The Prisoner of a Baltic Landlord

"The next morning we were taken to Dünaburg camp. On our way I saw Latvian flags waving in farms. As we drove through Dünaburg the town looked depressing: the whole blocks were in ruins. We were registered in this camp for the first time and rumors spread about us soon being released. But nothing like this happened. After being there for a few days our journey to the station began in the early morning of July 15, from where we went through Vilnius to Kaunas. The train was slow and we got to observe the surrounding through the open wagon door. We reached Vilnius in nightfall. This town didn't give us a good impression. In the morning we went towards Kaunas. There we were unloaded from the train and we were waiting in a garden near the station. The people were friendly with us. Each of us received a loaf of German army's bread. It was square-sized and white but tasted great because we were hungry.

After lunch we moved towards the station on the other side of the town where we were put into smaller German wagons. The journey lasted for a few hours and we crossed the German border. We reached the Ebemonde war prisoners' camp on July 16, 1941 at 7.50 p.m. The real life of a war prisoner began. We were brought here in between convoys. The camp itself was surrounded with a wire fence. And that's all it was – an area surrounded with a wire fence so we had to live under the clear sky. The food was pale: half a kettle's lid of tea or coffee in the morning, half a liter of watery soup for lunch and 300 grams of bread and 10 to 15 grams of cheese, butter or false honey with bitter tea or coffee for dinner. Our requests to be released in order to be engaged in the anti-bolshevist battles did not get much attention. This could have been because the camp leader was a 65-year-old Oberstlieutenant and a former Baltic landlord, who in the Võnnu battle was mercilessly beaten by Estonians. The old man was directly hostile towards Estonians and favored Latvians. The rest of the camp board was friendly towards us. And there were plenty to keep us entertained. This was taken care by the Latvian brass instruments orchestra."

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That's where Paul Maitla's journal ends. It contained a lot of serious things. For instance, Maitla does not criticize the camp, although it was worthy of it. This probably indicated to two things that basically are the same. First, the bolshevists terrible actions made our men after all of the hardships still want to be the Germans brothers-in-arms in a joint battle. This battle could have only been and probably was for Estonia and its people. So let us describe the things in the camp which Maitla did not mention.

According to Pioneers' Battalion Sergeant Major Thedor Talvik, the Ebenrode camp had 15,000 war prisoners, 548 of them were Estonian officers and junior officers. About 1,200 were soldiers. Because many of the soldiers and officers got to return to their homeland without being in this camp or in any other, the numbers show the same thing: the Estonians' changing side from the territorial corps to the German side was massive during the war and the talks about the heroic battles with the Germans, which have been mentioned so many times, were untrue. The camp itself consisted of a large number of paddocks, which were surrounded by a double wire fence. There were separate paddocks for the kitchen, the hospital, for political leaders and other suspicious men.

It seems that the Estonians already had a military structure in the camp. There was a battalion with three companies. The battalion leader was Lieutenant Colonel J. Vermet. The Estonians soon presented a new list to the German Blokführer with the names of the men who wanted to battle with Germans against the red regime. Time passed but they didn't get any answer. The poor food had a serious effect on the men's health. Retreating in the Red Army lines they had been poorly fed for two to three weeks. As a result, many men got the gastroenteric catarrh in August. They were suffering from diarrhoea and their excrements often contained blood. Many of them couldn't stay on their feet anymore, they were only lying down and refused to talk to save energy. There were those whose whole body was swollen. The lack of water was added to the lack of food. They were only allowed to bring water on the Blokführer's permission and with a guard. They had no water containers and the kettle full of water had to be enough for drinking, shaving and occasionally washing the face and body.

We also find out that General Major T. Rotberg, who was the War Minister during Vares' government, was in the Ebenrode camp's hospital and was then taken to Berlin to the "general's collection", as noted by Talvik. The men were not allowed to write home. The Germans comforted them, saying that it takes so long for the letters to arrive home that they would get there sooner themselves. Only in October, after three months of hardships, the men found out that they will be released. On October 12 they marched to Ebenrode station to take the train to the prisoners' town Stablack. There were 50,000 war prisoners and about 3,500 were Estonians. In the midnight of November 7 the men were ordered to line up with their belongings. 40 goods wagons were in the station. 50 men were put into each wagon. Each wagon received 100 loafs, 25 kilos of cheese and 12,5 kilos of sausage. On November 8 they passed Tilsit, on November 9 the train was in Riga.

Back in Homeland

On the early morning of November 10 the men reached Valga. The station was empty. Nobody knew about the Estonians return. But then the message started to spread quickly. The men, who had been thought to be dead, had arrived. When this line of men walked through the streets, the streets were filled with people. Everyone was looking for someone. The local commandant's headquarters released the men after two days. Every house in Valga opened their doors to the Estonians. Come, Estonian boys! The city government organized a reception in the hall of Säde. Lieutenant Paul Maitla had returned home among others. From Valga Maitla went to his father's home in Vana-Kuuste where he rested for a few weeks. He then knew, like many other Estonian men, that he had to go to the war.