German occupation in 1918

​During WW I, imperial Germany occupied the western Estonian islands in October 1917 and the mainland in February 1918. On 3 March 1918 Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Russia abandoned its sovereignty over Courland, Riga and the western Estonian islands, leaving Germany to decide their fate. The provisions of the treaty were extended to the provinces of Estonia and Livonia on the basis of the additional protocol signed on 27 August in Berlin. The aim of the German government was to include all occupied territories in Germany. The Baltic Germans had the same aim, taking steps towards establishing a Baltic Duchy.

In the early days of the occupation, several hundred people were executed, all accused of Bolshevik leanings; then, nationalist politicians were arrested and sent to prisons or concentration camps. The occupying forces did not recognise the Republic of Estonia declared on 24 February 1918. Political parties, national societies, mass meetings and demonstrations were banned. German military authorities seized power and the elected self-government institutions were replaced by appointed staff. The Estonian national armed forces were disbanded, most newspapers were closed and censorship was established. The official language of administration was now German, the number of German lessons in primary school was increased and, at the secondary school level, everything was in German. Grain, potatoes, fodder, cattle, timber and industrial products were imported from Estonia – all as war spoils, commandeered property or purchased at unreasonably low prices. The majority of factories closed down, unemployment increased, and the standard of living decreased.

The occupation collapsed due to the military defeat of Germany and the ensuing revolution, as a result of which the German Kaiser abdicated on 9 November 1918. In early November, unrest broke out among the Tallinn population because of food shortages and the German garrison was faced with a revolutionary atmosphere. Red flags were hoisted on the German warships in the harbour, and military committees were elected who demanded to be immediately returned home. The German occupying forces, taken aback by these developments, gave permission for the Estonian Provincial Assembly to gather, and allowed the Estonian Provisional Government to carry on. The latter at once began to take over. The Provisional Government finally succeeded in gaining control throughout the Estonian territory on 21 November.

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