Saaremaa Muuseum. Kaheaastaraamat 2005–2006. Kuressaare, 2007, 302 pp.
Enn Tarvel – About Three Saaremaa Place Names
The article views three Saaremaa place names: the Lihulinn stronghold, the 13–14th century Order Castle of Pöide and the 14th century bishop’s castle of Kuressaare. The main part of the article is a compilation of writings earlier published in the journal Keel ja Kirjandus (Language and Literature – 1, 1999 and 10, 2004). The name Lihulinn, the author believes, springs from the adjective lige (wet, moist) in connection with the low and wet land surrounding the stronghold. He finds that the name of the Order castle, Pöide, is a derivation from the dialectal word põõs (paas in literary Estonian) denoting white limestone. An analogue here is the mainland town of Paide, which has got its been name after the same mineral. The name Pöide is first mentioned in written records in 1254; and construction of the Pöide tower stronghold probably began immediately after the Saare people’s resistance to the invaders ended in 1241. The first mention of the castle of Kuressaare (German Arensburg, Eagle Castle, after St. John’s attribute) is from 1381. As the armorial eagle in the extant images is shown with a long neck similar to that of a stork or crane, the author believes the Estonian name of the castle was derived from that. Finally, the author points out that the Baltic loanword salu, which traditionally refers to a grove of wood or bog island, apparently referred to a sea island in the place name Orissaare–Orissalu in the 17th century according to the main meaning of the word in Baltic languages (cf. Latvian sala).
Andres Adamson – Saaremaa Troopers in 1563–64
On the basis of lists of troopers in the service of Denmark and Duke Magnus von Holstein in 1563–64 preserved at the Danish State Archives (published in: V. Helk. Die Hofleute auf Ösel 1563 bis 1564. – Ostdeutsche Familienkunde. Heft 1/1993, pp. 170–175) the article analyses the personnel of troops of Jürgen von Tiesenhausen and Heinrich Dücker, in order to check whether they could be regarded as a militia of the nobility. The answer to the question largely defines the general attitude to the troopers, because of the parties involved in all the Livonian conflicts the local hereditary landed aristocracy (and the citizenry of towns) was undoubtedly the most interested in the welfare of the land, and consequently acted with a sense of responsibility. In case of a positive answer accusations of the venality of the courtiers, raised starting with the chronicler Balthasar Russow, could largely be put down to pro-Swedish propaganda the following generations have adopted without criticism.
On the basis of the analysis about half (at least 23) of the 50 more important troopers known by name or position were local noblemen. Several of them are earlier represented in the muster rolls of the Haapsalu Castle Company and the Lääne County (Wiek) Cavalry Service or later in Dücker’s Troop. Vassals from Lääne and Saare Counties dominated, but they also included refugees from the Moscovite-controlled Tartu and Viru Counties. Of the 55 troopers known by name or position in Dücker’s Troop also at least 23, and presumably a few others, came from the hereditary Livonian nobility. In case of Dücker’s Troop the men mainly came from the earlier Pärnu and Viljandi Commanderies, from southern Lääne County and Tartu County. This provides an additional explanation of Dücker’s later role as leader of the Pärnu troopers. As a result, the leading troopers in the said troops made up a representative cross-section of both the local aristocracy and noblemen who had moved away from the war to Saaremaa. There is nothing unexpected in that professionals from elsewhere figure in the roll in addition to noblemen. An analysis of the composition of the noblemen’s troops (cavalry service) of any other period gives us a rather similar picture.
Anton Pärn and Erki Russow – Could Kaarma Parsonage be the Oldest Stone Building
This paper deals with a stone building standing close by the church of St. Peter and Pauls’s of Kaarma. After the example of similar cases in Scandinavia, it has been regarded as an early medieval (i. e. 13th century) manor hall belonging to a local nobleman. There are two reasons for discussing the time of construction of the stone building near the Kaarma parsonage. First, art historians and archaeologists have only briefly dealt with determining the possible type of the Kaarma stone building and practically only guesses based on some minor details have been made so far. Besides, the present research results allow more precise dating of finds brought to light when its cellar was cleared out ten years ago.
