Death on the Last Page

So he got to this hell. There were five men who in some miraculous way had stayed together: Major Paul Maitla, the leader of the 20th SS Division 45th Regiment, Maitla's driver Arnold Mägar, Maitla's adjutant and two other adjutants. Before we get to what Maitla's driver Mägar remembers, the author of this text recalls what he has heard and read about this hell and Estonians and Paul Maitla's destiny in it. This hell was the kind next to which Dante's hell turned pale. When the author of this text first heard the descriptions of this hell a few years ago, he remembered an image which he connected with the whole Czech land and its people. He thought that they had deserved what Moscow did to them in 1968. It was a completely deserved punishment. Now that he has gathered a lot of materials concerning it, he no longer thinks that way.

Like all living and lifeless things have two sides: flat-fish has the black and the white side, the minus sign is the opposite of the plus sign, hell is the opposite of heaven. In Czech too. Plus sign does not make the minus sign disappear, just like the existing of heaven does not make hell disappear. They were both there, in Czech for the Estonians. Next to normal Czech people there were a large number of people with red hand ribbons in the spring of 1945. These were the Czech reds and this kind of people can be found in Estonia even nowadays. They were the humans without humanity. Savages who had given a free path to their lowest desires. They killed and tortured to satisfy their own desire to kill and savagery, not to make justice. Sadism was combined with special inventiveness to cause other people extreme sufferings. These people often managed to cause hysterical hatred in masses. Some events were so horrific that even describing them would he humiliating.

But there were other sights to Czech too. For example on one street the killing and torturing of Estonians took place, but on the next street people were bonding because of the ending of the war. Estonians and Czechs. They drank wine, hugged each other, made humane agreements that would last forever. Arno Mägar's (on the photo) war journey took him to Maitla through complex ways. In Estonia Mägar had been the driver of the field and reserve battalion leader Lessing. In the night of September 22, 1944, a day before the Russians came to Tallinn, Mägar also arrived there. He left Tallinn around 4 o'clock on a huge transport ship. He was lucky. The ship didn't sank. From there on his journey took him to Neuhammer.

According to Mägar, Maitla came back to the division before Christmas from his sickness leave. He immediately became the leader of the 45th Regiment's 1st Battalion and Mägar became his driver. This took place when Maitla's adjutant was still Laasi. Later it was someone else, whose name Mägar can't remember. By Christmas 1944 Maitla gave Mägar and one of the headquarters officer's a vacation. But Mägar had no place to go, no acquaintances or relatives. Then the headquarters officer, who lived in Rumbursk, took him to his home. It was nice. When they returned to Neuhammer, the journey to the front began. Mägar was 21 years old, Maitla was either 31 or 32. Mägar remembers: Maitla often told him he had no idea what had happened to his loved ones. He was worried and wrote letters to everywhere. Then he spoke about the battles. Some places have already been forgotten but Oppeln and Falkenberg were undyingly in his head. Being in the double pocket. The death of Augsberger. Yes, Rebane then became the division leader. In the meantime their paths with Maitla were separated. But they were reunited in Oberbaumgarten. There was no real front there anymore, the war had ended.

The retreat over the Czech mountains began to get to Elbe and then surrender to the US troops. There were five men in Maitla's car: Maitla, Mägar, Maitla's adjutant and two other headquarters officers of the 45th Regiment. The car passed Turnov and then headed towards Prague. Czech squads stopped the car on the way who advised the Estonians not to drive to Prague because there was a revolt happening. Maitla was then told, actually he was told earlier, to take of the Knight's Cross. This would have meant a certain death to all of them. Maitla took it off. From that moment on the award was in his pocket and probably stayed there. For a moment the thought freezes as the author was listening the distant memories of this soldier, which were brought to this Tapa's little garden from the past. He recalled Nugiseks, whose Knight's Cross was thrown into the mud by a drunk Czech. Rebane, who hid his award with other signs in the moss of one Czech forest. Riipalu took his award to England and it probably stayed with him until the end of his short life. But Maitla… we will get to that surely.

The car then drove off the Prague highway but couldn't drive for long until it was stopped again by a large number of Czechs. It happened about 5 kilometers north of Nymburk, on the road to Mlada Boleslav. The men in the car were arrested and taken to the town of Nymburk under the watch of two gunmen. There one German was added to them and all six men were placed standing before a wall. Czechs claimed that the men in the car had been shooting them and wanted to break through their guard post. The shooting was stopped by one Czech officer who noticed the blue-black-white sleeve signs on the Estonians. Then the prisoners were locked in one basement where they were mocked. Later they were taken through the streets while they held their hands high. The locals threw rocks and all sorts of objects in their direction, spit on them and people were let to attack them. The author of this text can see Maitla in front of his eyes and tries to understand what happened inside this proud man who defied the mocking and still had the Knight's Cross in his pocket. They say that a great emotion also holds protection within. A person stops thinking and feeling. You mock him and he is not offended, you hit him but he doesn't feel it. They were thrown with all kinds of things people could get a hold of. And then the women came to spit in their faces…

In the town chronicle of Nymburk it says that seven SS-men were first taken to the main square of the town, where they were attacked by the locals and then the “war court” sentenced them to death. The sentence was executed in the noon of May 10. In the town museum of Nymburk there is a photo album with more than one hundred photos of the events that took place in May 1945. It also includes some photos that were taken of the men near an anti-tank trench on the northern side of Nymburk. But the photos show the execution of five, not seven men. One of them is surely Maitla. The others' names are uncertain. The photo shows that the rank of one of them was Senior Lieutenant or Captain. One of the executed ones could have been Captain Arved Laasi, who according to Leo Tammiksaar, was Maitla's last adjutant. Tammiksaar also thinks its possible that with Maitla his senior adjutant Lieutenant Kalju Tamme was executed. One image shows (on the photo) that those, who showed no resistance before execution, were allowed to have one last cigarette.

What was going on in the mind of this young man who had seen so much in his life before facing his death? It is possible he was thinking of his wife with whom they never finished their honeymoon. He could have seen him walking in his father's home in Kärkna, climbing the Sinimäed Hills with his men, the moment he received the Knight's Cross… They say that before death a person can see his whole life in front of his eyes like the images in a kaleidoscope. Then the shots of red Czechs ended their lives. On the last, no, on the finished page of the war. The exact spot where Maitla, his adjutant and three officers rest is yet unknown but if these photos would become public, we could change this unknowingness – bring one of our finest sons to Estonia and put him to rest next to his beloved wife. We know there are graves near Nymburk, which have never had any flowers or candles on them. There is only a place where under a thin layer of dirt five Estonian officers lie, one of them having the long rotten Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in his pocket. They sleep there forever, but we, the alive ones, should show some respect to them. The greatest goal of these men was FREE ESTONIA.