Dr. Charles Ehin

Dr. Charles Ehin

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
May 14, 2005

Q.   Who is Dr. Charles Ehin?

A.   A very interesting and difficult question indeed! I doubt that we seldom truly grasp who we are. Charlie or Kalev, I believe, is an individual who through extensive and varied personal experiences and research has learned that life without a sense of interdependence and genuine collaboration is fundamentally meaningless. That, of course, applies as well to the workplace as to relationships between nations. Hence, there are no winners in conflicts between individuals or in wars between countries. All parties concerned lose something of value in the process. Therefore, in order for our kind to survive on this planet we desperately need to pursue and engage in more and more interdependent and collaborative (win-win) events. Consequently, my work and writings are a reflection of this basic philosophy.

Q.   What inspired you to write about the conditions your family endured from Estonia to the United States?

A.  I started to write the book in the late 1980s. My original intent was to simply put something on paper about my past for our son and daughter and their children. After I had completed the second draft I let some of my friends and colleagues at Westminster College of Salt Lake City read the manuscript. Without exception, they all thought it was well written and quite an interesting story. I was encouraged to seek a publisher.

Next, I considered using the work to bring attention to the plight of the Estonian people and the three Baltic States in general. After all, the former independent republics had been continuously occupied by the Soviet Union since the final days of World War II and at that time without hope of regaining their freedom any time soon. It was at this point that I decided to give the book a more thorough historic foundation, particularly with the primary focus on the secret pact signed by the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Vyacheslav M. Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, a secret protocol fundamentally dividing Eastern Europe into “two spheres of influence” between the two world powers.

After submitting dozens of inquiries to prospective publishers I had no luck in finding one interested in my story. Consequently, I put the manuscript on the shelf for better than ten years.

Eventually, a close friend of mine asked to read the manuscript. He was overwhelmed by it and said he would help me put it in a book format so that I could at least give copies of it to our grandchildren for Christmas. Encouraged, I went back to work to further refine and update the work with the goal of having it ready before Christmas of 2003. I accomplished my self imposed goal six months ahead of time. I again submitted the manuscript to more than a dozen publishers and as before, I was turned down but before putting the book on the shelf again I made one more attempt and submitted the work to Publish America. The rest, as they say, is history.

I only wish more people would be able to share their stories. Perhaps that would help eliminate the need for wars on our planet.

Q.   Have any of your relatives from Estonia moved to the United States since you wrote this book?

A.  No. My sister and two of her grandchildren have visited us and I've taken them on some lengthy tours of the Western United States while they were here. They all love our country but as my sister, Maimu, has stated several times when asked if she would like to move to the US, "I would have to learn how to live all over again and I'm not willing to do that at my stage in life." What she means is that she would not only have to learn a new language and culture but also sever her lifelong relationships with relatives and close friends.

Q.   What was it like for Betty when she visited Estonia?

Below are Betty's impressions as to what it was like to be in Tallinn 23 years ago:

"I left Salt Lake City with mixed emotions of curiosity and anticipation about my husband's past. I also hoped that Charlie would be able to fill much of the void in his life created by 38 years of separation from his sister and other relatives. I left our home in Bountiful, Utah with a great deal of trepidation since we were going behind the Iron Curtain where all things were strictly controlled by communist authorities. Once there I also became apprehensive about our getting sick or injured because of the poor medical services (still true in Russia even today).

I looked forward to seeing pretty little cottages with gardens full of flowers and tasting all sorts of yummy baked goods. Instead, what I saw was dreariness, gloom and homes/buildings in disrepair all around me. Most people simply had no access to desperately needed building materials. Shelves in grocery stores were almost completely bare except for a few necessities like bread and canned fish. When a store would receive some supplies the queues would be indescribably long.

People in downtown Tallinn were noticeably unfriendly, unsmiling and distrustful of strangers (One never knew who or when "big brother" was watching). Charlie and I in our neat clothing and shoes clearly stood out from the crowd. I was also amazed at the number of Russian civilians and men in uniforms that we encountered throughout the city.

