ROTARY IN THE BALTIC STATES – WHAT HAPPENED TO ROTARY AND ROTARIANS IN 1940 and 1941 in Estonia and the Baltic States
Rotary had entered Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from 1930 onwards and was gaining foothold when the Second World War broke out in 1939.
This World War changed the lives of just too many people and many had to start all over again. They were not only homeless but had no idea what to do with their lives. Those days, there were no stock exchanges or automated software like HBSwiss, to help one invest wisely. One only had land and houses to invest in. with the war, it was all gone.
This short article is going to try to cast some light on the faith of Rotary in Estonia and also a flick of light on Latvia and Lithuania.
In 1939 the Soviet Union wanted to secure naval garrisons in Estonia and opened talks with the Estonian Government under the leadership of President Konstantin Paets (member of the Rotary Club of Tallinn and General John Laidoner (charter president of Rotary Club of Tallinn 1930).
The result was that Estonia was occupied in the autumn of 1939 and early 1940 and made a member of the Family of Soviet States in August 1940. ( Soviet propaganda text).
Naturally the Soviet regime was organized so that the local government was in the hands of local people but with strong ties to Moscow. President Paets was taken to Russia never to return to his native country, but to die in a mental institution in southern Estonia 1956.
The soviets did not look favourably at Rotary or Rotarians but they had their hands full so, that they actually did not start active persecution of Rotarians until shortly before they had to retreat in 1941 when Germany opened the Operation Barbarossa on June 22 1941 and stormed as far as the gates of Leningrad (St. Petersburg or Petrograd as it was called then) and Moscow.
The city of Peter the Great was laid under siege for 890 days and suffered terribly. It was not until January 1944 that the city was retaken by Soviet troops and the siege was lifted.
Germany occupied all the Baltic States and started a systematic campaign to remove from office any person who had been or was a member of Rotary Clubs or a Free Mason Lodge.
The operation was a result of the directive of the Ministry of the Interior (Ministerium des Inneren) of 1937 to order all Rotarians in Germany to either relinquish membership in Rotary, or their office in German state or local government or the courts..
This regulation actually resulted in the sad situation that all Rotary Clubs in Germany returned their Charters to RI on October 1937. Rotary could start again in West – Germany in 1948.
The Reichskommisar for das Ostland ( Governor of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) received a letter from the Ministry of the Interior in September 1942 with a directive to start an inquiry into how many (not German nationals or of German decent) , officials had a history of membership in Rotary or a Mason Lodge and to subsequently make sure that they left office.
Dos. II 1a 451 (439)
The follow-up was quick and is dated Oct. 5 1942.
The ministry orders the immediate departure from the clubs or lodges and also requires that no contact should be kept to former club members.
On October 29 1942 the Commander of the Security Police in Riga (Befelhaber der Sicherheitzpolizei und SD, Riga) reminds all Chiefs of the security police in Reval(Tallinn), Riga, Kauen (Kaunas), Minsk) that the matter needs immediate attention and requests a report as soon as possible.
Dos. II 1a 414 Geheim
On November 17, 1942 the Reichsicherheitshauptamt, Berlin ( Bureau for State Security) requests that all Rotary Clubs and other organization should be allowed to terminate their activities voluntarily and that all material such as minutes from meetings, membership rosters etc should be secured.
That letter contains a full list of Rotary Club presidents and secretaries and their addresses.
Note: President Harald Tammer, Tallinn, was taken prisoner by the Russians and deported to Siberia (1941) Secretary Silvers in Taru, and his family was taken prisoner by the Russians and deported to Siberia
The son of Architect Vytutas Landsbergis – Zemkalnis also Vytuas Landsbergis b. 1932 became President of Lithuania in 1990 and was in the vanguard of the Lithuanian freedom fight from the Soviet Union in the frightening period in 1990 and 1991.
Professor Puusepp was a leading specialist on brain surgery at the University of Taru (founded 1632) but had died a few months before the report was written.
Dos.IV B 3 – 500/42
On February 1 1943 the German Security Police in Estonia reports as follows:
Free translation: Secret
“The Rotary Club of Noemme- Tallinn was abolished by the “Bolschevists” Russians in the summer of 1940. The former club secretary Mr Johannes Toomes b. 19.08.1890 had gives the archives of the club to Notary Rudolf Tikmann b. 25.03.1890 (see above) who in turn had, for fear of the Bolscheviks, burned all the material “.
Signed Hinze, SS-Oberstumbandfürer
A further report dated 17 February 1943, tells us that:
The Rotary Club of Tallinn, admitted to Rotary International on 2 August 1930 had some 70 members in 1941 when the Russians took the President of the club, Harald Tammer, prisoner and transported him to camps in Siberia, never to return. President Tammer was a lawyer by profession.
The report goes on to tell that the membership fee was 20 Estonian Krooni, of which half went to RI in the US.
The Rotary Club of Tallinn had contacts with clubs in Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Germany.
After the Soviet occupation in 1940 the club actually decided to terminate. The archives of the club where partly burned by the secretary Kristelstein and partly it was disposed of by the Restaurant Kuld Lövi (Golden Lion), Tallinn. So, nothing fell into the hands of the Soviets or the Nazis.
Dos IVB 2 ha/Ro 334/43 GEHEIM
Bergmann SS- Obersturmbannfürer
The archives of the Rotary Club of Tartu, fell into the hands of the Soviet occupants.
After 1941 the Rotary Clubs in Tallinn did, according to an interview , with Bruno Wingisaar, (veterinary medicine), not have any open activity but the members of the clubs in Tallinn used to take long walks together, for fear of the secret police and Gestapo.
Rotarian Wingisaar managed to flee to Finland in 1943 and was a member of the Rotary Club of Mikkeli and Helsinki North-West for many years to come.
The reference material has been found in Riga ,Latvia in connection with research for an other history project and I take this opportunity to thank Rotarian, Past Club President of the Rotary Club of Tallinn, Andres Sauter for sharing a part of his findings to help me write this short article.
Kari Tallberg PDG D-1420