Deportations from the Baltic Countries in 1940-1941

In all occupied territories or areas of influence, the Soviet government used deportation as a method of governance. During the Soviet occupation of 1940-1991, the peoples of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania became victims of forced deportation from their places of residence. Since the founding of the USSR in the early twentieth century, when the former territories of the Russian Empire fought for independence against the main enemy– the Red Army, these independent states have been Moscow’s geopolitical interest. It was however only in 1940 that the Soviet government was able to seize the Baltic States and establish communist control, which meant dictatorship, slavery, and deportations for the population.

In August 1939, Germany and the USSR signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact [1]. In a secret additional protocol to it [2], Estonia and Latvia ,were included in the Soviet area of interest. At the same time, Lithuania was in Germany’s area of influence. This document can be considered the starting point for the deportation processes in the territories of the three then-independent Baltic States.

In the book “One Hundred and Forty Conversations with Molotov,” by the Russian writer F. Chuev, this event is described as: “We [the Soviet leadership and Soviet Foreign Minister V. Molotov] solved the issue of the Baltic States, Western Ukraine, Western Belarus, and Bessarabia with Ribbentrop in 1939. The Germans were reluctant to accept that we would annex Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Bessarabia. When I [V. Molotov] was in Berlin a year later, in November 1940 [Molotov seems to have been talking about November 1939, rather than 1940, since the Baltic states had already been admitted to the USSR as “republics” in the beginning of August 1940.], Hitler asked me: ‘Okay, you’re putting Ukrainians and Belarusians together, okay, Moldovans, that’s still explicable, but how will you explain the whole world about the Baltic States?’. ‘We will explain it,’ I told him. Both the communists and the Baltic peoples supported joining the Soviet Union. Their ‘bourgeois’ leaders arrived in Moscow for negotiations, but they refused to sign the accession to the USSR. In 1939, the Latvian foreign minister came to us, and I told him, ‘You won’t come back until you sign the accession to us’” [3, p. 15].

“The fate of the Baltic States was not theirs to decide. The invasion was planned ahead of time. In 1938-1939, the Soviet headquarters printed military maps on which our countries were designated as the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian SSRs. They did this in advance so that they would not have to reprint them later. All troop movements were based on these maps,” [4] — Vytautas Landsbergis, the first chairman of the Lithuanian parliament, said in 1990.

The process of occupation itself was gradual. It began at the end of September 1939, when Soviet warships appeared near the Baltic coast and airplanes began violating the airspace of all three countries to gather intelligence. In peacetime, Lithuania’s army was 28,000, Latvia’s 23,000, and Estonia’s 11,000. Soviet troops outnumbered the armies of the Baltic States. The Baltic States were in a vulnerable position during the first months of World War II. This pressure prompted their leadership to sign “military assistance pacts” with the Soviet Union in September-October  1939. Under these agreements, the USSR set up bases in the Baltic States and sent about 75,000 of its soldiers there.

Within half a year, at the end of May 1940, under the cover of trainings, Soviet forces concentrated near the borders of the Baltic States. The military group included about 435,000 people, up to 8,000 guns and mortars, more than 3,000 tanks, over 500 armored vehicles, and 2,601 aircraft. Shortly after, on June 15, the Soviet army entered the territory of Lithuania, and two days later, on June 17, it occupied Latvia and Estonia, as agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. [1]. Thus, the USSR was able to achieve domination over the Baltic States, which it had sought from its inception. There were some cases of resistance to the occupation on the part of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian population, but there was no organized warfare.  The population was dissatisfied with the communist government and protested. As in previous cases of occupation of independent countries, the USSR used various methods of tyranny against those who disagreed with its policy. Persecution, imprisonment, extermination, and most often forced deportation to the Russian Siberia and Far East  were among the most common administrative marks of the USSR.

The Central Committee of the CPSU (b) and the USSR Council of People’s Commissars issued Secret Decree No. 1299-526 on May 14, 1941, titled “On the Expulsion of Socially Alien Elements from the Baltic Republics, Western Ukraine, Western Belarus, and Moldova”. [All these Soviet formulations were intended to formulate opinions about the deported people as enemies of their people, but in fact – were used by the Soviet authorities as an ideological tools in the fight against the normal society, elite of these countries.] This document mentioned categories of people from Estonia Latvia, Lithuania to be deported:

  1. Members of counter-revolutionary organizations and their families;
  2. Former gendarmes, police and prison commanders, as well as ordinary police officers and prison staff, if they have compromising materials on them;
  3. Former landlords, traders (with an annual turnover of more than 150 thousand lats), former manufacturers (with an annual turnover of more than 200 thousand lats) and former senior officials of the bourgeois government;
  4. Former officers with compromising materials (including those who served in the territorial corps of the Red Army);
  5. Family members of individuals sentenced to death or who joined counter-revolutionary organizations;
  6. Individuals who arrived from Germany as part of repatriation or left for Germany, if they have compromising materials;
  7. Refugees from Poland if they refused to accept Soviet citizenship;
  8. Criminal elements if they continue their criminal activities;
  9. Police-registered prostitutes, if they continue their previous activities.

