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Estonia in World War II
Part of World War II
Clockwise from top left: Tallinn after the great Soviet bombing raid; Platoon of Estonian Forest Brothers; most famous Estonian commanders Rebane, Nugiseks and Riipalu; Estonian armoured regiment on march in 1940; Estonian MG team in the Battle of Tannenberg Line; conscripts of the Estonian Legion.
Date 1940–1945
Location Estonia
Result Soviet occupation
Soviet Union Soviet Union Germany Germany
Estonian forces[nb 1]
Soviet Union Aleksandr Loktionov
Soviet Union Leonid Govorov
Soviet Union Ivan Fedyuninsky
Soviet Union Ivan Maslennikov
Flag of Estonian SSR 1940 1953.svg Lembit Pärn
Germany Walter Model
Germany Johannes Frießner
Germany Ferdinand Schörner
Germany Felix Steiner
Estonian Division.jpg Alfons Rebane
Estonian Division.jpg Harald Riipalu
Friedrich Kurg
Karl Talpak
Johan Pitka

The ground for the fate of Estonia in World War II was laid by the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, particularly its Secret Additional Protocol of August 1939.[1][2]

The Republic of Estonia declared neutrality in the war but fell under the Soviet sphere of influence due to the Nazi-Soviet pact and was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940. Mass political arrests, deportations, and executions followed. In the Summer War during the German Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the pro-independence Forest Brothers captured South Estonia from the NKVD and the 8th Army before the arrival of the German 18th Army. At the same time, the Soviet paramilitary destruction battalions carried out punitive operations, including looting and killing, based on the tactics of scorched earth proclaimed by Joseph Stalin. Estonia was occupied by Germany and incorporated into Reichskommissariat Ostland.

In 1941, Estonians were conscripted to the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps and in 1941–1944 to the Nazi German forces. Men who avoided these mobilisations, fled to Finland to be formed as the Finnish Infantry Regiment 200. About 40% of Estonian pre war fleet were brought into requisition by the British authorities and were used in the Atlantic convoys. Approximately 1000 Estonian sailors served at the British Merchant Navy, 200 of them as officers. A small number of Estonians served in the Royal Air Force, in the British Army and in the U.S. Army.[3]

From February to September 1944, the German army detachment "Narwa" held back the Soviet Estonian Operation. After breaching the defence of II Army Corps across the Emajõgi river and clashing with the pro-independence Estonian troops, the Soviet forces reoccupied mainland Estonia in September 1944. After the war, Estonia remained incorporated into the Soviet Union as Estonian SSR until 1991.

World War II losses in Estonia, estimated at around 25% of the population, were among the highest in Europe. War and occupation deaths listed in the current reports total at 81,000. These include deaths in Soviet deportations in 1941, Soviet genocides, German deportations, and Holocaust victims.[4]



Before World War II, the Republic of Estonia and USSR had both signed and ratified following treaties:

Kellogg-Briand Pact

August 27 1928, Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war as an instrument of national policy Ratified by Estonia and USSR on July 24, 1929[5]

Non-aggression treaty

With USSR on May 4 1932.[6]

The Convention for the Definition of Aggression

On July 3 1933, for the first time in the history of international relations, aggression was defined in a binding treaty signed at the Soviet Embassy in London by USSR and among others, The Republic of Estonia.[7][8]
Article II defines forms of aggression. There shall be recognized as an aggressor that State which shall be the first to have committed one of the following actions:
Relevant chapters:
  • Second – invasion by armed forces of the territory of another State even without a declaration of war.
  • Fourth – a naval blockade of coasts or ports of another State.

Declaration of Neutrality

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania jointly declared their neutrality on November 18, 1938, in Riga, at the Conference of Baltic Foreign Ministers with their respective parliaments passing neutrality laws later that year. Estonia passed a law ratifying its neutrality on December 1st, 1938, which was modelled on Sweden's declaration of neutrality of May 29, 1938.[9] Also importantly, Estonia had asserted its neutrality in its very first constitution, as well as the Treaty of Tartu concluded in 1920 between Republic of Estonia and the Russian SFSR.

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact

Planned and actual divisions of Europe, according to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, with later adjustments

Early in the morning of August 24, 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a 10-year non-aggression pact, called the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact. Most notably, the pact contained a secret protocol, revealed only after Germany's defeat in 1945, according to which the states of Northern and Eastern Europe were divided into German and Soviet "spheres of influence".[10] In the North, Finland, Estonia and Latvia were assigned to the Soviet sphere.[10] Poland was to be partitioned in the event of its "political rearrangement"—the areas east of the Narev, Vistula and San Rivers going to the Soviet Union while Germany would occupy the west.[10] Lithuania, adjacent to East Prussia, would be in the German sphere of influence, although a second secret protocol agreed in September 1939 assigned majority of Lithuania to the USSR.[11]

The Beginning of World War II

Common parade of Wehrmacht and Red Army in Brest at the end of the Invasion of Poland. At the center Major General Heinz Guderian and Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein

World War II began with the invasion of an important regional ally of Estonia – Poland, by Germany. Although some coordination existed between Germany and the USSR early the war,[12] the Soviet Union communicated to Nazi Germany its decision to launch its own invasion seven days after Germany's invasion later, as a result, in part, of the unforeseen rapidity of the Polish military collapse.[13]

ORP Orzeł monument in Tallinn

On September 24 1939, with the fall of Poland to Nazi Germany and USSR imminent and in light of the Orzeł incident, the Moscow press and radio started violently attacking Estonia as "hostile" to the Soviet Union. Warships of the Red Navy appeared off Estonian ports, Soviet bombers began a threatening patrol over Tallinn and the nearby countryside.[17] Moscow demanded that Estonia allow the USSR to establish military bases and station 25,000 troops on Estonian soil for the duration of the European war.[18] The government of Estonia accepted the ultimatum signing the corresponding agreement on September 28. 1939.

The Pact was made for ten years:

  1. Estonia granted the USSR the right to maintain naval bases and airfields protected by Red Army troops on the strategic islands dominating Tallinn, the Gulf of Finland and the Gulf of Riga;
  2. Soviet Union agreed to increase her annual trade turnover with Estonia and to give Estonia facilities in case the Baltic is closed to her goods for trading with the outside world via Soviet ports on the Black Sea and White Sea;
  3. USSR and Estonia undertook to defend each other from "aggression arising on the part of any great European power"
  4. It was declared: the Pact "should not affect" the "economic systems and state organizations" of USSR and Estonia.[17]

There is no consensus in Estonian society about the decisions that the leadership of the Republic of Estonia made at that time.[3]

When the Soviet troops marched into Estonia the guns of both nations gave mutual salutes, bands played both the Estonian anthem and the Internationale, the anthem of USSR at the time.[19]

Similar demands were forwarded to Finland, Latvia and Lithuania. Finland resisted,[20] and was attacked by the Soviet Union on November 30.[21] Because the attack was judged as illegal, the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations on December 14.[22] Finland held out in the Winter War until March 1940, when the Moscow Peace Treaty was signed.

