Tag Archives: Baltic Germans

Latvia’s national minorities in Latvian caricatures 1920-1934

Svari_1925_4dec_nr47

Jews, Russians and Germans shown as the main rulers of Latvian government.
From Svari 1925

The parliamentary period of independent Latvia had two common things the vast ethnic diversity and great freedoms for press. Latvia with her many national minorities outlined in whole picture of Europe. For centuries in the small geographical area of Latvia Germans, Russians and Jews lived side by side. All of these minorities had its own culture and national elite that made Latvia a multi-ethnic nation. According to national census made in 1935 Latvia was inhabited by 75% Latvians, 10,59% Russians, 4,79% Jews, 3,19% Germans and 2,51% Poles.

The founding fathers of Latvia had to cope with these minorities and since the very start at November 18, 1918 Kārlis Ulmanis said these words: “All citizens, without no ethnic distinction are asked to help, for all nationality rights will be ensured in Latvia. It will be democratic country of justice where they cannot be any repression or injustice!” It was a strong promise that had to kept in order to gain support from non-Latvians who were skeptical about new Latvian state. The goal of founding Latvian right-wing politicians was to form a national democratic nation with emphasis on Latvian language and culture, but to give equal rights to all national minorities including them in the state political and social system.

Steps were made for this. The citizenship made in 1919, granted citizen rights to all who lived in Latvia before 1914 without any national restrictions. Already in 1925 96% people of Latvia held citizen rights. The main step towards the minorities was the Law about minority school autonomy issued in 1919, that granted minorities to get education in their maiden language and maintain their own schools. Also the election the law  that did not require no 5% barrier and needed only 100 people to found a party made relative easy to be elected in to parliament.

As for unknowing observer this may seem that national relations in Latvia were quite good and there were no serious problems. However that was only on paper. The nationalistic calls in newspapers, anti-minority talks in parliament and even some national violent outbursts (that were still pretty rare) and rise of radical nationalist movements showed that there is something wrong within Latvians and the minorities.

The cause for this was cross national economical and ethnic rivalry. In every ethnically uneven country it’s not matters how sizable is the minority, but how much influence does it have in state level. And this was the main problem in Latvia. For centuries Latvians faced economical and political discrimination from foreign rulers. Latvians were mainly limited to agriculture sector, in finance and industry Latvians were minority. Still at the end of 19 century and the beginning of 20 century Latvian middle and upper class was still weak and unfolded.

After gaining independence Latvians were still behind the minorities in many sectors. In 1935, of all commercial companies 58% belonged to Jews, 24% to Germans and 5,4% to Russians. Jewish tradesman were present in Riga and the province and Germans owned the large industrial companies. This made many Latvians envious and unsure about their position in their own country. From saying: “Everything belongs to Germans and Jews, we Latvians still are not the masters of our land”   a slogan came “Latvia for Latvians!”. And this were the caricatures come in that shows pretty much what Latvians thought about their national minorities.

Caricatures were integral part of every newspaper at those times. Satirical art was favored by the readers and there many caricaturists. In this article we only will take a look on caricatures published in satirical magazines, for almost all main newspapers had caricatures. Satirical magazines were usually a hobby contribution of many caricaturists who came to together. The magazines consisted from caricatures, anecdotes and funny stories.

From all 40 satirical magazines that came out between 1920-1934 some can be mentioned with distinction. “Svari” (Scales) was the biggest magazine that came out from 1920 to 1931. It first came out already in 1906 in Petersburg, and after short live of fame was banned by Czarist authorities. The main authors of the caricatures were Roberts Tilbergs, Rihards Zariņš and Jānis Zeberiņš. It is worth to note that first version of “Svari” was leftist minded, but after the 1920, the journal became more nationalistic and anti-Semitic. Caricatures were made in national realist style. A contrary to “Svari” was “Ho-Ho!”  a magazine made by young generation artists – expressionists, Cubists and suprematists. Something that was strongly opposed from “Svari” artists. The main artists of “Ho-Ho!” was Romāns Suta, Sigusmunds Vidbergs, Otto Skulme and Aleksandra Belcova. It was extraordinary magazine in arts and style and leftist minded. However leftists were pretty anti-German at those times. The journal came out from 1922 to 1924 after went bankrupt. The third main journal was “Sikspārnis”  (The Bat”) Journal came out with gaps from 1922 to 1940. A nationalist minded it was a big journal and was very found of satirizing Jews.

According to my calculations the most depicted minority in caricatures were Jews a satirized a  total of 204 times, Germans were depicted 204 times, Russians 19, Gypsies 5 times, and Poles 3 times in a period between 1920 to 1934. Before the World war and the Holocaust there was no political correctness towards the minorities, nobody expected the tragic events that would happen with Jews and other minorities. And minorities themselves did not mind much about caricatures and there were no or less complaints registered from them. Today a anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic caricature would cause a large scandal or even violence. None of this was present before the world  war.

A dream by "Svari" editor about removing the Orthodox cathedral and put Monument of Freedom in place From Svari 1930

A dream by “Svari” editor about removing the Orthodox cathedral and put Monument of Freedom in place
From Svari 1930

As the biggest minority in Latvia the Russians were often associated with old Czarist past. The past Russifaction  policies made a large resentment towards Russian language and Russian culture. Caricatures showed antipathies towards Russian monarchists who wanted to restore Russian Empire. “Sikspārnis” suggested to kick them out of Latvia back to Russia. Satirical press praised the removal of Orthodox chapel in Riga Railroad station square in 1925 (it was done to extend the square and chapel was intended to be moved to Pokrov Russian cemetery, but Orthodox church wasted the money and chapel was lost forever). But, that was not enough as “Svari” even wanted to remove the Orthodox cathedral in city center and place a Monument of Liberty there. The church was a symbol for Czarist past for many. Interestingly enough Russians were not associated with Soviet Union at those times.

The Lachplesis fighting against the German baronFrom "Ho-Ho"! 1922

The Lachplesis fighting against the German baron
From “Ho-Ho”! 1922

Germans were lesser than Russians and Jews but held a large influence. They still played a great role in national politics and economy. The past experience the myth of 700 years of slavery made Germans as the main Latvian enemy. Germans were shown constantly plotting against Latvia and Latvians. Great anger was made against Germans that still held large influence and took important governmental posts. The political demands by German parties that were constant were depicted as a threat to Latvian nation. Satirical magazines praised the controversial took away of St. Jacobs and Riga Dome cathedral from German congregations. The most noted German politician Paul Schiemann know for his liberal policies and progressive national ideas was shown as a German nationalist and chauvinist. While Scheimann really had a progressive liberal views he still played the role of German national right defender.

Jew as the ruler as the worldFrom Pūcsspieģelis 1923

Jew as the ruler as the world
From Pūcsspieģelis 1923

The main satirical slur was headed towards the Jews. While Jews had no political claims against Latvian state and no past as a Latvian oppressor, their influence in trade and finance was so clearly seen that they got themselves many enemies. There were many myths about Jews in Latvia that were present in caricatures. Satirical magazines outlined the uneven Jewish role in Latvian society; while being overly present in economy and education almost no role in state sector and army. The magazine “Lapsene” (The Wasp) called Jews the artificial insects and asked how to destroy them. Jews were accused of speculating the new Latvian currency and later even taking over all Latvian money capital.

Another paranoid view since gaining independence was that the many Jews from Russia that never lived in Latvia before, came in large masses along with Latvian refugees. That was partly true, but it should  noted that the Soviet government and the Checka simply loaded many undesired people on the refugee trains to get rid of them. Another thing is that many of the Jews really lived in Latvia before the war. But satirical magazines were talking about the “new Palestine” in Latvia and influx of swindlers. It all came to climax at 1927, when the changes in citizenship that extended the list of people eligible for citizen rights were made. Nationalist parties initiated a referendum to turn down the changes. The nationalists insisted that even more Jews will gain citizen rights.  For whole year till December that was the main theme in satirical press. The referendum failed to reach its purpose as the quorum was not reached.

Jews were also accused of being communists and plotting against Latvia. While there were really some underground Jewish communists and Soviet agents their role and size was not significant as depicted in caricatures. Latvian communists were more a threat and larger in size.

