Erika Palmipuu

Born in 1934 in Saaremaa, Estonia. In June 1941 Erika with her mother and four siblings were deported to Kirov Oblast. In 1946 Erika managed to come back home where she remained until 1950 when she was sent back. Only in 1957 she was allowed to return to Estonia.

Erika Palmipuu (née Õispuu) was born in Kuressaare on Saarema island. There were five children in her family (Mati b. 1938, Erika b. 1934, Inga b. 1931, Leo b. 1930, Felix b. 1929) and they lived in Pihtla parish, Vanamõisa village. Their father Magnus (b. 1895) was a civil servant and their mother Kersti (née Kalt, b. 1900) worked as a teacher.

On 14 June 1941, the parents were in town and the children at home in the country. The family was reunited for the last time in Kihelkonna before they were taken to a ship during the deportation.

The father was separated from the family in Paldiski and died in Sevurallag in 1943.

The mother and children were initially taken to Kirov Oblast, Nagorsk region in Sinegorye, from there to Lipovka, followed by the settlement no. 4 close to the border of Komi ASSR. In Sinegorye, the deported lived in barracks and suffered from hunger. The family had their own small allotment in Lipovka but it was not enough to survive. Erika recalls how their mother once stole potatoes. Later they were transferred to a workers’ dormitory in Nagorsk. All children except Leo and mother ended up in a hospital where Felix never recovered. His condition was so serious that he was taken to a hospital in Kirov where he died in the winter of 1945.

In the summer of 1946 Kersti decided that she will escape to Estonia with her three children. Leo had to stay in Nagorsk for the time being to make sure the local authorities do not realize that the family has left the settlement for good. In two nights and on foot, Kersti, Inga, Erika and Mati got back to Slobodskoi where they were able to catch a train.

Their journey to Tallinn went through Kirov and Leningrad. They arrived in the summer of 1946. Leo joined them a few months later.

Once home in Vanamõisa village, they realized that grandfather Priidu Õispuu had been declared a kulak and forced to live in a forest cabin. In 1947, mother Kersti was arrested and sent back to Nagorsk. In March 1949, grandfather died on a deportation train and his burial site is unknown.

In February 1950, security officials began to search for people, including young people, who had been deported in June 1941 and had returned to Estonia. Erika was in 8th class in Kuressaare when she was taken with her brother Leo to Kuressaare Prison. The investigator told Erika that she was free until she turned 16 after which she must have returned to him herself. Leo and Inga, however, were sent to join their mother in Russia immediately. Brother Mati was placed in an orphanage in Estonia.

In June 1950 Erika went back to the investigator and she was arrested. She was taken from Kuressaare to Patarei Prison in Tallinn.

Later her journey took her to Nagorsk via the prisons in Lasnamäe, Leningrad and Kirov. She allegedly had to spend two weeks in each of the prisons. In one of the prisons Erika shared a cell with Aino Järveots who was on her way to a prison camp in Kemerovo Oblast.

In August 1950, Erika arrived in Nagorsk where she started 9th class. In March 1953 she was almost expelled because she was unable to behave in a required manner on the occasion of Stalin’s death.

Having finished school, Erika moved to Kirov to join Inga and Leo and began her studies in a mechanic school. Her mother died in 1954; she was buried in Kirov.

At the end of 1956 after graduating from the mechanic school, Erika finally started working in a furniture factory in Zaokskoye, Ryazan Oblast, where she worked until 12 July 1957.

Then she got an opportunity to return home where she got a job in a furniture factory Puit in Tartu already on 29 July. In the 1980s, dissident Arvo Pesti was registered on the address of Erika’s apartment in Tartu which for Erika meant pressure from the KGB.

In 1992 Erika retired and moved to Tallinn where she lives until this day.

The story was processed by Kogu Me Lugu, an oral history portal of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory.

Kogu Me Lugu (Gather Our Story, also translates into Our Entire Story) was launched on 14 June 2013 as an appeal to young people of Estonia and the world to gather their family stories. The objective was set not only to document Estonia’s oral history, but also to make this heritage accessible on the internet. This is how the Kogu Me Lugu oral history portal ( was born, which focuses on Estonia’s 20th century history through personal experience. To this end, we gather, research and share memories in video format of people (eyewitnesses and people close to them) who lived in Estonia during the Soviet or German occupations, fled from Estonia to escape those regimes, or ended up in Estonia as a result of the actions of these regimes. The portal can be accessed in Estonian, English and Russian.

The predecessor of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory (Eesti Mälu Instituut), the Estonian Foundation for Investigating Crimes Against Humanity, began its work in 1998. On this base, the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory ( was born in 2008. in 2017, The Institute and the Unitas Foundation merged in order to jointly continue their work under the name of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory. This united institution combines long-term experience in academic research and internationally publicising research results with engagement and publicity work in history.
The aim of the Institute is the investigation of the international crimes and violations of human rights committed by regimes that have been hostile towards humanity, and of the totalitarian ideologies that were the starting point for those regimes, together with informing the general public of the results of its research. The Institute is also a partner of the national government in organising memorial events commemorating the victims of the crimes of communist and national socialist regimes.


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