Nazi war crimes in Estonia documented

  • 2001-05-03
  • BNS
TALLINN - An international committee on the investigation of crimes against humanity has found that the responsibility for most war crimes committed in Estonia in 1941-44 lies with the Nazi occupation authorities, and also the Estonians who took part in those crimes. The committee also found no facts to serve as grounds to accuse Harry Mannil, a Venezuelan businessman of Estonian origin, of war crimes.

Mannil was accused of participating in crimes against humanity by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Mannil himself has repeatedly refuted all such allegations. Several Estonian politicians have declared they believe Mannil is innocent.

At the end of March, the Estonian security police took criminal action on the basis of a statement by Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to resume investigations into the activities of Harry Mannil.

The center claimed in its letter to the Estonian prime minister's office that the U.S. Department of Justice special investigation bureau has documentary proof of Mannil's participation in the persecution and murder of civilians during World War II in Tallinn.

Estonians can be called victims of World War II, but this does not justify crimes committed by the Estonians, the head of the committee, Max Jakobson, told reporters on April 27.

According to the committee, German forces killed between 950 and 1,000 Estonian Jews during the Nazi occupation. The execution of Jews was the responsibility of the German army special commando 1A under Martin Strandberg.

Nearly 75 percent of Estonian Jews left for the Soviet Union before the Nazis' arrival. Almost all the remaining Jews were killed by the Nazis by the end of 1941.

Besides Estonian Jews, the Nazis brought to concentration camps in this country Jews from Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Germany and Poland. However, the committee did not succeed in establishing the exact number of Jews brought to Estonia from other countries.

The Nazis selected about 3,000 Jews who were unable to work from among those kept in the Jagala concentration camp in 1942-43 and executed them at Kalevi-Liiva. The commandant of the camp was the Estonian Aleksander Laak.

In 1944 the Nazis killed 2,000 Jews at a concentration camp in Klooga, says the report.

The Nazi forces also killed 243 Estonian Gypsies. The committee was unable to establish the precise number of Gypsies deported to Estonia from outside, but the total number of Gypsies executed in Estonia was somewhere between 400 and 1,000.

The Nazis killed about 7,000 civilians of other nationalities in Estonia, including 6,000 Estonians. Most of the executions took place in spring 1942, and in most cases the civilians were accused of collaboration with the communists.

In 1941-44 the Nazis brought back to Estonia nearly 30,000 Soviet prisoners of war, of whom about half died. It did not appear from the documents the committee used in drawing up its report how many of the prisoners of war were killed and how many of them died of disease.

The committee established that the Nazis also transported large numbers of slaves into Estonia, but there are no accurate data about them.

The committee also made it clear that many Estonians took part in war crimes outside Estonia. Estonian police battalions were involved in escorting deported Jews in Belarus, Poland and Lithuania, and the Estonian police battalion took part in a mass execution of Jews in Novogrudok in Belarus.

According to the committee, just as much responsibility for the activities of the Nazi occupation authorities lies with the members of Estonia's provisional government of the period.

In this connection, the report published eight names - Hjalmar Mae, Oskar Angelus, Alfred Wendt, Otto Leesment, Hans Saar, Oskar Opik, Arnold Radik and Johannes Soodla.

It also mentions the leaders of the political police, Ain-Ervin Mere, Julius Ennok, Ervin Viks and Evald Mikson, whose signatures appear on several execution verdicts. And the committee names the commandants of concentration camps in Tartu, Tallinn and Jagala, respectively Karl Linnas, Aleksander Koolmeister and Aleksander Laak.

The International Committee on the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity was called on the initiative of President Lennart Meri in 1998. It divided its investigation of the crimes into three periods: the crimes of the Soviet occupation authorities in 1940-41, Nazi crimes in 1941-44 and Soviet crimes after 1944.

The committee began its investigations with 1941-44, as that period has been the most thoroughly studied. The report released last week is preliminary, and the committee hopes to bring out a fully edited version by the end of this year.