|In 1944 I was 13 years old. We were situated in mid Tallinn, in Tatari street. On March, 9th, I remember, I was coming home from my ballet classes in the evening. It was about six o'clock. I passed by Tatari street and was quite nearby home when the air-raid alert was given. At the same moment I saw a number of Russian light rockets, so-called "Christmas trees", in the sky. That was a sign of more hard attack, for they were used seidom. I run to our flat, took a small brief-case in which we had collected the few silver things we had for any case. Then I ran to the cellar floor. There was a larger public bomb-shelter not far from but commonly we entered the shel-ter of our own house, although it was not so secure. There was about five or six women and one man in the shelter already.|
|And then it started. It was horrible. I remember dark sounds of the bombs fallen and keen sound ofthose which only passed by. Both sounds were equally terrifying but the man explained that there is no danger until the sounds can be heard. I don't know how long did it last. I was so afraid because my mother had still not retumed, I didn't know if she was dead or alive; my father was dead already. Our aunt was living at Kadriorg, another district of the town; nothing was known about her either. We had phone at home but there was no use of it, of course.|
|I don't know how long did the bombing last. At last the sounds stopped slowly. At the same moment my mother ran into the cellar, alive and not wounded. Both of us were crying of joy. Mother told that she was as near as in the second house from our place but it was impossible to run the distance when the bombing started. We came out. In our neighbourhood there was a TBC-hospital. It had been hit; the building was in fire and cries were heard inside. Some rescued patients were standing in their night clothes in the|
|Mother wanted to visit her working-place in the town centre. As we were walking there, I remember myself wading in pieces of broken windows; the splinters reached up to my ankle. In front of my mother's shop, the "Estonia" theatre was in flames. People in theatre costumes were walking. It is strange that I don't remember panicking or loud crying. Although all windows were chrushed, no robbers entered the shops - it was just war-time and people needed everything badly!|
|The bombing started again; after the second wave I had just come out from the shelter when I felt something painful in my eye. We rushed to the well-known oculist. It was about half past two at night. He took out a piece of coal which had flown in the air. I remember his firm and friendly acting. He took no money and told that he had had many visitors that night already.|
|On the way to home we passed the German Commandant's Office. A German guard's corpse was lying at the front door. I don't know the reason why we looked up suddenly. His head was there on the fourth floor roof. /.../|
This is the story of a girl who managed to survive the night of horror in Tallinn on March, 9th, 1944. That night was a disaster which can never be forgotten. I have heard the memorates about it since early childhood; so do presumably all inhabitants of Tallinn. The fact that people are able to restore the facts and course of the events more than fifty years later shows that the bombing was of special importance for the town and why not for whole country.
The Announcement of the Defence Office lA-group in Tallinn from March, 18th, 1944, with remark "Secret", gives the list of losses, caused by the 9th March air-raid. The data is as follows: 300 bombers threw 1,725 blasting bombs and 1,300 incendiary bombs to the town. Only 43 bombs did not blast. Among 634 slain there were 463 civilians. 213 people were seriously and 446 lightly wounded. The list was not exact because several corpses were not recognized any more under the burnt ruins. Among the wounded, several died of wounds later; it was also Unclear how many people became invalids because of wounds or getting cold during the escape from flames.
About the material losses. 1,549 houses, 1,418 living and 5 8 public houses included, were either burnt or totally ruined. 250 houses got remarkable damages. All in all 5,073 houses were lost, making 53% of the total number of 9,500 houses in Tallinn. 20,000 people remained without shelter.
Several streets, like Harju Street in the town business centre, were swept away. The town changed its looks by filling the ruined places and setting parks instead of living quarters. The general view of the town also changed: the medieval St. Nicholas Church burned down that night. Even more important was destruction of the "Estonia" theatre, symbol of both the nation and its culture.
Large vacated areas in the town centre were rebuilt in Stalinist "neoclassical" style later. The fact that the visual sight of the town had absolutely changed, facilitated to take the Soviet annection inevitable. That night in March was a breakpoint, living on and on in memories and memorates. One proof about it is that it is named simply "the March Bombardment", without adding any date or localization. Year by year the fact has also acquired greater legendary/mythical significance.
