Tag Archives: Latvian war for freedom

Lāčplēsis – the First Latvian Major Movie from 1930

Lilita Bērziņa as Laimdota in the opening scene

Lilita Bērziņa as Laimdota in the opening scene

Lāčplēsis day on November 11 is heading close. The Latvian victory over the German-White Russian army of Bermont-Avalov was one of the major military victories of the Latvian people. No wonder why many still held this date and celebrations as sacred. But, they were even more sacred during the first twenty years of independence. Latvia was full of war veterans and large portions of Latvian society remembered the events of 1918-1920 like they were yesterday. So it was no wonder why the Latvian cinema and theater were dedicated to war events. First Latvian movie made on 1920 was called “Me joining the war”. Latvian cinematographers  had very little experience to make high quality movies like in US or Germany. Even Soviet Union started to make high class works of art despite their propagandist character.

As the 10 anniversary of the victory in the War for Freedom was heading close, a grand movie was needed to mark these events and show them in nationally patriotic way. And that is where actor Aleksandrs Rusteiķis, cameraman Jānis Sīlis and drill sergeant of the Civil Guard Alfrēds Bērziņš came in. On 1928 they made the first movie For Fatherland on 1928 about the Soviet invasion in Latvia on 1919. Movie was known for explicit scenes of violence and rape, but managed to pass the censorship law  that usually rejected such scenes. Mostly because of the Civil Guard support that was very popular paramilitary movement. The movie was poorly received and was technically weak for those times.

Then Rusteiķis started his project for the movie to mark 10 years of independent Latvia. His movie was called “Lāčplēsis” Lāčplēsis translated roughly in English as Bear Slayer was mythical hero who first appeared in Andrejs Pumpurs epic poem of the same name. Lāčplēsis is a strong ancient Latvian hero who fights against the German crusaders and also for his beloved Laimdota. This epic poem was one of the strongest literal works of the New Latvian movement. After Latvian army defeated the mainly German lead army of Bermont the victory seemed almost like the final victory of Lāčplēsis. Since the epic poem ended tragically with both Lāčplēsis and his enemy the Black Knight drowning in the river Daugava. The poem said that they still fight with each other in the deeps of the river and when Lācplēsis finally defeats the Black Knight the Latvian nation shall be free again. It seemed on November 1919 that this day has come and ever since then the November 11 is celebrated as Lāčplēsis day.

The movie was silent, but with musical score that follows the plot and changes according to dramatics. However, for our days it seems rather annoying. Massive battle scenes involving gas and artillery attacks were made. There are many special effects like explosions and falling war planes. However, in same cases like the war plane explosions its clearly seen that a plane is just a model.

So it was logical to name the movie in such way. The main cast for the movie was mostly amateurs. Voldemārs Dimze was a pilot. He played the main hero Lāčplēsis and Jānis Vanags as Lāčplēsis spiritual incarnation. His character is brave, honest and monolith personality not bounded by fear or lust. His character set the traditions for the future Latvian male characters as manly and patriotic. The main female character Laimdota or Marta was played by Lilita Bērziņa. She played beautiful and honest Latvian virgin who is trapped by the evil forces.  She also shows signs of courage and self confidence. She can spend a great time alone and defend herself. It was common for post war Latvian society with lot of single women forced to look after themselves. The main villain the Black Knight or later German officer was played by Osvalds Mednis. His character was shown in the best traditions of horror movies of those times. With one eye, bald head and frozen sinister look he resembled Count Dracula. A minor but colorful role by Jēkabs Upelnieks was Kangars. The vile Latvian traitor who assisted the Black Knight. Sinister expressions and moves were played out well.

