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Texts and illustrations of the open air exhibition of the Estonian History Museum The Klooga camp and the holocaust

Webpage of the Estonian History Museum

Olev Liivik. “Establishment and Evolution of the Klooga Holocaust Memorial”  – Methodical Materials “Holocaust Commemoration in the Baltics”, Riga 2016



The Holocaust memorial in Klooga underwent extensive restoration in 2013 before the Estonian History Museum outdoor exhibition The Klooga camp and the Holocaust was opened to visitors. The open air exhibition was prepared in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Estonia and the Jewish Community of Estonia. The exhibition provides an overview of the Holocaust in Estonia and elsewhere in Europe, as well as of the Klooga concentration camp, the mass murder of 19 September 1944 and the commemoration of the victims. The huge concrete blocks bearing the exhibition texts (in Estonian, English and Russian) symbolise the Klooga concentration camp – the prisoners manufactured, among other things, concrete elements for the military industry of Nazi-Germany. The authors of the architectural part of the exhibition areMari Rass and Diana Taalfeld. A number of concrete blocks, which are merged with the landscape, are tied into a whole by individual monuments erected at different times, creating a modern, architecturally diverse and visitor-friendly environment.

Curator: Olev Liivik
Consultants: Ruth Bettina Birn, Tõnis Liibek, Meelis Maripuu
Language editor: Hille Saluäär
Translation into English and Russian: Refiner Translations OÜ
English language editor: Ruth Bettina Birn
Russian language editor: Einar Värä
Architectural design: Mari Rass, Diana Taalfeld, Jüri Rass (EA Reng AS)
Graphic design: AKU
Construction works: KRTL OÜ / Lemminkäinen Eesti AS
Project managers: Sirje Karis, Heinu Klaas, Inge Laurik-Teder

Opening ceremony of the exhibition The Klooga camp and the Holocaust on 16th of September 2013. Photo: Vahur Lõhmus. Estonian History Museum
The exhibition The Klooga camp and the Holocaust. Photo: Vahur Lõhmus. Estonian History Museum

Source: The exhibition The Klooga camp and the Holocaust, 2013


The first memorial service for the victims of the Klooga massacre was held on 7 October 1944. The remains of the victims were buried in two mass graves in the vicinity of the pyres. The gravesite was surrounded by a stone wall and a tombstone with the epitaph “To the Everlasting Memory of the Victims of Fascism” was erected in 1951. The tombstone was fitted with commemorating plaques execrating the perpetrators, who were called ‘fascist murderers’ and ‘enemies of the Soviet people’, while the victims were referred to as ‘Soviet citizens’.

The Klooga monument was one of the first in Soviet Estonia commemorating the victims of fascism. Official memorial meetings were held at the site several times a year. The Holocaust was mentioned neither there nor elsewhere in the Soviet Union. The survivors and relatives of those who had perished in the Klooga camp were neither invited nor welcome to participate in those meetings. A group of former Klooga prisoners from Israel visited the site for the first time in May of 1989. Talk began of the need for a monument to the victims of the Holocaust, since the one erected in 1951 carried a message of Soviet ideology instead of commemorating the Holocaust victims. In 1994, shortly after the restoration of Estonia’s independence, the plaques on the monument were replaced at the request of the Jewish community in Estonia to restore the truth about the nationality of the victims. The Soviet red star at the top of the monument was removed in 1994 and replaced by the Star of David in 2013.  

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Klooga mass murder, a monument to all Jews murdered in Estonia in 1941–1944 was erected about a hundred meters from the existing tombstone. This was the first memorial in Estonia to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. A third monument was erected in Klooga in 2005 to commemorate all Jews who were killed or died in the Klooga concentration camp. The memorial is located approximately a couple of hundred of meters to the south of the prior monument to the victims of the Holocaust.

