The Human Sausage Factory

A Study of Post-War Rumour in Tartu


Under certain conditions, some rumours, which were established as part of folklore already long ago, may become fixed in the memory and the subconscious of several generations. This is what happened with the rumour about a human sausage factory after the Second World War. In Tartu, Estonia, this rumour obtained a symbolic meaning and power due to the politics of the totalitarian Soviet regime. The memories of the post-war period are still vivid in the collective mind, and the onetime rumour of sausage factories incorporates the population’s tensions, pain, loss, choices, defiance and irreconcilability. The individual and community emotions that are brought to a focus in this discourse are an indicator of defining social boundaries and behaviour, of ‘us’ and ‘them’. When describing the events that took place in Tartu, folklore becomes a powerful tool with which to construe the meaning of the era at the social level.
Through documents, photos and people’s memories, the book offers an insight into the city of Tartu after the Second World War and reveals the several layers of meaning represented by rumour in this period.

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Tracing an old horror tale
Rumour and the post-war period in Tartu
Rumours in retrospect
Rumours and legends – truth, ideology and interpretation
The sources and nature of this book
Chapter 1 – Narratives about consuming human body parts as a folkloric and socio-historical phenomenon
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century predecessors
Chapter 2 – The legend of the sausage factory: post-war images of violence and evil
A secret room or chamber
The milkmaid enticed into the ruins in broad daylight and the child sent to deliver a letter
Informants’ performance strategies: the limits of understanding and mediating violence
Chapter 3 – The folklore of the split society: rumours of cannibalism in post-war Estonia
Some views of the different features of ethnocentrism
Creation of the figure of the adversary and possible symbolic semantic models relating to the sausage factory story
Chapter 4 – The sausage factory rumour: food contamination legends and criticism of the Soviet (economic) system
Fingernails in jellied meat: reality or fabrication?
Taboos against discussing the Siege of Leningrad
Sausage factory rumours: a criticism of the Soviet (economic) system?
The sausage factory rumour: aggression and control
Legend and humour
Chapter 5 – On the reception of the sausage factory story today
Legends: a source of memoirs and biographies
On the content, structure and means of describing the Tartu narratives
The ‘forbidden city’ and forbidden memories
The sausage factory rumour as part of the identity of the pre-war generation
When survival becomes ordeal: informants’ answers
They might come back – the story without an ending
Chapter 6 – Rumour as a metaphor for social truth
List of illustrations
Archival sources
Interviews, correspondence, manuscript biographies
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