What’s on display?

The exhibition area “Communism is Prison” consists of the preserved prisoners’ walkways in the courtyard, the building for solitary cells, the cells of the main building where dozens of people where crammed, the washroom and corridors, the administrative rooms, including rooms for photographing and examining the prisoners and those for the prison staff, the execution chamber with an anteroom, where the death sentence was read out to the victim, and other rooms.

Visitors have the opportunity to:

  • explore the intriguing and eventful history of the Patarei complex since the 19th century: the exhibition introduces Patarei’s history from the naval fortress to the military barracks and prison.
  • experience the everyday life of a prisoner, which was full of suspicion, fighting for survival and humiliation, but also unbreakable hope and resistance, which kept the spirit free. The walls remember.
  • sit next to an imprisoned farmer, businessman, civil servant, believer, state official, national minority member or a community activist, and find out what they have to say. These were the people who were categorised as “socially foreign elements” by the communist regime and who were not deemed worthy of life in the new world that the regime was creating.
  • acquaint themselves with an extended overview unique in Estonia and the surrounding area of the nature and crimes of communist regimes and the ideology behind them. Millions of people have experienced the violent consequences of communist ideology, but the extent, impact and background of communist crimes have hardly been discussed. It is often forgotten that communism is an ideology that encompasses all areas of society and human life, proclaiming to be the One Truth and excluding dissent. Therefore, comparing communism as a complete political ideology, for example, with the economic model of capitalism, is incorrect.
  • learn more about the repressive policies of communist regimes in European countries and the common foundations of red terror. The international part of the exhibition will be enhanced in mid-June 2019 in cooperation with the memory institutions of Poland, Latvia, Germany and Lithuania.
  • see life in a Soviet Union’s prison camp through the eyes of an artist imprisoned there. On display are the rare pictures of the people and everyday life made in the Gulag prison camp in Vorkuta by the Russia-based Jewish artist Solomon Gerschow (1906 — 1989). Gerschow was imprisoned during Stalinist terror. We are very grateful to Tanya Rubinstein-Horowitz, the owner of portraits, for the permission and assistance in exhibiting these works.
  • learn about the connection between Patarei and the Holocaust and the story of Holocaust victims in Estonia.

Different temporary exhibitions are also held in the Patarei exhibition area. Information about them will be announced in due course.

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.