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An Article Translated by Kristi V. Allpere Concerning the Parnu

The Museum reviews and accepts donated personal or family memories and histories into its collection. As a learning institution, the accounts help us understand how individuals recollect, interpret, or construct meaning from lived experiences. The stories are not modified by Museum staff. The point of view expressed is that of the author and not that of the Museum.

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August 2 1949
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Even though the wave of emigration appears to have subsided, there continue to be departures this year of refugee boats from Sweden to new and far away shores.

The Aftonbladet newspaper in Malmo, (Sweden) recently wrote of such an exodus. It described a dramatic incident as follows:

A man dashes across the railroad tracks. An ordinary man, a factory worker in a monty-shirt. Gently but firmly, he clutches a small bundle to his chest. This takes place in the Freeport of Malmo, Sweden. From behind a black mountain of coal, a white ambulance appears on the scene and speeds to the harbourside, stopping abruptly on the railroad tracks that run along the quay. Doors are opened and the white clad ambulance attendants, carry a stretcher bearing a young woman towards the boat. Her anxious gaze surveys the scene of women, children and men who wait on the quay. Her eyes light up and she smiles as she sees the man holding the bundle. The woman comes directly from giving birth at the local maternity hospital and the man is her husband who protects their 24 hr old infant from the cold ocean winds. By the quay is moored a small white (grey) vessel the "Parnu ". It is a small refugee boat which will begin its journey across the Atlantic.( It is named for the seaside resort town of Parnu, Estonia, home of fishermen and many of the owners and passengers. On board and on the quay are women and small children. The older children play on the shore and on the quay. The men, whom we meet, are busy clearing and preparing the ship. It appears that they could soon raise the anchor. The ambulance attendants have placed the stretcher and the young woman on board ship between visible oil barrels. The curious and concerned passengers gather around the woman and we hear many languages spoken, mostly Estonian but also Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Hungarian.

These are all the refugees who have lived in Sweden from 5 to 7 years (Most of them since late September of 1944).At that time there was another boat trip across the Baltic Sea in the night..) Now they depart from here at whatever cost costs what it costs!

A man we speak to, says " What my name is, is not important and how I look at this moment, you need not write about either, because that also is not important. I just want to speak for the 200 (actually 154) people here who are passengers on the "Parnu ". I hope that you will try to understand us. We lived well here in Sweden. We cannot imagine that it could be any better anywhere else in the world. We are grateful for all the help we have been given by this country and its people. BUT, we can not stay any longer. We do not want to fall into the hands of our enemy, we do not want to live through another war! "

The man tells us about the propaganda offensive and the materials which the Soviets, have printed here in Sweden. He informs us about the letters from the Russian Embassy to these refugees whose addresses all over Sweden, the active Russian spies have snooped out. Some of the information is extremely accurate. The man with whom we speak, tells us that he moved from one apartment to another in Stockholm, a few weeks before he left the city. Two days later, he received a letter from the Russian Embassy inviting him to return to his Homeland. This letter arrived at his apartment before he had had the opportunity to register his new domicile with the local police precinct/ station , as is customary. This, he emphasized, happens not only in Stockholm, but also here in Malmo. Recently, some known Russian agents were seen here. They were spotted quickly but the incident caused much anxiety and panic amongst the refugees who are planning to sail across the Atlantic to America so that is the reason for the direct and speedy drive from the Hospital to the harbourside quay.

And one night, amidst great secrecy and the shadows of darkness, the "Parnu " raised anchor and sailed quietly towards an unknown future .. (So wrote the Aftonbladet newspaper in Sweden July 23rd, 1949.

Postscript: The Parnu sailed out from Sweden, under the pretext of going to Norway on a "cruise ". She sailed instead into the North Sea, passing north of Scotland, past the Hebrides Islands and through the Atlantic to Halifax, Nova Scotia. She sailed into the harbour with the Estonian Flag flying on August 2nd, 1949. Many of the men passengers had sea experience from their Baltic lives and helped to run the ship..In command was Captain Suksdorf.

Most of the refugees arrived without Visas, some had visas. So one could say they were the original "Boat people ". Immigration authorities placed the arrivals in Immigration Barracks and Facilities where they lived until their papers could be cleared and their backgrounds checked before permission was given to remain in Canada. A few were denied admission. Most continued a month or so later to their destinations and their new lives. Many of the "Parnu's " owner group ended up in Vancouver. The passengers dispersed into various parts of Canada, depending on the availability of work. Most settled in Toronto, Ontario where there existed and exists a large Estonian Community.

A 50th re-union of the Parnu Vancouver passengers, was held in the summer of August 1999.