The main characters of the movie. From the left: Lilita Bērziņa as Laimdota/Marta, Voldemārs Dimze as Lāčplēsis/Jānis Vanags, Osvalds Osis as the Blak Night/German villain, Kangars as Jēkabs Upelnieks

The main characters of the movie. From the left: Lilita Bērziņa as Laimdota/Marta, Voldemārs Dimze as Lāčplēsis/Jānis Vanags, Osvalds Osis as the Blak Night/German villain, Kangars as Jēkabs Upelnieks

As we already noticed all three main epic characters – the Lāčplēsis, Laimdota and the Black Knight appear later as people within the historical setting of 1905-1919. That’s because the movie starts in Mythical age within the setting of Andrejs Pumpurs and then all three main characters spiritually reborn within Jānis Vanags, Marta and unnamed German officer. Also Kangars appears by his side as unnamed Latvian traitor. This seems rather mystical for our days, but in those days it was understood perfectly. Also special part in the movie is given to Laimdota brooch, decorated with Latvian  folk symbols including swastikas this decorative peace had rather mystical role on the main characters. It was nothing unusual to add such esoteric things as  spiritual rebirth or magic brooches since these things were very popular among European society.

The magical brooch of Laimdota

The magical brooch of Laimdota

The movie starts with Laimdota trapped in crusader castle with her brooch on her chest. Then the vile Black Knight appears and attempts to take her by force. In the event of struggle she looses her brooch and its been taken by Kangars. The brooch seems to defend Laimdota. A bunch of witches and wizards with grotesque expressionist style faces tries to place spell on the brooch to make Laimdota love the Black Knight. After failed attempts the evil spirit appears from nowhere and commands to use the blood of dove. As they prepare to spill the blood of dove on the brooch the Lāčplēsis appears. Lurking in darkness within the castle walls he hears the cry from Laimdota about her lost brooch. He throws the spear at the room where wizards are and stops the dove from being killed.

Wizards and witches

Wizards and witches

As Lāčplēsis then rushes to free Laimdota he defeats the German soldiers, who curiously wears more WWI style helmets rather than Medieval helmets. Some even have horns on them showing the way people understood ancient days in those times. Lāčplēsis meets the Black Knight in duel. Kangars tries to stab the Lāčplēsis in the back, but gets killed by the Black Knight’s sword who falls out of the knights hands. By loosing his sword Black Knight retreats and Lāčplēsis considers it as a victory. But, the vile knight grabs the sword and apparently kills Lāčplēsis.

Tzarist executioners on 1905. The vile German/Black Knight on the left

Tzarist executioners on 1905. The vile German/Black Knight on the left

Movie then departs to the revolution of 1905. Lāčplēsis is spiritually reborn in the young Jānis Vanags. Vanags means hawk and hawk was a very popular Latvian patriotic symbol. He has the Laimdota brooch with him proving his connection with Lāčplēsis. He then encounters the Tsarist punishment expedition   driving to Saulīšu house. He immediately recognizes the peculiar looking stiff faced Baltic German  Tsarist officer with one eye as reincarnation of the Black Knight. Violent Russian officer demands to show the way to Saulīšu house. Jānis ruins the carriage wheel and makes to Saulīšu house before the officers do. There he meets Saulītis and his young daughter Mirdza. Saulītis manages to escape, but the vile German Tsarist officer slain Jānis with a whip and leaves a scar on his left cheek.

Mirdza and Jānis meets again

Mirdza and Jānis meets again

Movie then moves to 1914. Germany invades the territory of Latvia. Latvian rifleman comes to defend their homeland. With them the officer Jānis a grownup mature man. He is summoned by Captain Briedis a real life person to send a message to Colonel Francis another real life personality. Colonel Jānis Francis is stationed on the Island of Death a bridgehead encircled by Germans. The Island of Death was one of the most bloodiest war points for the Latvian riflemen. In his way he encounters Mirdza and his father who are trapped in forest after their refugee carriage crashed in the forest. Another – Latvian social trauma the massive Latvian exodus during the first months of WWI. To make things more dramatic the refugee caravans are bombed by German war planes. Luckily Mirdza who lost her conciseness is found and rescued by Jānis. Mirdza recognizes the boy who saved her father and instant love erupts between them. She and her father moves further to Riga, while Jānis continues his military duty. He survives many battles because of Laimdota brooch that stood in the way the bullets as he was always carrying underneath his uniform. After last such event in 1917 Christmas Battles he sends the brooch to Mirdza as sign of his love to her.

