Tag Archives: Germany

Nazi Germany and the Putin’s Russia: The Grand Parallel

“But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

On November 11 1918 the German Empire witnessing economic problems and facing revolution was forced to sign armistice. The German armies were still within the frontiers in France and Russia. Not a single enemy soldier had occupied any quarter of the German lands. Germany was unable to win the World War I, but was only partially defeated. There was no major fighting in the German land except the early battles on 1914 in East Prussia. German army was still intact, the political system witnessed major shift from monarchy to parliamentary democracy, but most imperial elite were not persecuted and still played major role. All the radical communist uprisings were stopped at early start. However, Germany lost many territories were ethnic Germans lived many new countries formed with large German population including Latvia. The severe reparations imposed by the Allied states at the Treaty of Versailles and inter political rivalry made Germany suffer from heavy inflation and unemployment. And with this from a early start a group of people – past imperial elite, war veterans and nationalists who believed that Germany was not defeated, but betrayed by inner rouge forces. And their goal was to avenge the humiliation of  November 11 1918 and restore the former German Empire which collapse was a catastrophe of their lifetime. Also most Germans did not felt any guilt for its part in WWI. The goal of the historians was to prove that Germany was not responsible for causing WWI.

73 years later the Soviet Union could not gain the upper hand in the Cold War, plagued by economic problems and revolutionary changes the major superpower collapsed. Soviet Union was defeated in long exhaustive war that was fought mostly by proxy in the Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan and elsewhere with the Western block. In result the Soviet Union broke in to various new countries with large Russian population. The painful economic reforms lead to severe economic breakdown and poverty. Single party state was replaced with unstable multi-party rule. Separatist movements showed up within Russia. Communist uprising on 1993 was defeated with tanks. However, the past soviet elite, the KGB forces and army still intact kept its position and were convinced that Soviet Union was betrayed by the traitors sponsored by foreign enemy. And so they joined ranks to restore the former glory of the Soviet Union and revenge on those who by their minds made the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of their lifetime. And the Russian people still saw the Soviet past as glorious and did not see any wrongs in the Soviet actions in the past.   Despite some attempts to revise the soviet past the mainstream Russian historiography has been based on old Soviet ideological guidelines.

The German economic situation was critical trough out the early twenties. Hyperinflation, bankruptcies and high unemployment made the German people look for radical solutions. There were strong communist movement in Germany and various radical nationalist movements. A great rise of esoteric movements who integrated old pagan beliefs into new racist Aryan doctrines. Generally on second half of the twenties the economy stabilized until 1929 the start of the Great Depression the situation went into downwards spiral again. And all this was accompanied by the rise of antisemitism  and conservative radicalism when regarding art and sexual matters.

Russian Federation suffered a state default in 1998, chaos in economy at the edge of banditry. Russian politics were filled with old time communists, ultra nationalists,various radical religious movements. Old Slavophile theories of Slavic unity and Russian racial superiority were brought back to life. National hate towards Jews, Caucasians and Central Asians raised up to new level. After 2001, following the general economic growth and the rise of oil prices made Russia recover and reach new heights until 2008 the start of the economic crisis.

The German politics even before Hitler, were based on the revision of the Versailles treaty. The treaty of Rapallo on 1922, the diplomatic pressure on Poland and the Baltic States were dictated by the will of restoring the power over the German speaking Easter Europe.  Chancellor Gustav Stresemann was not far from Hitler in his revisionist policies only in less radical anti-democratic manner.

Russian foreign experts already on 1992  devised a Russian foreign conception based on defending the rights of the Russian speakers in the former soviet republics. The main tactics was the use of international treaties, human right charters and support for Russian organizations outside the Russian Federation. Diplomatic pressure on Ukraine and Baltic States begun already before Putin. Boris Yeltsin despite less radical than Putin was pursuing the same revisionist policies.

After failed coup attempt and short imprisonment the decorated war veteran Adolf Hitler managed to gather the radical nationalist forces and win elections on 1933. However, his rise of power was not dictated just by the common will of the people, but the inner intrigues and the weakness of the German leadership who allowed Hitler to take power. After the president of Germany Paul von Hindenburg lost his bets on two rivaling politicians Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleiher, he was forced to choose Hitler as chancellor hopping that his power will be limited. But, Hitler managed to use the burning of the Reichstag as excuse for complete takeover of the power. Shortly after that old and sick Hindenburg died unable to change anything.

