reede, veebruar 20, 2009


The Holocaust is still an extremely sensitive topic in Eastern Europe. In Estonia, which was under Nazi Soviet occupation from June 1941 to September 1944, it is also sensitive, though perhaps less discussed than in Poland or Lithuania.

Estonia was the only country designated as "judenfrei" -- free of Jews -- at the Wannsee Conference in 1942, a terrible category to be put in, indeed, and one that continues to haunt the country in the discussion of its past.

At the same time, it is perhaps worth noting that by the time the Germans arrived in Estonia in 1941, Estonia's prewar Jewish community, which numbered around 4,500, had been reduced to around 1,000 persons, thanks to Soviet deportations, executions, and Red Army mobilization. In comparison, there were around 34,000 Jews in Lithuania and up to 420,000 in occupied Poland at the time.

So the "final solution" was carried out in Estonia even before Wannsee, indeed even before Hitler himself decided to eliminate the rest of the European Jewry. Some interesting things I learned in my class on WWII and Stalinism in the Baltic States this week about this nauseating chapter in Estonian history:

* The Germans staged the Holocaust on the Eastern Front as a mass, spontaneous pogrom carried out by locals. This is why so much photographic "evidence" exists of Baltic partisans taking part in atrocities: that's how the German propaganda masters wanted it. They did not want to take responsibility for it themselves.

* The Soviet authorities later used this photographic "evidence" of Baltic war crimes to discredit Baltic emigre leaders in the West who opposed the Soviet occupation and annexation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In this way, they recycled Nazi propaganda for their own purposes.

* It was not the Estonian and Latvian SS Divisions that were central to Nazi war crimes in the occupied Baltic region. The German-led operation instead used local police battalions to guard the camps and, at times, carry out the mass executions. Sadly, many of the local police battalions were comprised of Estonian or Latvian Russians who were considered too much of a security threat to send to the front.

* Incentives to join a killing squad? Believe it or not, they were voluntary. Members of killing squads got better pay and considered it a dirty job that would advance their careers after the war. It was also safer than being sent to the front. Finally, most of the executioners were inebriated while doing their "work." Alcohol was consumed prior to mass executions.

* There were no gas chambers in Estonia. Mass executions were carried out by police battalions and killing squads using shooting as a means to accomplish their hideous task.

* According to German documents, the Estonians in German civil administration were not considered anti-Semitic enough. The local population did not support Nazi racial theories and it was difficult for the Nazis to enlist locals in their efforts.

* The Germans and Estonians were more culturally similar. They had seen the same Western films and knew the same popular songs. In comparison, the Soviet troops had lived under socialism already for 20 years. This is one of the reasons why German rule was seen as milder by many Estonians, and the Soviets were seen as alien.

* Most Estonian men who served in the German and Soviet armies were conscripted during a military occupation. The conscription of men from an occupied territory is considered a war crime in itself.

* After the war, Western military intelligence integrated existing German networks into their own. German military methods were also studied as the conquered army was still considered to be a well-run and efficient operation. Hence, many officers and officials connected to war crimes were never prosecuted and some continue to live on in the West without threat of prosecution.

And so concludes our history lesson. While I admit the topic is intense and, at times, quite sickening, I felt that these new nuggets of knowledge needed to be shared.

25 kommentaari:

AR ütles ...

Dig deeper. Paint the picture in more fine detail.

Talking about Estonia-Latvia-Lithuania - the new Pribaltika for the the westerners is biased both in historical and in todays (economic crisis) context.

Despite of similarities, each country has a significantly different anti-jew campaign details. Almost as different as the attitude towards, say, jews was in Germany, Finland and UK.

The only reason why the slogan of judenfrei is easy to use about Estonia is that there were very few of them: 929 local jews stayed and were all killed. The thousands killed later were Eastern-European jews deported here later. Compared to Latvia and Lithuania this is a big difference in the numbers of local jews.

The status of jews in the society and the attitude towards jews was also rather different in all the three states. Also - numbers and motivation of locals who served in German army was also rather different.

About Estonia: lets be correct - around 400 jews were deported by the soviets. Most of the jews escaped among the totally around 30-40 thousand people who escaped from the invading germans. And damn right they did.

No doubt, the massacre commited on jews, even if severly overinflated in numbers is enormously unjust and inhumane. Now setting that aside in this pragmatic world, did the victims provoke their actions, in particular in Estonia.

And the sorry answer is - they did. This is not something that has to be considered as a racist argument. This is the scientific truth that even jewish researchers (Weiss-Wendt and others) consider as a contributing factor to what happened. The context was created by the local jewish organizations having an active role in the 1940 coup, forming significant numbers of leftist and communist organizations.

The unfortunate truth is also that the russian NKVD/NKGB organization at that time had a significant share of officials of jewish origin (for example 45% of soviet labor camp heads were jews etc), so part of the seeds of hatred was sown by the jewish NKVD and "destruction batallion" officers who were followed by a significant number of local Jews. Yes, that was a normal behavior for self-preservation for Jews, but in some other context that paid them back dearly.

