Estonian politicians mark Holocaust Remembrance Day

President Alar Karis and Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna at the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration on January 27, 2022.
President Alar Karis and Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna at the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration on January 27, 2022. Source: Office of the President of Estonia.

Estonian politicians marked Holocaust Remembrance Day and the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, attending commemorative events and taking part in social media initiatives.

A remembrance event was held Liiva Cemetery in Tallinn where a new memorial to the victims of the holocaust was unveiled.

The ceremony was attended by President Alar Karis, Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform), diplomats, Chairman of the Jewish Community of Estonia Alla Jakobson, Executive Director of the Jewish Community of Estonia Vadim Rõvlin and Director of the Estonian Jewish Museum Gennadi Gramberg. The memorial service was held by Rabbi Shmuel Chanie Kot.

Karis said: "Hard lessons have taught us the importance of freedom and democracy. This is why it's important to remember. Totalitarian ambitions only bring fear, suffering and sorrow."

The ceremony can be watched below.

Additionally, a memorial plaque to the Chief Rabbi of Estonia (1928-1941) Aba Homer was unveiled in the Memory Gallery of the Jewish Community of Estonia alongside an exhibition.

On January 27, 1945, Allied forces reached the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex and released the remaining 7,000 prisoners. 


Speaker of the Riigikogu Jüri Ratas participated in the social media campaign #WeRemember writing on Twitter that he urged everyone "never to forget or forgive this devastation".

Estonian diplomat Matti Maasikas, who is the EU's ambassador to Ukraine, visited Babyn Yar, a massacre site during the Holocaust. 

The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the holocaust a "tragic chapter in Estonia's and world history". "Nothing justifies crimes against humanity. We must never forget," a spokesperson wrote on social media.

The Holocaust in Estonia

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021. Source: Ministry of Education and Research

The Nazis declared Estonia "judenfrei", or "free of Jews" in January 1942.

The following information has been republished from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an overview can be read on the U.S. Embassy's website.

About 4,400 Jews lived in Estonia before World War II. In June 1941, the Soviet authorities deported about 400 Jews to Russia.

After the war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union, about 3,000 Jews left Estonia with the Red Army.

The close to 1,000 Jews who were not able to or did not wish to flee to the Soviet Union and remained in Estonia were arrested by the German occupying powers and exterminated by the end of 1941.

Notoriously, at the Wannsee conference on January 20, 1942, where "the final solution to the Jewish questions" was discussed, on the list of countries concerned, Estonia was the only one declared as 'Judenfrei' (free of Jews). Only a few Estonian Jews survived the German occupation.

During the war, the German authorities brought Jews to Estonia also from other occupied countries. In 1943-44, nearly 12,500 Jews, mostly from Lithuanian ghettos, were brought to Estonia. 7,500 to 8,000 of those people lost their lives.

The SS controlled Vaivara concentration camp system, consisting of 20 labor camps, created with the aim to provide a workforce for the oil-shale industry in north-eastern Estonia, functioned from August 1943 to September 1944.

The most significant labor camps were in Kiviõli, Kunda, Narva, Klooga and Ereda. The camps were guarded by police battalions formed of Estonians and Russians, and by Germans who belonged to the organization Todt.

Starting from July 1944, the camps were gradually eliminated, which included the mass execution of Jews incapable of work, culminating in the mass murder of about 2000 Jews at the Klooga camp on 19 September 1944. Marking the 75 years of this tragic event, an international conference was held in Tallinn in September 2019. More information on the Holocaust in occupied Estonia in 1941-1944 can be found on a special website

On numerous public occasions, Estonian presidents and prime ministers have condemned the Nazi crimes committed on the occupied territory of Estonia and have regretted the participation of local people in these atrocities.

On the other hand, at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem a tree has been planted at the avenue of the Righteous in memory of the Estonian theologian, poet and philosopher Uku Masing and his wife Eha who hid a Jewish student and thus saved his life.

Two more Estonian citizens have been attributed the title of the Righteous Among the Nations; they are Polina Lentsman who lived and saved Jews in Crimea, and Anna Celmrauga, a dual citizen of Estonia and Latvia, who saved Jews in Latvia. The Wall of Honours at Yad Vashem immortalizes their names.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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