Vilms, Jüri

​13 March 1889 Kabala parish, Viljandi county – 13 April 1918 Helsinki

Prominent Estonian statesman in the early stages of independent Estonia in 1917-1918

He studied at Pärnu Gymnasium and was expelled for participating in the revolutionary events of 1905. After studying privately, he graduated from school in 1907 and then read law at the University of Tartu, where he graduated in 1911. He set up his law practice in Tallinn. Vilms participated actively in social life, editing the legal section of the biggest Estonian daily Päevaleht in 1912-1913, and from 1917, the political section. On 4 June 1916, at the meeting dedicated to the 100th anniversary of abolishing serfdom, Vilms for the first time presented the idea of Estonian national autonomy. In April 1917 he founded the Estonian Radical-Socialist Party (from September-October 1917 the Estonian Labour Party). In July 1917 he became deputy chairman of the Estonian Provincial Assembly (or Diet). After the Bolshevist October revolution and the dissolution of the Provincial Assembly in November 1917, the Labour Party headed by Vilms encouraged declaring independence as quickly as possible.
On 19 February 1918 Vilms, together with Konstantin Päts and Konstantin Konik, was elected a member of the 3-strong Estonian Salvation Committee. Their aim was to declare the independent Republic of Estonia. After the declaration issued on 24 February 1918, the Rescue Committee appointed the Estonian Provisional Government as the highest authority in the country. Vilms was both Minister of Justice and Deputy Prime Minister.

Authorised by the Provisional Government, Vilms and three other men set out across the sea to Finland in late March 1918. Their aim was to inform the members of the Estonian foreign delegation, who had been exiled earlier, of recent developments and secure recognition for independent Estonia, once again under German occupation. During the difficult journey across the icebound Gulf of Finland, Vilms mysteriously disappeared. In all probability he was captured by the Germans on Suursaar Island and taken to Helsinki, where he was executed on 13 April together with his companions.

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