German WWI gas attack

German WWI gas attack

A major war scenes are shown: artillery fire and German gas attacks. The Eastern front within Latvia was no stranger to chemical warfare another message for the social memory. Meanwhile in Riga, the Baltic Germans and the ex-Tsarist officer are plotting against the Latvians. Baltic Germans who were on the other side of the front were not united against the Tzarist regime, as there was many German nationals fighting within Russian lines. However, there were certain Baltic German groups who wanted to create the German state in the outcome of the war. Movie shows real footage of Germans entering Riga on 1917 and Kaiser Wilhelm II who made a visit there.

The proclamation of independence on November 18 1918

The proclamation of independence on November 18 1918

However, then movie departs to November 18, 1918. Around the present day National theater where the proclamation of independence took place, a man in a German spike helmet is hanging around showing that independence was proclaimed during the German military presence. A unique scenes were made as the directors choose to replay the whole proclamation scene with people who took direct part there. Kārlis Ulmanis and Gustavs Zemgals as well other real life people were present at the proclamation scene. Its known that there is only one picture made from this event. On 2008 it was done for the second time in the movie The Only Photograph.

While the rule of the Soviet government in Riga from 1918 to spring of 1919 its not directly mentioned, the next part begins in winter time Riga where Mirdza is struggling to survive by selling her valuables. A reference to poverty made by Bolshevik terror. She is then approached by the vile German alias Black Knight who she does not recognize. He seduces her by buying some valuables and asks if  there is more. She says “Yes in apartment”. German follows her to her apartment and notices the brooch. He wants to buy it as well, when Mirdza rejects he tries to take it by force. He is only interrupted by Mirdza father who recognizes him. After the German leaves the father angrily asks: “You did not know what is person did in 1905?”. German returns again to steal the brooch and assaults Mirdza. In the event of struggle she runs away, but the German assistant the reborn Kangars finds the brooch and gives it to vile German. After, Germans demands to give herself in return for brooch she leaves Riga and sends letter to her imprisoned father to tell Jānis to find the villain.

Pavel Bermont Avalov

Pavel Bermont Avalov

Jānis meanwhile is in Estonia and takes part in the organization of the Northern Latvia brigade that together with Estonians defeated Germans at Cēsis at June 22. A scenes show the Latvian army marching in the streets of Riga Jānis returns to Riga and finds that Mirdza had left for country side. Vile German and his traitor is leaving his office, but forgets the brooches. Jānis finds it takes it back. However, the German is far from giving up. He plots with Bermont-Avalov who stereotypically chews his cigar and shows eccentric dull behavior.  The Bermont army is showed in German and Tzarist uniforms and are marching to Riga. The German finds out where Mirdza is. As she tries to hide he asks: “Why you are so inhospitable to the victors?”, she replays: “I am not won yet!”, “Then soon you shall be!” German smears.

The Symbolism in the movie

The Symbolism in the movie

The Battle of Riga is shown in grandiose way. The allied help from British and French navy was not forgotten, instead their ships play exact role as they really did. A scene of Bermont war plane being shot down and exploding on ground was rather unsuccessful since its clearly seen its just a prop. Then there is a interesting special effect: on the left side of River Daugava that was taken by Bermont a vile German face appears and changes to Black Knight, and on the right side of Riga the opposite happens – Jānis face changes to Lāčplēsis. It was a symbol of eternal struggle between Latvians and Germans. The Germans were clearly shown as enemies and many people who lived those times really saw Germans as the main enemies of the Latvian nation. And the Black Knight was the symbol of the German reactionary forces.

