Elle was born in Viljandi, a small town in central Estonia, a small country sandwiched between the Baltic Sea to the west and Russia to the east. She was born just before World War II broke out. She was the oldest of three children, all girls.
The Germans invaded Estonia and conscripted most able-bodied men to serve in the German army. Elle’s father was conscripted. Her mother was required to work in an office near their apartment, even though she had three very young daughters at home. Elle, at age of four, was obliged to take care of herself and her two sisters, alone at home, all day. Mother would come home at noon and feed them.
In the spring of 1944 the Russian army, traditionally Estonia’s enemy, was advancing toward Estonia. The German troops were retreating. Elle’s grandmother and great aunt killed all the family chickens and tacked them on boards to dry in the sun. They were preparing for travel.