The main building of the Kaarma parsonage, the focus of the present article in one of the largest parsonage ensembles in Estonia, stands about twenty meters from the church. There are various theories concerning the construction of the main building. The well-known Estonian art historian Armin Tuulse published some brief thoughts in his thesis. He believes that the original building (measuring 10.1 × 21.7 m; Fig. 1) at the site of the main building was a manor built as a traditional fortified dwelling house and dates it to the 16th century. Research carried out during renovation work in the early 1990s and later brought two slightly different results. Tõnu Parmakson, who studied the construction phases of the cellar, suggested that the cellar belongs to a fortified dwelling from the first half of the 13th century and that it was probably put up for the builders of the church. Based on the finds from the cellar, archaeologist Tõnu Sepp, who conducted archaeological supervision of the cellar dig, presumed a slightly later date – the middle or even the second half of the 13th century.
Closer examination proves that the finds cannot unfortunately be used to evaluate the exact age of the parsonage. The majority of the finds were from an early modern period dump and a fill-in in the eastern part of the cellar, hence it is not possible to connect them with absolute certainty with any specific activities in this particular building. Only one stratified find was unearthed – a comb (Fig. 3) beneath the parsonage walls, dated to the 11th – 13th centuries on the basis of parallel finds from Viljandi and Tartu. Suggested later dating attempts have put the erection of the building either to a period prior to the establishment of the church or to the same period, i. e. the first half of or mid-13th century. But such combs were made until the 15th century and stayed in use as late as until the 16th century. As the other finds are more likely to be from the late 13th and the early 14th century (Fig. 4–6), we can suppose that the building in question could rather be dated to the second half of the 13th century.
A more detailed study of the original building together with the cellar, carried out by Kersti Markus, revealed great similarity between the masonry of the vestry and the cellar in a comparison between the choice of stones and the manner in which they were laid. Referring to research results from Denmark and Gotland where medieval multi-stored buildings in the proximity of churches belonged to noblemen’s families, Markus found that also the original building in Kaarma could have belonged to a representative of the local elite. The author agrees that the house belongs to the 13th century and was reconstructed (based on the details of a carved stone found form the cellar) at the beginning of the 15th century. There were further reconstructions in the mid-15th and the early 16th century.
With the above-mentioned arguments taken into consideration, we are of the opinion that the typology of the original building still needs further discussion, mainly because no direct reference to any building of a similar type has been made in dating the time of construction. A brief look at the research results shows that starting from the mid 13th century cellars appear in joint buildings in West Estonian towns, such as Lihula and Haapsalu. Neither of the excavated examples dated to the 13th century from this region nor from Gotland fit the original house in Kaarma. It seems that focusing on search for the so-called old original building and a type similar to it is not going to produce any results. At the same time a new type of house – a fortified dwelling, also known as the tower-house of the local aristocracy – started to spread at the end of the 15th and in the first half of the 16th century. The most interesting among them is the “fortified house” of Torpa (Fig. 7). The Torpa house has several similar elements with the Kaarma original house. The most significant of them are the cellar divided into two parts, the stairway from the cellar to the ground floor next to the inner wall and massive stone walls. This and the excavation information from a pit dug at the northern outer wall (showing a cultural layer of more than 1.5 metres beneath the parsonage foundation) tell us that the stone house was built on the remains of an earlier, possibly 13th century building.
Meinhard Saarkoppel – Traces of Time in the Big Meadow of Muhu
The Big Meadow is an area of about 2.2 square kilometres in the northern part of Muhu Island. Over the centuries the most of the meadow has only been in use as a pasture. This leads to the presumption that in all likelihood that area of poor soil has not been much influenced either by natural forces or human hands ever since its birth about 8,000 years ago. The author of this essay, a radio engineer who grew up in the area, asserts the contrary, raising a number of interesting and daring historical hypotheses. With this purpose he studies various “traces of time” – surface features and their changes due to the rise of the land, boulders and their location, as well as the origin of historical place names.
The author asserts that several erratic boulders in the area have served as ancient cremation stones, on which bodies of those killed in hostilities were ritually burnt, as witnessed by apparent traces of cremation created over a long period of time.
