On 22 September 1944, Estonia began its resistance against the Soviet occupation power and began to fight for a free and democratic Estonia. Estonia never surrendered and resistance persisted in different forms until the independence of the Republic of Estonia was restored in 1991.
After the German occupation ended in the autumn of 1944, the constitutional Republic of Estonia was restored. On 18 September, the constitutional government of the Republic of Estonia, led by Otto Tief, was formed. The government of the Republic of Estonia declared that Estonia would remain neutral in the ongoing war. However, the Red Army did not care about the sovereignty of Estonia and occupied the country again. On 22 September 1944, the tricolour flag of Estonia was violently replaced with the Soviet flag in the tower of Pikk Hermann.
The constitutional authority of state of Estonia decided, in this hopeless situation, to fight for the freedom of Estonia in exile. Therefore, professor Uluots, the prime minister in the duties of the president, left for Sweden and the members of the government were to follow him.
In Estonia, tens of thousands of people – students, forest brothers, the Finnish Boys (soomepoisid) – began to resist the occupation army. In the free world, the fight for a free and democratic Estonia was led by the Estonian government-in-exile and the foreign missions of Estonia. The fight persisted in different forms of resistance until the end of the occupation in 1991. Estonia never surrendered to the occupation power.
„We must fight for an independent Estonia. Even if the fight seems hopeless, we must stand up and take risks. It is never meaningless to stand for the freedom of our people, even if the situation seems hopeless.“
Toomas Hendrik Ilves
The celebrations of the Resistance Day 2019
|7.04||The students of Tallinn School No 21 will hoist the Estonian flag||Tower of Pikk Hermann, Tallinn|
|10.00||The state and the League of Estonian Corporations will place wreaths on the grave of O. Tief||Metsakalmistu, Tallinn|
|15.00||Procession of academic organizations.||Raekoja Square to Freedom Square, Tallinn|
|15.15||Placing wreaths at the foot of the Victory Column.||Freedom Square, Tallinn|
|15.20||Speeches by minister of Culture and a representative of students||Freedom Square, Tallinn|
|16.00||A memorial service for heads of state||Catherine's Church, Võru|
|10.00-18.00||Exploring the exhibition of the VABAMU museum.||Vabamu Museum, Tallinn|
|17.09.1944||The German forces begin to retreat from Estonia.|
|18.09.1944||Jüri Uluots, the prime minister in the duties of the president, formed the constitutional government of the Republic of Estonia, which was led by Otto Tief.|
|19.09.1944||The National Committee of the Republic of Estonia is dismissed and the first sitting of the Tief's government is held.|
|20.09.1944||The government’s declaration about the restoration of the independence of Estonia and Estonia remaining neutral in the ongoing war. The tricolour flag of Estonia is hoisted to the tower of Pikk Hermann.|
|21.09.1944||Clashes between the forces of Estonia and Germany. Members of the government leave for Lääne county. The members of the government and the government’s declaration are published in Riigi Teataja (a public journal of the Republic of Estonia).|
|22.09.1944||Tallinn is occupied and the flag of Estonia is taken down from the tower of Pikk Hermann. A large-scale escape from the capital to Lääne county begins. A government sitting is held in Põgari tabernacle. The cabinet members decide to go into exile.|
Armed confrontations between the Estonian army and the Red Army in Kose, Keila, Arudevahe, Risti, and Märjamaa held the Soviet army back and allowed tens of thousands of people to flee to the west through the west coast of Estonia.
The battles of the Second World War had been held on Estonian soil since 1941. The Estonian National Opera is pictured in ruins in 1944.
Estonia had been occupied in the turmoil of the Second World War and the most realistic direction for constitutional Estonia was either the Soviet Union or Germany. Both options meant that Estonia would lose its independence and face extensive repressions. However, there was a third option, which was more idealistic than realistic, but would have meant that Estonia would restore its independence with the help of democratic Western countries.
The first public promoters of the “third option” were the Estonian diplomates who were residing abroad and had not recognised the occupation and annexation of Estonia, first by the Soviet Union and later by Germany. In Estonia, first real steps towards restoring independence could be made in 1944, when the hope arose that the German occupation would soon end. For that reason, in February, the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia was formed. Although, in spring, nearly 500 persons connected to the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia were arrested, the preparations for forming the constitutional government of Estonia and preparing the military defence of Estonia continued.
The government of O. Tief
Otto Tief was appointed as the leader of the government and the Minister of the Interior, Johannes Klesment as the Attorney-General, August Rei as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Johan Holberg as the Minister of War, Hugo Pärtelpoeg as the Minister of Finance, Rudolf Penno as the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Kaarel Liidak as the Minister of Agriculture, Johannes Pikkov as the Minister of Roads, Voldemar Sumberg as the Minister of Social Affairs, Arnold Susi as the Minister of Education, and Juhan Kaarlimäe as the minister without portfolio. Oskar Gustavson was appointed as the Auditor General and Helmut Maandi as the Secretary of State.
