People were deported to remote areas of the Soviet Union, predominantly to Siberia and northern Kazakhstan, 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.
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. 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 part of the prisoners were freed by the advancing German forces.
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.
In July 1941 Estonia was conquered by Nazi Germany, who were forced out by advancing Soviet troops in 1944. As soon as the Soviets had returned the deportations resumed. In August 1945, 407 persons, most of them of German descent, were transferred from Estonia to Perm Oblast. 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".
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. 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. Nine trainloads of people were directed to Novosibirsk Oblast, six to Krasnoyarsk Krai, two to Omsk Oblast, and two to Irkutsk Oblast.
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.
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.
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 when de-Stalinisation led Soviet Union to switch its tactic of terror from mass repressions to individual repressions. The Soviet deportations only stopped for three years in 1941–1944 when Estonia was occupied by Nazi Germany (see Occupation of Estonia by Nazi Germany).
Estonians' experience with the first year of Soviet occupation, which included the June deportation, led to two significant developments:
It motivated a major wave of refugees leaving Estonia, mostly by ships over the Baltic Sea in late 1944, after the news about Nazi Germany's withdrawal became public. Some 70,000 people are known to have arrived in their destination; an unknown number perished due to the autumn storms and naval warfare.
It incentivised many Estonians, who had previously been rather skeptical about joining German army (between January 1943 and February 1944, about 4000 people, mostly male, over half of them below 24 years old, i.e. draftable, had fled to Finland) to join the recently created foreign legions of Waffen-SS, to still try to keep Red Army off Estonian soil and thus, avoid a new Soviet occupation. The attempt failed. For an example of such an ethnic foreign legion, see 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian). Only in 1956, during Khrushchev Thaw, were some survived deportees allowed to return to Estonia.
Memorial for the victims of deportations of 1941 and 1949 in Paldiski
On July 27, 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.
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.
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 a few perpetrators of the 1949 deportations, former officers of MGB, stood trial and have been convicted under Article 61-1 § 1 of the Criminal Code since then. The BBC noted in April 2009 that Estonia's claims of genocide are not widely accepted.
Johannes Klaassepp (1921–2010), Vladimir Loginov (1924–2001) and Vasily Beskov were sentenced to eight years' probation in 1999.
On 30 July 1999, Mikhail Neverovsky (born 1920) was sentenced to four years in prison.
On 10 October 2003, August Kolk (born 1924) and Pyotr Kisly (born 1921) were sentenced to eight years in prison with three years of probation. The cases were taken to the European Court of Human Rights, the defendants alleging the sentencing was contrary to the prohibition of retroactive application of criminal laws, but on 17 January 2006 the application was declared as "obviously baseless".
On 30 October 2002, Yury Karpov received an eight-year suspended sentence. On 7 November 2006, Vladimir Kask was sentenced to eight years in prison with three years of probation. Arnold Meri was on trial for his part in the deportations but died in April 2009 before the end of the trial. Charges against Nikolai Zerebtsovi were dropped.
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. Moscow has criticized the Baltic prosecutions, calling them revenge, not justice, and complained about the criminals' age.
In March 2009, Memorial 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.
^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; ISBN3-89821-525-3.
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.
^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».
^"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)
Uustalu, Evald (1952). The History of Estonian People. London: Boreas.
Õispuu, Leo (2001). Repressed Persons Records (RPR). Book 6. Deportation from Estonia to Russia. Deportation in June 1941 & deportation in 1940–1953. Tallinn: Estonian Repressed Persons Records Bureau. ISBN9985-9096-5-8.