The exhibition focuses on how everyday life in Tartu and the surrounding areas was affected by the war. It is hard to underestimate the importance of the World War One in Estonian history. Four years of unexpected twists, restrictions on everyday life and uncertainty about the future all changed society for ever.

“…and so that we would have overclothes and proper boots for going off to the army…”
Estonian soldiers served in World War One as an element in the Russian army. The national units were established in the Russian army only in 1917. In the course of the war, a total of some 100,000 men were drafted into the service, and they fought mainly in what is now Poland, Belarus and the Baltic states. There were about 3,000 Estonian officers, and most of them received their promotion to officer rank during the war. Some 10,000 Estonian soldiers were killed or went missing in action during World War One.

„And we all left Tartu with joyful huzzahs: we will fight to our last drop of blood for the tsar, fatherland and our Estonian brethren!”

Letter from Johann Kuus to Postimees, 1915.

“Sitting alone in this fetid swamp, you can go out of your mind, all the more so considering how frequently your nerves get rattled.” Letter from E. Rünge

“As the country is enduring economic hardship in the current Great War…”
 The world war wrought havoc for rural Estonian inhabitants, who made up 77% of the population in 1913. Although the stronger farms managed to expand their production thanks to the high food prices, a majority of farming households during the war experienced workforce shortages due to mobilization. The fact that draught horses, livestock and grain were requisitioned for the military made it hard for many farms to survive.
The entire people – city and countryside – must take care of them!
  During the war, a number of charities were founded, such as the Estonian Black and Blue Cross and the Northern Baltic Committee, to help soldiers and their families as well as those injured in the war. Fundraising initiatives and charity events were held. Care had to be provided to soldiers wounded on the front, and the Red Cross led the effort to set up several lazarettos in Tartu.
The city has been dark for the third night
The war was felt most keenly by city residents when a food and heating fuel crisis developed. The governor of Livonia established limits on prices of staple goods in an attempt to regulate competition. The biggest burden on the townspeople was the obligation to quarter the military, which had space constraints. In spite of the state of war, Tartu grew and developed: several sections of street got a new stone pavement, new buildings were built and Karlova, Tähtvere and Purde neighbourhoods were joined with the city.

The city is dark for the third night. Not a single street lantern is lighted in the evening. When the glimmer in the windows goes out toward midnight, only a thin crescent moon illuminates the city. The expected gas shortage has arrived.
Postimees, 6 March 1915

All citizens are obliged to unswervingly submit to injunctions under martial law
The war started intruding on the lives of the people in Tartu right from the first days when a state of war was declared throughout the country, which meant various kinds of restrictions. Propaganda posters played an important part in influencing people’s mindset. In spite of it all, townspeople continued to take part in political life. In the confusion that followed the February Revolution, efforts to form a people’s militia were very active.
An entertainment in 4 acts
In spite of the war and everyday hardship, life in Tartu went on as before in many respects. An active society and cultural life continued. Many concerts and events were held to benefit charities. The Vanemuine Theatre continued to produce plays. In the wartime years, the German Theatre building – now the Vanemuine’s small building – was built as well. Already before the war, a new phenomenon had gained popularity – the cinema. That was also the case in Tartu, where Estonia’s first permanent cinema, Illusioon, was opened in 1908.
“Thus forth we go to the Peace Congress…”
World War One changed national boundaries, society and people. On one hand, the war resulted in a tremendous human toll in those killed and wounded, and endless material losses, while on the other it resulted in rapid scientific and intellectual progress. The attitudes toward women and their role in society changed. Thus, for instance, during the war, women started receiving diplomas from the University of Tartu; they were given the right to vote, and the number of working women increased. From the perspective of the Estonian state, the war is also associated with the development of the basic idea of statehood and the declaration of independence in February 1918.
Credits: Story

This exhibition produced by the National Archives of Estonia serves to recall the fact that summer 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One.

Exhibition compiled by:
Sven Lepa,
Liisi Taimre,
Kristel Tammik

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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