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In the Intermission between Two Fronts. On the Registration of and Developments in the Estonian Population in 1942 and 1943

Although a great deal has been written from the political angle about the Estonian population at the time of World War II, the fact that the Estonian population in the war years has been considered very little from the demographic aspect sums up this article.

Statistical activity was quite intensive in the period under consideration. The overall director here was the Estonian Statistics Administration, which operated as part of the Estonian Self-Administration.

From the standpoint of calculating the population, the most important event in that period was undoubtedly the registration of the population on 1 February 1943. Most likely, this was admittedly largely connected to the taxation of the population, yet from the standpoint of calculating the population, two criteria were of the greatest importance here: the comprehensiveness of the registration, and the existence of the registration’s critical moment. The programme of the questions was minimal, allowing the population’s gender, age, and family and household composition to be determined in addition to the size of the population, along with information on occupations and job positions.

In addition to this, several other data collection undertakings connected to calculating the population took place as well from 1942 to the summer of 1944: a study of rural municipalities in 1942, the registration of persons with German citizenship in the spring of 1943, the assembly of data on the Estonian population according to occupation (particularly in regard to industrial workers), and an agricultural census and the calculation of the number of people working in agriculture in June of 1944. To a great extent, data founded on the registration of the Estonian population on 1 December 1941 was the source for these calculations.

The data that had been collected was disclosed officially in the Estonian General Commissariat’s statistical publications, which from the very start had been meant exclusively for official use. In using these publications, it has to be taken into consideration that the sources of data for different tables, hence the bases of data, are different. This means that different tables do not necessarily fit together with one another. The composition of published data is similarly very limited. Hence, official publications did not publish data on age structures, occupations, nationalities, confessions of faith, and households.

Nevertheless, it is possible to highlight numerous key developments in the Estonian population in 1942–1943 on the basis of this data. Not only changes in the size of the population and in its gender composition, but also the natural and mechanical movement of the population, and to a certain extent the distribution of the population according to occupations, can be observed on the basis of the published tables.

The size of Estonia’s population in that period can be presented at two instances in time: January of 1942 (1,005,527 people) and 1 February 1943 (1,015,923 people, including 444,624 men and 571,299 women). The fact is that Estonia’s civilian population did not decrease in those years, but rather either remained stable or even grew somewhat.

The large predominance of women over men stood out in particular in the Estonian population’s gender composition.

Neither the wartime growth of the population, nor even its stability, can be explained by natural increase in the population, since negative population growth characterised Estonia’s population over the entire wartime period. Even so, population growth fluctuated significantly month to month. Hence the natural increase in population was altogether positive from July to September in 1942 and from July to September in 1943. Thereat in assessing this data, it has to be taken into consideration that the official registration of events was not necessarily in step with the actual process.

In 1941 when the war reached Estonia, a sharp increase took place in the birth and death rates, which abated by 1943.

Migration abroad that was not connected to forced movements caused by the war (resettlement, mobilisation and other such factors) can be followed on the basis of published data for the latter half of 1942 and the first half of 1943. Thus in the case of people who entered the country and those who left the country, a boundary can be drawn through February and March of 1943. The number of people who arrived in Estonia dropped unexpectedly in February, whereas the number of people who left Estonia rose very quickly in March. On the whole, the increase in Estonia’s foreign migration was positive until February of 1943, yet after that it turned negative.

Estonia’s wartime demographic picture was characteristically contradictory, simultaneously including developments characteristic of the pre-war era while being directly affected by the progress of the war. Or on the contrary – the effects of the war were visible, yet at the same time the overall tendency in population development continued, which can be traced back to the pre-war period.

The effects of the war were manifested in Estonia primarily in mass emigration and immigration. A great deal has been written about the former, while less has been written about the latter. The evacuation of the non-Russian population from the area on the east side of Lake Peipus, including the resettlement of Estonians and Ingrians to Estonia, significantly affected the Estonian population in 1942-1943. This process in particular evidently affected the dynamics of the size of Estonia’s population at that time, yet that is not all. In a demographic sense, that immigration is one part of a larger process that shaped the development of the Estonian population to a significant degree in the 20th century.