What does it mean when you, as a child, suddenly have to leave your home because your country is in a war and your family is in danger ? What does it mean when you have to leave your loved ones, everything and everyone you knew behind?
This is the story told in the documentary Coming home soon. It is the story of Estonian children who fled Estonia in 1944 with their mothers, siblings and sometimes with their fathers as well.
They didn’t know where the dangerous roads would take them, and when they made it to the refugee camps, they knew, this was temporary.
All interviewees in this film found themselves in Geislingen refugee camp (1945-1950) in the South of Germany. Geislingen was an Estonian Assembly centre where some 4000 Estonians lived for more than 5 years. The camp became a small Estonia with schools, workshops, post office, hospital, newspaper, theatre, orchestra, choirs… Estonians themselves were in charge of organizing the camp. According to the UNRRA officer (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) of the Geislingen camp the Estonians did all the work while they did not have any say regarding the longevity or future of the camp. Geislingen was a home for the refugees 5 years and then the residents had to depart once more leaving their friends and familiar surroundings behind to start all over again in a new country, in a new place unknown to them.
The film Coming home soon explores the influence which the experiences at Geislingen had on the lives of the Estonian refugees and their children.
It is a story about how to cope with extremely difficult circumstances, how to overcome your past and build a successful future. It is a story of hope and inspiration.
Although this film is related to Estonian post WWII history, one can observe strong parallels to the current refugee situation in Europe.
Coming home soon is my fifth documentary film. All my films are related to people who are uprooted due to the war and need to build a new life in unfamiliar places. How do you keep on going? How do you build a new life? Do you keep connected to the past or is it better just to focus on the future? These are questions which interest me.
My first film was about my Estonian father, who also had to leave his country. My debut film was a trial to see if I could bring to life my father’s unknown past by the few texts and letters I had inherited. For this film, Kallis Paul (Dear Paul) (2007) I received the Theodor Luts prize.
I felt that I was not done, and needed to explore my dad further and made a film about the high school class of my father, Class of 1943- remember us when we are gone (2012), is about the fate of boys who were all constricted to German army of 1943.
While doing research in Poland for Class of 1943- remember us when we are gone, I discovered Sam Freiman, a Polish Jew, living in Britain, a man who was born and raised in a small village near Warsaw. From my relationship with Sam a documentary about his youth: Sam Freiman – memories of a forgotten world (2010) was born.
My last film was about a remarkable institute: the Baltic University. This was a university created by refugees of the three Baltic Countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in Hamburg in 1946. Although they didn’t have a penny to their name and Hamburg was in ruins, even though they were homeless, they still had the courage to think about a way to organise education for students of the Baltic Countries. The film is titled: The Story of the Baltic University (2015). I received the medal of the Baltic Assembly for this film.
Now I’m working on a film about Estonian refugees who lived all together in camp Geislingen during 1945-1950. It is a film about the history of Estonia, but also about refugees in post-war Germany. It is a film about people who needed to go on and live with the consequences a war had forced upon them. The film has a strong link with the current situation in Europe.
My background is a study of philosophy (University of Amsterdam). I worked for years as a journalist for national radio both in Belgium and Holland and wrote for newspapers in both countries. But what I missed was a way to visualise the stories, to bring these to life, to work with another dimension. This is the reason I started to work on my first documentary; working with image, sound, and text allows me to create powerful stories while still continuously learning how these mediums influence one another.
I have been trained as a classical dancer and worked as a dancer and performer for 20 years. I worked for a few years as a production and performance manager, but then decided to get training to be a filmmaker. Since 2012 I have worked as an independent film maker and I make films by commission, and also free productions. My company is called Roemfilm.
The edit for the documentary “The Story of The Baltic University” was my first edit for a long documentary, it was also my first cooperation with Helga Merits, a beautiful adventure where I first came into contact with stories of refugees from the Baltic states and what they experienced during and after the Second World War.