The first population loss for Estonia was the repatriation of about 12,000–18,000 Baltic Germans to Germany.[3][23]

Soviet occupation

Schematics of the Soviet military blockade and invasion of Estonia in 1940. (Russian State Naval Archives)

In summer 1940 the occupation of Estonia was carried through as a regular military operation. 160,000 men, supported by 600 tanks were concentrated for the invasion into Estonia. 5 divisions of the Soviet Air Force with 1150 aircraft blockaded the whole Baltic air space against Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. The Soviet Baltic Fleet blockaded the operation from the sea. The Soviet NKVD was ordered to be ready for the reception of 58,000 prisoners of war.[3]

On June 3 1940, all Soviet military forces based in Baltic states were concentrated under the command of Aleksandr Loktionov.[24]

On June 9, the directive 02622ss/ov was given to the Red Army's Leningrad Military District by Semyon Timoshenko to be ready by the June 12 to a) Capture the vessels of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Navy in their bases and/or at sea; b) Capture the Estonian and Latvian commercial fleet and all other vessels; c) Prepare for an invasion and landing in Tallinn and Paldiski; d) Close the Gulf of Riga and blockade the coasts of Estonia and Latvia in Gulf of Finland and Baltic Sea; e) Prevent an evacuation of the Estonian and Latvian governments, military forces and assets; f) Provide naval support for an invasion towards Rakvere; g) Prevent the Estonian and Latvian airplanes flying either to Finland or Sweden.[25]

On June 12 1940, the order for a total military blockade on Estonia to the Soviet Baltic Fleet was given: according to the director of the Russian State Archive of the Naval Department Pavel Petrov (C.Phil.) referring to the records in the archive[26][27]

On June 13 at 10.40 AM the Soviet forces started to move to their positions and were ready by June 14 at 10 PM. a) 4 submarines and a number of light navy units were positioned in the Baltic Sea, to the gulfs of Riga and Finland to isolate the Baltic states by the sea. b) A navy squadron including 3 destroyer divisions were positioned to the west of Naissaar in order to support the invasion. c) The 1st marine brigade's 4 battalions on transportation ships "Sibir", "2nd Pjatiletka" and "Elton" were positioned for landing and invasion of Naissaare and Aegna; d) Transportation ship "Dnester" and destroyers Storozevoi and Silnoi were positioned with troops for the invasion of the capital Tallinn; e) the 50th battalion was positioned on ships for an invasion near Kunda. In the naval blockade participated in total 120 Soviet vessels including 1 cruiser, 7 destroyers, and 17 submarines; 219 airplanes including the 8th air-brigade with 84 bombers: DB-3 and Tupolev SB and 10th brigade with 62 airplanes.[28]

On June 14 while the world’s attention was focused on the fall of Paris to Nazi Germany a day earlier, the Soviet military blockade on Estonia went into effect. Two Soviet bombers downed Finnish passenger airplane "Kaleva" flying from Tallinn to Helsinki carrying three diplomatic pouches from the U.S. legations in Tallinn, Riga and Helsinki and over 120 kilograms of diplomatic mail by two French embassy couriers. The US Foreign Service employee Henry W. Antheil, Jr., the French couriers and other passengers were killed in the crash.[29]

On June 16 1940, the Soviet Union invaded Estonia.[30] The Red Army exited from their military bases in Estonia, some 90,000 additional Soviet troops entered the country. Vyacheslav Molotov had accused the Baltic states of conspiracy against the Soviet Union and delivered an ultimatum to Estonia for the establishment of a government the Soviets approve of. The Estonian government decided according to the Kellogg-Briand Pact not to use war as an instrument of national policy. Given the overwhelming Soviet force both on the borders and inside the country, not to resist, to avoid bloodshed and open war.[31]

Kaleva airplane and its crew prior the incident.

On June 17, the day France surrendered to Germany,[30] Estonia accepted the ultimatum and the statehood of Estonia de facto ceased to exist. The military occupation of the Republic of Estonia was complete by the June 21 1940 and rendered "official" by a communist coup d'état supported by the Soviet troops.[32]

Most of the Estonian Defence Forces and the Estonian Defence League surrendered according to the orders of the Estonian Government believing that resistance was useless and were disarmed by the Red Army. [nb 2] [34] Only the Estonian Independent Signal Battalion stationed in Tallinn at Raua Street showed resistance to Red Army and Communist Militia called "People's Self-Defence" (Estonian: Rahva Omakaitse)[35] on 21 June 1940.[36] As the Red Army brought in additional reinforcements supported by six armoured fighting vehicles, the battle lasted several hours until sundown. Finally the military resistance was ended with negotiations and the Independent Signal Battalion surrendered and was disarmed.[37] There was 2 dead Estonian servicemen, Aleksei Männikus and Johannes Mandre, and several wounded on the Estonian side and about 10 killed and more wounded on the Soviet side.[38][39] On the same day, June 21, 1940 the Flag of Estonia was replaced with a Red flag on Pikk Hermann tower, the symbol of the government in force in Estonia.

14–15 July rigged and likely fabricated[40] elections were held in which only Soviet-supported candidates were permitted to run.[41] Those who failed to have their passports stamped for voting for a communist candidate risked getting shot in the back of the head.[42] Tribunals were set up to punish "traitors to the people." those who had fallen short of the "political duty" of voting Estonia into the USSR. The "parliament" so elected proclaimed Estonia a Socialist Republic on July 21, 1940 and unanimously requested Estonia to be "accepted" into the Soviet Union.   The Soviet Union annexed Estonia on August 6 and renamed the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic.[43] The 1940 occupation and annexation of Estonia into the Soviet Union was considered illegal and never officially recognized by Great Britain, the United States and other Western democracies.[44] The annexation abrogated numerous prior treaties entered into by the Soviet Union and its predecessor, Bolshevist Russia.

Soviet regime of terror

The Soviet authorities, having gained control over Estonia, moved rapidly to stamp out any potential opposition to their rule. During the first year of Soviet occupation (1940–1941) over 8,000 people, including most of the country's leading politicians and military officers, were arrested. About 2,200 of the arrested were executed in Estonia, while most others were moved to prison camps in Russia, from where very few were later able to return alive. On July 19 1940, the Commander-in-chief of the Estonian Army Johan Laidoner was captured by the NKVD and deported together with his spouse to the Town of Penza. Laidoner died in the Vladimir Prison Camp, Russia on March 13, 1953.[45] President of Estonia, Konstantin Päts was arrested and deported by the Soviets to Ufa in Russia on July 30, he died in a psychiatric hospital in Kalinin (currently Tver) in Russia in 1956. 800 Estonian officers i.e. about a half of the total were executed, arrested or starved to death in prison camps.

Mass deportation was another key weapon of Soviet control. In spring 1941 the Serov Instructions "On the Procedure for carrying out the Deportation of Anti-Soviet Elements from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia" was issued, providing procedure for the deportation of those deemed to be 'anti-Soviet'. This order was operationalised on June 14 1941, when mass June deportation took place simultaneously in all three Baltic countries; almost 10,000 Estonians [46] were deported in just a couple of days [nb 3][48]. Forcible conscription into the Red Army began after the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, but the Estonian conscripts were soon deemed unreliable and assigned to "labour battalions". Of the 33,000 Estonian conscripts, more than 10,000 died in these inhuman conditions due to disease, hunger and cold.[49]

When Estonia was proclaimed the Soviet Republic, the crews of 42 Estonian ships in foreign waters refused to return to homeland (about 40% of Estonian pre-war fleet) These ships were brought into requisition by the British powers and were used in the Atlantic convoys. During the time of the war, approximately 1000 Estonian seamen served at the British militarised merchant marine, 200 of them as officers. A small number of Estonians served in the Royal Air Force, in the British Army and in the US Army, altogether no more than two hundred.[3]

Soviet repression of ethnic Russians

Immediately after the Soviet takeover, local Russian institutions (societies, newspapers etc) were closed down. The cultural life that had developed during Estonia's independence was destroyed. Almost all of the leading Russian emigres were arrested and later executed.

