In November 1944, the Baltic operation of the Red Army ended in Estonia and cleared these territories of fascist invaders. However , what is considered liberation in Russia is perceived in the Baltic countries as a resumption of Soviet occupation . Today, such a radical interpretation of these events provokes, among other things, another break line in relations between the Baltic capitals and Moscow – the Baltic countries, full of resentment for life as part of the USSR, speak louder than other European states of “Russian aggression” and the desire of the Russian Federation to restore borders Soviet empire. Russia accuses its neighbors of disrespect for the common historical past and in the glorification of Nazism . In an attempt to understand the events of 75 years ago, Izvestia talked with relatives of their eyewitnesses.
Heads of countries liberated by Soviet troops practice rewriting history
The Baltic operation (September 14 – November 24, 1944) lasted 71 days and, ending in Estonia, marked the defeat of the German Army Group North. This offensive consisted of four key operations: Riga, Tallinn, Moonsund and Memel. The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Tallinn in Estonia was celebrated on September 22 (its official authorities call the Day of Mourning for State Independence). And the end of the entire Baltic offensive this year will be remembered only at the conference of the Fleet Veterans Club (KVF) in the Estonian capital.
– Mother spoke more about the fighting. She was a senior nurse and pulled out the wounded with the front line under the bullets, ”recalls one of the organizers of the KVF, 75-year-old Igor Pisarev, whose father fought in the Estonian Rifle Corps. – For example, the Germans, when the ammunition was already exhausted to create a panic, dropped barrels perforated by bullets from the bombers. They made a terrible howl and whistle. People were so oppressed that they even went crazy . We slept in tents. Mom said that in the morning the hair froze to the pillow and it was impossible to raise the head – it was necessary to tear off by force . There were many stories: what were the cities like when the Germans retreated, what were Great Luke, Vyazma – all continuous conflagrations and ashes.
The history of the war in the Baltic countries still remains a wide field for interpretation – and the outcome of the Baltic operation fits into this struggle of interpretations. Be that as it may, the inhabitants of Estonia agree on one thing : in their country, World War II was not just a struggle of the Soviets against the Nazis – it was a war of Estonians against Estonians . After its graduation, veterans of the Red Army and former members of the Wehrmacht continued to exist side by side.
– We lived in Kadriorg opposite the Peter’s house in Tallinn (Museum of Peter I. – “Izvestia”), continues Igor Pisarev. “ There were only three apartments in the house.” In one lived a former Wehrmacht soldier – a wonderful guy , in many ways he was an example to me. He explained his position as follows: Estonia is a small country that was given as a bargaining chip, so it was not worth getting into any wars, but you had to sit quietly like mice. Another neighbor was the SS Sturmfuhrer. It was believed that there was no blood on his hands. But I doubt it , because for the SS man it’s simply impossible not to carry out bloody orders – they were created for this. Until the end of his life, he kept his form, with his father they had a relationship at the level of a nod of his head at a meeting .
It is difficult to find exact data on how many Estonians fought for the Nazis, and how many for the Red Army. According to the Estonian side, at that time no more than 30 thousand people were in favor of the USSR, about 70 thousand citizens fought for Germany. The latter included the formation of the so-called forest brothers, who did not have centralized control and fought with the Soviets on the territory of all three Baltic countries.
“In a certain sense, it was a civil war,” said Andrei Lazurin, head of the Estonian military-historical organization Front Line, which is engaged in the search and reburial of the remains of fallen soldiers, told Izvestia. – It’s not only about military clashes, but also about the destruction of civilians. Often, the Germans did not participate in these operations – they were only observers. The executions and other things were carried out by local residents , who, for example, were released from prisons or harbored an insult to the Soviet regime.
Referring to the words of one of the Estonian veterans, Andrei Lazurin explains the fundamental difference between the “forest brothers” from other partisan movements. The war, for example, of the Belarusian partisans was waged with army units, but in the Baltic states the “forest brothers”, who proclaimed the struggle for independence, killed for the most part directors of collective farms, school teachers and party leaders , as well as robbed shops, the expert noted.
The Russian Foreign Ministry calls the “forest brothers” groups nothing more than a gangster underground and condemns the decisions of the Baltic states aimed at heroizing the leaders of this organization.
To understand how Estonia sees the course of World War II (at the official level, such a thing as the Great Patriotic War does not exist in the country), just look into the Estonica encyclopedia . A link to it with Izvestia was kindly shared at the Estonian embassy. There, this period is divided into several stages: “Soviet occupation and capture of Estonia in 1940”, “German invasion in 1941”, “German occupation in 1941-1944” and, finally, “Red Army invasion in 1944” .
The articles emphasize: Estonia has repeatedly proclaimed its neutrality, which nevertheless did not save it from becoming another theater of war . “The tough anti-Soviet sentiment of Estonians, their higher status in Germany’s“ racial system ” , proximity to Finland, the duality of civil and military power, and the fact that Estonia was a strategically important rear, agricultural supplier and oil shale producer” – all this , according to one of the articles, with the reason that the regime of the German occupation in the country “went relatively calmly”.
The same encyclopedia says that there was no large-scale resistance to the German occupation in Estonia, unlike the same in France and Yugoslavia. “The key difference is that the West European movements had one enemy – the German occupation forces. Similar movements in the Baltic countries also fought with the Germans, however, the Soviet Union was their main enemy, ”one of the articles says.
However, what they perceive in Tallinn as “the seizure of Estonia with further aggressive suppression of dissidents” is called “liberation of the country from Nazi occupation” in Russia. As stated in the message of the Russian embassy in Tallinn, “though each may have its own, but the truth is one – and it is exactly what the Soviet troops liberated Estonia enormous losses during the bloody battles” . According to the Russian Military Historical Society, about 61 thousand people died as a result of the operation.
“ I categorically do not accept the term“ occupation ” , I don’t allow myself to even think about it closely in any conversation,” said 74-year-old Vladimir Velman, a member of the Center Party of Estonia, member of the Tallinn City Council, to Izvestia, who was elected to the Riigikogu six times (parliament) countries). – Today history is rewritten for itself, now such an ideology. Politicians have come who believe that they are the only truth. From the point of view of not a momentary ideology, but of world politics, what happened in 1944 was the liberation of Estonia from the Nazis, and there can be no other interpretation.
Vladimir Velman’s father, Nikolai, was a musician (he played the banjo and domra). In the 1930s, he traveled all over Europe and in Germany at the dawn of the rise of Nazism, he even played with an orchestra near the park, where Adolf Hitler made another speech. According to the interlocutor of Izvestia, even then his father did not like what was happening: he was hated by “marches, fanaticism in the eyes, the militarization of the country, from the owners of the apartment that he rented, he heard that people began to disappear.”
“As a musician, he probably felt especially keenly, he didn’t take these things to mind,” recalls Vladimir Velman. – What happened later, when the Estonian corps was created (the operational-tactical formation of the Red Army, formed in 1942. – Izvestia), determined its choice.
When the war began, Nikolai Velman sent his wife and mother to evacuate to the Urals, he himself remained in Narva. Even before 1940, he and his brother were convinced communists, and therefore there was no question of choosing a side. After the war, both brothers went to work in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Estonia.