Uku (né Hugo) Albert Masing, 11 August 1909–25 April 1985
Since I’m such a passionate, longtime Estophile, I just had to profile Uku Masing and his wife Eha!
Uku Masing was a professor, philosopher, poet, hyperpolyglot, and folklorist. He also wrote one novel, Rapanui vabastamine ehk Kajakad jumalate kalmistul (Liberation of Rapanui, or Seagulls at the Cemetery of Gods) in the late 1930s, which was posthumously published in 1989. It’s believed about 10,000 pages of his writing have yet to be published.
The somewhat eccentric Uku could speak four languages by the end of secondary school, and knew 40 by the end of his days. At one point, he knew about 65. While studying theology at the esteemed University of Tartu, he published many essays, poems, and translations. His most famous work was 1935’s Neemed vihmade lahte (Promontories into the Gulf of Rains). In 1938, he joined the Arbujad (Soothsayers) circle of poets. During this time, Estonia was a free nation, but their hard-won independence sadly came to an end in 1940.
Uku became a professor at the University of Tartu, where he taught Semitic languages and theology. He was said to be a brilliant professor. In 1939, he was invited to teach at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, but the outbreak of war precluded his accepting this position. After the Nazis occupied Tartu in 1941, he gave up his teaching job to devote all his time and energy to saving Jewish religious and cultural items. He refused all offers to teach at German universities, since he was extremely anti-German.
Uku and his wife, Eha, came to the rescue of Isidor Levin, a former student in the Jewish Studies department. They obtained false papers, provided him with food and clothing, and hid him in their own home during the occupation, until the September 1944 liberation. Many times they had to lie to the Gestapo and deny any knowledge of Isidor.
After the war, Uku took part in investigating war crimes (particularly the Klooga concentration-camp) and collected documents regarding the Shoah in Estonia. On 29 April 1969, he was honored as Righteous Among the Nations. Eha was honored as such on 29 December 1996. They were the first and second Estonians, out of only three to date, to receive this recognition.