David P. Boder Interviews Tomas Billi; September 21, 1946; München, Germany

  • David Boder: [In English] September the 21st, 1946, a displaced persons' camp for Baltics—Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians—near, in the environment of Munich, Camp Lohengrinstrasse. The interviewee is Tomas Billi, a Estonian, similar to the woman who, ah, a compatriot of the woman, Mrs. Anna Paul, which we heard before.Anna Paul was also interviewed by Boder on September 21st at Lohengrinstrasse, on Spools 9-140B and 9-141A.1 Only he prefers to speak Russian, and so Russian we speak.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Well, Mr. Billi, tell us what is your full name, how old you are and where you were born? [Some weak instructions from Boder, most likely about use of microphone.]
  • Tomas Billi: My name is Tomas Billi and I was born in the city of Wittenberg in Estonia in 1888.It is unclear exactly what location Billi is referring to. The most likely location is Wittenberg, which was the German name for the city of Nivenskoye, about sixteen kilometers south of Kaliningrad. This territory is currently within the Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, but at the time of Billi's birth it was part of Prussia.2
  • David Boder: Yes. So that means you are fifty-eight years old now.
  • Tomas Billi: I am fifty-eight.
  • David Boder: So. What was your profession?
  • Tomas Billi: I was a textile person by profession.
  • David Boder: A textile worker.
  • Tomas Billi: A worker.
  • David Boder: So. Well, tell me what and where you were and what happened to you when the Russians returned to Estonia.
  • Tomas Billi: I was working in the city of Narva. The city is located right on the Russian border . . .
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: . . . in a textile factory when the Russians arrived in Estonia in 1940.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: They started [basing?] in our factory.
  • David Boder: [interrupts] They started [basing?], right?
  • Tomas Billi: Yes. As with all the other plants. But I still stayed there working under the Soviet authorities.
  • David Boder: So. And to whom did the plant belong originally?
  • Tomas Billi: It was a joint stock company. It belonged to the Estonians
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: There, and . . . I also was included there in this factory. I also had a small number of shares.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Tomas Billi: But, anyhow, the Bolsheviks left me working there, too, because they didn't have any, how do you say it . . . ah . . .
  • David Boder: Specialists.
  • Tomas Billi: . . . specialists.
  • David Boder: So . . . And then, what else happened?
  • Tomas Billi: I was working there almost until they left, when they already, when the Germans arrived.
  • David Boder: So . . . So. Well, what was it like for you under the Bolsheviks? What kind of changes occurred in your personal life? Were there any kind of changes?
  • Tomas Billi: There were huge changes. They began to take various people out of Estonia. For any, to Russia, for backbreaking work.
  • David Boder: Why for backbreaking work? [Unintelligible] [there had to be?] public work, didn't there?
  • Tomas Billi: So, it was said that they were sending [them] to Siberia—
  • David Boder: [interrupts] Well, okay. And so?
  • Tomas Billi: Vehicles came through our border city with villagers from all over Estonia because they had to be right on the border.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Tomas Billi: And they also began arresting people all the time at night in our city.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: and taking [them] . . .
  • David Boder: to Russia.
  • Tomas Billi: to Russia, right.
  • David Boder: And did they take them with their families or alone? How was it?
  • Tomas Billi: [All of them?] the women were special, they took the children from the parents and they [unintelligible] the men onto special [rail] cars.
  • David Boder: Hm-mmm. So.
  • Tomas Billi: So, and this all happened all night.
  • David Boder: Hm-mmm.
  • Tomas Billi: . . . they organized one street every night.
  • David Boder: Hm-mmm.
  • Tomas Billi: Well, then we were afraid and all the people began to look for other apartments for themselves, and we people had several apartments there. I, for example, had 3 apartments for myself in the city. One night I would sleep in this apartment, the next night I went again to another, because I was afraid to spend the night in my room.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Tomas Billi: And this, we heard via these drivers which street they would be taking captive at night, for example.
  • David Boder: How did the drivers learn this?
  • Tomas Billi: They would tell them that they were supposed to assemble on such-and-so a street at twelve o'clock.