Soviet postcard with the image of the tombstone of the victims of a mass murder. Harju County Museum
Memorial to all Jews murdered in Estonia in 1941–1944. Photo: Olev Liivik
Memorial stone to the Jews who were killed or died in the Klooga concentration camp. Photo: Olev Liivik


After killing the prisoners and burning the bodies, the camp leadership left Klooga for Paldiski harbour to be evacuated to Germany late on the night of 19 September 1944. The camp guards were removed on the night of 20 September and the Estonian guard company also left. Most of the Jews who had escaped the killing hid for days in the camp’s barracks, being too afraid to go outside during the day. The stench from the burning bodies spread far and this brought the first witnesses to the site. News of the mass murders spread among the local population and among war refugees fleeing to the west coast of Estonia ahead of the advancing front. Many refugees took this terrible memory with them to the free world.

The Red Army first arrived in Klooga on 22 September 1944. The Soviet authorities formed an extraordinary state commission of the Estonian SSR led by the People’s Commissar of Justice Aleksander Jõeäär to investigate the event. Already by the end of September, an inquiry into the Klooga mass murder had begun. The commission found much evidence. Some of the bodies had not completely burned on the pyres. The other murder site, the half-built building, had been razed to its foundations. A lot of bones and human remains were found there, but because of the fire it was impossible to determine the precise number of victims. The extraordinary commission was able to identify the remains of 491 bodies from all the execution sites. The inquiry established that the number of victims could have between 1,800 and 2,000.

Klooga concentration camp was among the first sites in the world where the horrors of the Holocaust were documented. The Soviet authorities brought a hand-picked group of selected foreign journalists to the site and as a result photographs of Klooga reached the Western world.

A funeral ceremony for the victims of the mass murder was held on 7 October 1944. German POWs were forced to dig two long, deep graves in the sandy hill near the burned pyres, and the bodies were gathered together and buried there. The site of the grave was surrounded by a stone wall, and in 1951, a memorial stone was erected there (architect: Ants Mellik).

The horror of what happened was described in detail in the Soviet media in late 1944 and early 1945, and on many occasions after the war. From the very beginning, for ideological reasons, it was not mentioned that the camp inmates were Jews. The victims were called anonymous “Soviet citizens”, but in fact, most of them had never been citizens of the Soviet Union.

Estonian SSR Communist Party leader Nikolai Karotamm listening to explanations by Doctor Voldemar Saulin, a member of the commission formed to investigate the mass murder. September 1944. National Archives of Estonia
German prisoners of war carrying burned bodies to the burial site. September-October 1944. Estonian History Museum
German prisoners of war finishing the digging of graves for the victims of the mass murder. September-October 1944. National Archives of Estonia


On 17 September 1944, it became known that the departure of the German forces from mainland Estonia was imminent. The personnel working in the occupation administration in Tallinn and north-west Estonia were given five days to evacuate from Tallinn or Paldiski harbours. The armed forces were ordered to retreat marching south towards Riga or over the Moonsund straits to the western Estonian islands.

In Klooga, on 19 September 1944 at 5 am, the prisoners were assembled as usual outside the women’s barracks. The camp commandant SS-Untersturmführer Werle announced to the approximately 2,000 inmates that they were to be evacuated to Germany. But in fact the ships were already full and the decision to kill the Jews had been made. It is not known who decided the execution.

After a few hours, 300 of the strongest male prisoners were selected, supposedly to carry out the evacuation. They were forced to carry logs to a clearing in the forest roughly one kilometre from the camp, where four pyres, each measuring 6 x 6.5 metres, were prepared for burning the bodies.

To maintain a sense of calm, the daily routine was adhered to and at lunchtime the prisoners waiting in the assembly area were given soup. Meanwhile, camp security was strengthened. The gates were blocked with trucks and everywhere the movement of soldiers was apparent. After lunch six strong men were chosen to load two barrels of fuel onto the trucks. This was probably later poured over the dead bodies.

The mass execution of the Jews began at 5 pm. The victims were marched under guard in groups of 50 to 100. First the men, then the women were taken from the camp to the clearing and ordered to lie face down on the pyres. They were killed by a shot in the back of the head. Those who attempted to escape were shot and died in the forest. The bodies covered the length of the pyre tightly packed together. When the first level was filled with bodies, logs were laid over them forming the next layer. There were three to four layers altogether. Three of the prepared pyres were used, while the fourth remained unused. When it got dark the pyres were lit.

