reede, august 08, 2008

eesti leegion

Yesterday morning, I stopped in Rahva Raamat in Tallinn's Old Town to kill some time. I didn't really know what I was looking for, but like all males, I was instantly drawn to the books about war: ah, yes, war -- the most dramatic theater of international relations.

The book is called Eesti Leegion, and it is about Estonian soldiers who fought in the service of the Third Reich during the Second World War. Its main author is former prime minister Mart Laar, who last week published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal condemning both Stalinism and Nazism.

Having read more than I would have liked to on the topic, I agree mostly with Laar's interpretation of history, and I think we in the West do, too. In the Western narrative, like in Estonia, the war begins in 1939 with the partitioning of Poland, not in 1941, as it does in the Russian Federation, with the Nazi invasion, for instance.

Eesti Leegion is a collection of never-before-seen photographs of both those drafted into service in 1944 as well as the batches of volunteers who joined the German Army of their own accord to fight the Soviets in the years 1941-43. Most of new recruits are kids -- probably 18, 19, 20-years-old, typically smiling in the photographs, a natural reaction of any person to the sight of a camera.

The book on several occasions describes the volunteers and draftees as heroes who fought for their country's independence. "A country that does not fight for its freedom does not deserve to be free," the book states. But were these fellows really fighting for "freedom," or were they fighting for local stooge Dr. Hjalmar Mäe -- a portly former Vaps with a mustache who makes sure to heil the fuhrer in many a photo? Were they fighting for their kodumaa, as the recruitment posters attest, or were they fighting for Heinrich Himmler, who makes a cameo in a photo in the book?

Used and Abused

After carefully viewing each sharp, black and white photo, I came away from Eesti Leegion with a profound feeling of sadness. Most of these kids were neither heroes nor villains; they were cannon fodder for sinister men with sinister plans. They were young men, like my brother-in-law, aged 20, and his friends. Today, when they gather, they are accused of glorifying the goals of 1940s Berlin. But is that really the case? I doubt it.

I also felt sad to see the Estonian flag, the sinine must valge, which seems like the most harmless expression of a person's love for their homeland, cynically exploited by the German commanders. It was a smart move from a propaganda standpoint to dress up draftees in nationally themed uniforms and give them the feeling that they were fighting for their own country, rather than on behalf of the Reich. However, for Estonia, the experience tarnished its own nationalism, confusing it with an ideology that is far removed from what this country is about.

Indeed, the photos of Dr. Mäe with his arm outstretched in salute are for Estonians at least as embarrassing as the photos of Johannes Lauristin laying a wreath at Lenin's Tomb in August 1940 on behalf of Eesti NSV. When anyone ever mentions Estonians as "enthusiastic collaborators", it should always be mentioned that there were Estonian "enthusiastic collaborators" on all sides. I am glad that the book puts it all out there for everyone to see and make their own judgments. In this way, it is quite bold.

The larger point that depresses me, though, is that it further convinced me that images and selective history can be made to serve any purpose. In Estonia, old veterans can easily become props with meanings beyond their mortal condition. Arnold Meri is a prop; the Eesti Leegion vets are props. It's like they were used in their youth, and now they are being used in old age. The violence they endured and created is considered to be a profound expression of something, and that something is usually malleable and defined by the storyteller.

New Narrative

One new narrative that has emerged recently is that Estonians in all armies during the Second World War were fighting for the same thing: the restoration of independence. The Finnish boys -- the most politically correct of the lot -- were fighting for "Finland's freedom and Estonia's honor." The German and Red Army vets cancel each other out: one fought against Bolshevist terror, the other against fascism, but all had one dream: to return to the country they knew before 1939.

This is a meme that has surfaced several times in recent weeks and has paired the unlikely sorts of IRL Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo and Estonian Social Democratic Party-founder Marju Lauristin with back to back statements reinforcing the narrative.

"Estonia and its men fought on both sides of the front line not for communism or fascism, but against both of them," Aaviksoo was quoted as saying in the Baltic Times. «Selles mõttes need mehed ei olnud nii väga erinevad [in this regards the men weren't so different],» Lauristin told ERR.

