Holocaust trials in Soviet Estonia

The best-known Holocaust trial in Estonian SSR was brought in 1961, by the local Soviet authorities against Estonian collaborators who had participated in the execution of the Holocaust during the Nazi German occupation (1941-1944). The accused were charged with murdering up to 5000 German and Czechoslovakian Jews and Gypsies near the Kalevi-Liiva concentration camp in 1942-1943. The public trial by the Supreme Court of the Estonian SSR was held in the Estonia Theatre in Tallinn and attended by a mass audience. All three defendants were convicted and sentenced to death, two of them were executed shortly after. The third defendant, Ain-Ervin Mere was tried in absentia and was not available for execution.

The accused

* Ain-Ervin Mere, commander of the Estonian Security Police (Group B of the Sicherheitspolizei) under the Estonian Self-Administration, was tried in absentia. Before the trial he was an active member of the Estonian community in England, contributing to Estonian language publications. ["Estonian State Archives of the Former Estonian KGB (State Security Committee) records relating to war crime investigations and trials in Estonia, 1940-1987" (manuscript RG-06.026) - United States Holocaust Memorial Museum - document available on-line through [http://www.ushmm.org/research/collections/search/finding_aid.php this query page] using document id "RG-06.026" - Also available at [http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=15937 Axis History Forum] - This list includes the evidence presented at the trial. It list as evidence several articles by Mere in Estonian language newspapers published in London] At the time of the trial he was however held in captivity, accused of murder. He was never deported [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=rL8cAAAAIAAJ&dq=%22extradition+to+estonia+was+refused+by&q=%22extradition+to+estonia+was+refused+by&pgis=1 "Masses and Mainstream", 1963] ] and died a free man in England in 1969.
* Ralf Gerrets, the deputy commandant at the Jägala camp
* Jaan Viik, "(Jan Wijk, Ian Viik)", a guard at the Jägala labor camp was singled out for prosecution Fact|date=June 2007 out of the hundreds of Estonian camp guards and police for his particular brutality.Weiss-Wendt, Anton (2003). [http://hgs.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/17/1/31 Extermination of the Gypsies in Estonia during World War II: Popular Images and Official Policies] . "Holocaust and Genocide Studies" 17.1, 31-61.] He was testified as throwing small children into the air and shooting them. He did not deny the charge. [http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/media_fi.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005448&MediaId=1970 Estonian policemen stand trial for war crimes] - Video footage at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum]
* A fourth accused, camp commandant, Aleksander Laak "(Alexander Laak)" was discovered in Canada but committed suicide.

The crimes

While the accused may have been involved in other crimes against humanity during the German occupation of Estonia, the trial focused on the events of September 1942. According to testimony of the survivors, at least two transports with about 2,100-2,150 people, arrived at the railway station at Raasiku, one from "Theresienstadt" (Terezin) with Czechoslovakian Jews and one from Berlin with German citizens. Around 1,700-1,750 people, mainly Jews, not selected for work at the Jägala camp were taken to Kalevi-Liiva and shot.

Transport "Be 1.9.1942" from "Theresienstadt" arrived at the Raasiku station on September 5, 1942, after a five day trip. [ [http://old.hrad.cz/kpr/holocaust/hist_zid_uk.html The Genocide of the Czech Jews] ] [http://www.levandehistoria.se/default.php?tid=955&ss=&id=45 De dödsdömda vittnar] "( [http://www.levandehistoria.se/default.php?tid=893&ss=&id=45 Transport Be 1.9.1942] )" sv icon] According to testimony by one of the accused, Gerretts, eight busloads of Estonian auxiliary police had arrived from Tallinn. A selection process was supervised by Ain-Ervin Mere, chief of Sicherheitspolizei in Estonia; those not selected for slave labor were sent by bus to an execution site near the camp. Later the police in teams of 6 to 8 men would execute the Jews by machine gun fire, on other hand, during later investigation some guards of camp denied participation of police and said that execution was done by camp personnel. On the first day a total of 900 people were murdered in this way. Gerrets told that he had fired a pistol at a victim who was still making noises in the pile of bodies. The whole operation was directed by Obersturmführer Heinrich Bergmann and Oberscharführer J. Geese. [http://www.epl.ee/?artikkel=316769 Jägala laager ja juutide hukkamine Kalevi-Liival] - Eesti Päevaleht March 30, 2006 et icon]

Usually able bodied men were selected to work on the oil shale mines in northeastern Estonia. Women, children, and old people would be executed on arrival. In the case "Be 1.9.1942" however, the only ones chosen for labor and to survive the war were a small group of young women who were taken through concentration camps in Estonia, Poland and Germany to Bergen- Belsen, where they were liberated. [ [http://www.bterezin.org.il/newsletter/dapey_59/eng59.doc From Ghetto Terezin to Lithuania and Estonia] ] Camp commandant Laak used the women as sex slaves, killing at least one who refused to comply. [ [http://iisrael.ee/js.php3?id=343 Omakaitse omakohus] - JERUUSALEMMA SÕNUMID et icon]

