Open search
« Tuna 3 / 2023

The first instructions for the newly arrived Estonian refugees in Gotland, Sweden in Autumn 1944

In the autumn of 1944, up to 80,000 Estonian people fled to the West ahead of the invading Red Army. Called ‘The Great Escape’ in Estonian historiography, it is certainly one of the biggest migration waves in the contemporary history of this country. Roughly half of these people evacuated to Germany, while the others managed to arrive in Sweden. After World War II, they formed the Estonian diaspora in the West, which stood vocally for the liberation of Estonia throughout the Cold War.

Noteworthy work has been done over the last decade in raising awareness of the Great Escape, which definitely surpasses historical research on that theme in terms of its achievements. One of the reasons for this is likely the fact that the archival sources on the Great Escape were generally closed to researchers both in (Soviet) Estonia and in the destination countries of the Estonian refugees until the early 1990s.

The document introduced in this article is from the Gotland branch of the Riksarkivet (Swedish National Archives). It is written in Estonian and consists of the very first instructions for the Estonian refugees who arrived in Gotland in the autumn of 1944 (the island of Gotland is one the easternmost parts of Sweden and thus it received a significant proportion of all Estonian refugees).

These instructions inform the refugees of the provision of basic necessities and regulate their first steps on Swedish soil. People had to surrender alcoholic beverages and firearms in their possession, present their luggage for customs inspection, and undergo preventive pediculosis treatment and other health control procedures. People were registered in the course of police interrogations, where their primary personal data was gathered. There is a mass of such short questionaries preserved in Swedish archives. This is interesting material which could possibly provide valuable insight into the refugees’ sociological profile, but its systematic processing would require remarkable effort.