My name is Kristi Vuht Allpere. I am a child of the 1944 Mass Flight, born in wartime Pärnu.
It was the year 1944 in Pärnu. One evening, families gathered in thick winter clothes, toddlers held close, belongings in hand. We hid in the back of a truck in silence. It was cold and dark. The road led us from the city of Pärnu towards Tõstamaa, where in a forested fishing village, a secretly built 9-meter boat awaited. Pärnu city was burning, the beautiful new arch bridge destroyed. The Germans were retreating, and the Russian forces were attacking. The boat was pushed into the sea, heading towards the island of Gotland. Danger loomed in the sky and in the water. Planes and submarines showed no mercy to the refugee boats drifting on the waves.
That was 80 years ago – the Mass Flight of 1944. We didn’t want to leave, but we couldn’t stay.
Hardly any families were left untouched by this mass exodus. The fate of the Estonian people changed forever. 80,000 Estonian citizens were forced to leave their homes and leave their loved ones behind forever. They fled by small and large boats across the sea, on foot, and by any available means of transportation. They became refugees who could not return. Their fate would have been death, imprisonment, or the Siberian gulag. Thousands perished in this desperate flight westward.
After the end of the war, there was hope to return home to a free Estonia, but soon that hope faded. The Soviet Union occupied Estonia for 50 years. Fearing Soviet terror, refugees scattered around the world to start anew. The pain of leaving Estonia never left them.
The 1944 Mass Flight Committee of the Estonian World Council (EWC) has been volunteering for years to work on this tragic part of our nation’s history, so as not to be forgotten.
Our great, significant achievement is to erect a sculpture monument in the city of Pärnu to share the history of our mass flight with all who visit Pärnu or walk along the river. This monument is dedicated to all Estonians who suffered due to the flight. The monument is very meaningful and prominent. Thousands of people bid farewell to their loved ones in Pärnu. This monument is dedicated to all Estonians, regardless of which beach, bay, or port they departed from.
In collaboration with the very accommodating Pärnu City Government, which donates the land for the placement of the monument, we have chosen a rare location on the banks of the Pärnu River, next to the bridge where thousands of ships departed.
Together with the city government, we have selected the renowned Estonian sculptor Elo Liiv, whose artistic talent is exceptional. The sculpture will be deeply symbolic, emotional, and fitting for a large urban space.
We call it “the touch” – the moment of farewell – when the fingers of the departing still touch those of the ones left behind. Longing is in the fingertips and hearts, and it’s the final moment of togetherness. In the palm, both smaller and larger ships can be seen.
We include the initial design here:
Donations can be made either through the Estonian World Council (EWC) or the Estonian American National Council (ERKÜ): https://www.estosite.org
Completing this project to honor our older generation depends on your financial support.
The 1944 Mass Flight Committee of EWC