Repatriation

​World War II forced tens of millions of people to leave their homes and settle elsewhere. It was initially hoped that the refugee problem would be solved by repatriation, i.e. by helping people to return to their homeland. For that purpose, an international organisation was founded in 1943, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (abbreviation UNRRA). The basic documents of repatriation were the bilateral agreements signed in February 1945 in Yalta between the Soviet Union and the USA, and the Soviet Union and Great Britain. According to the agreements, all Soviet citizens had to be repatriated, which brought into focus the issue of the citizenship of Estonians. Although the Estonian refugees who managed to escape to the West did not regard themselves as Soviet citizens, whether they were officially designated as Soviet citizens or not depended on a particular country’s political views regarding recognising the Soviet occupation in the Baltic states.

The parties at Yalta then specified the details of repatriation. In reality, the repatriation was not started until after the Halle agreement in May 1945, and it lasted until the refugee camps were eliminated.

After World War II, repatriation was carried out by various organisations (UNRRA etc) in different occupation zones in Germany, or by the military authorities administering the zones. There were also forced repatriations supported by UNRRA, or people were persecuted to change their mind. For example, they were not allowed to settle in one camp, but were often driven from one camp to another.

As the American and the British occupying forces in Germany were against forced repatriation, and in the opinion of the Soviet Union and UNRRA the repatriation of Soviet citizens did not happen quickly enough, the Soviet Union started an extensive propaganda campaign. Leaflets and booklets glorifying the Soviet Union were printed, radio programmes were broadcast and films were specially made to be shown in the camps. ‘Red Corners’ were set up in the camps, introducing various propaganda publications. Close relatives in Estonia were forced to write letters to the refugees, inviting them to return home. Soviet representatives visited the camps, and conducted propagandist conversations with the inhabitants.

Between 1945 and 1952, a total of 21,500 Estonians were repatriated; about 10,000 of them were former servicemen and 11,500 civilians.

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