Report: Estonia's holocaust memorials in focus

Holocaust memorial day ceremony in Tallinn, in a photo from 2019.
Holocaust memorial day ceremony in Tallinn, in a photo from 2019. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

With last week's events marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" looked at sites of former camps or places of execution connected with the holocaust in Estonia.

There are over a dozen locations in Estonia which commemorate the holocaust in one way or another. The sites' maintenance is the responsibility of the state.

There are over a dozen places in Estonia believed to be related to the Holocaust.

One of the most well-known memorials to the victims of the holocaust is the Jewish cemetery in Tallinn, where the Jewish community traditionally meets every year on January 27, Holocaust Day. 

The monument itself was erected in 2005 and is a pyramid shape with each stone representing one death, starting from 1941 when the Nazi occupation of Estonia began.

One of the first memorials to the victims of fascism is at Klooga, west of Tallinn, site of a Nazi concentration camp complex, and another at Kalevi-Liiva, east of the capital. The latter was used, according to Olev Liivik, from the Estonian Institute of Memory (Eesti Mälu Instituut), for propaganda purposes by the Soviet regime from the 1960s onwards, in painting Estonian guards at the nearby Jägala camp, as responsible for mass killings there.

When the monument first appeared at Kalevi-Liiva, a figure of 6,000 victims was recorded, though this number is still being debated, according to the report.

The Jagala concentration camp was located nearby, in Jõelähtme parish, 30 km east of Tallinn. It was established by Nazi German occupation authorities in August 1942, and functioned until September 1943.

"While defendants explained at [post-war] trials that they were taking Jews from western Europe, totaling about 2,000 in two echelons, Soviet propaganda put the figure at more than 5,000, which included Soviet citizens plus those from Germany and Czechoslovakia," Liivik said.

Roma vicitms of holocaust also commemorated

When Estonia regained independence, the figure remained constant although the plaque was replaced. According to the report, documentation from the time put the figure slaughtered at Kalevi-Liiva at 1,600, along with several hundred others.

Additionally, a monument to the several hundred Roma people executed at Kalevi-Liiva was established by the Estonian state following independence, in conjunction with Roma organizations, Liivik said.

"[This] was only possible after Estonia regained its independence. The Roma Holocaust is a completely unexplored topic in Estonia," Liivik explained, adding that getting the precise figure does not diminish Kalevi-Liiva's value as a monment, alongside that at Klooga, with scope for enhanced memorialization.

"If we could get these things right, I think there would be interest and calls to do something bigger here, like Klooga, which has an outdoor exhibition," said Liivik.

Ahead of advancing Red Army troops, SS personnel massacred around 2,000 inmates in a single day at Klooga, during the course of the evacuation of the camp during Sept. 19-22 1944.

Representative of the Jewish community in Estonia, Alla Jakobson, agreed that, with the exception of Kalevi-Liiva, Holocaust memorials in Estonia are more or less in order.

"There are also memorials to the French Jewish Convoy 73, actually two of them, one at Patarei Prison and the other in Lasnamäe," Jakobson said, noting a memorial in Harku, where Jewish women were interned, was also desirable.

Liivik agrees that there could be more memorials.

"Yes, certainly. In Tartu, there is a monument to those executed at the Tartu concentration camp. There are memorial stones or plaques in Ida-Viru County, but there could be one larger memorial," he said.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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