About Exhibition Area

Communism is Prison

The communist regime of the Soviet Union (in Estonia 1940-1941, 1944-1991) imprisoned innocent people in the historical Patarei fortress on ideological pretext. They constitute only a fraction of all the victims of communism, the estimated number of whom in the world is 90 million.[1]

The authentic prison interior of the Patarei exhibition area introduces vividly the nature of communist ideology and the crimes of its implementers in different countries, the stories of the victims of communism and Nazism, and the eventful history of Patarei since its construction as a naval fortress in the 19th century.

Irrespective of one’s place of residence, origin or native language, Patarei resonates with everyone in its own way. The exhibition area “Communism is Prison”, introducing totalitarian ideology and its implementation, warns against the dangerousness of such ideas and reminds us of the value of human dignity and freedom. Patarei is a place for learning, experiencing, commemorating, contemplating.

The exhibition area within about 1200 square meters of the Patarei complex is the first manifestation of the unique International Museum for the Victims of Communism and research centre that will be established in the Patarei complex.

Patarei is one of the largest completely preserved classical style building ensembles in Estonia and the surrounding area. The complex is protected under heritage conservation.

The creation of the exhibition has been coordinated and is administered by the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory. Contributions to the creation of the exhibition have been made by the Government of the Republic of Estonia, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Estonia, the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, the Lithuanian Museum of Genocide Victims, the Foundation for the Study of Communist Dictatorship in East Germany, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, State Real Estate Ltd, Velvet OÜ, many private benefactors and supporters. Thank you!

[1]S. Courtois, N. Werth, J.-L. Panne, A. Paczkowski, K. Bartošek, J.-L. Margolin. The Black Book of Communism. Crimes. Terror. Repression. Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1999.

Memories from Patarei

„I ended up in one of the IV division’s half-cells. A bucket toilet next to the door, 50-60 men sitting or lying by the walls. /…/ The ethnic composition of the cell was diverse, besides Estonians there were also Latvians and Lithuanians, Poles, Germans, Romanians, Ukrainians, Russians. One navy officer sang old Russian romances in the evenings, another skilfully recited Pushkin, Nekrasov – those were the rarely seen Russian people.” … “In the cell, there were only political, traitors of the Motherland and fascists, according to the guards. There were Forest Brothers, members of the Defence League and the military, teachers and lawyers, people from all walks of life. The spirits were despite the poor food, forthcoming uncertainty and mocking treatment still full of expectation and hope.”

Hans Tammemägi (born in 1928), imprisoned in Patarei by the Soviet authorities for political reasons.

“In one cell with bunk beds for 6-7 people, there were 20-25 of us, political prisoners. We all had to roll over at the same time. Communicating with other cells by Morse code (a telecommunication code consisting of short and long signals – ed.) using radiators, or with those walking in the walkways by climbing to the cell window was a sort of entertainment for us, young kids. After being busted for using Morse code, I was taken to the punishment cell, where I also met people from Võrumaa. Being in prison for a year and a half when I was 16-17, there were many things that were not allowed, whether I wanted them or not. The punishment cell was dark, the floor was made of cement.” … “In the majority of the solitary cells were those sentenced to death, waiting for their last minute. There was a view of the sea from our cell windows, on the left were the big cells of the old building, where prisoners who had already been sentenced were waiting for execution. Every evening we climbed to the window and sang “Good night, we wish a good night to everyone, the night has come, good night, good night…” Even the guards didn’t tell us to stop.”

Luule-Laine Johanson (born in 1929), imprisoned in Patarei by the Soviet authorities for political reasons.

“I was in Patarei during the first demonstration in Hirvepark (a public demonstration in Tallinn on 23 August 1987 demanding that the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact be made public; the demonstration started Estonia’s liberation from the Soviet Union’s occupation – ed.) Newspapers were delivered, the demonstrators in Hirvepark were reviled in them. /…/ My mother requested a meeting and it was granted. In the visiting area of Patarei prison Mother was sitting on one side of the glass and I, on the other, we could speak over the phone. Mother was already rather old and ill. She said to me: “Enn, don’t give in, don’t sign anything, the power of the evil empire is coming to an end soon.” The phone connection was cut off. That was the last time I saw my mother.”

Enn Tarto (born in 1938), Estonian freedom fighter, after the last political sentencing released in 1988.

“The old house had large windows facing the sea. It was spring and we couldn’t keep ourselves away from the window, even though it was forbidden. On a beautiful Sunday morning another cellmate and I were enjoying the fresh air at the open window, the guard patrolling below even shouted something friendly to us. Then suddenly another guard appeared from around the corner and shot the window to pieces right in front of us. For that we were also taken to the punishment cell (“kartsa” or “kartser” in Estonian – a small and very uncomfortable cell, where prisoners were temporarily isolated from others-ed.)

Juta Kurg (born in 1929), imprisoned in Patarei by the Soviet authorities for political reasons.

In August (1945 – ed.) I was transferred in a “black raven” car to the central prison – Patarei. On arrival a slip of paper was put in front of me for signing, stating that “I this and this have come to the central prison” – come, voluntarily?! Even there interrogations were only held at night. Until court there were eight of us in a cell made for two. All the boys from our group were separated. We were together with men of very different ages and walks of life. Quite a few fell victim to violence during interrogations.”

Wilhelm Kohv (born in 1924), imprisoned in Patarei by the Soviet authorities for political reasons.