Free Estonia and the World in 1920-1940

To understand the choices of our heroes we will now summarize the period between the first and the second War of Independence.

The War of Independence ended successfully to Estonia. Soviet Russia offered us peace. Estonia accepted the offer. The peace treaty was signed in Tartu on February 2, 1920. The armed forces of Landeswehr were defeated in Võnnu, a town in Latvia. Estonia was free of foreign conquerors and became an independent republic.

The building of the state began. People were eager to work and enjoyed their deserved freedom for the first time. Regular army and external diplomacy were established. Young people were eager to learn. The republic needed intellectuals and specialists. Young republic suffered during the economic year of 1932/1933. But somehow it survived. People understood and did not complain. Most men who participated in the War of Independence gained free land from the state. The manor houses of Baltic barons were nationalized, made smaller and given to soldiers and officers according to their services. Several new settlement farms were established. Life was gearing up in towns and in the countryside. Estonia's name was now known in Europe. Our export goods like bacon, butter, eggs and cheese became very popular in Europe. Our scientific achievements in mechanical engineering and medicine were widely known. Our sportsmen were successful. An independent state lived, worked and hoped.

Estonian youth grew and studied in free Estonia. History was taught according to what really happened in our homeland. In spare time young people relaxed and did sports, growing to be the real leaders of their land. They participated in boy scouts and girl guide movements to protect their homeland. A numerous reserve troops was established – the National Defence League. Young people wanted to join the Young Eagles and Home Daughters, and they were prepared to replace the protectors of their homeland if necessary. The whole land was engaged in the activities of the National Defence League. This was a huge support and help to the young republic's army.

Estonia became a member of the League of Nations. The state and its people did everything in their power to keep the state growing and prepared to protect itself, to improve the quality of life and to ensure that life was slowly getting better. There were preconditions for it. Estonia had a peace treaty and a ten-year pact of nonaggression with Soviet Russia. Estonia remained neutral in the political world. European countries, the winners and the losers, repaired war damages on their territories, trying to forget the horrors of World War I, especially Russia, Germany and France. However, it seemed that German and Russian governments had forgotten the consequences, the horrors and numerous victims of the war. Both countries concentrated on arms race. There was no complete peace in Europe nor in Asia. In 1935 Italy and Abyssinia began a war. Japan was in war with China. Germany had come out of the World War I as a loser and was bound up with the Treaty of Versailles. The land was demilitarized. Germany was able to have seven army divisions to protect its land and state. But this did not satisfy Germany. In 1933 National Socialist German Worker's Party gained power and its biggest desire was to unite the people of Germany under a state called Greater Germany and to enlarge the area on the account of neighboring countries. To fulfill this dream the state needed a powerful army. They didn't waste time to establish one. In 1935 Germany refused to acknowledge the Treaty of Versailles. Every man in the state had to go through compulsory military service. They managed to get a huge number of men under the German flag. By September 1939 German army had 50 divisions, by October they had 75 divisions. By May 1940 the number had increased to 120 divisions.

In 1935 a political crisis was beginning to raise its head in Estonia. Those who participated in the War of Independence formed a union and everyone who had been in the War of Independence could join. It was known as the Vaps Movement, people called them colloquially as vaps'. They were not pleased with how Estonia was governed. They felt like they did not get enough attention and like sometimes they were completely forgotten.

In December 1935 Konstantin Päts and Johan Laidoner staged a coup d'état to get rid of the favored candidates of upcoming elections. They claimed that it was organized by the vaps'. Numerous captures followed and several court hearings were held to prosecute the "culprits". But all this did not interfere people's working, living and being happy in their free land. Industries, building, agriculture, education, sport and culture were all growing.

Estonian cinemas showed American wonder child Shirley Temple (on the photo). Magnificent duo Greta Garbo and Fredric March played in "Anna Karenina". Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy played together for the very first time in the movie "Naughty Marietta".

January 1936 England's king George V died.

February 1936 Soviet Russia's military aircraft violated our state border, invaded our airspace and took photos of objects.

