|< Prev||Next >|
Fate of the Members of Estonia’s Governments
During the summer of 1940, soon after the occupation of the Republic of Estonia, the repressive structures of the USSR initiated a campaign of persecution, the brunt of which was directed against members of the military leadership and the police structures of Estonia, and the political leadership, including former government members.
The only former Head of State (the Estonian word for President at the time was “Riigivanem” –State Elder) who was left untouched by these repressive measures was August Rei, who succeeded in escaping to Sweden at the end of July in 1940. Konstantin Päts, who was the first President of Estonia and who had served several terms as State Elder, was deported to Ufa in the USSR at the end of July in 1940 along with his family, where they lived in banishment. After the outbreak of war between the USSR and Germany, Konstantin Päts was arrested, tried, found guilty, and sent to a prison camp. In 1954 Päts was brought to the Jämejala Mental Institution in Estonia for some time, but was later transferred back to Russia. He died on January 18, 1956 in the Burashevo Mental Hospital near Kalinin.
Otto Strandman committed suicide on February 16, 1941 at his farm near Kadrina, after having received a summons telling him to report to the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs. The remaining 8 former State Elders were arrested during the first year of occupation. Friedrich Akel and Jüri Jaakson were condemned to death and shot. Akel was executed on July 3, 1941 in Tallinn, and Jaakson was killed on April 20, 1942 in Russia. It is believed that Jaan Tõnisson and Jaan Teemant were condemned to death on July 2 and were shot on the following day in Tallinn. Ado Birk, who had also been condemned to death, died in a prison camp on February 1942 before the sentence could be carried out, and Ants Piip died on October 1, 1941 in the Perm Prison Camp, before being brought to trial. Both Kaarel Eenpalu and Juhan Kukk, who had received prison sentences, died in 1942 in Russia.
The governments of Estonia during the 1918–1940 period consisted of 105 men, in addition to the 11 State Elders. By the time Estonia was occupied, some of them were no longer among the living, while others had departed from Estonia, in some cases as part of the organized emigrations of the Baltic Germans. 70 former cabinet members remained within the reach of the Soviet occupation forces, of whom Theodor Rõuk committed suicide on July 21, 1940 in Tallinn. 47 former ministers were arrested within a year, and almost all of them (44) were shot to death or died in prison.
During the first year of occupation, almost all of the eleven members of the last Estonian government were also arrested. The only one who escaped arrest was Prime Minister Jüri Uluots. Nine of the members of the last government were executed or died in the prison camps.
In the fall of 1944, immediately after the return of the Soviet occupation, the repressions continued. Since part of the group of ministers who had remained at liberty up until that point had left the country during the war or had perished as a result of the war, only 13 former ministers were still in Estonia after the end of hostilities. Ten of them were arrested within a short time, and only 4 survived their terms in confinement. All in all, of all of the members of Estonia’s governments who had been in the clutches of the occupying force, only 3 escaped direct personal persecution.
Liquidation of local government in Estonia
By 1940, Estonia had developed a two-tiered system of local government, based on county governments, and town and municipal governments, which had a long tradition, although the legislative basis was only a few years old. Soviet public law, however, did not recognize the concept of local governments, and in the Soviet Union these were replaced by so-called local state bodies of power, which, unlike democratic local governments, did not decide on how to deal with local matters with the participation of the local residents, but were totally under the control of the central government. It is understandable that local governments, as institutions characteristic of the rule of law, were a problem for the new authorities from the beginning of the occupation. Reorganization was also hastened by the fact that the influence of Soviet power in the countryside was particularly weak, and Soviet land reform had been instituted, but this could not be carried out under the rule of the existing municipal governments, the majority of which consisted of farm owners. It could even be said that the Sovietization of local governments started somewhat earlier than that of the central government.