Add to this letters of mercy by estonian military serving at the german army asking for parole for jews who had been outstanding members of the society (veterans of Vabadussõda, members of Kaitseliit, otherwise loyal and exemplary citizens). How much courage did that need?

Now the latters is more about Estonia. In Latvia and Lithuania you find significantly different numbers, attitudes and motivations why things happened like they did.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

"* ... Hence, many officers and officials connected to war crimes were never prosecuted and some continue to live on in the West without threat of prosecution."

True, I have posted about two men of my home city, higher administration in the occupied Baltics. We do not know what they did, they could hide all records from that period. Though beeing in one of the centres of the Holocaust in the Baltics (Riga).

Wahur ütles ...

BTW, do you know, why there were so few Jews in Estonia and so many in Latvia and especially in Lithuania?
For a long time Jews were banned to live in St. Petersburg (then Russian capital) and around it. Estonian territory remained into the radius of this ring and was, indeed, totally "judenfrei" until sometime in 19th century the law was changed. This was the reason why strong Jewish communities formed mainly in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland.

Kristopher ütles ...

What's the publication peg for this (or for Antyx's "Pale of Settlement" from December)? Anything going on in the news?

Benno ütles ...

Guistino, isn't it "Wannsee," not "Wansea"?

As AR mentioned, there is an excellent recent dissertation by Anton Weiss-Wendt entitled "Murder Without Hatred" on the Holocaust in Estonia. It should be available through the Proquest database at most universities. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in this subject.

I do think AR misstated Weiss-Wendt's conclusions when he suggested that Estonia's Jewish citizens provoked their own murders. This was simply not the case. The Nazis and their Estonian collaborators went to great lengths to associate Jews with communism, often in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary. Even if Jews comprised a disproportionate number of Estonian communists, the larger Jewish community does not bear any responsibility for this. There were plenty of native Estonian communists who collaborated with the Soviets (and the Nazis, for that matter). Perhaps Estonia's Jewish citizens became scapegoats for divisions within the Estonian nation itself, a way of placing the blame for the horrors of the Soviet occupation on a vulnerable and more easily identified segment of the population.

Giustino ütles ...

Believe it or not, I was actually surprised by the cynicism of the German leadership. Not only did they plan to murder millions of people, but it was their intention to make it look like, say, the Poles and Ukrainians came up with the idea! If they had won, I bet that's how Germany would have played the issue in the court of world opinion. "It wasn't us; it was those Slav barbarians."

Anonüümne ütles ...

Hi there,

A very interesting post. I would like to make a small correction. Before the WWII there were about 260.000 Jews in Lithuania. 100,000 in Vilnius alone. That was 45% of Vilnius' population at that time. Vilnius was called Jerusalem of the North

Best regards from Vilnius!

Doris ütles ...

nitpick: Vilnius "belonged" to Poland before WWII, that was the main reason why the Finno-Baltic-Polish defencive pact never happened and why Germany and subsequently why Russia had such an easy time gobbling the countries up.

It's very difficult, I think, to divide land when countries like Lithuania and Poland have been one and the same, but not really, for about a 1000 years...

Doris ütles ...

blah, I need to learn to write. But you get the point, yes?

Giustino ütles ...

Hi Irzikevicius. I took my numbers from Eichmann's Wannsee figures in 1942, so they are not pre-war figures.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Gustino, you can call me Ross. The data from your source is wrong, have a look here and Sorry, I am little out of time, but before WWII the Jews plaid a very important part in Lithuania.

To Doris, I agree about the obstacles of forming the Baltic Polish alliance before WWII. However, I am not sure about 1.000 years of the Lithuanian and the Polish states. Lithuania and Poland has formed the Union in 1569. The Polish Lithuanian Grand Duchy disappeared after the third partition in 1795.

Nevertheless, yes, Lithuanian is celebrating its 1000 years anniversary, since it was first mentioned in a written document.

Lingüista ütles ...

Was there anti-Semitism in Estonia prior to WWII (say, from Russian anti-Semitism before the independence)? Or was it non-existant (hence the need to associate Jews with the communists)? In Poland, at least, there was no need to suggest a connection, since local anti-Semitism was sufficiently strong (not that the Germans didn't claim that communism was a Jewish invention, though).

martintg ütles ...

It is a sad fact that during World War One, generals of the Imperial Russian Army deported around 100,000 Jews from Latvia, reducing the Jewish population in that country by half, because of suspicions they where helping the Germans. I don't think many managed to return during the inter-war period, so who knows what happened to them.

martintg ütles ...

Lingüista ütles...

Was there anti-Semitism in Estonia prior to WWII?

Estonia had one of the most liberal policies towards Jews prior to WWII, with Estonian laws on cultural autonomy enabling Jews to establish their own cultural organisations and schools with the financial assistance of the state. Apparently a page was dedicated to the Republic of Estonia in the Golden Book of Jerusalem because of this.