March 7 Germany canceled unilaterally the Locarno Pact with England.

The Maginot Line, the greatest hope for the French in their future wars, was finished by March 19. French now lived in peace knowing that the enemy could never break through their unconquerable line of defence.

April 15 Latvia got a new president, Kārlis Ulmanis.

May 5 Abyssinia's capital Addis Ababa surrendered to Italian army. Conquered Abyssinia was emerged with Italy.

June 18 a remarkable Russian writer Maxim Gorky (on the photo) passed away. On June 20 Germany was joyous: German heavyweight champion in boxing Max Schmeling knocked out African American boxer Joe Louis.

July 10 two submarines built for Estonia, named Lembitu and Kalev, were set afloat in England.

July 20 republicans and nationalists in Spain began fighting which led to a civil war.

Finnish president visited Estonia in August.

Estonian wrestler Kristjan Palusalu was successful in the Olympic Games held in Berlin. He won two gold medals – one in freestyle wrestling and the other in Greco-Roman wrestling. In addition our wrestler, boxer and lifter won two silver and two bronze medals.

September 8 Hitler demanded colonies for Germany in National Socialist German Worker's Party's annual congress.

November 4 Estonian Riigikogu confirmed the plan of electrifying the Republic of Estonia.

December 20 a trial began in Moscow over dissenters. It was called Trotsky's Trial. 16 Trotskyists were under trial, headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev. All defendants were sentenced to death. The reason: there cannot be any dissenters in Soviet Russia!

At the end of the year cinemas showed charming Loretta Young and Robert Taylor in movie "Private Number". Olympic year ended successfully for Estonia. Workers, intellectuals, farmers, settlers, officials and soldiers thought about their work and other doings in the upcoming year. A lot had been done and there was still much work ahead. How else could a country and every member of it become wealthy? That's how our country and its people lived that year. European countries and nations also lived in hope for the better future. There were incidents. There were domestic wars. There were threats. But nobody believed then that a war could begin that would affect the whole world. People did not believe yet...

January 1, 1938 a new constitution became valid in Estonia.

January 21 a conflict between Estonian and Russian border guards took place in Lake Peipsi. Results were regrettable. Two Russian guards were killed.

January 22 a conflict between Finnish and Russian border guards took place. One Finnish guard was injured.

January 24 a similar incident happened.

February 8 Russian and Estonian border guards had a fight. Two Estonian guards were killed.

February 11 Russian aircrafts violated Finnish border.

February 16 two Russian pilots escaped to Estonia with their aircraft. The aircraft was given back to Soviet Union but Estonia kept the pilots.

February 18 Russian border guard's snowmobile took two Finnish guards away.

March 2 another political trial took place in Moscow. Genrikh Yagoda, the chairman of The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, and two politicians, Bukharin and Rõkov, were under trial.

March 5 the unforgettable "Broadway Melody of 1938" starring Robert Taylor and Eleanor Powell premiered in cinemas.

Konstantin Päts, Estonian head of state, became the president of Estonia.

Italian league and German Condor Legion joined nationalists in Spanish civil war.

July 5 Estonian president signed the Amnesty Law. All political prisoners in Estonian jails were released.

June 22 20th National Song Festival began in Tallinn.

July 21 an incident occurred in Finnish-Russian border, another one occurred in July 28 in Estonian-Russian border.

August 1 Russia and Japan began a war over the border.

August 26 Estonian President opened the Paper Mill in Kehra which was the most modern one in Europe.

Events in Estonia and in Europe continued. Most of them were pleasant ones, but there also were unpleasant events and their number increased month by month.

March 15, 1939 German troops entered Prague.

March 25 Lithuania was forced to give Klaipeda to Germany and it was named Memel.

April 12 Italy occupied Albany.

May 25 the biggest fire in Estonia took place: the whole town of Petseri was in flames.

Estonian boxer Anton Raadik (on the photo) became European middleweight boxing champion.

June 1 Soviet Russia's troops invaded Manchuria.

June 8 Germany and Estonia signed the pact of nonaggression.