The biggest cliff of the island, located in the area of the Big Meadow, Üügu Pank, could have risen as the result of an earthquake or a shock wave caused by the explosion of the Kaali meteorite. The mysterious name of the cliff, Üügu, could therefore be derived from that of the Baltic-Finnic god of thunder Ukko (Uku). The caves in the bank have been created not so much as the result of natural forces as believed until the present, but mainly due to human activity – quarrying of limestone for building. Among other things it was used to build the island’s long dry-stone walls as well as for burning lime. He describes the remains of a large limekiln not known until the present.
On two occasions, in 1206 and in 1222, the Danes unsuccessfully attempted to conquer the Saaremaa archipelago. In both the cases a stronghold was built, but the local people soon destroyed them. The location of the strongholds has never been established. Excellent landscape and technical preconditions for the construction of such a stronghold (or strongholds) existed also on Üügu Pank. The place was favourable also strategically, allowing observation of the coast of both Eastern Saaremaa and of the mainland.
Valgerihva Spit, situated slightly west of the cliff, could have been the most important port in Muhu in former times. Ruins lying under the surface of the water at the end of the spit and scattered over a large territory by pack ice and storms could easily be the remains of a large landing pier. Another puzzle is the place with the mysterious name of Lanski, which apparently originates from the German name Landzunge (headland).
Although relatively few ancient finds are known from the area of the Big Meadow, it deserves serious archaeological study.
Juta Saron – About the Historical Fences of Saaremaa and Muhu Farms
Fences and boundaries together with gates played an important role in the general appearance of both individual farmyards and of Estonian villages in general. The system of numerous dry stone walls so conspicuous in the landscape had largely been established by the end of the 17th century, providing a firmer and more lasting framework and adding conservatism to the use of land on the islands and their population pattern.
Until the formation of properties at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries common fields and meadows had to be fenced to permit the grazing of cattle without surveillance. Until the end of the 19th century the procedure of the building of fences was regulated by unwritten laws dating back to the times of the corvée. According to these local traditions the parish court settled all disputes pertaining to the building of fences. The general rule was that the owner of more valuable land built a fence on its border with less valuable land. The height of fences was generally known and accepted by the people. Fences were built by joint efforts around common fields and pastures, the stretch each farm had to build depending on the size of the farm. Surveying of the fences was carried out after about every ten years, and fences had to be mended by each St. George’s Day (April 23).
The importance of the problems of fencing for Saaremaa people is evident from the frequency of applications to courts for the settlement of debates. In 1935 a special Saaremaa Boundary Fences Act was issued over the State Elder’s signature.
In terms of the building material fences fall into three categories: dry-stone, timber and so-called mixed fences. Of these, dry-stone walls are the oldest, widely used and of different appearances depending on the kind of stone the ground yielded. There are three types of dry-stone walls: granite, limestone and granite with limestone. The shape of limestone fences largely depended on the nature of the material – thicker quarried slabs made a more regular wall. The number of granite walls was the smallest among Saaremaa’s boundary fences.
Wooden fences were known as so-called auxiliary fences due to the notorious scarcity of woods on the island, and they were built where stones were not readily available. As it required less labour to build a wooden fence, they began to gain popularity towards the end of the 19th century. The timber needed to make a fence was felled in the winter and the fence was built in the spring after the ground melted. Oak was preferred for fence posts, while any kind of wood was good for the slanting pickets (hirs, pl hirred in the local dialect). The slanting picket fence, in which coarse pickets were hung at about 45 degrees between two staves, was the most widespread type, but wicker fences were also quite customary. The first rail fences only appeared at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries mainly around hayfields. The newest types of fence are of vertical pickets.
Combination stone and wood fences are particularly characteristic of Saaremaa and Muhu villages and lend a singular appearance to them compared with villages on the mainland. Another characteristic of the islands is the multitude of gaps and gates in the fences. Apart from the practical need, gates acquired the role of decorative architectural features in a farmyard. As the soil yielded a lot of limestone slabs there are conspicuously many main gates, in which the posts are connected overhead with a horizontal crossbeam. In keeping with the Estonian farmyard tradition of having no abundant architectural decorations also the gates are laconic in style.
