Juhan Nihtig (Narma)

It’s a dusty roll of flimsy cardboard, with yellowed ragged paper poking out it’s ends, resembling something akin to an old-fashioned, confetti cracker from a party long past. Anyone could have mistaken it for a piece of trash; sending it off to the ignoble archive of a landfill.

I unroll the paper, with unexpected recognition. The words are Estonian, a language I certainly cannot read, but I’ve read this article many times, as Silvia has saved the same front-page article about her father that I had discovered online, and sent to a translator back in November. It’s a newspaper article written on the occasion of Juhan’s fiftieth birthday, chronicling his life and his accomplishments. The year is 1938.

In the past few months, I have hesitantly set my hand to formally introducing Juhan to Silvia’s story, but he presents many complexities that I am still trying to understand in relation to the time in which he lived. Each attempt I have made to allow him his proper space in the story brings another round of research and one more shift in my understanding of his personality and nuanced motivations.

The Uus Eesti (New Estonia) article, published in the newspaper, for which he was the managing director, essentially provides the introduction he wished to present to others. Although there are the expected best-foot-forward moments in the article, it seems only fitting to allow Juhan to present himself, once more, as he would wish.

And yet, for all that the article tells us about Juhan’s life and career, it also tells us something about Silvia. For her, the article represented a father, strong and capable. Rolled up and safely kept in Vermont, the article anchors him to a time before: a world before the Molotov-Ribbentop Pact, the senseless Soviet deportations and the brutality and misery of the gulag. For Silvia, the article keeps her father’s torn, taped and rumpled image alive.

 

Notes:

The article, “Juhan Nihtig: Fifty Years Old” can be found in the digital archive, DIGAR Digitaalarhiv. The same article as translated into English by Liina-Ly Roos can be found here as a Google document.

The photograph of Juhan Nihtig (Narma) in this newspaper article is the only image of Silvia’s father that has been found in her papers. It is unclear, at this time, how she came to have a copy.

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