Interestingly, some of the Russian White emigres had already been arrested prior to 21 June 1940 by the Estonian political police, probably in order to avoid 'provocations' during the Red Army's invasion, and those arrested were consequently handed over to the NKVD torture chambers after the Communist takeover[50].

Ethnic Russians in Estonia: Sergei Zarkevich, an activist of Russian organizations in Estonia, The owner of a book store "Russian Book": arrest order issued by NKVD on June 23, 1940, executed on March 25, 1941. Oleg Vasilovski, a former General in the Russian Imperial Army. Arrest order issued by NKVD on July 1, 1940. Further fate unknown. Sergei Klenski, one of the former leaders of the Russian Peasants Labor Party. Arrested on July 22. On November 19 1940, sentenced to 8 years in a prison camp. Further fate unknown. Mikhail Aleksandrov, Arseni Zhitkov.[51] Other ethnic Russians in Estonia arrested and executed by different Soviet War Tribunals in 1940–1941. Ivan Salnikov, Pavel Mironov, Mihhail Arhipov, Vassili Belugin, Vladimir Strekoytov, Vasili Zhilin, Vladimir Utekhin, Sergei Samennikov, Ivan Meitsev, Ivan Yeremeyev, Konstatin Bushuyev, Yegor Andreyev, Nikolai Sausailov, Aleksandr Serpukhov, Konstatin Nosov, Aleksandr Nekrasov, Nikolai Vasilev-Muroman, Aleksei Sinelshikov, Pyotr Molonenkov, Grigory Varlamov, Stepan Pylnikov, Ivan Lishayev, Pavel Belousev, Nikolai Gusev, Leonid Sakharov, Aleksander Chuganov, Fyodor Dobrovidov, Lev Dobek, Andrei Leontev, Ivan Sokolov, Ivan Svetlov, Vladimir Semenov, Valentin Semenov-Vasilev, Vasili Kamelkov, Georgi Lokhov, Aleksei Forlov, Ivan Ivanov, Vasili Karamsin, Aleksandr Krasilnikov, Aleksandr Zhukov, etc. Full list at:[52]

Historical Soviet sources

Up to the reassessment of Soviet history in USSR that began during Perestroika, before the USSR had condemned the 1939 secret protocol between Nazi Germany and itself that had led to the invasion and occupation of the three Baltic countries including Estonia.[53]

The events in 1939 according to the pre-Perestroika Soviet sources were following: in a prior province of the Russian Empire: The Governorate of Estonia (Russian: Эстляндская губерния) Soviet power was established in the end of October 1917. The Estonian Soviet Republic was proclaimed in Narva on November 29, 1918 but fell to counter-revolutionaries and the White movement in 1919. In June 1940 Soviet power was restored in Estonia as workers had overthrown the fascist dictatorship in the country.[54][55][56]

Stalin Lenin jk.jpg

The Government of the Soviet Union suggested that the Government of the Republic of Estonia conclude a mutual assistance treaty between the two countries. The pressure from Estonian working people forced the Estonian government to accept this suggestion. On September 28 1939, the Pact of Mutual Assistance was signed[57] which allowed the USSR to station a limited number of Red Army units in Estonia. Economic difficulties, dissatisfaction with the Estonian government policies 'that had sabotaged fulfillment of the Pact and the Estonian government' and political orientation towards Nazi Germany lead to a revolutionary situation on June 16 1940. A note from the Soviet government to the Estonian Government suggested that they stick strictly to the Pact of Mutual Assistance. To guarantee fulfillment of the Pact additional military units entered Estonia, welcomed by the Estonian workers who demanded the resignation of the Estonian government. On June 21 under the leadership of the Estonian Communist Party political demonstrations by workers were held in Tallinn, Tartu, Narva and other cities. On the same day the fascist government was overthrown, and the People's government led by Johannes Vares was formed. On July 14–15 1940 elections for the Riigikogu the Estonian Parliament were held. The "Working People’s Union", created by an initiative of the Estonian Communist Party received with 84.1% electorate participation 92.8% of the votes.[58].[59] On July 21 1940 the State Assembly adopted the declaration of the restoration of Soviet power in Estonia and proclaimed the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. On July 22 the declaration of Estonia's wish to join the USSR was adopted and the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was addressed accordingly. The request was approved by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on August 6 1940. On July 23 the State Assembly proclaimed all land to be People's Property while banks and heavy industry were nationalized. On August 25 the State Assembly adopted the Constitution of the Estonian SSR, renamed itself the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR and approved the Council of People's Commissars of the Estonian SSR.[59]

Summer War

After Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Finland sided with Germany in the Continuation War. On July 3, Stalin made his public statement over the radio calling for a scorched earth policy in the areas to be abandoned. In North Estonia, the Soviet destruction battalions had the greatest impact, being the last Baltic territory captured from the Soviets. Pro-independence Forest Brothers, numbering about 50,000, attacked the forces of the NKVD and the 8th Army (Major General Ljubovtsev), killing 4,800 and capturing 14,000.

After the German 18th Army crossed the Estonian southern border on July 7–9, the Forest Brothers organized themselves into bigger units. They took on the Red Army units and Extermination Battalions in Võrumaa at Antsla on July 5, 1941. The next day a larger offensive happened in Vastseliina where the Forest Brothers prevented Russian destruction of the town and trapped the Russians, the extermination battalion chiefs and local communist administrators. On July 7 the Forest Brothers were able to hoist the Estonian flag in Vasteliina. Võru was subsequently liberated and by the time the German army arrived the blue-black-white flags were already at full mast and the Forest Brothers had organised into Omakaitse – self defense units.[60]

The battle of Tartu lasted for two weeks, and destroyed a large part of the city. In the fires of 12 and 13 July, the headquarters of the Estonian Defence League, the campus of the Faculty of Veterinary and Agriculture of the University of Tartu and more university buildings were burnt down. Several libraries of the University and 135 major private libraries were destroyed, totalling at 465,000 books, many archive materials and 2,500 pieces of art lost. Among them were the libraries of Aino and Gustav Suits and Aurora and Johannes Semper.[61]

Under the leadership of Friedrich Kurg, the Forest Brothers drove out the Soviets from Tartu, driving the Soviet troops behind the Pärnu River – the Emajõgi line and securing South Estonia under Estonian control by July 10.[62] The NKVD murdered 193 people in Tartu Prison on their retreat on July 8.

Soviet Extermination Battalions wrought havoc on the countryside while combating the national partisans. Formed in Estonia on June 27, 1941 in face of the advancing German Army. Ostensibly to fight against saboteurs and traitors, they were given wide mandate by the Soviet authorities to summarily execute any suspicious person. Thousands of people including a large proportion of women and children were killed, while dozens of villages, schools and public buildings were burned to the ground. A school boy Tullio Lindsaar had all bones in his hands broken then was bayoneted for hoisting the Estonian tri-colour. Mauricius Parts, son of the Estonian War of Independence hero Karl Parts, was doused in acid. In August 1941, all residents of the village Viru-Kabala were killed including a two-year old child and a six-day old infant. A partisan war broke out in response to the atrocities of the destruction battalions, with tens of thousands of men forming the Forest Brothers to protect the local population from these battalions.[63]

Extermination Battalions participated also in Kautla massacre. They murdered Gustav and Rosalie Viljamaa of Simisalu farm and set the farm on fire. In the coming days, the destruction battalion undertook systematic murder of all civilians in the region and burning their farms. The Kautla farm was burned down by the Red Army with the family and staff inside, thus constituting a murder of Johannes Lindemann, Oskar Mallene, Ida Hallorava, Arnold Kivipõld, Alfred Kukk and Johannes Ummus.[64] In total, more than twenty people, all civilians, were murdered in Kautla – many of them after torture – and tens of farms destroyed. The low toll of human deaths in comparison with the number of burned farms is due to the Erna team breaking the Red Army blockade on the area, allowing many civilians to escape.[65]

The Germans resumed their advance in Estonia by working in cooperation with the Forest Brothers. The joint Estonian-German forces took Narva on August 17.

