The smallest of the Baltic republics

In 1939 its population was 1,113,917, of whom 4,500 were Jews. Between the wars it was an independent republic; in August 1940 it was annexed to the USSR; in July 1941, the Germans, assisted by units of the Estonian nationalist group Omakaitse, conquered Estonia; and in September 1944, Estonia again became a Soviet republic. Under the Germans, it was an administered area (Generalbezirk Estland) including in Reichskommissariat Ostland. Self-rule was granted under Hialmar Mae, leader of the extreme nationalist movement VAPS.

Estonian Jewry on the Eve of Destruction

About half of Estonian Jewry lived in the capital Tallin, and the rest primarily in the towns of Tartu, Valga, Parnu, Narva, Viljandi, Rakvere, Voru, and Nomme. They were considered a national minority, and enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy. From the mid-1930s, when the Omakaitse adherents gained power, demands were made to reduce the Jewish role in the economy. During the first period of Soviet rule, Jewish autonomy was canceled, some Jews entered government positions, and many were arrested by the authorities. On June 14, 1941, five hundred Jews were among the ten thousand Estonians exiled to Siberia. In the wake of the German invasion, hundreds of Jews fled to the Soviet interior.

The Destruction of Estonian Jewry

During the first week of German rule, the Jews were subjected to many limitations and decrees, including the wearing of the Jewish Badge and the confiscation of their property. Under SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Martin Sandberger, Sonderkommando 1a of Einsatzgruppe A and Omakaitse units murdered the Jews. By October 12, virtually all males over the age of 16 were in the process of being killed. At the Wansee Conference on January 20, 1942, it was reported that Estonia was "free of Jews."

The Murder of Reich Jews in Estonia

Starting in the fall of 1942, tens of thousands of Jews were sent to Estonia from other areas under Nazi rule: Theresienstadt, Vilna, Kovno and the Kaiserwald camp in Latvia. They were concentrated in twenty labor camps, the main of which was Vaivara. When they could no longer work, these Jews were killed; others died of disease, hunger and torture. In the fall of 1944, faced with the advance of the Red Army, the Germans hurriedly removed the remaining Jews from the camps and transported them across the Baltic to Stutthof. On September 18 and 19, 1944, most of the Jews were killed in the Lagedi and Klooga camps, fewer than ten survived.

Liberation and Aftermath

Between 1944 and 1950 some fifteen hundred Estonian Jews, survivors who had fled to the Soviet interior in 1941 or survivors from Siberia, returned to Estonia. Between fifteen hundred and two thousand had perished in the Holocaust.

Courtesy of:
"Encyclopedia of the Holocaust"
©1990 Macmillan Publishing Company
New York, NY 10022