On 25 March 1949, twenty thousand men, women and children from Estonia were deported by the Soviets to Siberia. Nearly 3% of the Estonian population were seized in a few days and dispatched to remote areas of Siberia.*
In the summer of 1940 the Soviet Union occupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as a result of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on 23 August 1939. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Estonia lost approximately 17.5% of its population.
The Soviet occupation brought about an event that until then had only been read about in history books and which became the most horrible memory of the past centuries – mass deportations which affected people of all nationalities living in Estonia. The two deportations that affected Estonia the most, on 14 June 1941 and 25 March 1949, are annually observed as days of mourning. The March 1949 deportation was the largest of these when over 20,000 people, mostly women and children, were deported from Estonia.
Prologue to the deportations
On 23 August 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany concluded the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the secret protocols which divided central and eastern Europe into respective spheres of influence. On 1 September 1939, Germany launched the Second World War with its attack against Poland. On 17 September, the other party to the pact, the Soviet Union, started to fulfil its role by invading Poland from the east, at the same time concentrating large forces on the borders of the three Baltic states and Finland.
Although the Estonian government declared its complete neutrality at the beginning of the Second World War, on 28 September 1939 the Soviet Union coerced Estonia, with direct military threats, into concluding a so-called mutual military assistance pact, which resulted in the deployment of the Soviet military bases in Estonia.
Similar treaties were also forced upon Estonia’s southern neighbours Latvia and Lithuania. The seriousness of the Soviet pressure and threats was demonstrated by the fact that when Helsinki refused to conclude such a treaty with Moscow, the Soviet Union began to invade Finland, which is known as the Winter War. The international community reacted to this Soviet act of aggression by expelling the Soviet Union from the League of Nations.
The Soviet Union occupied and forcibly annexed Estonia, along with Latvia and Lithuania, in the summer of 1940, on the basis of the aforementioned Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. At the initiative of the Soviet authorities, illegal parliamentary elections with forged results were organised in the Baltic states, the results of which were not recognised by democratic Western countries.
The Soviet authorities immediately implemented a reign of terror, which also victimised Estonia’s ethnic minorities, like Jews and Russians. Special emphasis was placed upon the elimination of the nation’s cultural, business, political and military elite.
During the war, Nazi Germany invaded part of the Soviet Union and occupied Estonia from July 1941 until September 1944, after which the Soviet Union re-established its occupation.
Preparations for repressions
The Soviet Union had started preparations for the launch of terror in Estonian civil society already before the occupation. The purpose of the communist terror was to suppress any possible resistance from the very beginning and to inculcate great fear among people in order to rule out any kind of organised general resistance movement in the future as well.
In Estonia, the planned extermination of the prominent and active persons, as well as the displacement of large groups of people were intended to destroy the Estonian society and economy. The lists of people to be repressed were prepared well in advance. From the files of the Soviet security organs, it seems that already in the early 1930ies the Soviet security organs had collected data on persons to be subjected to repressions.
Pursuant to the instructions issued in 1941, the following people in the territories to be annexed into the Soviet Union and their family members were to be subjected to repression: all the members of the former governments, higher state officials and judges, higher military personnel, former politicians, members of voluntary state defence organisations, members of student organisations, persons having actively participated in anti-Soviet armed combat, Russian émigrés, security police officers and police officers, representatives of foreign companies and in general all people having contacts abroad, entrepreneurs and bankers, clergymen and members of the Red Cross. Approximately 23% of the population belonged in these categories.
The Soviet security organs started their repressive activities in Estonia already before its formal annexation into the Soviet Union during the course of occupation. In June 1940, persons were detained for political reasons, and from then on it only increased.
On 17 July 1940 the last Chief Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces, Johan Laidoner, and his wife, were exiled to Penza. On 30 July 1940, President of the Republic of Estonia, Konstantin Päts, and his family, were exiled to Ufa. Both General Johan Laidoner and President Konstantin Päts died in captivity in the Soviet Union.
Preparations for carrying out mass deportations were begun not later than 1940 and were part of the total violence directed against the territories occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939-1940. The Ukrainian and Belarusian territories were the first to be hit by deportations.
The first written reference briefly noting that Estonians should be exiled to Siberia is found in the papers of Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin’s commissioner, who supervised the annihilation of the independence of Estonia in the summer of 1940.
The first deportation took place on 14 June 1941, when over 10,000 people were deported from Estonia.
After the Second World War, when the Soviet Union had reoccupied Estonia (after a brief period under the Nazi German occupation), discussion started among the Soviet authorities on carrying out a new mass deportation.
Clandestine preparations lasted over two years and by March 1949, the occupation power was ready to carry out a new deportation. In the course of the operation that began on 25 March 1949, over 20,000 people – nearly 3% of the 1945 Estonian population – were seized in a few days and dispatched to remote areas of Siberia.
