Icy demise near Pädaste

 Pädaste estate on the island of Moon
Pädaste estate on the island of Moon | © privat

On the morning of 16 February 1919, Baron Alexander von Buxhoeveden and his younger brother Arthur set off on horseback from Pädaste to Kuivastu. Kuivastu, like Pädaste an estate owned by the family of Buxhoeveden, is located about eight kilometres northeast of Pädaste by the sea. The sea is frozen. The brothers plan to ride across the snow-covered ice to the mainland and from there on to Germany. 

It is a troubled time: The First World War has come to an end and then the revolution has swept across Russia. Although Estonia declared its independence in 1918, the Red Army wants to occupy the Baltic. Estonians along with the German troops still present try to push them back. However, even the Baltic Regiment pursues its own interests, which in turn leads to confrontations with the Estonians. The seven hundred years of supremacy by the German upper class, which had continued under Russian rule, is in its final stages. Everything is changing – a complicated conflict situation in which acts of revenge and massacres are committed again and again.

Shortly before reaching Kuivastu, the two Buxhoevedens suddenly face a troop of armed men. Their leader is Viktor Kingisepp, leader and founder of the Communist Party of Estonia. Alexander von Buxhoeveden, at the time 63 years old, was the chamberlain and hunting master of Tsar Nicholas II and, as a land marshal von Ösel (as the Baltic Germans called the island Saaremaa), a well-known personality. Photos show him as a grand seigneur. Since the thirteenth century his ancestors are one of the leading families in the Baltic region. He himself is well networked, has a considerable fortune through his wife, and is said to have had about 2,000 subordinates. He will have guessed that the encounter with the violent communist Kingisepp and his men will not end well.

Charlotte, his wife, has already left the country with their five children. She wants to travel on to Germany from Sweden. Later she will apply for citizenship in Liechtenstein. Charlotte comes from the highly prosperous St. Petersburg branch of the Siemens family. She is described as spirited, devoted to the arts. She herself writes chintzy, flowery novels with such lovely titles like Our Angels on Earth and L’amour.

Viktor Kingisepp does not shoot the brothers right away, but takes them to the ice-bound port of Kuivastu. He has sent one of his men ahead with an order: the women should put water on to boil and in the harbour the frozen surface should be chopped free. Once they arrive, Kingisepp’s people mercilessly push the two men ahead of them and then right under the ice. From above, the hot water is poured out. The snow melts, and as if under glass, the people can watch the men in their agony. Later, the rebels burn down the Buxhoeveden’s estate in Kuivastu, but not without looting the wine cellar. Their drunkenness may have saved Pädaste from also being burnt down.

This is how the story may have happened. But perhaps it was completely different.

“Yes,” says 86-year-old Bruno Pao from Kuressaare, “My aunt worked for the Buxhoevedens as a domestic and spoke of it – that the hot water was poured out to watch the men die under the ice.” “It’s true,” says Marika, who cares for the burial place of the Buxhoevedens in the cemetery of Kudjape near the island’s main town of Kuressaare. “I heard that story, as well. It’s what they say here.”

An article in the Baltische Blättern from 1919 entitled “Days of Terror in Oesel” (today Saaremaa) tells a somewhat different tale: “These days the Reds were housed like animals, as the following examples prove: Land-Marshal Axel Baron Buxhoeveden was travelling to Reval with his brother. In Kuiwast on the island of Moon (Muhu) they were shot, robbed of their valuables and their bodies were buried under the ice.”

Alexander Baron von Buxhoeveden  (1856 - 1919) Alexander Baron von Buxhoeveden (1856 - 1919) | © Siemens-Haus Goslar There are different versions when it comes to describing the destination, the number of travellers, the means of transportation and the cause of the deaths. According to one, the Land-Marshal was stopped while fleeing to the mainland with an entire convoy of sleighs. The travellers are shot dead and the bodies thrown into holes in the ice. Viktor Kingisepp is not mentioned in this context. Another source reports that the Buxhoevedens were armed, but oddly did not shoot.

“Maybe it was Viktor Kingisepp,” says Volker von Buxhoeveden, a descendant of the family who lives in Tallinn today, “we don’t know exactly. But the brothers were shot. I don’t think they were driven under the ice alive, even if the story persists.” From a folder, he brings out copies of photographs. Tiny pictures show two corpses, covered with bruises and possibly bullet wounds. It is difficult to tell.

The fact is that Alexander and Arthur von Buxhoeveden were murdered on 16 February 1919 in Kuivastu and that Viktor Kingisepp himself was arrested by the Estonian secret police on 3 May 1922 in Tallinn and sentenced to death. That same day he was shot dead and his body thrown into the sea.

Von Buxhoeveden family Von Buxhoeveden family | © Siemens-Haus Goslar And Pädaste? Charlotte von Buxhoeveden sold the estate shortly after the death of her husband. Like many of the more than one thousand manor houses in Estonia, Pädaste has been put to other uses. This saved the house from decay – a fate that befell many of the once magnificent buildings. Pädaste was first used as a cultural centre in 1940, then became the headquarters of the German and from 1941 the Soviet army command. After the war, fish were stored in the cellars of Pädaste and later, until 1980, it housed a retirement home. “And then the roof failed,” says Martin Breuer. “No one mended it, and eventually the old people were moved, some to facilities for the mentally ill although they were not ill at all. And far from their hometowns, so they could no longer be visited by their families.” The Dutchman was fascinated by the house, its unique location right on the sea and its history. In 1996, together with an Estonian, he bought the rundown buildings and restored them.

Today Pädaste is a small luxury hotel. Everything is well kept, the history of the house was taken into account during the extensive renovations. The secluded location by the sea is wonderful and its gourmet restaurant bears the name “Alexander” in memory of its former owner. He might be astonished by the sophisticated menu.

Photo Credit: Bodo von Dewitz/Ludwig Scheidegger (Ed.): Die Geschichte von Gostilitzy. – Thomas Helms Verlag, 2009. - S. 162.