Open search
« Tuna 3 / 2020

Russians and a German in the Lääne County Malev of the Pre-war Kaitseliit [Estonian Defence League]

The Kaitseliit [Estonian Defence League] as a voluntary military defence organisation became the largest social organisation in the Republic of Estonia in the 1930s. There were 42,600 members in the Kaitseliit in 1939, and nearly 100,000 members if the Naiskodukaitse [Estonian Women’s Defence League] and the associated youth organisations are included.

Particular attention was paid to shooting practice and tactics, but first aid training was also provided and defence against gas attacks started being developed. Members of the malev received good combat training. Shooting sports were considered the most important among sports, but track and field, wrestling and weightlifting were also engaged in.

Germany and the Soviet Union signed a mutual non-aggression agreement (the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact) on 23 August 1939. War broke out. The Soviet Union shortly gave Estonia a choice: either a mutual assistance agreement or war. Estonia chose the agreement. In accordance with the agreement, 25,000 Red Army soldiers were brought into Estonia and Soviet military bases were established in Estonia.

Estonia was occupied in June of 1940. The Kaitseliit had to give up its weapons. Arrests began.

Members of the Kaitseliit who were taken to prison camps were mostly charged simply with belonging to a ‘counterrevolutionary’ organisation. The Kaitseliit, the Isamaaliit [Pro Patria political party] and the Eesti Vabadussõjalaste Keskliit [Central Association of Estonian War of Independence Veterans] were all considered to be such organisations. Participation in battles against the Red Army in the Estonian War of Independence that was waged in 1918—1920 was an additional charge. Interrogations were followed by an utterly formal trial that in most cases was held behind the back of the accused. A large proportion of people were sentenced to death while others were sentenced to prison camp for various lengths of time. Only a few survived wartime prison camp.

According to existing data, 146 former members of the Lääne County Kaitseliit were arrested in 1940–1942. Out of all those who were arrested, 85 men were sentenced to be shot. Of those, 67 men were executed (along with two leaders of the Lääne County Naiskodukaitse as well). Fifty-nine men were sent to prison camp. Eighteen men who were sentenced to death by shooting died before the sentence could be carried out. Only 7 men survived camp imprisonment.

Representatives of other nationalities besides Estonians were also accepted into the malevs of the Kaitseliit. There were foreigners in the Lääne malev as well. This article examines the fates of three repressed men. Two of them were Russian, one was German.

The Russian Mikhail Rybolovsky (photograph 1) was born on 7 July 1894 in Hiiumaa and was arrested in Haapsalu in the course of the mass deportation of June, 1941. He had been mobilised into the tsarist army during World War I, but then made his way into the Russian White Army commanded by General Yudenich. He actively fought against the Red Army east of Narva in 1919.

The summary of charges indicates that he fought actively against the Red Army, later owned his own shop in Haapsalu, was a member of the Kaitseliit since 1926, and one of the leaders of the counterrevolutionary Russian Forest Club. The investigator proposed that Mikhail Rybolovsky be shot.

The verdict that the Special Counsel handed down on 23 February 1942, however, was milder – 10 years in prison camp. The term of his sentence ended in 1951 and he was sent to his place of banishment in Krasnoyarsk krai.

Mikhail Yakovlev, another Russian member of the Kaitseliit’s Lääne malev, was born in Pskov in 1883. Mikhail had graduated from the Vladimir military school and had been in the army until 1914, when he was taken prisoner by the Germans and spent 4 years in imprisonment. After his release, he was mobilised into the Estonian Army. Later, in 1924, he graduated from the University of Tartu as a veterinarian. After university, Mikhail Yakovlev moved to Risti in Lääne County and married a woman who was born in 1911. They ran an animal clinic in Risti.

Mikhail Yakovlev was arrested on 22 July 1941 on the grounds that he had been in the White Estonian Army and belonged to the Kaitseliit. Yakovlev (photograph 2) explained that his primary task was to treat the horses of members of the Kaitseliit. It is written in the summary of charges drawn up on 30 January 1942 that Mikhail Yakovlev was an active member of the Kaitseliit and Isamaaliit counterrevolutionary organisations, was hostile towards the Soviet regime, engaged in anti-Soviet agitation, praised the fascist system of government in Germany, and incited defeatist attitudes. The verdict of the Special Counsel dated 15 April 1942 sentenced him to be shot and for his property to be confiscated. Mikhail Yakovlev was executed on 21 May 1942.

The third member of the Kaitseliit from another nationality to be arrested in 1941 was the German Rudolf Spiegel, who was born in Finland in 1906. His father Guido was German, and his mother Dorotea was Baltic German. Their family had moved to St. Petersburg and there his father owned a stone house and a shovel factory. Rudolf came to Estonia with his father in 1915 or 1916 and studied at the Russian school in Tallinn. They moved to Haapsalu in 1923.

Rudolf moved to Vaiste, near Varbla, in 1933 and went to work at the sawmill there (photograph 3). He was arrested in July of 1941. The local population got along well with one another. They gathered and conversed among themselves. Spiegel listened to radio Königsberg and Lahti, and told the locals what the content of the broadcasts was.

It is written in the summary of charges drawn up on 16 May 1942 that Spiegel was a member of the Kaitseliit in 1938—1940, and also an active member of the fascist organisation Saksa Kultuuromavalitsus Eestis [German Cultural Self-Administration in Estonia] in 1938—1940, that he engaged in anti-Soviet agitation, and organised an armed gang in Vaiste together with Artur Freimann. The proposal was made in the summary of charges to shoot Rudolf Spiegel and to confiscate his property.

Alas, Rudolf Spiegel had already died before that in the Irkutsk prison hospital on 13 May 1942.

Hence there were men of both Russian and German nationality in the Kaitseliit’s Lääne County malev who thought like Estonians and were prepared defend this country by force of arms.