1 Execution site(s)
Õie L., born in 1939: “It was possible to see smoke coming from the direction of the camp. When I saw it, I ran home and called my mother. A horrible smell hung in the air for several days. My mother told me that the last time she’d seen the Jews, they were walking with their heads down. Maybe they already knew what was going to happen to them. They looked sad. The massacres began the next day. I was very young when the Klooga camp was liquidated. But I know that the villagers went to see the site of the camp after the liberation. They said that it was a horrible sight. There were dead bodies everywhere. They had been piled on pyres and burned.“ (Witness n°13EST, interviewed in Põllküla on October 16, 2019)
“According to testimonies, about 2000 people were murdered at the Klooga concentration camp on September 19, 1944. After the execution, the bodies were burned on pyres, which is confirmed by the presence of half-burned bodies on them. Since the retreat was hasty, the murderers did not have time to erase the traces of their crimes. [...]” [Report done by the Soviet State Extrarodinary Commision (ChGK) on January 31, 1945; GARF 7021-97-17, pp. 86-87]
Klooga is a small town located in Harju County, 32 km (20mi) west of Tallinn, in northwestern Estonia. Before the war, Klooga was a rural community with a few private residences. The population was uniquely Estonian. No Jews lived there. It is located on an important crossroads, notably the railroad line between Paldiski and Tallinn. In 1940, when the USSR invaded Estonia, a military base was set up in the area around the village. From then on, the local population began to grow. The increasing number of jobs attracted Russians and Estonians. At the same time, several inhabitants were deported by the Soviet authorities for their links with the White Army during the Russian civil war (1917-1922).
On June 22, 1941, the Third Reich and its allies began the invasion of the USSR, marking the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. In July, German troops entered Estonia. At the end of August, they captured the Klooga region and incorporated it into the Reichskommissariat Ostland, an administrative entity of the Reich that included the Baltic States and part of Belarus. Between August and September 1943, about 9,000 Jews from the Lithuanian ghettos of Vilnius and Kaunas were sent to about 20 camps in Estonia, including the Klooga camp. The proximity of the crucial local railroad influenced the German authorities in their choice of this location to build this new camp. Surrounded by barbed wire, the camp was guarded by SS units and members of the 287th Estonian police battalion. On average, about 2,500 people were locked up inside. The vast majority were Jews, but there were also Soviet POWs and Estonian political prisoners. Hundreds of them died of cold, disease and hard labor. In July 1944, as the Red Army approached, the camp began to be evacuated. On September 19, the Jews were taken to a nearby forest and shot in groups of 50. In total, more than 2,000 people were murdered by the SS and their local collaborators that day. Their bodies were later piled on pyres and burned. The smoke could be seen and smelled by the inhabitants of the surrounding villages. The region was liberated by the Red Army the following week.
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