THE PROBLEM OF MYTH
Just after the Bombardment, both larger warring poles, Russians and Germans, started to use the fact for propaganda. At that time, Germans and their rear, Estonia and Tallinn presented the facts honestly and with respect. Naturally the agitation was expecting that the bombardment would incite soldiers to fight more fiercely at the front. Officially the mourn was substituted with promise of vengeance: some days later a number of posters with the device "Revenge is rising from the ruins!" were put up in the town.
As for the Soviet side, the Bombardment fact was treated dishonestly and by lies only. No attention was paid to people's suffering and dread. Instead of it the Soviet leaflets gave the explanations like "The Germans' crocodile tears". The Bombardment was explained to have been caused by Germans' attacking of the U.S.S.R. in 1941. The suffered Estonians were encouraged to rise up against the German power in Estonia, for it had caused the righteous punishment of Tallinn, etc.
After Estonia was finally annexed by Soviet troops in autumn 1944, the March Bombardment was the first thing to be kept quiet about. The fresh ruins were buried. The "Estonia" theatre was restored. The facts and the names were concealed. The basic idea was absolute silence. That line was followed for years. For example, namely the sector of March Bombardment victims was rebuilt at Liiva cemetary and new, Russian, graves set up on its former area. But the concealing did not work. Here and there people tried to depict the Soviet terror in symbols in art or literature, as Paul Kondas, a well-known naivist artist, in his painting "Drezden"(1979). Still more alive was direct tradition in people's mind and mouth.
THE BEGINNING OF FOLK TRADITION
The first notes of folk tradition about the Bombardment spread out at the very moment. At the "Estonia" theatre, the first Estonian ballet by Ed. Tubin, was on stage that night. The ballet was called "Kratt" (The Treasure-Bearer) and presented an old Estonian legend, connected with devil and soul-selling. The ballet interpretation was suggestive even before, but at that night it got a special meaning. The mythological demon and other dancers in costumes around the burning theatre awoke a legend that the Treasure-Bearer set the theatre into fire. Beliefs like that are known widely in Europe, especially in the English-speaking area: so "Dr. Faustus" by Marlowe and "Macbeth" by Shakespeare are commonly believed to bring accidents, namely fires, during their performances.
As the "Estonia" theatre was really the most symbolical building, destroyed in the Bombardment, the hope about new better life was connected with this house. When small trees were planted in front of the restored theatre house, people started to proclaim an anonymus prophecy: when the trees will be grown-up, Estonia will be liberated from Russians and their reign.
These evidences of folk lore, arisen by the Bombardment, led to another question. During the night of March 9th, people could have felt as the final doomsday, described in the Bible, had arrived. Several parts of the Apocalypse by St. John seem to be similar with the events that night. The problem itself is wider, and has its parallels in world's epic tradition complex of eschatological myths. So I got an idea, to collect sufficient large material on the March Bombardment and compare the got data to other eschatological myths.
In the beginning 1 chose for comparison the Apocalypse in the Bible and pagan Voluspa song in the Elder Edda, the last connected with some other parts of the Scandinavian epic. Although the traditions seem very different from each other, the Edda world catastrophe can be influenced by the early Christian invasion in Scandinavia. In any case people were Christians for at least two centuries in the time of its writing, the 13th century. Beside the Elder Edda, the Younger Edda presents the same world catastrophe more exactly in prose. The author of this description, Snorri Sturluson, had a Christian-Latin background. While the Apocalypse message in the Bible has been hidden in hardly understandable symbols, the Edda is more clear. Geographical origin makes the Scandinavian epic suitable enough for comparison while the world's end catastrophe is lacking in Estonian lyro-epic tradition (the exception can be song type "The Big Oak").
The more clear presentation of doomsday can be followed from Voluspa, stanza 44 up to the end. At first, stanzas 45 and 46 describe the fall of the basic ethical values: nobody takes care of others, kinship fidelity is lost and brothers and sisters may slay each other; the time of sword, wind and wolves has begun. Odin, the chief and mental leader, leaves his reign in st. 47. The confusion and instability among the aesir gods and earthly people can be concluded by that fact. In the same stanza the recognizing remark about the start of the world's end is given by a note about the Gjallarhorn's sound.
