Patarei as a museum

The Patarei complex is an Estonian heritage site and a symbol of rebellion against Communism and Nazism. It was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I in 1829 as part of Russian defense fortifications along the Gulf of Finland. Once the complex was completed in 1840, renovations began to include officer’s quarters, a hospital, enlisted quarters, kitchens and dining rooms to accommodate up to 2,000 people.

Serious design shortcomings emerged. The complex was plagued by ground water resulting in damp rooms where walls dripped with water. A chronic shortage of drinking water was finally resolved in 1847. Another problem resulted from the kitchens in the basement, as the steam from the ovens rose to the battle chambers above, damaging weapons and ammunition. In 1899, a new structure for the kitchens and ovens was built. By that time the fortifications were outdated and it was used as a battery (hence the name Patarei).


Uprisings and revolts in 1905 and the destruction of Toompea (site of current Parliament) and Margaret Tower prisons in 1917 resulted in a shortage of prisons. Resulting in rebels being held in Patarei. For example, in November 1917 the Estonian Council (Maapäev) declared itself the supreme authority in Estonia just before the Bolsheviks seized power in Tallinn; Jaan Tõnisson and General Alexander Tõnisson organized a demonstration in Tartu to support the Council and therefore, they were arrested and taken to Patarei in Tallinn in December 1917 for interrogation by Viktor Kingisepp (Bolshevik).


During the Estonian War of Independence, Patarei was a military hospital and on July 30, 1919 the Estonian government decided to use it as a prison for criminals. Reconstruction began following the war. The Republic of Estonia imprisoned Communists who participated in the December 1st 1924 uprising, the 1930 Communists who attempt to seize power and members of the Vaps movement (primarily veterans – Vabadussõjaliste Liit or Association of Veterans from the Estonian War of Independence) in 1934. Criminal and political prisoners were kept in separate sections of the prison. One Vaps leader, Artur Sirk successfully escaped, with the help of one of the guards, in November 1934 and drove away in a taxi. His death in Luxembourg in 1937 remains debateable, as Police declared it a suicide, Soviets claimed he was pushed out the window by Päts supporters and some believe he was assassinated by Soviet agents.


On the 20th anniversary of Estonian independence, President Päts granted political amnesty to 104 Communists and 79 Vaps members held in Patarei. By the summer of 1940 only 36 prisoners guilty of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union, 7 political prisoners and criminals remained in Patarei. Following the June 1940 coup d’état, the spies were released. In 1940-41 many Estonians were held in Patarei prior to being sent to Russia (Siberia) or execution. One of those imprisoned was Jaan Tõnisson, who was arrested in December 1940 and his documented trail ends July 4, 1941 in Patarei. An NKVD index card suggests he was executed with other Estonian politicians and military leaders in early June 1941 in Tallinn.


Political arrests increased in June-July 1941 and the prisons were full. During the first Soviet occupation the fate of many prisoners whose trail led to the Pagari Street jail and Patarei are unknown as during the Soviet evacuation in August 1941 there were not enough resources to evacuate all of the documents or prisoners. On June 22, 1941, when war began between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, mass evacuations of prisoners began. At that time, there were 1,650 prisoners in Patarei, most of these were evacuated by train to Siberia, but the fate of 152 inmates is unknown. There are several official lists of prisoners routed through Patarei to Russia (total 2,831), of these 214 names are crossed out, some were executed in Estonia, but others were taken to Russia. Prisoners in numerous prisons were executed: 193 in Tartu, executions also occurred in Viljandi, Kuressaare, Valga, Võru, Petseri, Jõhvi and Lihula as well as other places. Only 5% of prisoners evacuated to Russia returned to Estonia.