Estonian shooters team became second time world champions in Luzern and brought home an "Argentinian trophy".

August 23, 1939 Germany and Russia signed a pact of nonaggression in Moscow and the whole world was surprised. They added a secret protocol that brought suffering and terrible losses to many smaller nations. Those involved found out about the secret protocols half a century later.

September 1 a new theater was opened in Tartu. German troops crossed Poland's borderline the same day.

September 3 England and France declared a war on Germany.

September 17 Soviet Russia started to occupy Poland.

October 5 Poland disappeared from Europe's map. World War II had began and it lasted many years and affected more countries each year. It was the war that took 65 million lives.

September 10 Canada announced it was in war with Germany.

Most German troops took part in conquering Poland. 5 divisions stayed put to protect the "western wall".

September 27 Soviet Russia's aircrafts invaded Estonian airspace.

September 28, 1939 the Republic of Estonia was forced to sign a mutual assistance pact with Soviet Russia. This gave Russia the right to bring 25,000 troops to Estonian territories. It also gave the right to establish military bases here.

November 9 Hitler's attempt at assassination was organized in one of Munich's taverns. It failed.

December 1 Soviet Russia attacked Finland's borderline. Finnish-Russian Winter War began. Finland did not allow foreign countries to establish military bases on its territory nor bring foreign troops in the country. As a consequence a major country started to destroy a smaller country to fulfill its plans.

December 14 Soviet Russia was expelled from the League of Nations. Italy and Germany had already left the League.

March 1, 1940 famous Estonian writer Anton Hansen Tammsaare (on the photo) passed away.

March 12 Soviet Russia and Finland signed a peace treaty. Finland had to give away Karjala and give the island of Hanko to Russia for rent.

April 9 German troops occupied Denmark. The same happened with Norway. Norway fought back. English armies arrived to Norway. There were battles between England and Germany. German troops managed to push English troops to the sea near the town of Bergen. English troops left with their ships.

April 12 Yugoslavia was surrendered and May 10 the same happened with Greece, where Italian troops assisted Germans.

May 10 German troops occupied Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. English occupied Iceland.

May 14 German troops invaded France.

May 20 German air forces organized a landing operation in the island of Crete.

June 1 Soviet Russia provoked Lithuania.

June 10 Italy declared a war to England and France.

June 14 German troops reached Paris. France was defeated.

June 17 Soviet Russia brought a huge number of troops to the Baltic States, violating the contract. A few days later a coup d'état was organized with the help of local communists, Russian troops in civilians' clothes and Russian tanks. Comrade Andrei Zhdanov appointed a puppet government to govern the state.

June 25 France capitulated.

June 28 Soviet Russia took Bessarabia and North Bukovina from Romania.

Italy was confident in its army and strength and began to conquer Africa on its own. Germany offered to help, but Italy refused. Italy failed to conquer the Suez Canal by September 1940 and asked its ally Germany to help. Germany could not refuse. Germany, Italy and Japan were all bound up with the Tripartite Pact which obliged those countries involved help its allies. Germany sent a unit there that was masterfully leaded by Erwin Rommel.

Although a constant war was taking place in Europe and in Africa, it seemed distant and foreign to our people. They did not want to admit that the war could reach our land. People tried to convince themselves on the contrary. Germany and Russia had a pact of nonaggression, there could not occur a war between those two. The war was only felt in household. Some everyday products were not sold anymore, people started to collect food. Sugar was only sold for food stamps. Otherwise life went on as it used to. People had fun: they danced on Saturdays, they visited the cinemas during the week. New popular movies reached our cinemas: "Rose Marie" with Nelson Eddy, "Tarzan" with Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller (on the photo).

Most people who participated in the second War of Independence were born and grew up in free Estonia. Their youth was spent in time that promised a beautiful and bright future. But now we know: they lived in a very difficult time. They became the children of war. If the sound of the war reached them, most were able to decide their own future. Each and every one of them had their wishes, goals and dreams, that were shattered because of the Soviet regime and the war. Only one remained that joined them together – fighting for FREE ESTONIA!