The deportation was demanded by the Communist Party in order to complete “collectivisation” and “eliminate the kulaks as a class”. Nearly a third of those declared to be “kulaks” managed to evade their captors. In the words of the local Communist Party Secretary, Nikolai Karotamm, other families were “grabbed” in order to “fill the quota”.
The majority of the 1949 deportees were women (49.4%) and children (29.8%) The youngest deportee was less than one year old; the oldest was 95 years old. At least two babies were born on the train. A file still exists on four children sent to Siberia from Rakvere without their parents, after having been held hostage for two days in an attempt to trap their parents.
Particularly inhumane was the second deportation of children who had first been deported in 1941 and then allowed to rejoin their relatives in Estonia at the end of the war.
Approximately 5,000 Estonians were dispatched to Omsk oblast, into the region directly affected by the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. From 1949 to 1956, about 260 nuclear and fusion bomb explosions were carried out there. The victims of radiation sickness were left without medical treatment for decades. Sick people, as well as the parents of babies born with abnormalities, were told that they had contracted brucellosis infection from animals.
It was not until the late 1950ies that deportees who had survived their ordeal had a chance to return to their homeland, but despite a partial rehabilitation they still remained second-rate citizens in the Soviet Union. A great number of them continued to be under the surveillance of the security authorities; their confiscated property was not returned to them and no formal pardon was ever issued.
* This article was originally published on 25 March 2014 and lightly amended on 25 March 2020. Cover: Initiated by the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory, 20,000 candles are annually lit on 25 March in Tallinn’s Freedom Square (this photo was taken in 2019).
51 thoughts on “The victims of Soviet deportations remembered in Estonia”
We must not forget the flowers that Dmitry Linter laid on the grave of Arnold Meri! At least Maxim Reva bolted to his little hole in Saint Petersburg…..
Terrible, terrible, terrible. I hope Putin will be sent to Siberia in Animal wagons to experience it all. God bless Estonia and FOREVER FREEDOM, Democratic society.
Putin didn’t do anything to any of those people so getta f*ck out of here
Putin is fascist too, annexing neighbors, murdering opposition, kidnapping foreigners…etc. You D.K. probably Russian troll.
Video of the candles with memories http://vimeo.com/89475385
Thank you, Seijo, for this video – very poignant.
Russian government still officially claims that all those people (including the infants) were dangerous criminals.
So I wonder why nobody is upset with Nazist or Germans and all the other populations that has been occupied in 1940 never makes this kind of comments and sick videos as you do. You were not the only one to be deported, killed or whatever. My own family has been thrown out their living place, some of them killede and their castle (yes it was a damn castle) has been taken over by the SS that made their own headquarters in there so what? Shall I heat all Germans and Austrians forever now? (yeah Hitler was from Vienna just in case someone forgot it). When this all ethnic thing will finally be over in this country and in this world? When people will finally understand that we are all the same no matter which gender color or nationality we are?? This is just disgusting and it only helps to keep the fights going. Congrats!
Why are you reading about this if you do not feel concerned? Putin is just finishing off what was started by the communists 100 years ago..
I hope. The Nazi supporters deserve to be exterminated!
Look people, this Umberto is a typical Kremlin troll. Fascist regimes have charismatic dictators with hyper-masculine
personality cults. These regimes generally evince a hyper-nationalist
ethos, a cult of violence, mass mobilization of youth, high levels of
repression, powerful propaganda machines, and imperialist projects.
Fascist regimes are hugely popular—usually because the charismatic
leader appeals to broad sectors of the population. Putin and his Russia
fit the bill perfectly.
are you some sort of retard
All atrocities should NEVER be forgotten.
Jim the difference is that Nazi atrocities are well covered, there is a general consensus in the world about what happened. Germany as a country has gone through the process of self-inspection and cleansing. However, as you know- history is written by the winners. What happened in Baltics is not fully aknowledged still by Russia, clearly there is no message of regret. And if something is forgotten, it has a tendency to repeat.
Acknowledging and documenting Soviet atrocities doesn’t minimize Nazi atrocities in any way. So what is your point?
The Nazi atrocities must never be forgotten, however, they were ended in 1945.
The Soviet atrocities started in 1917 and were vigorously continued until they mostly ended in the early 1990s.
The German people accepted, acknowledged and atoned for the horrors of their atrocities, something which successive Russian governments have still not done.
Communism has caused much more suffering and damage to the entire world, over the years, with the sheer number of deaths, abuses and crimes against humanity, as well as the sheer physical destruction, than any other political system.
This is why the former captive and occupied nations cherish and embrace the freedom from the crimes and abuses of their former slave masters during Soviet occupation.
The extent of American and British complicity in the soviet atrocities, such as the cover up of the Katyn forest massacre is also not commonly known.
