31/01/2019 Off By Marko Poolamets

… is the title of a novel by Hilja Rüütli (1921-2009) and Helmut Tarand, describing the sufferings in the KGB prison cells at Pagari Street and the Patarei Prison. I thought about this book again not only because it is an excellent book, but I happened to read somewhere about the tradition of lighting candles at the tomb of Julius Kuperjanov, stating that it had started as late as in the 1950s. I do have immediate personal experience with the tradition as well, but in this instance I would like to point out that it actually started much earlier, namely on the first Independence Day after Soviet occupation. This was when the pupils of the newly renamed Tartu Secondary School No 5 (the former Tartu College) upon the initiative of Hilja Rüütli came to school dressed in the blue, black and white colours of the flag of independent Estonia and after school went to the Raadi Cemetery to light candles at Julius Kuperjanov’s tomb.

This led to Hilja Rüütli’s expulsion from college, but later she could still attend University of Tartu. In 1944 she fought as medic with the Finnish Boys (Estonian volunteers who had returned after fighting in Finland) in the bloody battles on the Tartu front. Thereafter she stayed in Estonia, was arrested in 1945, was beaten and tortured in the Pagari and Patarei prisons and then deported to Siberia. Together with Helmut Tarand, another “graduate of the Beria Academy”, she wrote a book about their ordeal, had it secretly taken abroad and published in the West. I never asked why they had taken such an enormous risk, for if discovered, they would have found themselves heading back to Siberia once again.  For them it was the most natural and obvious thing to do – to continue their struggle by other means. Remembering had become the most effective weapon in the fight against violence. Maybe even more effective than others; take for instance the Forest Brothers – they themselves were killed but the legend they had created could not be destroyed.

Remembering is not only important for resistance, it is also a vaccine against the return of communist violence. The monumental Maarjamäe Memorial to Victims of Communism should make everyone think twice. The current developments in Russia, the country that has suffered horribly because of communist terror, give reason for concern though: there they rather tend to remember the killers than the killed. One should not talk of the devil, but this could lead to new killings. Naturally, remembering is not easy. This is why the devil has no shadow – he does not wish to be remembered.

Based on the above it should be quite clear, why I am supporting the idea of creating the Museum for the Victims of Communism in the Patarei Prison. Yes, it would cost a fortune. Build a hotel or a spa in the former KGB torture cells and the money starts rolling in! I do understand people who are saying that Estonia is still living in the past. And it is true that more and more monuments to the past are created in Estonia. This really does not seem reasonable. But have we ever been too reasonable through our history? Creating our own state and defending it in the War of Independence were definitely not. But it is because we did those things that we exist today. Enn Sarv (1921-2008) has written in his excellent book “The Duty of Remembering” (“Mäletamise kohustus”): “The Estonians have a proverb: the world was not created for living, but for learning how to live. Only the past can teach us this and that is why we have the duty to remember and recall everything we have gone through”.