Kopli cemetery

The Kopli cemetery (German: Friedhof von Ziegelskoppel or Kirchhof von Ziegelskoppel; Estonian: Kopli kalmistu) was Estonia's largest Lutheran Baltic German cemetery, located in the suburb of Kopli in Tallinn. It contained thousands of graves of prominent citizens of Tallinn and stood from 1774 to shortly after World War II, when it was completely flattened and destroyed by the Soviet occupation authorities governing the country at the time.[1] The former cemetery is now a public park.[citation needed]

Kopli kalmistu
Typenot extant
No. of gravesunknown
Russian chapel at the cemetery

Origins and useEdit

Between 1771 and 1772, Catherine the Great, empress of the Russian Empire, issued an edict which decreed that from that point on, no-one who died (regardless of their social standing or class origins) was to be buried in a church crypt or churchyard; all burials were to take place in new cemeteries to be built throughout Russia, located outside town boundaries.

These measures were intended to overcome the congestion of urban church crypts and graveyards, and were prompted by a number of outbreaks of highly contagious diseases linked to inadequate burial practices in urban areas, especially the black plague, which had led to the 1771 Plague Riot in Moscow.

The cemetery at Kopli was founded in 1774 on the outskirts of Tallinn. It was divided into two sections: the western part was used for the deceased belonging to the St. Nicholas' Church parish, while the eastern part was reserved for those of the St. Olaf's Church parish.

The cemetery served as a burial ground for over 170 years for almost all Baltic Germans who died in the city between 1774 and 1944. In 1939, it contained thousands of well-kept graves of many prominent citizens of Tallinn.

Brotherhood Cemetery of the Russian ArmyEdit

Since 1921, on the southern outskirts of the cemetery, there was a burial place for the lower ranks and officers of the russian Northwestern Army, who died in the typhoid hospitals after the end of the Russian Civil War and Estonian War of Independence. Since 1936, the St. George Chapel by the architect A.I. Vladovsky has stood on the territory of the cemetery, which was destroyed in Soviet times and restored in 2022.

Final burialsEdit

Burials at the cemetery were drastically reduced after Adolf Hitler's forced transfer, under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, of tens of thousands of Baltic Germans from Estonia and Latvia to areas in western Poland in late 1939.

Burials at the cemetery continued on a much smaller scale until 1944, principally among those Baltic Germans who had refused to leave the region.

Destruction by Soviet authoritiesEdit

Shortly after World War II, during the second occupation of Baltic states, the suburb of Kopli, because of its strategic position as a base for the Red Army on the Gulf of Finland, was turned into a restricted zone for the Soviet military and closed to the public.

Around 1950–1951, the cemetery was entirely flattened by Russian Soviet authorities.[1] Gravestones were used to build walls along the ports and sidewalks in other parts of the city and no trace of the cemetery was left standing.

Soviet administration also destroyed two further 17th- and 18th-century cemeteries in the city, in Kalamaja and Mõigu, which belonged to the ethnic Estonian and Baltic German communities.[1]

In contrast, the Russian Orthodox Cemetery, also established in the 18th century, south of the old town of Tallinn, was left standing.

Current statusEdit

Presently, the former area of the cemetery is a public park, with no immediate visible indication of its previous status. The only surviving evidence of those who were interred there consists of the parish registers of burials and some old detailed maps of the area in the Tallinn city archives.[citation needed]


Notable intermentsEdit

See alsoEdit

References in literatureEdit

The cemetery features several times in the short story collection Der Tod von Reval (The Death from Tallinn) by the Baltic German author Werner Bergengruen.

  1. ^ a b c Rein Taagepera, Estonia: Return to Independence, Westview Press 1993, ISBN 0-8133-1703-7, page 189
  • (in German) Adolf Richters Baltische Verkehrs- und Adreßbücher, Band 3-Estland, Riga 1913
  • (in German) Schmidt, Christoph. Bergengruens Tod von Reval aus historischer Sicht. Journal of Baltic Studies, 29:4 (1998), 315-325
  • (in Estonian) Tallinna Kalmistud, Karl Laane, Tallinn, 2002. ISBN 9985-64-168-X

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 59°27′12.66″N 24°41′6.13″E / 59.4535167°N 24.6850361°E / 59.4535167; 24.6850361