Since st. 48 the environmental catastrophe is depicted. Yggdrasill, the World Tree or Axis Mundi, is trembling (48). From the sky Muspel's (Fire Kingdom's) sons are riding down and by their weight the Bifröst (Rainbow) bridge crushes. Arrival of the fire giant Surtr makes everybody escape (51). The Sun turns black, the earth sinks into the sea, there are no stars in the sky. The world tree is in flames and heat dust is rising high up (56).
Before the total fire the last combat takes place. Loki, the counterpart of the Christian Devil, is sailing the ship of the dead. Arrived, their army takes part in the battle. The main Aesir and Vanir gods will be slain. The monsters, causing their fall, will also perish.
The hope in the future nevertheless does not disappear. Stanza 57 tells us that the land will again rise from the sea, new and beautiful; The younger Aesir return to their homes and will live happily in virginal nature (57-59). The human race will regenerate by a rescued couple (Vafthrudnismal, 45). Still, once a dragon with new dead is flying over the land; at that point the Völva's or Seeress's prophecy comes up to the end, being disrupted.
The Bible's Apocalypse presents the same motifs, combined with several others and not in the same order. The homsong is noted in Apocalypse, 8-9 as sound of Tuba Mirum. The environmental catastrophe is described in more details in Apocal., 8-9 and 11, including different catastrophes on the sea and on the earth, pollution, diseases and fires. The monsters of Voluspa are presented in Apocal., 13; among their slayers Archangel Michael, probably the counterpart of Freyr in Edda, is noted by name. The main difference betweenEdda and the Apocalypse is that if all "chastises" in the first are fatal and directly connected with the world's end, the Bible chastises are sent to the world to recall people to improve their behaviour and morals. If Edda points at murder and killing of one's own kin as the most serious sin, the Apocalypse names witchcraft, lasciviousness and theft besides murder (Apocal. 9,21). The chastises still do not cause positive changes in people's life style (ibid.) The problem of devil, the final combat and purification of the land by fire is also different. By the Apocalypse the thousand-year state of peace will take place before the very last doomsday and its judgement. That version can point at the arrival of dragon in the end stanza of Voluspa.
Generally, both Christian and Pagan versions of the world catastrophe have no determining difference. Having ascertained the fact, I started to collect the material for comparison of the March Bombardment motifs in memorates with two other eschatological myths. I proceeded from the fact that being established, the data has lost less important lines in people's mind. So the process of mythologization has started and is going on already.
Looking for possible informants in Tallinn and other parts of Estonia, I made clear four ways of field research. Basically, the memorates could be divided largely into oral and written material. Oral material can be either memorates, recorded personally by the researcher for scientific purpose; also material, recorded on the relevant events (meetings, memorial days, etc.) or for audiovisual media. Written data can be memorates, written specially for a researcher; data, collected for museums, etc.; also personal diaries and letters of the period. In addition all materials in press and treatments in literature and other beaux arts can be followed.
By character, memorates of witnesses can be complemented by memorates, heard by others and retold to the collector later. The first ones can be more exact by facts. The others can reflect which parts of the event are more widely spred, have been worthy to be transferred.
The total appeal, published in newspapers and television, can be the most fertile one. For that a group of fieldwork collectors have to be on place to contact the answering informants fast. Working alone at first, I chose the way of personal contacts, asking older people in Tallinn to tell their memories. Some of the informants 1 had met on my lectures at university extensions and local study groups. I also recorded relatives and acquaintants. The idea was to let people tell the story free, without special questions or interfering. So the adequate presentation was guaranteed and people could tell just the things they remembered after fifty years.
The special atmosphere of extreme tragic caused stoppages in field-work. People were disturbed by the details of the memories. Some of them asked to put the recording off because they felt not strong enough to present their memories yet. I do not know how much such behaviour was connected with fear of mic and recording as well as with knowledge of importance of the Bombardment for Estonia. Seriousness and crying during recording was common. After a woman, giving record, had got neuralgia and lost her senses for an hour, I became more careful.