The decree noted that compromising materials should be understood as materials about anti-Soviet activities or ties with foreign intelligence services [9, 167].

The number of people deported from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia is not certain. According to the NKVD plan of June 11, 1941, there were 46,557 families, 4,159 criminal offenders, and 794 prostitutes, i.e., a total of 74,395 people. This figure includes 13,780 people who were deported for political reasons and their families, as well as 691 criminals and prostitutes from Estonia.


Occupation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania by the Soviet Union. The blockade of the coast by the navy and the operation of the ground forces in mid-June 1940: Estonian Institute of Historical Memory. https://mnemosyne.ee/

Deportation from Estonia

After the rapid invasion of Estonia, the Soviet occupation authorities first removed members of the country’s government. Among the first to be deported in 1940 were the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Johan Laidoner (July 19), and the president of the republic, Konstantin Päts (July 30). All former heads of state of Estonia also suffered. Four of them — Friedrich Karl Akel, Jüri Jaakson, Jaan Tõnisson and Jaan Teemant — were killed, and four others died in prison. Of the 78 former ministers, the occupation administration arrested 64. All employees of state bodies were replaced by Russians.

On June 14, 1941, the NKVD began the process of eviction after defining the categories of people who were subject to forced deportation. First, families that made up the elite of the Estonian nation were deported, including 2578 children. People were expelled from their homes, apartments or estates, property was confiscated and taken to the railroad. Estonians were put on a train and sent on a long journey to the Kirov and Tomsk regions in Russia. Due to inadequate preparation for the journey and terrible transportation conditions, thousands died on the way. Many deportees died in the first days after arriving at the settlements due to hunger and illness caused by the difficulties of adapting to the new climate and inhuman living conditions.

A telegram sent from Moscow to Riga on June 13, 1941, was found among the documents left over after the Red Army retreated from Latvia. It stated that the planned number of deportees from Estonia was 11,102 [12, p. 366].

  The testimonies of the victims of deportation confirm that the deportation was conducted aggressively. Johan Vaabel (born in 1939) describes the deportation of his family to Siberia: “My family and I were taken from Mulgimaa (a historical region in southern Estonia) on June 14, 1941. My father August Vaabel, my grandmother Lena Vaabel, my mother Helma Vaabel, and me. We were sent to the village of Kosotyapka in Tomsk Oblast, Russia. My father was taken away from us and sent to the Gulag, where he died at the age of 38. I received information about life in this camp from Mats Laarman. Everything in the camp was organized in such a way that you could only live for six months. Those who survived longer were given some form of forest work. They deliberately sent them there on foot by the longest road, and when they saw that the person was likely to die soon, they sent them to walk through the swamp. If the direct path was five kilometers, it was eight kilometers through the swamp. They hoped that a person would die on the road, in the swamp area. The dead bodies were piled up like firewood. During the spring floods, they drowned there… After a while, my mother and I received a permit, and we settled in the village of Novososnovka, Chayinsky district, Tomsk region of Russia. There was a relatively large number of Estonians…” [10].

    Vello Malken (born in 1938) recalls: “My father was taken away when I was 3.5 years old. He was a veteran of the Estonian War of Independence… In the morning, on June 14, 1941, a car arrived, and the Soviet soldiers told my father that he had two hours to pack. We were being evicted to Siberia. The Soviet soldiers advised us to pack winter clothes, non-perishable food, and tools such as drills and hammers. On the way, our train was severely delayed because the Germans were already advancing on the territory of the Soviet Union… When we reached the place of deportation in the Far East of Russia, my parents were forced to work on a collective farm with the deported ‘kulaks’. There were also many Lithuanians and Estonians there. The first winter was the hardest. The city council gave out one loaf of bread per person for week…” [11].

Photo of the President of the Republic of Estonia, Konstantin Päts, before and after his Soviet imprisonment. [6]

Deportation from Latvia

In June 1941, 15,400 Latvians were deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan by the Soviet authorities. This was the first mass deportation from Latvia [13]. It was carried out by the People’s Commissariat of National Security of the LSSR with the support of LASCO, as well as the Baltic Headquarters of the Special Military District. At the same time, troops from the USSR convoy, the NKVD, and the police, as well as local party activists, were involved in this. As before, deportations were carried out mainly on class grounds — the people were accused of being counter-revolutionary and anti-Soviet. The wealthiest citizens of the former Republic of Latvia were also subjected to deportation.

