Children of the 1944 Estonian diaspora

In 1944, thousands of Estonians escaped the invading Russian Army across the seas to Sweden, Finland, Poland and Germany. My uncle and mother were seven and five years old when they were smuggled with their mother onto the boat Juhan, which made nine journeys from Tallinn to Stockholm that year. My grandfather followed a few weeks later in a small rowing boat.

During my childhood I heard the story of their escape from an adult point of view, but always wondered what it was like for the children. I have turned this into a photographic project and am in the progress of finding more of these ‘children’ and hear their stories. They are now in their seventies and eighties but almost all of them have some sort of memory of the escape.

I make portraits of each person (siblings together if possible), but I also photograph an object  – something they brought with them from Estonia or something that they have kept from that time.

To this day, my mother can’t stand the smell of engine-oil as she was hiding in a tool box. My uncle has no memories of the boat journey itself, but remembers the soft white bread and hot milk they were served as they arrived in Sweden. This is what I am most interested in when pursuing this project – what memories do these ‘children’ have of the escape?

This project feels especially poignant as there are so many refugees fleeing across waters all over the globe today.