The large number of fences and traditions of their maintenance have ensured a tidy and unchanging appearance of Saaremaa farmyards until today. Fences have always been and hopefully will remain an attractive part of the island’s architectural landscape.
Kalle Kesküla and Bruno Pao – About Loodemaa, its History and Cultural Meaning
The first parts of Loode(maa), a land lying to the southwest of Kuressaare, rose from the sea in the Late Iron Age (800–1200 AD). It is an alvar (loopealne), which has apparently given the name to the place. Economic activity started there after the building of the Kuressaare bishop’s castle in the 14th century and human settlement on the banks of the Põduste River, which forms a boundary to the area. When the City of Kuressaare was born in the 16th century, it planted an oak grove in the pastures and hayfield there for the needs of its merchant fleet. The Big Bridge (Suursild) built over the Põduste improved access to Loodemaa.
Changes in land use (expansion of boundaries of the city) at the end of the 18th century and the building of a post road to the Sõrve Peninsula brought new life to Loodemaa. The post of gamekeeper was created for Loode in 1811. Shipbuilding started on the bank of the Tori Cove between the city and Loode in 1810 at Pärnu merchants’ commission. On the initiative of the city government the first mud bath facility of the future resort town was transferred there in 1856. In 1857 the first steamers with holidaymakers arrived in the Kuressaare roads and the city became a resort of all-Russian importance. The Tsarist government built modern infrastructure at Loode with a new port together with the Loode Highway and inn as key points. Even a railway serving the mud-bath facility was built.
The heyday of Loode fell into the years of the functioning of the Loode Port in 1874–93. The Loode Oakwood turned into an outing place for both the townspeople and visitors. Side by side with the Russian intellectuals and businessmen also numerous Estonian cultural figures enjoyed the beauty of Loode. The Port Arthur music café was built on the shore of the Väike Katel Bay lying between Kuressaare and Loodemaa.
Children of the Kuressaare municipal school went on hikes to Loode to admire its beautiful nature and school inspector Aristokli Khrebtov suggested taking the wood under nature protection 1914 after finding rare plant species there. By a decision of the Estonian parliament a bird sanctuary of black-headed gulls and other water foul was established there in 1927.
German occupation authorities carried out executions of Jews and Communists in Loode in 1941, and so people no longer wanted to walk there. After the war a barbed wire fence with Keep Out signs was put up around the wood; ammunition was kept in depots built there. Under conservationists’ pressure, however, the wood, which by then had been attached to the Kuressaare forestry district, was in 1959 once again turned into a state nature protection area; also the ammunition depots were removed from the Loode Oakwood.
In the Soviet period the area was used to herd cows, to make hay and to watch birds. A camping site for motorists was fitted out on the site of the former inn, and the Saare Kalur co-operative fishery built some blocks of flats instead of the municipal dump and the shacks of a signals unit. At present a golf course is being laid out in the vicinity. But the potential of the area is a much bigger – Loodemaa is looking forward to hosting the clients of today’s spa hotels and the rebirth of old traditions.
Kaarina Rein – Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Luce: His Years of Study in Germany
This article is about the years of study of Johann Wilhlem Ludwig Luce (1756–1842), an important figure in the cultural and educational life of the island of Saaremaa (Ösel) during the first third of the 19th century. Johann Luce studied theology at Göttingen and Helmstedt Universities from 1774 to 1777 and medicine at Göttingen and Erfurt from 1789 to 1792, graduating from the latter with the degree of doctor of medicine. Instead of a doctoral thesis in Latin, Luce compiled a monograph in German titled Über die Ursachen der Degeneration der organisirten Körper (On the Reasons of Degeneration of Organised Bodies), published in 1794 in Göttingen. His work expanded ideas of the Göttingen professor of medicine J. F. Blumenbach concerning the evolution of nature and human beings.
In conclusion, the author of the article finds that thanks to his versatile education Luce corresponds to the portrait of a typical 18th century physician and of a typical intellectual of the period of the Enlightenment.