A small number of prisoners were killed only a few hundred metres from the centre of the concentration camp in a half-built wooden building. About 30 to 50 people were brought to the building, dragged inside one-by-one, forced to the floor and shot in the back of the head. Late that night the building, with the bodies inside, was burned to the ground.

Last of all, camp inmates who performed specific functions – hairdressers, cooks, shoemakers and others, a total of 79 people – were killed on the ground floor of the women’s barracks. It is believed that Estonian or Russian prisoners were among them, but conclusive information about this is unavailable. Several dozen prisoners managed to hide, mostly in the attic of the men’s block, and survived. According to Soviet sources of the time, a total of 108 prisoners survived the mass murder.

The killing of the Jews was organised and supervised by German senior camp personnel, but a special commando of German SS-members arrived from Tallinn to carry out the shooting itself. The 3rd Company of the 287th Police Battalion, formed of Estonians, guarded the perimeter of the camp during the mass murder. In addition, camp security was strengthened with the help of a few dozen men of the 20th Waffen-SS Estonian Reserve and Training Regiment, who were stationed nearby.

Murdered Jews in the women’s block of the prisoners’ quarters. September 1944. National Archives of Estonia
Pyres with burned bodies. In the distance: members of the extraordinary commission formed to investigate the mass murder in Klooga. September 1944. National Archives of Estonia
A pyre that never burned. September 1944. National Archives of Estonia

Source: The exhibition Klooga camp and the Holocaust, 2013


The first prisoners were brought to Klooga between September and November of 1943. The camp was originally intended for approximately 2,000 prisoners and throughout its operation the number of inmates remained relatively stable at 1,800 to 2,100. The relocation of prisoners from one camp to another within the Vaivara camp system was constant. In total close to 3,000 Jews may have passed through the Klooga camp. Most of them came from the ghettoes of Vilnius and Kaunas, and to a lesser extent from Latvia. More women than men passed through the camp.

Unlike other sub-camps in the Vaivara network, the Klooga camp had brick buildings with separate quarters for men and women, and there was running water. The inmates had their own hospital with doctors, who were themselves prisoners. This made living conditions, especially during the winter months, slightly better than in the other camps, where prisoners lived in temporary barracks. Therefore, word spread among the other camps, whose inmates worked in the oil shale mines and industry, that Klooga was a relatively “good” camp.

On the camp grounds was a sawmill, a concrete factory and a number of various workshops. About 200 metres from the workshops stood a separate barracks for POWs, surrounded by barbed wire. The inmates were under the command of the Organisation “Todt”. They worked in the sawmill and produced concrete submarine signal mines for the navy.

For prisoners, the day began at 5 am, when they lined up in the square outside the women’s block. The working day began at 6 am and lasted until 6 pm, with a one-hour lunch break. The Jews were formed into groups of 100. Each group was assigned a foreman by the Germans.

The supply of food was poor. Breakfast consisted of coffee; during the day they were allowed 350g of bread and German margarine; for lunch they had one litre of groat soup and once a week they were given 25g sugar or marmalade. The 12-hour workday was more than the under-nourished prisoners could bear. In some cases they worked alongside wage-earning Estonians, which provided contact with the local population. Due to this, it is known that on many occasions, according to their means and despite the difficult wartime conditions, locals tried to help the Jews with food and by making contact with friends and relatives of the prisoners who were in other camps

A group of Jews who survived the Klooga camp in front of the prisoners’ quarters. Estonian History Museum
Benjamin Anolik, a survivor from the Klooga camp, demonstrating to representatives of the USSR the work that had to be done in the camp. September 1944. Yad Vashem Photo Archive
The rack that was used to punish Klooga prisoners. September 1944. Estonian History Museum


Klooga was one of the largest sub-camps of the Vaivara concentration camp and operated for the longest period – from September of 1943 to 19 September 1944. Unlike most of the Vaivara camps, Klooga had no connection to the shale oil industry in Eastern Estonia, and the prisoners were primarily employed in production of military importance – the timber and concrete industries.