By the end of June-beginning of July, all the county elders and mayors of the larger towns had already been replaced. The next fundamental step was taken on July 25th when the local government councils were disbanded; this, in turn, provided a formal legal basis for the rapid replacement of the executive bodies – town and municipal governments – appointed by the councils
During the first days of August, the purges reached the municipal governments when, in one fell swoop, Interior Minister Maksim Unt discharged all the municipal elders and appointed new ones. The overwhelming majority were new people; municipal elders were not replaced in only 15% of the municipals. Beginning in September, the municipal secretaries were also replaced. The municipal elders, who according to the Municipal Act, which was prepared during, and in the spirit of, an authoritarian regime, possessed great power, as well as real authority in the eyes of the local residents, and the municipal secretary was usually one of the most influential men in his municipal. The majority were educated and experienced people, who had held these jobs for years, even decades, many throughout the entire period of independence.
The last independence-era municipal elders and municipal secretaries were forced out during the elimination of municipal and county governments and their replacement by executive committees, which was carried out as part of continued Sovietization in January-February of 1941.
The destruction of the local governments was accompanied by personal repressions of the leaders of local governments. The repressions primarily affected county elders, but also municipal elders and secretaries. Since many of these men had also held positions of authority in the local chapters of organizations that were declared to be so-called hostile to the people – the Defense League and Fatherland League – this provided the authorities with reasons for their repression.
The last five men, arrested as county elders, were detained in 1940–1941 and they all perished in Russian prison camps. Immediately after the war, four more county elders were arrested and only two men succeeded in escaping abroad. Forty municipal elders (16% of the total) are known to have been repressed in 1940–1941, of these 36 were shot or perished in prison. After the war, the Soviet authorities additionally repressed at least 73 former municipal elders. The fate of the municipal secretaries was similar to that of the municipal elders: of the last independence-era municipal secretaries, 45 men (about 20%) were imprisoned during the first years of the Soviet occupation and only ten managed to survive their imprisonment.
Fate of the Estonian Armed Forces
One of the most important tasks that the Soviet occupation forces faced up until the summer of 1940–1941 was bringing the Estonian Armed Forces under control and neutralizing them. At the same time that the Soviets grabbed power, their propagandists spread the rumor that the Republic of Estonia would be given a status similar to that of Outer Mongolia, and that Soviet garrisons would not interfere in the internal affairs of Estonia. Initially the rumor served to pacify the Estonian Army, and thereby fulfilled its main goal: to avoid possible large-scale revolts by the army. It was possible to allow Estonian officers to continue to serve in their positions thanks to the fact that beginning from the time that Soviet bases were allowed into Estonia – intelligence units of the NKVD and Red Army started to collect information about all career officers and non-commissioned officers. On June 21, 1940, after the coup d’etat carried out by the Soviets, the intelligence-gathering efforts of the special units were still underway. As a result, Politburo member Andrei Zhdanov gave the order that no soldiers were to be allowed to retire before the investigations were completed.
(From the book “The Estonian People’s Year of Suffering”, without reference to exact sources.)
Of the 14,000 men on active duty in the Estonian Armed Forces in 1939 – at the beginning of World War II – 12,533 were transferred to the Red Army and formed into the 22nd Territorial Corps. Some officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers had already been arrested before June of 1941, but their exact number is not known. In June of 1941, 323 officers were arrested or sent to Russia. In July of 1941, when the 22nd Territorial Corps was sent to Russia, 1,120 men (120 officers, 200 non-commissioned officers, 800 enlisted men) deserted or simply remained behind. 5,573 Estonians are reported to have reached the front.
654 political workers were sent to the Corps from the Leningrad party organization to improve the fighting ability of the 22nd Territorial Corps. 30–40 Communists mobilized by the Party were sent to every unit. These, together with the political workers, took up positions behind the fighting units and fired upon all who attempted to retreat.
