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R.P. BenDedek

Ernst Vahi recalls departure: Excerpt from Insula - Island of Hope
By R.P. BenDedek
Dec 10, 2013 - 12:20:38 AM

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Once again Magic City Morning Star is grateful to the editors of Insula - Island of Hope for providing our readers with more excerpts from this wonderful book about Latvians who lived in refugee camps in Germany at the end of WWII. Today's excerpt however was written by an Estonian refugee Ernst Vahi. R.P. BenDedek Email:

...there was a sort of a gate, beyond which was another world with a different life ... Ernst Vahi (Insula looking out toward Mt. Watzmann)

Thoughts on Departure

by Ernst Vahi

Mr. Vahi was an Estonian refugee, (but not at Insula) who served as secretary with LWF-SR in Lubeck, Germany. (Hong Kierkegaard Library, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.)

I was just through the gate when something made me stop and look back. This was an unusual feeling about the heart; this was a strange thought that passed through my mind in this second. I could not realize the importance of this moment; I was still too upset by the thought of sailing for new shores this same day, of packing and the many settlements that are unavoidable at such an event. I understood this one. This was my last glance at my home camp, of the people inside, of the buildings and the old familiar camp gate. Was it not a significant moment? This was my last time to pass through the old, impressive gate; never before had it seemed so mighty and dignified to me. This was an event that ended another memorable period in the happenings of the recent years.

How many times I had passed through this entrance and never noticed there was a sort of a gate, beyond which was another world with a different life in so many respects. It had seemed so natural for me to go in and out every day, twice a day, three times, four, five, or six times a day. I had noticed nothing special, felt nothing different. However, this time I did, because it was my last time through this old, homey gate. It made me think. Think of all that was buried beyond those walls, behind those doors that had surrounded my DP home for those many months. It was but a camp, a DP camp; the buildings were huge, unfriendly, and cool, but for me it had been a home during those recent years.

A home for my thoughts, not DP-like at all, for my ideas penetrating far across the limit of possibilities; for my wishes so real and yet so insatiable; for my dreams that were never to come true. If the walls could speak! They stand silent, indifferent from day to day, from year to year. Even the split corner at the ceiling had become so familiar and the holes in the walls, which I tried to cover with blankets or some piece of furniture that was available.

I liked the moments when it was silent. It was silent often. The walls were so thick that I scarcely heard the baby crying in the next room off to my right or the jazz fanatic in the next room off to my left handling his wireless or the always-noisy society above my room. I preferred this room to the wood barrack where I had lived before and where the walls were so thin that on my best behavior I could not lose a single word of my neighbors. One gets used to everything, they say, and so did I.

I got used to the old-fashioned gate at this camp entrance and learned not to pay attention to camp police standing at duty incessantly. I got used to the huge stone blocks they called barracks: dead and so boring to look at, but there was life inside. I got used to the dark and often unlit stairways, to the long corridors with doors to the left and right, evenly spaced like a rank of soldiers. I got used to the inhabitants of my block, to their characters and moods. One who is an individualist by nature feels lost in the crowd. No secrets of your own and nothing you can do without others knowing it. Not because they are so anxious to penetrate into your private life or that they are interested in you, but because quite naturally it is impossible to avoid living isolated, living for yourself in a DP camp. How you best get along with your neighbors is up to you: your personality, emotions, and many other things. Know how to suppress your own likes and dislikes often and thereby remain honest!

Why should you avoid people? They are your compatriots. They are of the same blood and the same flesh as you. This common fate brings people closer to each other than they have ever been. Common life, experiences, memories, and difficulties link even the most different people. These people embrace the key between the past and present.

It was years ago that we fled from the approaching danger. We left our country. This is something we can never forget, neither here nor at any other place in the world. It stands too clearly before our eyes how it was back in 1944, the year of the "big flight." It is the irony of fate that reminds me of the events of 1944 just today. Today, when I feel myself free, finally free from the burden that makes a man a DP; when I am no more marked with these two branded letters that I could not shake in recent years; when I am on my way into a new world, into a new life, so promising and bright.

For heaven's sake, why does one relive the tragedy of the past? Let it be but a bad dream and leave it behind, beyond those cool walls, behind the gate of the DP camp. You cannot! It lies too deep in the heart and is so clear that you cannot forget it. After all, I am leaving again. What a coincidence! I remember the rough Eastern winds started blowing quite early in the fall of 1944. The roof under which we were gathered for shelter was rotten and shabby. It was about to fall down, and then it happened. Before we knew it, we stood in the street at night, in the cold and deadly arms of a gloomy and depressed destiny. The wind that blew us out of our home was icy and strong. There was very little to take along in the suitcases or bundles wrapped into blankets, because the trains were crowded, the ships were overloaded, there was no room and no time.

The home coast with its towers, houses, and trees disappeared from sight and left at the horizon nothing but a blue narrow stripe of what was once our home, our own land. When the last ray of the evening sun sparkled on the restless waves of the Baltic Sea, when the strongest hands that had so bravely waved farewell became tired from hopelessness and cold and icy sea winds, when there were no more tears to roll down frozen cheeks, when everybody felt as if a piece of his own flesh was being torn from his living breast, there was still hope. A faint hope. This hope was never to come true. The doors of the refugee land closed too tightly behind us and never again wanted to let us free from the rough embraces of refugee life. Days became weeks, weeks became months, and months became years. Four long years, and we were still sitting abroad. The departure from home is still an aching wound in the heart.

Now I am leaving again, but this so different, so very different from the first one. I am not unhappy at all to leave this country, this town, this camp where I have been residing for many long years, where I know everybody by name and by face. These gloomy buildings have shared a part of my life, have given me shelter, and the old faithful gate has let me out so many times. I see you disappearing from sight, old friends. I see the evening sun shining on your walls and roofs. I wave you farewell, but I feel happy.

"As we moved up the Weser River toward the sea, the passengers gradually fell silent. They realized they were leaving their mother continent, probably never to return. As long as land was in sight, the DPs stood there on deck watching their past fade into oblivion " Horodysky

Book Title: Insula - Island of Hope
ISBN: 978-1-61863-383-5
Book Pages: 453
Price: $22.95
Ventis Plume and John Plume, Editors

I hope you have enjoyed these excerpts from Insula - Island of Hope

R.P. BenDedek

Excerpts and photographs from 'Insula - Island of Hope' already published at Magic City include:

November 23, 2013 Photographs of WWII Refugee Camps (Latvian Insula)

November 17, 2013 Photograph of the Week: Men's volleyball team at Insula in 1946

November 17, 2013 Twin Sisters, Many Journeys: Excerpt from 'Insula - Island of Hope'

November 16, 2013 Stories of WWII Latvian Refugees (at

November 10, 2013 Photograph of the Week: Insula - Island of Hope

November 10, 2013 Insula Began in Bruckmuhl (Excerpt from 'Insula - Island of Hope')

November 3, 2013 Photograph of the Week: Watercolors of Insula by Leo Trinkuns (1899-1948)

November 3, 2013 Forward to Insula - Island of Hope by Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga

October 27, 2013 New Book about Latvians Displaced by World War II

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