The camp was established in September of 1943 near the village of Klooga. During the preceding occupation by the Soviets (1940–1941), the area had been turned into a sealed off military area. In the period of German occupation, the German “Organisation Todt”, a state-run engineering and construction company, established a camp in Klooga. Before the arrival of Jewish inmates, civilian workers were employed and to a lesser extent Soviet POWs and ordinary criminal prisoners.

Later, a camp for the Estonian Waffen-SS Training and Reserve Regiment was established near the Klooga camp. Ingrian Finns and Russians from Leningrad oblast were evacuated from the front and brought to Klooga in the winter of 1943/44. These evacuees were not prisoners like the Jews, but lived in a separate refugee camp in Klooga, and in camps in the nearby villages of Põllküla, Laoküla and Paldiski.

The Klooga camp was surrounded by a four-metre-high barbed wire fence. The area of the camp was approximately 1,000 x 500 metres with three two-storey brick buildings in the middle. Two of these were surrounded by barbed wire and used to accommodate inmates. The third housed the camp office and administration.

The commander of the Vaivara concentration camp was SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Aumeier, who had previously served at the Auschwitz concentration camp. The commandant of the Klooga sub-camp was a junior SS-officer, who had two deputies and also two or three SS staff members. In 1944, before the camp was disbanded, the camp commandant was SS-Untersturmführer Wilhelm Werle. The Klooga camp guards were mostly members of the 3rd Company of the 287th Police Battalion, formed from among Estonian conscripts in 1943.

When the Red Army re-conquered Estonia in August of 1944 from German troops, more than 3,000 Jews in the easternmost camps of the Vaivara complex were evacuated to Stutthof concentration camp. Before escaping to the west via Paldiski harbour near Klooga, the senior staff of Vaivara concentration camp gathered at Klooga to organise the mass murder of the remaining prisoners in Estonia.

The gate of the Klooga camp with the sign “O. T. Betriebe Klooga”. The Klooga labour camp was under the jurisdiction of the Todt Organisation. September 1944. National Archives of Estonia
Barbed wire that enclosed the Klooga camp. September 1944. National Archives of Estonia


Before World War II, approximately 4,400 Jews lived in Estonia. In June of 1941, up to 400 Estonian Jews were among the approximately 10,000 Estonians deported to Siberia by the order of the highest leadership of the USSR. After war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out in June of 1941, nearly 3,000 Jews were evacuated from Estonia to the Soviet Union. Up to the end of 1941, approximately 1,000 Jews, who remained in their homeland, were arrested by the order of the German occupation authorities. Estonian police forces under the command of the German Security Police and SD carried out their arrest, subsequent interrogation and registration. By the beginning of 1942, all arrested Jews had been secretly executed by the order of the German Security Police and SD. Only a few individuals managed to hide until the end of the war. In a report dated 31 January 1942 by the chief of the Security Police and SD in Ostland Walter Stahlecker, who was responsible for the extermination of the Jewish population in the Baltic countries,  Estonia was declared to be “free of Jews”.

In September of 1942 and during 1943–1944, an estimated 12,500 Jews were brought to Estonia from Germany and occupied countries. Of these, only approximately 100 were still alive in Estonia after the German retreat. An estimated 7,000–8,000 Jews died or were killed in Estonia, while over 4,600 were taken to camps in other countries, where the majority of them perished.

The German Security Police was in charge of the 1942 deportations to Estonia. In September of 1942, approximately 1,000 Jews from the Terezín (Theresienstadt) ghetto in Bohemia arrived by train at Raasiku station. Shortly thereafter, approximately the same number of Jewish deportees arrived from Frankfurt am Main and Berlin in Germany. Four to five hundred younger people were placed in camps administrated by the security police, among others in Jägala camp near Tallinn. The remainder (approximately 1,600) were killed on the day that the echelons arrived at the Kalevi-Liiva military training site, located near Raasiku. Estonian camp guards and policemen  participated in the mass-shooting.

A total of 1,800–2,000 people were killed at Kalevi-Liiva, not only Jewish deportees, but probably also several dozen Estonian Roma. When the Jägala camp was disbanded in 1943, the prisoners were sent to other camps in Estonia. At least 74 of these survived the war. In June of 1944, approximately 300 men from the Drancy transit camp in France (known as “Convoy 73”) were sent to a camp in Tallinn run by security police. In September, the 34 survivors were evacuated to Stutthof concentration camp (nowadays in Poland).

