Monday, 13 April 2015

A Tribute to Paul Lestal

It has been a fascinating journey for me discovering my family history and if there is one person for whom I have a particular fondness, it is without doubt my great-great-uncle Paul Lesthal. Every time I have read one of his military records, employment documents or heard a personal account of him it has left me feeling proud in the knowledge that he was a man of substance. In a way Paul has become something of a hero for me. Whilst he had much success in his life, particularly in business, he also experienced extreme heartbreak as well. Not only did he suffer from the loss of his only child but he also lost his wife Meta in the most tragic of ways during WWII. Paul lost many beloved family members as a result of the war - his mother in 1943, his wife in 1945 and his sister Ellinor in 1946. It would have required extraordinary strength for him to carry on after losing these irreplaceable people in his life but like a true survivor, he thrived in spite of these circumstances and lived to the ripe age of 87.

Paul and I share a bond that I didn't become aware of until fairly recently. To my dismay I discovered that Paul didn't just die on my birthday, he actually died on the very day I was born! Having this connection made me realise there was a reason why I have always felt so drawn to him during my research. I like to think that on that day when he was leaving this world and I was entering it, that our paths somehow crossed but of course that it just a romantic notion. Yet I am truly astounded we share this common connection.

Birthplace of Paul Lestal.

Paul was the son of a steward, born in the steward’s house at Ravila Manor on the 22nd January 1889. Paul and his brother Arthur were confirmed on the same day in St. Olaf church Tallinn on 10th April 1905. After graduating from Tallinn Realschool in 1907 Paul volunteered to become an army reservist and was a member of the 90th Infantry Division Onega Regiment in Tallinn. 

Paul was called up to serve in the Tzarist Army during World War One. After completing a machine gun course he was assigned to the 19th Siberian Rifle Regiment. He participated in WW1 from 21st December 1916 to 4th December 1917. In 1916 Paul was awarded the medal “Knights of the Order of St.Stanislaus”. Paul was promoted in 1917 from the rank of Praporshchik (Ensign) to Second Lieutenant becoming the machine gun commander in his regiment. During the Estonian War of Independence Paul volunteered and served in the armoured trains division. From June 1919 he held the rank of subordinate captain in the 2nd Armoured Dvision. After the war, from 4th July 1920 Paul resumed his role as a reservist and periodically completed military training exercises. He was also granted a permit to keep a firearm at home.

Paul with his wife Meta and daughter Irene. ca.1917.

In 1912 Paul married Meta, the daughter of his long time friend Johann Krüger. They had one daughter named Irene who tragically died in 1937 from tuberculosis at age 24. Irene was buried at Kopli Cemetery.  Irene has a striking resemblance to my niece Lilah. Considering they were born over 100 years apart it's truly amazing how some genes are passed down over the generations.

In 1916 Paul was awarded the medal Knights of the Order of St.Stanislaus III class.

Paul began his business career in 1908 working for bank Hoeppener & Co. in Tallinn then later in Moscow for shipping company S. Kusnitsky & Co. From 1911 to 1920 Paul worked for the 1st Russian Fire Insurance Society’s main agency owned by Hoeppener & Co. in Tallinn. He started his career with Eesti Lloyd in 1920, working his way up the corporate ladder from department head to branch manager to eventually company director in 1935.  

New offices for Eesti Lloyd

Eesti Lloyd insurance document bearing Paul's signature.

Commemorating Paul's 25 years of service working in the insurance industry. 

Newspaper article from 1939 marking Paul's 50th birthday. 

Paul was also a volunteer firefighter and in 1929 was awarded a badge for 15 years of service.

Paul and Meta lived at Gonsiori 7-4 near the old Kalevi Stadium in Tallinn. 

In this photo their house was located in the second row of houses on the right. Unfortunately their house was destroyed during the March 1944 bombings and Gonsiori Street was later shifted when Tallinn was rebuilt. To put it in perspective, Paul and Meta's house would have stood between where the Viru shopping centre and Tallink Hotel stands today.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Paul and Meta initially declined the offer to leave Estonia with the first wave of the Baltic German resettlement program. After the Soviets invaded and friends and colleagues began to disappear, they grew concerned for their own safety and decided to apply for the second wave of resettlement. They were successful. In Feb/March 1941 Paul and Meta were resettled in the Wartheland region and lived there for several years however, in January 1945 Paul tragically lost Meta during a Soviet bombing raid on Łask. They were driving in their car when the air raid unexpectedly occurred and Meta was killed from a fatal shrapnel wound. With his dead wife slumped in the seat beside him, Paul had no choice but to drive on and find a suitable place to bury his beloved wife.

Paul in 1970.

After the war Paul spent the remainder of his days living in Bensheim, Germany. He lived in close proximity to his cousins Frieda and Karl Niggul and Karl's children Dorothea and Karl. In Germany Paul continued working in the insurance industry, for the company Allianz.

Paul and his wife Meta are mentioned in Erika Aulik’s 2006 book Viru Tänav ja teised.