For causes like that I have managed to record only five informants yet. Other sources have been a tape from meeting on March, 9th, 1989, I got form K. Deemant, Director of the Tallinn Town Museum, and selected materials, published in newspapers and magazines 1989-1995. Choosing those written memorates, 1 paid attention to personal experiences. The historical truth was explored with the help of Tallinn Town Museum materials.
Up to this moment, 11 women and 6 men have given oral recordings. Among the materials, published in press, 5 memorial articles by two men and two women have been referred to, besides a memory book by actress Liina Reimann, a letter by an unknown woman, and a transcript of a radio interview, made by Artur Rinne with an unknown woman and an unknown man on March 10th, 1944.
All recorded informants presented personal experiences. A child can remember things about at the age of 4. So the youngest informant was bom in 1941. The oldest one was born in 1912. Mainly the recorders were between 60 and 70. As for localization, all main the parts of Tallinn and the small town Nomme nearby were represented, in addition also a note from Kose borough, 40 km, Viljandi town, about 120 km, and Helsinki, 80 km from Tallinn.
I must add that in recording behaviour of both sexes was typical. Women paid more attention for suffer and anxiety, describing horror and hopelessness. Men's records were more appointed to objective presentation, they were less passionate. In men's records hate and demand for vengeance also prevailed.
The number of 23 records can seem too small. But the first typical motifs have cleared out already.
MARCH BOMBARDMENT MOTIFS BY MEMORATES
A. REAL EVENTS EXPERIENCEDx
"I was coming home from my ballet classes" - "I was coming home from the hospital I worked at" - "I was on the way to meet our form of former Westholm Gymnasium boys" - "I was on duty" - "I was going to bring medicine to my god-child" - "I was in the bath". Those sentences prove that everybody still remebers exactly what she or he was doing at the moment the Bombardment started. In fact, the bombing time was chosen earlier that people had got used to. Few informants were at home already. Most of them were moving somewhere. Another group of informants told about different meetings they or their acquaintants had that night. In addition to the meeting of the Westholm boys there is a memorate about a meeting of the philatelist club and a note about a party, German officers had had that night at an exclusive restaurant "Kuld Lõvi" which was totally destructed. The last note has no proofs and seems to be leading back to Belshazzar feast in the Bible (Daniel, 5)
The real action is recorded to have begun after shooting of light rockets - "Christmas trees" or "Christmas candles". The first impulse was naturally to find a shelter.
Only few people reached home bomb shelter or came out from their homes to enter it. Generally everybody had to stop at the place he or she just was. Moving downstairs is the basic moment, connected with the shelter. One woman met the attack as follows:
|It came so suddenly that I was unable to move. I was in the kitchen, so I sat down at the stove, I couldn't pick up myself. (H. Tulp, rec. 1989)|
Most of the shelter notes contain information about the people, being inside already, and people, arriving later, for example:
|I hadjust came to the Tõnismae pharmacy...There was a firm bombshelter under it...Then a kindergarten was led in, all children were crying...|
Remarks about the bomb shelters are always connected with remarks about their steadiness. It is almost always told whether the shelter was set for the purpose or was established under a living house for any case, also whether the living house was a stone or wooden one.
Beside direct shelter notes there are some interesting notes about the safe area in flames:
|I felt myself like on an island. All streets /accounting/ were burning around us. In the midst of that area nothing happened to our livingplace, all Roopa street was rescued, although the houses were wooden there. (H. Tulp, rec. 1989).|
The island-motif, repeated by a note about Kaupmehe Street, in the town centre, is similar to the note about safe and moist place in the Crescent Hills which is told about in the Elder Edda (Vafth., 45). The shelters underground look like "helping earth" in the Apocalypse: "And the land did help the woman: it opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon let out from its mouth." (Apocal. 12,16)
Two memorates tell about people on the railway, out of any shelter place. By a memorate a bomber was hounding a train, trying to hit it. People in houses at Nomme saw the fight in which the train had no chance except good luck or God's mercy. After about five km the bomber left it at last and it drove up to Keila, a town 20 km from Tallinn.
"It was horrible..." That is the leitmotif of all recordings. Beside nameless fear, never experienced before, there was anxiety about other people: relatives and friends, collegues and patients. The fear about home and property is noted only if the house upwards was recognized to have been hit.
