Estonian dolls made at German refugee camp on display at Tallinn museum

Hella Ükki and Helene Sepman's restored dolls.
Hella Ükki and Helene Sepman's restored dolls. Source: ERR

Nine dolls made from flour sacks at a German displaced person camp by Estonians in 1945 are currently on display at Tallinn City Museum. The toys were made to preserve and promote Estonia's culture.

Hella Üksi and Helju Helene Sepman made the cloth dolls, which are wearing traditional clothes from parishes around Estonia, from whatever materials could be sourced at the camp in Nuremberg.

"About 30,000 Estonians stayed in these (camps) over time. And then, as they did a lot of handicrafts, they tried to keep their national culture alive. The dolls' traditional clothes are a good example of this," said Toomas Mäelt, the museum's director.

Karoli Loo, the exhibition's visitor manager, called them an "interesting piece of history" and said it was good they have survived until the present day.

"These are for an exhibition that was organized in these camps, where the different cultures that came together were able to present their cultural heritage to everyone," she explained.

The face of a doll made by Hella Üksi and Helju Helene Sepman. Source: ERR

Over the last three years, conservators at the museum have been restoring the objects which arrived in poor condition.

Each doll had to be completely disassembled and every piece cleaned. They are made out of materials such as flour sacks, wire, and foil, which all had specific cleaning requirements.

"We have to take into account that it was wartime. There wasn't much of anything," said Loo, explaining why they were made this way.

The authors' original goal - to introduce Estonia's cultural heritage - lives on and the dolls can be viewed at the museum until October.

After the end of World War Two thousands of Estonians fled the second Soviet occupation of Estonia. Many ended up in displaced persons camps in Germany before traveling onward to the U.S., Canada, or Australia.


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Editor: Merili Nael, Helen Wright

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