Ülo Parbus – Traces of Johann von Luce and his Followers in Estonian Cultural History
One of the biggest services of Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Luce (1756–1842), perhaps the most outstanding and versatile cultural figure to have ever worked on Saaremaa, was the founding of the Kuressaare Estonian Society (Arensburgische Ehstnische Gesellschaft) in 1817. It was the world’s first organisation devoted to the study of the Estonian language and culture and served as an indirect example for the Learned Estonian Society (Gelehrte Estnische Gesellschaft) established in Tartu in 1838. It is a widespread opinion that the manuscript materials of the Kuressaare Estonian Society have disappeared either totally or in their main part. The article views several hitherto unknown traces of the society in Estonian cultural history.
In 1834 the secretary of the society, Friederich Schmidt (1785–1841), who served as pastor at Anseküla, probably sent a large amount of materials the society had collected to Johann Heinrich Rosenplänter, an Estophile friend of his, so he could publish them in his Beiträge zur genauern Kenntniß der ehstnischen Sprache. But the journal was no longer published by that time and after Rosenplänter’s death in 1846 his papers went into the possession of the Learned Estonian Society. The materials received from the Kuressaare Estonian Society contained a manuscript so-called supplementary volume to A. W. Hupel’s Estonian Handbook, of which the second printing was published in 1818. Collecting material for his monumental Estonian-German Dictionary in the 1860s, Ferdinand Johann Wiedemann also worked at the Learned Estonian Society library. In the dictionary he published in 1869 all the entries to which he has added (O), i. e. Oesel (Saaremaa), as a place reference were collected by members of the Kuressaare Estonian Society.
Apparently also a very rare manuscript 1834 songbook the Finnish folklore specialist Aukusti Robert Niemi (1869–1939) received from an Anseküla farmer, Kusti Piiding, during his collection trip to Saaremaa in 1898 springs from the same collection. The author explains that in an article about the find in the journal Eesti Kirjandus in 1932 the farmer’s name was misspelt due to the lack of the letter ü in the Finnish alphabet. So the person who actually handed over the songbook was Kusti Püüding (1825–1910) who, being nine years old in 1834, could not have been the compiler of the songbook. Apparently some of the materials collected by the Kuressaare Estonian Society ended up in the hands of Anseküla peasants after Friedrich Schmidt’s death in 1841. Also analysis of the contents of the songbook supports this hypothesis.
Ago Rullingo – The Grünthal Family
The best-known representative of the Grünthal family in Estonia is certainly the poet and linguist Villem Grünthal-Ridala. But the Grünthal family has given also several other people known in Estonian culture and public life.
The earliest known representative of the family was Jaera Jaak (ab. 1740 – 21 Dec. 1802 , Old Style), master of Jäära Farm in the Ridala Village of the private Audla (Haucküll) Manor. Over times the farm became a cotter’s holding and his offspring left Pöide parish. The first person from the Grünthal family to leave Pöide was Ado (1779–1841), the fourth son of Jäära Jaak, who was admitted to the Reina (Saltack) Manor as early as in 1798 and moved from there to Luiskama Farm of the Nurme Manor in Muhu in 1825. Half a century later also Kaarel (Carl Friedrich; 1853–1933), grandson of Aadu’s brother Mihkel (1774–1845), and father of the poet Villem Ridala (30 May 1885 New Style – 16 Jan. 1942) settled in Muhu.
Of these the descendents of the former have been regarded as the Luiskama and the latter the Viira branch of the family. The lawyer Timotheus Grünthal (29 June 1893 – 29 May 1955) and his brother, the veterinarian scientist Vassil Ridala (9 March 1906 – 19 Feb. 1985), can be mentioned among the most outstanding members of the Luiskama branch. The former of them was married to lawyer and journalist Vera Poska-Grünthal (25 March 1898 – 29 Jan. 1986), daughter of the Estonian statesman Jaan Poska. Of their descendents the best known people are the doctor and poet Ivar Grünthal (8 June1924 – 14 Feb.1996) and Raoul Grünthal (b. 1966), the son of Ivar Grünthal’s younger brother Timotheus (b. 1930) and director general of one of the biggest Swedish dailies, Svenska Dagbladet, since 2006.
