will be taking place in Latvia, which marks June 14 as the Commemoration Day of Victims of Communist Terror, and in Lithuania, where it is called The Day of Mourning and Hope.
In Riga, a moment of silence will be held at the Skirotava and Tormkalns railway stations and wreath-laying ceremony will take place at the Freedom Monument.
Lithuanian youth will take part in the annual “Mission Siberia” project, traveling to sites in Siberia to maintain the grave sites of deportees as well as meet with ethnic Lithuanians still living there.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Midsummer's Day (Jaanipäev) - June 24 2013

Midsummer's Day is one of the highlights on the Estonian calendar. Estonians have never lost touch with their pagan roots and celebrating the Summer Solstice, the change in the farming year, goes back centuries. One of the most popular midsummer rituals enjoyed by Estonians is building a bonfire and then jumping over it. This is believed to guarantee prosperity (a good harvest) and to ward off bad luck. Other traditions include the use of fern blossoms and there's always lots of music, singing and food to be had. If you're going to be in Tallinn for this public holiday, it might be a good idea to visit the Estonian Open Air Museum. They are holding a huge Midsummer's Day Eve celebration commencing at 7pm that's sure to delight both locals and visitors alike. For more information please refer to their website

It's stays light until 11pm in Estonia during this time of year so now really is a great time to visit and enjoy this magnificent country.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Danish expert says Estonia has potential to become the richest nation in the world

Hans Peter Bech, who has been consulting and selling different IT products for over 20 years, recently gave a presentation on the challenges and possibilities that Estonia has in the IT field.

Estonia as a small country has been growing and gaining more recognition and has been used as an example in several cases for its great integration with IT in almost all fields. Hans Peter Bech thinks that because of this fast development, Estonia has the potential to become the richest nation in the world and is happy to share his knowledge on how to do that.

He says that the DNA of modern software engineering is what holds the key to this. At first, it important to understand what kind of a role does software engineering have in the world today. The presentation carries the title ’’Software is Eating the World’’, which is a quote by Marc Andreessen. He was part of the team to create the first internet browser Mosaic and has gone forth to create several other software programs that have been widely in use. He quickly understood that software based businesses are taking over and invested in over a 100 software ventures in total. Looking at the numbers that software based companies are making now, it seems that his prediction has been correct.

Software programs nowadays are not just programs developed for the internet, like Facebook and YouTube, which are completely new services and now make up a whole new level of business. Different software is also used for established products that we already know and use, for example cars and TVs, in order to improve their value. The third level is made up of software programs that have taken over whole businesses, for example iTunes with music equipment manufacturers and record labels and Skype with telecom operators. The reasons why these software engineering companies are becoming successful is because of the low cost of entry, the big potential market, the location of the business has no relevance and innovating concepts are easy to test and produce.

There is a growing need for software programs in all industries and the opportunities are endless. In this field bigger countries have no comparative advantage over small countries like Estonia. In Hans Peter Bech’s words Estonia has an agile software engineering tradition and holds potential in to moving agile business development in a big way.

The level of investments in Estonia at the moment is fairly high, but in order to improve the statistical indicators, more are needed. The challenge for Estonia here lies in increasing the growth and value of the country. According to Hans Peter Bech Estonians must move up in the innovation value chain. Instead of being a key partner in other countries’ business models, they must innovate their own business models. Estonians must operate an open eco-system to encourage people to start up new businesses and foreign businesses would be interested in investing.

All of this can be said to any small country in the world, but Hans Peter Bech believes that Estonians are better positioned than most. The solid economy, the democratic foundation and tradition for agile software engineering are all huge assets for Estonia. If these things are taken advantage of in the right way, Estonia can become very successful.

Article source -

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Estonia's National Flag Day - (Eesti lipu päev)

It's National Flag Day in Estonia today. The blue, black and white flag was first consecrated as the flag of the Estonian Student Society in Otepää on June 4th 1884. After independence was declared in 1918 the flag became the national symbol of Estonia and was first raised atop of Pikk Hermann Tower in Tallinn on December 12th 1918. The original flag is preserved in the Estonian National Museum.