ISS: People became perpetrators of deportations by chance too

Smuul's bas-relief on the Writers Union' House.
Smuul's bas-relief on the Writers Union' House. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The discovery of evidence indicating the writer Juhan Smuul (1922 - 1971) was among the perpetrators of deportations has reignited the discussion over them. If Smuul was also a party activist at that time, he could have become involved in deportations by accident.

The vote by the general assembly of the Estonian Writers Union to leave Juhan Smuul's bas-relief in place demonstrated the unions' reluctance to completely eradicate the author, but also that the question of the responsibility of each and every person who participated in deportations urgently needs a response.

President of the Writers' Union Tiit Alekseev, said it is critical to involve specialists in this issue. "Perhaps period historians who are familiar with the sources and procedures at that time. The topic is highly emotional but the truth is sobering," he said.

List of confiscations made by Juhan Smuul and Debora Vaarand. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Meelis Saueauk, a historian, said that, in general, everyone involved in deportations were perpetrators, but in the operational divisions that captured and loaded people onto animal wagons were individuals with varying levels of responsibility.

"If we are talking about Estonia as a whole, the goal was to develop 1875 operational groups. When we compare this to the number of families to be moved out of Estonia, which was 7,500, we see that the figure was almost exactly one working group for every four households. In Harjumaa, for instance, this operational group consisted of about 10 people. Typically, a Soviet national security official supervised the operations group, which included three soldiers of internal forces, a couple of officers from internal security units, and half of the operating group were party activists," Saueauk explained.

In addition to the operatives of the Soviet regime, these groups also included random people whose primary responsibility was to record the deportees' property and, if necessary, escort officials to their farms.

Andres Kahar, chief specialist of the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS), said that as a rule, people were summoned on fictitious pretexts without giving a real reason.

Juhan Smuul. Source: Arnold Moskalik / ERR

"It is also important to note that the term party activists, as in an activist was summoned, activist did, or activist was, is deceptive. This is a half-truth, as was the case for many things during the Soviet era. Completely random people ended up there [deportation groups -ed.], just someone who was more curious or active at that time, such as a active high school student in today's analogy, who went there out of curiosity and got caught up in the deportation activity," Kahar said.

Saueauk explained, using the March deportation as an example, that when the municipality was unable to bring in the required number of activists in, they moved them from someplace else.

"Harju County was severely underrepresented in terms of party activists. They had counted 650 but needed 1,050, which meant 400 people had to be brought in from elsewhere. And that is why Tallinn was chosen, as it had more active party members than actually were needed, so they were moved to the municipalities of Harju County," Saueauk explained.

The March deportation investigation, which began in January 1995, was one of the first criminal proceedings initiated by the ISS on crimes against humanity. So far, eight people have been convicted.

"This group of perpetrators is as as big as the number of deportees. Priorities must be established before moving from that vast crowd to some sort of judicial resolution. That is why we have focused our efforts on security officers and militias, who played the most important roles, were accountable; they took the decisions. So we have generally excluded locals from our criminal proceedings, because no matter how you look at it, they were there by chance, and their own role had very little influence on the outcomes. There is no doubt that they were involved in a crime; yet, our decisions were made in that more general way," Kahar said.


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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa

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