​Resettlement of Baltic Germans from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to Germany from 1939 to 1940 and in 1941

In the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact signed on 23 August 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany decided to leave Estonia and Latvia, and later also Lithuania, in the Soviet sphere of influence. As agreed with Germany, the Soviet Union intended to establish Red Army military bases in the areas within its sphere of interest, and threatened the Baltic states with military intervention should they refuse them. In that situation, the issue of resettling the local Baltic Germans in Germany became topical. Evacuating its compatriots from the areas soon to be controlled by the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany wanted to avoid their possible oppression by the Bolsheviks. The resettlers were also expected to compensate the need for a labour force in the eastern territories taken from Poland. Altogether about half a million German nationals were supposed to arrive from Eastern and Central Europe.

In late September 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union signed an agreement for the German citizens and people of German origin to resettle to Germany and its spheres of interest. The Soviet Union was not to prevent people who wished to leave, but arranging the resettlement had to proceed according to the agreement between Germany and the host country. Germany then prepared for resettlement and despatched ships to fetch the Germans.

Adolf Hitler personally announced the resettlement in his speech at the Reichstag on 6 October 1939, dedicated to the victory in the war with Poland. Hitler mentioned the ‘elimination’ of German national groups in East and Central Europe, and resettling them in Germany forever. In official Nazi propaganda, this was treated as a ‘call to return home’ (the Nazi term ‘Heim ins Reich’, back to the Reich). Although Germany hoped to start with the Umsiedlung as soon as possible, the preparations dragged on until mid-October, when the relevant agreement between the Republic of Estonia and Germany was signed. From October 1939 until May 1940 about 14 000 people left Estonia, most of whom were Germans and Estonians or other nationalities related to them. Approximately 3000 Germans who stayed in Estonia were regarded by Nazi Germany as disloyal compatriots.

In January 1941 the Soviet Union and Germany signed an agreement on an additional resettlement of Germans still left in Estonia and Latvia. During the follow-up resettlement (Nachumsiedlung), about 7000 people left Estonia for Germany, including at least 4000 Estonians, who fled the Soviet regime and were able to prove their German origin.

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