Just as Hitler was disappointed to see German Empire to collapse, the KGB agent Vladimir Putin who on that time served in Eastern Germany was clearly traumatized by collapse of the Soviet Union. As there was no lustration of the former party and the intelligence elite, the man slowly but pragmatically climbed up the top of the political elite. The sick and tired Boris Yeltsin was forced to accept him as his replacement as Putin was supported by various Kremlin power circles. Same as the German conservatives thought of Hitler, they also thought that Putin will be limited in his powers and support their interests. However, while still as acting president Putin was gifted with terrorist acts in Moscow and the new conflict in Chechnya. In the same matter as Hitler gain upper hand by placing on the communist threat, Putin used the terrorist threat to win elections and gather his power. Boris Yeltsin was retired and unable to change anything.

Despite Hitlers long propagandized radical intentions, most countries in Europe met him with enthusiasm.  In contrary to sick old Hindenburg and his unstable governments, Hitler seemed a promising figure who will lead Germany into peace and prosperity. And Hitler at his first years of rule implemented his radical aggressive policies at small pace. Leaving good impression on British and American leaders, astonishing everyone with the economical success of Germany, Hitler meanwhile made complete single party leadership, made repressions against the political opposition and started to head against the German Jews. Hitler staged a grand Olympic games on 1936 and on the same year sent his forces to Rhine de-militarized zone and from that moment started to rebuilding his army. UK and France trying to preserve peace accepted the anschluss of Austria. And then Suddentenland of Czechoslovakia and then whole Czechoslovakia itself was added to Germany by the Allied support. A common excuse then not to react – its too far away and there is Germans anyway both in Austria and   Czechoslovakia. And then Hitler believing that allies will play the same passivity on Poland started his path to WW2.

Putin was welcomed by many across the world, despite his KGB past. US president George Bush Jr. was convinced at start that Putin has a soul  of a man of who he can trust. Putin was slow in early politics, however economic growth made him to start suppress his political opponents and restrict freedom of speech. In contrary to Hitler, Putin until this time managed to make a pseudo democracy, even formally making his accomplice Dmitri Medvedev  as president for 4 years. Many tried not to notice what was happening in Russsia, the business and investments played the upper hand.

Putins foreign policy of supporting the Russian speakers in former Soviet Union became more aggressive, just  as Hitlers policy on the volksdeutche in Eastern Europe. The Latvian Secret service from 1933 to 1939 constantly fought against the legal and illegal pro-nazi organizations. Now the present day Latvia is constantly fed up with the pro kremlin organizations operating in Latvia. Putin’s foreign policy was soft based until it opened fire on 2008. The Western reaction was rather self pathetic as they recognized that Georgia opened the fire first (although they were provoked to attack first) and accepted the de facto annexation of  Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. When Putin invaded and annexed Crimea many western media especially CNN  made flawed arguments that Crimea is Russian anyway, while ignoring long Crimean non-Russian history and the deportation of the Crimean Tatars on 1944. Still US and EU are slow to increase sanctions and political pressure on Russia. The reasons for this are understandable, however if we follow this grand parallel then Putin might move further in Ukraine and only will be stopped when he attacks the country that has some real guarantees like  Baltic States and Poland.

And this where the Grand Parallel between Nazi Germany and Putin’s Russia ends. The very point of this parallel is will for revenge and revisionism. A will that lead the Germany into full collapse and destruction. It took many years for Germans to understand the consequences of irrational revenge based policies which made Germany gradually a better place. The Russian nation needs to learn this also to became a better place. Will this lesson be so bloody and destructive as for Germany, its only up to Russian leadership and its people.

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Latvian Foreign Policy 1921-1940

The Main Building of the Latvian Foreign Ministry

The Main Building of the Latvian Foreign Ministry

After Latvia was internationally recognized by all major powers in 1921, it was ready for its own part in the world diplomatic arena. The diplomacy in the twenties and thirties was complicated and double sided. There were hopes and talks about regional unity, international assistance in case of invasion and even calls for disarmament. However, the old imperial interests, national ethnic issues and revisionism by some countries made this impossible. Latvia as a small country had to find a way to keep their sovereignty  in these uncertain times.