Mordehajs Dubins visits the US president Herbert Hoover From Kultūras Bals Satīriskais kalendārs 1931

Mordehajs Dubins visits the US president Herbert Hoover
From Kultūras Bals Satīriskais kalendārs 1931

One of the most remarkable Jewish personality was rabbi Mordehajs Dubins who was also a Orthodox Jewish politician. He was elected in all parliaments was a personal friend of Kārlis Ulmanis and talented businessman. He even gained audience to US President Herbert Hoover office a something that could not be done by many Latvian politician. He was true leader of Latvian Jewry. In so the Latvian satire depicted him as oligarch and real mover of many governments. Sometimes he even was show as a President or Prime Minister. He really had a large influence on governmental decisions, but his power was overestimated by Latvian satires.

The disinfection of the parasites of the earthFrom Intīmās politiskās aizkulises 1933

The disinfection of the parasites of the earth
From Intīmās politiskās aizkulises 1933

One interesting siting in Latvian satirical press was a journal “Intīmās poltiskās aizkulises, jeb mazas piezīmes par “lieliem” vīriem”  (Intimate political back scenes, or a small notes on “great” men”) with such peculiar name you could not guess that this journal was published by United Latvian Nationalsocialist Party a small political party inspired by Nazi Germany. This was one of the most anti-Semitic publisher of caricatures calling for complete “disinfection of Earth parasites” and removal of “council of Elders of Zion”. Jews were accused of selling cocaine, seducing Latvian women and harming the Latvian state. Party was short-lived from 1933 to 1934 and did not gain any significant popularity but its journal its example of the limits of Latvian anti-Semitism.

The caricatures showed that national question in Latvia was actual and hardly addressable. A Latvian desire for “being masters in their own land” and the presence of nationalism was clearly seen. Despite the fact that caricatures could be accused of spreading the hate not always they called for violence. In place of that a notion was seen that these problems could not be solved by democratic meas. But without democracy no political satire was possible. After Kārlis Ulmanis took power by coup all political satire and anti-Semitic remarks were banned. A national problems were solved simply by not talking about them. That was a proof that Latvia between 1920 to 1934 was very democratic country that allowed freely talk about the national issues.

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Baltic German Nazis in Latvia 1933-1939

There have been too much speculation about rise of national socialism  in Latvia and Latvian Nazi’s in the past. These speculations have been mostly carried out by Russian propaganda and Soviet mythology. In reality before the World War II Nazism was very unpopular among Latvians. There was only one marginal Latvian National Socialist party that suffered from low recognition and was short-lived project.  The Thunder cross movement despite their antisemitism was more Latvian Radical Nationalist than Nazi and can be at least compared to Mussolini Fascism.  The reason why Nazism was pretty hated by Latvians at those times was the local Baltic German Nazis who were outspoken and aggressive defenders of German expansionism. Latvians who witnessed 700 years of German prominence feared Nazi Germany more than the Soviet Union.

After the end of the First World war a new age begun for Baltic Germans in Latvia. The independence of Latvia changed their political, economical and social status. For 700 years they considered them as a political elite. The Agrarian Reform in 1920 completely destroyed their prominence in rural areas and made a large blow to their political power.

Despite being the third national minority (3,9% of the population) they still kept strong position in politics and economical field. While other minorities were divided between various rival political factions, Baltic Germans made a united party list and always scored 5-6 parliamentary seats in Latvian parliament.

Their attitude against the state of Latvia was uneasy. During the first years of independence they’re taking a passive or even hostile position against Latvia and Latvians. The main reason for this was unwillingness to obey a small nation namely Latvians. They felt discriminated and oppressed for they thought that state abuses their imagined rights. However, the Baltic Germans have begun to adapt to the new situation and took part in state matters. Their main demands were “the gaining the minority rights and their empowerment.” In practice that sometimes meant giving demands to Latvian state that often were chauvinistic.

