In June 1941, within one week about 95 000 people from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Bessarabia (Moldova) were deported to the Soviet Union.
This mass operation was carried out simultaneously in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – between 14 and 17 June 1941.
The operation saw the arrest of all people who were still at liberty and considered a thorn in the side of the occupying forces, mainly members of the political, military and economic elite who had been instrumental in building the independence of their states. They were taken to prison camps where most of them were executed or perished within a year. Their family members, including elderly people and children, were arrested alongside them, and they were subsequently separated and deported to the “distant regions” of the Soviet Union with extremely harsh living conditions. To cover their tracks, the authorities also sent a certain number of criminals to the camps.
- As a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on 23 August 1939, the Soviet Union occupied Estonia in June 1940.
- Preparations for the launch of communist terror in civil society were made already before the occupation. As elsewhere, its purpose was to suppress any possible resistance of the society from the very beginning and to instil fear in people to rule out any organised resistance movement in the future.
- The decision to carry out this mass operation was made at the suggestion of Soviet State Security chiefs Lavrentiy Beria and Vsevolod Merkolov in Moscow on 16 May 1941. State Security forces subsequently embarked on preparing for the operation in complete secrecy. Three-member councils, or national security troikas, decided who would be arrested and deported.
14 June 1941
- The deportations begun on the night of 13 June and early morning of 14 June. Families who fell asleep peacefully on Friday night were woken up without any warning in the early hours on Saturday by pounding on their doors. A decree declaring them to be under arrest or subject to deportation from their homeland without any legal process or court decision was read aloud to them. They were given an hour to pack. All their property was declared to be subject to seizure.
- Those carrying out the deportations behaved with extraordinary cruelty: even pregnant women and seriously ill elderly people were packed into overcrowded trucks. The harsh journey to Siberia lasted for weeks.
- At the end of 1941, investigative commissions started to operate in the Soviet prison camps, carrying out on-site interrogations and passing court decisions, under which hundreds of the detainees were killed. By the spring of 1942, of the more than 3 000 men dispatched to prison camps, only a couple of hundred were still alive.
- The fate of women and children sent to the Kirov and Novosibirsk oblasts was also tragic. Most deportees died due to cold, starvation and hard work. 4 331 persons in total, that is, less than a half of those deported in 1941 ever returned to their homeland.
- In July 1941, former allies – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union – began fighting each other on Estonian soil. As a result, the forces of Nazi Germany occupied Estonia until October 1944. Between July and November 1944, Estonian soil saw battles that ended with the retreat of German forces and the re-entry of Soviet troops. Estonia had been liberated from Nazi occupation, but was immediately replaced by the second Soviet occupation.
- The occupation continued after the Second World War and ended only in 1991 (Read more about the Second World War).
- After the war, Estonia witnessed another wave of mass deportations. On 25 March 1949, over 20 000 people – nearly 3 percent of the population – were seized in a few days and dispatched to remote areas of Siberia.
- A particularly inhumane fate befell the children who had been deported first in 1941 and who were allowed to rejoin their relatives in Estonia at the end of the war, but who were deported again a few years later.
- It was not until the late 1950s that the deportees had a chance to return to their homeland. Despite a partial rehabilitation after Stalin’s death they still remained second-rate citizens in the Soviet Union.
The story of Eerik (Erich) Lipstok
During the deportation in June, Eerik (Erich) Lipstok (1913-2010) was imprisoned among several other diplomats, along with his mother and father.
Lipstok was born on 2 January 1913 in Saint Petersburg. From 1936 to 1940, he worked as an attaché at the Estonian Embassy in pre-war Kaunas. After the embassy closed in 1940, he returned to Estonia and was deported to Siberia on 14 June 1941. Lipstok was sentenced to 10 years in a prison camp and exiled for life for his membership in the Defence League. Until February 1951, Lipstok was in a prison camp in the Sverdlovsk Oblast and until 4 February 1956, in the Novosibirsk Oblast. After fifteen years of exile, he, like many others, had the opportunity to return to Estonia. He started working in Estonia as an economist in the Ministry of Construction. Lipstok spent his old age in Tallinn. He managed to pay several visits to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, which had regained its independence.
