Nazi-invasion commemoration ignites row in Estonia

Residents of the city commemorated its “liberation” by the German army from Soviet occupation in June 1941.

Synagogue in central Tallinn 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Synagogue in central Tallinn 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Jewish community of Viljandi in Estonia has expressed its disapproval of an event staged on Thursday in which residents of the city commemorated its “liberation” by the German army from Soviet occupation in June 1941.
Several dozen attended a commemoration service at the city’s German military cemetery for the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion. The event was organized by the Estonian Sakala Soldiers Association.
“The usual attempt to portray people who collaborated with the Nazi occupational regime as ‘warriors against Bolshevism,’ and furthermore on the day when the mass murder of the citizens of Viljandi and Estonia who belonged to the ‘wrong’ ethnicity began...appears completely idiotic,” Ala Jacobsen, chairwoman of the Estonian Jewish community, said in a statement on Thursday.
Jaanika Kressa, one of the event organizers, told the Sakala newspaper of Viljandi that “the arrival of the Germans is considered the liberation of Estonia, because it was saved from the order introduced in June 1940, when about ten thousand people were deported to Siberia and the local people were impoverished.
The situation of the Estonians became normal again.”
The Wiesenthal Center’s Israel director and Holocaust historian Dr. Efraim Zuroff said that Kressa’s statement was “a malicious revision of the sad reality of Estonian history and a heartless affront to the memory of the Estonian Jews murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators. If the leaders of the ‘Union of Estonian Soldiers’ believe that the mass murder of innocent Jews is ‘a normal situation,’ they belong in jail or in a mental asylum.”
Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940, a result of the August 1939 nonaggression agreement signed between Nazi Germany and the USSR, known as the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. On June 22, 1941, the German army invaded the Soviet Union occupying huge areas including Estonia.
The Soviet occupation in Estonia from June 1940 to July 1941 saw harsh repressive measures imposed on the Estonian population, and thousands of Estonians considered enemies of the Soviet Union, including Jews, were deported, executed or died in prison.
“No one is disputing that the Estonian population suffered under the Soviet Union. But to celebrate the Nazi invasion, in which 99.3 percent of Estonia’s Jews ended up being murdered, is unacceptable,” Zuroff said.
“This is typical of recent initiatives in post-communist Europe to equate Nazi and Communist crimes, something that was clearly formulated in the Prague declaration of June 3, 2008. This is part of a deliberate attempt to deflect from the fact that people in Eastern Europe collaborated with the Nazis in the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust.”