From July 3rd until September 1941, 4,201 Estonian soldiers (316 officers, 397 non-commissioned officers, 3,488 enlisted men) who had been in the Red Army went missing (the majority deserted, but some were taken prisoner). By August 27th, 2,305 soldiers of the 22nd Territorial Corps had fallen. (85 officers, 220 non-commissioned officers, 1,800 soldiers. It is unclear how many were soldiers of Estonian extraction, and how many were replacements from the USSR). More than 500 Estonian soldiers continued to serve in the Corps. On September 28, 1941, 1st Rank Army Commissar Lev Mehlis – the Head of the Main Political Administration Directorate of the Red Army – issued a directive sending them to work battalions in the GULAG. After the first months of the war between the Soviet Union and Germany, Estonian units consisting of trained career servicemen ceased to exist in the Red Army.
Elimination of the Officer Corps
The cream of the crop of the Estonian officer corps was eliminated in two stages. The effects of the destruction of the Estonian officer corps and its traditions can be felt to this day.
Officers who had retired or had been assigned to the reserves before June of 1941 were included in the deportation lists compiled by the NKVD (based on the intelligence previously gathered) and sent to prison camps in northern Russia and the Urals. With a few exceptions, they were all shot or they perished (about 200 men).
In order to eliminate the career officers in the Summer Training Camp with the Territorial Corps near Pechori, a different kind of plan was worked out, because these officers had their personal weapons, and they remained in command of Estonian troops. On June 3rd and 4th, NKVD workers presented the Corps Commissars with lists of men to be deported in the first order. On June 7th, notification was made that the Corps had been assigned a new staff. At the same time, new commanders were also assigned to both divisions of the Corps. The former cadre was then sent to training courses in higher institutions of military education in Moscow. 24 of the Corps’ senior officers were separated from the unit in this way. 19 of them were arrested at the purported training courses and sent to prison camps, where almost all of them perished.
The officers and some non-commissioned officers remaining in the Summer Camp were arrested and deported along with other Estonian citizens and residents during the mass deportations of June 1941. The Pechori Home Guard building was designated as the site where the arrests would take place, and it was staffed with a special company of sentries for this purpose.
On June 13th, a training demonstration was organized for one of the divisions, which the unarmed division was taken to view. After a few hours, messengers appeared with lists, and the officers listed were called to headquarters immediately. When the enlisted men returned to their billets, they were told that the officers had been taken to training in Latvia. At the same time, they were told that some type of epidemic had broken out in the nearby settlement of Pechori, and that they were forbidden to leave the camp.
The officers of the other division were summoned to Headquarters after the evening roll call, and were told to take along their personal weapon, map case and a suitcase with personal belongings. The more than 200 officers and non-commissioned officers to be arrested were sent by car to Pechori, where they were confined to the Home Guard building. Armed NKVD guards were posted in front of the building. At the kangaroo court that was then held, the officers were informed that they had been degraded and that they stood accused of organizing counterrevolution and sabotage. The arrested officers were taken to the Pechori train station, which was surrounded by NKVD units, and loaded on a train. The train was routed through Latvia and Lithuania, taking on arrested officers from these countries along the way. The prisoners were sent on to the Juhnovo camp near Katyn. After the beginning of the war, the prisoners were transported beyond the Polar Circle to the 7th Strict Regime Special Camp in Norilsk, were the prisoners were forced to mine metal ore. Due to the inhuman living and working conditions there, only 24 of the more than 300 officers, (less than 10%) finally returned home. Some of the senior officers were taken to the shores of Lake Lama, where they were made to erect a rest home for the top workers of the Norilsk factory and camp complex. Living conditions on the shores of Lake Lama were somewhat better than in Norilsk. 22 (54%) of the 41 senior officers brought from the Baltic States died there or were shot.