Eerik Lipstok has recalled working in a post-deportation prison camp as follows,
‘The first job in the forest camp was felling trees. Those who met the standard were given 400 grams of bread. Up to 1200 grams of bread could be earned for exceeding the norm. In the course of this work, I was guided by a kind of defence mechanism — getting as much bread as possible was not important. It turned out later that I had done the right thing. There were men who overworked so much that they paid for it with their lives. We were in a real taiga. Poor food, frost, and unfamiliar living conditions left a strong mark on us. The situation was not too bad in the fall of 1941, but the gradual decline in my physical condition began after that. I was a tall man from the city who was not very strong, but what may have saved me was the fact that my organism was able to adapt and make the most of the bread we were given. We were also given soup but it was without fat. This meant that we basically survived on the bread alone. I weighed 49 kilograms.’
Later, while in Estonia, which had already regained its independence, Eerik Lipstok said that he had never forgotten the years he had spent in Siberia.
…‘I often dream that I am in the camp without any shoes, so I have to get to work while my feet are cold... I have nothing to keep me warm; I am half-naked. This is what my dreams are like. When I wake up, I am happy as hell to be home.’
Employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and repression
Diplomats were also supporters of statehood, so the deportation affected many employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Estonian embassies abroad were eliminated at the same time.
- 30 June 1940 – by the order of the puppet government of Johannes Vares-Barbarus, all Estonian diplomats were repatriated. Most did not agree to it and protested against the Soviet occupation.
- On 1 July, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nigol Andresen sent a secret letter to the envoys, explaining the new foreign policy and confirming that Estonia would remain an independent state. However, the subsequent political steps took the opposite direction.
- Under the conditions of the occupation, elections to the Riigikogu were held in violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia. The elections were conducted in an undemocratic manner. The new Riigivolikogu, which was obedient to the occupation authorities, proclaimed the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic and asked for its admission to the USSR. The systematic unification and incorporation of Estonia into the USSR had begun.
- 5 August 1940 – the diplomats who did not return to Estonia were declared traitors and had to be shot.
- On 6 August 1940, the Estonian SSR was admitted to the USSR, completing the annexation of the Republic of Estonia by the Soviet Union.
- 8 August 1940 – the government of the Estonian SSR decided to eliminate all Estonian legations, consulates, and honorary consulates and transfer their assets to the local representative offices of the USSR. All foreign envoys in Estonia were required to leave by 25 August.
- On 11 September 1940, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was liquidated, marking the birth of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs of the Estonian SSR, which did not have an independent foreign policy.
- Most of the employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who remained in Estonia were repressed: sent to a prison camp, deported, or executed.
- During the deportation in June, 20 diplomats, 4 military attachés, and 9 former employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were deported from Estonia – 33 people in total. In addition, in June 1941, 51 people who had previously worked in the Foreign Ministry were imprisoned.
- Before the Second World War, Estonia had 14 ministers of foreign affairs. Two of them died before the start of the war. Five former ministers of foreign affairs fled to the west. The rest of those who remained in Estonia fell victim to repression and by the autumn of 1941, none of them were free. One former minister of foreign affairs committed suicide before he had to report to the NKVD for interrogation, two were shot in 1941, and four died in a prison camp.
Ministers of Foreign Affairs:
- Jaan Poska – died in 1920
- Otto Strandman – committed suicide in 1941 after being summoned to the NKVD for questioning
- Ants Piip – arrested on 30 June 1941, died in a prison camp
- Ado Birk – arrested on 14 June 1941, died in a prison camp in 1942
- Kaarel Robert Pusta – fled to the west, died in 1964 in Madrid
- Alexander Hellat – arrested on 24 September 1940, died in a prison camp
- Friedrich Akel – arrested on 17 October 1940, executed on 3 July 1941
- Hans Rebane – fled to the west, died 1961 in Stockholm
- Jaan Lattik – fled to the west died in 1967 in StockholmJaan Tõnisson – arrested on 11 December 1940, probably executed in July 1941, the exact time of his death is unknown
- Mihkel Pung – arrested on 14 June 1941, died in a prison camp
- August Rei – fled to the west, died 1963 in Stockholm
- Julius Seljamaa – died in 1936
- Karl Selter – fled to the west, died 1958 in Geneva