What is known, but increasingly forgotten is how the West-European and American intellectual establishment, sympathetic to the soviet cause, did everything in its power to deny Soviet human rights abuses during the decades when those outside the Soviet sphere of influence lived in peace and prosperity while the occupied Eastern Europeans faced daily oppression.
If you actually look at British and Polish diplomacy during the later years of the 1930ies you start to wonder if war had been unavoidable in the first place.
a) Hitler was Austrian, but not from Vienna.
b) Mourning for one group of people does not entail forgetting about other groups treated as badly.
Question 1: When will people stop thinking that their own family’s misery is necessarily worse (and hence merits more attention) than that of others?
Question 2: Why should forgetting about atrocities that happened to a group of people (whether ethnically, geographically, or what have you, defined) foster understanding of people’s general equality?
Sorry Jim but Hitler was not from Vienna Austria but rather form Braunau am Inn. “When people will finally understand that we are all the same no matter which gender color or nationality we are?? This is just disgusting and it only helps to keep the fights going. Congrats!” Then of course why should Americans keep reminding themselves about Pearl Harbor? ‘A day that shall live in infamy’. Big deal. That date is over and done with. What ever happened, happened. For us Americans it is ‘no’ big deal. Correct?
An inventive and creative way to tell a difficult story. A story that needs to be remembered so that we may better access our own humanity. The terrors that were committed against the people of Estonia and the people of other nations as well, the terrible acts of conquest, oppression, persecution, attempts at genocide, must never be forgotten. These heinous crimes are not forgotten by peaceful people everywhere that long for a safe world with respect for life in all it’s marvellous forms. All this pain suffered by these innocent victims reverberates for generations in the form of broken families and shattered lives. The politics is public but the pain is personal.
Yes, especially my grandmother with her 4 little daughters
Samantha, if you think that this is really terrible, I agree. But how is Putin connected with this?
Putin – a former KGB officer in the Soviet Union – said in a speech in 2005 that “the collapse of the Soviet empire was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Considering his numerous attempts to restore Russia’s status as an imperial power it enjoyed as the leading country in the Soviet Union – from a rhetoric, to military build-up, to oppressing political opponents, to glorifying the Soviet past (including Stalin), to a failure of acknowledging the Soviet crimes, to a renewed aggression against Russia’s neighboring countries – we can easily see some connection.
Do you even know what means “GEOPOLITICAL catastrophe?”
It was a catastrophe. Not political, but geopolitical. Thousands of russians were living in Soviet Union countries, like Estonia itself. When Soviet Union collapsed, these people stayed in those countries with nowhere else to go, so they had to adapt to a totally new country, new language. The only system of life they knew existing ended.it happened so fast and was a big mess. Russians in Estonia, Estonians in Russia. Countries had to become independent immediately and it wasn’t easy.
Things that were done are terrible!
But don’t mix up different things and people. Don’t take words out of context and listen to actual speech. That speech in particular had nothing to do with Russia’s ambitions
P.S. Soviet never was an empire, soviets were against empires and any kind of royalties 😉
I completely agree that the term “geopolitical catastrophe” does not mean “political catastrophe” and that misinterpreting someone’s words to prove a point should not be tolerated. I also agree that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a difficult time for everyone.
However, I have no idea what world you have been living in. Communism and the soviet discourse is not USSR. People in the Soviet Union were denied their freedom by closing the borders. They were denied their freedom of speech by censoring every single reference to their national roots. They lived in poverty as the crops were mainly necessary for the Soviet Party officials. If the power belongs to a party that has the absolute rule over everything, it is an empire. And that is exactly what the USSR was.
Honestly, Estonians and other Eastern European nations suffered from the communism that was applied in the USSR exactly the same way jews suffered from the nazis. They were killed, tortured and deported. The international community has yet to acknowledge that and I believe the former Soviet nations have every right to spread light on that issue. Because they were occupied and forced to live in conditions they did not choose. They waited and waited for the justice, for help from the West. And it never came. I am not, in any way, trying to minimize the sufferings of the victims of nationalism. I would just like to reinforce the thought that the post-war communism that Eastern Europe experienced was not socialistic. It was tyranny.
And skipping all the way to where we are with Putin – I believe it’s more than clear to everyone that his agenda is exactly what it is – to restore the glory of the Russian nation by taking back all the are that once were in the beloved USSR. While the quotation of geopolitical catastrophe might not have been the best one (I’m not saying wrong because there is some truth to it), there are an enormous amount of other quotes and rhetoric from Putin that not only suggest, but insists that this is where we are headed. While I might be going too far with the statement, I would still like to say that anyone moralizing or justifying Putin’s recent actions or sayings is either a victim of Russian propaganda or a misanthrope.