Surprisingly there are few words about hystery and panic, except childrens' behaviour. To the contrary, people's bravery and calmness is accentuated:
|We were in the Rannavarava shelter...! don't remember any crying, all were sitting still and listening. Only there was a man who smoked. A spark flew to his wad coat and it gave smoke. Then, yes, it looked like panic because women thought that the shelter was hit, too... (M. Ragul, rec. 1995)|
Another woman, having been in the same shelter does not remember the fact. All expressions of open panic were stopped at once:
|Women cried and mourned at the back wall... I went to them and ordered to keep quiet - all of us had just nerves! (S. Maidre, rec. 1995)|
Men tell themselves to have been more courageous:
I was repeating in my mind: the life must be left for me! The life must be left for me! (A. Vaik, rec. 1989).
During the break that Russians had to make while they brought new bomb loads, people came out Their action then can be divided into two: saving of material values and looking for close people The best example of the use of first is that a house in Vaike-Ameenka Street, 33, was saved by operative extinction of fire, although all other houses perished in that quarter The extmguismg even saved lives
We were putting the fire out on the railway where the oil vans were.. We didn't note about the second wave of the attack When we came back, we saw that our guard-house was not on its place Just absolutely destroyed, no mark, no track of it remained (Unknown railway worker, rec. March 10th, 1944).
In several memorates people tell themselves to have saved books instead of furniture or clothes A man managed to take leather volumes by well-known book artist A. Taska from his burning house Nobody was angry with him for that.
Having filled those two tasks, they were able to pay attention to the general view of the burning town and note typical moments Those who were at homes always told to have torn their curtains down for forestall fire That is one leitmotif Second, all informants remember about the window-glass pieces on the street Their appearence is connected with water metaphores in addition to "wading" in the entrance memorate, a lady who was running towards the shelter, remembers that windows broke down "like jets" Some moments were more terrifying.
|I saw the oil drums burning in the harbour Suddenly they all began to dance, they jumped up and down like ballerinas It was because of the oil foams inside Thank God they were empty or all our place would have been destroyed A train of oil vagonets on the harbour railway was burning, too It did not Jump, it was too heavy, also empty, thank God... (S Maidre).|
Another note tells about rising up of the St Nicholas Church tower That remark could be connected to the World-Tree's trembling in Edda but there is no other note about the fact and the informant did not see the rising personally but repeated what other people had told him.
Typically, many people rushed to their working places to see what had happened there. Those who were on duty did not leave the place or were forbidden to do that:
|A man told that all Toompea was bombed down. I wanted to rush to my father, mother and sister, living there. The director did not allow me; at last he took my word of honour that I would return in any case because the museum values had to be evacuated to the cellar at once. (E. Marrak, rec. 1989)|
|I had just come home from my duty day at the hospital... When I came out from the shelter, I began to run to the hospital at once, understanding that everybody was required to be on place. The Kaupmehe Street was in flames. I ran through the flames... At the hospital we started to evacuate people at once... I remember how we gathered pregnant women to the cellar, to the oven room which was the warmest place. We tried to find blankets for others... (E. Viidik in the article by V. Raudnask, Eesti Sõnumid 09. 03. 1994)|
It seems interesting that there are very few descriptions about the corpses or dying people. The explanation can be found by the fact that the destroyed areas burned down totally, leaving no witnesses:
|One wing of the hospital house kindled so fast that there was nothing to do. All those who were able to rise on legs, managed to come out. There was an old man whose leg was in plaster cast. He and a child in plaster bed just burned in... (E. Viidik)|
The rescuing operation is presented not only by those whose professional duty it was: a lady managed to bring her family members to her flat which was at some distance from the town centre and went out again to get some acquaintants there. Those who were in danger managed to escape:
|I was three years old. I don't remeber anything but we went out by a window. Then we moved fast out of the town. We came to a farm, not far from it. There were as many people sitting in the shed as the building was able to contain... (A. Kõrgessaar, rec. 1995)|
One single note also tells about stealing of trunks a family had thrown over the wall to save them from fire. Another informant tells about two German soldiers, having been shot down for robbery. Both informants were not witnesses of robbery or theft, repeating only stories of others. So the facts remain undefined.
