It is unfortunately a little known fact outside the Estonian community, both at home and abroad, that Estonian soldiers served an important and distinguished role at the highly publicized Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. The Estonian Guard Co. 4221 was formed to answer the need to guard the Nuremberg courthouse and the prison where accused Nazi War Criminals were held.
Surviving members of the company marked the 56th anniversary of its founding , which took place, according to Toronto’s Tommy Tomson, on December 26, 1946. The following is a brief encapsulation of the facts leading up to the formation of the company, as well as testament to the Estonian soldiers who served not only the Allies but the interests of international justice. Most importantly, it cannot overemphasized, that the members of the Guard Co. 4221 had served as conscripts (conscript: enrolled soldier, often by force) in the German Army - yet were trusted by the Americans to guard those Germans charged with War Crimes. A historical fact that should be made public to those, of whom there are unfortunately too many, who believe that serving in the German Army, unwillingly or not, automatically made those men into Nazis or war criminals. While Toronto’s two Estonian language newspapers “Vaba Eestlane” and “Meie Elu” printed articles about the Guard Co. 4221, the following is perhaps the first English language article, fittingly in Estonian Life, formed after the merger of the above mentioned papers.
In the confused welter of peoples that roamed Germany after the conclusion of continental war, the United Nations Relied and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) played a critical and essential role in providing material aid, temporary housing and victuals as well as relocation assistance to refugees and displaced persons. Formed in 1943 in the USA, UNRRA operated until 1947. Part of UNRRA’s responsibility was to screen soldiers. ( After the end of hostilities the Soviet Union demanded the return of their “nationals”: citizens of countries that they illegally annexed during WWII. Having seen what the rule of communism meant, Estonians did anything to avoid being forcibly returned to occupied Estonia, as having served (often unwillingly, as conscripts) in the German Army a one-way ticket to Siberia was guaranteed - if not outright execution).
As senior non-com officer, !st Sergeant Hugo Nõmmjärv has written (“Meie Elu” #2634, September 13, 2000), those Estonian soldiers who had been left without shelter and sustenance came up with the idea of offering their services to the Americans. As the Americans had already formed units of Polish nationals, a precedent had been set. This thought was floated to the Americans by former artillery officer Vaido Viitre and Naval Captain Puurand, whose idea was warmly received by UNNRA’s American Air Force Captain Moxley.
Initially, permission was given to form a model unit in 1946, intended to guard the Nuremberg-Fürth Army HQ and canteen. This unit consisted of 17 men. The Americans were extremely satisfied with this units work, Colonel Martin (later General) of the Frankfurt Army HQ singled out this unit for praise, citing their exemplary service. This commendation proved to be valuable later on, pavbing the way for the establishment of a Guard Company.
In the fall of 1946 permission was granted to form a company of 300 men. The company was sent to Mannheim for a two month long training session. Volunteers were many. Recruits were expected to be in excellent health, and have a military background. Fully 92% of those selected had served either in the Eesti Leegion - Estonian Legion (a national unit in the German Army formed of conscripts) or the Air Force Auxiliary Service (Lennuväe abiteenistus, formed from men born in 1927, conscripted by the Germans at the tail end of the war). They gathered in the “Valga” camp during Christmas 1946, some claim on Christmas Eve, to form the Estonian Guard Co. 4221. The first anniversary of the company was marked on the 27th and 28th of December, 1947; thus there remains some debate as to the exact founding date.
The Company was led by Capt. Vaido Viitre, his assistant was Lt. Eduard Limion, the chaplain was Lt. Juhan Suurkivi and chief noncom ( filling the role of Company Sergeant-Major) was 1st Sergeant Hugo Nõmmjärv who also commanded the staff platoon. The company consisted of 6 armed platoons and one staff platoon. Each platoon consisted of 4 squads, totalling 40 men; the staff platoon - medics, supplymen, cooks, carpenters, drivers, mechanics and secretaries, of 30 men.
The training period of two months saw Guard Co. 4221 review the standards - parade drill, sharpshooting, military theory, guard duties and the like. Every day was ended at 9 pm with the singing of the Estonian anthem - a truly national company.
After training the Estonian Guard Co. 4221 was entrusted with guarding the Nuremberg International Tribunal courthouse exterior annd perimeter. Interior guard duty was the responsibility of the Americans. The Company also guarded the prison,, and the various storage depots of gasoline, coal, ammonition and materiel. As well, Estonians were entrusted with guarding the YMCA, swimming polls, and in some cases the residences of senior and important American personages - officers and prosecutors.
The Company operated efficiently until 1949, when large-scale emigration abroad began, primarily to Sweden, Canada, Belgium and Australia. The efficent and professional work of the men was noted often. The following is an excerpt from a Memo by 1st Lt. Max Leonard CAC, Commanding, of the 88th Labor Supervision Company, APO 696, US Army, dated 29 September 1948:
TO: All Officers and men, 4221 Labor Service Company.
1. At a recent inspection held by Lt. Col. Hollister and Two (2) other officers from Military Labor Service, EUCOM, your company was rated the best Labor Service Company in the Nurnberg Post.
2. This high standard was not attained by any one individual, but by the whole-hearted cooperation of every officer and man in the Company. Each one of you should be very proud of this achievement.
3. I wish to express my appreciation to all of you for the effort that you have put forth. Not only do I desire that the 4221 Labor Service Company remain in its enviable position, but to attain an even higher position among the Guard Companies of Nurnberg and the European Command.
(Signed, MAX. S. LEONARD)
The esprit de corps, the camraderie and the professionalism of these Estonian soldiers, guarding leading Nazis, ensuring that justice would be served at history’s most famous military War Crimes Tribunal remains to this day. As the surviving members marked the anniversary of the Guard Co,.4221 in late December, those ethics and dedication to moral duty that formed strong bonds in this unit should be marked as well by those unaware of the important role performed by Estonian soldiers in bringing Nazi War Criminals to justice.
( Sources - “Meie Elu” archives, Tommy Tomson’s archives)
Esprits de corps - Nuremberg Tribunal Guard Co. 4221 marks 56th anniversary (1)