Holocaust in Estonia — marked as «Judenfrei».
Holocaust in Estonia (1941-1944) can be divided into two stages.
Stage I: extermination of the local Jewry.
Around 1,000 Jews din not want to or could not evacuate. Many of those feared Bolsheviks: relatives or friends of deported families; those who lost their property to nationalization; those who had been to Germany before Hitler came to power and could not believe that the civilised German nation was capable of genocide; some of those who had fought in the Estonian War of Independence; some of religious Jews; the ill and the old.
Almost all of them were killed, including over 120 children aged 1 to 17.
To commemorate this tragedy, we opened a “Memory Gallery” on the third floor of our Community building in 2012. It displays the names of 974 Estonian Jews, victims of Fascism. Five more names have been identified since then.
Stage II: Killings of Jews from other countries in the territory of Estonia.
The Nazis wanted to exterminate all Jews but chose not to do it in the territory of Western European countries, so they transported the Jewry of these countries to so-called “corrective labour camps” in other countries, including Estonia. Small numbers of Jews from prisoner-of-war camps situated in the territory of Estonia were also placed in these camps. In 1943 the German military command decided to expand the production of Estonian oil shale to compensate for the lack of oil. The “Vaivara” network of concentration camps was built for that purpose and Jews from other countries were brought there.
Jews from other countries were exterminated in Estonian concentration camps: Jagala, Kalevi-Liiva, Vaivara, Tallinn Central Prison and Klooga.
Numerous local residents helped Jews or saved them during the occupation of Estonia by Nazis. We have not identified all of them, and in some cases, we only know their surnames.
Professor Uku Masing (1909–1985) and his wife Eha (1912–1998) saved the life of student Isidor Levin (now and accomplished Judaica professor). Uku Masing, a theology professor of the University of Tartu, helped the member of the academy Paul Ariste save ceremonial objects from Tartu Synagogue and make a list of those objects.
Klooga: a concentration camp (so-called labour camp) established by the Nazis in the territory of occupied Estonia near Klooga village located 38 km from Tallinn. The camp operated from September 1943 until its liberation by the Soviet Army in 1944. It was a part of the network in the territory of Estonia comprising 20 camps with Vaivara as the principal concentration camp. The perimeter guard was provided by the Estonian police battalion no. 287.
In 1943–1944 several thousand Jews from Kaunas and Vilnius ghettos as well as the Salaspils concentration camp in Latvia were brought to Klooga and used as workforce in peat mining, construction and production industry. In rare cases, prisoners could leave the camp in order to get foodstuff on nearby farms. When, to the Wehrmacht’s surprise, Red Army forces battled their way almost to the camp on 19 August 1944, the German command ordered the execution of all 2000 prisoners.
On the day of the execution the Jews were forced to walk to the nearby Klooga train station, where timber had been brought the day before. The prisoners were ordered to take a log each and bring it to the execution site, where bodies were burnt in fires afterwards.
Estonia was one of the first countries to declare itself “Judenfrei” (free from Jews) during the Holocaust years.
Now the mass execution location is marked with a memorial, which has become one of the sights of regular excursions.
Kalevi-Liiva: a region in Jõelähtme Parish of Harju County on the shore of the Baltic Sea, near Tallinn.
In the years of World War II, Kalevi-Liiva area was the place of killing the Jews deported from Central Europe as well as Gypsies and Soviet prisoners of war.
For example, a train with 1000 Jews from the Theresienstadt Ghetto arrived at Raasiku station on 5 September 1942. Another one brought Jews from Germany.
Approximately 3000 Jews declared unfit for work were transported to Kalevi-Liiva and shot; those who could work were transferred to the Jagala forced labour camp. In addition to Czech Jews, those from Germany and Jews from other countries were killed in Kalevi-Liiva. Subsequently, Jagala camp prisoners were executed in Kalevi-Liiva as well. Out of 2000 Jews brought in September 1942, 74 lived to see the end of the war.
The Nazis masterfully covered their tracks at the location of mass killings: the shooting pits were levelled, and young forest was planted above them. The site of mass graves was discovered accidentally in 1961. According to various estimations, between three and six thousand people were killed in Kalevi-Liiva.