The battle scenes with the spirit of Lāčplēsis taking action

The battle scenes with the spirit of Lāčplēsis taking action

In grand battle scenes Latvians chase away Bermnot, another special effect the spirit of Lāčplēsis clears the front line with  his sword. As the battle ends a map shows up showing Latvian forces marked as Swastikas chasing away the Germans shown up as crosses. On 1930 swastika was still mainly seen as Latvian national folk symbol and as we see this movie had very anti-German character. The Bolsheviks were never directly mentioned in this movie.

Defeated Bermont is enjoying himself in Jelgava

Defeated Bermont is enjoying himself in Jelgava

Vivid scenes are shown after Germans are forced to retreat to Jelgava. The officers of the Bermont army is enjoying wild party with dancers and alcohol. Such travesty actually took place not to mention the damage the Bermnont made to Jelgava before finally leaving it.

The movie ends with Jānis confronting the German. He unhands his pistol and orders to defend himself with his sword. Kangars again sneaks to shoot Jānis from behind and gets killed by the German sword. Again the vile German tries to grab his pistol, but the father of Mirdza shows up and fires from behind. German is shot twice and falls down the stairs. As the father is looking if her daughter is fine, he sees her kissing with Jānis. He silently closes the door and in relief lights up his smoking pipe.

The ending scene

The ending scene

The movie was praised by viewers and the press. Few criticized for being oriented slightly towards the Kārlis Ulmanis party the Green Farmers Union, since it was funded by Civil Guards who were openly supportive of Ulmanis. Jānis Čakste and Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics was not present at the movie. Some technical flaws made this movie not as good as Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. In Hollywood first full audio movies were already present. But, what it makes this movie so special it was first major Latvian movie, with special effects, major historical background and artistic quality. On 1939 the Fishermans Son was first full audio Latvian movie a classic a adaptation of Vilis Lācis novel. But, without Lāčpēsis the Latvian cinema would be different.

Latvian post stamp showing the score from the movie

Latvian post stamp showing the score from the movie

On 2007 similar Latvian movie The Guards of Riga was produced. Also resolved around the Battle of Riga on 1919 sadly it was more historically biased then 193o Lāčplēsis. While Lāčplēsis showed that Latvians had enough forces at the beginning of the battle, the Guards of Riga was showing that Latvians had to build army from the scratch. The role of the Northern Latvia brigade and the allied warships were completely diminished by the Guards of Riga, while Lāčplēsis took large detail on this. The whole historical context of the battle events were completely misinterpreted in the Guards of Riga while they mostly close to history in Lāčplēsis. This shows, how the national memory about the War for Freedom gets deformed by the years. On 1930 the movie producers who witnessed the war themselves despite lack of technical advances made a movie that by all right is included in the Latvian national canon.

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Jews of Latvia fighting for Latvian Independence 1918-1920

The cover of the Jewish Liberators Society almanac "The Liberator"

The cover of the Jewish Liberators Society almanac “The Liberator”

During the war of independence the new Latvian Republic faced many enemies and nearly impossible task to form own Latvian armed forces. The Bolsheviks wanted Latvia as part of the new Worldwide Socialist republic, while the Baltic Germans striven for Baltic Duchy. However, Latvian Provisional government managed to form an army capable to secure our independence. Not only Latvians fought under the Latvian banner. Latvia was a multi-ethnic country and many national minorities also came to help. One of them were Jews. During the war for freedom more than 1000 Jews fought in the lines of the Latvian army. Some of them received highest state awards. 22 men lost their life’s. Many continued their service after the war. This is a story about them. Some of these soldiers were my personal relatives that make this story even more special.