Latvia was in full of support of the so called Versailles system, a system based on Paris peace conference. The Versailles system allowed Baltic States to be independent and added new countries in the Eastern Europe. However, this was done at the expense of collapsed empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russian Empire. The heirs of these empires the Veinmar republic, Hungary and the Soviet Union were looking for revision and revenge. That was one of the main reasons of the failure of the Versailles system.

The first conception of the Latvian foreign policy was designed by Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics. He was the first Foreign minister and desired to ensure mutual solidarity between the Baltic States to keep the Soviet Russia off. The potential allies were seen as the Great Britain and France. Also for the sake of the stability good relations needed to make with Germany and the Soviet Russia – the ex enemies. The first period of the foreign policy was the “vertical line” that was based on forming the Baltic Union. After 1925 the line went horizontal and was based on making common ground with the Soviet Union and Germany.  The main concern for the Latvian diplomats was to find ways for solid external security.

Latvian attempts at forming the Baltic Union was rather unsuccessful. The mutual defense fact between Latvia and Estonia signed on November 1 1923 was the only real achievement. The main reason for the failure of the Baltic Union talks was the conflict with Lithuania and Poland. In 1920 Poland had captured the city of Vilnius, that Lithuanians regarded as their historic capital. Lithuania was unable to get it back and the Vilnius region became the official part of Poland. The tensions between the two states continued throughout the two decades. Poland was against the small Baltic Union and Lithuania was against the big Baltic Union together with Poland.

Germany and the Soviet Union were also against the Baltic Union and did everything to prevent it. Soviet Union regularly boosted the Vilnious question to prevent forming the union with Poland in the lead. Soviets signed separate pacts between all three Baltic countries to weaken their position. Lithuania was also playing a highly dangerous game by regarding the Germany and the Soviet Union as their allies since they both were against Poland. So they had to balance between them both.

Germany prevented the Baltic states from initiating the Eastern Lockarno Pact. The Lockarno conference made the Western German borders inviolable making illegitimate to change them. Poland and The Baltic states wanted to the same with the Eastern German borders. The plan however failed making it possible for the Germans to manipulate with the Polish and Lithuanian borders in the future.

The League of Nations proved to be ineffective from the very start. Latvian delegation actively pushed to add more changes that would empower the national sovereignty. The Geneva Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes was intended to find solutions for international conflicts in a peaceful way. The rights of the invaded nation and the aggressor was set out in this paper. However,  it failed to reach majority support. The protocol of 1928 that issued the forming of the international jury  for solving diplomatic conflicts was only supported by 23 countries.

The disarmament conferences failed due to the lack of support from the US and USSR. The pact of Paris in 1928 called to cancel war as a diplomatic solution. But, since of the lack of the aggressor definition and no institutions that should monitor the fulfillment of the pact it was again very useless. Moscow made Baltic States and Poland and Romania to sign a protocol that would ensure that the Pact of Paris comes to an effect with the Soviet Union before it comes in full international effect. Soviet Union tried to play the role of peacemaker by signing non-aggression pact with each Baltic State in 1932. However, on 1940 Soviet Union without hesitation broke every agreement they signed.

All the international treaties that Latvia signed guaranteed its full sovereignty only in paper. In reality Latvia was in constant danger. While Latvia was placing too much hope on Great Britain and France, their interest in defending the Latvian sovereignty was not so high. For some time the stabilizing factor was the German trade interests with Latvia and bad relations with Poland that kept the Moscow further.

On September 12 1934 all three Baltic States with new authoritarian regimes in each (Lithuania abolished democracy in 1926, Latvia and Estonia in 1934) finally signed the Baltic Union Pact. All three states agreed to make tighter diplomatic contacts and form meetings. The Vilnious question was treated as specific problem only for Lithuania.

On July 1934 France and the Soviet Union both proposed an Eastern Pact. The pact included guarantees for USSR, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Finland and the Baltic States. France should guarantee the Eastern Pact, but Soviet Union the Lockarno pact. Estonia and Latvia both supported the pact. However, the pact never came to reality.