The situation changed in 1933 after Adolf Hitler rise to power in Germany. The Nazi ideology and promise to unite all Germans abroad in one German state deeply affected the Baltic Germans. In result they have begun to alienate from Latvian state and head towards Nazi Germany. The alienation went deeper after a coup by Karlis Ulmanis in 1934 that prohibited Germans and other minorities take part in the elections. For years Germany was considered defeated and weak the rise of Nazi power made it look stronger and that made Germans living outside Germany support the Nazi party.

Nazi movement first emerged in Latvia in 1932 and was exported from Germany. Baltic German Nazis were divided in many groups under common cause. The official German National Socialist Workers party had its own local group in Latvia (Ostgruppe or Stützpunkt Riga), the Baltic Brotherhood (Baltische Brüderschaft), German cultural society (Deutscher Kulturveirein), Baltic Land Party (Baltischer Landespartei) group lead by lawyer Erhard Kroeger also called as the “Movement” (Bewegung). Not all of these organizations were primary Nazi, but had certain Nazi elements in them.

  Consequently the Movement lead by E. Kroeger became the main Nazi force in Latvia. It emerged in spring 1933, when Kroeger attempted to find new Baltic German National party (Nationalpartei der deutschen Balten). However the Latvian Ministry of Interior rejected the registration of the party for it feared that the new movement posses danger to the Latvian state.

The Movement continued to operate in secret. For many years its legal cover was “German education society in Latvia (Deutscher Bildungsveiren in Lettland) and “Baltic German travel and sports society” (Deutshbaltischer Wander-un Sportveiren). The German youth union in Latvia (Verband deutscher Jugend in Lettland) and German scouts union (Deutscherbaltischer Pfandfinderbund) was under E. Kroeger control bringing Nazi propaganda to young Baltic Germans. However the Nazis failed to assume control over German employes union (Verband deutscher Arbeitnehmer in Lettland) as in 1935, the Nazi members were excluded from the union.

After the coup by Karlis Ulmanis the security services begun to suppress the Movement and attempted to limit the activities of their legal cover organizations. However the Movement continued to operate. Their structure and rankings were taken straight from Nazi party in Germany, the members of the movement could be recognized by their brown shirts. They marched across the streets sparking anger of local Latvians. Before the coup the German Nazis were openly combated by Latvian Social Democrats and their youth organization The Workers Sports Union (SSS). Often Latvian leftists and German Nazis engaged in open street fights. Also Jewish organizations took an active stance against German shops, exports and cinema making the Latvian foreign relations with Germany problematic. Sometimes Latvians united with Jews to beat up the German Nazis in the parks of Riga.

The Movement leadership had its “headquarters” and the “center”. The headquarters were lead  by E. Kroeger, A. Von Koskull, H. Barth, H. Schlau, H. Ohsoling- Fehre ad V. Von Baehr. The members of the center was O. Von Krauss, V. Von Radetzky, H. Schneider, O, von Firks, B von Bieberstein and N. Stender. According to Latvian intelligence the Movement was divided into smaller cells. The Mans Union (Mannschaft), Females Union (Frauenschaft), Youth Union (Jugendschaft) and Girls Union (Mädchenschaft) The main role was for Mans Union that operated in various cities in Latvia or even in rural areas. Also they had a special defense group (Schutzgruppen) whose role was to spy on non Nazi Germans and sort out the  Latvian secret police informants among their ranks. The Latvian intelligence service did constant monitoring of the Movement, from their documents we know detailed facts about their structure and ranks.

  The popularity of the Movement rose steadily. In 1934 they were supported by less than quarter of the Baltic Germans. However in 1936 their support rose up sharply because of the new laws that closed the German trade guilds including the Great and Small Guild in Old Riga. Also some German unions were closed sparking dissent among Baltic Germans.

  The Movement used any possible tool to spark Nazi propaganda among Baltic Germans. The Nazi propaganda entered German schools and German academic institutions. The Herder Institute became the main place for Nazi lectures, courses and meetings. Nazis organized informal meetings labeled as the “family evenings, beer meetings”, a Nazi propaganda books were illegally imported to Latvia. Even in legal German meetings Nazis showed up. One of the main goals of the Nazis was to infiltrate in legal German unions and take control over them. The Baltic German Peoples Union (Deutschbaltiche Volksgeinschaft in Lettland) was the main Baltic German representative in culture, politics and social issues. Because the leadership of the Peoples Union was conservative or even liberal, the Nazis made large efforts to discredit the leadership by using lies and black PR. The Nazi German youth came in handy.

