On August 23, 1939, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin signed a treaty called the “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” (MRP). The MRP made Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union allies, and divided Europe between the two empires. One week later, on September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland from the west; shortly thereafter, Stalin invaded Poland from the east. These invasions marked the start of World War II.

On September 24, 1939, Stalin issued an ultimatum, threatening to invade and occupy Estonia if it did not permit him to maintain military bases there. The carrot he offered was a promise to honor Estonia’s sovereignty. He issued similar ultimatums to Latvia and Lithuania. Having seen the fate of Poland, the three Baltic countries saw no alternative but to yield.

In June of 1940, the Soviets broke their promises, took over the Estonian government, and killed or deported virtually all the country’s political and business leaders. The same thing happened in Latvia and Lithuania. Stalin subsequently declared that the Baltic countries had “volunteered” to become part of the Soviet Union.

With other nations distracted by the war with Nazi Germany, no one came to the Baltics’ assistance. Diplomatically, the United States condemned the attack and refused to recognize the legality of the Soviet Union’s occupation and annexation of these countries. For fifty years, the U.S. did not recognize the legality of the Soviet occupation of Estonia.

The Soviet policy of “Russification,” implemented soon after the occupation, amounted to cultural genocide. It forbade the Estonian flag, imprisoned resistors, and made Russian the official language of the country. Tens of thousands of Russian workers were brought in to dilute the ethnic Estonian population.

Estonians became serfs to their masters in Moscow. Within six years of the first Soviet troops arriving in Estonia, the country lost about 25% of its population to execution, imprisonment, deportation, and escape.

The occupation lasted fifty long years. Estonians became second-class citizens in their own country. Farms were collectivized and ruined, and the prosperity built up during independence was destroyed. Arrest and deportation remained a constant threat.

White paper on the Estonian Occupation
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PBS Broadcasts for "To Breathe as One" Begin Again on May 7th, 2014!