Soviet deportations from Estonia were a series of mass deportations in 1941 and 1945–1951 carried out by the Stalinist regime of the former USSR from then Soviet-occupied Estonia.[1] The two largest waves of deportations occurred in June 1941 and March 1949 simultaneously in all three occupied Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The deportations targeted primarily women, children and the elderly, calling them 'anti-Soviet elements'. In addition, there were Soviet deportations from Estonia based on the victims' ethnicity (Germans in 1945 and Ingrian Finns in 1947–1950) and religion (Jehovah's Witnesses in 1951).[1] Ethnic Estonians who had been residing in Soviet Russia (mostly in the Leningrad Oblast) had already been subjected to deportation since 1935.[2][3]

People were deported to remote areas of the Soviet Union, predominantly to Siberia and northern Kazakhstan,[4] by means of railroad cattle cars. Entire families, including children and the elderly, were deported without trial or prior announcement. Of March 1949 deportees, over 70% of people were women and children under the age of 16.[5]

About 7,550 families, or 20,600 to 20,700 people, were deported from Estonia.[6]

The Estonian Internal Security Service has brought to justice several organizers of these events.[7] The deportations have been repeatedly declared to constitute a crime against humanity by the Parliament of Estonia[8] and acknowledged as such by the European Court of Human Rights.[9][10]

June deportation of 1941

Further information: June deportation

Exhibition of vehicles similar to these that were used for deporting people to Siberia in 1941.

In Estonia, as well as in other territories annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939–40, the first large-scale deportation of ordinary citizens was carried out by the local operational headquarters of the NKGB of the Estonian SSR under Boris Kumm (chairman), Andres Murro, Aleksei Shkurin, Veniamin Gulst, and Rudolf James, according to the top secret joint decree No 1299-526ss Directive on the Deportation of the Socially Alien Element from the Baltic Republics, Western Ukraine, Western Belarus and Moldavia[11] by the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks) and the Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union of 14 May 1941.[12] The deportation procedure was established by the Serov Instructions.

The first repressions in Estonia affected Estonia's national elite. On 17 July 1940, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Johan Laidoner (died 1953, Vladimir prison) and his family, and on 30 July 1940, President Konstantin Päts (died 1956, Kalinin Oblast) and his family were deported to Penza and Ufa, respectively. In 1941 they were arrested. The country's political and military leadership was deported almost entirely, including 10 of 11 ministers and 68 of 120 members of parliament.[citation needed]

On 14 June 1941, and the following two days, 9,254 to 10,861 people, mostly urban residents, of them over 5,000 women and over 2,500 children under 16,[12][13][14][15][16][17] 439 Jews (more than 10% of the Estonian Jewish population)[18] were deported, mostly to Kirov Oblast, Novosibirsk Oblast or to prisons. [citation needed]

Only 4,331 persons returned to Estonia. 11,102 people were to be deported from Estonia according to the order of 13 June but some managed to escape.[15] Identical deportations were carried out in Latvia and Lithuania at the same time. A few weeks later, approximately 1,000 people were arrested on Saaremaa for deportation, but this was interrupted as Nazi Germany launched a large-scale invasion of the Soviet Union and a considerable number of the prisoners were freed by the advancing German forces.[citation needed]

The first wave of deportation has always been well documented, as many witnesses were subsequently able to flee abroad during the Second World War. Deportations after 1944 were, however, much harder to document.[19]

In July 1941 Estonia was conquered by Nazi Germany, who were forced out by the Soviet troops in 1944. As soon as the Soviets had returned the deportations resumed.[citation needed] In August 1945, 407 persons, most of them of German descent, were transferred from Estonia to Perm Oblast.[citation needed] 18 families (51 persons) were transferred to Tyumen Oblast in October (51 persons), 37 families (87 persons) in November and other 37 families (91 persons) in December 1945 as "traitors".[20]

March deportation of 1949

Further information: Operation Priboi

During the collectivization period in the Baltic republics, on 29 January 1949, the Council of Ministers issued top secret decree No. 390–138ss,[21] which obligated the Ministry for State Security (MGB) to exile the kulaks and the people's enemies from the three Baltic Republics forever.

