June 14th marks the day in 1941 when the Soviet authorities organized the first mass deportation of Estonians to Siberia. It is a day of mourning and commemoration for the Estonian people.
“We can never forget the losses we have borne. We can never forget those who can no longer share our joy and pride. All those, who lost their lives in concentration camps, labour camps and battlefields.”
President Lennart Meri at the ceremony “Estonia Remembers” in June 2001.
Following the illegal occupation of Estonia in June 1940, the Soviet Union launched unprecedented political and economical rearrangements, carrying out purges that resulted in up to 100,000 Estonians being killed or deported in the 1940s and early 1950s.
As a result of summary arrests, mass deportations and executions almost all of Estonia’s governmental administration was executed. President Konstantin Päts and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Johan Laidoner were arrested and deported to Russia in July 1940.
June 14, 1941
The deportations reached their first tragic peak on 14 June 1941, when nearly 10,000 people were deported to Russia in one single night. Preparations for carrying out a simultaneous mass deportation in all three Baltic States on this day were carried out throughout the first year of Soviet occupation.
On the night of 14 June, families were woken up in the middle of the night, given a few hours to pack, taken to the train stations, and separated without warning. Women, children and elderly people who were to be deported for 20 years were sent to Siberia, while men were sent to forced labour camps in the far north. The total number of deportees on 14 June was equivalent to about 1 per cent of the Estonian population.
The deportees included people from all levels of society, including members of ethnic minorities such as the Jewish community, who lost about 400 people or 10 per cent of their pre-war community.
The list of victims of 14 June deportations includes 16 members of the Constituent Assembly, 25 ministers, including some former ministers and heads of state, 63 members of parliament, of whom 26 were shot in prisons, 421 police officers and more than 300 career officers. Among the victims, there were also almost 4,000 children. The highest death rate occurred among infants of up to two years of age.
Towards the end of the 1950s, survivors were granted the opportunity to return to their homeland. However, approximately only one in four June deportees benefited from this decision. It is known that at least 6,957 persons never returned home because they were either murdered or tortured to death, starved to death in prison camps or during their forced migration, or simply went missing.
On June 14, 2001, the 60th anniversary of the first major deportation, widely viewed as an act of genocide and crime against humanity, was commemorated throughout Estonia. Memorial ceremonies were devoted to all of those who were deported, arrested and executed during the Soviet occupation. Not only were people deported, but also due to the repression they had to leave their homeland and escape to foreign countries. Forced émigrés are included in general population losses during the Soviet occupation.
Prior to the anniversary, commemoration ceremonies “Estonia Remembers” were held in all counties. President Lennart Meri honoured and remembered the victims of the violence of alien powers. The President declared a student essay competition collecting the memoirs of the deported people. 1,583 essays were presented and the best 50 were published in a book “Vaikimise väraval” (“On the Gate of Silence”) in the autumn of 2001.
Author: Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this fact sheet was composed with the kind help of Mr Heiki Ahonen, Chairman of the Board of the Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation.