Europe is facing the greatest refugee crisis since the end of the World War II. Therefore we find it appropriate and timely to introduce the stories of wartime Baltic refugees to a wider audience. During World War II, mostly in 1944, tens of thousands of citizens from the Baltic States fled to the West. They left their home countries for fear of Soviet re-occupation and falling victim to repressioon, most of them left their homes and friends forever.
How many people fled Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania during the summer and autumn of dramatic 1944? Where they headed for? Many refugees of 1944 found their first place of detention in Germany, where countless camps were organized, and which were later called DP Camps (displaced persons’ camps). How were the refugees treated in Germany? Which organizations were in charge of refugee questions? Were the refugees forced to return to their home countries? What did they do in the camps? Why and when they resettled from Germany? Answers to these and many other questions can be found at the virtual exhibition opened in 2014 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the “Great Exodus”.
The joint exhibition “Refugees from the Baltic Countries in German Camps 1944–1951” was developed by the National Archives of Estonia, the Latvian National Archives, the Martynas Mazvydas National Library of Lithuania, the NPA Baltic Heritage Network and many supporters. It presents the history of the refugee camps since their formation, their international background and daily activities, until their closing and resettlement of their residents to other states.
The camps were not only homes, where people lived temporarily, but also in their own way represented each Baltic country’s traditions and way of life. Schools, publications, books, theater groups, orchestras, ballet troops, and choruses were organized in the camps. Art exhibits, song festivals, concerts, and various sports’ competition took place in camps. Various trade workshops such as sewing, shoe repair, metalworking, and others were popular. A great deal of attention was paid to activities that maintained national self-assurance such as the celebration of founders’ days and national holidays of three countries.
On the webpage of the exhibition at http://www.itl.rtu.lv/LVA/baltijas_dp/ every interested reader can obtain rich information about the camp life on the basis of written documents, photos and a few film fragments. Estonia-related documents originate from the National Archives of Estonia and most of the photos from the Museum of Estonians Abroad in Toronto (VEMU).