Stalin’s deportation of Baltic peoples in June 1941 remembered

Lithuanian deportation by Stalin

 

2016/06/14 • Analysis & Opinion, Politics, Russia

Seventy-five years ago today, when Stalin was Hitler’s ally, Moscow began the forcible deportation of tens of thousands of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians from their occupied lands to the interior of USSR from which fewer than half returned alive, an event that continues to cast a dark shadow on these countries and their relations with Moscow.

The deportation from the three occupied Baltic countries of more than 40,000 people was the first mass action of its kind following Stalin’s Anschluss of those countries as a result of the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that made the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany allies.

Earlier senior officials in the overthrown governments of the three were arrested and exiled, most to their deaths. But on June 13, 14, 15 and 16, the Soviet occupiers gathered up as many Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians as they could according to categories that had been worked out long before 1941.

According to an article in “Estonian World,” that plan called for the deportation of all those in the following categories and their families:

  • All the members of the former governments
  • Higher state officials and judges
  • Higher military personnel
  • Former politicians
  • Members of voluntary state defense organizations
  • Members of student organizations
  • Persons having actively participated in anti-Soviet armed combat
  • Russian émigrés
  • Security police officers and police officers
  • Representatives of foreign companies and in general all people having contacts abroad
  • Entrepreneurs and bankers
  • Clergymen
  • Members of the Red Cross.

Taken together, such people constituted 23 percent of Estonia’s population at the time. Similar measures were adopted and taken in Latvia and Lithuania.

What made this act of genocide even worse was that a large number of people were deported not because they were in these categories but because others wanted their housing or “to settle scores.”

The Baltic people subject to this degree had no appeal and only a single hour to pack before being loaded onto cattle cars. In Estonia alone, “Over 7,000 women, children and elderly people were among the deported … more than 25% of all the people deported in June 1941 were minors (under 16 years of age). [And] the deportations also severely affected Estonia’s Jewish population — more than 400 Estonian Jews, approximately 10% of the Estonian Jewish population, were among the deportees.”

The travails of those deported did not end there or even in the difficult places to which they were sent. At the end of the first year, special Soviet commissions came to the camps and settlements and had “hundreds of the detainees” shot. “By the spring of 1942,” “Estonian Life” reports, “of the more than 3,000 men dispatched to prison camps, only a couple hundred were still alive.”

Many not sent to the camps but rather classified as “forced resettlers” died of cold, starvation or overwork. The same pattern obtained for Latvians and Lithuanians as did yet another round of deportations from the Baltic countries in March 1949 after Soviet forces retook and reoccupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

This year, as they did privately in Soviet times and publicly after the recovery of their independence, the peoples of these three countries are marking this day as a memorial to those who were expelled and died. Fortunately, they are now being joined by others who have pledged themselves never to forget what Moscow did.

Today the justice ministers of the three Baltic countries together with their counterparts from Poland and Ukraine issued a joint statement declaring that “history cannot be changed or forgotten especially because today there are still living witnesses of the crimes that were committed.

The five ministers pointed out that the Soviet Union by this act and others as well sought to deprive people of their spirit and memory of independent statehood. “However, [even such] crimes against humanity cannot destroy spirits striving for freedom,” despite the continuing efforts of some to deny what happened.

The five decried that “the official rhetoric of Russia remains what it has always been: the crimes are denied and the Soviet past and its leaders are praised to the skies.” Those who remember the deportations of June 1941 know just how wrong and even ill-intentioned such claims are.

But perhaps the highlight of this day of memory was the visit of Crimean Tatar singer Jamala [the winner of 2016 EuroVision Song Contest – Ed.]to Vilnius and her meeting with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, a meeting that a Russian commentator condemned.

The Lithuanian leader said that it was entirely appropriate that the Crimean Tatar singer who won the Eurovision contest with her song recalling the deportation of her people by the Soviet government should be in Vilnius on the 75th anniversary of the first mass deportations of Lithuanians and other Baltic nations by the same government.

Jamala’s coming on that day, she said was “symbolic” of the fact that “soviet crimes will never be forgotten.”


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Randolph Carter

    “Fortunately, they are now being joined by others who have pledged themselves never to forget what Moscow did.”