  • David Boder: And the drivers were Estonians?
  • Tomas Billi: They were Estonians, yes.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Tomas Billi: So.
  • David Boder: Well, it means that [unintelligible] you, and you had a family.
  • Tomas Billi: A family was the same.
  • David Boder: Well, how many people were in your family?
  • Tomas Billi: Four people.
  • David Boder: Who? Wife and who else?
  • Tomas Billi: My wife, daughter and son-in-law and, and also grandmother.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Tomas Billi: Well, my son-in-law, anyhow, during work . . .
  • David Boder: They took him?
  • Tomas Billi: . . . they took him and sent him away.
  • David Boder: And his wife?
  • Tomas Billi: His wife, his wife was working elsewhere, they didn't capture his wife this time.
  • David Boder: So. And where is your son-in-law now?
  • Tomas Billi: Well, it is unknown now.
  • David Boder: And his wife?
  • Tomas Billi: His wife is here in Germany right now. She works here.
  • David Boder: So. Well, now tell me what it was like when the Germans arrived.
  • Tomas Billi: Then the Germans arrived, and anyhow at first we were glad that our saviors were coming. But then they behaved just like the Soviets, too.
  • David Boder: So. And tell me, your factory that the Soviets had taken, did they give it back to—
  • Tomas Billi: [interrupts] Well. They didn't give anything back.
  • David Boder: Did the Germans [leave?], too—
  • Tomas Billi: [interrupts] It was the same, they designated their own [unintelligible] command there and, and, and [took away?] everything with their own hands.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: Well, we were supposed to work there some more.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: And we worked for a while there until they destroyed the whole city.
  • David Boder: Who destroyed it?
  • Tomas Billi: A, it was the Soviets, with airplanes.
  • David Boder: They destroyed everything with airplanes?
  • Tomas Billi: The Soviet assault [began in Russia?] for the reason it was supposed to be by order of the Germans to go on [the attack?].Possibly he means that the Soviets were preempting a German attack.3
  • David Boder: And to be evacuated.
  • Tomas Billi: To be evacuated, right.
  • David Boder: Okay. But here, no one wanted to evacuate?
  • Tomas Billi: Well, they compelled us using force [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Tomas Billi: And through these, ah, Estonian police and German police, everyone to the last man soon had to leave for Narva.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: Whence, at first there was an order, where everyone wants . . .
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: . . . to go.
  • David Boder: And afterwards?
  • Tomas Billi: And afterwards we ended up right—
  • David Boder: [interrupts] You left FROM Narva?
  • Tomas Billi: From Narva, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Tomas Billi: Yes.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: Well, afterwards it happened that I ended up in field work seventy kilometers from [Toila?].
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: The Germans again had huge Estonian skills under their, ah . . .
  • David Boder: Control.
  • Tomas Billi: . . . control, right. Well, they compelled us there, they put us into field work.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Tomas Billi: There were all nationalities there, there were both Russians and Estonians and prisoners-of-war, and we worked there for the time being . . .
  • David Boder: And were there Jews there?
  • Tomas Billi: There were no Jews in this region. There were not [even rumors?], but there were Jews in Narva . . .
  • David Boder: [Unintelligible]
  • Tomas Billi: They forced the Jews to dig trenches.
  • David Boder: So . . . So . . . And what did the [do with them?] afterwards?
  • Tomas Billi: They [drove (as captives)?] them ahead of them along the road like also, well, more importantly the Jews [went away to?] [unintelligible]. They had driven them along the road earlier, [and] we met [them] on the road as they were driving them all on foot [away from Toila?]
  • David Boder: Aha. Well, and you then were working on the land. How long did this continue?
  • Tomas Billi: This continued from, ah, to . . . for a long time . . . almost to the month of September.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: Then they gave a new order, [unintelligible] for this work, that we must once more go somewhere else.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: There were Russian people, too, and they sent them somewhere to a German district.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: They told us that in my family, that we must go to Revel, our capital, the city.Revel ("Rewel" in Polish or German) was the old name for Tallin, the capital of Estonia4 Well, and we packed our small things and went to Sudetenland again [unintelligible].The term "Sudentenland" refers to the western regions of Czechoslovakia, at that time inhabited by many ethnic Germans, or "Volksdeutsche."5
  • David Boder: On what did they take [you] away?
