Treasured Memories: Tales of buried belongings in wartime Estonia

by Mats Burström

The world in which we live is very much a material one, and when we are deprived of our possessions it is shaken to its foundations. This is an experience shared by many thousands of refugees that were forced to abandon their homes during the Second World War. Among them were around 70,000 Estonians who faced with the Red Army advance fled their homeland in the autumn of 1944. Most of them believed the Soviet occupation would be shortlived and that they would soon be able to return home, so many of them hid the most valuable of their belongings they were unable to carry, burying them in ‘safe’ places. The occupation lasted, however, for almost a half century and as a consequence the caches were for most people transformed from hoards of functional objects to treasured memories.

Some of these caches remain in the ground, others have vanished, and some have been recovered and the objects have found a place in new contexts. The sheer variety of the stories told about the buried belonging brings together all levels of history, from personal memories to high politics, and reflects how events on the world stage can shape the fate of individual families, even across several generations.

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