«Seda peab vaatama kui meie rahvuslikku tragöödiat, meie rahvuslikku ajalugu ja sellest tõesti õppima» [We should see this as our national tragedy, our national history, and really learn from this], she said.

I have to say, I like this new narrative. It's also simplistic enough, for those of you tired of arguing about history in all its boring detail, that it could catch on.

26 kommentaari:

Unknown ütles ...

The singular is actually vaps, not vap.

Giustino ütles ...

Like Peeter/Pets, Vambola/Vamps?

Unknown ütles ...

Yup, it's actually also mentioned in the Wikipedia article you are linking to ;)

Karla ütles ...

One thing's sure... None of those lads fought for Hjalmar Mäe, who was universally despised, and put in his job by the Nazi occupation authorities. One the songs sung by the Estonian Legionnaires speaks volumes of how they regarded Mäe and his masters:

Meil Leegionis elu hea,
Võid taevariiki pista oma pea!
Meil vesi, vile, mäda juust
Ja hambad kistakse sul suust -
Mis, mats, saad sinna parata?

Meil rahvajuhiks dr. Mäe
Kes tervituseks tõstab oma käe.
Ta tervitab meid zhestiga,
Käib ringi soomusvestiga,
Ei teda taba ükski surma kuul.

Ta kinkis ära rahva või,
Ja sellega ta suure ohvri tõi.
Ja sina, vaene eestlane,
Pead jääma seega rahule,
Kui sulle armas on su rumal pea!

Karla ütles ...

Significantly, at Nuremberg, the Baltic conscripts into the Waffen-SS were exempted from the 'criminal' designation of others who served in these formations. In addition, the US Government's position regarding Balts inducted into the Waffen-SS was clarified in the following letter, the text of which follows (minus logos, letterheads and stamps):


September 13, 1950

In Reply Refer To:
DPC- 320

Mr. Johannes Kaiv
Acting Consul General of Estonia
In charge of Legation
9 Rockefeller Plaza
New York.

Dear Mr. Kaiv:

Reference is had to your telegram of August 23, 1950 and communication of August 31, 1950 with memorandum from the Estonian Committee in the United States zone of Germany on the question of former Estonian Legionnaires seeking admission to the United States under the Displaced Persons Act, as amended.

In this connection, I should like to inform you that the Commission on September 1, 1950 adopted the following policy:

“The Baltic Waffen S. S. Units (Baltic Legions) are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German S.S., and therefore the Commission holds them not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States under Section 13 of the Displaced Persons Act, as amended.”

In the future, therefore, the cases of applicants for admission into the United States under the Displaced Persons Act, as amended, who have been members of the Baltic Waffen S.S., including the Estonian Legion, will be considered on their individual merits.

Sincerely yours,


Harry N. Rosenfield
Acting Chairman

cjc ütles ...

"the Baltic conscripts into the Waffen-SS were exempted from the 'criminal' designation "
very interesting, I didn t know this before. But this is the Cold War, not the truth, I think.

Giustino ütles ...

One thing's sure... None of those lads fought for Hjalmar Mäe, who was universally despised, and put in his job by the Nazi occupation authorities.

Let's take a step back and ask ourselves why it is so important that we familiarize ourselves with this subject material?

Think about it -- Eesti Leegion comes with a CD of Leegioni Laulud, so you can sing along in your own home. Why?

Forget glorification of fascism or communism, this is the glorification of war. War isn't about getting killed for some stupid idea (be it "Ostland" or Eesti NSV); it's about singing and wearing cool uniforms and smiling for the camera.

Plus, it's not like the Red Army draftees had much of a choice in the matter either. It's kind of unfair to say the Waffen SS draftees are the good guys, but the Red Army Estonian draftees are the bad guys. They were all in a bind.

LPR ütles ...

At least the ones who were taken by germans got to wear Hugo Boss designed uniforms.

These were quite hip if compared to the rooskie uniforms.

Karla ütles ...

They were all in a bind.