  • Tomas Billi: We [got onto?] a steamship in Revel.
  • David Boder: Yes, so.
  • Tomas Billi: And they sent us to the Sudetenland to a textile factory again, because we already were acquainted with textile firms.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Tomas Billi: Yes.
  • David Boder: How many people did you have who reached—
  • Tomas Billi: [interrupts] Four [stammers] to a hundred.
  • David Boder: So. And what else?
  • Tomas Billi: Well, we worked there in the Sudetenland again until they started to evacuate there.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: Then I started [from scratch?] again to here to Munich, and I was assigned to work with a farm worker.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: [Also?] the whole family, both my daughter and wife, we worked until the Americans arrived with the same German farm worker.
  • David Boder: Did [he pay you for?] the work?
  • Tomas Billi: He only paid a little.
  • David Boder: And did he feed you?
  • Tomas Billi: There was only a little to eat, too; we received German [ration] cards and they gave us a little additional.
  • David Boder: And what did you do with the German cards, did you buy food?
  • Tomas Billi: Yes, we bought it.
  • David Boder: Where did the money come from for the food?
  • Tomas Billi: Well, so much, he [gave?] us [unintelligible] a little anyhow.
  • David Boder: So. So, you bought it with the cards and he increased it a little.
  • Tomas Billi: He increased it, yes.
  • David Boder: And was he a good man?
  • Tomas Billi: Well, not so special. He reproached [us] a lot.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: My wife was supposed to work and clean everything from morning to evening [from the cattle care and?] [unintelligible], and my daughter was doing manual labor again, and old grandma, forty, ah, seventy-four years old, she was spinning yarn [again?] for the farmer.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: . . .
  • David Boder: [interrupts] Well, why weren't you able to leave him and go somewhere else?
  • Tomas Billi: There was nowhere for us to go [because of the clothes?]
  • David Boder: Aha . . . So, you were not able to leave your wife. And what about this farmer, was he a Nazi?
  • Tomas Billi: No, he wasn't a Nazi.
  • David Boder: Aga . . .
  • Tomas Billi: He was a young man and he had many children and so he was [at home?]. [Unintelligible] [five?] small children and a total of 8 people were in the family.
  • David Boder: So, all his—
  • Tomas Billi: [interrupts] A job in the house. In the house.
  • David Boder: So . . . Well, and you, ah, what happened then when the Germans, ah, the Germans lost the war? Did you have a radio, did you find out what was going on?
  • Tomas Billi: There was nothing.
  • David Boder: There was nothing?
  • Tomas Billi: No.
  • David Boder: Well, and how did it all happen when . . . and who, who liberated you?
  • Tomas Billi: It was the Americans [who] [suddenly?] arrived here with a car at the village . . .
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: and then we went to meet them happily and we told them that they [departure? sounds like German "aus"]. [Mumbles] Well, the Germans [correcting himself] the foreigners, not to work any more with the Germans, and the Germans were supposed to feed us.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Tomas Billi: Well, [we?] [unintelligible] he wasn't such a bad boss, so we worked [more?]
  • David Boder: Aha. Well, you didn't work so much?
  • Tomas Billi: Well, for the time being we started [locally?] to demand bet[ter], more food.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: [We demanded milk?] one [handful?] more and so that the family would be able to eat. Well, they [can?] then [have added?] for us, too.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: In the meantime there was an order to come here, ah, to the camp.
  • David Boder: And there was an order for you to come here to the camp?
  • Tomas Billi: Yes, yes.
  • David Boder: Well, and what do you do here in the camp?
  • Tomas Billi: My family [and I were here?], I will be in Germany, I was working, [at the] factory there [everyone] has a [wasting?] disease.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: And considering the disease, I worked for the farmer [even more?].
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: And here now, up to now I am not doing such [difficult?] work, only suddenly [it] is involved with gardening, I will be in charge.
  • David Boder: Mm-mmm.
