neljapäev, veebruar 11, 2010

käärmann

People talk about war too much, maybe because violence seems so profound, maybe because for people like me who have never been in one, it's hard to connect with those who have, people who have known true horror, those who have run through the woods with weapons, hunting one another like they were wild game. Alfred Käärmann was intimately acquainted with such terror. He died Feb. 4 at the age of 87.

Käärmann's story is similar to that of many metsavennad, the Estonian republican "forest brother" guerrilla groups that fought the Soviets in this country deep into the 1950s. He was drafted into service by the German Reich in February 1944, fought on the eastern front, and went into the woods in Võrumaa in October 1944. The next year, he lost his arm after a fight with Red Army troops. Despite this, he spent seven more years in hiding until his capture in 1952. He did time in Soviet labor camps until 1967, and was only allowed to return to Estonia in 1981.

In his later years, Käärmann was a member of the Congress of Estonia that led the movement to restore the Estonian state. He was also an author and wrote several books about his experiences. Most importantly, unlike many forest brothers, he lived to tell his tale, to even make it into the New York Times as their Saturday Profile in 2003. Because of his high profile, Käärmann is sort of the forest brother to me, the one who represents all the others. I feel connected to him because of those interviews and books, though I never had the pleasure to meet him in person.

Estonia is a country with strong folk traditions, and I personally feel that the drama that went down in the woods more than 60 years ago is being woven into these traditions. There is something deeply Estonian about going it alone, preferring to live off your wits in a hole in the ground for seven years, even if you've only got one arm, rather than be captured and sent to a prison camp. Resilience is the word. Käärmann was resilient. Some might call such a person a hero. But heroes are still just people, and people die. When they die, they become history.

13 kommentaari:

Martasmimi ütles ...

Nice Obit...and an interesting story.

viimneliivlane ütles ...

People will talk about things they're trying to make sense of and they will keep talking till they are satisfied that it has brought some understanding as much for themselves as well as to others. You don't have to have lived through a war and its related violence - in the case of the Forest Brothers - to need to understand why things happened the way they did.

By the way, surviving Forest Brothers are still getting together and exchanging stories at Represseeritud meetings around Estonia - check it out.

Erik ütles ...

May the memories of the Forest Brothers, and what they fought/stood/hid for live on for those yet to be born, to know, enjoy and love a FREE ESTONIA, FOREVER!!!

McMad ütles ...

The last documented case was that of August Sabbe who, while trying to escape from pursuing KGBers, drowned in Võhandu river in 1978. He must have been around 80 years old.

Kristopher ütles ...

69. The wiki on Säbbe is accurate as far as I can tell. There is also a famous photograph taken by the KGB minutes before his death. I passed the site every time I drove to Võru last summer. I never stopped but reflected on him pretty each time. Lazy river loops and open field may describe the specific spot, but the area is wild, forested country. 1978! That's partly what Lennart Meri meant when he said that WWII didn't end in Estonia until Aug. 31, 1994. Good to hear about other forest brothers like Käärmann.

Kristopher ütles ...

Sabbe, not Säbbe.

Term Papers ütles ...

Great info, i glad to see this blog, such an informative article, Thanks for share this.

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Jens-Olaf ütles ...

The narrative continues. And right, many stories are not told yet. And will not, never. It's too late. Same within our family.
And cause we are so rational and critical it will never see the surface. There is no proof of nothing. Just the story we keep, for ourself.

luuletaja ütles ...

But mostly the activity still died down in the 50-s. There just weren't that many left, nor even place for hundreds to hide. Only "survivors" were lone wolfs.

Troels-Peter ütles ...

So, Käärmann passed away. Praise his memory.

Isn't August Sabbe buried just outside Tartu?

Evil Purc ütles ...

The life of the forest brothers has always fascinated me. They even held cultural events like the forest brothers chess championship... http://www.laidoner.ee/projektid/5/graphics/muudpildid/malediplom.jpg

Note the "Eestile truu surmani" on the diploma, touching. =)

Term Papers ütles ...

Your blog is one of my daily reads, It takes some reading to find all the really interesting stuff, but it's pretty good.


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kärg ütles ...

Thinking about Käärmann, what amazes me most about him is how attentive and caring person he was after all he had experienced. For me, he's an epitome of dignity.

I must say this because Käärmann represents an central figure in my childhood in Võrumaa ... a close family friend and very good with small children. I think we simply regarded him as one of the daily inhabitants of the surrounding forest who sometimes silently appeared in our courtyard (at this time, he didn't live in forest any more but just enjoyed taking very long walks)
R.I.P.