Starting in August of 1943, a large group of Jews was deported to Vaivara concentration camp, which was composed of nearly 20 subsidiary camps and was subordinated to the command of the SS Main Economic and Administrative Department (SS Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt) in Berlin. Vaivara concentration camp operated until September of 1944. Vaivara concentration camp had approximately 10,000 Jewish inmates and a large part of them performed slave labour in the shale oil industry in Eastern Estonia. Most of them were deported in 1943 from ghettos in Lithuania, others came from Latvia and, in 1944, some from territories controlled by Hungary. Nearly one third of the inmates died in Estonia as a result of the severe conditions, or of being deemed unfit for work and then being sent to other camps where they were executed. Another third was evacuated in August of 1944 to Stutthof concentration camp, and the remaining third were murdered when the camp was disbanded. The last couple of thousand inmates of the Vaivara camp system were sent to Klooga; only 100 or so managed to escape the final mass-murder on 19 September 1944.

Selle pildi alt-atribuut on tühi. Failinimi on 7003_108.jpg
After the liquidation of the Kaunas Ghetto in the autumn of 1943, young Jews and those deemed fit to work were sent to the Vaivara concentration camp. Yad Vashem Photo Archive
The Kiviõli labour camp of the Vaivara concentration camp in 1944. National Archives of Estonia
Source: The exhibition Klooga camp and the Holocaust, 2013


The Holocaust was the systematic persecution and mass murder of European Jewry during World War II by Nazi Germany.

The Holocaust was based on Nazi ideology, which proclaimed the Nordic Aryan race to be a superior race, embodied in the German people. The Jews were seen as the antithesis of the Aryan race and, therefore, the eternal enemy. This ideology was used as the justification for the systematic repression and physical annihilation of Jewish people. Nazi ideology was also the foundation for the persecution and mass-murder of European Roma, as well as the repression of politically or socially defined groups.

From 1933 on, when the National Socialists came to power in Germany, they began to implement their political and ideological aims in Germany. Jews were segregated from the non-Jewish population, their political, social and economical rights curtailed. State-sponsored violence against Jews culminated in a pogrom in November of 1938 (often referred to as “Crystal Night”). In this period, Nazi policy aimed at forcing Jews to leave Germany. However, it was difficult to find countries which would admit them. But the majority of German Jews and, after 1938, Austrian Jews managed to emigrate.

The outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939 allowed Nazi Germany to extend its discriminatory policies to large Jewish minorities of the occupied territories in Eastern Europe, including legislation requiring the wearing of a “Yellow Star”; which two years later was introduced in Germany proper. In Poland, Jews became subject to mass murder, expulsion and deportation. The beginning of the war between Germany and the USSR in the summer of 1941 marked a further radicalisation of the policy against Jews and their systematic annihilation. The Jewish population of all of Europe was the final target of the Nazis. This is apparent in the protocol of the Wannsee Conference in January of 1942, which was held to organize cooperation between various German government authorities concerning the annihilation of Jews. In many countries the genocide developed in stages – from segregation of the Jewish population, expropriation of their property, ghettoisation and finally, deportation to extermination camps, which had been established by the General Gouvernement in a part of occupied Polish territory.

During 1942, labour shortages led to a shift in German policies. While the aim to destroy the Jewish population remained, their labour capacity needed to be exploited before their extermination to support the war effort. To this end, selections of stronger and weaker inmates were conducted in camps; the latter were designated for annihilation at once.

During World War II, an estimated 5.5 – 6 million Jews fell victim to the Nazi regime. After the defeat of Germany these crimes became public. The extent and brutality of the Holocaust continues to shock the world to this day and has had a considerable impact on post-war international law.

Jews shovelling snow in the Riga Ghetto. All the Jews in Riga were forced to move to the Ghetto, which was established by the occupation authorities in the autumn of 1941 and existed until the autumn of 1943. Many Jews from other European countries were also brought there. Corbis/Scanpix
Jews being escorted to Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Corbis/Scanpix