In the early morning of 25 March 1949, the second major wave of deportation from the Baltic Republics, operation "Priboi", carried out by MGB began, which was planned to affect 30,000 in Estonia, including peasants.[22] Lieutenant General Pyotr Burmak, commander of the MGB Internal Troops, was in generally charge for the operation. In Estonia the deportations were coordinated by Boris Kumm, Minister of Security of the Estonian SSR, and Major General Ivan Yermolin, MGB representative to Estonia. Over 8,000 managed to escape, but 20,722 (7,500 families, over 2.5 percent of the Estonian population, half of them women, over 6,000 children under the age of 16, and 4,300 men) were sent to Siberia during three days. Slightly more than 10 percent were men of working age. The deported included disabled people, pregnant women, newborns and children separated from their parents. The youngest deportee was one-day-old Virve Eliste from Hiiumaa island, who died a year later in Siberia; the oldest was 95-year-old Maria Raagel.[23] Nine trainloads of people were directed to Novosibirsk Oblast, six to Krasnoyarsk Krai, two to Omsk Oblast, and two to Irkutsk Oblast.[20]

Many perished, most have never returned home. This second wave of the large-scale deportations was aimed to facilitate collectivization, which was implemented with great difficulties in the Baltic republics. As a result, by the end of April 1949, half of the remaining individual farmers in Estonia had joined kolkhozes.[19][24][25]

From 1948–50, a number of Ingrian Finns were also deported from Estonian SSR. The last large-scale campaign of deportations from Estonia took place in 1951, when members of prohibited religious groups from the Baltic countries, Moldavia, Western Ukraine and Belarus were subject to forced resettlement.[20]

Continuous deportation

This section relies largely or entirely on a single source. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please help improve this article by introducing citations to additional sources.Find sources: "Soviet deportations from Estonia" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (December 2016)

Outside the main waves, individuals and families were continually deported on smaller scale from the start of the first occupation in 1940 up to the Khrushchev Thaw of 1956. The Soviet deportations only stopped for three years in 1941–1944 when Estonia was occupied by Nazi Germany.[citation needed]

Estonians' experience with the first year of Soviet occupation, which included the June deportation, led to two significant developments:

Only in 1956, during Khrushchev Thaw, were some survived deportees allowed to return to Estonia.[citation needed]

Legal status

Memorial for the victims of deportations of 1941 and 1949 in Paldiski
Plaque on Stenbock House, the building of Government of Estonia, Toompea, commemorating government members killed by communist terror

On 27 July 1950, diplomats-in-exile of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania appealed to the United States to support a United Nations investigation of "genocidal mass deportations" they said were being carried out in their countries by the Soviet Union.[28]

Soviet acknowledgment of Stalin's deportations

Stalin's deportation of peoples was criticized in the closed section of Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 Report to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as "monstrous acts" and "rude violations of the basic Leninist principles of the nationality policy of the Soviet state."[29]

On 14 November 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR accepted declaration "On the Recognition as Unlawful and Criminal The Repressive Acts Against Peoples Who Were Subjected to Forced Resettlement, and On Guaranteeing Their Rights", in which it condemned Stalin's deportation of peoples as the terrific felony, guaranteed that such violations of human rights won't be repeated and promised to restore the rights of repressed Soviet peoples.[30]

Estonian trials and convictions

In 1995, after the re-establishment of Estonian independence, Riigikogu, the parliament of independent Estonia, declared the deportations officially a crime against humanity, and several organizers of the 1949 deportations, former officers of MGB, were convicted under Article 61-1 § 1 of the Criminal Code.[31][32][33][34] The BBC noted in April 2009 that Estonia's claims of genocide are not widely accepted.[35]

Russia's view

The Russian Federation, the only legal successor state to the Soviet Union, has never recognized the deportations as a crime and has not paid any compensation.[15][39] Moscow has criticized the Baltic prosecutions, calling them revenge, not justice, and complained about the criminals' age.[40]

In March 2009, the Memorial society concluded that the deportations were a crime against humanity, but stopped short of declaring them genocide or war crimes. In the opinion of Memorial, interpretation of events in 1949 as genocide is not based upon international law and is unfounded.[41]

Investigative committee

Main article: Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity

The Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity[42] was established by President Lennart Meri, who himself was a survivor of the 1941 deportation, in October 1998 to investigate crimes against humanity committed in Estonia or against Estonian citizens during the Soviet and Nazi occupation. The commission held its first session in Tallinn in January 1999. Finnish diplomat Max Jakobson was appointed to chair the commission. For neutrality purposes, there are no Estonian citizens among its members.[43]

