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Plaque on the building of Government of Estonia, Toompea, commemorating government members killed by communist terror

As the Soviet Union had occupied Estonia in 1940 and retaken it from Nazi Germany again in 1944, tens of thousands of Estonia's citizens underwent deportation in the 1940s. Deportations were predominantly to Siberia and Kazakhstan by means of railroad cattle cars, without prior announcement, while deported were given few night hours at best to pack their belongings and separated from their families, usually also sent to the east. The procedure was established by the Serov Instructions. Estonians residing in Leningrad Oblast had already been subjected to deportation since 1935.[1] The first repressions in Estonia affected Estonia's national elite. On July 17, 1940, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Johan Laidoner (died in 1953 in Vladimir prison) and his family, and on July 30, 1940, President Konstantin Päts (died in 1956 in a psikhushka in Kalinin Oblast) and his family were deported to Penza and Ufa, respectively. In 1941 they were arrested. The country political and military leadership was deported almost entirely, including 10 of 11 ministers and 68 of 120 members of parliament.

June deportation of 1941

In Estonia, as well as in other territories annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939–1940, the first large-scale deportation of ordinary citizens was carried out by the local operational headquarters of the NKGB of the Estonian SSR under Boris Kumm (chairman), Andres Murro, Aleksei Shkurin, Veniamin Gulst and Rudolf James according to the top secret joint decree No 1299-526ss "Directive on the Deportation of the Socially Alien Element from the Baltic Republics, Western Ukraine, Western Belorussia and Moldavia"[2] by the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks) and the Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union of May 14, 1941.[3] On June 14, 1941, and the following two days, 9,254–10,861 people, mostly urban residents, of them over 5,000 women and over 2,500 children under 16,[3][4][5][6] 439 Jews (more than 10% of the Estonian Jewish population)[7] were deported, mostly to Kirov Oblast, Novosibirsk Oblast or prisons. Three hundred were shot. Only 4,331 persons have ever returned to Estonia. 11,102 people were to be deported from Estonia according to the order of June 13, but some managed to escape.[6] Identical deportations were carried out in Latvia and Lithuania at the same time. Few weeks later, approximately 1,000 people were arrested on Saaremaa for deportation, but the Great Patriotic War started for the Soviet Union and a considerable part of the prisoners were freed by the advancing German forces.

During the first year of Soviet rule nearly 54,000 Estonian citizens were executed, deported or mobilized into the Red Army. Following the German attack against the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, in early July, 33,000 Estonian men were conscripted into the Soviet Army. On July 10, 1941, the conscripts from the annexed territories were declared not reliable and sent to labor camps, where many died.[8] 5,600 more were drafted, but defected soon.[9] In July 1941 Estonia was conquered by Nazi Germany, who were forced out by advancing Soviet troops in 1944. Immediately prior to the Soviet government regaining control, about 70,000 persons fled abroad for Germany and Sweden.[9] As soon as the Soviets had returned the deportations resumed. The first wave of deportation has always been well documented, as many witnesses were subsequently able to flee abroad during the Second World War. Deportations after 1944 were, however, much harder to document.[10] 18 families (51 persons) were transferred to Tyumen Oblast in October (51 persons), 37 families (87 persons) in November and other 37 families (91 persons) in December as "Traitor of Motherland family members".[11] Also in 1944 at least 30,000 were mobilized for labour service in other parts of the Soviet Union.[9] In August 1945, 407 persons, most of them of German descent, were transferred from Estonia to Perm Oblast.

March deportation in 1949

During the collectivization period in the Baltic republics, on January 29, 1949, the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union issued top secret decree No. 390–138ss,[12] which obligated the Ministry for State Security (MGB) to exile the kulaks and the people's enemies from the three Baltic Republics forever. In the early morning of March 25, 1949, the second major wave of deportation from the Baltic Republics, operation "Priboy" (Breakers), carried out by MGB began, which was planned to affect 30,000 in Estonia, including peasants.[13] Lieutenant General Pyotr Burmak, commander of the MGB Internal Troops, was in generally charge for the operation. In Estonia the deportations were coordinated by Boris Kumm, Minister of Security of Estonian SSR, and Major General Ivan Yermolin, MGB representative to Estonia. Over 8,000 managed to escape, but 20,722 (7,500 families, over 2.5 percent of the Estonian population, half of them women, over 6,000 children under the age of 16, and 4,300 men) were sent to Siberia during three days. A little over 10 percent of them were men of working age. The deported included disabled people, pregnant women, newborns and children separated from their parents. The youngest deportee was 1-day-old Virve Eliste from Hiiumaa island, who died a year later in Siberia; the oldest was 95-year-old Maria Raagel.[14] Nine trains of people were directed to Novosibirsk Oblast, six to Krasnoyarsk Krai, two to Omsk Oblast, two to Irkutsk Oblast.[11] Many of them perished, most have never returned home. This second wave of the large-scale deportations was aimed to facilitate collectivization, which was implemented with great difficulties in the Baltic republics. As a result, by the end of April 1949, half of the remaining individual farmers in Estonia had joined kolkhozes.[10]

