Estonian dreams of freedom destroyed

[highlight color=#41496C ]The Red and Brown Heroes of Estonia. Part two: Estonian dreams of freedom destroyed[/highlight]

 

The first occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed on the 23rd of August 1939. It was in this agreement that the Communists and the Nazis carved out their own spheres of influence in Europe

[dropcap size=small]A[/dropcap]s has been known since 1989, Estonia was given over to Stalin. The pact allowed Hitler’s attack on Poland on the 1st of September 1939, unleashing the Second World War. As was agreed between the two dictators, Russia entered the war on the 17th of September when her troops moved into Eastern Poland.

The Red Fleet in Tallinn 1940
The Red Fleet in Tallinn 1940

After the conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Russia issued Estonia with an ultimatum demanding their agreement in the establishment of Soviet military bases on Estonian territory. By October, 437,235 soldiers, 2635 shooters and 3052 tanks had already been prepared to attack the Baltic States – Estonia and Latvia. In addition, the Red Fleet had blockaded sea ports and the air force had invaded Estonian airspace. Thus, the smallest of the Baltic States had no choice but to surrender to pressure from the East. Lithuania and Latvia were also coerced into signing similar agreements. These agreements legalised Stalin’s plans for the annexation of the Baltic States.

After the Soviet Army stationed itself at these bases, Estonia ceased to be an independent state. Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin’s special representative (and, incidentally, the former father-in-law of the dictator’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva) arrived in Tallinn. According to his instructions, a new pro-Communist government was formed in preparation for the country’s eventual accession into the Soviet Union.

Johannes Vares-Barbarus – Chariman of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR
Johannes Vares-Barbarus – Chariman of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR

The first year of Communist rule took place under a Soviet puppet – Johannes Vares-Barbarus; an Estonian poet, writer, political figure and a radical socialist. In the period from the 21st of June to the 25th of August 1940, Barbarus’ government saw the annexation of the Estonian SSR into the Soviet Union on the 25th of August 1940. Until his death he was the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR and, from September 1940, a member of the Central Committee of the Estonian Communist Party. During the German occupation of Estonia (1941-1944), Barbarus was evacuated, returning home after the expulsion of the Fascist troops. He committed suicide in 1946.

This first year proved to be a very difficult time; Stalin’s secret authorities unleashed a Red Terror, arresting and murdering thousands of Estonian citizens. The violence reached its peak on the 14th of June 1941, when approximately 10,000 people – mainly women and children – were loaded into cattle wagons and deported to Siberia. In the period between 1940 and 1941, 52,750 people in all were suppressed by the Soviet authorities, of which 18,090 perished.

The deportation of Estonians in 1941
The deportation of Estonians in 1941

Trapped in a struggle against Estonian partisans – so-called “Forest Brothers” who fought a guerrilla war to defeat the Communist terror – the Red Army barely noticed when, on the 7th of July, the German vanguard crossed the Estonian border.

German general Halder with his staff on the Soviet-Estonian border in 1939
German general Halder with his staff on the Soviet-Estonian border in 1939

As the Soviet Occupation began to take on untold dimensions, the Estonians decided to use the war between the USSR and Germany in their own interests, attempting to restore their lost independence. “Erna” – a Finnish reconnaissance organisation – took up the cause of the Forest Brothers.  This reconnaissance and sabotage group was created in Finland by the German military intelligence organisation Abwehr. In 1941, it departed from Finnish territory, making seaborne landing at the rear of the Red Army. The group included 38 Estonian soldiers and four officers who had undergone special training. Having landed on the Kolga Gulf, the saboteurs engaged in fighting with the troops of the NKVD. Two days later, the group was surrounded and annihilated in the wetlands of Northern Estonia. In cooperation with Estonian groups, the Germans were able – step-by-step – to take Tallinn on the 28th of August 1941.

 

Estonian dreams of freedom destroyed

Street patrol in Tallinn from the newspaper “Communist” (25th of August 1941)
Street patrol in Tallinn from the newspaper “Communist” (25th of August 1941)

[dropcap size=small]T[/dropcap]he blue-black-white flag raised by Estonians on Cathedral Mountain was replaced on the very same day by the colours of German military imperialism. By the 2nd of December, Hitler’s army had gained control over the very last area – the island of Osmusaar. Estonia had changed hands once again.

In 1941, many believed that, with the help of the Germans, the Estonian government would soon be restored. Thousands of troops enlisted voluntarily in the German army on the Eastern Front. They had hoped for Russia’s quick defeat and for the release of those compatriots who had been sent to Siberia. By February 1942, 20,867 Estonians were serving in the German forces.

Recruitment of volunteers into the Estonian Legion 1942-1943
Recruitment of volunteers into the Estonian Legion 1942-1943

However, if, in the beginning, the relations between Estonia and German were ones of friendship, the mood swiftly changed as it became clear that National Socialist Germany had no interest in preserving the independent Estonian state. On the 29th of July 1941, Yuri Uluots – the representative of Konstantin Pyats (Estonia’s first president; deported to Russia) – informed the German leadership of the political and diplomatic memorandum drawn up to demand the restoration of the country’s independence. This would be the beginning of the struggle against the German occupation which would soon result in the beginning of a real resistance movement.

 

The red and brown heroes of Estonia (part one)

<<< To be continued >>>

 

BY AINO ZIEBERT | TRANSLATION:  SARAH COMMONS

 

[divider]About the author: [/divider]

Aino Zibert was born in Tallinn. In 1971, he left Estonia for Finland, where he worked for twelve years. She has been living in Germany since 1984. She has been working as a freelance journalist and photographer for the past ten years. Since the beginning of 2010, this Estonian native has been a member of the German edition of the Baltic Review (“Baltische Rundschau”).

 

 

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