By the end of August the Estonian capital of Tallinn was surrounded by the German army, while in the harbor was the majority of the Red Banner Baltic fleet. On August 19, the final German assault on Tallinn began. The joint Estonian-German forces took Estonian capital Tallinn on August 28. Soviet evacuation of Tallinn carried heavy losses. On that day, the red flag shot down earlier on Pikk Hermann was replaced with the flag of Estonia by Fred Ise. After the Soviets were driven out from Estonia, German troops disarmed all the Forest Brother groups.[66] The Estonian flag was replaced shortly with the flag of Germany.

German occupation

Most Estonians greeted the Germans with relatively open arms and hoped for restoration of independence. In Southern Estonia pro independence administrations were set up, led by Jüri Uluots a co-ordinating council was set up in Tartu as soon as the Soviet regime retreated and before German troops arrived. [nb 4]The Forest Brothers who drove the Red Army from Tartu made this possible.[nb 5] This was all for nothing since the Germans disbanded the provisional government and Estonia became a part of the German-occupied Reichskommissariat Ostland. A Sicherheitspolizei was established for internal security under the leadership of Ain-Ervin Mere.[69][70]

In April 1941, on the eve on the German invasion, Alfred Rosenberg, Reich minister for the Occupied Eastern territories, a Baltic German, born and raised in Tallinn, Estonia, laid out his plans for the East. According to Rosenberg a future policy was created:

  1. Germanization (Eindeutschung) of the "racially suitable" elements.
  2. Colonization by Germanic peoples.
  3. Exile, deportations of undesirable elements.

Rosenberg felt that the "Estonians were the most Germanic out of the people living in the Baltic area, having already reached 50 percent of Germanization through Danish, Swedish and German influence". Non-suitable Estonians were to be moved to a region that Rosenberg called "Peipusland" to make room for German colonists.[71] The initial enthusiasm that accompanied the liberation from Soviet occupation quickly waned as a result and the Germans had limited success in recruiting volunteers. The draft was introduced in 1942, resulting in some 3400 men fleeing to Finland to fight in the Finnish Army rather than join the Germans. Finnish Infantry Regiment 200 (Estonian: soomepoisid) was formed out of Estonian volunteers who had fled the 1943–1944 forced mobilization into the German forces in Estonia. The unit fought the Red Army on the Karelian Front[72] In June 1942, political leaders of Estonia who had survived Soviet repressions held a meeting hidden from the occupying powers in Estonia where the formation of an underground Estonian government and the options for preserving continuity of the republic were discussed.[73] On January 6 1943, a meeting was held at the Estonian foreign delegation in Stockholm. In order to preserve the legal continuation of the Republic of Estonia, it was decided that the last constitutional prime minister, Jüri Uluots, had to continue to fulfill his responsibilities as prime minister.[73] In June 1944, – the elector’s assembly of the Republic of Estonia gathered in secrecy from the occupying powers in Tallinn and appointed Jüri Uluots as the prime minister with responsibilities of the President. On June 21 – Jüri Uluots appointed Otto Tief as deputy prime minister.[73] With the Allied victory over Germany becoming certain in 1944, the only option to save Estonia's independence was to stave off a new Soviet invasion of Estonia until Germany's capitulation. By supporting the German conscription call Uluots hoped to restore the Estonian Army and the countries independence.[nb 6]

The Holocaust

Corpses of inmates from Klooga concentration camp stacked for burning.

The first records of a some Jews in Estonia date back to the 14th century.[75] The permanent Jewish settlement in Estonia began in the nineteenth century, when in 1865 the Russian Tsar Alexander II granted Jews with university degrees and merchants of the third guild the right to enter the region.[nb 7]

Holocaust memorial at the site of the former Klooga concentration camp, opened on 24th July 2005

The creation of the Republic of Estonia in 1918 marked the beginning of a new era for the Jews. Approximately 200 Jews fought in combat for the creation of the Republic of Estonia and 70 of these men were volunteers.[77] On 12 February 1925 the Estonian government passed a law unique in inter-war Europe pertaining to the cultural autonomy of ethnic minorities. [nb 8] The Jewish community quickly prepared its application for cultural autonomy. Statistics on Jewish citizens were compiled. They totaled 3045, fulfilling the minimum requirement of 3000. In June 1926 the Jewish Cultural Council was elected and Jewish cultural autonomy was declared.[79] Jewish cultural autonomy was of great interest to the global Jewish community. The Jewish National Endowment presented the Government of the Republic of Estonia with a certificate of gratitude for this achievement.[80]

There were, at the time of the Soviet occupation in 1940, approximately 2000 Estonian Jews. Many of Jewish people were deported to Siberia along with other Estonians by the Soviets. It is estimated that 500 Jews suffered this fate. With the invasion of the Baltics, it was the intention of the Nazi government to use the Baltic countries as their main area of mass genocide. Consequently, Jews from countries outside the Baltics were shipped there to be exterminated. Out of the approximately 4,300 Jews in Estonia prior to the war, between 1,500 and 2,000 were entrapped by the Nazis.[81] and an estimated 10,000 Jews were killed in Estonia after having been deported to camps there from elsewhere in Eastern Europe.[82] There have been knowingly 7 ethnic Estonians: Ralf Gerrets, Ain-Ervin Mere, Jaan Viik, Juhan Jüriste, Karl Linnas,Aleksander Laak and Ervin Viks who have faced trials for crimes against humanity. Since the reestablishment of the Estonian independence Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity has been established.[83] Markers were put in place for the 60th anniversary of the mass executions that were carried out at the Lagedi, Vaivara[84] and Klooga (Kalevi-Liiva) camps in September 1944.[85]

In May 2005, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip gave a speech while visiting Klooga: "Although these murderers must answer for their crimes as individuals, the Estonian Government continues to do everything possible to expose these crimes. I apologise for the fact that Estonian citizens could be found among those who participated in the murdering of people or assisted in the perpetration of these crimes."[86]

Estonia (together with Austria, Lithuania, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Syria and Ukraine) has been given the grade Category F: "Total Failure" ("countries, which refuse in principle to investigate, let alone prosecute, suspected Nazi war criminals") by the Simon Wiesenthal Center Status Report on Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals for 2006.[87][88]

Estonian military units in 1941–1943

Jüri Uluots
Divisional insignia of 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian).

