World War II Ordeals

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The Republic of Estonia remained neutral in Second World War, however, it did not escape battles, occupations, and great human losses. During the Second World War, Estonia changed hands three times. First, in 1940, Estonia was occupied by Soviet Union, then in 1941, Nazi Germany invaded and assumed power, and in 1944 Soviet Union retook control as the Germans fled. Each power brought its own propaganda, promises of friendship, and the mandatory requirement to fight side-by-side in the war. Many times, men from one family ended up fighting on different sides of the frontline.

Andrei Jegorov "Rarry 21.06.1940"

The painting depicts a June 21 rally in Freedom Square where the people had gathered to receive the authority of Soviet Union. Such demonstrations also took place in other parts of Estonia. The Estonian people did not yet know at that time that the destructive nature of the new power was something to fear.

June 22, 1940, excerpts from the daily newspaper Postimees, one day after the disbanding of the last government and the coup in Estonia. Only five days earlier, an additional 100,000 Soviet soldiers had entered Estonia thereby completing the occupation.

Tartu’s working class warmly greets the heroic Red Army and the Soviet Union’s peace policy. Tartu’s working class offers its heartfelt appreciation that the Red Army has taken as their mission ensuring the safety of Estonia.

Leaving Estonia

The Second World War scattered Estonians throughout the world. Fear of deportation, imprisonment, and the war itself caused about 80,000 Estonians to flee to the West. The Soviet authorities forced about 30,000 people eastward to Siberia.

Original sheets of the diary of repressed Ilse Kotter, Museum of Occupations

In Siberia, those who knew how to trade survived the harsh struggle. Clothes and valuables brought along from home at the last moment were traded over time for food.

December 4, Thursday. Guslarov at 8 o’clock in the morning in the dark. Mild weather, a little bit of snow on the road. I traded my cotton calico dress for 3 kg of rye. My blue check terrycloth dress—30 rubles and 1 kg of onions and 2 kg of cabbage.

The Estonians who migrated to the West had to undergo the dangerous voyage across the Baltic Sea, go through customs, quarantine, and spend, in some cases, years in refugee camps.

The Germans destroyed with mines, and Russian planes bombed from above. There is no anger more terrible than impotent anger, and it still has not abated.