The following chart provides an overview of the fate of Estonian generals and admirals
|Name||Last position in the Estonian Armed Forces||Arrested||Fate|
|Major General Herbert Brede||Commander of the 3rd Division||June 28, 1941||Executed October 6, 1942 in Norilsk|
|Major General Otto Heinze||Retired in 1936. Last position: permanent member of the Council of the Ministry of Defense, previously Head of the 1st Division||Relocated to Germany in March of 1941. Died on June 8, 1968 in Bad Windsheim|
|Major General Judge Advocate Nikolai Helk (Tsistjakov)||Chairman of the High Military Court||September 17, 1940||Executed May 14, 1941 in Tallinn|
|Major General Aleksander Jaakson||Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces||October 18, 1940||Executed October 2, 1942 in Kirov Oblast|
|Major General Surgeon Martin-Volmer Jervan (Gross)||Head of the Armed Forces Health Administration||March 8, 1941||Executed October 15, 1942 in Tseljabinsk|
|Major General Gustav Jonson||Inspector General of the Cavalry, aide-de-camp to the President||July 19, 1941||Died November 15, 1942 in the Tseljabinsk Prison Camp|
|Major General August Kasekamp||1st Assistant Officer to the Head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces||July 1941||Died October 5, 1942 in a prison camp in the Saratov Oblast|
|Major General Hugo Kauler||Inspector General of the Field Artillery||July 1941||Executed September 22, 1942 on the shores of Lake Lama near Norilsk|
|Major General Jaan Kruus||Commander of the 2nd Division||July 1941||Executed May 15, 1942 in Moscow|
|Major General Hans Kurvits||Permanent member of the Council of the Armed Forces, former Commander of the Border Guard||June 14, 1941||Executed December 27, 1942 in Sosva Prison Camp|
|General Johan Laidoner||Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces||Deported July 7, 1940, arrested June 28, 1941||Died on March 13, 1953 in Vladimir Prison|
|Major General Andres Larka||Retired in 1925. Last position as assistant to the Minister of War||July 23, 1940||Died January 3, 1942. In Malmo in the Kirov Oblast|
|Major General Surgeon Hans Leesment||Chairman of the Estonian Red Cross||Died August 26, 1944 in Tallinn|
|Lieutenant General Paul-Adolf Lill||Retired in 1939. Last position, Minister of Defense||June 14, 1941||Died March 13, 1942 in Sverdlovsk Prison|
|Major General Surgeon Arthur Lossmann||Retired in 1935. Last position: Head of the Armed Forces Health Administration||Escaped to Germany in 1944. Died in London on August 1, 1972.|
|Major General Jaan Maide||Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces in September 1944 in the government headed by Otto Tief||October 24, 1944||Executed on August 10, 1945 in Moscow|
|Major General Johannes Orasmaa (Roska)||Head of the Home Guard||July 19, 1940||Died on May 24, 1943 in Kirov Prison|
|Major General Surgeon Aleksander Paldrok||Retired 1934. Worked last as adviser on skin diseases to the Armed Forces Health Service||Died on July 1, 1944 near Kuressaare|
|Rear Admiral Johan Pitka||Retired in November of 1919. Final position, Commander of the Estonian Navy||Believed to have died in combat in September of 1944 in Harju or Lääne county|
|Major General Aleksander Voldemar Pulk||Commander of the 1 style="font-family: Arial; vertical-align: super;">st Division||Dragooned into the Red Army||Perished on August 18, 1941 on the steamer “Sibir” on the Gulf of Finland (as an officer dragooned by the Soviets)|
|Major General Surgeon Ludvig Puusepp||Specialist in neurology for the Estonian Army||Died on October 19, 1942 in Tartu|
|Lieutenant General Nikolai Reek||Minister of War||March 12, 1941||Executed May 8, 1942 in Solikamisk Prison Camp|
|Major General Rudolf Reiman||Head of the Supply Command||Died September 16, 1946 in Tallinn|
|Major General Voldemar Viktor Rieberg||Retired in 1939. Last position: Inspector General with the Engineering Corps Inspectorate||Relocated to Germany in 1939. Served in different positions within the Wehrmacht during WW II. Died on September 21, 1952 in Baden-Baden|
|Major General Tõnis Rotberg||Assistant to the Minister of War, former Head of the Supply Command||September 1944||Died on July 24, 1953 in the Taiset Prison Camp|
|Rear Admiral Alexander Eduard von Salza||Permanent member of the Council of the Ministry of War, previously Commander of the Fleet||In the spring of 1945 in Germany||Died on January 23, 1946 in Moscow, in the Butorka Prison|