Estonian units in German forces

In 1941, it was announced in Germany that additional Combat Support Forces, the Waffen-SS units would be raised from non-German foreign nationals. The goal was to acquire additional manpower from occupied nations. Some of these formed foreign legions included volunteers from Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway, and the Netherlands. Up to March 1942, drafted Estonians mostly served in the rear of the Army Group North security. On August 28 1942, the German powers announced the legal compilation of the Estonian Legion within the Combat Support Forces, the Waffen SS Verfügungstruppe units. Oberführer Franz Augsberger was nominated the commander of the legion. As of October 13 1942, 500 volunteers had appeared. In the Spring 1943, additional men were drafted from the police and the number rose to 1.280.[89] 90% of the volunteers had lost a relative in the Red Terror.[90] The battalion "Narwa" was formed from the first 800 men of the Legion to have finished their training at Dębica (Heidelager in 1943), being sent in April 1943, to join the Division Wiking in Ukraine. They replaced the Finnish Volunteer Battalion, recalled to Finland for political reasons.[91]

The battalion "Narwa" participated in the battle of the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket. Retreating through the escape route called The Hell's Gate, the battalion came under heavy Soviet fire with little cover. The battalion lost almost all of its equipment during the carnage while most of the troops escaped encirclement.[92]

In March 1943, the German occupying powers turned to mobilization by conscripting men born in Estonia between 1919 and 1924. Until August 1943, 5300 men were drafted for the Estonian Legion and 6800 for support service (Hilfswillige) to the German Wermacht. A moblization in October 1943, calling up men born in 1925–1926. On May 5 1943, the 3 Estonian SS Volunteer Brigade was formed and sent to front near Nevel. A consequence of the 1943 mobilizations was the wave of an estimated 5.000 Estonian men fleeing to Finland in order to avoid the German draft. Over half of these men volunteered for service in the Finnish armed forces. About 2.300 joined the army and 400 the navy.

Estonian Rifle Corps in the Red Army

In June 1940, while the Estonian army was integrated into the Soviet military structure, where in June 1940 there were 16,800 men, was changed into "22nd Territorial Rifle Corps" 5,500 Estonian soldiers served in the corps during the first battle. 4,500 of them went over to the German side. In September 1941, when the corps was liquidated, there were still 500 previous Estonian soldiers. [nb 9]

Having mobilized some 33,000 Estonians as the Soviets were evacuating in the summer of 1941, no more than half of those men were used for military service, the rest perished in Gulag concentration camps and labour battalions, mainly in the early months of the war.[nb 10]

Estonian military Units within the Red Army began to be formed in January 1942, from among ethnic Estonians living in the USSR, A Soviet source suggests that in May 1942 there were nearly 20,000 Estonians in the national units. The 8th Estonian Rifle Corps, as these units came to be called after September 1942, reached the front in Velikie Luki in December 1942 and suffered heavy losses in battle as well as the defection of about 1,000 men to the German side. After Velikie Luki the Rifle Corps was replaced with other nationalities from USSR. The corps' major activity in the latter part of the war was participation in the battles for Estonia.[94]

Battles in 1944

In January 1944, the Soviet Leningrad Front (the Soviet army group in the region of Leningrad) forced Sponheimer Group back to the former Estonian border. On January 31, the Self-Administration (puppet government of Estonia) announced a general conscription-mobilisation.[95] Jüri Uluots, the last constitutional prime minister of the republic of Estonia,[96] the leader of the Estonian underground government delivered a radio address on February 7[73] that implored the able-bodied men born in 1904–1923 to report for military service. Before this, Uluots had opposed Estonian mobilisation as illegal under the Hague Conventions.[97] Uluots hoped that by engaging in such a war Estonia would be able to attract Western support for the cause of independence from the USSR.[98] The mobilisation drew wide support among Estonians and 38,000 men were drafted.[99] After the mobilisation there were some 50,000–60,000 Estonians under arms in Estonia.[95] The volunteer Estonian Legion created in 1942 was forced under the Waffen-SS in 1944 and expanded into the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) as other Estonian units that had fought on various fronts on the German side were rushed to Estonia.[95] In addition, six border defence battalions were formed.[100] In autumn 1944, it is estimated that there was the same number of Estonians under arms as at the time of the Estonian War of Independence, in total about 100,000 men.[3] Volunteers from Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium were also deployed in Estonia within the Sponheimer Group.

Formation of bridgeheads in Narva

Soviet map of the beginning of Estonian Operation, February – April 1944

The Soviet Kingisepp–Gdov Offensive reached the Narva River on February 2. Forward Soviet units of the 2nd Shock Army and the 8th Army established several bridgeheads on the west bank to the north and south of the city of Narva. On February 7, the 8th Army expanded the bridgehead in the Krivasoo Swamp south of Narva cutting Narva–Tallinn Railway behind the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps. The headquarters of the Leningrad Front were unable to take advantage of the opportunity of encircling the smaller German army group. The Sponheimer Group held its ground in the complicated situation. At the same time, the Soviet 108th Rifle Corps landed its units across Lake Peipus and established a bridgehead around the village of Meerapalu. By a coincidence, the Estonian Division headed for the Narva Front reached the area at the time. In the battle in February 14–16, the I.Battalion, SS Volunteer Grenadier Regiment 45 Estland (1st Estonian) and a battalion of the 44th Infantry Regiment (consisting in personnel from East Prussia) destroyed the landed Soviet troops. The Mereküla Landing was conducted simultaneously, as the 517-strong Soviet 260th Independent Naval Infantry Brigade landed at the coastal borough Mereküla behind the Sponheimer Group lines. However, the amphibious unit was almost completely annihilated.[101]

Narva Offensives, February and March

The 2nd Shock Army launched the new Narva Offensive on February 15[102] simultaneously from the bridgeheads north and south of the city of Narva aimed at encircling the III SS (Germanic) Panzer Corps. After ferocious battles, the exhausted Soviet army halted its operation on February 20. Since the beginning of January, the Leningrad Front had lost 227,440 men as wounded, killed or missing in action, which constituted more than half of the troops who participated in the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive.

The pause between the offensives was used for bringing in additional forces by both sides. On February 24 (Estonian Independence Day), fulfilling their first task at the Narva Front, the fresh SS Volunteer Grenadier Regiments 45 and 46 (1st and 2nd Estonian) counterattacked to break the Soviet bridgeheads. The assault by the 2nd Estonian Regiment destroyed the Soviet Riigiküla bridgehead. The attack of the 1st and 2nd Estonian Regiments commanded by Standartenführer Paul Vent liquidated the Siivertsi Bridgehead by March 6.

By early March, the leadership of the Leningrad Front had drawn nine corps against seven German divisions and one brigade defending Narva. The Soviet Narva Offensive (1–4 March 1944) began to the southwest of Narva aiming to outflank and surround the citadel. Rifle corps of the 59th Army encircled the 214th Infantry Division and the Estonian 658th and 659th Eastern Battalions which kept resisting. This gave the army detachment "Narwa" command enough time to move in all available units and repulse the offensive.[101][103]

A Soviet air raid leveled the historical town of Narva on March 6, 1944. The attack of the 2nd Shock Army infantry followed at the Ivangorod Bridgehead on the east bank of the river on March 8. Simultaneously, pitched battles took place in the north of the town, where the Soviet 14th Rifle Corps supported by the artillery of the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps attempted to break through the German defence held by the Estonian regiments. The attacks were repulsed in great losses for the Soviets.[103][103]

Soviet air assaults against civilians in Estonian towns aimed to force the Estonians away from supporting the German side against the Soviet offensive. The Soviet Long Range Aviation assaulted Tallinn on the night before March 9. Approximately 40% of the housing space was destroyed in the city as 25,000 people were left without a shelter and 500 civilians killed. The result of the air raid was the opposite to the Soviet aim as the Estonians felt disgusted by Soviet atrocities and more men answered the German conscription call.[101][103]