A5. The second wave of attack
Much less is told about the second wave of the Bombardment. People seem to have forgotten about the turn of the events. Most of them remember about the beginning and the break. The further course is unclear. Some who had found their close people, felt happy, spending time with them now.
A6. The next day
In fear of the next attack, all inhabitants of Tallinn started to leave the town next morning. The notes about the leaving are similar:
|We were walking out of the town. All road was filled with people. On their way, only few of them had a car or horse carriage. People went on, having their property and children on sledges or push-carts. By the way, there was another, less numerous trend of people who went towards the town to see what has happened to their acquaintants. (H. Vihalemm, rec. 1989)|
People from countryside also tried to get others out of the town. Some of them were called out by phone, some had came voluntarily, worrying about:
|Next day an acquaintant, not friend, drove to town to take us with him, he had a carriage and a horse. We could take some pieces of furniture with us. (H. Tulp, rec. 1989)|
On the way out, more corpses were seen. An interesting memorate tells about German army horses, perished in Kreutzwaldi Street. In the morning Russian war prisoners were sent out to clear off. They found the dead horses and ate "soft pieces" of them.
One informant had picked up an exciting fact:
|There was heavy snowfall. It could not be accidental but had to have been caused by the Bombardment. The same snowing had taken place at the beginning of the war by the same cause. And I remember, Barbusse has depictured in his "Le Feu" heavy rain after the battle at Verdun. But we had snow. Heavy snowfall. (H. Vihalemm, rec. 1989)|
By strong influence of the night of March 9th, it has been almost forgotten that Russians really repeated their air-raid on March 10. After the night of fear the "weak" attack remained unimportant and is paid attention to by one single informant nowadays.
A7. Heritage (illnesses, cannibalism, crushed houses, etc)
The extent of material losses could be cleared out in the shortest time. Everybody knew what had happened to home. At working places all forces were directed towards clearing up:
|We were sitting with the director for several days and nights, living on black coffee only, to make clear all losses in our Art Museum funds. (E. Marrak, rec. 1989)|
Frequently there was nothing left:
|That night I had brought my typing machine home to work there. It was all what remained of my working place. (S. Maidre, rec. 1995)|
Losses of people cleared out during a longer period. It is believed that the official numbers are smaller because many people had escaped to Tallinn from mobilisation and lived there incognito. If nobody was looking for them later, they just remained lost. It was also hard to identify the burnt corpses. Having been rescued from fire, people died of fire wounds or getting cold. This fact is also been presented in memorates:
|An old woman was brought out and was sitting in an arm-chair, looking into flames. There she died in early morning. (H. Jõgisalu, Fifty years of the Night of Fear, Rahva Hääl 09. 03. 1994)|
|My father got cold, fell ill with pneumonia and died on March, 20th. (H. Märska, rec. 1989)|
Marks and signs, remembering the Bombardment, remained for a long time. There were not only ruins but live fire, still burning, inside of ruins:
|All quarters at the end of Vilmsi Street were destroyed. And the house cellars were in fire for months, maybe half a year. They were burning. And I was always afraid of passing them at night. They seemed like demon's eyes in the darkness. (S. Maidre, rec. 1995)|
Living conditions like that naturally had their own influence on people's behaviour, life style and ethical values. Not directly connected to the Bombardment memories, two informants have told about cases of cannibalism during the same year. One case is repeating the well-known charge on Jews. They were accused of eating children on secret rites in the ruins of the burnt synagogue building. Another tells about a woman, just killing people, making food of them and selling it for groceries. While the synagogue note seems to have been a migratory belief only, the cannibal woman did really act, was recognized and convicted in autumn 1944.
The Bombardment left hard load of painful problems. Because of that people interpreted the events in their own way, adding supernatural attitude.
B. OMENS, GUESSES AND DREAMSx
By documents found, the March Bombardment plan was ready in February already. It is still not proved that, as one male informant believes, the Bombardment had to have taken place on February 24, the anniversary of the independent Republic of Estonia. By causes not told the date was changed.
March 8th happened to be the so-called "International Women's Day" by Soviet Russian custom. The most believed version about the cause of the Bombardment is that Russian pilots, drunken after the party of the night before, flew out to destroy a rear town of women and children. Their special anger can be concluded by crapulence. The belief has no documental proofs but seems to be quite a logical one.
