Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Descent of Terror Upon the Baltics: 14 June 1941

In August 1940, the USSR annexed the formerly independent states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The Soviet occupation forces visited a brutal reign of terror upon the civilian population of these countries. Less than a year after annexing the Baltic nations, the Soviet Union undertook a massive deportation of individuals prominent in the political and economic life of these republics. Categories of people subject to deportation along with their families included members of nationalist parties, policemen, land owners, factory owners and civil servants. The NKVD had in fact already arrested many of these people and transported them to labor camps in the interior of the USSR. In the process the Soviet occupation regime confiscated their property, thus impoverishing their families. The NKVD then applied mass deportations to their families as a further form of collective punishment. On 14 June 1941, the NKVD rounded up and forcibly deported over 17,500 Lithuanians, 17,000 Latvians and 6,000 Estonians according to official Soviet records. The armed NKVD men gave these men, women and children only a short time to gather a few possessions into exile with them. The soldiers packed the deportees into overcrowded and unsanitary cattle cars headed eastward into the USSR. In a single day the NKVD expelled over 40,000 people from their homelands, many of them forever. The Stalin regime sent these deportees to Novosibirsk, Kazakhstan, Krasnoyarsk, Kirov and Komi. Here they lived under NKVD surveillance and severe legal restrictions. They could not leave their assigned places of exile and became subject to harsh administrative punishments for minor infractions. A lack of proper winter clothing, shoes, food, shelter and medical care resulted in massive mortality among the deportees. The crime of 14 June 1941 has become an important collective national memory among the people of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. It is commemorated every year both in the Baltic states and among their diasporas.


KRISTIN said...

Thank you for writing something about Estonia, too. It's weird, when you read this brief résumé it all doesn't sound so bad at all, just unfair. I know lots of people who have been through it personally, in a way they are like Americans who have been in Vietnam, they don't want to talk about it.
On thing that I would like to add here - if it seems that number of deported Estonians is so much smaller than the number of Latvians or Lithuanians then it's because our populations are different, Estonia is a small country, even compared with Latvia and Lithuania.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Well, I wanted to make it brief so I did not go into alot of detail. But, an awful lot of the deportees died horrible deaths in Siberia within a few years. I guess people who did not go through the experience can not really feel it. It remains too abstract rather than the painful human trauma of the survivor. I may post some excerpts from Estonians who survived the deportations in the next few days. I now have all the books I got on my last trip to Estonia with me.

It is true that there are alot more Latvians and Lithuanians than Estonians. But, the number seems small for another reason as well. It only refers to those deported on 14 June. The number of Estonians deported, arrested and sent to labor camps and mobilized into forced labor battalions of the Red Army during the first occupation is much larger. Those figures are 8,000 arrested, 11,000 deported and 32,000 mobilized.I just wanted to emphasize the single day of 14 June 1941.