I saw a lot of common ground with my own background, but it was also almost disconcerting to discover that there is a lot of common ground with refugees today. The stories are still very up-to-date: black-and-white images made way for color and people are fleeing from a different direction, but every story has so many similarities: the impact on the lives of the people is enormous and history seems to be constantly recurring. All stories are far from being told and these badly need to be told.
Working with Helga is good, we have a harmonious and cooperative relationship and it has led to personal substantive enrichment. It has given me new insights into how you look, and think about, history.
The research work and the work Helga is doing to make all the ends meet is enormous. Both for the film on the Baltic University and the new film we currently are working on. To bring together, and bundle, all material is a beautiful adventure. You slowly see a sketch become a fully-fledged painting that, as it were, slowly comes to you from afar. We are now working on a new documentary in which we are faced with all kinds of new challenges and we are searching together for the right form.
It is also nice that people are usually very old, which means for me empathizing with a completely different dynamic and searching for a rhythm and timing that fits. And no matter how often you look at a part of the interview, you always see more and more layers. There is so much behind those eyes and there is so much said without words…
I have been playing the accordion since I was eight years old and graduated from the Hilversum/Amsterdam conservatory. Besides the accordion, I’m a passionate player of the trombone and of course the piano.
I master a wide range of musical idioms and skills, and the scope of my musical preferences ranges from contemporary classical to Balkan and theatre – music.
I’ve performed contemporary orchestral music with several Dutch symphony orchestras. I have also accompanied several Dutch singer-songwriters and theatre plays and wrote music for documentaries and theatre plays.
As composer and improvisor, I´m used to add music to performances and texts.
Very much interested in the history and music of the 20th century, I combine contemporary composing techniques with folklore influences.
For instance, in Helga Merits previous film: “The story of the Baltic University” and my latest composition: “Novecento”. (For orchestra and performer after A. Barrico’s novel).
As an accordion-player, I was touched by the Estonian folklore-music Helga Merits gave me, as inspiration for her previous film: “The story of the Baltic University”.
Familiar with all kinds of folklore-music from over the world, this was new for me at that time. Acquainted of course with (choral) music of Pärt and Tormis; (Estonian contemporary classical music), I transformed folklore melody’s to “wide tonality” or even atonality.
For the new project Helga Merits is working on, I’m again challenged to find sounds, melody’s, musical colours and silence that will support text and images of the film. Therefore I’ll try to catch, in an associative way, “motions and emotions” of persons and their surroundings in the film and put them in a score.
The instruments: a string quartet, because of the wide range of tonal possibility’s and non-tonal expressions and accordion. Together they will connect Estonian, German, folkloristic and contemporary classical sounds.
Film: The story of the Baltic University
Music: Peter van Os
Title: 2 variations on Kuldne Noorus
Accordion: Peter van Os
Viola: Ro Krauss
All the research and interviews have been finished. I have been able to gather a great amount of rare historical material from various archives and museums of Europe. The first rough edit of the film has been completed, but to be able to continue to work with the editor, composer, musicians, actor and designer I’m in need of support. I can say that from all material I have gathered you will discover an interesting story which relates to all who had to cope with difficult struggles at one or another point in their lives. With your support I hope to finish the film by May 2018.
2018 is the celebration of 100 years of Republic of Estonia. There are all kinds of activities, meetings, congresses. It is important to screen this film telling a part of the post war history of Estonia during these celebrations. With your help I can tell our story with Coming home soon at the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies conference in Stanford in June, at the Baltic Heritage Network conference in Tartu at the end of June, and at Estdocs in Toronto late October.
I am looking for a total of € 15.000 which is needed to cover the costs of editor, composer, musicians, sound technician, actor, designer and director.
I have received support from the Estonian American Fund, Estonian American National Council, Tartu College in Toronto, Böckler-Mare-Balticum-Stiftung. The Herder Institut Marburg supports the film by letting me use their pictures for free (Hintzer collection). This support has helped me to organise the recordings of the interviews, to do research in special archives, to buy documents and other historical material.
Now I’m searching for your support to be able to finish the film.
All support, small or large will be helpful and will be greatly appreciated.
Enter “Geislingen” as the Special Instructions for your donation.