And one must never forget who left those countrys in the hands of Soviet russia. The Allies. Us, Uk, France and all the others. They didnt gave a damn, what happend to those people, those nations, countrys. Big democraties my ass
“they didn’t give a damn, what happened to those people, those nations, countrys. Big democraties my ass.” To some degree I accept your feelings. What baffles me, is that up to now, no one has even mentioned England’s most friendliest stab in the back move, (Anthony Eden) along with Roosevelt’s approval and including French, Sweden’s, Italy’s acts of deporting refugees of war, by force, including soldiers back to the Soviet Union. “Operation Keelhaul”. An operation which started in 1944 and ended in 1947. 4- 6million refugees including soldiers who fought against ‘Uncle Joe’. Look it up and then you will admire your former democratic leaders even more.
This is not the origin of the deportations story, but if you prefer this history for Estonia, it´s your choice.
Right. So which is the “correct historical story”? The one written by Stalin’s historians (I presume you are one of the surviving relics) or Putin’s? Or the one written by Ria Novosti?
And they’re forgetting the deportation of Estonian people in 1951 (which was a smaller number of people, but still… they were also deported to Siberia without any time to pack and in the middle of the night because the other Estonians had to remain unaware).
Toomas Paul writes in his book Kirik keset küla (The Church in the Middle of the Village):“Very few have heard of what happened in the early hours of April 1,
1951. A campaign was planned to dispose of Jehovah’s Witnesses and all
their supporters—279 persons in all were captured and deported to
Siberia . . . They were given an opportunity to sign a standard form
renouncing their faith in order to avoid deportation
or imprisonment. . . . Together with the ones arrested earlier, there
were 353 interned, including at least 171 persons only associating with
Youngest deportee was three days old.
and THIS is why Ukraine fights! Never again!
Soviet Union occupied Estonia? Lie! 🙂 Voluntary entry of Estonia into the USSR? Lie! 🙂
The Soviet holocaust took millions of lives and those lives deserve our remembrance just as the German holocaust did and does. What is especially cruel is that Russia under Putin is adding a new chapter to that holocaust in Crimea and Ukraine. What is past is prologue unless we are strong enough to prevent it when it is a crime against humanity and democracy and human dignity. Thank you Estonia for remembering and reminding us all.
Victims??? Estonian was a Nazis nation. In percentage they had more SS soldiers than Germany. Estonia was the first European country “Jews free” and the Concentrament camps were run by Estonians! Mostly of them they were NOT victims but Nazi soldiers or supporters. They deserved to be deported. The biggest mistake was to deport only 20,000 Nazi Estonians and and NOT 100,000. This is the reason because now in Estonia the people still celebrate the “Nazis victims”. what a shame!
First: Both occupants took local men to the Army by FORCE. Second: Estonians and other Russian neighbors have right to fight against occupants (read: Russians), whatever uniform they can get. Russia was and still are the worst enemy of the human kind. There is 100 million people around Russia who know the truth, so please, you can go with your stupid NAZI accusations back to Kremlin.
Majority of the people in Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia) and central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kirghistan, Tajikistan, Kazakistan) and also in Latvia, Belarus, Ukriane and Lithuania the majority of population regret the dissolution of Soviet Union. The survey was done by Al Jazeera (a TV close to US) http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/12/19/most-residents-ofexsovietstatessayussrbreakupharmful.html . So it means what you write it is NOT true.
Please read the things you post first. It is not related to the Baltics. “Questions not asked in surveys in Uzbekistan, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.”
Shame on whether you write it, my great-grandmother, great-grandfather was shot and died of hunger in Siberia for it that they found the farm! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9dc5f83f80e5eab274879417f341078968cb175dec2d8e1b2589e4dcd5978212.jpg
Read it. It is very interesting http://eja.pri.ee/history/Holocaust/holokost_broshure_en.pdf
When the majority of population supported Hitler it is not strange all the population paid the price, also the innocents.
When You have 2 evils, You must choose one. Estonia was autocratic, I can say that, but not nazis.
The joining of the military was quite simple – to join the mountains of cannonfodder being driven to the front like cattle without weapons as we were Estonians and second grade citizens and we were deemed not worthy weapons?
Meet Soviet miniguns and politruk’s Ppsh 41’s if You decide to retreat and not get mowed down by Germans?
Join an organized Nazi force and learn from them, albeit being second grade citizens, combat and get rid of the Soviet Invasion which started murdering people in the KGB cellars already before the war?
Yeaaaahh, that was a pretty obvious choise. Evil choises, both of them.
Great one!! visit http://www.entracomic.com for more EU News
There is something wrong with numbers.
If 20 713 departed persons are 3% of the population, then only 690 433 persons should live at that moment in Estonia. Although, by statistics there lived 1 097 000 persons in Estonia in 1950, which lowers the percent of departed people down to 1.8%