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The best-known Holocaust trial in Estonian SSR was brought in 1961, by the local Soviet authorities against Estonian collaborators who had participated in the execution of the Holocaust during the Nazi German occupation (1941–1944). The accused were charged with murdering up to 5000 German and Czechoslovakian Jews and Gypsies near the Kalevi-Liiva concentration camp in 1942–1943. The public trial by the Supreme Court of the Estonian SSR was held in the Estonia Theatre in Tallinn and attended by a mass audience. All three defendants were convicted and sentenced to death, two of them were executed shortly after. The third defendant, Ain-Ervin Mere was tried in absentia and was not available for execution.

Contents

The accused

  • Ain-Ervin Mere, commander of the Estonian Security Police (Group B of the Sicherheitspolizei) under the Estonian Self-Administration, was tried in absentia. Before the trial he was an active member of the Estonian community in England, contributing to Estonian language publications.[1] At the time of the trial he was however held in captivity, accused of murder. He was never deported[2] and died a free man in England in 1969.
  • Ralf Gerrets, the deputy commandant at the Jägala camp
  • Jaan Viik, (Jan Wijk, Ian Viik), a guard at the Jägala labor camp was singled out for prosecution out of the hundreds of Estonian camp guards and police for his particular brutality.[3] He was testified as throwing small children into the air and shooting them. He did not deny the charge.[4]
  • A fourth accused, camp commandant, Aleksander Laak was discovered in Canada but committed suicide.

The crimes

Corpses of inmates from Klooga concentration camp stacked for burning.

While the accused may have been involved in other crimes against humanity during the German occupation of Estonia, the trial focused on the events of September 1942. According to testimony of the survivors, at least two transports with about 2,100–2,150 people[5], arrived at the railway station at Raasiku, one from Theresienstadt (Terezin) with Czechoslovakian Jews and one from Berlin with German citizens. Around 1,700–1,750 people, mainly Jews, not selected for work at the Jägala camp were taken to Kalevi-Liiva and shot.[5]

Transport Be 1.9.1942 from Theresienstadt arrived at the Raasiku station on September 5, 1942, after a five day trip.[6][7] According to testimony by one of the accused, Gerretts, eight busloads of Estonian auxiliary police had arrived from Tallinn[7]. A selection process was supervised by Ain-Ervin Mere, chief of Sicherheitspolizei in Estonia; those not selected for slave labor were sent by bus to an execution site near the camp. Later the police[7] in teams of 6 to 8 men[5] would execute the Jews by machine gun fire, on other hand, during later investigation some guards of camp denied participation of police and said that execution was done by camp personnel[5]. On the first day a total of 900 people were murdered in this way.[5][7] Gerrets told that he had fired a pistol at a victim who was still making noises in the pile of bodies.[4][7] The whole operation was directed by Obersturmführer Heinrich Bergmann and Oberscharführer J. Geese.[5][7]

Usually able bodied men were selected to work on the oil shale mines in northeastern Estonia. Women, children, and old people would be executed on arrival. In the case Be 1.9.1942 however, the only ones chosen for labor and to survive the war were a small group of young women who were taken through concentration camps in Estonia, Poland and Germany to Bergen- Belsen, where they were liberated.[8] Camp commandant Laak used the women as sex slaves, killing at least one who refused to comply.[9]

According to an article published by the journal "Contemporary European History" in 2001,

"In 1942, transports of Jews from other countries arrived, and their murder and incarceration in slave labour camps was organised and supervised by German and Estonian officials (including Mere and the German head of A-IV). The final acts of liquidating the camps, such as Klooga, which involved the mass-shooting of roughly 2,000 prisoners, were committed by Estonians under German command, that is by units of the 20.SS-Division and (presumably) the Schutzmannschaftsbataillon of the KdS. Survivors report that, during this period when Jewish slave labourers were visible, the Estonian population in part attempted to help the Jews by providing food and so on."[10]

The Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity rests the responsibility for such crimes mainly on 2.5–4 % of the Estonian Omakaitse civil defence units and the Estonian Security Police.[11]

Witnesses

A number of foreign witnesses were heard at the trial, including five women, who had been transported on Be 1.9.1942 from Theresienstadt.[7]

