- Murder Without Hatred: Estonians and the Holocaust
In Murder Without Hatred Anton Weiss-Wendt casts a critical look at one of the peripheries in the Western understanding of the Holocaust. Such peripheries, however, do contain significant untapped potential for modern Holocaust research, as Weiss-Wendt ably demonstrates. The present work sheds light on how collaboration was crucial to the realization of the Holocaust on the local level, as well as collaboration's contribution to the murderousness of World War II in the East.
In his introduction, Weiss-Wendt tells us he is at a loss to discern many more aspects to the Holocaust than abject mass murder; yet, as he shows, there are many roads to a seemingly unidimensional outcome. In untangling the Estonian case, Weiss-Wendt must simultaneously tackle the intermingling themes of frustrated nationalism, collaboration—both real and perceived—and the deep, often mutually reinforcing, links between radical anticommunism and exterminatory antisemitism.
Estonian nationalism had been born during the nineteenth century, as the Russian Empire began to lose its grip on its outlying territories. A nation of fewer than one million people, the Estonians gained their independence with the [End Page 302] collapse of that state structure. After the withdrawal of the occupying Imperial German Army in 1918, what amounted to a civil war was fought, mainly against the encroaching Bolsheviks.
As in the other new republics bordering the Soviet Union, Estonian statehood rested on the determined rejection of Soviet communism. Estonian nationalism, in analagous fashion, bore recent and bitter memories of the official Russification under the last tsar. Nationalisms in the former border regions of the Empire thus tended to conflate anticommunism with anti-Russianism. A further, often inseparable, ingredient in the potentially explosive mixture was antisemitism, increasingly present throughout interwar Europe and central to anticommunist thought.
Estonia's tiny Jewish minority, numbering some 4,400 people in the mid-1930s, had formed during the nineteenth century, primarily in the cities of Tallinn, Tartu, and Pärnu. Estonian antisemitism was not distinguished by any particular virulence. While there were attempts in the 1920s to launch periodicals devoted to antisemitic agitation, they all foundered for lack of readership. The Jews of Estonia suffered from occasional discrimination, but they were not a visible enough minority to become a target of sustainable campaigns of hatred.
During the interwar years Estonia experienced the same anxious uncertainty that to some degree characterized the existence of every European state bordering the Soviet Union. Outside threats combined with domestic political turmoil to undermine Estonian democracy. From 1934 onwards the country was ruled by President Konstantin Päts and General Johan Laidoner in an authoritarian fashion accepted by the majority of Estonians. The Soviet threat was given substance in 1939 when, following the the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, the Soviet Union demanded the right to establish military bases in Estonia.
To avoid a destructive and hopeless war, Estonia chose compliance, only to experience the fruits of appeasement in a condition of complete helplessness. In June 1940 the Soviet Union finally occupied the country, and after a mock parliamentary process annexed it as a Soviet republic. The preventative repressions by which the Soviets undertook to crush all potential resistance underscored the failure of the Estonian state to defend itself. Soviet terror culminated in mass deportations of more than ten thousand Estonians, completed just before the German invasion on June 22, 1941. The Estonian state, and with it the aspirations of Estonian nationalism, had been dealt a crushing and a profoundly humiliating blow.
The German Army and Einsatzgruppe A entered a country imbued with pent-up hatred and frustration as well as unrealistic hopes and expectations. In the van of the advancing Germans, local militias—the Omakaitse—sprang up throughout the country. These were determined to redeem Estonian independence and purge the country of all remaining Soviet sympathizers, supporters, and collaborators. This proved to be the undoing of all Estonian Jews who had not evacuated [End Page 303] with the Soviets. Perceived as having allied themselves with the latter and as having...