Deportation of Latvian citizens on June 14, 1941. Source: https://militaryheritagetourism.info/ru/military/topics/view/59


Many Latvians were primarily arrested before deportation. A special session of the MCC of the USSR judged the prisoners to be shot or sentenced to terms in camps of 3 to 10 years. Some of those arrested and convicted to the death penalty were killed before the execution. More than 3400 citizens of the Republic of Latvia who were arrested on June 14, 1941, died in prisons.

Among those arrested were many villagers, who were repressed mainly as members of the Latvian Security Organization. People who survived their stay in prison, such as “filtration camps,” were exiled to the Krasnoyarsk Territory, Novosibirsk Region, and Northern Kazakhstan. There, they were forced to work in forestries, collective and state farms under the special command of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs. In total, more than 1900 deported Latvian citizens died in the camps [14].

1941 A deportation wagon at the Torniakalns station. Photo: Edgars Ražinskis.2021.
Source: https://militaryheritagetourism.info/ru/military/topics/view/59


Evidence of the inhumane treatment of people who were arrested and deported in the USSR can be found in the biographies of those who survived. For example, during the Soviet occupation of Latvia in June 1940, the Latvian Robert Purins (born in 1920) joined the national resistance movement Tēvijas Sargi (Guardians of the Fatherland). He was arrested on November 18, 1940, on the eve of Latvia’s Independence Day, for distributing anti-Soviet leaflets. When the Nazis were advancing on Soviet-occupied Latvia, he and other prisoners were evacuated to the interior of the USSR, first to Petropavlovsk and then to labor camps in Omsk. In 1943, Robert was released from the labor camp due to his dystrophy, which prevented him from working. He was then sent to the Kazakh SSR, where he lived for two years. In 1946, Robert returned to the Latvian SSR, but was arrested again in 1950 and deported to Siberia in 1951. He was able to return from deportation only in 1955 [15].

The fate of Robert Purin is not an exception. The Soviet authorities carried out an aggressive purge of the population of the occupied territories, repeatedly deporting, arresting, torturing, and exhausting, especially those who potentially or directly resisted the authorities.

Robert Purin – a photo from the NKVD criminal case files during his second arrest in Riga. Source: “Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.” [16]


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    Deportation in Lithuania

    The Soviet repressive authorities also conducted mass deportations of Lithuanian citizens. There are documents that record the deportation plans for the Lithuanian SSR. The summary data of June 6, 1941, shows that 15,692 people were arrested and deported according to the lists of the NKVD and NKGB [7]. A certificate on the progress of preparations for deportation from the Lithuanian SSR as of June 11, 1941, shows that 22,252 people were subject to deportation. However, on June 13-14, many more Lithuanians were deported. In total, 34,000 people [15].

    This is how Ms. Dalia Grinkevičiūtė, a woman who survived these terrible days, describes it: “On June 14, 1941, at three o’clock in the morning, mass arrests and deportations began simultaneously in all the Baltic countries — Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. On the orders of Moscow, Chekists from Belarus, Smolensk, Pskov, and other places were mobilized to perform this task. Eventually, the overcrowded trains moved eastward, transporting huge masses of people, most of whom were never to return. Teachers of primary and secondary schools, university professors, lawyers, journalists, families of Lithuanian soldiers, diplomats, various office workers, farmers, agronomists, doctors, businessmen, etc… I remember those who died in Trofimovsk (Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), modern Russian Federation): Teacher Staniskis from Kaunas, teacher Gediminas Balčys from Daugiai, Asmontienė, Lukosevičienė from Siauliai, Raibikienė from Kalvariai, Balazarienė from Kėdainiai, a twenty-five-year-old giant named Zabuka, twelve-year-old Jonukas Gedrikis from Marijampolė, Barniškienė, Mikoliunienė, young Baltokas, Volungevičius, Geleris, Klingmanienė, Krikštany from Kaunas. […] Many Lithuanians whose names I do not remember or have never even known lay in one mass grave. No fresh flowers were ever placed there, and no mourning music was ever played” [20].



    Almost all segments of the population were affected by the June Deportations that took place in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. These people were usually associated with the elites of their respective states. Although each Baltic country has different cultures, history and mentality, the tragic history of the Red Terror unites them. Thus, on June 14, each of the Baltic States celebrates a Memorial Day: in Estonia, it is the Day of Remembrance of the Deportation of June 14 (14 juuni küüditamise mälestuspäev), in Lithuania, the Day of Mourning and Hope (Gedulo ir vilties diena), and in Latvia, the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Communist Terror (Komunistiskā genocīda upuru piemiņas diena). [15].