The international situation in mid-thirties changed. The new German Nazi leadership signed non-aggression pact with Poland, the Soviet Union was enforcing heavy militarization while calling for more peace conferences. Latvia was forced to use neutrality politics and try to find common peaceful grounds with Germany and Soviet Union. Such policy was unstable and regularly shifting. From 1935 to 1938 Latvia was more pro-soviet, but after the Munchen conference Latvia was pro-German.

Latvian Foreign Minister Vilhelms Munters was elected as an impermanent member of the council of the League of Nations.  It was an honor, however the League of Nation was heading for a breakdown.  Failures to stop Italian and Japanese aggressions. In 1938 Latvia made a mistake by stepping away from the principles of the collective security of the League of Nations. By not recognizing the 16th point that was the only guarantee for Latvia in case of invasion. This foul step was dictated by the growing pressure of the Soviet Union. Latvian neutrality was a delusion because Latvia could not make anyone to accept it.

All major countries in 1938-1939 head for the abolition of the world peace. Great Britain and France payed a heavy price for WWI and feared that a new one will destroy its imperial status. However, the British-French methods of appeasement only boosted the German ambitions. The nazi aggressive foreign policy could have been effectively stopped already in 1936 when Germany was still very weak. Allowing the occupation of the Rheinland on 1936, and silently watching the Austrian Anschluss was a prime mistake. Hitler was now sure that the French and British will fulfill his every wish in order to keep peace. After Munich conference and the annexation of Memel from Lithuania his ambitions went further to Poland. Meanwhile Soviet Union was watching this with joy. All the proposed peace conferences have been just the guise to keep the Eastern Europe apart. In reality Soviet Union was waiting for the new world war that in their minds would initiate the worldwide socialist revolution. When Germany came in conflict with the Poland and UK and France was looking for the Soviet support, Soviets instead pushed for agreement with Germany. And that would cause war.

Latvia had signed a non-aggression pacts with Germany and the Soviet Union. When allies tried to make talks with the Soviets, Latvia was strictly against the allied- soviet agreement. Moscow proposed that the invaded nation may be directly supported even without its permission. Soviets even designed so called event of indirect  invasion that would also need the Soviet support. Understandably this would mean that the Soviet Union may occupy Latvia for every small reason.

Since Stalin from the very start had wished to sign an agreement with the Nazi Germany, the talks with the allies were just a cover up and tool to blackmail Germans. The Molotov-Ribentrop pact signed on 23 August 1939 effectively canceled the Latvian sovereignty. Ribbentrop had a disagreement with Stalin about Latvia. Germans wished to divide Latvia and add Courland to German sphere of interest. Stalin with anger replayed until the Germans withdraw this demand no further talks can continue. Ribbentrop phoned Hitler and he agreed to give whole Latvia to Stalin.

After the WWII broke out, Latvia was in a grave situation. UK and France were far away, Poland was invaded from both sides. As the Soviet Union was gathering enormous forces at the border Latvia had to submit to the Soviet demands. On 10 October 1939 Latvia signed mutual assistance pact  with the Soviet Union, together with Lithuania and Estonia. Latvia allowed to host the Soviet garrisons and gave part of their sovereignty away. Latvia was aware of the secret protocols but hoped that the Soviets would keep them as a satellite state with some freedom. Finland who rejected the Soviet demands was invaded. Interestingly enough even Germans also thought that the Baltic states will not be annexed, just kept as Soviet satellites.

On June 1940 one by one the Baltic states were occupied. The hopeless situation with Soviet troops already inside the Baltic governments was forced to surrender. Twenty years work of keeping the national sovereignty failed.  The imperialistic interests prevailed over ideas of peace and international rights. This is the lesson that the Latvian modern diplomats must learn: never get in isolation, never rely only on treaties and sound promises. And report to the whole world if the country ever falls into danger.

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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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Christmas Battles in Latvia 1917

Latvian Rifleman in the Christmas Battle

In 1916, the territory of Latvia was divided by the German and Russian front line. From January 5, to January 11, a large battle took place in swamps of Tirelis. The main attacking force was Latvian Rifleman who fought on Russian lines. Attack failed and Latvian units and Russians suffered heavy casualties. According to old Russian Julian Calendar the battle took place between December 23 to December 29. That is why the battle is named after Christmas.

