In a project first announced nearly a year ago, the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory (Eesti Mälu Instituut) is continuing work on establishing a database of the tens of thousands of people that fled Estonia during World War II. The institute aims to complete the first stage of the project by next September, which will mark 80 years since the Mass Flight (suurpõgenemine) of 1944.
Estonian Institute of Historical Memory board member Meelis Maripuu said that to date, they have collected the names of some 70,000-80,000 WWII-era refugees from Estonia, but that these numbers are still to be specified.
"It definitely doesn't include all of them, and since the data has come from so many different places, there are surely many people currently included several times over under slightly different spellings," Maripuu explained. "The quality of this data is certainly still relatively low, so we're very happy when people look at it through our homepage and discover that something's a bit off and let us know."
The first stage in compiling the database will continue through September 2024, which will also mark the 80th anniversary of the Mass Flight of 1944. Maripuu is hoping that materials from major archives will be processed in the course of this stage.
"On top of eliminating such repeat [entries], and the amalgamation of individuals from various sources, we'd also like to understand where in Estonia they came from," he said. "And what we're sure to find out in the course of this work is the first destination to which they fled from Estonia."
According to Maripuu, once this first stage is complete, it will be possible to move forward in a number of different directions.
"Find additional data about how the refugees' journey continued: what countries they continued on to from Germany, for example, as we know that relatively few remained in Germany compared with how many there were there initially — that is one direction," he described.
"Another direction — who these people were that left Estonia," he continued. "How old they were, what their social backgrounds were — which would also then allow us to analyze what this WWII-era flight really meant for Estonians as a people; what those losses were."
Click here to access the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory's database of WWII-era refugees.
Editor: Aili Vahtla