'White Book' seeks to establish truth

  • 2004-05-20
  • By Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - A report compiling the latest and most trustworthy data on what Soviet and German authorities were accountable for during occupation has finally been completed.

Known as the "White Book," the Estonian state commission report sums up the effects of the three periods of occupation - altogether lasting 54 years and 75 days - according to Estonian experts.
Although the State Commission for Studying the Repression Policy of the Occupations was established in 1992, the 129-page report appeared only last week.
The report considers four major fields - population, cultural life, environment and economy - and is based on documented losses, damages and conclusions from archive materials made available in Estonia after 1991.
According to the report, during the first Soviet occupation from 1940 to 1941, Estonia lost about 48,000 people. The three years of German occupation resulted in the death of about 32,000 citizens of various nationalities, including 929 Jews and 243 Gypsies who were either killed in concentration camps or in battle. During the second Soviet occupation, which lasted from 1944 to 1994, Estonia lost nearly 121,000 people. In all, the country lost about 180,000 people, or nearly 18 percent of the population.
The second Soviet occupation of Estonia caused $100 billion in losses to the economy, and the Soviet army caused $4 billion in environmental damages, the report stated.
In addition to startling numbers, the "White Book" uses archival documents to challenge many historical theories and claims and dilute common misperceptions about the occupation periods.
For example, the book claims that the notorious dispatch of Martin Sandberger, chief of the Nazi security police in Estonia during the occupation who claimed that Estonia was Judenfrei (free of Jews), cannot be associated with the Estonian people in any way.
"The Sandberger dispatch listed the Nazi regime crimes that were committed by the invaders and the activities of their special units such as the Einsatzkomman-do 1a. All the people in occupied Estonia were in one way or another under pressure and many, regardless of their nationality, became the victims of unreasonable violence," the report reads.
"The Nazis, unlike in some other countries, did not succeed in exciting Estonians to annihilate other national groups," the authors state, referring to archive documents.
The leader of the report's research group is Vello Salo (born Endel Vaher). The White Book also included contributions from Estonian experts Enn Sarv, Kalev Kukk, Rein Ratas and Aigi Rahi-Tamm.
During World War II, Salo fought on the German as a soldier of the Estonian Division from 1944 to 1945, after which he changed his name to save his family from repression. In 1948 Salo became a Catholic priest. Twenty-eight years later, he moved to Canada where he created radio broadcasts from the Vatican in Estonian and was the editor of several Catholic magazines. He left Canada in 1993 to live in Estonia.
Until a week ago, Salo has been living as a German citizen in Estonia on a residence permit. The 78- year-old researcher, who is now a priest of the Pirita monastery in Tallinn, received Estonian citizenship this week after the local media drew attention to his status.
Salo told the daily Postimees that research for the White Book, which being based on a particular time period is still incomplete, could be continued should the necessary funding be available.
So far, most Estonian MPs and interested experts have been using a digital copy of the report as the amount of hard copies - existing only as printouts in paperback covers - are few. However the report, currently available in Estonian on the Web site of Parliament (www.riigikogu.ee) as an appendix to bill 373 OE, will likely be translated into English and possibly other languages.
Center Party MP Siiri Oviir, deputy chairperson of Parliament's Constitutional Committee, said there are several options as to how the report can be used. These mostly depend on the ruling coalition's intentions.
"For me there was nothing new in the report. Those who were interested have been following the work of the commission. This work was merely published recently, and that news was used by the ruling coalition," said Oviir.
In her words, the Estonian Parliament has been dealing with issues on the occupation consequences since the restoration of independence.
"For example, the regulation on how to calculate the retirement pension for people who suffered from the occupation was approved about a decade ago," she said, adding that the report's conclusions shouldn't be doubted.
"The Salo commission works on a wide expert basis. We could not trust anything in our state if we checked the work of one commission with another," said Oviir.
Parliament is discussing to meet with Russian and German representatives in connection with the report conclusions, the MP added. However, she doesn't believe that Estonia will get any compensation.
In the past, Germany has compensated Estonian residents who suffered in World War II through a foundation in Belarus. Russia, however, hasn't paid Estonians anything.
Andres Herkel, MP of the Pro Patria Union and member of the Constitutional Committee, confirmed that in addition to containing new information, the report has significantly more details on certain cases.
"Before the report, there was only very rough data on Estonia's population losses [during the occupation]. As of today, the number provided in the report is most trustworthy," Herkel said.
He added that the report's value lies in the variety of related topics - such as culture and the environment - that the data covers.
In Herkel's opinion, the White Book is remarkable because it was prepared on the parliamentary level.
"I think that in the short term, taking into account the current political situation in Russia, it is unlikely that Russia will take any responsibility for the Soviet occupation in Estonia," Herkel concluded. "At the same time, according to the international law, we are dealing with clearly documented crimes and Estonia should not give up on raising this problem to the international level."
Herkel continued, "It would be extremely important to Estonia if Russia would take moral responsibility for the occupation and for its consequences in the Baltics."