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Hallek, Ennio

Prominent Refugees, 7 November 1931

Ennio Hallek

Ennio Hallek

In the autumn of 1943, at the age of 12, Ennio Hallek fled to Sweden from Estonia together with his parents, his younger sister and older brother. His grandparents, who stayed behind, were subsequently killed. Hallek, who has made a name for himself as a painter and sculptor, now finds it hard to say whether he is Estonian or Swedish.

Hallek's father was a fisherman, but when the Russian army first occupied Estonia, his boat was sunk. During the subsequent German occupation, however, he managed to fix it and resumed fishing along the coast. When the family decided to flee, they set sail for the coast of Gotland, but oil rationing meant they were low on fuel and missed their target. As dawn broke, they realised they were alongside a German convoy. Hallek's mother, a dressmaker, quickly sewed a Swedish flag that allowed them to reach the Swedish coast without arousing the suspicion of the Germans.

The family was confined to a refugee camp for a year and after the war their boat was confiscated under a Soviet law. In this period, many Estonians fled to America but the Hallek family moved to Blekinge, a coastal region on the Baltic. He went to local schools and then moved to Stockholm, attending Signe Barth art school and the Swedish Art Academy.

Today, Hallek is an established painter and sculptor who has exhibited in Europe and America. His work includes murals for Stockholm's Stadion underground station, the University of Stockholm and the Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital. A professor of painting at the Art Academy of Stockholm from 1981 to 1991, he is married to a Swedish woman and has a daughter and two grandchildren.

It was only in 1989 that Hallek returned with a delegation to Estonia, to Saaremaa to give advice on the restoration of churches. Since Estonian independence, he has held many exhibitions in his former homeland. Asked which nationality he belongs to, he says he feels neither Swedish nor Estonian. "In the 1960s and 1970s, when it was forbidden for Estonians to present themselves as Estonians they were Russians I used to present myself as an Estonian painter abroad. Nowadays, with Estonia independent, I present myself as a Swedish artist," he told UNHCR.

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