The government gathered for their first sitting in the building of the Estonian Maapank on 19 September. The head of the government read the declaration, which stated that the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia would be dissolved and the new government would begin its work. They decided to evacuate Jüri Uluots, the prime minister in the duties of the president, who was very ill, from Estonia.
In the evening of 22 September, the members of Tief’s government arrived in three cars at Puise beach in Lääne county. The Tuuru Baptist tabernacle at the beginning of the village of Põgari-Sassi became their new residence (pictured).
Politicians were not the only ones that dreamt about restoring the independence of Estonia. Everywhere, regular Estonians – the Finnish Boys (soomepoisid), the men from the strike team of retired admiral Johan Pitka, military servicemen who were in the German army, members of Omakaitse (the home guard), and civilians – started fighting against the occupation and for the freedom of Estonia. The resistance offered during and after the Second World War shows that Estonia was taken into the Soviet Union against its will and that Estonia never surrendered to the occupation.
The Finnish Boys (Soomepoisid)
In the August of 1944, the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia called the Estonian volunteer regiment in the Finnish Army – the Finnish Boys – to fight for the freedom of Estonia. Two battalions were formed out of those who arrived in Estonia. One battalion was sent to the battlefront at River Emajõgi, where they showed a lot of courage. There was never a chance to send the other battalion to the battlefront. However, the Finnish Boys offered resistance against the Germans who were retreating and trying to evacuate to Germany. It is estimated that there were about 3,500 Finnish Boys.
The men of admiral Pitka (Pitkapoisid)
Retired admiral Johan Pitka, who had returned to Estonia in 1944, began to assemble a unit that would support the restoration of the independence of Estonia and the protection of Tallinn. News about admiral Pitka organising resistance against the Soviet army spread like wildfire through Estonia. Many men, who were ready to fight, were inspired by the news and responded to the call. Unfortunately, the Germans tried to interfere with this action by taking away weapons and imprisoning members of the unit. The men of Pitka held several battles to protect Tallinn, but they eventually retreated to Lääne county. Even the 72-year-old Pitka participated in an armed clash with the Soviet forces at Kose. It was essential to stall the invasion of the Red Army there to allow as many refugees as possible to flee to Sweden by boat.
One of the most noteworthy actions of resistance was the replacement of the swastika flag with the tricolour flag of Estonia in the tower of Pikk Hermann on 20 September. It caused sensation among the people; however, the Germans who were waiting for evacuation in the port were angry. Estonian and German soldiers even engaged in gunfights that only ceased in the evening of 21 September, when Tallinn was hit by Soviet bombs. Before the next midday, an advance firing unit forced its way into Tallinn and took out a small Estonian unit that was positioned at the bridge of Vaskjala. An hour later, Soviet tanks reached Toompea and shot down the Estonian flag that was waiving in the tower of Pikk Hermann. The switching of the flags symbolised that the Soviet Union had occupied Estonia once again.
The Estonian flag waving in the tower of Pikk Hermann in the September of 1944 was a clear sign that the German occupation had ended and that the constitutional Estonian regime had been restored. It is important to emphasise that when the Red Army reached Tallinn in the midday of 22 September 1944, they had to take down the tricolour flag of free Estonia, not the German swastika flag.
Forest brothers (Metsavennad)
By the end of 1944, an estimated 30,000 people were hiding from the Soviet powers. These were people who had fought in the German army, those who voided mobilisation into the Red Army, and members of the former Omakaitse (home guard) and Defence League. In the Spring of 1945, troops of forest brothers began armed counterattacks all over Estonia. In rural areas, the true power was often held by the forest brothers. The March Deportation of 1949 proved fatal to the forest brothers. The cruel destruction of farms, deportation, and the fact that farms were forcibly turned into collective farms lessened the supporters of forest brothers considerably. By 1953, the Soviet power had managed to suppress the armed resistance. In this heroic fight for freedom, approximately 2,000 forest brothers were killed; thousands were arrested and sent to prison camps in Siberia. After 1953, forest brothers became increasingly rare; however, some men lasted for decades.
Even students participated in the resistance by spreading leaflets and taking down symbols of the occupation. On the Independence Day of Estonia, they hoisted the Estonian flag to places that were hard to reach. In addition, members of organisations were determined to develop communication with foreign countries to gather arms and supplies and to assist the forest brothers. In schools, they tried to identify Soviet agents and gather information about the number and activities of the enemy. The names of the underground organisations that were formed during the years that followed the war evidenced the strong nationalist views of people: “For the freedom of Estonia”, “Free Estonia”, “Blue, black, and white”, etc. By using strong repressive means, the Soviet power managed to end the activities of underground organisations by the 1960s.