neljapäev, september 21, 2006

Four Days of Freedom

There is a reason the memory of World War II is so alive in these first years of the 21st Century. And that reason is that very soon, the adult memory of that era will be wiped from the planet by mortality. Soldiers of age 20 in 1945 are 81 years old today. Every day more and more disappear. What we are left with are the memories of children who suffered across the globe through an adult world in complete chaos. When people look back at the Second World War, all adults - from Michigan to Moscow - should feel shame. We are charged with protecting our children from danger and ensuring our children a peaceful and safe upbringing. But the promise of a happy and sane life was not enough to keep Germans from marching on Paris, Japanese from marching on China, or Russians from marching on Tallinn. It's perhaps one of the most embarassing moments in humanity.

In those terrifying moments though, there were the attempts of men to do the right thing. And on September 18 in Estonia, one such attempt was made by Jüri Uluots to save his country and preserve the rule of law before Stalinist Russia took it back four days later. As explains -

On September 18, 1944, as Nazi occupation forces started to evacuate the remaining Estonian territory that they held, and Red Army troops were closing on Tallinn, Jüri Uluots, as the Prime Minister acting as provisional President, appointed a new Government headed by Otto Tief [pictured], the Deputy Prime Minister acting as Prime Minister, who was also Minister of the Interior.

The Government also included Johan Holberg (Minister of Defense), Hugo Pärtelpoeg (Finance Minister), Johannes Pikkov (Minister of Transportation), Rudolf Penno (Minister of Commerce and Industry), August Rei (Foreign Minister), Juhan Kaarlimäe (Minister without portfolio), Arnold Susi (Minister of Education), Kaarel Liidak (Minister of Agriculture), Voldemar Sumberg (Social Minister) and Johannes Klesment (Minister of Justice). In addition, Oskar Gustavson was named State Comptroller; Helmut Maandi, Secretary of State (Head of the Chancellery); Endel Inglist, Deputy Secretary of State; Jaan Maide, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces; and Juhan Reigo, Head of Internal Defense. Two issues of the State Gazette and a governmental declaration were issued in the name of the Government of Otto Tief. Soviet troops conquered Tallinn on September 22, 1944.

And what happened to Estonia's government after it had been 'liberated' on Sept 22, 1944 by The Soviets?

Rudolf Penno and August Rei had left Estonia by the time they were appointed to the Tief Government. Johan Holberg, Johannes Klesment and Helmut Maandi succeeded in escaping from Estonia. Kaarel Liidak went underground in southern Estonia in April 1944, managed to evade detection by both the SD as well as the NKGB, and died in 1945. The NKGB and counterintelligence operatives of the Leningrad Front of the Red Army imprisoned the rest of the members of the Tief Government. Jaan Maide, Juhan Reigo and Endel Inglist were sentenced to death and executed in 1945; Oskar Gustavson was killed while trying to escape from interrogation in 1945; in most cases the rest were sentenced to prison for 10 year terms. Otto Tief (died 1976), Arnold Susi (died 1968), Juhan Kaarlimäe (died 1977) and Richard Övel managed to return to Estonia; but the others all died in Russia. Voldemar Sumberg was freed from prison camp in 1960 and remained in the Kemerovo oblast in Russia, where he died. In 1969, Juhan Kaarlimäe was arrested again for some time. The other government members who returned to Estonian were kept under surveillance by the Soviet secret police.

Tomorrow, there may be some commotion over these events. Some individuals, residents and citizens of Estonia, will attempt to lay flowers in commemoration of the fall of the Estonian government on September 22. Others may carry around an Estonian flag and beat their chests to remind people that Estonia was occupied in 1944. What may be forgotten during these events is what actually happened for four days in Estonia in 1944. The Estonian flag flew from Pikk Hermann, just as it does now, and a few grown-ups tried to restore some type of normality to their country before it was overrun by deportations, executions, and terror.

Humanity doesn't have the greatest track record, but it's nice to know that once in awhile we try.

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