The best-known representative of the Viira Village line until the present is the poet and former lecturer of Estonian at Helsinki University Villem Grünthal-Ridala, son of Kaarel Grünthal. His sons, political scientist Esmo Ridala (28 Sept. 1923 – 28 March 1988) and the Latinist and teacher Veljo Grünthal (18 April 1928 – 30 Jan. 2003) have deserved little attention in the Estonian public until the present. Also Veljo Grünthal’s daughters, Doctor of Philology Tiiu Grünthal-Robert (b. 3 April 1966), journalist Kaja Kunnas (b. 27 June 1968) and diplomat Merike Grünthal (b. 25 Oct. 1974) have actively taken part in Estonia’s and Finland’s public life. Their brother, linguist Riho Grünthal (b. 22 May 1964) is carrying on the work of his grandfather Villem Grünthal at Helsinki University.
Heino Kermik – The Sad Story of the Building of the Lõupõllu Schoolhouse
The national school system was one of the first things tackled in the young Republic of Estonia, with teacher training and building of schools among the main concerns. The purpose was a comprehensive school system and unification of small fragmented village schools into bigger ones. About twenty new schoolhouses were built in the first years of independence in the Saare County. The first of them was for the Lõupõllu 6-year school on the territory of the Torgu rural municipality on the Sõrve Peninsula. As the area was among the poorest and remotest on the island, building of the schoolhouse faced great difficulties and dragged out. The municipality lay far from major roads and (cultural) centres; there was no good cooperation, enough education, culture or any wealth at all. Closure of small village schools in connection with the Lõupõllu school district created a lot of contradictions. There was much debate over whether the whole municipality or only the school district should take part in building the schoolhouse. The various debates and confusions concerning financing the project even led to the election of the new municipal governor in spring 1924.
Construction work started in 1920 but was soon interrupted because of the poor quality of work. There were big difficulties in finding skilful and disinterested contractors. A new beginning was made in spring 1923, whereas instead of the original idea of a schoolhouse with two classrooms the school was to now get three large classrooms in which six forms could work simultaneously. The new Lõupõllu schoolhouse was festively opened on 14 September 1924, but the municipality only managed to finally complete the building work in 1935, raising more funds loans and subsidies. Hopes of the county’s education officials to form an official school district around the school at an early state also came to nought. Only children from a few nearby villages started to attend the school, while the parents of school-age children from slightly farther away successfully fought against the plan.
Construction of the new schoolhouse became fatal for one of its main initiators and first headmaster, Hindrik Ratas (1887–1925). Born in the same municipality, he had been teacher at the small Lõupõllu village school in 1905–11, headmaster since 1915 and acquired the teacher’s qualification at summer courses in Kuressaare in 1919. As a result of the tension, confused financial affairs and economic difficulties in connection with the construction work Ratas developed serious mental disorders and committed suicide in April 1925. The schoolhouse together with almost the whole Lõupõllu Village was destroyed in hostilities in 1944.
Tõnu Sepp – Restoration of the Kuressaare Fortress: a New Start
In the Soviet period the Kuressaare Castle and Fortress stood out as one of the best restored historical sites in Estonia. Major restoration work managed and financed by the state took place in both the mediaeval castle and the earthworks surrounding it during about thirty years since the late 1960s. In connection with the collapse of the Soviet state the whole earlier restoration system fell apart and work in the Kuressaare Fortress continued only episodically thanks to the initiative of the Kuressaare Municipal Government and Saaremaa Museum. Cleaning of the moats of the fortress in 1999–2000 can be regarded as a historical breakthrough.
Busy preparations for a new period of restoration have been going on since 2004. The first step in this direction was a development plan of the fortress including the intended conservation and restoration work. Some urgent investigation was already carried out in 2005–2006 and some drawings were made. By today the project has received all the necessary endorsements and restoration work of the Kuressaare Fortress has been admitted for state financing. According to preliminary estimates the cost of the conservation and restoration of the bastion belt will require about 75 million kroons (4.8 million euros) during the next seven to eight years. The plans include digging out and, where necessary, bracing and conserving all the support walls of the bastions, curtains and ravelins, with the dolomite facing to be only partly restored in the process. Besides, some of the now closed tunnels connecting the lower flanks of the bastions with the yard of the fortress will be opened. The most conspicuous change will be removal of the embankment built in 1981 over the western bastion, and instead a new passage into the southwest curtain will be created. Thought has also been given to displaying the different parts of the fortress. Ruins of earlier perimeter walls now hidden in the ground will be partly opened and the service road circling the fortress will be turned into a route to be used by all visitors.