Another version of possible causes is given by an informant, having spent that night at the front on the German side:
|A gossip spread out among the soldiers, that it was a revenge for Russian army losses at Narva some weeks ago. The struggle was horrible there, too. Our own losses were so numerous that we missed officers. The lieutenant said, that you, youngsters, want to save the front! But we managed. We took part in the first attack on February, 20th, wanting to move forward on February, 24th. One Leningrad bridgehead was destroyed, it was the same which had been attacked since the times of the Nordic War. All Russians were slain. A few hundred men, we thought that three hundred then. On March, 4th 6th, another, fiercer battle was held. We lost 28 men. Then came Tallinn... (K. Laigna, rec. 1989)|
Since February 17th, inhabitants of Tallinn were warned that the town was in danger. They were recommended to leave the town. It seems that the town nevertheless looked safe enough. The invocation was not followed. People also do not remember any marks or omens about the catastrophe. Only one single omen dream is in the list of supernatural warnings, although for example, dreams about the beginning of World War II were seen in numbers:
|In autumn, 1939, I had an ominous dream. From the side of the Liberty Place /the informant herself was working in Harju Street/ there was rolling towards us a kind of immense vehicle. When it passed by, all show-cases were falling down on the street. On the publicity of the "Amor" cinema theatre an outstreched arm was hanging. The palm was cut off and light red blood was flowing from the wrist. I didn't know what kind of omen it was. I thought it to have been connected with the war which had started in Europe already. But it came true in another way... (E. Aulik, Harju Street. Memoires of Kultuur ja Elu, 4/1992)|
B3. Participants and organizers
The most widely known legend about the March Bombardment is that all pilots and bombers were Russian women. Some of them were shot down on their way home by the legend. This fact has no proofs either. Some aviators were really shot down and taken into prison at Virumaa district but there were no women among them. The legend has been arisen by the Women's Day tradition and by the declared equality of sexes in Soviet Union - both very strange phenomena for annexed Estonia.
Besides, another informant added that some of the Soviet aviators were not Russians but Estonians, having been recruited to the Soviet Army in 1941. This version seems wrong: all Estonian aviators were too dangerous for the army. They had been officers and were suspected in silent dissidence. Many of them were deported to Siberia already. So their parttaking in the Bombardment to Tallinn is hardly believeable.
It can be seen enormous luck that in spite of thousands of bombs about one half of Tallinn remained whole. That fact found a legendary explanation soon. People told that the aviators did not want to kill women and children, so they threw bombs somewhere out of the town. Other informants interpret the fact by incompetence of Russians. The first version was really told by one aviator but the second is more truthful:
nobody dared to disobey the order in Stalin times, the less in war times. One informant saw how the bombers threw tens of bombs to destroy the harbour. As the harbour and railway remained almost intact, the incompetence version has been proved.
In his memory book, published frequently, Head of the Estonian administration in war times Hjalmar Mae accuses in the Bombardment ... the Allied Powers not Russians. Having read the note by press only, I cannot comment on his arguments. The idea seems to be more close to an individual opinion or a legend, arisen by political causes.
B4. Miracles and wishes
The fact that one could survive the Bombardment seems in fact a miracle itself. The same can be told of finding relatives or friends alive. Time by time, the fact of surviving is felt to be more and more natural, probably connected with the materialistic world view, that dominated in Soviet times. After fifty years, only one woman paid attention to the God's miracle, she experienced that night:
|The harbour was directly opposite to our house. There were no trees then... A small hut with a tin roof was situated at the harbour. It was hit and burst into flames under my own eyes. And then a whirlwind arose from the flames, it was burning so hard that the wind lifted the roof up and it started to fly, a very curious and terrifying look. It was flying just towards our house and I only prayed, oh God, please make the wind turn! If the roof would have flown to the house, our place would have been destroyed in fire, too. It flew and flew and 1 was standing and praying. Then, just at the road, the wind really changed. The roof turned and started to fly along the Narva Road towards the town, burning pieces and liquid metal were dropping down from its sides. There were houses at the roadside in all length. But the roof only flew along the free road until it fell down after about 400 metres. And nothing happened to those houses, as well as to our own house. Then I really felt the God's presence. (S. Maidre, rec. 1995)|
The lifting of the roof seems to repeat the St. Nicholas Church tower rise, described above. Moving of firmly fixed objects implies total disorder. The same total change of nature laws can be read from a letter, written three weeks after the Bombardment:
|...Yes, that March night was really awful, that one cannot even tell. Every evening and to the night I fear already, how it will pass. We wish only that the weather would be cloudy. - For the moonlit nights have begun again - and nothing could be done against it. I would just tar the moon, if I could reach it.|
|Let us nevertheless put our hope in the God that so dreadful a night would not come any more. (A letter by Anni ?, waitress at Rahumäe railway station nearby Tallinn, from March, 28th, 1944)|
The idea of making the moon dark is close to the Voluspa prophecy about the dark luminaries.
