The June deportation, 1941

​The June deportation is the term denoting the forceful deportation of about 10,000 people from Estonia to Russia on 14 June, 1941 by the Soviet regime.

This operation was simultaneously carried out on all territories occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939-1940: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Ukraine, Belorussia and Moldova. This was a political repression of the inhabitants of the occupied territories, with the twin aim of eliminating ‘hostile’ categories of people and rapidly integrating these territories into the rest of the Soviet Union.

Preparations for the deportation were started in November 1940, when the NKVD started to register the ‘counter-revolutionary elements’ in Ukraine, Belorussia, Moldova, Karelia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In May 1941, the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist (Bolshevik) Party and the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union specified the ‘anti-Soviet, criminal and socially dangerous elements’ that were to be subjected to deportation (incl. members of the former ‘bourgeois’ parties, policemen, officers of the Estonian Army, etc.). These people had to be sent to prison camps. Members of their families had to be arrested and deported as well. Properties of those arrested had to be confiscated.

On 4 June 1941, the operational headquarters of the Estonian SSR were established to run the operation. It coordinated the work of three-member commissions (troikas) that made preparations for the deportation in the counties and larger towns. The troikas were, as a rule, formed of local chiefs of the NKVD and the KGB and the deputies of one or the other. The operational headquarters were led by the Deputy People’s Commissar for Security in the ESSR, Venjamin Gulst.

According to the plan sanctioned by the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs Lavrenti Beria, 14,471 persons were to be deported from Estonia. Of these, 9115 (family members) were to be sent into exile and 5665 heads of the family and 691 criminals were to be arrested and sent to prison camps.

The operation was carried out during the night of 13/14 June 1941. According to the rules, the deportees were allowed to take with them household items up to 100 kg per person.  Country people were allowed to take also ‘small agricultural tools’, such as axes, saws, etc. Each family had to be allowed two hours for packing their things and getting on the transportation vehicles, but in reality, these orders concerning baggage and the time limit were not observed – many deportees were rushed away so that they could take only summer clothes and some odd things with them. On 1-3 July, 1200 additional persons were deported from the Estonian islands. The exact number of deportees cannot be retrospectively specified any more. The number is known to amount to about 10 000-11 000 persons. About a half of them were executed or perished due to hard living conditions.

Later, the Soviet regime justified this operation with the need for “securing the rear” – the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out a week later. From the military aspect, the potentially dangerous fifth column could have been formed of men aged 20-49 and able to fight, and the former political and military leaders of Estonia. The number of the former among the deportees was slightly more than one fifth of the total (2158 persons). About 80% of the deportees were the so-called ‘family members of the convicted people’, who could hardly have done any damage to the Soviet regime. Only the arresting of Estonian army officers, whose loyalty to the Soviet Union was dubious, was of any military importance.

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