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Registration of the Population in Estonia on 1 December 1941: Background, Organisation, Sources

This article looks at the sources and organisation of the population registration conducted on 1 December 1941 in Estonia. Although the event was referred to as Registrierung der Bevölkerung it was by its methodology and organisation a population census. The gathered data is a principal source concerning what had happened to the population before the war and in the beginning of the war. As a census, it provides the best structural overview of the population immediately after the battles in Estonia ended.

The Nazi regime organised this kind on census in many occupied territories. The census in Estonia was quite unique because local authorities organised it very quickly after the battles. The census in Latvia in August was unsuccessful. The statistical office led by A. Pullerits was instrumental in the preparation work. He was also head of the Statistical Office before the war and had both a known name and good contacts with people in local government. Local organisers were the heads or clerks of the parishes, towns and villages.

Organisation of the census began even before all Estonian territory had come under Nazi control. Battles on Estonian soil began on 5 July. Tallinn was captured on 28 August and some territories were not occupied until the beginning of December. Census lists were already printed at the end of October and preparations began even at the end of June. Census results were published in statistikal journals in 1942 and 1943 but are barely used. Results were published in several issues of the journal “Statistische Monatshefte für den Generalbezirk Estland // Eesti Statistika: kuukiri” in 1942. The published figure for the population was 1 017 811 (450 569 men and 567 242 women). The population figure was 1 133 917 on 1 January 1939 and on 1 January 1940, it was 1 133 917. The decrease was 116 106 and 104 264 respectively. The population had decreased by 9.5%. There has been no source criticism of this published data.

Primary sources of the census are in the different archives and their collections (fonds). We can establish quite a good picture of census lists, instructions and correspondence concerning census organisation. Sources with aggregated data also support the argument that this census data is a reliable source. Still, there are only fragments of individual census lists in the archives. It is impossible to reconstruct population structure at the individual level. On the other hand, aggregated data in primary sources can successfully be compared with published data.

The census list consists of 11 questions: 1. Name; 2. Current place of residence; 3. If current place of residence is temporal, where is the person’s permanent place of residence (at the parish level, the temporary time period was 2 weeks); 4. Date of birth; 5. Sex; 6. Confession; 7. Nationality; 8. Educational vocation; 9. Working subsistence (divided into 6: 1. Main income; 2. Place of employment; 3. Working status; 4. Vocation; 5. Unemployment; 6. Is work needed); 10. Household; 11. If the persoon came to Estonia after 21 June 1940 (date of Soviet occupation), then place of origin.

Instructions were detailed and special attention was paid to questions about vocation and work. It goes without saying that this was due to interest in the population as a labour force. Another category that attracted special attention was agriculture i.e. people who earned their income from soil.

Data management was organised in such a way that local authorities had to make preliminary aggregations and send the results to the county administration (there were 11 counties; the basic aggregation unit was the parish or town). There was no plan to collect the individual lists into one composite file. With no public transportation, and the telephone and postal systems hardly functioning, it would not have been possible anyway. County administration had to send tabulated data to the statistical Office in 3 stages: 1. Table with total figures categorised by sex; 2. Tables categorised by age and sex, number of unemployed and number of people who needes work; 3. Temporary inhabitants i.e. mostly displaced persons due to combat activity.

Sources concerning the census found in the archives provide certainty that published data might be used as reliable information, and the primary sources found provide additional information concerning population structure at the local and individual levels.