Tarzier Memoirs

Part IV  To a Far Shore



My thirst quenched, I felt totally exhausted. I stretched out on the deck and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, rocked by the steady tow and the drone of the forward engine. I woke up to voices calling in German, “disembark, come out, leave everything on board.” I stumbled to my feet, joined my family, and together we walked down the plank into a wooded area of tall pine trees. Darkness had fallen by then. We were led to long tables covered with white tablecloths, lighted by electric bulbs dangling from trees. After days and weeks of starvation, we were offered food of the Gods: fresh loaves of white bread and steaming black coffee, and for the children a chocolate bar and a hot chocolate drink.

Having eaten, we boarded buses to the Finnish baths. Our clothes were taken to be deloused, whether or not we had any lice. After a hot shower, we filed into the front room, naked as the day we were born, before an elderly woman who greased us all over, especially our private parts, with handfuls of yellow grease she scooped from a barrel. I wanted to do the job myself, being both shy and ticklish, but she refused and proceeded to rub her grease everywhere. We put our deloused clothes back on. Disinfected and greased, we were taken to register at the Philadelphia temple of the Pentecostal church in downtown Stockholm, the one church that volunteered to help out with the refugee effort.

We were then placed in quarantine some ten kilometers outside of Stockholm. Janis, Pete and I were separated from Olga and the little ones. They were sent to a women’s camp, and for a while I didn’t know where my family was. Pastor Weger, then president of the Nordiska Misionen, eventually brought news of them. At the end of the five weeks of quarantine we were reunited and placed in a schoolhouse in Stockholm. By then we felt reasonably at home in Sweden—Christmas was approaching, and we enjoyed our first Santa Lucia festival of lights, complete with candles and songs and Santa Lucia presiding over the procession like a queen.

Pastor Weger was helpful in other ways. He introduced us to the president of the Red Cross, a Lutheran. Clothing was requisitioned for us, and we got to pick and choose from the warehouse —a timely gift, as I had bartered most of our belongings in Tallinn. Weger also found a Salvation Army hostel where Olga, Aina and Timothy could rest up and recover. I was very grateful that Olga could get the break she needed.

Just before Christmas we were given a place of our own, rent-free, in Svartjö Landed, 30 kilometers south of Stockholm. We occupied the janitor’s quarters in a Baptist chapel. The church was no longer used for regular services, only occasional meetings, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. I used the small prayer room as my office for writing, reading and prayer. It turned out to be a cozy place for the four of us to settle down into a semblance of normalcy. I say four because Janis and Peteris found work in the Salvation Army boys’ camp, where they learned Swedish as well. Janis one time appeared in a crisp uniform—he had joined the Salvation Army.

The next year went by quickly. In our second year in Sweden, Janis entered high school in Stockholm and Peteris attended elementary school not far from Svartjö. I worked eight hours a day in the orchard of an apple processing plant, a few minutes from our church lodgings. I was paid the equivalent of a dollar an hour, plus a kilogram of apples each day, which we made into apple butter. We also received child support from the county for six months.

As time went on, I made other connections. A man called Ingvar Jonson and his wife, both members of the Salvation Army, took us under their wing. We communicated in broken German, but they eventually taught us some Swedish. They had two small boys. I visited their nearby farm and used his electric saw to do some carpentry as well as help him cut firewood. When spring came, Olga and this couple started summer Bible school for the local children. I especially loved to raise the (Swedish) flag every Sunday. The locals brought over treats for the children, never mind that we were Baptists and they were Lutheran. I felt no call to join any local church, because I knew, in my heart, that this was only a waystation for us. Life in Sweden could have been cozy, but Sweden was too close still to Moscow. I needed to put more distance between us and the sharp claws of the Russian bear.

To a Far Shore, Again