A little more than 70 years ago, in the vast territory that spanned from the shores of Baltic Sea, south to the waters of the Black Sea, the largest guerilla war in European history began, lasting more than 10 years, with the last guerillas captured at the end of 1970s.
This war is known as “war in the woods” or “forest brotherhood.” Because it happened on the other side of the Iron Curtain, not much is known about it in the West, as the Soviets denied the existence of any conflict.
Nevertheless, I was surprised to find in The Halifax Chronicle Herald a column by Scott Taylor titled “NATO rewrites history, glorifies Nazis.” Everybody, of course, has a right to express their own opinion, but why must this opinion come directly from Moscow?
Even the simplest facts, available on Wikipedia, have been ignored. This column seems as though it were written in Moscow and not in Canada. The caption in the accompanying picture was written by Yuri Kadobnov, a Russian journalist, who ends it bluntly with the statement “the only problem is that those Baltic fighters were former Nazis.”
All this noise started with a short eight-minute documentary produced for NATO’s official YouTube Channel called Forest Brothers. Fight for the Baltics.
The video immediately angered the Kremlin and stirred a wave of official protests from Moscow. It’s actually not that difficult to understand why Moscow is still so furious about the Forest Brothers: because it’s very hard to present them as Nazis. The Soviets labelled anyone who ever fought against them as either bandits or Nazis.
Despite their desperate attempts, doing so with the Forest Brothers has proven far more difficult. Many of them fought for both Stalin and Hitler, but not in the Red Army. It is enough here to mention the Polish Home Army or Ukrainian Partisan Army (UPA). After the war, the Soviets thought that the armed resistance against them was organized by former Nazis, The Arajs Group and others, only to discover later that the resistance was organized and built by simple men and women who would not accept Soviet occupation or communist rule.
We can take as an example the last Estonian Forest Brother, August Sabe, who was killed by the KGB in 1978. August Sabe was a very simple country boy, who did not come from a rich or prosperous family. When the Germans tried to recruit Estonians into their army, Sabe hid in the forest. As he knew the area very well, he was never found.
When the Soviets returned and wanted to rapidly mobilize men into the Red Army, Sabe fled into the forest again. When the KGB started to hunt him, Sabe fought back. He had lived as a free man and wanted to die a free man. In the end, all his friends were killed; only Sabe continued to resist. It was in 1978 that he was finally discovered and died in a KGB operation.
In many ways, Scott Taylor’s column demonstrates in a very sad manner how broad and effective Moscow’s propaganda network is. There are so many mistakes or misunderstandings in nearly every sentence of that article, that to correct them all would take a book and not just an opinion piece.
I understand that for people in West, it’s hard to understand what happened behind the Iron Curtain. There’s little doubt that this subject deserves more attention and dialogue. But as we now stand shoulder to shoulder in the North Atlantic community to defend our common values, it may be a good idea to first ask your allies who The Forest Brothers were, and not blindly accept Moscow’s distorted versions of history.
Mart Laar is the former prime minister and defence minister of Estonia. He is a historian and author of several books about The Forest Brothers, including War In The Woods.