The Second World War forced tens of thousands of Estonians to leave their homeland.
“In early 1944, the front reached Estonian borders. By the end of summer, it was clear that the Red Army would reoccupy Estonia and communist terror would continue where it left off in the summer of 1941. Now, people began to flee en masse: both on evacuation ships to Germany and on their own across the stormy sea to Sweden.”
The exile was expected to be temporary, as people hoped that Estonia would soon be liberated from Soviet rule, and that all refugees would return home. Contrarily, exile lasted for half a century, and many who left Estonia never saw their homeland again.
More than 30 years have passed since the restoration of Estonian independence. However, there is still no clear overview of the number of people who left Estonia during World War II, their origin, and their subsequent fate. Previous studies estimate the number of people who left Estonia during World War II to be between 70,000 and 80,000.
In 2022, the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory began compiling a database of people who left Estonia during World War II. The patron of the initiative is the President of the Republic of Estonia, Alar Karis.
“In the first stage of the research, the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory focuses on countries where refugees from Estonia first arrived: Sweden and Germany. Based on archival data, a preliminary database of those who arrived in Sweden and Germany will be compiled. However, many people went missing during their escape. We welcome any feedback and information about persons lost in autumn 1944.”
The first stage of data collection will end in September 2024, when 80 years will have passed since the end of battles in Estonia and the forceful re-establishment of Soviet rule. After that, the Institute will continue with the research of persons who found a new home in Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere after leaving Estonia. The database will serve as a basis for future research, as well as a memorial to the previous generations’ life paths.
The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory is grateful for any support in collecting data on those who left Estonia. We welcome information that has not yet reached major archives, as well as financial support, which allows to involve more data processing specialists.