Too true. Moral relativism is a luxury of those viewing history through the prism of time from armchairs. Real life often confronts one with hard choices, unpalatable choices, or no choices at all.
In recording great conflicts, what is 'glorified' (I would prefer 'respectfully recorded') is not WAR, but human courage and self-sacrifice in times of extreme adversity.
I've just returned from a tour of the Gettysburg battlefield, my umpteenth in over 30 years. The place and the memories which reside there never fail to move me deeply. Courage is ennobled there, in marble and granite, over a field of 25 square miles. During three hot July days in 1863, some 170,000 Americans met there in the bloodiest conflict ever waged on US soil, the casualties (some 53,000) at a time when the population of the US was a mere 31-32m made losses in two world wars, Korea and Vietnam proportionally pale in comparison.
General Lewis Armistead, who fell leading the Confederate assault on Cemetery Ridge, was a close friend of General Hancock, who opposed him at Bloody Angle, as was General Garnett. Longstreet had served with Ulysses Grant (the Union supremo, but not present at G'burg) and had been best man at Grant's marriage to his (Longstreet's) cousin Julia Dent. General Lee had taught many of the Union commanders while Superintendent at West Point. Countless close relationships amongst opposing commanders on both sides, multiplied manifold down through the ranks, multiplying and exacerbating both the individual tragedies and collective tragedy which played out at this obscure locale near a hitherto peaceful farming community.
What is celebrated is not war, not carnage, but courage in the midst of overwhelming events.
Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, speaking at Gettysburg in 1889 at the regimental reunion of the 20th Maine Infantry, which he had commanded at the Little Round Top:

"In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream, and lo! The shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls."

Chamberlain was right. One can feel it. As darkness fell one day, I was photographing the Alabama memorial when I was approached by a young Chinese microbiologist who spoke to me about her sensations on touring this great and blood-drenched field.

In places like that, the politics, the sides, cease to be relevant. The resonance of courage and sacrifice lingers.

In the Civil War (1861-1865), at a time when the US population was a mere tenth of what it is today, loss of life exceeded that in two world wars. But the animosities arre long gone, and Americans and foreigners come here to pay their respects to what is a national memorial to a national tragedy. And re-enactors in period uniforms playing period instruments from time to time play the marching songs of the Blue and the Gray, and CDs of the songs are readily available. That's part of the history too.

Giustino ütles ...

Too true. Moral relativism is a luxury of those viewing history through the prism of time from armchairs.

Moral relativism is a comfortable viewpoint to reach for in this situation.

I mean, how exactly am I supposed to react to a photo of Heinrich Himmler inspecting the Estonian troops?

How many mixed messages are there in that photo? Estonian guy in foreign army's uniform being inspected by war criminal?

I need to rely on moral relativism -- especially the circumstantial nature of how that soldier wound up in that uniform -- to make sense of a photo like that.

LPR ütles ...

Interesting, what would the world be like had Hitler won?

If nothing else, there'd be less trash in the streets, I imagine. Slavic countries would all have nice autobahns by now with rooskie hipsters listening to Kraftwerk going 120 mph from Milan to Minsk, telling each other Schtirlitz jokes in german for shits and giggles.

Ther won't be any oil crisis as there is no "oil producing countries" or OPEC.

It'll be all cool, perhaps. In that alternate reality that did not happen.

This is my quick armchair analysis and associations that I get out of these pix.

Feel free to pitch in.

LPR ütles ...

Ahh... Just had a good round of internet surfing and watching all the bloody pix coming out of Gruuzia.

Nice, nice, nice.

I take war like I take my porn. I'd prefer that it did not exist. But since it does and it is not up to me to tell people to stop this insanity, I'll do what's there left to do. Just enjoy it. Do not partake, but just watch. And eventually get off.

So I am getting off, metaphorically speaking, wherever and whenever people are enaging in violence. Or meaningless sex. Here I get of literally. But the connection is strong.

I am a war voyeurist. Disgusting and ahh soo sinful and kinky.

So let the blood flow! (If you can't give peace a chance)

Giustino ütles ...

I know, Inner Monologue. All the death and anxiety has everyone soooo excited.

Karla ütles ...

I mean, how exactly am I supposed to react to a photo of Heinrich Himmler inspecting the Estonian troops?

