Eesti Elu
A Moment in Time > 17 Oct. 1950. ALEKSANDER WEILER: Journalist, Publisher, Politician
Inimesed 13 Oct 2011  Eesti Elu
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Aleksander Weiler played an instrumental role in the Estonian War of Independence (1918-20) and in the subsequent founding of the Estonian Republic. He was also involved in post-war politics and created the largest newspaper publishing syndicate in Estonia between the two World Wars. World War II ended this life, as he and his family were forced to flee the Communist takeover of Estonia, first to Finland, then to Sweden, in 1944. He re-established his journalistic career in Sweden, then later in Canada, founding the Estonian weekly [i]Meie Elu[i] in Toronto in 1950. His untimely death, at the age of 63, put an end to the many services he rendered to the Estonian émigré community in Canada.

 He was born in 1887, the son of a gardener on an estate in Estonia, then part of the tsarist Russian Empire.

Leaving school at 15, at his mother’s request, he financed the studies of his two sisters, Johanna and Marta (later Johanna Päts, Marta Taska) at teachers’ college in St. Petersburg. Starting as a smith, he became a skilled machinist and electrician.

His career in journalism began at the age of 20, when he became the editor of the periodical [i] (Work) [i]. This led to the Russian tsarist regime jailing him for his writings and for his role as a leftist workers’ representative. After his release, he was one of the founders of the daily [i]Teataja (News) [i] in Tallinn, the capital; the editor, Konstantin Päts, later became the first president of the Republic of Estonia. From 1914 to 1917, Aleksander Weiler worked as news editor and war correspondent for the [i]Pevaleht (Daily). [i]

He was active in the underground Estonian provisional government formed at the end of World War 1. In November of 1918, at the start of the War of Independence, he began recruiting volunteers for an infantry battalion that he led against Communist Russia. At the same time, as a member of the Constituent Assembly, he was instrumental in passing the land reform laws of 1919, which confiscated the estates of Baltic German landowners, breaking them up to create small, individual family farmsteads for War of Independence veterans and other landless.

As one of the founders of the left-of-centre Labour Party - a leading political force in the early days of the Estonian Republic – in 1918 he helped to found the publishing company [i]Vaba Maa[i] (then spelled [i]Waba Maa[i]:Free Country) and the newspaper of the same name which served as the party’s voice. Later, he was a member of the State Assembly (or parliament) until 1929, when he withdrew from active party politics.

In the 20s and 30s, as the publisher, he built up the [i]Vaba Maa[i] newspaper and its associated publications (10 in total, plus advertising and retail businesses) into the largest publishing enterprise in the country. Investing in the most up-to-date printing presses, he revitalized Estonia’s staid and traditional journalism, increasing the quality and quantity of news and adding more verve with photographs, caricatures and illustrations. Voldemar Päts, brother of the Estonian President, was chairman of the board. Energetic, an activist, Aleksander himself was on the boards of several publishing and trade associations.

In World War II, after the 1940 Communist takeover, the company was confiscated. During the year of Soviet rule, Aleksander Weiler was arrested and jailed but, being extremely ill, evaded transport to the Russian gulag in July of 1941. With the advance of the invading German army (as part of Operation Barbarossa), he and a handful of others managed to escape from the harbourside Patarei prison. During the German occupation - 1941 to 1944 - only papers approved by the Germans were allowed: [i]Vaba Maa[i] was excluded. However, the publishing company survived as a lower-profile, printing and bookbinding establishment, under the direction of his son, Rein Weiler, acting as trustee.

In September, 1944, when the Red Army re-conquered Estonia, he and some of his family fled across the Gulf of Finland in a tiny fishing boat. Soon after, as the Russians harassed Finland, they continued westward, aboard the Venus, a mid-sized rock carrier that went almost fatally adrift, ending up in the far north of Sweden, after a voyage of some 13 hours.

Aleksander reestablished his journalism career on a small scale in Sweden, working for a newspaper in Katrineholm. But an atmosphere of uncertainty (officially-neutral Sweden handed over some Estonians to the Russians) set off another wave of westward migration. At the invitation of his daughter Lea (she had married Walter Silverton of Barons, Alberta and moved to the prairies before the war) Aleksander and his wife Stella came to Canada in 1948, followed by his son Rein, daughter Asta, and several other families.

His organizational skills and his belief that Estonians in Canada needed to speak with a single voice to further their aims led him to form the South-Alberta Estonian Society from several clubs and groups. After moving to Toronto, in 1949 he co-founded the Estonian Federation of Canada (Eesti Liit Kanadas - EKL). As its first president, he worked closely with the Canadian government to assist the emigration of many post-war refugees, including Estonian coal miners still labouring in Belgium. 

 As well, he helped create the Estonian Publishing Company in Canada (Eesti Kirjastus Kanadas) and, in the spring of 1950, continuing his passion for journalism, became the publisher of the weekly [i]Meie Elu (Our Life), [i] Canada’s first Estonian-language paper. Aleksander Weiler died unexpectedly of a heart attack in the fall of that year. He was succeeded by his son Rein Weiler, who continued the work, until his own untimely death a year later, at the age of 41. Aleksander Weiler did not live to share the lives of later generations of his family (his nine grandchildren all attended university), nor to witness the rebirth of a free Estonia. But his efforts on behalf of the Estonian diaspora greatly strengthened the community. And [i]Meie Elu[i] continued into the 21st century, ceasing publication in 2001.

In memoriam:
Aleksander Weiler (16 Mar. 1887 - 17 Oct.1950 Toronto)
Rein Weiler (20 Sep. 1910 - 7 Jan. 1952 Toronto)

- [i]by Roland Weiler and Merike Weiler [i]
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