Compared with the Soviet period when a clearly reconstructive tendency prevailed, the new design is carried by a totally different modern restoration philosophy. Above all the plans include conservation of the existing walls with only a few sections restored in order to emphasise the architectonics of the technical details in certain significant parts of the fortress. Naturally all the work will be done using materials traditional for the Kuressaare Fortress (lime mortars, dolomite, granite field stones, etc.).
Raul Salumäe – People in the Whirlwind of Mad Times
After an interval of 12 years a new part of the permanent display of the Saaremaa Museum reflecting events in the county in 1939–49 was opened in the Kuressaare Castle on 12 September 2005. The long period of preparations made it possible, thanks to friends and supporters of the museum both at home and abroad, to devote attention to balancing the collections that had inevitably remained one-sided in the conditions of the Soviet occupation and simultaneously with the display of items in the exposition to carefully plan the manner of presentation. The new permanent display is an attempt to overcome the political emotions of the day inevitable for people who have recently regained their freedom and strive for making the display understandable also for people visiting the museum fifteen or twenty years later. The last-mentioned circumstance forced us to find new angles for certain historical events compared with the earlier one. We can only hope that the display in three halls in the northeastern wing of the Kuressaare Castle inspires visitors of the museum to meditate about what took place in the times so complicated for our people and think about its reasons. After all, no one of us can fully understand the past. Let us then together attempt to achieve at least some kind of mutual understanding and prevent the reoccurrence of such mad times in the future.
Sulev Truuväärt – Memories of Life on Vilsandi Island after the Great War
In his memories Sulev Truuväärt, a retired officer born on Vilsandi Island in 1934, looks back at his life on the nine square kilometre island off Saaremaa’s western coast in 1944–50, as well as some later events. Of the nearly 150 indigenous inhabitants 94 fled to the West in the autumn of 1944; of those who remained the author is now the only person still alive. People wishing to escape to the West were caught on Vilsandi even after the arrival of Soviet troops. The author remembers two women arrested the same autumn and two men in the Wehrmacht uniform, who mistakenly landed on the island on board a boat taken hold of at the Undva rescue station. On 1 April 1945 two men and a woman were detained from a luxury yacht in distress. The same autumn the bodies of a German soldier and two women were found in the sea and it was believed they could have originated from the refugee ship Moero the Soviets sunk on 22 September 1944.
After attacking a German convoy on 6 October 1944 Soviet aircraft carried out a clearly ungrounded air raid of Vilsandi. As a consequence several farms burnt down, including the Truuväärts’ Hoidja Farm. On the next day the first Soviet troops arrived on the island. In all probably a couple of companies were stationed on the island. To quarter them a large number of the local people were chased out of their homes. Using the labour of about a hundred prisoners of war, a 130-mm coast guard battery was built near the lighthouse in spring and summer 1945. It stood there until 1956 when it was dismantled. One of the most memorable events was a mass fight between men of the Soviet navy and infantry on 1 May 1945.
In the second half of 1945 coast guards replaced the infantrymen. A rigid border regime was established. For example the residents had to inform them of any movement along the seashore, all the boats were gathered in the harbour that had a barbed wire fence built around it. In 1956–57 a special border guard settlement was built. Gradually new settlers came to the island and the school was reopened in autumn 1946. Mainly non-Estonians worked at the lighthouse and the weather station, and some of them married local girls. The latter also bore five to six illegitimate children. Vilsandi escaped the mass deportation of 1949 although islanders’ names figured in the list. It was rumoured that the chief of the border guard station had not permitted the deporters to land on the island. A cooperative fishery was established on 12 April 1949 and was relatively successful at first, became famous for its yellow butter.
Relations between the military and the local people were relatively good although there were some smaller thefts and conflicts. The most tragic incident happened in March 1968 during a birthday party when the political officer of the border guard station shot dead the lighthouse keeper and a young woman employee of the weather station when drunk. The murderer was caught the next day and his later fate is unknown.