Deportation of March 1949

​Deportation carried out by the Soviet authorities from 25 to 29 March 1949, when over 20, 000 people were forcefully taken from Estonia to Siberia.

One of the aims of the deportations carried out simultaneously in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, was to complete the collectivisation process that was started in 1947, in which the economic measures had failed. The other aim was to weaken the armed resistance movement that was supported by the farms which provided the food.

Preparations for the deportations began in mid-January 1949 after the party leaders of the three Baltic republics met Stalin. On 29 January, the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union determined the number of the deportees, the regions and the main operational tasks. Altogether 87, 000 people, or 7500 families, had to be deported from the three Baltic republics – 25, 500 from Lithuania, 39, 000 from Latvia, 22, 500 from Estonia. They were forcefully taken to the Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, the Krasnoyarsk and Khabarovsk regions, Omsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk oblasts. Deportees consisted of ‘kulaks’ with their families and the families of the Forest Brothers and ‘nationalists’. Arresting the deportees and taking them to railway stations was the task of the Ministry of State Security, while the Ministry of the Interior was responsible for the convoy and transporting people to the designated destinations.

In order to carry out an operation on such a massive scale, the army and the border guard were also used, plus local activists, collective farmers and officials. Altogether about 2100 persons took part in the operation. Over 1000 operatives and about 4000 military were imported to Estonia from Karelia, Leningrad, Minsk, Moscow and elsewhere. A few weeks before the deportation, over 2000 working groups were formed in the counties to carry out the task. One group had to deport four families. The operation called Priboi (‘breaking wave’) started in the capital cities at 4 in the morning, and at 6 in the counties, and the whole undertaking had to be finished in three days.

The process had to be carried out as follows: the work groups were taken by car to the designated place, where they proceeded on foot, surrounded the house and blocked all exits. Then the elder of the group entered with some soldiers, ascertained the persons in the house and searched the rooms. The head of the family was then informed about the deportation. After the deportees packed their bags they were taken to special gathering places. The party and local activists remained in the house to list the remaining property, which was handed over to the local authorities. Everything belonging to the deportees was to be confiscated. The people themselves were resettled for ever.

The deportees were taken to special gathering places (railway stations), where they were loaded onto special trains. The last such train left Estonia on 29 March. According to the data of the security organs, 7552 families or 20,702 persons were deported from Estonia.

In Siberia the deportees were subjected to strict supervision. They were not allowed to leave the area where they were sent. The working and living conditions varied by region, and thus people’s lives were drastically different. The most difficult situation was in families where only the mother worked, who then had to feed children and often also her parents. Such families struggled to survive throughout their forced stay. About 15 percent of the people who had to leave their homes in 1949 died in deportation.

The situation of the deportees began to change after Stalin’s death in 1953. The first people to be freed returned in 1954, although massive liberation only occurred in 1957 and 1958. The last deportees came back as late as 1965.

Freedom did not get people back their confiscated property, and they were not allowed to return to their previous place of residence without special permission from the Council of Ministers of Soviet Estonia. Former deportees were frequently forbidden to settle in Tallinn, Tartu and other bigger towns, on the islands and in border areas. Various bans and restrictions accompanied such people for years to come.

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