During 1948–1950, a number of Ingrian Finns were also deported from Estonian SSR. The last large-scale campaign of deportations from Estonia took place in 1951, when members of prohibited religious groups from the Baltic countries, Moldavia, Western Ukraine and Belorussia were subject to forced resettlement.[11]

Continuous deportation

Outside the main waves, individuals and families were continually deported on smaller scale from the start of the first occupation in 1940 up to the Khrushchev Thaw of 1956 when destalinisation led Soviet Union to switch its tactic of terror from mass repressions to individual repressions. The Soviet deportations only stopped for three years in 1941–1944 when Estonia was occupied by Nazi Germany (see Occupation of Estonia by Nazi Germany).

Estonians' experience with the first year of Soviet occupation, which included the June deportation, led to two significant developments:

  • It motivated a major wave of refugees leaving Estonia, mostly by ships over the Baltic Sea in late 1944, after the news about Nazi Germany's withdrawal became public. About 70,000 people are known to have arrived in their destination; an unknown number perished due to the autumn storms and naval warfare.[15]
  • It incentivised many Estonians, who had previously been rather sceptical about joining German army (between January 1943 and February 1944, about 4000 people, mostly male, over half of them below 24 years old, i.e. draftable, had fled to Finland[16]) to join the recently created foreign legions of Waffen-SS, to still try to keep Red Army off Estonian soil and thus, avoid a new Soviet occupation. The attempt failed. For an example of such an ethnic foreign legion, see 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian).

Only in 1956, during Khrushchev Thaw, were some survived deportees allowed to return to Estonia.

Legal status

On July 27, 1950 diplomats-in-exile of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania appealed to the United States to support a United Nations investigation of "genocidal mass deportations" they said were being carried out in their countries by the Soviet Union.[17]

Soviet acknowledgment of Stalin's deportations

Stalin's deportation of peoples was criticized in closed section of Nikita Khruschev's 1956 Report to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as "monstrous acts" and "rude violations of the basic Leninist principles of the nationality policy of the Soviet state."[18]

On November 14, 1989 the Supreme Soviet of the USSR accepted declaration "On the Recognition as Unlawful and Criminal The Repressive Acts Against Peoples Who Were Subjected to Forced Resettlement, and On Guaranteeing Their Rights", in which it condemned Stalin's deportation of peoples as the terrific felony, guaranteed that such violations of human rights won't be repeated and promised to restore the rights of repressed Soviet peoples.[19]

Estonian trials and convictions

In 1995, after the re-establishment of Estonian independence, Riigikogu, the parliament of independent Estonia, declared the deportations officially a crime against humanity, and a few perpetrators of the 1949 deportations, former officers of MGB, stood trial and have been convicted under Article 61-1 § 1 of the Criminal Code since then.[20] The BBC noted in April 2009 that Estonia's claims of genocide are not widely accepted.[21]

Johannes Klaassepp (born 1921), Vladimir Loginov (born 1924) and Vasily Beskov (born 1918) were sentenced to eight years' probation in 1999.

On July 30, 1999, Mikhail Neverovsky (born 1920) was sentenced to four years in prison.

On October 10, 2003, August Kolk (born 1924) and Pyotr Kisly (born 1921) were sentenced to eight years in prison with three years of probation. The case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights, the defendants alleging the sentence was contrary to the prohibition of retroactive application of criminal laws, but on January 17, 2006 the application was declared obviously baseless.[22]

On October 30, 2002, Yury Karpov got an eight-year suspended sentence.

On November 7, 2006, Vladimir Kask was also sentenced to eight years in prison with three years of probation.

Arnold Meri was on trial for his part in the deportations. He died in April 2009, before the end of the trial.[21]

Russia's view

The Russian Federation, the only legal successor state to the Soviet Union, has never recognized the deportations as a crime and has not paid any compensation.[6] Moscow has criticized the Baltic prosecutions, calling them revenge, not justice, and complained about the criminals' age.[23] In March 2009, Memorial concluded that the deportations were a crime against humanity, but stopped short of declaring them genocide or war crimes. In the opinion of Memorial, interpretation of events in 1949 as genocide is not based upon international law and is unfounded.[24]

Investigative committee

The Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity[25] was established by President Lennart Meri, who himself was a survivor of the 1941 deportation, in October 1998 to investigate crimes against humanity committed in Estonia or against Estonian citizens during the Soviet and Nazi occupation. The commission held its first session in Tallinn in January 1999. Renowned Finnish diplomat Max Jakobson was appointed to chair the commission. For neutrality purposes, there are no Estonian citizens among its members.[8]


The European Parliament has issued a resolution condemning crimes against humanity committed by all all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes on April 2, 2009. This includes the Soviet deportations from Estonia, which the European Court of Human Rights has held to constitute crimes against humanity. Also, Parliament calls for the proclamation of August 23 as Europe-wide Remembrance Day for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.[26]

See also

Population transfer in the Soviet Union


  1. Martin, Terry (1998). "The Origins of Soviet Ethnic Cleansing". The Journal of Modern History 70 (4): 813–861. doi:10.1086/235168.
  2. Постановление ЦК ВКП(б) и СНК СССР от 14 мая 1941 г. за N 1299-526сс «Директива о выселении социально-чуждого элемента из республик Прибалтики, Западной Украины и Западной Белоруссии и Молдавии». Published in Николай Бугай (ред., 2005) Народы стран Балтии в условиях сталинизма (1940-е – 1950-е годы). Документированная история [Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society 11]. Stuttgart: Ibidem-Verlag. P. 103-104. ISBN 3898215253.

