Site where noted Saaremaa Forest Brother fell in action commemorated

A commemorative cross was installed on Saturday at a site on the island of Saaremaa where a controversial Forest Brother (Metsavend) is thought to have fallen in action, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Saturday.

The ceremony and the installation of the cross, made of oak, along with a commemorative plaque, followed two decades of searching in relation to the fate of Elmar Ilp (1919-1950).

Ilp was killed in action on August 12 1950, by which time Estonia had been under Soviet occupation for several years. While he was a Forest Brother, in fact Saaremaa's most feted of the Forest Brothers - freedom fighters who opposed the occupying power and its security forces – opinions are divided on the extent of his actions, reportedly ruthless and uncompromising in their violence.

However, Mati Vendel, researcher on the Saaremaa Forest Brothers, maintains Ilp was a freedom fighter whose methods were generally, as valid as their cause, telling AK that: "I used to think that in some places [the Forest Brothers] went to excesses. However, having researched all this, it is quite clear to me that, actually, the fact that Ilp has been called controversial – this originated from the time of the Soviet regime, with those who collaborated with the occupying power."

"They left those people, including communists, who didn't interfere with other people's lives, largely alone. But those traitors, those who by their actions served a foreign power and made the lives of ordinary citizens very hard [were the focus of Forest Brothers' military action]," he added.

Selma Pahapill, 90, who had been an acquaintance of Ilp's, told AK that the Forest Brothers still have their accusers in Estonia, primarily from among the relatives of those whom they killed.

"In their in their eyes, they are still thugs and murderers," she said.

"But I also say this: That they didn't touch anyone if they themselves didn't deserve it," Pahapill added.

A cross of oak and commemorative plaque were placed at the site of the action which took place 72 years ago and are thought to have been where Ilbi fell, along with two comrades.

This followed over 20 years of searching.

While partisan warfare was a major feature of warfare in Soviet- and Nazi-occupied Europe during World War Two, in Estonia, actions continued years after the war's end, with the most famous Forest Brother, August Sabbe, fighting on until as late as 1978, when he was reportedly encircled by KGB agents and either killed or took his own life. Sabbe was nearly 70 years of age when he died.

Latvia and Lithuania had equivalent organizations to the Estonian Forest Brothers.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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