Forest Brothers

Anti-Soviet Estonian national partisans during and after WW II

Two stages can be distinguished in the Estonian forest brothers’ movement: first, battles in 1941 with the retreating Red Army called the Summer War, and secondly the resistance movement until 1953 after Estonia was again occupied in 1944.

The term ‘forest brothers’ primarily describes the fighting tactics of Estonian partisans. Both in the 1941 Summer War and later the members of the resistance movement sought refuge in the forests, from where they organised surprise attacks on smaller enemy units. In the post-WW II years, thousands of people were hiding in the forest bunkers, all of whom were under the constant threat of being captured by the Soviets. Although historians mostly talk of ‘forest brothers’ as men and women taking part in armed resistance fighting, the term is actually somewhat wider, often including people hiding from the alien power who avoided direct armed conflicts. The total number of forest brothers was about 30 000.

For the Soviet occupying power, the forest brothers were criminals or bandits. In 1944-1947 the department at the Soviet Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs responsible for dealing with them, was called the Department of Anti-Banditry Combat. In 1947-1953, suppressing the armed resistance was the task of the department 2N of the Soviet Estonian Ministry of State Security.

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