Tallinn | Harju

The old synagogue of Tallinn, circa 1900.© Taken from Estonian Jewish Center The choir of Tallinn Jewish Gymnasium in 1930.© Taken from Estonian World Aavi D., born in 1934: "I talked to one of the survivors. His name is Benjamin A. and he was in the Lagedi camp. On September 17, 1944, when they were told to leave the camp, they were loaded into 40-person trucks. Benjamin’s truck left too late. ©Abner G Lembit K., born in 1924: "There were men and women in the camp. According to rumors, they were Czech Jews. The Germans did not consider Jews to be human beings.” ©Abner Garcia/Yahad - In Unum Patarei prison, in the center of Tallinn.© Taken from Mémorial de la Shoah Unidentified execution site in the forest of the Mäniku cemetery. ©Abner Garcia/Yahad - In Unum Anti-tank ditch that served as an execution site near the cemetery of Viljandi. ©Abner Garcia/Yahad - In Unum

Executions of Estonian and foreign Jews in Tallinn and its surroundings

3 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before:
Forest (1); cemeteries (2)
Memorials:
Yes
Period of occupation:
1940-1944
Number of victims:
Circa 1,500

Witness interview

Lembit K., born in 1924: "There was a Jewish camp. It was located at Lagedi station. It was not very far from my house, on a farm next to my family’s. The camp was built with simple wooden planks. It wasn’t very good material. The Jews lived under roofs without walls and a hole was dug for them to stand on. I guess they had to build their shelters themselves. There was no barbed wire around the camp, but the villagers were forbidden to go there.
The Jews were forcibly shaved, but some beautiful women with nice hair were taken by the guards. There were also stories in the village about how the Germans treated the prisoners. One story says that the Jews were beaten with belts. The prisoners had to work around Tallinn to build defense structures. A police battalion guarded them. It consisted of between 20 and 40 men. One of the chief officers lived in my house while the lower ranking guards stayed in the barn. Some Estonians also guarded the camp. In fact, one of them had served in the Estonian army and became a lieutenant in the German army." (Witness n°16EST, interviewed in Tallinn on October 17, 2019)

Soviet archives

"From the very first days of the occupation of Tallinn by German troops, the population of the city was subjected to arrests, violence and torture. Tallinn prison was constantly overcrowded. The German executioners not only mistreated prisoners, but also regularly organized mass executions. The executions took place inside the prison and in the vicinity of the Tallinn Wooded Cemetery at Metsakalmistu” [Report done by the Soviet State Extrarodinary Commision (ChGK) on March 13, 1945 ; GARF 7021-97-17, pp. 3-4]

Historical note

In Estonia, the first traces of an organized Jewish community date back to 1830 in the city of Tallinn. Later, in 1865, Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, officially authorized Jews to settle anywhere in the region. They thus began emigrating from different parts of the empire. In 1883, a large synagogue was built in downtown Tallinn. At the same time, the creation of elementary schools teaching the Talmud made the city an attractive location, leading to the arrival of more Jews. It became a real cultural center, with ritual baths and Jewish butcher shops. By 1897, the Jewish population numbered close to 1200 individuals. In 1919, a new Jewish elementary school was founded. In 1924, a Jewish secondary school was established. At this time, there were nearly 2,000 Jewish individuals and a very active local cultural life, particularly in the schools. In 1940, Estonia was invaded by the USSR. During this occupation, Jewish cultural autonomy and the activities of Jewish associations were suppressed. In addition, the teaching of Hebrew and lectures on Judaism and Yiddish culture were prohibited.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

On June 22, 1941, the Third Reich and its allies began the invasion of the USSR, marking the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. Before the arrival of the Germans, many of the local Jews had fled east to into the Soviet Union. At the end of August, Tallinn was occupied and the synagogue was destroyed during the bombing. From the very first days of the occupation, the population of the city was subjected to arrests, violence and torture. In September, the authorities declared that Jews had to wear a yellow star, that they were forbidden to change their place of residence, to walk along the sidewalk, to use any means of transportation, to go to the theater, to the museum, to the cinema or to school. They were forbidden to work as lawyers, doctors, notaries, bankers or real estate agents. Their property and homes were to be confiscated. At the same time, the local police were ordered to draw up lists of the number of Jews, their addresses and their property as quickly as possible. In September 1941, the Jews of Tallinn were separated by sex, with the women sent to the Harku camp west of Tallinn and the men sent to the Patarei prison, in the city center. By October 6, 1941, 207 Jewish men had already been executed in the prison. Until 1944, the prison became a place of transit for many Jews coming from different areas of Europe occupied by the Reich. Among them, there were also Estonian civilians, communist suspects, and Soviet POWs. Inside, overcrowding caused real hygiene problems and the inmates were regularly mistreated by the guards. Torture and mass executions of prisoners were carried out on a regular basis. In 1942, while the deportations of European Jews to Estonia continued, the authorities of the Reichskommissariat Ostland set up a network of about twenty concentration and labor camps on the Estonian territory. Among them was the Lagedi camp, located 12 km southeast of Tallinn. In the summer of 1944, as the Soviet armies closed in on Tallinn, the German authorities organized mass shootings of Jewish prisoners in the region. On the outskirts of the city, at the Viljandi cemetery, they executed 203 Jewish men from the Patarei prison in an anti-tank ditch. Nearby, in the forest of the Mäniku cemetery, 300 Jewish women and children were shot. At the beginning of August 1944, the Germans set up a place of execution near the Tallin Cemetery, in the Metsakalmistu forest. There they executed Jews from the Patarei prison, 520 Jews from the Lagedi camp, as well as 300 from Convoy 73, a deportation convoy of Jews from France that had left the Drancy camp. They were brought there in trucks, in groups of about 30 people, shot, then burned on pyres in order to erase the traces of these mass crimes. Under the pretext of "military exercises", the local population was not allowed to approach the site. Between August 8 and September 18, 1944, more than 1000 people were executed in the Metsakalmistu forest.

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