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« Tuna 3 / 2019

Escape from Tartu to Tallinn. Commentary by Ago Pajur

Relatively few of the diaries of the men who partici­pated in the war have been published, even though they in particular are what often exude the most genuine feel of the era, which makes it possible to more or less authentically get a sense of the nature of what took place.

This publication is the diary of the Tartu businessman and prominent member of various associations Aleksander Pääsuke (1884–1963) on the initial phase of the War of Independence. Even though the diary bears the title ‘Escape from Tartu to Tallinn’ in the author’s own hand, it contains entries from a considerably longer time period. His entries begin with 19 December 1918, when the relatively well-known and prosperous merchant, who had joined the voluntary armed organisation known as the Kaitseliit (Defence League), prepared to flee from his home town ahead of the Bolshevik invasion. The diary begins by providing a good idea of the conditions that prevailed in Tartu and the frames of mind of the townspeople before the abandonment of the city to the Red Army. Thereafter it describes the conditions in which the refugees lived at the turn of the year 1918/1919 after arriving in Tallinn.

Starting on 5 January 1919, the author belonged to the ranks of the Tallinn Defence Battalion that was in the process of being formed. He first served as an instrumentalist in the music detachment, thereafter as a common soldier and a machine gunner. Transfer to the front followed a brief and inadequate period of basic training in the capital. As fate would have it, Aleksander Pääsuke arrived back in Tartu, which had just been liberated, on 15 January together with comrades from his military unit. They received their baptism by fire a day later in the Battle of Reola that was fought on the outskirts of Tartu. Their advance at the heels of the gradually retreating Red Army took Tallinn’s Defence Battalion to Võru by 1 February. The battalion remained there for a brief rest, but very soon had to continue fighting the Bolsheviks in areas around the Estonian-Latvian border. They advanced all the way to Marienburg (Alūksne), but the enemy’s new major offensive soon forced Estonia’s soldiers to retreat. The last entry in the diary was made on 14 March 1919, when combat took place again in Võru County.

In his diary notes, Aleksander Pääsuke has vividly described combat action as well as the frames of mind that prevailed among the soldiers and local residents. He has also highlighted numerous details of the prevailing conditions and circumstances that allow even today’s reader to get a sense of the atmosphere of that time.