It is a little known piece of history that Estonian prisons, way up here in the North corner of Europe, were used by the Nazis to house French Jews before they were deported to concentration camps in Germany. Three hundred Jews in 1944 were forced into train cars in Paris and then forced to endure a long dark trip to Estonia. It is unclear why the Jews were housed here in Tallinn. After only four months, the Nazis then sent the prisoners back to Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig.
“We can try, but we will never completely understand what those people were feeling, the ones who were sent from occupied France to occupied Estonia in May 1944 as part of ‘convoy nr. 73’,” said [Foreign Minister] Paet. “In a moment, the future was slashed and what used to be Europe became, for the captive peoples, a uniformly grey spider web of railway stations and concentration camps, in which each thread served a role in the devilish system,” the foreign minister added.
My Jewish friend, Valya, told me that the Soviet government gave her family and other Jews passage on trains to go to Russia before the Nazis arrived. She remembers leaving and how she wondered if she would ever return ‘home.’ In her early twenties in 1941, Valya, would not see Estonia again until after the war.
Valya was fortunate to have escaped. Of those that remained, virtually all Jews that remained in Estonia were executed by the Nazis by 1941. It is estimated that up to 1000 Estonian Jews may have been executed. Estonia was declared Judenfrei at the Wansee Conference on 20 January 1942.
“The Nazi regime also established 22 concentration and labor camps in Estonia for foreign Jews…An estimated 10,000 Jews were killed in Estonia after having been deported to camps there from Eastern Europe. Four Estonians most responsible for the murders at the Kalevi-Liiva Concentration Camp were accused of war crimes trials in 1961….”(Wikipedia. “History of the Jews in Estonia.”)
In 2012, Estonia, finally free of both Nazi and Soviet occupation, has encouraged research on the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity. This last week the Estonian Foreign Minister opened an exhibit at the Tallinn Occupation Museum on the French Jews deported to the Baltics. (Estonian Foreign Minister)
- Museum of Occupations, Tallinn, Estonia. (stockingsandsnorkels.wordpress.com)
- Country Profiles: Estonia (trifter.com)