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According to different sources, the number of World War II refugees ranged between 7.5 and 30 million, including over 200 000 Baltic people who fled to the West among them.
Baltic refugees were able to retain their identity thanks to the cultural and educational life of the Baltic communities that had begun already in the DP camps. Formation of the earliest cultural history archives dates back to the same period. After leaving DP camps, Baltic refugees moved on to Sweden, the United States, Australia, Canada and other countries where the local Baltic communities founded their archives that have been functioning thanks to the support and voluntary work of the community members. The aim of these archives has been to gather and preserve the history of the Baltic people in exile – archival materials, printed matter, art, ethnographic and other items. Memory institutions have formed the basis of national culture supporting and safeguarding the continuity of historic knowledge.
With the political changes of end of the 1980s, memory institutions in the Baltic countries also became involved in collecting the cultural heritage of the Baltic Diaspora, as a result of which part of these materials have been brought to the Baltic states. However, a large majority of the archival resources is still preserved abroad, in community and private archives, but also in national memory institutions of the countries with the Baltic Diaspora. In 2005 gathered a work group consisting of the representatives of the Estonian memory institutions and those of the Estonian Diaspora. Their task was to coordinate and facilitate the mapping and preservation of the cultural heritage of the Estonian Diaspora. By the present day the cooperation network has been extended to reach partners from Latvia and Lithuania as well as from the Latvian and Lithuanian Diaspora. In January 2008 was established a new NGO, the Baltic Heritage Network, focussing on organisation of thematic events, gathering of information on Baltic archives abroad in the portal BaltHerNet (www.balther.net) as well as on dissemination of archival know-how and best practices among Baltic communities.
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