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The Rise of the Forest Brothers Movement in Estonia in 1949

Much has been written about the deportation of March, 1949 in Estonia – studies, memoirs and publications of documents. Yet far less has been written about the rise that took place in the forest brothers movement in that year. Some of the people who were designated for deportation escaped being taken away. They hid in the woods and there both shelterers and fighters emerged from among them. The ranks of the forest brothers swelled, and the activeness of their operations increased, since revenge was taken out on Soviet activists who had actively participated in the deportation. After the liquidation of private farm holdings, they had to procure their means of subsistence at the expense of the enemy – the Soviet state. According to a report on the struggle against ‘the nationalist underground and its armed bands’ covering the period from 1944 until 1 June 1953 that was drawn up later on in the Estonian SSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, 189 attacks by forest brothers were registered in 1948, and already 310 in 1949.

The primary source base for studying the history of the forest brothers movement is the documents of the Soviet state security agencies – the State Security Committee (generally known by its Russian acronym KGB) and its predecessors under various names. The Communist Party had its own information system, where lower-level Party organs informed higher-ranking Party organs of the situation and events in their territory, starting with rural municipality Party organisers and proceeding all the way up to the Central Committee. These documents are of considerably differing value as sources and are far from providing an overall or complete picture of the Estonian forest brothers movement. At the same time, however, existing documents often not only register some event, rather the circumstances of how it took place are also described briefly or at length, and here is where their value lies. The selection of documents that are published here has in fact been compiled primarily from Party information reports.

1949 was not only a year of deportation, but also a year of resistance.