Russia joined war against Germany in 1914. Already in 1 August after German declaration of war German warships shelled city of Liepaja. In July 30 on  all territory of Latvia a mobilization was issued. Already in first days of war 20 to 25 thousand Latvians were sent to Eastern Front. On 1915 January 31 to February 21 Russians fought unsuccessful battle in Mazurian lakes and the town of Augustov. On 8 February the Baltic XX corpus was destroyed. From 35, 500 soldiers 27, 988 lost their lives.  In all region Russians lost 42, 000 men. Later Russian officers remembered the outstanding performance of Latvian soldiers and their courage. Latvian losses were one the largest in history of the Latvian warfare.

Latvia 1914-1918

On spring on 1915, German army marched in the Russian territory. They captured Lithuanian lands, and on May 7 took control of city Liepaja. However the heart of Semigallia the city of Jelgava was not taken because of Latvian Home Guards who stood against Germans. The main defense lines were among Ruļlu hills and Svēte. Home Guards already showed their best against Germans in Lithuania and Germans was looking to find the best way to defeat them. After attack on Ruļlu hills failed Germans attempted to attack from Skrunda and was also fought back. Then Russian reinforcements came and stopped German offensive.

In July 14 Germans advanced from the river of Venta. This time only Russian units stood against them and retreated in disorderly way. Jelgava was taken without a single gun shot. On August 1 Germans had captured all Courland, Semigallia and the front line stretched from the Gulf of Riga to city of Daugavpils.

After the capture of half of Latvian territory the strongest voices of patriots called to form Latvian national units. The units must be formed only from Latvians and must have their own Latvian officers. The strong dislike for Germans was the general reason for Latvians did not want the return of the German rule. Latvian activists contacted Russian military officials. The main pusher of this idea was the deputy of the Russian State Council Jānis Goldmanis. Many Russian officials resisted the idea, because of the memories of revolution in 1905 when Latvians were the strongest revolution force. Russian Empress Alexandra, an ethnic German recommended Czar Nikolai II to sent Latvian soldiers to other parts of Russia. However, because of outstanding performance of Latvian Home Guards the Russian High command accepted the idea.

The Latvian Rifleman

In first days of forming 3700 men joined voluntary, in second half of 1915, there was 6392 voluntary soldiers. Eight Latvian battalions were later reformed in regiments. With the reserve regiment in Tartu there were 38, 100 Latvians Rifleman fighting in Russian army. The formation of Latvian first national units was taken by great euphoria; this was different from Latvian Waffen SS legion, because it was pure Latvian initiative.

The front line as dangerously close to Riga. In length of 90 kilometers, from Dole Island in river Daugava, Berzmente-Dalbe-Mangaļi forest guard-house, the Swamp of Tīrelis, Ķemeri, Ragaciems to the shores of the Gulf of Riga a line of entrenchments and fortifications was established. Latvian Rifleman along with Russian soldiers guarded the city of Riga.

The German advance to Riga was stopped in October. Germans were surprised by the strength and courage of Latvian soldiers. Because of this Germans restrained from full blown attack against Riga for two years. Russians however ordered many attacks in the summer of 1916 which Latvians fought with heavy losses. The Russian High command was inefficient and issued foolish orders. In July, because of bad situation in the Western front Russians were forced by the allies to attack Germans to relive the allied defense. Russians ordered badly planed attacks near the road to Bauska to advance to Baldone and Iecava. Attack was in daylight and soldiers entered the Smerdkuļa swamp. Artillery bullets got lost in the swamp dunes and German lines were untouched. Soldiers were exposed to machine gun fire. Germans shelled the attackers and at the end of the day only the small part of survivors reached the German entrenchments.

However, the Russian High command planed more attacks. Bulgarian General Radko Dimitriev planned to use eight Latvian Rifleman regiments to attack heavily fortified German lines in night-time without artillery support. In December 12 General Dimitriev gathered the Latvian commanders and issued his plans. He lied about the seven times larger Russian forces and the great reserves. In reality the attack force was only three times larger. Latvian commanders were mostly optimistic and promised to carry out the attack with greatest confidence.

Latvian soldiers were also optimistic and the Russian promise that they could liberate Jelgava boosted them. The spirits were high and nobody suspected that the attack was intended for much more local purposes and after they would break the first lines, Latvians without Russian support would have to face concrete or heavy rafter blockhouses and machine guns.

