Approximately 4,500 Jews lived in Estonia before World War II, with roughly half living in Tallinn. The pre-war community in Estonia enjoyed cultural autonomy and state financial support. Following the Soviet occupation in June 1940, about half of Estonia’s Jews left the country, fleeing the Soviets. In June 1941, Soviet authorities deported about 400 Jews to the interior of Russia. When Nazi Germany occupied Estonia later that summer, some 1,000 Jews remained in Estonia. They were arrested and killed by the Nazi German occupying powers, together with Estonian auxiliaries, over the course of 1941; by January 1942, the Nazis declared Estonia judenfrei, or free of Jews, at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin.
About 1,500 Jews from Tallinn returned to Estonia after World War II. By 1959, there were 3,714 Jews in the city, including many from other parts of the Soviet Union. Many Jews subsequently left Estonia in the 1990s, and the community now consists of between 2,000 and 2,500 people. There are currently 11 Holocaust survivors living in the country; they receive pensions from the Estonian government but no special compensation as Holocaust survivors.
The Government of Estonia expressed its commitment to meeting the goals and objectives of the Terezin Declaration. Estonia has no restitution legislation specific to the Holocaust. The country’s Jewish community owned little property before World War II, and any resulting communal or private property claims have been generally resolved through existing legislation. There are no residence or citizenship requirements for filing restitution claims. U.S. citizen claimants may contact the Estonian embassy in Washington, DC, regarding any outstanding claims. The government provides access to archives and supports Holocaust remembrance in the education system.
Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property
There are no known outstanding property claims. Before World War II, Jews enjoyed cultural autonomy in Estonia, and received support directly from the state. This support was not necessarily faith-based and included funds for cultural activities such as language and sports programming. The Jewish community (and churches) owned few religious or communal properties and mostly rented from private landowners. The properties that the community owned were seized once Estonia faced Soviet occupation. After regaining its independence, Estonia enacted the Principles of Ownership Reform Act in 1991, allowing for property claims beginning with the Soviet occupation in 1940, pre-dating the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation. The law therefore covers both Nazi and Soviet expropriations. Both the Jewish community and other religious communities either had their property returned or received compensation, such as for the land under the Jewish School in Tallinn. Estonia has not addressed heirless property.
Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art, Judaica, and Jewish Cultural Property
There are no known claims outstanding regarding Nazi-confiscated or looted art in Estonia. According to the World Jewish Restitution Organization, no provenance research has been carried out on Judaica holdings in Estonia’s cultural institutions. The country has not endorsed the 1998 Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Artwork.
Access to Archival Documents
Claimants have access to archival documents that could be relevant to proving ownership. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has had good cooperation with Estonian archives, but there are no active projects between the museum and Estonia at this time.
Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites
Estonia joined the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2007. Since joining, awareness of Holocaust issues in the country has increased considerably. Senior government leaders participate in International Holocaust Remembrance Day events and other significant commemorations, such as the September anniversary of the murders of approximately 2,000 prisoners at the Klooga concentration camp between 1943 and 1944.
The government supports Holocaust education. Lessons on the Holocaust are an integral and mandatory part of the Estonian school curriculum, as directed by the Ministry of Education and Research. Educators participate in regular educational exchanges on Holocaust issues in Israel and the United States.