Two things remain most vivid in my mind. One was the unimaginable and unrestrained joy that both of us experienced over and over again for seven straight days as we socialized with Maimu and others in her close family circle. The other was an extremely sad moment when the ferry to Helsinki was pulling away from the dock. Although I was glad to be leaving Estonia governed by a harsh totalitarian regime I was more concerned about the people waving goodbye to us on the pier. We were free to go as were the seagulls above that escorted us out to open free waters. They, however, would have to continue fighting for their very existence and culture day in and day out. There was also no assurance that we would be allowed back to visit them again. It was extremely disheartening to watch Charlie, with tears streaming down his face, waving back to his family members and close relatives who had eluded him for almost four decades. I was hoping it was not a last farewell."

Betty has visited Estonia only once when we both traveled behind the Iron Curtain in 1982. Her hips no longer can take the strain of 20 or more hours of lying and waiting in airports. Estonia regained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. It is now also a member of the European Union and NATO. Hence, since 1991 Estonia has developed into a relatively prosperous market economy where more than 50% of the people do their banking on the Internet and most of the drab Soviet Era construction and run-down housing has and is continuously being replaced by modern buildings. Also the historic buildings and fortifications in Tallinn, the capital, have been restored. Essentially, Tallinn and other major cities in Estonia have the same appearance now as any other city in Central Europe.

Q.   Do you still visit Estonia?

A.  Yes, quite frequently primarily to visit my sister who still lives in Tallinn. In 1999 I took our daughter, Linda, with me and last summer our son, Chuck, and we toured the country. I'm going again in June this year partially on business.

Q.   How long did it take you to write AFTERMATH?

A.  As you can surmise from my responses to question 2 roughly 19 years.

Q.   How did you come about the title?

A.  Another excellent question. I can tell you it wasn't easy to come up with a satisfactory title. For years it was In the Wake of the Red Tide. Before the book was published Betty and I finally decided on Aftermath. Specifically, “aftermath” refers to the continuing suffering by people “after” WWII for 60 years (The suffering still continues.) following the secession of hostilities. For instance, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union after the war and the Red Army occupied these formerly democratic nations for 50 years. More generally it applies to the painful aftermath of any war.

Q.   Of all the adventures you experienced as a child, which was your most memorable one?

A.  That's a very difficult question for me to answer because those events are a continuum. Thus, I have to name three. One, is catching the last train loaded with severely wounded soldiers in the middle of the night with my family out of Polva as the bridge was blown up behind us. Second, was the pain of leaving Tallinn without my mother but being reassured by my father that she and Maimu would follow within a day or so. Third, would be the detention by the German Military Police near the Swiss border when they threatened to execute my father if I didn't tell the truth.

Q.   If you had your choice would you have left with your father?

A.  I don't think that I can realistically answer that question. I was never given a choice. As far as I knew (was told by my father) mother and Maimu were not in Tallinn and we had to depart in a hurry. I was also told that a message had been sent to my mother and sister asking them to follow us as quickly as possible. "If" I had known the real situation and had a choice, I would have most likely stayed with my mother because I was much closer to her than my father.

Q.   How is Maimu now?

A.  Maimu will be 76 in October. She lives in Tallinn in the house she inherited from aunt Ella. She lives in a lovely neighborhood outside the city that has a nice yard and a garden but her house (she owns 75% of it) badly needs all sorts of repairs. She, however, must manage to get by on a small pension and can ill afford to make any of the necessary repairs except those that are absolutely essential. Betty and I occasionally send her money to supplement her income but that's not enough to fix up the house. Her granddaughter, Maimu, also lives with her. She works in a department store and is currently studying to take her college entrance exams.

Q.   Did your feelings ever change for the better for Laine?

A.  My feelings for Laine haven't changed much over the years. I've never had any ill feelings towards her but, at the same time, I've neglected to make any contact with her and she's also ignored me. I wouldn't mind re-establishing my relationship with her except I know, which is true for all of us, that her personality will never change. She will always believe that she knows the appropriate answer for everything and, as a result, she'll remain quite egotistical and self-centered. That's not only my opinion but is also the view of my relatives who see her frequently. Unfortunately, some things change very little over time!