In the end, I would like to present a memorate, told by an old officer. The informant was not able to explain the origin of his story but was incredibly fond of it. He had no doubt that the story was true. In his interpretation, the Bombardment has a fairy tale's happy end: the evil will be punished and perished by its own cruelty. As all air-defence of Tallinn was hit out in the beginning, the saviours and revengers were looked for from a friendly place that Estonia had good relations with. Typically the establishers of justice could not be Germans; their exclusion from the vengeance operation shows that the Estonians did not believe in their victory any more:
|... well, some of them /aviators/ were shot down. But nobody was saved anyway. The things went as follows: Tallinn was in flames. And the fire was so huge that it was seen in Helsinki. The Finns saw it and their bombers rose up by their side. When Russians were leaving, they followed them. The air-defence in Leningrad did not understand how many bombers had to arrive - their number was so huge. And the Finns tracked them just to Leningrad, hitting them down all the way, at last just at Leningrad itself. And nobody of those damned vankas /Russians/ was left alive.|
The Bombardment left unextinguishing anxiety in people's minds. But it could not destroy faith and hope into a better future. So the attackers were left to be slain just like they had slain innocent people in Tallinn.
The regarded memorate tradition about the March Bombardment in Tallinn presents several aspects, connected with eschatological myth tradition. One can see the environmental catastrophe by hot air in winter and extremely heavy snow-fall. The devil's or Loki's dreadful army looks like the Soviet aviators, personifying only different world views. By the way, in the first year of Soviet annexation Estonians connected the red pentagram sign of the Soviet soldiers with the Sign of the Wild Beast in the Apocalypse, 13, 16-18: "And all... take the sign to their right arm or stirn...". The bombers look like monsters of the doomsday; as for the legendary female aviators, they could be connected with the Whore of Babylon, Apocalypse, 17, or the valkyries in Edda. Falling of the Axis Mundi and darkening of luminaries are also presented in the Bombardment memorates. The most similar character line is destroying of the world by total fire. The basic difference is people's altruistic acting, contradictory to the fall of ethical values, described in both other obscured eschatological myths. Looking for associations, some other memories, close by time, can be noted. For example the environmental catastrophe line is complemented by extremely cold winter of 1941/42 which destroyed many gardens in Estonia. Fallen ethical values are connected with cases of cannibalism, noted above.
It would be interesting to compare the March Bombardment tradition in Estonia to memories about World War II catastrophes in Europe, e.g. the bombardment of Dresden by the Allie Air Forces in 1944. At the same time one must remember that the March Bombardment was not the only doomsday sign in Estonia. Almost the same seemed deporting waves to Siberia, held by Russians in 1941 and 1949 mainly. The last catastrophe, perishing of M/S "Estonia" in September, 1994, has still too current a distance in time to start the collection of memories, although it has arisen quite a large deal of folk lore, supernatural omens and visits mostly.
"Rising of a new land" has been taken place by the restoration of political independence and improvement of life standard in Estonia. So the sad memories seem less important and are forgotten silently. Nevertheless some marks about the Bombardment reveal here and there even in our days. Young people buy flats in old houses and the tiles in bathroom are cracked because a bomb fell to the yard in the Bombardment night. Old ovens are instabile because of the same causes. Time has passed. Nevertheless some things ought not to be forgotten. Collecting of the March Bombardment tradition, still alive in old people's minds, must go on.