Who Was Paul Maitla?

A difficult task stays in front of the writer. It is more difficult than to answer to the question who was Alfons Rebane. Not to mention Harald Nugiseks, with whom the author has spoken several times and who is understandable from the very first moment. Olev Remsu, who spoke with Harald only for 15 minutes, said without a doubt: "What a man!" But who was Paul Maitla? Having written his life story, having read some letters that describe him, having spoken with his fellows during the war. Who? It would be more than banal to write down the stereotypical words of the newspapers: heroic, patriotic, incredibly good. But these wouldn't really say anything about Major Maitla, although none of these words would be incorrect.

Paul Maitla does not belong under any standard. He was a person outside the stencils. The author compares Maitla with the three officers from Väino Linna's "Unknown Soldier" in his head. With Lammio, whom nobody wanted to look even from the distance. With Vilho Koskela who embodied the best Finnish officer. And with Kaarna, who was undeniably respected by his men. Paul Maitla seemed to have the outer traits of all three. The kinds that make people respect him but also the kinds that caused arguments. So what did make this young officer so exceptional that even those respected him who could not have in the soldierly sense? He was the officer in the same line with Alfons Rebane, Harald Riipalu, Hando Ruus, Georg Sooden, Raul Jüriado…

After having searched for a mutual ground of this respect, then one moment the author realized that he had found it. Everything in Paul Maitla was real – love, pride, hatred, bravery, the demand for discipline, optimism… He didn't fake pride, he actually was proud, he didn't pretend to be brave, because he really was… In the world where fakeness surrounds us, each drop of realness causes respect in people. Even for those who do not carry this trait within themselves. Realness is respected. Realness is a merit. And it spontaneously creates respect. What's more, realness is contagious. And so Maitla's bravery, love, pride, hatred, optimism became a lot of people's bravery, love, pride, hatred and optimism. A lot of Maitla's actions become reasonable in this light, also the attitude towards his actions. While he was with the division in Upper Silesia, when everything seemed to be over, optimism lived inside him: a great attack in Courland in the spring and home by Christmas! In the time when the past was too obvious it seemed unreasonable. Was it so even when the future was unknown?

Paul Maitla needed his homeland, needed his wife and daughter, whom he loved and believed the unbelievable. He believed because it was the only thing keeping him alive. Was it so bad then? If someone thinks Maitla's belief to be nonsense, Susi replies to him: "Nonsense? Maitla never spoke nonsense. He was what he was but he believed in his words." Many men had lost this faith a long time ago and it was difficult for them to take him seriously. There have been stories about Maitla's need for discipline until total jokes. One of the soldiers of Heidelager recalls how Maitla made a serious remark to him that the gun should not be hold horizontally but in a 60 degree angle.

We can read about the time in Upper Silesia from Susi's texts. The men lived in Oberfalkenheim as if there was no tomorrow or yesterday. The regiment leader Maitla was there very soldierly, matter-of-fact and serious as it was proper to a weapon grenadier. He demanded serious and soldierly reports in the front situations. He wasn't the kind of superior, who would have asked: "Well, guys, how's it going?" He wasn't a civilian in war. Order is order and order is sacred. The fight against bolshevism was serious and holy obligation, which has to be taken from one moment to the other – and that was that. In reality it wasn't all true. There are numerous examples of the moments were Maitla grew sentimental. It was as if a totally different him would have been inside him. He personally respected the disciplined side of him because this he considered to be unavoidably necessary. And it was probably the truth. Many people understood it but it doesn't mean that they all did.

When Maitla came to see his men after the Schedlau battle where as we can remember the whole Russian battalion was crushed, they were on their bunk beds. When the regiment leader entered, the men jumped into watch stand but he calmly told them to keep resting. He hugged the group leader who led the attack and kissed both of his cheeks. He then took the 1st class Iron Cross from his chest and put it to the chest of the group leader. He said that he couldn't give anything else at that moment. Maitla was undeniably an authority just the way he was. And Susi is probably correct again when he claims that: "This kind of men are rarely made into this world. A man, who doesn't act and has the courage of a lion." He considered battling with the Russians to be his main assignment in life even if the whole front would have fallen apart. He continued to do his work: practically, successfully and competently, although not always whistling. He did everything a man could do to win.