  At the end of 1938  the Movement took almost complete control over the Peoples Union, by electing their deputy A. Intelmann as the president of the union and E. Kroeger entered the presidium excluding the members of the old guard.

The Movement received extended support from Nazi Germany. The members of the Movement were sent to Germany to receive a special Nazi education so they can do their propaganda work at home. German Agency The “Peoples German” central office (Peoples Germans were a special term for the Germans living outside Germany) took special care of the Movement bypassing the Peoples Union.

The main thing that Baltic Germans striven for was occupation of the Baltic states by Germany. Nazis spread out slogans for “German entering and ruling in Latvia”. After the annexation of Austria 1938 the calls for a German invasion became louder. Large crowds greeted the arrival of the German war cruiser “Köln” and sung the song of “when German sailors will return to Latvia and the banner of Nazi Germany will flow here”. After the annexation of Klaipeda from Lithuania in spring 1939 the Nazi movement reached its peak. The hopes were high that Germans will be here anytime soon.

 However, the reality of the German foreign policy put a dead end on the Baltic German Nazi movement. After the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact a confusion and resentment were among Baltic Germans. In Autumn 1939, the German resettlement  to Germany begun and all local German Nazis moved away to their Nazi dreamland. Some of them became members of the German Nazi party, took part in SS and Army ranks. Erhard Kroeger became a top SS officer, joined the Einzatzgruppen in Soviet Union and was known for his involvement in the infamous Vlasov army.

Today we can see some analogy with Baltic Germans and Russians. Russians same as Baltic Germans felt resentment after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They lost their prominence in politics also the language lost the official status. The Citizenship law had the same effect as the Agrarian reform. And the impression of Vladimir Putin Russia as more stronger and greater than before made many Russians lost their loyalty to Latvian state and turn to dissent and radicalism. Russian nationalist parties and groups sometimes operate like the German Nazi Movement. Also the involvement of the state of Russia is clearly visible. This shows that Latvia will never be free from the ambitions of the imperialist nations. However in the past the tides of history have always turned against the imperialist nations. Nazi Germany is the prime example.

Selected Sources:

Feldmanis, Inesis (1985) Vācu fašisma loma buržuāziskās Latvijas vācu nacionālā mazākuma galveno organizāciju nacifikācijā (1933 -1939) : mācību līdzeklis. Rīga : P. Stučkas Latvijas Valsts universitāte.

Kaņepe, Vija (Ed.) (2001) Latvijas izlūkdienesti, 1919-1940 : 664 likteņi. Riga : LU žurn. “Latvijas Vēsture” fonds.

Cerūzis, Raimonds (2004) Vācu faktors Latvijā (1918-1939) : politiskie un starpnacionālie aspekti = German factor in Latvia (1918-1939) : political and inter-ethnic aspects. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

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Baltic Germans

The Jaunpils  Castle

Typical Baltic German Castle at Jaunpils

In late Medieval ages Holy German Empire became overpopulated. People had trouble finding land and jobs in the cities. In families with more than two children the third son was unable to inherit land from his family. So many Germans had to find a new place to live. The Germans looked to the east. Eastern Europe offered free lands to maintain and local people were poor and in much lower numbers. Also the Eastern European kings needed immigrants from the west to protect their lands from Mongolian invasions. This allowed the Germans to migrate to such places as Transylvania (in present day Romania), Bohemia (Sudetenland, Czech Republic) and other eastern parts. Later on the behalf of empress Katrina II Germans entered Russian lands.

But nobody invited Germans to Baltic lands. In 12-13 century Germans started a military expansion to the east under Crusader banner. Crusades in Latvia have been discussed in many posts before in this blog. Find them using tags or search.