Is that a rhetorical question? Emotional reactions to photos vary with the individual. I can but surmise that your gut-level reaction is similar to my own, negative to the point of revulsion -- revulsion for the oppressive circumstance symbolized by the photo, not revulsion for the paraded lads.

Images of unsavory persons, dictators, etc., inspecting honor guards, even armies in democratic states, abound to this day.

At a more cognizant level, it's well to remember that soldiers in whatever army have no say in who 'inspects' them.

As a participant and spectator at literally countless military parades, though none - happily - in the presence of war criminals, I can confidently assert that -- apart from a deranged tiny minority who relish square-bashing, boot- and brass-polishing and standing immobile for extended
periods in weather that is almost invariably too hot, too cold, or too wet -- soldiers loathe parades as a dreary exercise with perhaps the meagre reward (if they're lucky) of a beer when their travails are done and the inspecting pooh-bahs have departed in their limos.

Maybe the Esto lads ought to have refused to parade when they learned that nasty Heinie was coming to inspect them? Just to spare themselves and future bloggers the 'embarrasment,' I mean. Serving in the ranks of a very 'democratic' formation in the West decades later, some of us also had strong impulses, albeit not ideological, to say 'screw it' to parades on occasion. Somehow, we never did, although the deterrents we faced might have been rather milder than those which obtained among the SS in the occupied territory known collectively as Ostland.

Clearly, you're alluding to a photo of Estonian conscripts into German forces being inspected by a high pooh-bah of the Nazi administration which had occupied their country. It would be more distressing to me had these conscripts been in the uniform and under the command of an Estonian military or civil authority. Clearly, they were not. So my feelings for, and understanding of, their circumstances is entirely similar to my feelings for those Estonians in 1941 (still in their pre-war EDF uniforms) who, incorporated into the 22. Territorial Corps of the Red Army, were paraded for Soviet pooh-bahs even as their officers were being arrested in barracks and spirited off to their deaths in Norilsk, which became the graveyard of the officer corps of the three Baltic republics, in effect, the Katyn of the Baltic military leadership.

And I feel the same mixture of sorrow and distaste when I see photos of throngs of Estonian civilians, many in folk dress, being herded past reviewing stands bearing enormous portraits of that bewhiskered trio (Stalin, Lenin, Marx) and unenthusiastically raising banners proclaiming joy
and gratitude to their new masters at a time when repressions and deportations were at their zenith.

How Estonian soldiers in German service felt about their role is dealt with in ample detail in Valdur Jürissaar's "Kahe rinde vahel." Capt. Valdur Jürisssaar was adjutant to Colonel Alfons Rebane, and the title [trans. "Between Two Fronts] says it all: caught between Nazis and Soviets. It also explains, as do countless other sources, how various Estonian formations raised by the Germans came under the sway of the SS. Quite simply, Himmler, being close to Hitler, won an internal power struggle amongst the Nazi leadership to get dibs on conscription in all occupied countries. The German Army proper (Das Heer), perhaps already uncomfortable with the illegality of dragooning thousands of foreigners into its service, and perhaps with a canny eye out for possible legal, um... complications at war's end, gave up the struggle. Henceforth, the Waffen SS, as a 'political organization' had free rein to induct Balts, Scandinavians, Dutch, French, Belgian Flemings and Walloons, Bosnian Muslims, Ukrainians, Hungarians, and even a small number of Indian POWs from British Imperial forces into its ranks.

There was no 'Estonian' uniform for the Estonian Division of the Waffen-SS (the 'Legion' and 'Brigade' phases were short-lived. Henceforth, all men rounded up from occupied Estonia were collected into the Waffengrenadier Div. der Waffen-SS (20. - estnisch). Standard field-gray issue for the lot, and those who arrived from other formations didn't get a change of uniform, just a change of their collar flashes to the SS runes. In photographs I've seen, and according to veterans I've spoken to, by that stage of the war in the East, you wore whatever was available: likely as not, mismatched pants and tunics, odd mix of headgear (Luftwaffe cap with Wehrmacht tunic), etc.