    According to this decree, the following categories should be transferred: (1) active members of so-called counterrevolutionary organisations and members of their families; (2) former leading officials of the police and prisons, as well as ordinary policemen and prison guards involved in anti-soviet activity or espionage; (3) former significant landowners, merchants, factory owners and leading officials of former governments – all with the members of their families; (4) compromised former officers; (5) the family members of the sentenced to death and of members of counterrevolutionary organisations gone into hiding; (6) individuals repatriated from Germany and subject to resettlement in Germany; (7) refugees from the annexed Polish areas who refused to accept Soviet citizenship; (8) active criminals; (9) prostitutes.

  3. 3.0 3.1 Conclusions of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity.
  4. Kareda, Endel (1949). Estonia in the Soviet Grip: Life and Conditions under Soviet Occupation 1947–1949. London: Boreas.
  5. Uustalu, Evald (1952). The History of Estonian People. London: Boreas.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Laar, Mart (2006). Deportation from Estonia in 1941 and 1949. Estonia Today. Fact Sheet of the Press and Information Department, Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. June 2006.
  7. Weiss-Wendt, Anton (1998). "The Soviet Occupation of Estonia in 1940–41 and the Jews". Holocaust and Genocide Studies 12 (2): 308–325. doi:10.1093/hgs/12.2.308.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Mälksoo, Lauri (2001). "Soviet Genocide? Communist Mass Deportations in the Baltic States and International Law". Leiden Journal of International Law 14: 757–787. doi:10.1017/S0922156501000371.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Parming, Tõnu (1972). "Population changes in Estonia, 1935–1970". Population Studies 26 (1): 53–78. doi:10.2307/2172800.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Taagepera, Rein (1980). "Soviet Collectivization of Estonian Agriculture: The Deportation Phase". Soviet Studies 32 (3): 379–397.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Estonia’s Occupations Revisited: Accounts of an Era. Compiled by Heiki Ahonen. Tallinn: Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation, 2004. ISBN 9949108217.
  12. Постановление Совета Министров СССР от 29 января 1949 г. №390-138сс «О выселении с территории Литвы, Латвии и Эстонии кулаков с семьями, семей бандитов и националистов, находящихся на нелегальном положении, убитых при вооруженных столкновениях и осужденных, легализованных бандитов, продолжающих вести вражескую работу, и их семей, а также семей репрессированных пособников бандитов».
  13. Strods, Heinrihs; Kott, Matthew (2002). "The file on operation "Priboi": A re-assessment of the mass deportations of 1949". Journal of Baltic Studies 33 (1): 1–36.
  14. March 25, 2004
  15. The Estonian State Commission on Examination of the Policies of Repression The White Book, page 30
  16. The Estonian State Commission on Examination of the Policies of Repression The White Book, page 29
  17. GENOCIDE IN BALTIC BY SOVIET CHARGED; Envoys of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia Call on U.S. to Urge U.N. Investigation, The New York Times, July 28, 1950, p. 7
  18. Special Report to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, by Nikita Khruschev, 1956
  19. "The Supreme Soviet of the USSR unambiguously condemns the practice of forceful deportation of the entire nations as the most terrific felony, contradicting the basics of the international legislation and humanitarian nature of socialistic order. The Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics guarantees that violations of human rights and norms of humanity at the state level will never be repeated in our country. The Supreme Soviet of USSR considers it necessary to take the relevant legislative measures to unambigously restore the rights of all Soviet peoples who had undergone repressions." On the Recognition as Unlawful and Criminal The Repressive Acts Against Peoples Who Were Subjected to Forced Resettlement, and On Guaranteeing Their Rights, USSR Supreme Soviet Declaration, November 14, 1989 (in Russian)
  20. Estonia brings Stalin's secret police to justice,, November 26, 2002.
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Estonian war figure laid to rest". BBC News. 2 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-02.
  22. Postimees 31 March 2009: Martin Arpo: kommunismiaja kuritegude tee Euroopa Inimõiguste Kohtuni
  23. Stalin agent found guilty in Estonia, The Independent, November 1, 2002.
  24. Template:Ru icon "Общество "Мемориал" о депортации 1949 года в Эстонии". Memorial. 26 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-02.
  25. Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity
  26. European Parliament resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism

Further reading

Template:Occupation of Baltic states

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