European Parliament

On 2 April 2009, The European Parliament issued a resolution condemning crimes against humanity committed by "all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes". The resolution underlines the millions of victims who were deported, imprisoned, tortured and murdered by totalitarian and authoritarian regimes during the 20th century in Europe. While not explicitly mentioned, this includes the Soviet deportations from Estonia, which the European Court of Human Rights has held to constitute crimes against humanity[citation needed]. The Parliament called for the proclamation of 23 August as Europe-wide Remembrance Day for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.[44]

See also


  1. ^ a b Rahi-Tamm, Aigi (2014). ""Anti-Soviet Elements" to Be Expelled" (PDF). In Õispuu, Leo (ed.). Name list of persons deported from Estonia 1945-1953. Vol. R8/3. Estonian Repressed Persons Records Bureau. p. 20. ISBN 978-9985-9914-6-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 January 2017.
  2. ^ Martin, Terry (1998). "The Origins of Soviet Ethnic Cleansing". The Journal of Modern History. 70 (4): 813–61. doi:10.1086/235168. JSTOR 10.1086/235168. S2CID 32917643.
  3. ^ The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies Oxford University Press Inc. 2010; retrieved 9 May 2013.
  4. ^ Ventsel, Aimar. "How Kazakhstan Remembers the Gulag". Diplomaatia. Retrieved 11 June 2018.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Rahi-Tamm, Aigi; Kahar, Andres (2009). "The Deportation Operation "Priboi" in 1949" (PDF). In Hiio, Toomas; Maripuu, Meelis; Paavle, Indrek (eds.). Estonia Since 1944: Report of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. Tallinn: Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. p. 380. ISBN 978-9949183005.
  6. ^ "An unbearably discernible tragedy. Deportation". An unbearably discernible tragedy. Deportation | Communist Crimes. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
  7. ^ "Kaitsepolitseiamet". Retrieved 2017-03-25.
  8. ^ "Meenutagem, mälestagem, püsigem – Riigi Teataja". (in Estonian). Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  9. ^ "Full text of European Court of Human Rights Decision on the case Kolk and Kislyiy v. Estonia: Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to Crimes against Humanity". European Court of Human Rights. 17 January 2006. Retrieved 4 April 2021.
  10. ^ Antonio Cassese (2006). "Balancing the Prosecution of Crimes against Humanity and Non-Retroactivity of Criminal Law: The Kolk and Kislyiy v. Estonia Case before the ECHR". Journal of International Criminal Justice. 4 (2): 410–418. doi:10.1093/jicj/mql016.
  11. ^ Постановление ЦК ВКП(б) и СНК СССР от 14 мая 1941 г. за N 1299-526сс «Директива о выселении социально-чуждого элемента из республик Прибалтики, Западной Украины и Западной Белоруссии и Молдавии». Published in Николай Бугай (ред., 2005) Народы стран Балтии в условиях сталинизма (1940-е – 1950-е годы). Документированная история [Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society 11]. Stuttgart: Ibidem-Verlag. pp. 103-04; ISBN 3-89821-525-3.

    According to this decree, the following categories should be transferred: (1) active members of so-called counterrevolutionary organisations and members of their families; (2) former leading officials of the police and prisons, as well as ordinary policemen and prison guards involved in anti-soviet activity or espionage; (3) former significant landowners, merchants, factory owners and leading officials of former governments – all with the members of their families; (4) compromised former officers; (5) the family members of the sentenced to death and of members of counterrevolutionary organisations gone into hiding; (6) individuals repatriated from Germany and subject to resettlement in Germany; (7) refugees from the annexed Polish areas who refused to accept Soviet citizenship; (8) active criminals; (9) prostitutes.

  12. ^ a b Conclusions of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity Archived 9 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 13 December 2016.
  13. ^ Kareda, Endel (1949). Estonia in the Soviet Grip: Life and Conditions under Soviet Occupation 1947–1949. London: Boreas.
  14. ^ Uustalu, Evald (1952). The History of Estonian People, London: Boreas.
  15. ^ a b c Laar, Mart (2006). Deportation from Estonia in 1941 and 1949 Archived 25 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Estonia Today: Fact Sheet of the Press and Information Department, Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (June 2006).
  16. ^ 70th anniversary of deportation and uprising of 1941, The Baltic Times, 29 June 2011; retrieved 6 May 2013.
  17. ^ The Soviet Occupation of Estonia in 1940-1941 Archived 2014-02-11 at the Wayback Machine,; retrieved 6 May 2013.
  18. ^ Weiss-Wendt, Anton (1998). "The Soviet Occupation of Estonia in 1940–41 and the Jews". Holocaust and Genocide Studies. 12 (2): 308–25. doi:10.1093/hgs/12.2.308.
  19. ^ a b Taagepera, Rein (1980). "Soviet Collectivization of Estonian Agriculture: The Deportation Phase". Soviet Studies. 32 (3): 379–97. doi:10.1080/09668138008411308. JSTOR 151169.
  20. ^ a b c Estonia's Occupations Revisited: Accounts of an Era (compiled by Heiki Ahonen) Archived 2017-01-18 at the Wayback Machine. Tallinn: Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation, 2004; ISBN 9949-10-821-7.
  21. ^ Постановление Совета Министров СССР от 29 января 1949 г. №390-138сс «О выселении с территории Литвы, Латвии и Эстонии кулаков с семьями, семей бандитов и националистов, находящихся на нелегальном положении, убитых при вооруженных столкновениях и осужденных, легализованных бандитов, продолжающих вести вражескую работу, и их семей, а также семей репрессированных пособников бандитов».
  22. ^ Strods, Heinrihs; Kott, Matthew (2002). "The file on operation "Priboi": A re-assessment of the mass deportations of 1949". Journal of Baltic Studies. 33 (1): 1–36. doi:10.1080/01629770100000191. S2CID 143180209.
  23. ^ "Postimees". 25 March 2004. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  24. ^ Misiunas, Romuald J. & Rein Taagepera.Collectivization of Estonian Agriculture Estonica; retrieved 9 May 2013.
  25. ^ "The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940-1990" (1993),; retrieved 9 May 2013.
  26. ^ The Estonian State Commission on Examination of the Policies of Repression The White Book Archived 2008-06-26 at the Wayback Machine p. 30, Parliament; accessed 13 December 2016.
  27. ^ The Estonian State Commission on Examination of the Policies of Repression The White Book Archived 2008-06-26 at the Wayback Machine p. 29, Parliament; accessed 13 December 2016.
  28. ^ GENOCIDE IN BALTIC BY SOVIET CHARGED; Envoys of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia Call on U.S. to Urge U.N. Investigation, The New York Times, 28 July 1950, pg. 7
  29. ^ Nikita KhrushchevSpecial Report to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1956),; accessed 13 December 2016.
  30. ^ "The Supreme Soviet of the USSR unambiguously condemns the practice of forceful deportation of the entire nations as the most terrific felony, contradicting the basics of the international legislation and humanitarian nature of socialistic order. The Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics guarantees that violations of human rights and norms of humanity at the state level will never be repeated in our country. The Supreme Soviet of USSR considers it necessary to take the relevant legislative measures to unambiguously restore the rights of all Soviet peoples who had undergone repressions." On the Recognition as Unlawful and Criminal The Repressive Acts Against Peoples Who Were Subjected to Forced Resettlement, and On Guaranteeing Their Rights, USSR Supreme Soviet Declaration, 14 November 1989.(in Russian)
  31. ^ Estonia brings Stalin's secret police to justice,, 26 November 2002.
  32. ^ Criminal cases, Estonian Internal Security Service; retrieved 6 May 2013.
  33. ^ Mass deportation case pending, The Baltic Times, 14 March 2002; retrieved 6 May 2013.
  34. ^ "The Martens Clause And International Crimes in Estonia",; retrieved 6 May 2013.(in Estonian)
  35. ^ a b "Estonian war figure laid to rest". BBC News. 2 April 2009. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  36. ^ "Kaitsepolitseiamet". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  37. ^ Vasily Beskov
  38. ^ Martin Arpo: kommunismiaja kuritegude tee Euroopa Inimõiguste Kohtuni,, 31 March 2009.(in Estonian)
  39. ^ Soviet deportations from Estonia in 1940s,; retrieved 6 May 2013.
  40. ^ Stalin agent found guilty in Estonia, The Independent, 1 November 2002.
  41. ^ Общество "Мемориал" о депортации 1949 года в Эстонии (in Russian). Memorial. 26 March 2009. Archived from the original on 29 July 2009. Retrieved 2 April 2009.
  42. ^ Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity Archived 2013-03-01 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 13 December 2016.
  43. ^ Mälksoo, Lauri (2001). "Soviet Genocide? Communist Mass Deportations in the Baltic States and International Law". Leiden Journal of International Law. 14 (4): 757–87. doi:10.1017/S0922156501000371. S2CID 145328825.
  44. ^ European Parliament resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism,; accessed 13 December 2016.

Further reading