    We must never forget – the Holodomor, Babi Yar, people taken by the Cheka, NKVD, KGB, never to be seen again. Beria’s rape victims. The kangaroo-court trials where the verdict had been decided upon before the “trial” ever began. The infiltration of Russian terrorists into the Euromaidan, turning it into a war zone. The persecution of the Tatars today in Crimea. The 10,000 or more Ukrainians who have died with the highest honor – that of protecting their country, their homes and their families. The wholesale destruction in the Donbass and betrayal of the Minsk treaties by use of weapons that Moscow stated would never be used.

    When this nightmare ends, someone (many) must stand trial at the Hague and answer for the crimes of the Russian high command. I hope the European Union has the backbone to impose penalties and demand reparations for the war in Ukraine and any of the other crimes against humanity Putin and his sycophants have committed. If the EU hasn’t the stomach for it, then the UN should be brought in. Personal fortunes and government accounts for the creation of new weapons systems must be confiscated, otherwise the debt will simply be passed on to the poor and middle-class citizens so that future war efforts will not be impeded. The question of state secrecy must be dismissed in its entirety and NATO surveillance teams must be given access to any and all parts of the Russian military. Computer systems must have software implanted to track and record usage; a permanent, acknowledged back door that will allow immediate surveillance of the systems being used.

    Ideally, I would also like to see foreign powers (especially signatories to the Budapest Memorandum) tried, or at least required to answer before the other nations of the world, why no aid was forthcoming to Ukraine in the times after the Euromaidan. I don’t know much here, so anyone who knows what (if any) aid was given to Ukraine and when, please add whatever information you can.

    This must never happen again.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      Correction: Babin Yar was where Himmler’s Einsatzgruppe C murdered over 30,000 Jewish inhabitants of Kyiv in two days in late September 1941. Later other Ukrainians were murdered there. One cannot blame Stalin’s NKVD for this, nor for Dobritsky Yar near Kharkiv and all the many other Einsatzgruppen execution sites in the Ukraine. As far as I know Babin Yar was never used as a Cheka/GPU/OGPU/NKVD/MGB/KGB execution site.
      Other than this, I fully agree with your post. And the Russians STILL don’t understand why the Baltics don’t trust them an inch- probably never will either.

      • Randolph Carter

        Thank for the correction – I didn’t even know about Dobritsky Yar, Still another site of mass murder; no wonder Ukrainians pull down Stalin’s statues.

        Since Hitler’s Einsatzgruppe committed the Babin Yar and Dobritsky Yar murders in 1941, was Stalin aware (or complicit) with them? I don’t know the year in which Hitler and Stalin joined forces, or how they decided matters like ‘The Jewish Question” relative to their own countries. These events imply that Stalin had no problem with Hitler’s troops committing mass murder in his own country.

        • Dagwood Bumstead

          Most people associate the Holocaust with Auschwitz, or Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. But the Holocaust really started when Adolf attacked his chum Stalin on 22/6/1941. The four Einsatzgruppen A, B, C and D followed hard on the heels of the army, shooting communist party members, army political commissars but primarily Jews. The French priest Patrick Desbois has tracked down many of the execution sites of Jews by going from village to village in the Ukraine and interviewing the older inhabitants who witnessed these executions, and has written a book about these forgotten sites, “Holocaust by Bullets”. These mass killings also occurred in Belarus, the Baltics and the occupied parts of the RSFSR, NOT only in the Ukraine. The Einsatzgruppen probably shot over 1 million Soviet Jews, starting their dirty work long before the first death camps became operational.
          Stalin was not complicit. Aware? Most probably. Did he care? Hardly. He was an antisemite himself. Although he did make use of a Jewish anti-German committee, he later had its leader Solomon Mikhoels killed by the NKVD when Mikhoels had outlived his usefulness. Witness also the Doctors’ arrests and Trials shortly before he died in March 1953. One is tempted to think that Stalin secretly considered that Adolf did him a favour by killing so many of the USSR’s Jews. Also, during trials of caught perpetrators such as Friedrich Jeckeln the prosecution only spoke of SOVIET citizens who had been murdered, never of JEWS, even though Jews were by far the vast majority of the EG victims.

          Stalin and Adolf became chums officially on 23/8/1939, when the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed in Moscow. They carved up Poland, and Stalin invaded and annexed the Baltics in 1940. Stalin supplied Adolf with oil, wheat and minerals, geting modern machine tools and technical advice in exchange. Stalin’s aid enabled Adolf to fight against the UK and France, an alliance that the trolls don’t want to be reminded of.

