Harry Männil at the opening of KUMU art museum in February 2006.
|Born||May 17, 1920
|Died||January 11, 2010 (aged 89)
San José, Costa Rica
|Resting place||Costa Rica|
|Known for||Entrepreneurship, art collecting, alleged war crimes|
|Relatives||Ralf Männil (brother)|
Harry Männil (May 17, 1920 – January 11, 2010) was an Estonian art collector, businessman and cultural benefactor in several countries. Männil is accused by the Simon Wiesenthal Center of having participated in the murder of Jews during German occupation of Estonia, although Estonian investigators have concluded that there is no evidence against him. Männil died on January 11, 2010, in San José, Costa Rica.
Harry Männil was born on May 17, 1920 in Tallinn. His father was an iron salesman. Männil graduated from the Gustav Adolf Grammar School in 1938. 1939–40 he studied economics at the University of Tartu and the Tallinn University of Technology. In the summer of 1941, he hid in a forest in order to avoid mobilization. In September 1941, Männil joined the German political police as an assistant. He held the position until June 10, 1942, when he was expelled for unknown reasons. This period of his collaboration with the Nazi government would later lead to Männil being accused of war crimes. Männil himself was the subject of Gestapo investigations, because of his disloyalty to the Nazi regime. After being fired, Männil continued his studies at the University of Tartu until October of 1943, when he escaped to Finland. He studied business management in Helsinki. In September 1944, Männil moved to Sweden, where he stayed at a refugee camp for a short while. It didn't take him long to receive residence- and working permits, which raised suspicions with the local authorities. In September 1944, he was fired from his job at an archive, as a result of the Commission of Foreigners' request. A month later, he lost his residence permit.
In February 1946, Männil moved to Venezuela. He gained the Venezuelan citizenship in 1952. In 1954, Männil was one of the founders of ACO Group, a company which would later on control more than one sixth of the Venezuela's automotive trade, becoming its president in 1972. In 1994 he was relieved as president of ACO as the company was re-organized to avoid banckruptcy. He then founded and became the president of Grupo Oriand which is a Toyota dealership. Männil has been a prominent entrepreneur in the automotive industry both in the USA and in Venezuela, and has been involved in the management of several Venezuelan companies including the aforementioned ones.
In 1990, Männil visited Estonia for the first time since 1943 at the invitation of Vaino Väljas, who he had met when Väljas was the Soviet Union's ambassador to Venezuela. At the time of the restoration of Estonian independence 1990–1992, during the governments of Edgar Savisaar and Tiit Vähi, Männil was the president of the Prime Minister's Economy Friends Club. The club consisted of Estonian businessmen living abroad, who gave economic advice and helped to explain Estonia's situation to Western nations. Männil is also a godfather to Savisaar's daughter. Later in the decade, Männil distanced himself from Estonia and said he was disappointed with the country and disinterested in its politics. His visits to Estonia became infrequent and short. Around 2003, Männil retired from active business, having been succeeded by his sons.
Männil was known as an art collector and cultural benefactor in several countries. He began collecting art in 1957, when he came into the possession of some works by Eduard Wiiralt. Männil owned the largest private collection of pre-Columbian art in Venezuela, and his collection was regarded as among the 200 most important private collections by ARTnews magazine in 1997. He was the founder and first director of the West Venezuela Water Sport Federation, and had been the director of Ateneo de Caracas in Caracas and the Maracaibo Art Center. Männil was a member of the international council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Männil together with Henry Radeval contributed to the establishing of the Estonian National Library's Eduard Wiiralt gallery and, in 1998, founded the Eduard Wiiralt Art Award.
Männil has been accused of committing war crimes against Jews during the Second World War while working for three months in the Nazi-organized Estonian political police in Tallinn in 1941. The Simon Wiesenthal Center maintains he participated in the persecution and murder of civilians, allegedly murdering 100 Jews personally and rounding up thousands of others. Männil appeared on the Wiesenthal Center's "Top 10 Most Wanted" list. A testimony of how Männil interrogated Jews and communists, handing victims over to be executed by the Nazis, was heard by Sweden's Sandler Commission in 1940s, resulting in him being expelled from Sweden and denied entry to Britain.
In April 1990, Rein Sillar, the chief of Estonian SSR's KGB, informed Moscow that there is no evidence about Männil, and all possibilities for obtaining such evidence have been exhausted. Estonian authorities have on multiple occasions indicated that they have found no evidence proving that Männil is guilty of war crimes. In 1995 Estonian investigators combed their files for evidence implicating Männil, but found none. In 2001 an Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity (that has no Estonian members for independence purposes) announced that they have found no evidence which would indicate Männil's participation in war crimes. However, the investigators did discover that 7 Jews Männil interrogated were later executed. In March 2001, Kaitsepolitsei started investigating Männil's wartime activities at Efraim Zuroff's request. After a nearly five year long investigation it was concluded that there is no evidence regarding Männil's participation in war crimes. The state prosecutor Margus Kurm said that there are no documents or witnesses to prove Männil's participation in executions, arrests, or other repressions. Regarding those individuals whom Männil had interrogated, Kurm said that there is no evidence that Männil was aware of them being destined for repression or execution. Several aspects support the view that Männil was unaware of such possibilities. The interrogations in question took place on the 4th and 5th of September, at which time the Wehrmacht had been in Tallinn for only 6 days.
Zuroff criticized the investigations as "a pathetic whitewash for political reasons of an active Nazi collaborator" and cited the prosecutor's contention that Männil was purposely targeted by the Wiesenthal Center as the best proof that Estonia lacks the political will to prosecute a prominent Estonian. Martin Arpo, superintendent of Security Police Board disagrees with this view: "/../ But the local KGB couldn't find any more evidence against the Nazi collaborators. We haven't found it either. And the KGB was a much larger organization than we are and had powers and methods, shall we say, that are not available to a Western democratic country." The Russian Prosecution's Office and FSB have also indicated they have no evidence regarding Männil. In 1994, Männil was barred from entering the USA due to his alleged wartime activities. He was also barred from entering Costa Rica in 2003, on the basis of information received from the United States Ministry of Justice. Männil, however, entered the Central-American nation on at least one later occasion as he died there in January of 2010.
From 1968 until his death Männil was a Knight of Malta. He was a honorary citizen of the city of Thibodaux, Louisiana, USA. The Venezuelan government awarded him the Order of the Star of Carabobo and the Order of Francisco de Miranda. He received the Order of the Polar Star from the King of Sweden.