All three Baltic states became independent republics after World War I. In mid-1940, the Soviet Union occupied and soon thereafter annexed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in mid-1941, all three Baltic states fell under Nazi civilian administration of the Reichskommissariat Ostland. Following their liberation in 1944, the Baltic states were once again annexed to the U.S.S.R. as Soviet republics.
The smallest of the three Baltic countries, Estonia had a Jewish population of around 4,500 in 1939, mostly living in the capitol city of Tallinn. Approximately half left Estonia prior to its occupation by Nazi Germany in 1941, but of those who remained virtually none survived the war. In 1944, Estonia was again annexed to the U.S.S.R. as a Soviet republic.
In 1935, the Jewish population of Latvia numbered around 94,000 (around 5% of the total population). Approximately 50% of Latvian Jews lived in the capital, Riga. Under German occupation, Latvia was under civilian administration as part of the Reichskommissariat Ostland. The majority of the Jewish population was murdered by Einsatzgruppen and the remainder were forced into ghettos. Thousands of German and Austrian Jews were deported to the Riga ghetto, where most were killed. Only a few thousand Latvian Jews survived.
Lithuania is the southernmost Baltic state, bordering on East Prussia and Poland. Following the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1941, Lithuania’s Jewish population grew to around 250,000, or approximately 10% of the country’s total population, as Jewish refugees from Poland crossed the border. Within months of the Nazi occupation of Lithuania in 1941, most of the Jewish population had been massacred by Einsatzgruppen. Between 1941 and 1944, when the country was recaptured by the Soviet army, around 90% of Lithuanian Jews had been murdered.