  • Tomas Billi: And we have a camp field here and [in this?] field I have also been in charge [and] we put in potatoes for the camp. And I always was [in charge?] of this business.
  • David Boder: Aha. [You?] were in charge as the boss?
  • Tomas Billi: As the boss, right.
  • David Boder: Well, and what do you think? Where will you go? [Unintelligible] it will end [for you?]?
  • Tomas Billi: Well, it's difficult to say.
  • David Boder: What do you want to do?
  • Tomas Billi: Yes. We all think that if we cannot go home then we will have to start work here in Germany.
  • David Boder: Ah, you . . . Why can't you go home?
  • Tomas Billi: Ah, because of . . . because of the bad regime we don't want to go back [any more?]. We have suffered from these two regimes twice already.
  • David Boder: I don't want to—
  • Tomas Billi: [interrupts] No . . . There is no way I want to go home . . . We had a good democratic government—
  • David Boder: [interrupts] Well, there wasn't a democratic regime. Of your . . . the president was already such a dictator as [Ulman?], as Stalin . . . as . . .
  • Tomas Billi: No, no . . . No, we had a democratic—
  • David Boder: [interrupts] What do you have? Was the parliament yours?
  • Tomas Billi: The parliament [was] ours?
  • David Boder: Well, and why didn't they put the communists into [prison?]?
  • Tomas Billi: Well, if they, how do you say [to death already?] correctly, to require order in Estonia.
  • David Boder: Aha. So. Eh, well, and you think that it may be possible for you to remain in Germany?
  • Tomas Billi: Well, if . . . I think, that there will be a possibility.
  • David Boder: Don't you have any relatives in America?
  • Tomas Billi: No.
  • David Boder: And in South America?
  • Tomas Billi: Also no.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Tomas Billi: [We wrote?] that to go [to America since?] I am already old and they think that [unintelligible] for difficult work.
  • David Boder: How old are you, Mr. Tomas?
  • Tomas Billi: Ah . . .
  • David Boder: [All understood?]
  • Tomas Billi: Ah, fifty-eight— [stops before finishing]
  • David Boder: [interrupts] Well, yes, you told me that you were born in 1888. Well, you aren't so old if you rest a little and [recover?] from [unintelligible].
  • Tomas Billi: I understand the farming business okay.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Tomas Billi: I [little age?] all has happened with the subsequent changes and I studied field husbandry.
  • David Boder: Hm-mmm.
  • Tomas Billi: And I am interested in everything about field husbandry.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Tomas Billi: [I will teach myself?] anyhow [to stand?] a piece of land somewhere.
  • David Boder: Mm-mmm.
  • Tomas Billi: And to set up something else raising cattle and raising pigs or poultry breeding, I understand all this.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Tomas Billi: And I would live out my years to the end.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Tomas Billi: Well, these [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Yes. [I gave?] something [to be lifted up already?] to develop [and even to give?] people to disappear.
  • Tomas Billi: Yes, that's true.
  • David Boder: Well. thank you, Mr. Billi. I think that what you told me was very important and very interesting.
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes a short interview with Tomas Billi . . . at firty minutes of the spool. He is an Estonian, fifty-eight years old and is now in the displaced center at Lohengrin . . . Lohengrinstrasse near, or in Munich. Illinois Institute of Technology wire recording.
  1. Anna Paul was also interviewed by Boder on September 21st at Lohengrinstrasse, on Spools 9-140B and 9-141A.
  2. It is unclear exactly what location Billi is referring to. The most likely location is Wittenberg, which was the German name for the city of Nivenskoye, about sixteen kilometers south of Kaliningrad. This territory is currently within the Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, but at the time of Billi's birth it was part of Prussia.
  3. Possibly he means that the Soviets were preempting a German attack.
  4. Revel ("Rewel" in Polish or German) was the old name for Tallin, the capital of Estonia
  5. The term "Sudentenland" refers to the western regions of Czechoslovakia, at that time inhabited by many ethnic Germans, or "Volksdeutsche."
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Roy Cochrun
  • English translation : Roy Cochrun
  • Footnotes : Roy Cochrun, Eben E. English