After the death of Stalin, the repression decreased somewhat, and in 1955 the so-called “period of thaw” began. Political prisoners were set free, though still remaining under secret supervision, until the end of the Soviet occupation. It should be noted that various repressive measures continued during the entire Soviet occupation period. For instance, there was a colonization of the Estonian territory with migrant workers. In 1944, Estonians made 88-90 % of the population; in 1989, it was 61.5%. (Total population was 1,566,000; Russian speaking inhabitants 577,000).
The total number of human losses during the first Soviet occupation was 111,000; economists estimate the economic loss to exceed $100 billion U.S.; environmental damage caused by the Soviet Army $4 billion U.S.; unreceived GDP 1969-1987: $153 billion U.S.
The paper concludes succinctly; “On August 31st, 1994, the last armed forces of Russia, the legal successor of the Soviet Union, left the territory of Estonia. For the people of Estonia, this concluded the gloomy period of three successive occupation regimes that lasted for 54 years and 75 days. World War II had come to an end.”
This has been a condensed overview, illustrating the scope and thoroughness of the original scientific paper.
II — Human Losses
The introductory paragraph gives an outline:
“In 1940 - 1953 Estonia bore heavy population losses. It is not yet possible to give the exact figures of the losses because the compilation of databases reflecting large groups of people is still in progress. That is why many of the numbers published are only estimations. During the whole period (1940 -1991) nearly 90,000 citizens of the Republic of Estonia perished, and about the same number of people left their homeland forever. The human losses of WW II and the repressive measures following it are estimated to be 17.5 % of the number of Estonians, in addition to which the ethnic minorities of Estonia (except Russians) were almost totally destroyed. Estonians and Latvians are the only independent people in Europe whose number is smaller today than at the beginning of the 20th Century (that of Estonians is smaller by ca. 10%).”
Elaborating on the above statement of the paper, the research work on human losses was not easy. Many of the numbers used are mere estimates because there are no overall data about those who were executed, perished in prison camps, died in deportation, fell in war, were summarily executed, fled abroad, perished during transportation to the Soviet hinterland, etc. An estimate gives the number of Estonians lost 1939 -1959 as approximately 170,000. Only beginning in 1993 was access to Estonian archive materials made possible. To complicate the data collection, some of the human losses were irrevocable, some were temporary (e.g., evacuated for longer periods). And, everyone was subject to repression; the entire nation suffered.
Resettlement to Germany was another element of human losses, 1939-1941. After signing of the Molotov - Rippentrop Pact, Aug. 23rd, 1939, the Baltic Germans were invited by Germany to return to their historic homeland. In 1934, there were 16,346 ethnic Germans in Estonia. Until May 1940, approx. 12,600 left. By 1941 an additional 7,000 left, indicating that also some other people were able to take advantage of the settlement.
With the first Soviet occupation, 1940-41, mass arrests began in June 1940. It was followed by the Government compilation of so-called counter-revolutionaries list (members of government and political parties, policemen, officers). It was widened further by research of archives. From January to May 1941, 37,794 people were included in such a list. Arrests followed: 8,000 were arrested; 1,950 were executed in Estonia. Of the 11 Heads of State of Estonia, four were shot, four died in prison, one committed suicide, and one died in a mental hospital in the Soviet Union (K. Päts). Only one managed to escape (A. Rei, to Sweden).
The next large phase of losses occurred June 14-17, 1941: deportation of 9267 persons, of which 4264 returned.
Then, Estonian resistance to the Soviet occupation broke out, even before arrival of German troops, having to face the so-called hävituspataljonid, destroyer battalions, created by the Soviet Estonian government. The operation of these battalions was punitive: killing, looting, destroying. 2,199 citizens were murdered without court, most of them civilians. This was the Summer War of 1941.
When the German-Soviet war broke out in June 1941, Soviets mobilized 30,000 Estonian men and took to Russia, mostly as the work battalions. Reports tell that 12,000 died there. On the front, 2,000 Estonians perished from December 1942 -January 1943 (at Velikie Luki). Civilians also did not escape the Soviet grab. Approximately 25,000 were evacuated to Russia; approx. 20% of them perished.
On January 1, 1939, there were 1,133,917 people living in Estonia. During 1939-1941, Estonia lost 100,000 inhabitants, 55% of them permanently.
With the start of the German occupation (1941-1944), thousands of Estonian men joined the Self Defence Force (Kaitseliit) as volunteers. Because it became obvious that the independence would not be restored, serving in the German army became less popular. Approximately 5,000-6,000 escaped to Finland, of whom 1,753 returned on August 19th, 1944, to fight the Soviets. It is estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 fell fighting on the German side.
The number of persons arrested by Germans during the period of July 1941 to January 1942 is estimated to be 18,893 (7,485 were freed, 5,634 executed, 5,627 sent to concentration camps). By November 1944, the number executed rose to 7,300. Of other losses, around 800 were sent to labour camps in Germany, 4,000 to prison camps. The Soviet air-raids killed 800 civilians.
Fleeing to the West commenced after the Germans gave up on Estonia in September, 1944. Fleeing occurred to the neighbouring countries of Sweden (25,000), Finland (6,000), Germany (40,000). Thousands perished in the Baltic Sea when their vessels sunk. Refugees in Finland were forced to leave the country after the Armistice (19. Sept. 1944). Staying would have meant to be handed over to the Soviets.
(To be continued.)
The White Book: A summary with observations (3)