The wearing of national colors on a blue-black-white shield-shaped shoulder patch was a hard-wrung concession, repeatedly granted by front-line German commanders, in turn repeatedly forbidden by the Nazi leadership in Berlin, then again permitted, etc. This sini-must-valge patch was important to lads who wished to distinguish themselves from the command to which they so forcibly bound.

The 'politically correct' Soomepoisid of JR200 who returned from Finland in September 1944 in time for the final curtain were allowed to keep their Finnish uniforms just long enough to parade from the port to Männiku. Then they had to change to German field gray for their final battles on the Emajõe line.

Perhaps of more substance than the foreign colors they were forced to wear was the undeniable fact that they were fighting for and on their own turf. As Vercingetorix, chieftain of the Avernii, said as he surrendered to Caesar, who executed him after parading him in a cage through Rome:

You can take from us the land where we live, but you cannot take from us the land where we die.

I had the privilege of meeting Col. Rebane when he came to Canada in 1964 to address some of his veterans. His remarks to them, as I recall, echoed the sentiments expressed in his adjutant's book (Jürissaar died in England in the 1950s): "We certainly couldn't choose our commanders or allies. But we did fight the right enemy..."

As to Hjalmar Mäe, never was there a less credible puppet in any state's colonial history. Plucked from obscurity (he wasn't even a leading Vaps!), he owed his so-called 'self-government' appointment not even to the Nazi government in Berlin, but to the commander of the rear areas in Ostland, an infantry general named Franz von Rocques. So, a field officer in a foreign army says, 'OK, Mäe, get out there, do as you're told, and lift your arm and heil away." Mäe, if I recall aright, weaseled out of a sentence at Nuremberg and lived out his days in isolation from his exile compatriots, a pariah, and died in Graz, Austria. He wrote his memoirs, seeking to rationalize his distasteful and limited role as a German overseer, but I've never seen a copy, nor do I know of anyone who has read his apologia.

Perhaps the recently departed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn summed it up best in Gulag Archipelago:

...the tiny Estonian anvil had, from way, way back, been caught between two hammers, the Teutons and the Slavs. Blows showered on it from East and West in turn; there was no end to it, and there still isn't. And there was the well-known (totally unknown) story of how we Russians wanted to take them over in one fell swoop in 1918, but they refused to yield. And how, later on, Yudenitch spoke contemptuously of their Finnish heritage, and we ourselves christened them "White Guard Bandits." Then the Estonian gymnasium students enrolled as volunteers. We struck at Estonia in 1940, and again in 1941, and again in 1944. Some of their sons were conscripted by the Russian Army, and others by the German Army, and still others ran off into the woods. The elderly Tallinn intellectuals discussed how they might break out of that iron ring, break away somehow, and live for themselves and by themselves. Their Premier might, possibly, have been Tief, and their Minister of Eduction, say, Susi. But neither Churchill nor Roosevelt cared about them in the least; but "Uncle Joe" did. And during the very first nights after the Soviet armies entered Tallinn, all these dreamers were seized in their Tallinn apartments. Fifteen of them were imprisoned in various cells of the Moscow Lubyanka, one in each, and were charged under Article 58-2 with the criminal desire for national self-determination.

In view of recent global developments, rather than feeling anything other than pity for the Esto lads of the Legion and ED20, I choose to relish the cosmic ironies perpetrated willingly (not under military orders or distress) by those who ought to have known better, and who had a choice.

Well, there are more than a few 'embarrassing' photos too, many of Putya and Dubya locked in tight embrace, long ago (a couple of years at least) when GWB was still touting Vova as his soulmate. There are LOTS of pics of unholy couplings like that. I've got a good one of Eisenhower hugging Franco in 1959 in Madrid. (Did Mamie know, or suspect...?)

But it gets better. WHO said this, and about whom?

What a man! I have lost my heart!... Fascism has rendered a service to the entire world... If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely from the beginning of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passion of Leninism.

That was Winston Churchill, swooning like a smitten schoolgirl after meeting Mussolini in Rome in 1927.

I guess when you're hot, you're hot. Musso got to FDR too, it seems:

There seems to be no question that [Mussolini] is really interested in what we are doing and I am much interested and deeply impressed by what he has accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy.