          • Randolph Carter

            Thank you (again) for the information. It’s amazing how much I don’t
            know about the history of Ukraine and the rest of Europe, especially
            during the days of Stalin and Hitler. I had no idea how short their
            alliance was; I always thought that Hitler and Stalin stayed allies until much later in the war. I can understand Stalin’s disinterest in the mass murder; he evidently had no problem with the Holodomor in 1931-1933.

            Ukrainians are an amazing people – my girlfriend in Lugansk stayed during the Russian invasion because her mother would not leave her homeland, and she would not leave her mother behind. She worked as a nurse in a hospital; I never ask her about the things she saw during that time. She has told me that I can’t understand what life in Lugansk is like, and I tell her she’s right. How many times have I had to worry about being hit by a mortar on the way to work? Or whether my company would even be there? Or come home and find my neighborhood leveled? It disgusts me that the media carries so little information about Ukraine. But as my Russian teacher says: “The last thing to die in war is hope”.

          • Dagwood Bumstead

            Stalin, and Lenin before him, believed that a second European war was necessary to spread Bolshevism over Europe. Hence the support for Germany’s secret training bases in the USSR, which started after the Treaty of Rapallo, long before Adolf became Chancellor. There was a German training aerodrome at Lipetsk for the nucleus of a new German Air Force for instance. Cooperation between the two outcasts USSR and Weimar Germany went very deep in military matters; both sides profited. This cooperation ended after Adolf assumed power, however.

            Adolf attacked Poland on 1/9/1939, and Stalin stabbed Poland in the back on 17/9/1939. As Stalin hoped, the UK and France declared war on Germany, starting the new European war he hoped for. But to his shock, Adolf’s army routed the French in May 1940 and drove the British army off the continent.

            Strangely, although both Germany and the USSR attacked Poland and carved it up, the UK and France only declared war on Adolf, not on Stalin. One wonders why they did not declare war on Stalin since both were equally guilty of attacking and dismembering Poland.

          • Randolph Carter

            Perhaps the UK and France were either reluctant to fight a war on two fronts, or the logistics of supplying troops all the way to Leningrad deterred them. I understand there are caves in the Ural mountains that are filled with munitions left by the Nazis in case they decided to return. They are too dangerous to enter now; the explosive in them is so old that it has crystallized and become very unstable. There were rumors of a train full of art being found in the Urals; I wonder what became of it?

            What you’re telling me is fascinating – it’s almost like Hitler was a protege of Stalin, and that Stalin was using him as a puppet. Curious that nobody in Hitler’s command staff saw through this and said something to him. Perhaps they feared the repercussions of Hitler’s anger (or Stalin’s), or they felt that it was better to leave things as they were. Perhaps Stalin had operatives in the Nazi high command who would have prevented this.

            I have heard that the Holodomor and the mass executions at Babin Yar (and Dobritsky Yar, as you pointed out) formed the basis for Hitler’s construction of the death camps. If so, it seems Stalin had a much greater role in WW2 than I thought; Hitler was his student (pawn) and he (Stalin) saw him as a ready tool to spread Bolshevism throughout Europe, If so, did the Russian army willingly join the Allies in defeating Hitler as a means of stopping his conquest, or did Stalin simply see Hitler and Germany as no longer useful?

            I have always thought that the Nazis turned on Russia because of Hitler’s arrogance; starting a two-front war where the Nazis had to supply both fronts. It would be ironic if this drew resources away from Hitler’s conquest of Britain and the loss (to the USA and Allies in general) of a staging point for D-Day,

            What is the saying: “Politics make strange bedfellows”? I’ll have to read up on Bolshevism since we only touched briefly on it in my history classes. They are where I got the idea that Hitler betrayed Stalin and Russia was forced to join the Allies to help defeat the Nazis, and that there was a greater camaraderie between Russia and the other nations that formed the Allied forces.

          • MichaelA

            True, although Goering was calling for trade with the USSR as early as 1936, and the active discussions between Germany and USSR started early in 1939.

  • Alex George

    Good to see that his history is being soberly and carefully remembered.

    The evils perpetrated by Putin and his predecessors in the Kremlin must never be forgotten.