The map showing the location of the Christmas battle

At the first day of battle temperature was around O°, but on next days fell down to 25º to 30º. Wounded or sleeping soldiers froze to death. Latvians were ordered to capture the first German lines to open way for reinforcements. By the cover of snowstorm and arctic outfits Latvians cut passages trough the barbed wires. After that they rushed to the first German battle line. Next two days were spent on heavy fighting and the second battle line was captured. Attack was halted because there was no Russian reinforcements and Siberian units refused to assist Latvians.

Germans started heavy counterattack. It was withstood for 48 hours. Then on January 7 Latvian rifleman attacked heavily fortified German lines in the sand dunes of Tireli swamp. In the middle of the German fortification was the fortified hill that later was called Ložmetējkalns (Machine Gun Hill). Along with Siberian unit’s Latvian rifleman captured this fortification.  About 1000 German men were captured. The outcome of the attack was 7 km wide gap on the German front lines. But, no supportive attack from Russians ever took place.

On January 23 Germans gathered forces for the counter attack. In the temperature of -48º Latvian Rifleman along with Siberian divisions were left alone to face Germans. Russians ordered three counter attacks that all failed. In so Germans recaptured 4/5 of their lost positions. However, the Machine Gun hill remained in the hands of Russians.

German fortification at Machine Gun hill

The courage of Latvian Rifleman was known far outside Russia, because of this battle. However, the broken promises by the Russians turned down the morale of Latvian officers and soldiers. The foolishness of the Russian commanders and cowardice of the Russian soldiers was clearly visible. The Russian command sent Latvian to death on purpose, because they did not trust them and Latvians were the only ones who were truly capable to fight. Understandably the soldiers from Siberia did not saw any point to fight in land that they did not considered their homeland. But, for Latvians it was the fight for their very own land.

Front lines were broken only in the summer of 1917. Because of the fall of Czarist government, Germans captured Riga. Latvian rifleman’s again showed courage and managed to hold Germans back. But, it only helped the panicky retreating Russians to leave untouched.  This was the last time Latvian Rifleman fought for Russia. The sense of hopelessness led to radicalization of the Latvian Rifleman. Majority of then showed support for Bolsheviks and on the next years were the core of the Red Army. Those who stayed later fought in the Latvian Army in the war of freedom.

The site of the Christmas Battle the Tireli swamp was drained during the inter war period. After the regain of independence a museum dedicated to the battle site was brought up. A dozens of entrenchments and bunkers are restored and dozens of  people visit this site every year.



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Soviet War Crimes 1944-1945

Today across the former Soviet Union a Victory day over Nazi Germany is celebrated. In Moscow there are large military parade and celebrations. In Riga people gather around the “Monument of Liberation” to celebrate victory with music, dance and alcohol. An important part in this war are all veterans- old men in uniforms covered with medals and badges. For years Soviet and Russian governments have made the cult of victory in “Great patriotic war”. The May 9 is more important to some Russians than Christmas and Easter. Little do they know or care about the dark side surrounding the victory over Germany. This article will discuss the bloody atrocities made by Soviet soldiers on their way to Berlin in 1944-1945.

The East Prussia, Danzig, Silesia and Pomerania were German possessions with the German ethnic majority. These were the first German lands that were reached by Soviet offensive. When the Soviet army reached them the local German civilians fell victim to bloody outrage. The rapes of all age women, the killings of children and full-scale looting. Soviet tanks attacked fleeing German refugees. Those who survived were later deported. Many were killed just for being Germans. British General Montgomery recalls the soviet soldiers as “uncivilized Asiatics”, other American General Keating  calls soviet actions as much as bad as hordes of Genghis Khan. Famous American diplomat George F, Kennan remembers that “the local  population was razed to the ground  with means that had no analogy with times of Asian hordes.”

It’s not known how many German POWS were killed in Eastern German provinces alone. Numbers of killed civilians also varies in different forms. German Federal Archive counts killed 120000 men, women, children and old people . 100000-200000 died in concentration camps and prison. 250000 died in Soviet organized deportations. Large numbers made suicide. It’s not only the Germans who suffered this atrocity it was also the Poles, Yugoslavians, Czechs and Slovakians. However in Czechoslovakia Germans become victims of Czech made atrocities.