According to an article published by the journal "Contemporary European History" in 2001,

"In 1942, transports of Jews from other countries arrived, and their murder and incarceration in slave labour camps was organised and supervised by German and Estonian officials (including Mere and the German head of A-IV). The final acts of liquidating the camps, such as Klooga, which involved the mass-shooting of roughly 2,000 prisoners, were committed by Estonians under German command, that is by units of the 20.SS-Division and (presumably) the Schutzmannschaftsbataillon of the KdS. Survivors report that, during this period when Jewish slave labourers were visible, the Estonian population in part attempted to help the Jews by providing food and so on."Birn, Ruth Bettina (2001), [http://journals.cambridge.org/production/action/cjoGetFulltext?fulltextid=81766 Collaboration with Nazi Germany in Eastern Europe: the Case of the Estonian Security Police] . "Contemporary European History" 10.2, 181-198. P. 190-191.]

However, as 20.SS-Division was not formed before Spring 1944, actually a small portion of the Estonian Self-Defense participated in the events. [ [http://www.historycommission.ee/temp/conclusions.htm#crimiger1 Conclusions of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity] ]


A number of foreign witnesses were heard at the trial, including five women, who had been transported on "Be 1.9.1942" from Theresienstadt.

The verdict

"The accused Mere, Gerrets and Viik actively participated in crimes and mass killings that were perpetrated by the Nazi invaders on the territory of the Estonian SSR. In accordance with the Fascist racial theory, the Sicherheitspolizei and Sicherheitsdienst were instructed to exterminate the Jews and Gypsies. For that end in August-September 1941 Mere and his collaborators set up a death camp at Jägala, 30 km from Tallinn. Mere put Aleksander Laak in charge of the camp; Ralf Gerrets was appointed his deputy. On 5 September 1942 a train with approximately 1,500 Czechoslovak citizens arrived to the Raasiku railway station. Mere, Laak and Gerrets personally selected who of them should be executed and who should be moved to the Jägala death camp. More than 1,000 people, mostly children, the old, and the infirm, were translocated to a wasteland at Kalevi-Liiva where they were monstrously executed in a special pit. In mid-September the second troop train with 1,500 prisoners arrived to the railway station from Germany. Mere, Laak, and Gerrets selected another thousand victims that were condemned by them to extermination. This group of prisoners, which included nursing women and their new-born babies, were transported to Kalevi-Liiva where they were killed. In March 1943 the personnel of the Kalevi-Liiva camp executed about fifty Gypsies, half of which were under 5 years of age. Also were executed 60 Gypsy children of school age..."
::Quoted from the verdict passed on 11 March 1961, published in Немецко-фашистская оккупация в Эстонии. 1941-1944. Tallinn, 1963. Pages 53-54.

Original documents related to the Mere-Gerrets-Viik trial are to be found in Estonian State Archives - Party Archives Branch - ERA PA, Collection 129, boxes 63-70.

Tartu trials

In January 1962 another trial was held in Tartu. Juhan Jüriste, Karl Linnas and Ervin Viks were accused of murdering 12,000 civilians in the Tartu concentration camp. They were sentenced to death. According to the official Soviet record of the trials, "the main culprit, Ervin Viks, fled the ire of the people and now lives in Australia, whereas Linnas found shelter in the USA".Немецко-фашистская оккупация в Эстонии. 1941-1944. Tallinn, 1963. Page 57.] The Soviet authorities demanded both be put on trial, but were flatly refused. In 1986 Linnas was finally deported to the USSR, after a federal appeals court had deemed evidence against him "overwhelming and largely uncontroverted."Charles R. Allen, Jr. "Patrick J. Buchanan: Master Holocaust Denier" ( [http://reformjudaismmag.net/1096ca.html online] )] The American judge remarked that his crimes "were such as to offend the decency of any civilized society." Linnas died in a Soviet prison hospital of old age.

During the trials in Tallinn and Tartu quite a few witnesses pointed out Heinrich Bergmann as the key figure behind the extermination of Estonian gypsies.



* [http://www.historycommission.ee/temp/conclusions.htm Conclusions of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity] - " [http://web-static.vm.ee/static/failid/051/1941-1944_ik.pdf Phase II: The German occupation of Estonia in 1941–1944] "

External links

* [http://www.destfor.de/defor_root/defor_deutsch/aktuelles_und_presse/2005_01_06/2005_05/holocaust_estland/holocaust_estland.htm The Holocaust and the concentration camps in Estonia] de icon - " [http://babelfish.altavista.com/babelfish/trurl_pagecontent?lp=de_en&trurl=http%3a%2f%2fwww.destfor.de%2fdefor_root%2fdefor_deutsch%2faktuelles_und_presse%2f2005_01_06%2f2005_05%2fholocaust_estland%2fholocaust_estland.htm English translation]
* Kalevi-Liiva on German Wikipedia de icon - " [http://babelfish.altavista.com/babelfish/trurl_pagecontent?lp=de_en&trurl=http%3a%2f%2fde.wikipedia.org%2fwiki%2fKalevi-Liiva English translation] "

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