The Society of the Estonian Legion Friends (SELF)

On January 26, 1943 the directors of the Estonian Self-Defence, county leaders, mayors, Police prefects, Self-Protection leaders and civil governments’ leading people met in the residence of the SA-Obergruppenfyhrer, Karl-Siegmund Litzmann, in Kadrioru Manor two officers and two junior leaders who had just returned from the Estonian Legion’s training camp. (ERA R-67/2/26)

The following officers had received a regiment’s dayorder no 6/42 to visit Tallinn from the Estonian SS Legion’s training camp on January 20, 1943: SS-Untersturmfyhrer Robert Silvester (born January 6, 1907, second from the left on the photo) from the 5th Company, SS-Untersturmfyhrer Hando Ruus (born May 16, 1917, fourth from the left on the photo) from the 2nd Company and junior leaders SS-Unterscharfyhrer Karl Laurits (born March 6, 1918, fifth from the left) from the 5th Company and SS-Unterscharfyhrer Helmut Karusoo (born January 18, 1919, first from the left) from the headquarters’ company. The aim of their visit was to introduce the life in the Estonian Legion. (ERA R-67/2/2)

The first one to speak was the General Comissar, who gave an overview of the Estonians’ contribution in the ongoing battle against the enemy. He reminded how the Estonians’ desire to form their own unit became reality in spring 1942 when on the first anniversary of Tallinn Liberation on August 28, 1942 he could announce on Vabaduse Square that German leaders have given an approval to form the Estonian Legion under the Waffen-SS. This gave the Estonians chance to step to the same line with Finnish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch and Belgian volunteers, and prove during one year that they are outstanding soldiers and deserved to be praised. He ended his speech with the same words he used on Vabaduse Square: “Don’t ever forget that what you do in order to win, you do for your own people. The forming of the Estonian future firmly depends on how the Estonian people have participated in the unified battle.”

After the General Comissar’s speech SS-Untersturmfyhrer Hando Ruus spoke, who had already began his battle with the bolshevists in the summer of 1941 when he battled as a forest brother in Viljandi County to kick the red murderers out of Estonia. Later when Estonia was clean of the reds, he joined the Self-Defence and then went to the Eastern Front with the 38th Police Battalion formed in Viljandi County. Ruus stood out on the front. He was one of the first Estonian officers to join the newly formed Estonian Legion. He briefly described the life of the legionnaires during training and expressed their strong desire to soon step into the battle with the hated enemy – bolshevism. He also expressed the need to tighten the internal bond between the Estonian Legion and the homeland. For this he proposed to form the SELF with the aim to bring together all friends of the Legion among Estonian people. The leaders in this meeting warmly welcomed the idea.

After his Estonian comrade, SS-Untersturmfyhrer Robert Silvester, who was representing the Estonian Legion Commander, SS-Obersturmbannfyhrer Franz Augsberger, got the chance to speak. He briefly described the training conditions of the legionnaires. The Waffen-SS officers, who had battle experience and were now temporarily training other men, wished to pass on their experience and soldier’s knowledge to Estonian comrades.

The leader of the Estonian Self-Defence, Doctor Hjalmar Mäe, in his speech spoke about the time when the war had not started yet. “Not often have people wished to have a war, like the Estonian people did in the summer of 1941, because through this war they hoped to be freed of the bolshevists’ yoke. Now thousands of Estonian volunteers stand in the front. Estonian Legion carries Estonian honor. The whole homeland wishes them good luck with warm hearts.”

Then the guests could freely speak with the men from the Estonian Legion and hear direct impressions of the battle-spirit inside the legion, the legionnaires life and training.

An announcement of the meeting in Kadrioru Manor and the founding of the SELF was published in newspaper “Eesti Sõna” No 22 on Friday, January 29, with the title: “Estonian Legion embodies the self-defence will of the Estonian people”. The article also mentioned that an Estonian officer proposed to establish the SELF. Unfortunately the officer’s name is not mentioned. But we know that this officer was SS-Untersturmfyhrer Hando Ruus.

“Eesti Sõna” No 23, January 30, included a piece of news saying that the SELF had been founded and the leader of this union was Colonel Johannes Soodla VR II/2, II/3. The official founding date is February 1, 1943.

The members of the SELF board were:
Johannes Soodla (on the photo), Colonel, hero of the War of Freedom (one of the leaders of the Kuperjanov Partisans)
Oskar Öpik, Court Director
Otto Pukk, Attorney-At-Law
August Gailit, Writer
August Mälk, Writer

Council:
Johan Holberg, Attorney-At-Law
Ants Kalda, the representative of the Tartu University’s student body
Gustav Kalkun, the leader of the Eesti Noored (Estonian Young People)
Edgar Kant, Tartu University’s Rector
Abel Käbin, Director of an enterprise
Hans Leesment, General Major
Jaan Maide, Colonel, War of Freedom hero (leader of the 4th Infantry Regiment)
August Sinka, Lieutenant Colonel

The SELF started with a call to Estonian people. “Money, warm clothes, books, newspapers-magazines and other things are being gathered for the Estonian Legion so that the legionnaires would feel the support of the homeland.” They tried to support the battle of the heroes as much as possible. The Estonian people stood behind the Estonian Legion and the people followed their battles and supported them.

The office of the SELF was in Tallinn, on Rataskaevu Street, house no 14, flat no 4, and the office manager was Theodor Talvik. (EFA S-63)

The SELF can be considered to be the forerunner of the CFEL.