Soviet leadership- Stalin, the Politburo and commanders of Soviet fronts knew about this and did nothing to stop it. In fact they encouraged soldiers to do this and took part in the crimes themselves. General Zhukov was known for collecting large amounts of looted German goods and brought them to Soviet unions using seven cargo trains. Zhukov was responsible for issuing orders of deportations and repressions in German east. As for discipline of Soviet soldiers; it was in disarray since 1944. Rapes, murder, looting began already in Ukraine, Belarus and Baltic states. Soviet army was divided in three vanguards- the front men took part most battles and suffered heavy losses. They were more busy with fighting than raping and looting. After them came the NKVD forces that cleared the captured lands. The last of them were soldiers in last lines that saw no serious combat, but took the actions of looting, killing and raping.

The atrocities of these men were horrendous. Memoirs of their victims describe bloody outrage filled with bestial sexual desire. Also memoirs of soviet soldiers themselves. Women were raped then killed and mutilated. There are stories of killed raped woman brought as feed for the hungry pigs. A woman breastfeeding his baby was shot with a bullet that went trough her and her child.

What were the motives for these atrocities? Records show that motivation came from Soviet government and its propaganda. The most famous was soviet propagandist Ilya Erenburg who called to kill every German they meet and destroy Germany and the Germans. His numerous publications in soviet newspapers calling to destroy Germans were no better than Nazi calls to kill Jews and other nations. Soviet propaganda was systematic and minds of Soviet soldiers were full of hate and bloody lust.   Also the orders issued by Soviet war command like “take no prisoners, it’s not tolerated, kill them all” were no better. By these the captured German lands were razed to the ground, civilians either killed or evicted.

When Soviets reached Berlin it also faced destruction. A large numbers of women were raped in Berlin alone. Looting was at high scale. Soviet soldiers took everything. The soldier who raised the flag over the Reichstag had so many stolen watches on his arm, that the famous photo had to be edited to hide them. After the war most of German territories that fell victim to Soviet atrocity was annexed by Poland and Soviet Union. East Prussia became part of the USSR. Its capital Koenigsberg, which was destroyed by the Soviets was renamed Kaliningrad. Today the city vaguely resembles the lost German legacy. Pomerania, Danzig, Silesia became part of Poland. The absolute majority of German civilians living there were deported from there and sent to East Germany.  Poles and Russians living there may not know what was the bloody cost of acquiring these lands as their own.

History is written by victorious side. So it’s rare that these things are discussed in Russia. Attempts to bring up this question have been met with anger. The usual excuse for the crimes, or revenge for German atrocities in Russian soil. And the fact that “Germans started the war so they must be punished”. However its a question where the German woman and children responsible for politics of Nazi Germany and crimes done by their soldiers. And can the soviet side that’s supposed to be good side be just as outrageous as their enemy. Or even more outrageous.

In 1914 when the Russian imperial army invaded Eastern Prussia, Russian soldiers along with Latvian soldiers entered the church. They sat and begun to eat, then the Latvian soldier told them that is the church, and it must be respected even it’s not the orthodox church. Russian soldiers gave amen and left the church on sight. In 1944 in other Eastern Prussian church Soviet soldiers made a large orgy of raping of tens of woman. It must be a gigantic cultural shift made by Communist ideology that changed the behavior of Russian people. Communism has the tendency of ruining morale and cultural borders in every part of the world. Even bloodier and bestial atrocities happened in communist China that supposed to be the center of the culture in Asia. But until this day the communism and its leaders are praised  in vast processions in Russia, Riga and even in the west. The higher justice has been done on Nazi ideology, the Communism still awaits its trial.

Selected Sources:

Hoffmann, Joachim. (2001) Stalin’s War of Extermination 1941-1945: Planning, Realization and Documentation. Theses & Dissertations Press, Capshaw, AL

Ryan, Cornelius (1966) The Last Battle. – New York, New York: Simon and Schuster.

Antony Beevor,  (2002) Berlin: The Downfall 1945 London: Viking.

Norman M. Naimark, (1995) The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945–1949. Harvard University Press.

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