Like many legends the line between fact and fiction can often be distorted especially when the stories are spread orally from village to village. One thing is certain however, Juri Rummu was a beloved folk hero and his memory has not been forgotten. Several films have been made about him, the most recent in 1993. A beer manufacturer in Parnu also has paid tribute to him by naming one of their beers after him.
Sporting heroes not only capture the heart of the nation but they attract international attention as well. One of Estonia's first sporting heroes was wrestler Martin Klein. He won silver at the 1912 Olympic Games, bringing home Estonia's first ever Olympic medal. Martin Klein holds the record of the longest ever wrestling match; it lasted a staggering 11 hours and 40 minutes! Not surprisingly, the first mention of Estonia in the Guinness Book of Records was accredited to a sportman. Estonia has long been renowned for producing first class wrestlers.
Perhaps one of the greatest honours bestowed upon Paul Keres was at his funeral in 1975. He was given a state funeral in Tallinn with over 100,000 people in attendance. That's roughly ten percent of Estonia's entire population paying tribute to him. Other honours celebrating his life and work include being featured on the five kroon banknote, a postage stamp and as well as having a street named after him in Nomme, a district of Tallinn. For the past 38 years the Paul Keres Memorial Chess Tournament has been held annually. In 2000 Paul Keres was elected the sportsman of the century and a statue honouring him can be found at Tonismagi in Tallinn.
True heroes are those who display qualities of bravery, resilience and uphold the highest integrity in line with their own principles, no matter how insurmountable the odds may seem of overcoming their adversity. Estonia's Metsavennad (Forest Brothers) are one such example of the country's modern day heroes. There is nothing mythical about them. They really existed and although elderly now, many are still alive today. The Forest Brothers were a group of fiercely patriotic young men who resisted the occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union during and after World War Two.
The most well known of all the Forest Brothers was Ants Kaljurand, nicknamed "Ants the Terrible". Although he was certainly responsible for several heroic acts, there were other deeds committed by his fellow fighters which have very likely been attributed to him. Ants Kaljurand first served in the Defence League fighting the Red Army then was mobilized into the German Army as a non-commissioned officer in the Estonian Legion. When the German army retreated he refused to accompany them and after being captured by the Soviets he met with likeminded men who were determined to liberate Estonia. He fought on.
The most famous incident involving Ants Kaljurand was when he rescued his sweetheart Vilma from a police station where she had been imprisoned by the Soviets. He knew an official at the local town hall had the keys to the cell so he marched in there, put his pistol in the man's mouth and got the keys. This incident earned him the name "Ants the Terrible" (Hirmus Ants in Estonian meaning :Fearsome Ants") Kaljurand was a ruthless, determined and highly trained soldier, demanding the highest of military discipline from the men under his command. Like so many of his countrymen, he longed to see Estonia free again.
One of the last Forest Brother was August Sabbe. He was discovered by KGB agents posing as fishermen in 1978 - when he was 69 years old. He made the quick judgement call to end his own life by drowning himself in a shallow river rather than be captured and tortured to death in a Soviet prison. Today, a monument can be found at the site where he died to honour his contribution to Estonia's freedom effort.
People don't set out to be heroes but become them through their acts and deeds. There are many more Estonian heroes than the ones I have mentioned but to write about them all would fill a book, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The legend of a true hero often outlasts their own lifetime and is remembered for generations and centuries afterwards. I thank them for their contribution to Estonia's culture, society and above all its liberty.