300 French Jews deported to Estonia (1944)

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.

75% of Estonia’s 4500 Jews left Estonia and escaped to the Soviet Union before the Nazis invaded in 1941. (History of Jews in Estonia)

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)

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7 responses to “300 French Jews deported to Estonia (1944)

  1. It is so curious that the Nazis used Tallinn as the destination for these deportations. It is almost like it was their own version of the Siberian gulags. (A form of “penal” envy?) But to then move the prisoners all the way back to Danzig, is an even greater puzzle. Given the German’s propensity to document everything, I hope that one day we will better understand this oddity.

    • Wish I could do that research. Maybe it has been researched, just need to find the scholar who did it.

  2. This is so fascinating. I had no idea about Estonia’s role in the Nazis agenda. I wonder how safe the Jews were in Russia and why would their government help fund passage out of Nazis territory.

    • Good questions, Erie. Valya appeared to feel the Soviets were a kind of ally to the Jews. Many of the early Russian revolutionaries were Jewish. I know that the Jews were seen by some Estonians to be communists. There were reported instances where Estonians turned in Jews to the Nazis because they believed that Estonian Jews were aiding the Soviets to take over Estonia. Estonia had been ruled by Russia until 1918 and some Estonians fiercely wanted to protect their independence. The Estonians did not realize that they were siding with Hitler, an equally evil dictator as Stalin.

  3. Pingback: Museum of Occupations, Tallinn, Estonia. | Stockings and Snorkels

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