Paidra and August Sabbe
THE STORY OF AUGUST SABBE
After Kalev Arro was killed in 1974, the Soviet authorities seemed to think that the era of the Forest Brothers was finally over. However, there were still men in the forests and soon their turn came as well.
The best known and the most pursued forest brother was August Sabbe (1 September 1909 – 28 September 1978). He was born at Palo farm in Paidra. It was a two-horse farm. Besides him, there were two more sons and a daughter. August studied at Tsolgo school and lived at home. He then started work at Paidra mill. August Sabbe’s family was poor, but very nationally-minded. His two older brothers had fallen in the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920). By the time when Estonia was occupied by the Soviets in 1940, his father had also already died. Considering this, Sabbe’s actions were quite logical.
In 1941 he hid in the forest to avoid Soviet mobilisation, in 1944 he hid there again to avoid conscription into the German army, and then once again from the Soviet mobilisation – Sabbe refused to serve in any army except an Estonian one. In 1945 he left the forest following a general amnesty and he tried to carry on with his life. He began working again at the mill and became well known in the area. This was observed by local KGB people. People gathered in the mill, exchanged news and talked. Sabbe was forced to become an informer for the KGB.
The following was described by the then Soviet chief of militia, later local historian Hans Salm: „Sabbe was thus an agent, but offered no information whatsoever. The KGB decided to teach him a lesson. Sabbe saw them coming and guessed what would happen. He ran to the mill dam and jumped head first into water. Sabbe was a good swimmer and nobody dared jump after him. He then settled in the forest, joined the group led by Jaan Roots, and began taking his revenge on the Soviets.”
Other versions are a bit different: some claim that everything had been staged, although he definitely never was a KGB agent. He hid in the Taevaskoja bunker for years, but once a passer-by stepped by accident into the chimney and the bunker had to be abandoned. His bunker companions gradually came out of the forest, but Sabbe was still in hiding. When the KGB tried to recruit his former bunker companions and send them to the forest to kill Sabbe, they all categorically refused. As an excuse, they said that Sabbe was an extremely strong man and that they were afraid of him. It is not known where exactly he was hiding. Some say he lived in Tallinn and worked in various factories. However, others claim that he never left the forests. The latter version seems more credible. Those who helped Sabbe began dying off and his future looked increasingly grim.
Hans Salm: „Strange thefts then occurred in our area. Foodstuffs and utensils disappeared, then curtains from the community house. Poachers had found Sabbe's hunting rifle in the forest and took it. Sabbe came in the evening to claim it back and scared the men stiff. Bits of information thus accumulated. Everything indicated that the supposedly dead forest brother was still alive. The militia was keen to capture him. A big operation was organised and several groups were sent out, although nobody knew where to look for him.
Two KBG men pretended to be fishermen and indeed noticed an old man fishing by the river. He seemed totally harmless, so the KGB men started talking to him, claiming to be fishermen from Võru in search of good fishing locations. The man kindly pointed them to the right places. The KGB men thought they had found the wrong man, but then Sabbe made his only mistake. The men had taken a few pictures with him by the river and asked for his address. Sabbe was lost for an answer and it became clear who he actually was. I had warned them that Sabbe could be armed, but they ignored it. They told him they were from the KGB and that he was arrested. Sabbe then tried to pull out his gun from his pocket, but failed, which saved the lives of the KGB men. They jumped at him and all three fell into the river where they fought fiercely. When the two young men had knocked Sabbe around a bit, he said he would surrender and he allowed them to drag him towards the river bank. The moment he got ashore, he pushed the others back into the river and jumped in too, but in another place. He was never seen alive after that.”
Maybe he saw other KGB men approaching or he might just have decided not to surrender alive. It is also not known what exactly happened. There were no gun wounds on his body. Either he got stuck in the undergrowth in water, hit his head against something or he drowned himself on purpose. In any case, he did not come out of the river alive.
Sabbe’s body was brought out, but nobody was prepared formally to identify him. The local KGB chief, overwhelmed by capturing the last forest brother, displayed Sabbe’s corpse in Põlva and invited people to come and view it. The body was later buried in an unmarked grave in Tartu. It has even been alleged that some Moscow people had secretly filmed Sabbe’s arrest, but the film has disappeared, if it ever existed.
In 1998, the foundation Graves without Crosses put a tombstone on Sabbe’s grave at Raadi cemetery in Tartu. Another monument stands on the banks of Võhandu river near where he perished in Paidra.
Mart Laar, 2016
Every year on August 20, which is Reindependence Day, the Paidra village society organises a hike in memory of the last forest brother August Sabbe on the banks of Võhandu river near the place where he died. Flowers are lain at the monument, candles are lit and then the hike around Paidra lake takes place.
(Info: Laine Riitsaar, phone 5621 8662)