First Germans in Latvia were Crusaders and Church missionaries.  Along with them came German merchants that settled in Riga. When all Latvian land became part of Livonia, more Germans came here. Crusaders became nobles and established castles around Latvia. Others mainly merchants lived in larger cities. In the 13th century there were 15 thousand Germans opposite to 160 thousand ancient Latvians. Also 20 thousand Livonians lived in Latvia. Despite the low numbers Germans were political majority. They held all political rights and titles; they got rights to land and ownership of local peasants. Ancient Latvians were mostly peasants that worked for German landlords for all their life with no rights for their own land. Latvians got little chance for education that would raise their social status. In cities Latvians could only have low rank jobs that were called “shameful jobs”. But Latvia escaped high scale colonization of German peasants. Livonia was hard to reach from Germany because of independent Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. If the Germans would enter Latvia in larger masses than Latvians would put at high risk of assimilation. There are however records of Latvian and Livonian entry into German noble families. One of the most famous Baltic German noble family Fon Lieven is said to originate from Livonians.

During the time of Reformation most Germans supported Martin Luther reforms and became Lutherans. Lutheranism and other protestant movements were highly common among German immigrants in Eastern Europe. Swift to Lutheranism also helped Latvians for the first religious texts were translated into Latvian.

The crush to German nobility was Livonian war that started in 1558. Livonia was at risk of being conquered by Russia. That did not happen thanks to Poland-Lithuania and Sweden, but the Germans had to give up their Crusader order. In 1561 the Livonia order ceased to exist. However Germans managed to keep all their rights because of the favor by Polish king Sigismund Augustus. A document containing promised privileges by Polish king gave wide rights to Germans in Latvia. But this document has not preserved until this day and nobody hasn’t seen it for a long time. Because of this historians speculate that document is falsification. Despite that Germans used this phantom document to protect their rights for many years.

However Poles did not keep all promises. Riga faced trade controls from Polish administration. Poles tried to restore Catholicism by removing few churches and imposing new calendar. This caused Calendar revolt in Riga that lasted from 1584 to 1589 and was defeated with the help of traitors within Germans. But in Duchy of Courland and Semigallia that was autonomous from Poland Germans had time of their lives. Germans ruled the Duchy and had a free hand in politics and religious matters. Their best days ended in 1795 when Duchy was added to Russia.

Germans in Swedish Vidzeme faced hard times when the Swedish administration decided to revise German ownerships and give large portions of land to Swedes. But in Riga Germans were supported because Sweden needed to keep the favor of Riga that got larger population than Stockholm. The Germans build many beautiful trade residences in Latvia like Reitern house and House of Danenstern in Martalu Street.

After Vidzeme capitulated to Russia things changed. One side of Germans led by count Johann Patkul conspired against Sweden to support Russia. However many German nobles were part of Swedish army and captured Patkul and sentenced him to death. But Russia at first did not want to conflict with the Germans. General Sheremtjev signed deal with Germans to allow them autonomy and official use of the German language. Latvians were completely subjected to Germans. Taxes and corve’s were increased. This was the highest point of Latvian enslavement that continued many decades until serfdom was abolished.

Russian emperor Peter I favored German aristocrats. He invited them to his court at Petersburg. The new city itself was built with the help of German engineers. Peter I needed well-educated Germans modernize his new empire.

In the 18th century there were 40 thousand Germans in Latvia. Because of Enlightenment in Western Europe many intellectuals entered Latvia most notably Johan Herder who worked in the Riga Dome School. German scholars started to show interest for Latvian folklore and language. Ernest Glik did tremendous work of translating the Bible in Latvian. Pastor Gothart Stender wrote many educational books in Latvian promoting Latvian education. Favored among Latvian are German scholar Garibl Merkel and his work “Latvians”. In this book he criticizes the Latvian enslavement and praises Latvian culture. This was one of the first times when information about Latvians was shown to the outside world. The work of German educators helped Latvians to get a national identity in future.

In 1766 first and last attempt of German colonization happened in Latvia. By the favour of empress Katrina II 85 Germans from Pfalz settled in Hirchen (Irši) parish near Aizkraukle. All of them were peasants who lived closely in Hirchen village. In 1914 there were a 8000 people who were born in Hirchen.  However only 1570 lived there because others left home to find luck in Riga, Russia or in Western Europe.

