Lapsed ja sõda. Sõjatrauma Tiina Kurnimi autobiograafias „Sõrve rahva elukeerdkäigud“ ja Ülo Tuuliku romaanis „Sõja jalus“ / Children and War. War trauma in Tiina Kurnim’s Ups and Downs in the Life of the People of Sõrve and Ülo Tuulik’s novel In the Way


  • Maarja Hollo Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum / Estonian Literary Museum



Teine maailmasõda, sõjatrauma, lapsed, autobiograafia, dokumentaalromaan, tunnistus, WWII, war trauma, children, autobiography, documentary novel, witnessing


Artikkel uurib mäletamismustrit, mis joonistub välja kahes lapsepõlvekogemust vahendavas teoses, mille autorite lapsepõlv jäi Teise maailmasõja aastatesse: Tiina Kurnimi autobiograafias „Sõrve rahva elukeerdkäigud“ (2014) ja Ülo Tuuliku dokumentaalromaanis „Sõja jalus“ (1974; kärpimata versioon 2010). Nii Kurnim kui ka Tuulik vaatavad tagasi oma lapsepõlvele Saaremaal Sõrve säärel, kust sakslased evakueerisid 1944. aasta sügisel sunniviisiliselt suurema osa kohalikust elanikkonnast, nende hulgas Kurnimi ja Tuuliku ning nende perekonnad. Mõlemas teoses ilmneb selle sündmuse psühholoogiliselt traumeeriv mõju nii autoritele kui kogu Sõrve kogukonnale, mis võimaldab käsitleda neid teoseid tunnistusena.


The article poses the question what type of remembering patterns emerge in two works communicating childhood experiences whose authors’ childhood coincided with the years of WWII. Tiina Kurnim in her 2014 autobiography Ups and Downs in the Life of the People of Sõrve recalls her childhood on the Sõrve Peninsula on the island of Saaremaa, and the author Ülo Tuulik does the same in the novel In the Way of War, first published in 1974 (the unpurged version referred to in the article came out in 2010). Childhood is of a central importance in the development of all people, for early experiences affect a child’s ability to relate to others and the external world and to express their feelings, as well as their general development. The childhood experiences of Estonians born before WWII were fashioned to a signicifant degree by the war that undermined their sense of security, as did deportations, desctruction of homes, and economic difficulties that many families had to face after the war. The events of WWII, life changes caused by the war and experiences related to death and violence that have been conveyed as explicitly traumatic, also dominate in the first third of Kurnim’s autobiography in which the author takes a retrospective look at her childhood. Tuulik’s novel does not contain many personal childhood memories of the author, but uses memories of his parents and other people from Sõrve, diary excerpts and other documentary materials.

Kurnim’s autobiography and Tuulik’s documentary novel belong to the tradition of the literature of witnessing that emerged after WWII and was initiated in Estonian literature by Tuulik’s novel. Kurnim’s autobiography fills in the gaps in the events described in Tuulik’s novel of which Tuulik, who was four at the time, has only a few fragments of memory or that he cannot recall at all. The historical context of both works is the forced evacuation of the people of Sõrve by the Germans in the autumn of 1944 that they had to participate in as children. The people of Sõrve who went through the evacuation as children in retrospect interpret the event as a tragedy, consider themselves victims of Nazism and emphasise that no one would explain to the people what was expecting them. For many of the people of Sõrve the evacuation turned out to be a traumatic experience first and foremost because it hit them unexpectedly and caused fear, suffering and death.

It is a paradoxical that speaking of individual traumas related to WWII has been shunned in both European and Estonian memory cultures. Peter Leese has claimed that acknowledging the suffering of the victims of WII has been so complicated due to social and political stigmatisation that it has led to them being silenced and rendered invisible. Sophie Delaporte has suggested that war veterans have been silent about their suffering either because of their self-effacing stance and their inabiliy to voice their experiences, or lack of people who would have listened to them. The same can certainly also be claimed about other people who suffered in the war. In addition to the above, in Eastern European countries speaking of war-related traumatic experiences has also been hindered by the political circumstances: even if those victimised by the war had empathetic listeners whom they could tell of their suffering, fear of the power in office in the country made them prefer silence.

Both Kurnim’s autobiography and Tuulik’s novel sketch a similar pattern of recollections that is characteristic of traumatic victim memory; however, while the part of Kurnim’s autobiography that mediates childhood experiences is dominated by traumatic evidence of suffering, Tuulik’s novel is marked by a tone of accusation and reproach. In Kurnim’s autobiography the author recalls the most traumatic experiences of her childhood, bringing to the reader also the experiences of other children from Sõrve during WWII. She creates a detailed picture of the conditions in which hundreds of children deprived of parental care due to the war would find themselves, as well as of the trials that the war inflicted upon their family members and to the community as a whole. Kurnim’s autobiography as witnessing is characterised by the overlapping subject positions of witnessing and confession: the confessing self that speaks of the suffering that befell her as a child simultaneously fulfills the role of the witnessing self who is giving witness of the tragic events that befell their loved ones and their community.

Tuulik’s novel is a literary witness statement in which the autobiographical, documentary and fictional elements intermingle. The devastation of a year of his childhood seems to have had a deeply traumatic effect on the author, as does the scarcity of personal memories of the time. The moral dimension of Tuulik’s novel openes up in an attempt to construct memory and, on the level  of poetics, through the confessions, reasonings and deliberations of the writer as a character in the novel, as well as in three episodes depicting premature deaths. The thematisation of the novel’s writing process demonstrates how Tuulik, while drawing on his own traumatic childhood experiences, explores the aesthetic and ethical limits of representing the sufferings of the people of Sõrve who found themselves in the way of war. He is engaged in such studies also on his memory trips to the island of Saaremaa and outside Estonia, in time and space, while attempting to maintain and protect the truth of the events that occurred on the Sõrve Peninsula during WWII. Tuulik’s novel as a piece of moral witnessing has been written with the aim to counter pain and fear, and first and foremost to fight forgetfulness; häving discussed the nature of war and its effects on the civilian population, at the end of the novel Tuulik reaches the conclusion that war crimes do not expire.


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Author Biography

Maarja Hollo, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum / Estonian Literary Museum

Maarja Hollo – PhD, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseumi Eesti Kultuuriloolise Arhiivi vanemteadur. Peamised uurimisteemad on eesti omaelulookirjutus 21. sajandil ning traumakogemuste kujutamine kirjanduses ja nende vahendamine omaeluloolistes tekstides.


Maarja Hollo – PhD, Senior Researcher at the Estonian Cultural History Archives of the Estonian Literary Museum. Her main research interests are Estonian life writing in the 21st century, representations of traumatic experiences in literature and their mediation in texts of life writing.