|Major General Jaan Soots||Retired in 1920. Last position: Chief of Staff of Armed Forces Headquarters||September 20, 1940||Executed February 6, 1942 in Perm Oblast in the Ussolje Prison Camp|
|Major General Otto Sternbeck||Retired in 1937. Last position as the Minister of Transportation, previously Inspector General of the Infantry||Executed July 23, 1941 in Tallinn.|
|Major General Richard Tomberg||Commander of the Air Defense Forces||January 1944||Was in prison from 1944–1956, accused of being an English spy, died on May 25, 1982 in Tallinn|
|Major General August Traksmaa (Traksmann)||Assistant to the Minister of War, former Acting Commander of the 2nd Division||June 14, 1941||Executed on July 16, 1942 in the Gorelniki Prison Camp|
|Major General Aleksander Tõnisson||Retired in 1934. Last position: permanent member of the Council of the Ministry of Defense, previously the Commander of the 1st Division||December 19, 1940||Executed on July 30, 1941 in Tallinn|
|Major General Juhan Tõrvand||Sent into retirement in 1935. Last position: Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces||June 14, 1941||Died May 12, 1942 in the Vjatka Prison Camp in the Kirov Oblast|
Fate of Estonia’s Judges
The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia stipulated that justice be administered by independent courts. District courts fulfilled the function of lower-level (first instance) general courts. Circuit courts dispensed justice at the second level. In 1940, there were four circuit courts in Estonia – the Tallinn, Viljandi, Tartu and Rakvere Circuit Courts. The highest-level court was the Supreme Court, which heard appeals. The Supreme Court would either concur with the decisions that had been adopted or send them back to the circuit courts.
Changes began in July of 1940, when senior judges as well as prosecutors were dismissed. On July 17, Acting Prosecutor of the Chamber of Courts Gustav Avald was dismissed, followed by the Prosecutor at the Supreme Court Johannes Müller on August 8, and the Chairman of the Chamber of Courts Jaak Reichmann on August 13 (since he had reached retirement age). Formal justifications were provided for their departure, such as their having reached retirement age, but also on grounds of health problems and because of personal reasons.
The replacement of judges had already begun during the puppet regime of Johannes Vares, but not on a massive scale. This continued in stages until June of 1941.
During the summer of 1940, the chairmen of the circuit courts were also replaced. The younger jurists who took their places were graduates of the Faculty of Law of Tartu University, and were individuals that the occupying power regarded as somewhat more trustworthy than their predecessors. There were many jurists in Estonia. It was possible to study at the Faculty of Law even if one was working at the same time. This was an opportunity used by many students who were not well off. In left-wing circles, it was not unusual for someone to have a degree in law, and the occupation forces recruited new cadre in these circles.
Political repressions were coordinated by operative groups of the NKVD of the USSR. To do this, they initially drew on rights given to the Chief of Internal Defense under conditions of Martial Law. They employed the political police, which was staffed by communists. Sentences now began to be passed by various tribunals and Special Councils, as designated by the Code of Criminal Justice of the Russian SFSR.
In 1940, the Estonian Supreme Court consisted of 16 Justices. The veteran Chairman of the Court Kaarel Parts died of natural causes on December 5, 1940, and another Justice also died during 1940. Six justices were imprisoned during the 1940–1941 period. They all perished in the prison camps. Two were arrested after the war. One Justice died while trying to escape across the Baltic Sea during the fall of 1944. Five Justices managed to avoid being arrested.
In 1940, the Chamber of the Courts and the four circuit courts consisted of 70 judges. 15 of them were arrested during 1940 and 1941. All of those arrested perished in the prison camps. Of these, six were shot or died before they were to be executed. One judge died while trying to escape across the Baltic Sea during the fall of 1944. After the war, an additional seven former judges were imprisoned.
