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

Klis Fortress

From its origin as a small stronghold built by the ancient Illyrian tribe Dalmatae, becoming a royal castle that was the seat of many Croatian kings, to its final development as a large fortress during the Ottoman wars in Europe, Klis Fortress has guarded the frontier, being lost and re-conquered several times. Due to its location on a pass that separates the mountains Mosor and Kozjak, the fortress served as a major source of defense in Dalmatia, especially against the Ottoman advance, and has been a key crossroad between the Mediterranean belt and the Balkan rear.

Since Duke Mislav of the Duchy of Croatia made Klis Fortress the seat of his throne in the middle of the 9th century, the fortress served as the seat of many Croatia"s rulers. The reign of his successor, Duke Trpimir I, the founder of the Croatian royal House of Trpimirović, is significant for spreading Christianity in the Duchy of Croatia. He largely expanded the Klis Fortress, and in Rižinice, in the valley under the fortress, he built a church and the first Benedictine monastery in Croatia. During the reign of the first Croatian king, Tomislav, Klis and Biograd na Moru were his chief residences.

In March 1242 at Klis Fortress, Tatars who were a constituent segment of the Mongol army under the leadership of Kadan suffered a major defeat while in pursuit of the Hungarian army led by King Béla IV. After their defeat by Croatian forces, the Mongols retreated, and Béla IV rewarded many Croatian towns and nobles with 'substantial riches'. During the Late Middle Ages, the fortress was governed by Croatian nobility, amongst whom Paul I Šubić of Bribir was the most significant. During his reign, the House of Šubić controlled most of modern-day Croatia and Bosnia. Excluding the brief possession by the forces of Bosnian King, Tvrtko I, the fortress remained in Hungaro-Croatian hands for the next several hundred years, until the 16th century.

Klis Fortress is probably best known for its defense against the Ottoman invasion of Europe in the early 16th century. Croatian captain Petar Kružić led the defense of the fortress against a Turkish invasion and siege that lasted for more than two and a half decades. During this defense, as Kružić and his soldiers fought without allies against the Turks, the military faction of Uskoks was formed, which later became famous as an elite Croatian militant sect. Ultimately, the defenders were defeated and the fortress was occupied by the Ottomans in 1537. After more than a century under Ottoman rule, in 1669, Klis Fortress was besieged and seized by the Republic of Venice, thus moving the border between Christian and Muslim Europe further east and helping to contribute to the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The Venetians restored and enlarged the fortress, but it was taken by the Austrians after Napoleon extinguished the republic itself in 1797. Today, Klis Fortress contains a museum where visitors to this historic military structure can see an array of arms, armor, and traditional uniforms.