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