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