When Tallinn was occupied by the Nazis on August 28, 1941, there were no prisoners in Patarei. However, during the first months of the German occupation, there were so many arrests that the Wehrmacht rear units assembled temporary concentration camps. Patarei was intended to hold 1,200 inmates, but at that time there were 2,600 prisoners. Over the next few years, the number of inmates fluctuated between 1,300 and 2,500 until August 1944, when about 4,200 were listed as inmates. During the Nazi occupation Patarei was under the jurisdiction of the German Secret Police) Gestapo and SS (a.k.a. SD). During the Nazi occupation Patarei was used as a transit camp for small groups of Jews from other parts of Europe (Germany, Czechoslovakia and France). It is known that of 300 French Jews who arrived in Patarei in May 1944, only 40 left Estonia during the summer of 1944 and sent to Stutthof concentration camp.


Certain Estonian prisoners were sent to Germany. For example, the Estonian Communist party Secretary Karl Säre was a former Soviet spy and German intelligence wanted information pertaining to a Soviet spy called Richard Sorge. Following interrogation Säre was sent to Sachsenhausen and then to Neungamme concentration camp, where he died March 14, 1945.


In 1944 when the northeastern front collapsed, Patarei received prisoners from other prisons and camps (2,200, primarily Russian both soldiers and civilians), who were sent to camps in Germany and Poland. After the war a majority of Russian POWs were repatriated to the Soviet Union. Typically, when repatriated, Russian officers faced firing squads and many of the enlisted were sent to Siberia. (N. Tolstoy) In August the German army needed reinforcements and prisoners with shorter sentences and born between 1900 and 1926 were offered the opportunity to volunteer for military service. Sparse details exist regarding the last days of Nazi occupation at Patarei; however, official documents list 1,633 prisoners.


Apparently, some of the French Jews were executed early in September at Metsakalmistu. According to eyewitnesses, like the author Jaan Kross, prison guards released some prisoners before the Germans evacuated. One group of prisoners (about 700) was marched from Patarei towards Paldiski and arrived in Klooga on September 21st, and the following morning many prisoners dispersed and escaped. The Red army occupied Tallinn September 22, 1944 and with the NKVD quickly filled the prison.


Although Patarei was intended for 1,200 prisoners, by January 1945 there were 2,378 and by March 3,620 prisoners. During the second Soviet occupation members of the resistance or ’forest brothers’ and anti-communist political activists were interrogated and then awaited sentencing in Patarei. An example, Olav Tammark was captured in southern Estonia in December 1945, ‘interrogations’ began in Sangaste manor, then continued in Pagari street prison for several weeks and afterwards imprisoned in Patarei from January 1946 until July 1947. He survived over 8 years in Siberian forced labour camps and was released as a German POW. Eventually he was a US delegate at the Estonian Congress in Tallinn in 1990. He died in Tennessee on February 24, 2004.


After the March 1949 mass deportation of Estonians to Siberia, the number of political enemies or resistors and the population of Patarei fell. However political resistance to the Soviet occupation and the Communist system did not disappear. New rebels like Mart Niklus, Jűri Kukk and Lagle Parek emerged in the 1980s. Lagle Parek was in Patarei from March 3, 1983 until February 8, 1984. During the first few weeks she was driven to Pagar street for interrogations in a car marked ’Bread’ on the side and returned to Patarei to await trial and sentencing. She eventually returned to Estonia, where she too was a delegate in the Estonian Congress in 1990. Ironically she was later a member of Estonia’s parliament and responsible for prisons. She currently lives at Pirita cloister.


The Battery was used as a prison until December 2002. It became a symbol of foreign occupation and the suffering of thousands of innocent people. Like the Tower of London and Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg, the Battery was a fortress which became a prison and now is a museum. The vision is to maintain the Battery as an international museum as well as a global research and information center relating to crimes committed by Communist and Nazi regimes.


The Estonian government has pledged to fund the restoration and needed renovations to the Battery buildings. Should you wish to support educational material for exhibits, publications, and handouts related to the Patarei, Crimes committed by Communist or Nazi regimes in Estonia, then you may donate to EERO. Please include a note to indicate Patarei prison, with your name and address for a tax receipt. A list of donors may be published either in Toronto or Tallinn, unless the donor specifically requests to remain anonymous. For more information, contact See e-posti aadress on spämmirobotite eest kaitstud. Selle nägemiseks peab su veebilehitsejas olema JavaSkript sisse lülitatud..



Mari Tammark, May 2019