-Franklin D. Roosevelt to US Ambassador to Italy Breckinridge Long

Both love affairs soured eventually, as history tells us. Mahatma Gandhi, a much less flamboyant figure than FDR or Winnie, was not immune to Musso's charms, once proclaiming: "Unfortunately, I am no superman like Mussolini..." Whoa up, Mahatma, hold the hyperbole!

Oh, the guy with funny little moustache? Here's my favorite quote about him:

"Yes, Heil Hitler. I, too, say that because he is truly a great man."

--David Lloyd George, Prime Minister, UK

Well, things change. Great powers have interests, not friends. Let's take a snippet from a US State Department document:

"I' a lot of former Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians as voters in America. I realize that the three states have been historically a part of Russia and... I don't intend to go to war about their future. But the big issue in the United States will be the question of a referendum and the right to self-determination. World opinion will want some expression of the will of the people. Perhaps not immediately... but at some stage. Although I'm confident the people there will vote to join the Soviet Union."

--Roosevelt speaking to Stalin on 1 December 1943 at Teheran. SD 760A. 02/10-2753 February 1954.

And there are always second thoughts. When the euphoria of victory had worn off, and the bonhomie of Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam began to fade, Winston Churchill had misgivings about Stalin and, looking back at the war years, privately opined that perhaps "we slaughtered the wrong pig" in WWII. (H. Sündermann, "Old Foe, What Now?")

That's the great thing about history. IT NEVER STOPS... '

And you're right, Giustino. We can only judge the most outrageous events, images and missteps with moral relativism. And a measure of sorrow, pity, and ... irony.

LPR ütles ...

Everything is relative. Morally and otherwise, especially when you have a US passport in your back pocket and you have an opportunity to leave the place should it turn into a war zone like Gruuzia just did.

Russia's in on the move and it is hungry. That's all I am saying.

There may be a lot more to come.

Nicey, nicey, nicey.

Giustino ütles ...

I can but surmise that your gut-level reaction is similar to my own, negative to the point of revulsion -- revulsion for the oppressive circumstance symbolized by the photo, not revulsion for the paraded lads.

Exactly and more. He might as well me waving a turd in front of their faces. Thanks for your posts, here, Karla.

martintg ütles ...

Giustino ütles...
But were these fellows really fighting for "freedom," or were they fighting for local stooge Dr. Hjalmar Mäe

Or were they fighting for Jüri Uluots, the legal representative of the Estonian free republic, who delivered a radio address in 1944 imploring all able-bodied men to report for military service in order to defend Estonia from Soviet re-occupation?

Regardless of one's view of the Estonian Legion, heroes or villains, their actions have provided one lasting legacy: in resisting the Soviet re-occupation of Estonia for eight months, they demonstrated that Estonia never willingly joined the Soviet Union.

Giustino ütles ...

Should we expect a coffee table book on the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps?

Here's an interesting article.

Karla ütles ...

LOADS of those about, seen several myself, all on that sterling quality Sov paper with grainy pics in glorious monochrome. Added bonus: you can sniff the fish glue on the spine and evoke a mental picture 'Viru Rand' sprats.
Check out used bookstores like 'Raamatukoi' online, but I'm sure you could buy 'em by the kilogram from private collections.

Giustino ütles ...

Check out used bookstores like 'Raamatukoi' online, but I'm sure you could buy 'em by the kilogram from private collections.

The problem is that they are probably too dressed up in propaganda to appreciate. I really get sick of all the political rhetoric.

When I read, for example, history books about the Civil War or the American revolution, I don't need the author to tell me that the guys are heroes.

Helga Nukk ütles ...

There is one "but" in this sweet new sight of history: the Estonians knew perfectly that the Hitler didn't forsee the independendce to Estonia and they fought for the Hitler's interests. The Estonians were the weak race that had to be exterminated - it was well-known.
It was the very difficult time for the Estonians who was repressed by socialist/communist regime but the entry into the Vaffen SS was a concious crime against humanity and not a fight for some liberty.