He treated his enemies correctly, like he treated all people. Once a Russian captain was imprisoned and brought to him. The man was seriously wounded and in shock. Maitla offered a glass of vodka to him. The man refused, he was afraid, like the whole Russian army, that he would be poisoned. Then Maitla handed the glass to Mägar and the Russian accepted it only after Mägar had a sip. The Russian became more at ease. But probably so did Maitla. Maitla earned the everlasting admiration with his pride. Again and again he was seen: standing straight, decisive, defiant, wearing the Knight's Cross, a skull on his hat, silver rhombs shining on his collar patches. He said about the Knight's Cross during the retreat over the mountains: "It was good enough in the battles, it will be good enough in death." This sentence was very typical of him. Only he, Major Paul Maitla, could have said it. His proud solemnity made him an exception and gave the history the right to take his words seriously then and in the future.

The author looks at his photo in the newspaper "Varemeist tõuseb kättemaks". He doesn't look more like himself in any other photo: with all of his awards, proud, lips pressed together, eyes captured in something. Within himself and certain of his decisions. And probably the words of Karl Gailit are more than justified, although they seem stereotypical: Maitla had great traits of a leader – calmness, decisiveness and iron will power. We also believe in what he once said about himself in one interview: "As a soldier I would have loved to participate in every single battle." We also believe his following words: "Every Estonian who can carry a gun, must now choose the path of a soldier. No one has nothing to lose besides their lives, all must be retaken!" The words all must be retaken – make the author of this text think. Wasn't this exact strong desire of his expressed half a century ago in the café Hillbrich in Berlin that has reached to us through time? In more intense way. In a new aim but with the same meaning – to retake Estonia as it was. A man was murdered in Nymburk but the meaning of his words is still alive… "We need more actions, less talk and more actions," he said in this interview and again it seems like he was talking to modern people.

Karl Gailit gives a conclusive evaluation: "When I am departing from Hauptsrutmführer Maitla, I feel as if I had been talking to a man whose faith and certainty are unshakable and whose strength is spread to others. This kind of soldier does not lose! And this probably is the secret of a good leader – to be certain and able to convince others. The old Vikings blood runs in the veins of Haupsturmführer Maitla, who died before they became slaves." Lieutenant Eerik Heine, Maitla's adjutant from March to August 1944, wrote: "Maitla was a brilliant battle officer and administrator who looked after his men excellently. He was strict when needed, but fair. He did not have good relations with Germans but he was respected." He has been said to be sudden and irascible. When he got angry, it happened suddenly and he became really angry. The Germans called him the Kugelblitz (a fireball).

This kind of a man deserved real love and got it. The love, which allowed him to see his loved one only for brief moments. Aino and Paul's love resembles another love story. In the book of Erich Maria Remarque, "A Time to Love and a Time to Die", another Paul, Paul Graeber, and his loved Elizabeth. The short, but bright feeling that becomes very clear on the background of the war. They getting married. Their living together ended with Paul's vacation. A new life lives inside Elizabeth when she sent Paul to the departing train. The train that includes his husband, whom she shall never see again. A glance on the departing ship should be added here.

"My mother was a remarkable woman – a woman who probably was the dream of every soldier," writes Kai about her mother Aino Maitla. "Despite the circumstances, which are incomprehensible to many, she was Paul Maitla's widow during her life. She last saw her husband when she was 23 years old but not a single day went by when my mother didn't have a photo of my father next to her bed. In the time when only a change of name would have saved her from many inconveniences, she didn't give up being the wife of her husband. Only she knew the cost of it all. Mother never complained. She was sure of herself and raised me in the same spirit." This 175-centimeter long man with easily lightning personality was miraculous. Being filled with great emotions, he raised these in others too.