Dismantling of the Estonian Court System and Formation of the ESSR Court System in 1940–1941
In the summer of 1940, the complete reorganization of the courts in Estonia was not immediately undertaken. Political repressions were carried out at the direction of NKVD operational groups, using the authority granted to the chief of internal security by the law on the defense situation and by political police manned by Communists. The cares of the detained people was processed by the members of the NKVD operational group on the basis of the Russian SFSR Criminal Code, despite the fact that it was not formally valid on Estonian territory.
The ESSR Constitution ratified on August 25, 1940 fixed the basis for a new, ESSR court system. Aleksander Jõeäär was appointed the People’s Commissar of Justice of the ESSR; Ferdinand Adamson, a former Estonian Red Army soldier who served in the Cheka and NKVD from 1929 to 1938, was named the head of the administration of judicial bodies.
On November 16, 1940 the reorganization of the judicial bodies according to the Soviet system was started. Accordingly divisional courts were reorganized into people’s courts, district courts into courts of the same name that deliberated judicial matters of the first- and second-degree. The Estonian Supreme Court was abolished. The appointment of District Court and Supreme Court members was confirmed first by the Bureau of the Estonian Communist Party Central Committee, and thereafter, they were “elected” by the December 31, 1940 decree of the ESSR Supreme Soviet.
Since the special courts-war tribunals and circuit courts, as well as NKVD and NKGB Special Councils-which reported to the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, passed guilty sentences for people imprisoned for political reasons there was no direct reason to hurry with the complete takeover of the local courts. Besides, in the situation where, formally, the code of laws of the Republic of Estonia was still valid until the end of 1940, a reliable cadre possessing the necessary competence, and also loyal to the occupation forces, was lacking. It was assumed that judges would possess university degrees in law. Personnel brought from the Soviet Union was not suitable for Estonian courts since they lacked knowledge about the laws of the Republic of Estonia and could not speak Estonian.
On December 16, 1940, the Criminal Code of the Russian SFSR formally became valid in Estonia, which in practice had been true since the beginning of the summer. Retroactively, it was also applied to many cases that had taken place before July 21, 1940. Now members of the Supreme Court and District Courts were replaced with lawyers brought to Estonia from the Soviet Union. On March 31, 1941, Ivan Haritonov was named to be the First Deputy of the Chairman of the Tartu District Court; on April 28, 1941, Johannes Evertson was named Chairman of the Viljandi District Court, Bernhard Rosenbaum Chairman of the Rakvere District Court and Theodor Unt Chairman of the Tallinn District Court. In March and June of 1941, Ljudmilla Vallner and Aleksei Vassiljev were named to be members of the Tallinn District Court; in March 1941, Vassili Zaitsev was appointed First Deputy of the Chairman of the Rakvere District Court, as well as others. In June 1941, Leonid Jürgens was appointed Chairman of the Supreme Court and Vassili Gussev was named as a member; at the end of 1940, Aleksei Korotkov was named First Deputy of the Chairman of the Supreme Court. These judges were brought to Estonia from the Soviet Union. In April of 1941, Nadežda Tihhanova-Veimer (spouse of Arnold Veimer, ESSR Light Industry People’s Commissar), a spinner at a calico-printing works and figure in the workers’ movement who possessed no legal education, was named as a member of the ESSR Supreme Court.
The retroactive implementation of Russian laws and the passing of judgment in tribunals and Special Counsels made it possible to make people in the state service of the Estonian Republic, politicians, military personnel, public figures, members of social organizations, entrepreneurs, and farmers into potential criminals who were sent to prison camps or sentenced to death primarily on the basis of § 58 (counter-revolutionary crimes) of the Russian SFSR Criminal Code. The family members of those repressed were deported into the furthest hinterlands of Russia and Siberia.
Soviet ideologues based the repression of the residents of Estonia, as well as the other countries and territories occupied in 1939 to 1940, on the theory of “the intermediary period of counter revolution (this meant the independence period in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the period that western Ukraine, western Belarus, northern Bukovina and Bessarabia were part of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania respectively) during the implementation of Soviet power.”