REVIEW – March 2007

The fate of Estonian psychiatric patients during the German occupation (1941–1944)


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During the years 1941–1944 Estonia was occupied by Nazi Germany. At the beginning of the occupation there were approximately 1200 patients at four psychiatric hospitals (Tallinn, Tartu, Jämejala and Pilguse) in Estonia. Besides, there existed at least five institutions for chronic mental patients. It is known that Nazi Germany practised extermination of mental patients in Germany and in occupied countries (i.e. Poland, the USSR, Latvia). An inquiry was made about whether such practice was adopted also in occupied Estonia.
Available data suggests that at least four Jews were taken away by authorities from Estonian mental institutions (Tallinn and Jämejala). There were also notorious reductions in food ratios at the psychiatric institutions, bringing along a rise in death rates. At least two eugenic abortions were  made involving mental patients. Two Estonian psychiatric institutions (Jämejala and Pilguse) were also closed down in the interests of the German army.
Although the present study does not cover all institutions – possibly, not all relevant documentation has preserved either – it seems evident that in Estonia the processes aiming to exterminate large numbers of mental patients did not take place. It is early to say why the Estonian case is different from that of neighbouring Latvia (where 2066 patients were exterminated). Further studies for clarifying the phenomena should concentrate on the ideas behind the politicy of the occupying forces and their local collaborators.