Germans living in Latvia often did not call themselves Germans. They identified themselves as Baltic Germans (deutchbalten). In 1817 and 1819 serfdom was abolished in Courland and Vidzeme (but still in Latgalia). German educators put even higher pressure to educate Latvians. They however wanted only elementary education for them. Latvians peasants still were objected to German landlords despite the abolishment of serfdom. That caused rapid Latvian conversion to the Orthodox Church to move away from the Germans. About 40397 Latvians became Orthodox Christians. To stop this leader of liberal German reformists Hamilkar von Felkerzam managed to allow Latvians rent land from the Germans and re-buy it in longer time. This finally allowed Latvians to become farmers.

The Germans got high influence in Russian politics. The Russian army was filled by German high rank officers. The Germans took posts in the Russian government. German academics and scientists pushed Russian progress. Only Noble prize winner from Latvia is German chemist Wilhelm Ostvald. In middle of 19 century 140 thousand Germans lived in Latvia.  They took part in the industrialization and controlled all industrial sectors in Latvia. They were wealthiest social group. But the growing sentiment of Russian nationalism or Slavophilism started to push pressure on the Germans. Russian Czar Alexander II started the process of Russifaction  and Unifaction of Russian Empire. In 1885 Nikolay Manasein revision cancelled the Baltic German autonomy, abolished German courts and made Russian language the official language in state matters. Baltic Germans did not receive any support from German Empire that wanted to keep good relations with Russia. 2000 Baltic Germans emigrated to Germany because of anti-German reforms. However Germans kept their status in industrial and commercial sector. They still worked in state offices because Russians were not eager to work in the Baltic provinces. All Majors of Riga were Germans (except Englishman John Armisted) no Russian ever wanted to lead Riga.

The Germans felt remorse to Latvians who gained more freedom because of Russian reforms. However the wave of Russifaction hit Latvians by prohibiting the Latvian language in schools and public places.  But Latvians were free to form their organizations and speak privately in Latvian. When a wave of revolution hits Latvia in 1905 the Latvian-German conflict sparkled in blood and fire. For the few months Russian administration lost control over Latvian rural areas that were taken by revolutionary committees. Revolutionaries burned 200 German mansions in all Latvia. The Germans formed self defense squads to fight armed social democrats and peasants. When things begun to heat up; Germans asked for Russian help. General Aleksey Orlov led “punishment expeditions” to stop revolution. Punishment battalions killed 1615 revolutionaries.

A new hit for Germans were the start of First World War. The Germans suddenly become haunted minority blamed for all calamities of the war. Russian administration destroyed the prosperous German controlled industry by evacuating all factory equipment to inner Russia. Even tram lines were taken to Russia. Despite this a large part of Germans fought with the Russian army against their brothers in Baltic front.

A new hope for the Germans was Brestlitovsk peace agreement that gave all Baltic lands to Germany. On November 8 1918 Baltic Germans gathered in Riga to proclaim the “Baltic State”. This state should compromise Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and restore all rights for Germans. However in November 11 Germany signed capitulation act and in November  18 Latvia proclaimed its independence. The idea of Baltic State now was obsolete. Germans however did not lose hope for it until 1920. In 1918 Germans supported Latvian government because of growing danger from Soviet Russia. Germans made Landesver an army from Baltic Germans and ex members of the German army to help the Latvian army. With their help the Bolsheviks were pushed away from Riga however Germans quickly turned against Latvians by organizing coup 1919  April 16 in Liepaja. A plan to capture Karlis Ulmanis government failed and Germans formed a puppet government lead by Kārlis Niedra a pro-German pastor. Their plans failed completely when their armed forces were defeated by joint Latvian and Estonian forces near Cesis on June 22. By pressure of the US, England and France a ceasefire was signed and the Germans were forced to recognize the Latvian government. Germans Edvin Magnuss become minister of justice and Robert Erhard became minister of finance. Landesver was taken under Latvian control.

