In autumn 1944, over 75 000 people fled Estonia from the onslaught of the Red Army. Many left on small boats – they were called boat refugees.
Many who left never saw their homeland again.
By commemorating the mass flight to the West during World War II, we pay tribute to the countries, communities and individuals who received and helped Estonians.
We also thank the Estonians who kept Estonia and its freedom in their hearts whilst abroad.
The outline of the commemoration installation for the boat refugees who left in 1944 is Estonia at the time already surrounded by “the iron border“ and tears of those left behind. There are three boats on the Baltic Sea, filled with “tears of the boat refugees“, on their way to Finland, Sweden and Germany.
There were also those who made it to the seashore but could not find a boat or a ship to escape or there was no more room...
All materials are recycable.
Original idea: NPO Estonian Institute of Human Rights / Aet Kukk
Designs and other assistance: Kala Ruudus / Kent Raju
On-location help: Margit Leerimaa and Mattias Jürgens
“Boat of Tears” installation’s balloons are not let flown into environment. The balloons are biodegradable.
Ca 7000–9000 Estonians
From the north coast, most went to Finland and then on to neutral Sweden, fearing they would be returned to Red Army occupied Estonia if they stayed in Finland...
Ca 27 000–29 000 Estonians
In Western Estonia and the islands, people looked for escape routes to Sweden. In late summer and autumn of 1944, over 600 ships and boats from Estonia made it there...
Ca 42 000–45 000 Estonians
Tens of thousands of Estonians went to Germany on evacuating ships, but some also went along the coast or by train through Latvia and Lithuania... Close to 300 000 people from the Baltics arrived in Germany.
The temporary exhibition ‘1944 – THE GREAT ESCAPE TO THE WEST’ in the smaller exhibition hall of the Seaplane Harbour offers installations and touching stories. Visitors can be immersed in the stories of those who left Estonia; stories that are just a handful of many similar ones, but, at the same time, completely unique.
The exhibition entails seven escape stories of Estonians that went to Sweden, Finland, and Germany. A lot of the refugees were from the Estonian coast, the islands, and larger cities. People left by car, on horses, or on bicycles; some even went on foot. They crossed the sea using fishing boats or larger vessels. On land, trains and caravans were bombed by planes; the sea was full of mines. About 42,000 people made it to Germany and to areas occupied by Germany, whereas about 27,000 people made it to Sweden.
The keyword “tear“ (e.g. wagon of tears, sea of tears) must be related to the installation. Make sure the idea can be carried out by using materials that are at least 2/3 recyclable and the design should be weatherproof (rain, wind, sun, snow).