The verdict

"The accused Mere, Gerrets and Viik actively participated in crimes and mass killings that were perpetrated by the Nazi invaders on the territory of the Estonian SSR. In accordance with the Fascist racial theory, the Sicherheitspolizei and Sicherheitsdienst were instructed to exterminate the Jews and Gypsies. For that end in August–September 1941 Mere and his collaborators set up a death camp at Jägala, 30 km from Tallinn. Mere put Aleksander Laak in charge of the camp; Ralf Gerrets was appointed his deputy. On 5 September 1942 a train with approximately 1,500 Czechoslovak citizens arrived to the Raasiku railway station. Mere, Laak and Gerrets personally selected who of them should be executed and who should be moved to the Jägala death camp. More than 1,000 people, mostly children, the old, and the infirm, were translocated to a wasteland at Kalevi-Liiva where they were monstrously executed in a special pit. In mid-September the second troop train with 1,500 prisoners arrived to the railway station from Germany. Mere, Laak, and Gerrets selected another thousand victims that were condemned by them to extermination. This group of prisoners, which included nursing women and their new-born babies, were transported to Kalevi-Liiva where they were killed. In March 1943 the personnel of the Kalevi-Liiva camp executed about fifty Gypsies, half of which were under 5 years of age. Also were executed 60 Gypsy children of school age..."

Quoted from the verdict passed on 11 March 1961, published in Немецко-фашистская оккупация в Эстонии. 1941–1944. Tallinn, 1963. Pages 53–54.

Original documents related to the Mere-Gerrets-Viik trial are to be found in Estonian State Archives – Party Archives Branch – ERA PA, Collection 129, boxes 63–70.[3]

Tartu trials

In January 1962 another trial was held in Tartu. Juhan Jüriste, Karl Linnas and Ervin Viks were accused of murdering 12,000 civilians in the Tartu concentration camp. They were sentenced to death. According to the official Soviet record of the trials, "the main culprit, Ervin Viks, fled the ire of the people and now lives in Australia, whereas Linnas found shelter in the USA".[12] The Soviet authorities demanded both be put on trial, but were flatly refused.[12] In 1986 Linnas was finally deported to the USSR, after a federal appeals court had deemed evidence against him "overwhelming and largely uncontroverted."[13] The American judge remarked that his crimes "were such as to offend the decency of any civilized society."[13] Linnas died in a Soviet prison hospital of old age.

The transcript and verdict of the trial were published in the magazine "Sotsialisticheskaya zakonnost" before the start of the trial (which was delayed due to the sickness of one of the defendants).[14][15]

During the trials in Tallinn and Tartu quite a few witnesses pointed out Heinrich Bergmann as the key figure behind the extermination of Estonian gypsies.[3]

References

Inline
  1. ^ Estonian State Archives of the Former Estonian KGB (State Security Committee) records relating to war crime investigations and trials in Estonia, 1940–1987 (manuscript RG-06.026) – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – document available on-line through this query page using document id RG-06.026 – Also available at Axis History Forum – This list includes the evidence presented at the trial. It list as evidence several articles by Mere in Estonian language newspapers published in London
  2. ^ Masses and Mainstream, 1963
  3. ^ a b c Weiss-Wendt, Anton (2003). Extermination of the Gypsies in Estonia during World War II: Popular Images and Official Policies. Holocaust and Genocide Studies 17.1, 31–61.
  4. ^ a b Estonian policemen stand trial for war crimes – Video footage at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  5. ^ a b c d e f Jägala laager ja juutide hukkamine Kalevi-LiivalEesti Päevaleht March 30, 2006 (Estonian)
  6. ^ The Genocide of the Czech Jews
  7. ^ a b c d e f g De dödsdömda vittnar (Transport Be 1.9.1942) (Swedish)
  8. ^ From Ghetto Terezin to Lithuania and Estonia
  9. ^ Omakaitse omakohus – JERUUSALEMMA SÕNUMID (Estonian)
  10. ^ Birn, Ruth Bettina (2001), Collaboration with Nazi Germany in Eastern Europe: the Case of the Estonian Security Police. Contemporary European History 10.2, 181–198. P. 190–191.
  11. ^ Conclusions of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity
  12. ^ a b Немецко-фашистская оккупация в Эстонии. 1941–1944. Tallinn, 1963. Page 57.
  13. ^ a b Charles R. Allen, Jr. Patrick J. Buchanan: Master Holocaust Denier (online)
  14. ^ Paul, Zumbakis (1986). Soviet evidence in North American courts: an analysis of problems and concerns with reliance on communist source evidence in alleged war criminal trials. Americans for Due Process. p. 14. ISBN 978-0685175941.  
  15. ^ Luryi, Yuri (1977). "The Role of Defence Counsel in Political Trials in the U.S.S.R.". Manitoba Law Journal (Winnipeg, Canada: University of Manitoba) 7: 307-324. ISSN 0076-3861.  
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