However radical German forces lead by General Ridiger von der Goltz and Russian whiteguard Pavel Bermont- Avalov attacked Riga in November of 1919 but failed once again. By this time more Germans supported Latvia. Paul Schiemann new German leader officially supported Latvian independence. Landesver forces took part in the liberation of Latgalia in 1920 from the Soviets. 54 German soldiers were awarded with the highest Latvian military award the Order of Lachpesis (Bear Slayer).

After the war Germans came to conclusion that they need to integrate in the Latvian politics.  A new party called “Baltic German democratic party” was formed. It was the most successful minority party in Latvia that won 6 seats in every election. Jewish and Russian parties had far lesser results because of their political divisions. A massive blow for German landlords was the Agricultural reform. Latvian government wanted to get rid of German landlords once and for all. 1300 properties of German mansions were confiscated. Noble families lost their mansions and palaces. Another boiling point was a German commemoration of Landesver. In 1929 a Landesver soldiers’ cemetery was established in Riga. A large monument was built. After few weeks monument was destroyed with explosives by unknown people. Resented Germans took all pieces of destroyed monument and connected to one piece.

Despite of deep divide Germans kept the status in industry and commerce. An autonomy in education was kept, a German self funded schools worked in all Latvia. Even the national reforms of Karlis Ulmanis regime could not hinder German place in Latvian economy.

But nothing was so crucial to Germans as the rise of National Socialism. Nazi Germany exported Nazi ideology to Baltic Germans. In 1933 a Nazi organization “Bewegung” (Movement) was established in Riga. Nazi supporters gained success by removing democrat Paul Schiemann from the leadership and excluding other democrats. Nazi leader Erich Krueger had ties with German SS and SD. The Nazi government wanted to make “fifth column” to fulfil their expansionist plans. Nazi movement made bitter danger for Latvia.

After signing non-aggression pact with Soviet Union it became clear to Hitler that once Latvia would be taken by the Soviets, the Baltic Germans will be oppressed by them. So he issued call to Baltic Germans to return to their ethnic homeland. Not all Germans in Latvia wanted to move. The majority however feared the coming Soviet occupation and used this chance to escape. In 1939.-1940 51 thousand Baltic Germans left Latvia. Only 11 thousand Germans stayed. After Soviet Occupation 10500 still remained. Those who moved to Germany however could not live in Germany itself but were moved to Nazi occupied Poland. There they met tragic fates in 1944-1945.

In 1989 by Soviet Census there were 3789 people calling them Germans. A large part of them came from mainland Russia. Only 944 were born in Latvia. 49% of Latvian Germans spoke only in Russian. After regaining of independence Germans organized new organizations, but there is a divide between German-speaking Germans and Russian speaking Germans. By the dates of 2007 there are 4226 Germans in Latvia. Some Germans from Germany move to Latvia to find jobs or move here because they married with Latvians. The last census in 2011 gathered 3042 Germans now living in Latvia.

German culture in Latvia has been destroyed by two-world wars. But the German presence can be seen in many places in Latvia. The buildings in Riga, mansions in rural areas. Latvian language and music have been influenced by the Germans. Latvians despite the conflicts own a lot of Germans and German factor will always have a place in Latvian history.

Selected Sources:

Krupņikovs, Pēteris. (1980). Melu un patiesības palete. Riga: Zvaigzne 1980.

Duhanovs, Maksims. (1986). Baltijas muižniecība laikmetu maiņā : Baltijas muižniecības politika 19.gs. 50.-70.gados un tās apoloģētiskās historiogrāfijas kritika. Riga: Zinātne.

Dribins, Leo, Spārītis Ojārs. (2000) Vācieši Latvijā. Riga: Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts. Etnisko pētījumu centrs.

Dribins, Leo (Ed.) (2007) Mazākumtautības Latvijā : vēsture un tagadne. Rīga : Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts, 2007.

Pistohlkors, Gert, Von. (Ed.) Deutsche Geschichte im Osten Europas: Baltische Länder, Vol 4.Berlin: Seidler Verlag.

Cerūzis, Raimonds (2004). Vācu faktors Latvijā (1918-1939) : politiskie un starpnacionālie aspekti = German factor in Latvia (1918-1939) : political and inter-ethnic aspects. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

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