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Group of researchers from Estonia at the ITS

Research for a database on Estonians who were deported during the German occupation has brought two research assistants from the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory and one researcher from the University of Tartu to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen. For two weeks, the guests pursued around 4000 fates, with the help of the documentation at the ITS. "The results of our work are to be made available online in the future, in order to anchor knowledge about the period of the German occupation more firmly in the public consciousness in Estonia and to provide a stimulus for further research", says Eli Pilve, a research assistant of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory.

In a collaboration of these two institutions in Tartu and the National Archives of Estonia, the visitors are working on a research project into the subsequent fate and whereabouts of the Estonians who were deported during the National Socialist period. "Thanks to the documents in Arolsen, we have already been able to gain some insight. For example, we have been able to clear up the previously unknown fate of the leader of the Communist Party, Karl Säre", says Argo Kusik of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory. "Through our research at the ITS, we know that he died in Neuengamme concentration camp a few days before liberation."

The German army occupied the Baltic states in 1941 in the course of the war against the Soviet Union. The German troops established a reign of terror there against alleged Soviet collaborators, opponents of the German occupation, Jews, Roma and other groups. With their research into the deportations and with the database, the three researchers are doing pioneering work in Estonia. "In our country, less research has been done into the period of German occupation, compared with the Soviet occupation. We hardly know anything about the deportations and what happened to the victims of the persecution", explains Viljar Valder of the University of Tartu.

A future research project of the group is to deal with the fate of the Estonians deported to Germany after 1945. Amongst the surviving and liberated Estonians, there were many who had joined the German occupiers in their retreat from the Red Army and were then stranded as Displaced Persons (DP) in the western occupation zones of Germany. A few returned to their former homeland; many emigrated and left Europe. As the ITS has extensive archives about DPs and their emigration, at the end of the two weeks the visitors were certain "we definitely want to come back again as soon as possible".