Facts and figures
- The Patarei naval fortress is located in the near vicinity of Tallinn’s city centre and the city’s harbour. The complex consists of a 247 m long curved, three-storey fortress building (gorge) and two 124 m long wings of the flèche building. The complex covers a net surface area of 17,000 m2.
- It is one of the largest completely preserved building ensembles with classicist architecture in Estonia and the surrounding region. The entire complex is under national cultural heritage protection as an architectural monument.
- Estonia was part of the Russian Empire until 1918. The Patarei complex was built in the mid-19th century as part of the defence system of Russia’s capital St. Petersburg. The completed complex was soon deleted from the list of fortresses in connection with the development of military technology. Starting in 1864, Patarei was converted into an army barracks complex that accommodated over two thousand soldiers (for instance, 2,134 soldiers served there in 1881).
- The independent Republic of Estonia established in 1918 put the former barracks to use in 1920 as the nation’s central prison because two prisons in Tallinn had burned down during the revolutionary events of 1917 and could not be used. The capacity of the new prison was calculated as 1,000 people, and 1,200 people after the construction of additions.
- Paterei served continuously as a penal institution of the Republic of Estonia until 1940, when the totalitarian Soviet Union occupied the country. Patarei was used as a prison after the restoration of national independence as well in 1991–2002. The building currently stands vacant.
- In 1940–1991, the Patarei complex was a penal institution of the Soviet Union (1940–1941; 1944–1991) and Nazi Germany (1941–1944), both of which had alternately occupied Estonia. Alongside criminal offenders, the political opponents of both totalitarian regimes were also held there and Patarei became one of the main symbolic objects of political terror in Estonia.
- In the summer of 1940, the Central Prison (Patarei) in Tallinn was placed under the jurisdiction of the Prisons Department and Correctional Labour Camps Department of the Estonian SSR NKVD, the local subordinate institution of the Soviet Union’s NKVD, together with Estonia’s other penal institutions.
- The Estonian Registry Bureau of Repressed Persons has by now identified and published the names of over 9,850 persons who were arrested for political reasons in 1940–1941, most of whom were also locked up between the walls of Patarei for a longer or shorter time.
- Before death or being sent to the Gulag, all statesmen, high-ranking military personnel, police officials and prominent businessmen of the Republic of Estonia, as well as all others who had been arrested for their activities in the Republic of Estonia or because of their political convictions, passed through Patarei Prison, which was under the jurisdiction of the NKVD.
- Some of the better known prisoners: Estonia’s heads of state Jaan Tõnisson (in all probability executed in Patarei by the Soviet authorities in 1941), Kaarel Eenpalu, Friedrich Karl Akel, Ants Piip; Secretary of State Karl Terras (imprisoned in 1941 by the Soviet authorities); Jaan Kross, who was later to become one of the best known Estonian writers (imprisoned by the German authorities in 1944 under the charge of nationalist activity, imprisoned in 1946 by the Soviet authorities), the head of the Estonian government Otto Tief (imprisoned in 1941 by the Soviet authorities); the forest brother and freedom fighter Ants Kaljurand (1949-51); freedom fighter Enn Tarto (1956-57, 1962); freedom fighter and later Minister of Internal Affairs Lagle Parek (1983-1984).
- War broke out between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in June of 1941. German forces captured Tallinn on 28 August of that same year. As far as is known, there were no more prisoners in Patarei at that time. Lists of imprisoned persons containing a total of 2,831 names, who were to be evacuated from Patarei to Russia, have been preserved in Estonia. Most of the people imprisoned in Patarei were evacuated by rail echelons to the Soviet Union’s Siberian prison camps. Less than 5% of the prisoners taken to Russia saw Estonia again.
- Nazi Germany’s occupying regime also needed prisons to reinforce its power, and so the Patarei complex was immediately put to work. In October of 1941, there were 16 penal institutions in Estonia with a total of 9,750 imprisoned persons. Though its nominal capacity was 1,200 prisoners, 2,600 imprisoned persons were already being held in Patarei by then.
- Patarei Prison remained the central penal institution in the German SD and Security Police system throughout the German occupation from 1941 to 1944. Along with local criminal offenders, primarily Estonian inhabitants were imprisoned in Patarei whom German police and court institutions accused on political or racial (mainly local Jews) grounds, but also charged with other offences (actions damaging the war economy, speculation, etc.).
- Statistics on the prisoners removed from Patarei for execution have not survived, but considering the overall statistics concerning repressions during the German occupation, it can be assumed that mass executions of persons imprisoned in Patarei took place over the final four months of 1941 and at the outset of 1942.
- As an exception, a few dozen German and Czech Jews, who were the only survivors of the more than 2,000 people who had been brought to Jägala Camp in the autumn of 1942, the rest of whom had been murdered at Kalevi-Liiva, were brought to Patarei temporarily in 1943. In addition to this, the German authorities brought about 300 Jews, part of Convoy no. 73 that was chiefly destined for Lithuania, to Tallinn’s prison from France in May of 1944. About 40 of these people made it out of Estonia alive and were taken to Stutthof concentration camp in the late summer of 1944.
- The Soviet Union’s Red Army once again captured Estonia in September of 1944. The prison continued to be used as an import stronghold for the repressions carried out by the NKVD. Thousands of persons arrested for political reasons were imprisoned there. During the later period of Soviet rule, the greater portion of imprisoned persons was criminal offenders alongside a smaller number of persons arrested for political reasons.
- The unique history of this building, which brings together the repressions of two of the most merciless regimes of the 20th century, places the sufferings, resistance and hopes of thousands of people within the prison walls and has made this complex a site of memory of international importance.