The six divisions, armoured vehicles and artillery of the Soviet 109th Rifle Corps and the newly brought 6th Rifle Corps initiated the Narva Offensive (18–24 March 1944) aimed towards Auvere railway station. The weakened German 61st Infantry Division held their defensive positions. The Kampfgruppe Strachwitz annihilated the Soviet 8th Army shock troop wedge on March 26 at the western end of the Krivasoo Bridgehead. The kampfgruppe destroyed the eastern tip of the bridgehead on April 6. The Kampfgruppe Strachwitz inspired by their success tried to eliminate the bridgehead as a whole but was unable to proceed due to the spring thaw that had rendered the swamp impassable for its tank squadron. By the end of April, the parties at Narva had mutually exhausted their strengths. Relative calm settled on the front until late July, 1944.[101][103]

Sinimäed Hills

Battle of Tannenberg Line, 26–29 July 1944

The Soviet 8th Army launched the initial attack of the Narva Offensive at Auvere Railway Station. The 44th Infantry Regiment and the 1st Estonian Regiment repulsed it inflicting heavy losses to the Soviets. The III SS Panzer Corps were evacuated from Narva and the front was settled on the Tannenberg Line at the Sinimäed Hills on July 26.[101][103]

The Soviet advance guard attacked the Tannenberg Line conquering a part of the Lastekodumägi, the easternmost of the three hills. The Soviet attempts to conquer the rest of the hills failed on the following day. The German counter attack on July 28 subsequently collapsed under the defence of the Soviet tank regiments. The forces of the III Army Corps dug themselves into their new positions at the Grenaderimägi, the central of the three hills.[101][103]

The climax of the Battle of Tannenberg Line was the Soviet attack on July 29. The Soviet shock units suppressed the German resistance at the Lastekodumägi, while the Soviet main forces suffered heavy casualties in the subsequent assault at the Grenaderimägi. The Soviet tanks encircled the Grenaderimägi and the westernmost Tornimägi. At the same time, SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner sent out the remaining 7 German tanks which hit the surprised Soviet armoured forces back. This enabled the multi-national combat unit to re-conquer the Grenaderimägi to the German hands. Of the 136,830 Soviets initiating the Narva Operation, July 1944, a few thousand had survived and the Soviet tank regiments were demolished.[101][103]

With the aid of swift reinforcements, the Red Army continued their attacks. The Stavka demanded the army detachment "Narwa" destroyed and the town of Rakvere conquered by no later than August 7. The 2nd Shock Army was back to 20,000 troopers by August 2 while their numerous attempts pursuing unchanged tactics failed to break the "Narwa"'s defence. Govorov terminated the Soviet offensive on August 10.[101][103]

South Estonia

When the Estonian Operation failed in the Sinimäed, the combat was carried to the south of Lake Peipus. The main thrust of the Soviet Tartu Offensive Operation was aimed at the town of Petseri. On 10 August, the Soviet 67th Army broke through the defence of the XXVIII Army Corps. The 43rd Rifle Division captured the town of Võru on August 13,[103] forcing the troops of the 18th Army to the banks of the Gauja and the Väike Emajõgi Rivers. The German units supported by the local Omakaitse civil defence battalions fortified their positions along the Väike Emajõgi and repelled the numerous Soviet attempts until 14 September.[101][103]

The Army Group North subjected the defence of the city of Tartu to the Kampfgruppe Wagner which lacked sufficient troops to man the line. On August 23, the 3rd Baltic Front launched an artillery barrage at the positions of the II.Battalion, 2nd Estonian Regiment in the village of Nõo southeast of Tartu. The Soviet 282nd Rifle Division, the 16th Single Tank Brigade, and two self-propelled artillery regiments passed the defence and captured the strategically important Kärevere Bridge across the Emajõgi River to the west of Tartu. On August 25, three Soviet rifle divisions with the support of armoured and artillery units conquered the town and established a bridgehehead on the north bank of the Emajõgi River.[101][103]

Aleksander Warma the Estonia's Ambassador to Finland had announced that the National Committee of the Estonian Republic had sent a telegram on 1 August which stated: "Estonians return home!". It was then announced that the Finnish Infantry Regiment 200 would be disbanded and that the volunteers were free to return home. An agreement had been reached with the Germans, and the Estonians were promised amnesty if they were to return. The I.Battalion of the Finnish Boys, Estonian Police Battalions No. 37 and 38 and a tank squadron destroyed the bridgehead of two Soviet divisions west of the town by August 30 and captured Kärevere Bridge. On September 4, the operation commanded by Rebane, Vent and Oberstleutnant Meinrad von Lauchert attempted to re-capture Tartu. The attack was repulsed by units of the 3rd Baltic Front.[101][103]

Baltic Offensive

As Finland left the war on September 4, 1944 according to the peace agreement with Soviets the defence of the mainland became impossible and the command of Army Group Narwa started preparing an evacuation from Estonia. The three Soviet Baltic Fronts launched their Riga Offensive Operation on 14 September along the entire length of the German 18th Army front stretching from Madona town in Latvia to the mouth of the Väike Emajõgi river. In the Estonian segment from Valga railway junction to Lake Võrtsjärv, the 3rd Baltic Front attacked. In fierce battles, the German XXVIII Army Corps and the Omakaitse battalions held their positions against the overwhelming Soviet armies.[101][103]

The Soviet Tallinn Offensive of the 2nd Shock Army commenced in the early morning of 17 September.[103] After the artillery barrage of 132,500 shells and grenades fired at the German II Army Corps,[104] the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps, the 30th Guard Rifle Corps, and the 108th Rifle Corps crossed the Emajõgi in the 25 km wide front segment eastwards from Tartu and went on offensive with armoured and air support.[103] The defence of the II Army Corps was breached. Only "Rebane" Battle Group placed near Tartu held their front segment. Alfons Rebane operated his troops out of the siege with heavy losses.[103] Army Group Narwa and the XXVIII Army Corps, the northernmost elements of Army Group North were at risk of being encircled and destroyed.[105] Schörner ordered Army Group Narwa to abandon the defences of the Emajõgi line and the Narva front to be evacuated from mainland Estonia.[101][103]

The fighters of the Estonian Rifle Corps murdered their compatriate soldiers fallen prisoner in Battle of Porkuni, and the wounded soldiers sheltering in the Avinurme Parish church.[101][103]

The three German divisions in Moonsund archipelago resisted until 23 November, 1944.[101][103]

According to the Soviet data, the conquering of the territory of Estonia cost them 126,000 casualties, all causes. The battles at the Narva front probably added 480,000 to the figure.[106] On the German side, their own data shows 30,000 dead which is most likely underrated, the more realistic figure would be 45,000.[3]

Attempt to restore independence

The September 18, 1944 proclamation of Government of Estonia in Riigi Teataja

As the Germans retreated, on September 18 Jüri Uluots formed a government led by the Deputy Prime Minister, Otto Tief. The Nazi German flag on Pikk Hermann was replaced with the flag of Estonia two days later. On September 21 the Estonian national government was proclaimed. Estonian forces seized the government buildings in Toompea and ordered the German forces to leave.[107] The Red Army took Tallinn on September 22 and the Estonian flag on Pikk Hermann was replaced with the Red flag. After the evacuation of the German forces, the Estonian military units under the command of Rear Admiral Johan Pitka continued to resist the Red Army. The Estonian troops were defeated by the Soviet advance units in the battles held on September 23 west of Tallinn near Keila and Risti.[103]

The Estonian underground government, not officially recognized by either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, fled to Stockholm, Sweden and operated in exile until 1992, when Heinrich Mark, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia in duties of the President in exile,[108] presented his credentials to the newly elected President of Estonia Lennart Meri. On February 23. 1989 The flag of the Estonian SSR had been lowered on Pikk Hermann, having been replaced with the flag of Estonia on February 24 1989.

