On the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, the victims of Nazi atrocities are also remembered at the site of former concentration camp in Klooga, Estonia.
Prior to the WWII, Estonia had a small but flourishing Jewish community. There are, in historical archives, records of individual Jews being in Estonia as early as the 14th century.
At least 180 Estonian Jews, 70 of them volunteers, fought in the War of Independence (1918–1920) to help establish the Republic of Estonia. The creation of the Republic of Estonia in 1918 marked the beginning of a new era in the life of the Jews. From the very first days of her existence as a state, Estonia showed tolerance towards all the peoples inhabiting her territories. In 1925, the Act of Cultural Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities was enacted in Estonia, giving minority groups consisting of at least 3 000 individuals the right of self-determination in cultural matters. Financial support was provided by the state. In 1926, the Jewish cultural autonomy was declared in Estonia – first of its kind in the world. For its tolerant policy towards Jews, a page was dedicated to the Republic of Estonia in the Golden Book of the Jewish National Fund in 1927. In the 1930s, there were over 4,300 Jews living in Estonia. In 1939, there were 32 different Jewish organizations active in Estonia.
But during the German occupation (1941–1944), the Nazis murdered approximately 1,000 Jews who had failed to flee Estonia (more than 75% of Estonia's Jewish community, aware of the fate that otherwise awaited them, managed to escape to the Soviet Union before the Nazi occupation reached Estonia). In addition to the aforementioned Estonian Jews that were murdered by the Nazis, many Jews were transported to Nazi concentration camps in Estonia from other parts of Europe. There were also some Estonians collaborating with the Nazis and participating in the crimes committed against the Jewish people. But there were also many who risked their own lives to save the Jewish people from the Nazis, one notable example being an Estonian writer and academic Uku Masing.
In early 1942, Estonia became one of the very few countries that was called Judenfrei ("free of Jews") by the Nazis. This was a term to designate an area "cleansed” of Jewish presence during the Holocaust.
The Holocaust will be remembered today in the ceremony at the site of former Klooga concentration camp. Representatives from the Estonian Jewish community, Estonian education minister Jevgeni Ossinovski, and Russian ambassador to Estonia, Juri Merzljakov, will attend, among others. Over 2,000 people lost their lives in Klooga.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January, is a worldwide memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust, the genocide that resulted in the annihilation of six million Jews, two million Gypsies, 15,000 homosexual people and millions of others by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The date marks the day on 1945, when the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by the Soviet troops.
Estonia has been officially observing the International Holocaust Day since 27 January 2003.
Editor: S. Tambur