World War II

History of Estonia between 1941 - 1944

Estonia in the USSR (1940-1941)

Between the World War I and II Estonia had pursued a policy of neutrality, but it was of no consequence after the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1939. In the agreement, the two great powers agreed to divide up the countries situated between them (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland) with Estonia falling in the Soviet "sphere of influence". On September 24, 1939, the Soviet Union threatened Estonia with war unless provided with military bases in the country –- an ultimatum with which the Estonian government complied.

The Estonian government decided, given the overwhelming Soviet force both on the borders and inside the country, not to resist, to avoid bloodshed and open war. Estonia accepted the ultimatum and the statehood of Estonia de facto ceased to exist as the Red Army exited from their military bases in Estonia on June 17. The following day, some 90,000 additional troops entered the country. The Republic of Estonia was quickly occupied in June 1940.

The Soviet authorities, having gained control over Estonia, immediately imposed a regime of terror. During the first year of Soviet occupation (1940–1941) over 8,000 people, including most of the country's leading politicians and military officers, were arrested. About 2,200 of the arrested were executed in Estonia, while most others were moved to prison camps in Russia, from where very few were later able to return alive. On June 14, 1941, when mass deportations took place simultaneously in all three Baltic countries, about 10,000 Estonian civilians were deported to Siberia and other remote areas of the Soviet Union, where nearly half of them later perished.

German occupation (1941-1944)

After Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and the Wehrmacht reached Estonia in July 1941, most Estonians greeted the Germans with relatively open arms and hoped to restore independence. But it soon became clear that sovereignty was out of the question. Estonia became a part of the German-occupied "Ostland".

With the invasion of the Baltics, it was the intention of the Nazi government to use the Baltic countries as their main area of mass genocide. Consequently, Jews from countries outside the Baltics were shipped there to be exterminated. Out of the approximately 4,300 Jews in Estonia prior to the war, between 1,500 and 2,000 were entrapped by the Nazis, and an estimated 10,000 Jews were killed in Estonia after having been deported to camps there from elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

As the Germans started to retreat on 18 September 1944, Jüri Uluots, the last Prime Minister of the Estonian Republic prior to Soviet occupation, assumed the responsibilities of president (as dictated in the Constitution) and appointed a new government while seeking recognition from the Allies. On 22 September 1944, as the last German units pulled out of Tallinn, the city was re-occupied by the Soviet Red Army. The new Estonian government fled to Stockholm, Sweden and operated in exile until 1992, when Heinrich Mark, the prime minister of the Estonian government in exile acting as president, presented his credentials to incoming president Lennart Meri.

In World War II Estonia had suffered huge losses. Ports had been destroyed, and 45% of industry and 40% of the railways had become damaged. Estonia's population had decreased by one-fifth, about 200,000 people. Some 10% of the population (over 80,000 people) had fled to the West between 1940 and 1944. More than 30,000 soldiers had been killed in action. In 1944 Russian air raids had destroyed Narva and one-third of the residential area in Tallinn. By the late autumn of 1944, Soviet forces had ushered in a second phase of Soviet rule on the heels of the German troops withdrawing from Estonia, and followed it up by a new wave of arrests and executions of people considered disloyal to the Soviets.

Reference: Wikipedia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Church of Our Lady before Týn

The Church of Our Lady before Týn is a dominant feature of the Old Town of Prague and has been the main church of this part of the city since the 14th century. The church's towers are 80 m high and topped by four small spires.

In the 11th century, this area was occupied by a Romanesque church, which was built there for foreign merchants coming to the nearby Týn Courtyard. Later it was replaced by an early Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn in 1256. Construction of the present church began in the 14th century in the late Gothic style under the influence of Matthias of Arras and later Peter Parler. By the beginning of the 15th century, construction was almost complete; only the towers, the gable and roof were missing. The church was controlled by Hussites for two centuries, including John of Rokycan, future archbishop of Prague, who became the church's vicar in 1427. The roof was completed in the 1450s, while the gable and northern tower were completed shortly thereafter during the reign of George of Poděbrady (1453–1471). His sculpture was placed on the gable, below a huge golden chalice, the symbol of the Hussites. The southern tower was not completed until 1511, under architect Matěj Rejsek.

After the lost Battle of White Mountain (1620) began the era of harsh recatholicisation (part of the Counter-Reformation). Consequently, the sculptures of 'heretic king' George of Poděbrady and the chalice were removed in 1626 and replaced by a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, with a giant halo made from by melting down the chalice. In 1679 the church was struck by lightning, and the subsequent fire heavily damaged the old vault, which was later replaced by a lower baroque vault.

Renovation works carried out in 1876–1895 were later reversed during extensive exterior renovation works in the years 1973–1995. Interior renovation is still in progress.

The northern portal is a wonderful example of Gothic sculpture from the Parler workshop, with a relief depicting the Crucifixion. The main entrance is located on the church's western face, through a narrow passage between the houses in front of the church.

The early baroque altarpiece has paintings by Karel Škréta from around 1649. The oldest pipe organ in Prague stands inside this church. The organ was built in 1673 by Heinrich Mundt and is one of the most representative 17th-century organs in Europe.