Soviet return

Soviet forces reconquered Estonia in the autumn of 1944 after fierce battles in the northeast of the country on the Narva river and on the Tannenberg Line (Sinimäed). In 1944, in the face of the country being re-occupied by the Red Army, 80000 people fled from Estonia by sea to Finland and Sweden, becoming war refugees and later, expatriates. 25,000 Estonians reached Sweden and a further 42,000 Germany. During the war about 8 000 Estonian Swedes and their family members had emigrated to Sweden. After the retreat of Germans, about 30,000 Forest Brothers remained in hiding in the Estonian forests, further on leading a massive guerrilla war. Commander of 46. SS Grenadier Regiment, Friedrich Kurg, stood with most of his men in Estonian forests.

In 1949 27,650 Soviet troops still led a war against the Forest Brothers. Only the 1949 mass deportation when about 21,000 people were taken away broke the basis of the insurgent movement. 6600 Forest Brothers gave themselves up in November 1949. Later on the failure of the Hungarian uprising broke the resistance moral of the 700 men still remaining under cover. According to the Soviet data, up to 1953, 20,351 insurgents were disarmed. Of these, 1510 perished in the battles. During that period, 1 728 members of the Red Army, NKVD and the militia were killed by the "forest brothers". August Sabbe, one of the last surviving Forest Brothers in Estonia, was discovered by KGB agents and drowned himself in 1978.[109] After him there were only little number of insurgents alive in the Estonian forests. Many of them died because of because of their age in the next 15 years.

Border changes of Estonia after World War II

During the first post-war decade of Soviet regime, Estonia was governed by Moscow via Russian-born Estonian governors. Born into the families of native Estonians in Russia, the latter had obtained their Red education in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist repressions at the end of the 1930s. Many of them had fought in the Red Army (in the Estonian Rifle Corps), few of them had mastered the Estonian language.[110]

Although the United States and the United Kingdom, the allies of the USSR against Germany during World War II, recognized the occupation of the Republic of Estonia by USSR at Yalta Conference in 1945 de facto, the governments of the rest of the western democracies did not recognize the seizure of Estonia by the USSR in 1940 and in 1944 de jure according to the Sumner Welles' declaration of July 23, 1940[111][112][113] Such countries recognized Estonian diplomats and consuls who still functioned in many countries in the name of their former governments. These aging diplomats persisted in this anomalous situation until the ultimate restoration of Estonia's independence in 1991.[114]

In August 1994 the last Soviet troops withdrew from the Republic of Estonia.[115]


Views diverge on history of Estonia during World War II:

The position of the European Court of Human Rights

The Court notes, first, that Estonia lost its independence as a result of the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (also known as "Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact"), concluded on 23 August 1939, and the secret additional protocols to it. Following an ultimatum to set up Soviet military bases in Estonia in 1939, a large-scale entry of the Soviet army into Estonia took place in June 1940. The lawful government of the country was overthrown and Soviet rule was imposed by force. The totalitarian communist regime of the Soviet Union conducted large-scale and systematic actions against the Estonian population, including, for example, the deportation of about 10,000 persons on 14 June 1941 and of more than 20,000 on 25 March 1949. After the Second World War, tens of thousands of persons went into hiding in the forests to avoid repression by the Soviet authorities; part of those in hiding actively resisted the occupation regime. According to the data of the security organs, about 1,500 persons were killed and almost 10,000 arrested in the course of the resistance movement of 1944–1953. Interrupted by the German occupation in 1941–1944, Estonia remained occupied by the Soviet Union until its restoration of independence in 1991.

Position of the Estonian government

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

The occupation of Estonia by Nazi Germany ended with five decades of Soviet occupation of the Baltic nations.[116] The European parliament has issued a resolution on the issue supporting the positions of The Estonian Government: as an independent Member State of the EU and NATO, it has the sovereign right to assess its recent tragic past, starting with the loss of independence as a result of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 and including three years under Hitler’s occupation and terror, as well as 48 years under Soviet occupation and terror whereas the Soviet occupation and annexation of the Baltic States was never recognized as legal by the Western democracies.[117]

Governments of the Western democracies

According to USA, EU: 48 years of Soviet occupation and annexation of the Republic of Estonia was never recognized as legal by the Western democracies.[117][118]

Position of the Russian government

Russian government and officials continue to maintain that the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states was legitimate[119] and that the Soviet Union liberated the countries from the Nazis.[120] They state that the Soviet troops had entered the Baltic countries in 1940 following the agreements and with the consent of the governments of the Baltic republics. They maintain that the USSR was not in a state of war and was not waging any combat activities on the territory of the three Baltic states, therefore, the argument goes, the word 'occupation' can not be used.[121][122] "The assertions about [the] 'occupation' by the Soviet Union and the related claims ignore all legal, historical and political realities, and are therefore utterly groundless." (Russian Foreign Ministry)

Positions of the soldiers from both sides

The Bronze Soldier
  • Views of World War II veteran, an Estonian Ilmar Haaviste fought on the German side: “Both regimes were equally evil – there was no difference between the two except that Stalin was more cunning”.
  • Views of World War II veteran, an Estonian Arnold Meri fought on the Soviet side: "Estonia's participation in World War II was inevitable. Every Estonian had only one decision to make: whose side to take in that bloody fight – the Nazis' or the anti-Hitler coalition's."
  • Views of World War II veteran, a Russian fought on the Soviet side in Estonia answering a question: How do you feel being called an "occupier"? " Viktor Andreyev: "Half believe one thing, half believe another. That's in the run of things."[123]

In 2004 controversy regarding the events of World War II in Estonia surrounded the Monument of Lihula.

In April 2007 the diverging views of World War II history were a factor in the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn controversy.