    Deportees from the city of Varėna (southern Lithuania) work at a building. Grishevo, Irkutsk Oblast, 1953. Source: Center for the Study of Genocide and Resistance of Lithuanian Residents. [17]

    Deported at the distribution center in the village Buret, Irkutsk region. April 1949. [18]

    Джерела та література:

    1. 80 років тому радянські війська окупували країни Балтії. Після цього нові «народні уряди» Литви, Латвії та Естонії щонайперше попросилися до складу СРСР.URL:https://babel.ua/texts/45510-80-rokiv-tomu-radyanski-viyska-okupuvali-krajini-baltiji-pislya-cogo-novi-narodni-uryadi-litvi-latviji-ta-estoniji-shchonaypershe-poprosilisya-do-skladu-srsr.
    2. Опубликованы советские оригиналы Договора о ненападении между СССР и Германией. URL:http://historyfoundation.ru/2019/05/31/pakt/.
    3. Сто сорок бесед с Молотовым. Из дневника Ф. Чуева. М., «Терра», 1991.
    4. Петерс И., Шимов Я. Добровольно-принудительный захват.                URL: https://www.svoboda.org/a/27126685.html.
    5. Жертвы коммунизма в Эстонии 1940-1991. Камни с обозначением мест и информационные тексты. URL:https://www.memoriaal.ee/ru/kamni/#t3
    6. Имби П. Отвергнутые воспоминания. URL: https://history.wikireading.ru/12615
    7. Зведення про хід підготовки депортації з Литовської РСР станом на 6 червня 1941 р. // ЦА ФСБ. Ф. 3-ос. Оп. 8. Д. 44. Л. 338. Копія.
    8. Зведені дані про попередні підсумки депортації з Прибалтики. [15 або 16 червня 1941 р.] // ЦА ФСБ. Ф. 100. Оп. 6. Д. 5. Л. 170. Копія.
    9. Политика оккупационных властей в Латвии. 1939-1991: Сб. док. / Гос. архив Латвии; Отв. ред. Элмарс Пелкаус. — Рига: Nordik, 1999. 
    10.  A family being deported to Siberia in June 1941. Interview with Juhan Vaabel. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbGL4zii8_o. Sourse: Kogu Me Lugu Oral History Portal.
    11. A story of deportation of two teachers in 1941. Interview with Vello Malken. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVIb-BOeTgw. Sourse: Kogu Me Lugu Oral History Portal.
    12. Estonia 1940-1945. Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Againts Humanity. Tallinn, 2006.
    13. 14.06.1941 понад 15 400 латвійських громадян було депортовано з Латвії. Естонсько-латвійський проект транскордонного партнерства “Військова спадщина” URL:https://militaryheritagetourism.info/ru/military/topics/view/59
    14. 1941. gada 14. jūnija deportācija Latvijā. URL: https://www.vestnesis.lv/ta/id/25351
    15. Гулаг онлайн. Свидетели депортаций в странах Балтии. Роберт Пуринь. URL: https://gulag.online/people/roberts-purins?locale=ru
    16. Фото Роберта Пуріня зі слідчого діла НКВС. Зберігається у колекції Музею окупації Латвії. URL: https://okupacijasmuzejs.lv/
    17. Депортовані з міста Варени (Південна частина Литви) працюють на будівництві. Гришево, Іркутська область, 1953 рік. URL: http://www.genocid.lt/muziejus/en/1764/a/file=2685/
    18. Депортовані на розподільчому пункті в  селі Буреть, Іркутська область. Квітень 1949 року. URL: http://www.genocid.lt/muziejus/en/1764/a/file=2677/
    19. Довідка про хід підготовки депортації з Литовської РСР станом на 11 червня 1941 р. // ЦА ФСБ. Ф. 3-ос. Оп. 8. Д. 44. Л. 233 – 234. Копія; LYA. Ф. 135. Оп. 7 Д. 1. Л. 19 – 20. Копія. Опубл.: Maslauskienė N., Petravičiūtė I. Okupantai ir kolaborantai: Pirmoji sovietinė okupacija (1940-1941) = Окупанти і колабораціоністи: Перша радянська окупація (1940-1941). Vilnius, 2007. P. 306 – 307 (факсиміле).
    20. Deportation and the Self in Dalia Grinkevičiūtė’s Memoirs A Stolen Youth, A Stolen Homeland and Lithuanians by the Laptev Sea.