A part of the Estonians was happy to live in the USSR and fought for it - the modern storicians try to hid it.
The dictatorship of Pàts was very bad and insane regime, many Estonians fled from Estonia or remained victims, the USSR stopped injustices of this regime.
Many events are not considered or hidden in modern history.

The trend of Mart Laar is to justify the crimes of the members of the Estonian Vaffen SS using lies and deceiptions.
Glorifying and justifyng of the crimes of the Estonian Vaffen SS is really bad thing to all society.
Today we can see the racial hatred in Estonia, the brutal crimes, the aoptheid regime - these are the results of the game with history.

Karla ütles ...

Well, Dolly, you sure learned your history and English from the same source - the school of make-it-up-as-you-go-along...
Holy WOwwww!!~
PS: Don't eat them road-apples, Marvin, the oats'll stick in your throat!!

Anonüümne ütles ...

Typical Giustino. Comes to a country, thinks he has gotten to know it and its complexities, sits down at the keyboard and bangs in a banal commentary. I rue the day the Internet was born, since it gives amateurs like Giustino the opportunity - thanks to the relative dearth of ESTONIANS who have a good command of English - to fill the minds of people with pseudohistory. With half-baked thoughts that do harm to telling the factual story of the country he has moved to, and which has given him a home. You just don't get it, and actually you do harm with your platitudes.

Onkel Brumla ütles ...

I saw this book at september in tallin, and later on in lagedi museum, but unfortunately failed to buy it :( Please, does anybody know where to buy it online?

Anonüümne ütles ...

Yes, Estonia was without a shadow of a doubt occupied by the Nazis. These men - most of them mobilized (as in by force, as in having gotten caught up in a wartime draft by an unwanted occupying foreign power) - served in military units together. The family members and children and great-grandchildren take an interest in these phases of history. The book is not a glorification of the Nazi era. These photos have never appeared in print before in one volume. They are rare. They have been 70 years coming. They were suppressed during the Soviet occupation. The CD of the songs of the period is also a historically accurate reflection of the songs being sung by Estonian men in uniform at the time. Neither the photos nor the songs glorify the occupying power.

In your homeland of the United States, it is permitted for members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars to get together and have beers. Many photo albums of American veterans have been published. Would you forbid Estonians who served together in uniform to do the same, or are you urging them not to? Or are you suggesting that Giustino ought to be hired to write the captions in the next book instead of Mart Laar? It is a fact that these guys served together, it was fate, it went down a certain way, it cannot be undone. Would it be better, more convenient, if they vanished like phantoms, with a wave of the Giustino wand? No muss, no fuss?

I am waiting for when Giustino also gets hot and bothered by photos of the butchers Zhdanov and Stalin greeting Estonians who were dragooned into serving in the Red Army. At least be consistent! Let me see if I have it right. It is fine for Russians "Soviets") to publish photos of themselves in groups taking the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - three European parliamentary democracies. It is all right to put together compendiums of photos of the Israeli soldiers who fire tank shells into schoolhouses in Gaza? There should at least be a consistent rule.

In America, there are photo essay books including pictures of My Lai and of naked napalm-burned Vietnamese girls and of the American ally, the Police Chief of Saigon summarily executing North Vietnamese prisoners/spies in the street. There are countless photo books of American Marines roasting "nips" and "gooks" and "ragheads" with flame throwers, and these guys get together every Friday night at the VFW. Perhaps there should be a peanut gallery of immigrants in the States making disapproving sounds each time a picture book of American veterans is published? Of let's say Union guards at Andersonville Prison?

There is something a little humorous about grandchildren of Estonians purchasing photo books of history as it happened against a backdrop of clucking sounds. Of course it sucks that the Germans and the Russians conspired against Estonia. Of course Estonians hated the quisling Hjalmar Mae, or is this a revelation to the author? It is a little bizarre to track someone discovering in the present all of the phases of introspection that Estonians passed through decades ago. Been there, done that. Perhaps the blog should be entitled "Intrepid Westerners somewhat shakily catching up with 70 years of Estonian history that they didn't know about, but Estonians did"?