  1. ^ Estonia as a state did not participate as a belligerent. The legitimate government of Estonia failed to seize control of any considerable part of the territory for any significant time. For further explanation, see Lauri Mälksoo, "The Government of Otto Tief and Attempt to Restore the Independence of Estonia in 1944: A Legal Appraisal" in: Toomas Hiio, Meelis Maripuu, Indrek Paavle (Eds.). Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity, Tallinn, 1999, and Mart Laar, Estonia in World War II, Grenader, Tallinn, 2005.
  2. ^ June 14 the Estonian government surrendered without offering any military resistance; The occupation authorities disarming the Estonian Army and removing the higher military comman from power [33]
  3. ^ On two June days in 1941, around 10000 of Estonia's best-educated people, including a tenth of the Jewish population, were deported to the depths of Russia [47]
  4. ^ In some areas of southern Estonia, pro independence administrations were already in place by the time German troops arrived. Jüri Uluots set up a co-ordinating council in Tartu, yet stopped short of declaring a provisional government[67]
  5. ^ Often the guerrillas were able to liberate towns before the Germans arrived...The relative slowness of the German advance allowed about 12,000 Estonian 'Forest Brothers' to organize in small local units. The Forest Brothers attacked Soviet garrisons, forcing part of the Red Army to retreat into Latvia, liberating towns and villages and occupying key installations.[68]
  6. ^ In Estonia, the pre-war Prime minister Uluots switched his stand on mobilization in February 1944 when the Soviet Army reached the Estonian border. At the time the Estonian units under German control had about 14,000 men. Counting on a German debacle, Uluots considered it imperative to have large numbers of Estonians armed, through any means...Uluots even managed to tell it to the nation through the German-controlled radio: Estonian troops on Estonian soli have " a significance much wider than what I could and would be able to disclose here". The nation undrestood and responded. 38,000 registered ..Six border-defense regiments were formed, headed by Estonian officers, and the SS Division received reinforcements, bringing the total of Estonian units up to 50,000 or 60,00 men. During the whole period at least 70,000 Estonian joined the German army, more than 10,000 may have died in action...about 10,000 reached the West after the war ended.[74]
  7. ^ Alexander II permitted Jews with university degrees and merchants of the third guild to settle anywhere in Russia, and several hundred settled in Estonia [76]
  8. ^ The Estonian Cultural Autonomy Law of 1925 was unigue in inter-war Europe, and elicted much attention internationally. Under its terms, representatives of Estonia.s Russian, German, and Swedish minorities (and other nationality groups numbering at least 3,000) were given the possibility to establish their own cultural self-governments.[78]
  9. ^ The Estonian Army, where in June 1940 there were 16,800 men, was changed into "22nd Territorial Rifle Corps", which was totally russified at the beginning of the war (only 9 000 previous Estonian soldiers stayed to 20,000 Russians). Thousands of men escaped from the corps when sent to Russia at the outbreak of the war. 5 500 Estonian soldiers served in the corps during the first battle. 4 500 of them went over to the German side. In September 1941, when the corps was liquidated, there were still 500 previous Estonian soldiers.[3]
  10. ^ During the German attack in June 1941 all three Territorial Corps suffered mass desertions to the germans; The Soviet High Command transferred them deep into Russia before disbanding them at the end of 1941, and hundreds of officers subsequently died in Glag labour-camps while the other ranks were transferred to military labour duties. Last-minute Soviet attempts to mobilise Baltic civilians were largely unsuccessful. [93]
  1. ^ The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1993. p. 698. ISBN 0852295715. "The fate of Estonia was decided by the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of August 1939 between Nazi Germany and the USSR"  
  2. ^ Feldbrugge 1985, p. 460
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Estonia in World War II by Hannes Walter. Historical Text Archive, Mississippi
  4. ^ The White Book: Losses inflicted on the Estonian nation by occupation regimes. 1940–1991
  5. ^ Kellogg-Briand Pact at Yale University
  6. ^ League of Nations Treaty Series, Vol. CXXXI, pp. 297–307.
  7. ^ Aggression Defined at Time Magazine
  8. ^ League of Nations Treaty Series, 1934, No. 3391.
  9. ^ Estonian Neutrality Law of December lst, 1938
  10. ^ a b c Text of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, executed August 23, 1939
  11. ^ Christie, Kenneth, Historical Injustice and Democratic Transition in Eastern Asia and Northern Europe: Ghosts at the Table of Democracy, RoutledgeCurzon, 2002, ISBN 0700715991
  12. ^ Nekrich, Aleksandr Moiseevich; Ulam, Adam Bruno; Freeze, Gregory L. (1997), Pariahs, Partners, Predators: German-Soviet Relations, 1922–1941, Columbia University Press, ISBN 0231106769  
  13. ^ Roberts, Geoffrey The Soviet Decision for a Pact with Nazi Germany Soviet Studies, Vol. 44, No. 1 (1992), pp. 57–78)
  14. ^ Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact's secret additional protocol
  15. ^ Kitchen, Martin (1990). A World in Flames: A Short History of the Second World War. Longman. p. 74. ISBN 0582034086. "The joint invasion of Poland was celebrated with a parade by the Wehrmacht and the Red Army in Brest Litovsk"  
  16. ^ Raack, Richard (1995). Stalin's Drive to the West, 1938–1945. Stanford University Press. p. 58. ISBN 0804724156. "The generals of the two invading armies went over the details of the prearranged line that would mark the two zones of conquest for Germany and Soviet Russia, subsequently to be rearranged one more time in Moscow. The military parade that followd was recorded by nazi cameras and celebrated in the German newsreel: German and Soviet generals cheek by jowl n military homage to each other's armies and victories."  
  17. ^ a b Moscow's Week at Time Magazine on Monday, October 9, 1939
  18. ^ Smith ?, p. 24
  19. ^ Negotiator Stalin at Time Magazine on Monday, November 6, 1939
  20. ^ Finnish Finishat Time Magazine on Monday, Nov. 20, 1939
  21. ^ 36-to-1 at Time Magazine on Monday, Dec. 11, 1939
  22. ^ Minus a Member at Time magazine on Monday, Dec. 25, 1939
  23. ^ Balts' Return at TIME Magazine on Monday, Oct. 23, 1939
  24. ^ Petrov 2008, p. 153
  25. ^ Petrov 2008, p. 154
  26. ^ (Finnish) Pavel Petrov at Finnish Defence Forces home page
  27. ^ (Russian) documents published from the State Archive of the Russian Navy
  28. ^ Petrov 2008, p. 164
  29. ^ The Last Flight from Tallinn at American Foreign Service Association
  30. ^ a b Five Years of Dates at Time magazine on Monday, Jun. 24, 1940
  31. ^ Smith ?, p. 19
  32. ^ Subrenat 2004, p. 134
  33. ^ Ertl 2008, p. 394
  34. ^ Miljan 2004, p. 111
  35. ^ United States Congress, p. 280
  36. ^ "The President of the Republic acquainted himself with the Estonian Defence Forces". Press Service of the Office of the President. December 19, 2001. Retrieved 2 January 2009.  
  37. ^ (Estonian)51 years from the Raua Street Battle at Estonian Defence Forces Home Page
  38. ^ 784 AE. "Riigikogu avaldus kommunistliku režiimi kuritegudest Eestis" (in Estonian). Riigikogu. Retrieved 2 January 2009.  
  39. ^ Lohmus, Alo (10 November 2007). "Kaitseväelastest said kurja saatuse sunnil korpusepoisid" (in Estonian). Retrieved 2 January 2009.  
  40. ^ Latvia's detailed election results were accidentally published in London 24 hours before the purported election was held
  41. ^ Minahan 2000, p. 238
  42. ^ Justice in The Balticat Time magazine on Monday, Aug. 19, 1940
  43. ^ Magnus Ilmjärv Hääletu alistumine, (Silent Submission), Tallinn, Argo, 2004, ISBN 9949-415-04-7
  44. ^ U.S.-Baltic Relations: Celebrating 85 Years of Friendship at U.S Department of State
  45. ^ General Johan Laidonerat The Estonian War Museum
  46. ^ O'Connor 2003, p. 118
  47. ^ Lucas, p 113
  48. ^ Deportation from Estonia in 1941 and 1949. Estonia Today. Fact Sheet of the Press and Information Department, Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. June 2006.
  49. ^ The White Book
  50. ^ С.Г.Исаков Очерки истории русской культуры в Эстонии. Таллинн, 2005, с. 394–395.
  51. ^ fate of individuals arrested at EIHC
  52. ^ Individuals executed at EIHC
  53. ^ The Forty-Third Session of the UN Sub-Commission at Google Scholar
  54. ^ (Russian)State Symbols – Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic
  55. ^ Endel Vanatoa, Estonian SSR, a Reference Book, Perioodika Publisher, 1985, p.11, available at Google Print
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  57. ^ (Russian)1939 USSR-Estonia Mutual Aid Pact (full text)
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  70. ^ German: Ain-Ervin Mere-Leiter der estnischen Sicherheitspolizei Vom Hitler-stalin-pakt bis zu Stalins Tod by Olaf Mertelsmann, p. 133
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  98. ^ The Baltic States: The National Self-Determination of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania Graham Smith p.91 ISBN 0312161921
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  123. ^ When giants fought in Estonia by BBC News


  • Lande, Dave (2001). Resistance! Occupied Europe and Its Defiance of Hitler. ISBN 0760307458.  

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