Voldemar Veedam



Voldemar Veedam (6 November 1912 – 2 March 1983) was an exile Estonian prose writer and journalist who was primarily known for his immensely popular book Sailing to Freedom (1952).

Veedam was born in Tallinn as the son of a worker. In 1931, he completed Hans Kubu Private Gymnasium in Tallinn and, in 1942, graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Tartu specialising in history. He was a member of the Raimla Students Society. During World War II, he worked for the Archive of Topical History in Tartu, which documented the crimes of Soviet occupation, and the newspaper Eesti Sõna in Tallinn.

In 1943, he fled through Finland to Sweden and, from there, in a former mailboat across the Atlantic to the US. There, he at first worked as a violin player and insurance agent and did odd jobs. From 1955–1974, Veedam was editor of the Estonian Service of the Voice of America and, from 1974–1976, head of the Estonian Service. From 1976, Veedam was a freelance history researcher and journalist in Washington.

His documentary book Sailing to Freedom which described his boat voyage across the Atlantic was published in cooperation with this American co-author Carl B. Wall in New York in 1952. The book was soon translated into 17 languages. By now, the book has appeared in 30 languages, which makes it one of the most translated books written by an Estonian author. In Estonian, the short version of his travelogue had been published under the title “Erma” meresõit (‘Erma’s Sea Voyage’) in Germany as early as in 1947. Full translation of “Sailing to Freedom” into Estonian was published in Estonia in 1998. The book describes thrillingly the 117-day feat of 16 Estonian refugees, including four children, who set sail across the Atlantic from Sweden on 9 August 1945 in an 11.2-metre long one-sail boat. Four and a half months later, they landed in the city of Norfolk, Virginia. Their voyage received broad attention in the US and Western Europe. British publications have called Erma’s voyage one of the most epic contemporary sea voyages.

As a result of long-time research, Veedam published in 1981 a book in Estonian about the life of the famous Estonian wrestler Georg Lurich in America in 1913–1917, Lurich Ameerikas: Hackenschmidti jälgedes, Abergi varjus (‘Lurich in America: In Hackenschmidt’s Footsteps, Overshadowed by Aberg’).

L. P. (Translated by I. A.)

Books in Estonian

Voldemar Veedam, Carl B. Wall, The Cruise of the “Erma“. One of the most stirring sagas of modern times = „Erma“ meresõit. Üks meie aja põnevamaid legende. Augsburg-Hochfeld, 1947. 30 lk.
Lurich Ameerikas: Hackenschmidti jälgedes, Abergi varjus. Toronto: Oma Press Ltd., 1981. 141 lk.
Voldemar Veedam, Carl B. Wall, Purjetamine vabadusse. Tallinn: Ilo, 1998. 223 lk. [2. trükk: 2017.]

Books in English

Voldemar Veedam, Carl B. Wall, Sailing to freedom. New York: Crowell, 1952. 246 lk.