A Spiritual and Cultural-Historical Journey
from Pirita to Vana-Vastseliina

Pilgrim’s route


The big farm of Kautla at the border between the counties of Harju and Järva lay on an island amidst bogs and marshes and was kept by the Lindemann family and their farmhands. The farm was first mentioned already in 1574 (dorp Kautell). The forest paths led from there to Ardu, Järva-Madise and Voose. The geographical location and patriotically minded family attracted local men, who had evaded conscription into the Red Army (draft of 30 June for men born in 1919–1922, and another draft of 20 July for men born in 1907–1918). Many of them came with their families, wives and children. On the whole, approximately 2000 people gathered in Kautla.

On the night of 10 July 1941 the Erna long-range reconnaisance group landed at the Bay of Kolga near Salmistu, led by Colonel Henn Ants Kurg. They came in Finnish boats from Finland and made their way through woods to Kautla as secretly as possible to avoid confrontation with the Red Army. As some Finnish boats had engine problems, they went back to Finland with some of the Erna group members aboard. On 22 July the remaining members of the Erna group were flown from Finland to Estonia.
In mid-July a group of Estonian cavalrymen who had been stationed in the Tapa area (about 15 men) and had deserted the Red Army, joined the group led by Colonel Kurg in Kautla. The Estonian cavalrymen were still in the Republic of Estonia uniform, wearing red trousers.
According to a decree of 24 June 1941 issued in Moscow paramilitary units were to be formed. In the ESSR the Communist Party first formed armed protective units and later, in the beginning stages of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, paramilitary units called destruction battalions. The first commanding officer of these units in the ESSR was General Rakutin, Head of the Border Troops, Baltic District and the last was Captain Mikhail Pasternak, in 1941. The local Communists, who knew the people and the surroundings, rendered some valuable help to these paramilitary units. Their motives for betraying their own people were different and covered a wide spectrum, including personal revenge.

What happened at Kautla did not go unnoticed. The men who had landed at the Bay of Kolga, the red-trousered cavalrymen who had deserted the Red Army, the movement of foreign planes near the frontline and the men who had been parachuted to Estonia, the draft evaders – they were noticed, although the Russians were retreating and people were being evacuated. The data were collected and analysed and, with the help of informers, it was not difficult to determine where the Erna members had gone. By 31 July about 1000 troops had been assembled at Ardu and the Viljandi and Tallinn destruction battalions had been moved to Paunküla and Voose. The assault started at 8–9 a.m.
The paramilitary who closed in from the Voose side were led to Kautla by Alma Noorväli, the daughter of the master of a prosperous Hans Farm from the neighbouring Paluküla Village. At the distance of a couple of kilometres from Kautla there was the forest keeper’s place at Sae, where Alma’s relative with his wife lived. Now only a foundation remains and the big trees of the farm have blended into the surrounding forest. Probably the forest keeper and his wife had not helped the authorities and that sealed their fate, or perhaps there was something personal against them. It was later discovered that they had both been chained to their beds with the cow chains and burned alive in front of their relative.
But a message of warning was brought from Voose to Kautla by Hildegard Papp, mother of a one-and-a-half-year old daughter, who moved along Luurimägi. Her husband Osvald and her brother Albert Poomann were staying in Kautla.

A young woman from Paunküla also managed to bring a warning message to Kautla about the assault from the Paunküla side. Colonel Kurg ordered the camp to be evacuated and Lieutenant Oleg Marnot with a small group of armed men was to cover the evacuation. The men were highly disciplined and the civilians were rescued from the Kautla pocket without casualties and led further away from places of assembly of local men after the battles. Some men fell in action, including Lt. Marnot.
The Voose men were to assemble at the churchyard of Anna. But it was a sad fact that somebody had betrayed them (according to Albert Poomann) and they had to do battle with the Red Armny troops at Ardu. Voose men scattered, some, including Albert and Osvald went into hiding in the forests, where they stayed until Stalin’s death in 1953.
In official accounts the Erna reconnaisance group was considered to be destroyed, but, as a matter of fact, they broke out of the blockade and helped the locals to escape, too. The Erna group and some of the guerillas retreated fighting the enemy and crossed the frontline on 4th August.
Kautla Farm and 37 other farms were burned down.

A year later, on 19 July 1942, a memorial stone was opened in Kautla to commemorate the joint action of the Erna reconnaissance group and the guerillas, locally known as ’forest brethren’. The text on the stone reads: From here we hastened into the battle to fight Bolshevist violence on 19 July 1941. Erna group and Forest Brethren.

During the Soviet occupation the memorial stone was destroyed, but in 1989 it was restored by the Heritage Society. It was consecrated on 30 July by superintendent Harald Meri of Järva County. It was the beginning of a new, more liberal society. But what follows was a warning to our people  In September 1989 the memorial was vandalised and some red paint poured on it. Half a year later, on 5 April 1990 superintendent Harald Meri and his domestic help Valve Klein were brutally murdered. The parsonage at Türi was set on fire. The bodies were found on 14 April. Most likely, the murder was committed by hired killers, who then disappeared into the wide expanses of Russia. It was a clear attempt to create fears among the people.

The opening of a new, reconstructed memorial took place on 4 August 1990 in the presence of a big crowd and the memorial was consecrated by four clergymen.
To commemorate the historic route of the Erna reconnaissance group an international military exercise and competion was organised each year between 1996 and 2011.

Ago Papp