During the 1930's there were 3 Jewish schools and 32 Jewish organisations, all shut down by the occupying Soviets in 1940.

I wonder how much Soviet actions in executing and deportation of Estonia's opinion leaders and the destruction of civil society contributed to the destruction of Estonia's remaining Jews by the Nazis.

Given Estonia's liberal pre-war policies, one could speculate that had it not been for destructive effects of the Soviet occupation, Estonia may well have helped her Jewish citizens escape Nazi terror to Finland, much like the Danes did.

Giustino ütles ...

I think the Estonians' minority issues before the war were mostly with the Baltic Germans and local Russians. Jews? It would be like trying to whip up anti-Finnish or anti-Ukrainian sentiment in Tartu today (where Finns and Ukrainians are each around 1 percent). Nobody feels threatened by them, so society is quite liberal in its opinion of them.

Doris ütles ...

Fine, 500 years then (I added the time both of the countries were "incorporated" in one way or another to Russia/Soviet Union). The point is, it's a very very long time to live essentially in the same country so when it's time to draw borders I can imagine how hard it's got to be.

Is there resentment in Poland nowadays about Vilnius? it's hard to tell, and even if there is, it doesn't seem nearly as vicious as resentment over some other regions in the world...

Frank ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Frank ütles ...

Veebikolumnist Frank ütles.

Just to add some facts: my copy of "Estland", more or less published by the Estonian authorities in 1938 (editor was one Albert Pullerits, acting as the head of the "Staatliches Statistisches Zentralbüro") has three pages dealing with the "Nationale Minderheiten" or national minorities among the citizens of Estonia. The figures given there are 11.8 per cent as total share of the population, 8.5 per cent Russians, 1.5 per cent Germans, 0.7 per cent Swedes and 0.4 per cent Jews (4434 persons altogether); the rest consists of Latvians, Poles etc..

According to that publication only the German and the Jewish minority "have made use of the right to establish a "cultural autonomy administration", granted by the law passed in 1925.

plasma-jack ütles ...

wiki link in English

martintg ütles ...

Giustino ütles...

I think the Estonians' minority issues before the war were mostly with the Baltic Germans and local Russians.

Before the war the main minority issue was with the Baltic Germans.

Recall that for centuries Baltic Germans owned all the land and the administrative, judicial and higher education was conducted in German.

Russian reforms during the 19th century broke the power of the Baltic Germans and emancipated the Estonians from serfdom. Recall the uprising in 1905 which saw many German manor houses burned down.

The Estonian War of Independence was also fought against German forces who wanted to re-instate the privileged position of the Baltic Germans, while the White Russians assisted in fighting the Bolsheviks.

So I before the war Baltic Germans weren't particularly liked (hence why so many Baltic Germans decided to repatriate to Germany in 1939), while Russians were held in higher regard.

However the brutality of the Soviet occupation soon changed that.

Kaspar Hauser ütles ...

When you read the public opinion reports of the local Sicherheitsdienst (published in 2002), you can notice how Estonians really didn't give much thought about Jews. "During the independence era the Jews were in Estonia a marginal group of people, so their death later remained also marginal", as said by Jaan Kaplinski in one of his essays.

As there were no open pogroms and all the executions were carried out more or less secretly, nobody (with few exceptions) really cared, as everybody had their own problems to deal with.

Among the locals the unquestionable "real enemy" was considered Russian, who was widely equated with Bolshevik (many demanded deportation of Russians). The German propaganda even tried to divert the enemy image form 'Russian' (as they now wanted also Slavic support; not much talking about the "Asian hordes" anymore, although local collaborators like Mäe, liked it still) to so-called "Judeobolshevik" who had allied with its "Judeocapitalist" friend in the West - the meganarrative of "Judeo-plutocrati-bolshevik alliance"....

TWT ütles ...

Weiss-Wendt does not report all the own family hid my Jewish uncle from the Nazis until the so-called Soviet liberation. He was then pointed out by a communist Jew..(who also had survived with others) & spent next seven years in a Siberian Gulag...he survived, but he was not the only Jew there..

TWT ütles ...

Having discovered that Wendt Weiss is Russian, I'm not surprised that his book about the Holocaust in Estonia is lacking in personal anecdote, & a deeper understanding of the reality there during & after WW2. No-one there would discuss with a Russian the dangerous lengths some Estonian went to save each other(including Jews) from the Nazis, & the Soviets.

Umberto Zorzi ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Anonüümne ütles ...

During the second war war Estonia had 70,000 voluntary SS soldier. In percentage of population more than in Germany. The ESTONIANS killed the Jews. Luckily many of them were able to escape in Russian territories where the Russians soldiers protected them.
In Estonia, during the second war world, the MAJORITY of population were with Hitler.
The Estonians not only killed ALL the jews but also ALL the Roma.

It is important to remember it.
The Estonia is still now a very racist country and Amnesty International protested many times, also this year, about it.