Giustino errs about the "new narrative". Free Estonians in the West, for example, have never said that the Germans and and Soviets cancelled one another out. And the new "meme" that Giustino writes of does not bear up under scrutiny. The Red Army came and oppressed us for 50 years and wrought real damage. The Nazis barely got started during their three years and did a lot of damage, but cumulatively, it was just a fraction of what the Russian Communist Empire did to us. Three years of German occupation does not equal 50 years of Soviet occupation, when the Estonians had already learned to hate Soviet rule during the first two years that the Russians were here, this by virtue of the cruelties they visited upon a people who had previously been free. It is the Germans and the Russians against the Estonians, initially in league, not "the Germans and Russians cancel one another out". This is logical fallacy if I have ever met it at all.

In 1944, as the Germans were abandoning the occupied Baltic territories, tens of thousands of Estonian and Latvian men who had been dragooned into Hitler's forces made a last-ditch effort to stop the Red Army from reentering Estonia and Latvia. Bear in mind that the Soviet NKVD had done a Katyn here in 1940-1941. On June 14, 1941, 10,000 members of Estonian families were taken away in cattle cars by the Red Army under the midday sun, their arms extended through the bars on the windows of the cattle cars, pleading for water. The Estonians knew fully all too well what to expect as the NKVD / KGB was fixing to return. Do you not appreciate the desperateness of the situation?

Finally free of the Gestapo, the Estonians rallying around Otto Tief and Johan Pitka in 1944 were trying to restore Estonia as the European parliamentary democracy that she had been. In 1944, as the Germans were abandoning their ill-gotten Baltic territorial gains, Estonians rallied in a mish-mash of uniforms - German, Finnish, pre-war Estonian ones - to try to reconstitute the Republic. What part of this don't you get?

You can rest assured that had Estonia gotten her independence back, both the German and the Red Army uniforms would have been burned in great big bonfires, exactly as would have happened in Poland, had the Poles been given half a chance. Instead: the Soviets came in and crushed Estonian attempts to restore the Republic, and for 50 years killed and persecuted anyone who dared to bring out the Estonian flag. For Giustino or anyone else to equate the Estonian guys trying to repel the Red Army in 1944 with the Red Army itself is to demonstrate lack of awareness, to demonstrate superficial knowledge of Estonian history, to be insensitive, or to be in denial. The Red Army and the Estonian draftees in the Red Army did not come to restore the Republic. They came and repressed and tormented and suppressed. There was no organized secret agenda or determination on the part of the Estonians in the Soviet Army to restore Estonian freedom. In their heart of hearts many of these men may have longed for this, in reality, as they "returned home to their families", they brought occupation, colonization and oppression to their own people.

Having first sorted the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the Estonian Legion, the men in the Legion were not props. Sorting the wheat from the chaff means that those who served the Nazi ideology or the Stalinist cause such should be condemned by the Estonians and get the bum's rush. That means the quisling Hjalmar Mae and his lackeys, and it means the Estonian politruks in the Red Army and the torturers in the NKVD and the members of the ruthless murderous Destroyer Battalions.

Au contraire, dear Giustino, Vello Salo and his kind - for example my late old friend Heino Jalakas - a motorcycle courier for Otto Tief wearing German battle dress because that was what he had been issued and he had nothing else to wear - when they were standing at the outskirts of Tallinn in September of 1944 confiscating weapons and ammunition from retreating Germans in order to stay in Estonia and be able to fight against the invading Red Army - they were and will always be HEROES to me, not cannon fodder being used by anyone. Salo and Jalakas were free Estonian men with blue-black and white ribbons on their sleeves.

Sometimes I do not understand if Giustino posts some of what he posts because he doesn't understand, or because he is narrow-minded, because he doesn't apply the same standards across the board, or because he wants to hurt the Estonian cause. Your article strikes me as either ill-informed, defectively structured, or disingenuous. I would like to hope that you are simply ill-informed instead of pretending to not understand.

Unknown ütles ...

An excellent article, and equally excellent observations. My father served in the Eight Estonian Rifle Corps,and his dislike for communism was well known, and it remains tragic that some Estonians genuinely believed that fighting along side the SS would free Estonia from Communist oppression.