Latvian Jews were at first quite skeptical about the new Latvian state. Many did not believe it could last for long, others still had a sentiment for collapsed Russian empire or even the new Bolshevik regime. Many searched ways to escape conscription and acquired the citizenship of the short lived Peoples Republic of Belarus and Ukraine. Some just declared allegiance to  non-bolshevik Russia, that was still legally acceptable. However, there were people who joined the Latvian army voluntarily or did not resist conscription.  Some Jews gave charity to Latvian army in Ludza the most contributors for the funds to buy a new flag of Latvia were the local Jews.

On Autumn 1919 most Jews started to support the Republic of Latvia. The support rose sharply during the attack of the Army of Bermont.  Jews understood that the free democratic Latvia is the best form of rule for them. The chance for autonomy of education, political and economic freedoms were more tempting than the brutal Bermont rule and the Red terror.

According to latest research 1000- 1200  Jews took part in the war of freedom. With them 12 officers, 19 medics and war employes. Jews also took part in the Latgalian Partisan Regiment. There were also Jews serving the Landeswerh and German land guard.  The most oldest Jewish soldier was 59 year old Haims Šteins and the most youngest was 10 year old Kopel Gorelik. He could be the youngest Latvian soldier ever. He took part in the 2th Cesis Battalion, later 2th Ventspils battalion where he fought the Bolsheviks for four months. He died in Riga in 1935. Jēkabs (Jakovs) Rics was 13 year old when he joined the 4th auto service. Many young Jewish boys either joined or were conscripted. Some had wrong birth date in the passports Mozus Dobrins was considered as 16 year old, while really he was 3 years younger. He was wounded near Jelgava on 20 November 1920 and later discharged as underage.

Many 18-19 year old’s took part. Hiršs Hermanis from Dobele took joined by his own will already on March 1 1919. He was lost in action against the Bermont army on October 9 1919, in the same day 18 year old Hiršs Hirholm also auxiliary soldier lost his life. Many Jews joined simply because they were unemployed and short of money.

On July 1919 when the Estonian army entered Vidzeme, a mobilization for Latvian armed units were issued. From 40 Jewish families, 20 youths showed at the draft point on the first day. Most of them were sent to 4th company, that was nicknamed the “The Mozes Squad”. In the battles of Cēsis 1 man was lost and six were wounded 2 Jews with them. Some Jews from Estonian towns were also called in the Latvian ranks. Jews supported Latvian army in the Latgalian front and joined the partisan units. Others helped in field hospitals. Many Jewish schoolboys defended the city of Liepāja during the Bermont attack, later they came to Latgalian front.

After the war Jewish veterans formed their own societies. Jewish Liberators of Latvia were active society releasing the journal “Liberator” where they gathered all the info about the Jewish soldiers. Also Jewish retired soldier’s society was present.  At the end of the war there were 84% of Latvians, 5,6% Germans, 3,9% Russians, 1,8% Poles, 1,3% Belorussians, and 1,7% Jews. It was a rather high number knowing the situation. Most Jews were only soldiers or private first class (dižkarievis), first class sergeants were Movša Hemohs Maļeckis, Sergejs Mahmoņiks, Jēkabs Zilberbrants, sergeants Boriss Kessels, Mirons Solomonovičš, Boriss Joffe, Leo Goldarbeiters, Šloms Taube, Rafails Sļedzevicš, Josifs Aļšvangs, corporal Oskars Goldblats, Nahmans Hiršovičs, Leiba Models, Nikolajs Zilberts, Nahmans Jakubovicš, Zamuels Klemptners, Jozefs Taics, Šloma Sandlers and others.

According to information gathered by the Jewish organizations 37 men lost their life’s for Latvia. Their names were imprinted on memorial stone made in 1935 in the Riga Old Jewish cemetery.  However, the latest research concludes that actually 23 Jews lost their life’s, 3 died from other causes, one was part of the Landeswerh unit before it was submitted to the Latvian command. One actually survived. 4 men were not Jews, who simply had surnames that resembled Jewish surnames. 4 others may not be Jews. That however does not wash away the courage and dignity of each of these men who gave their lives for Latvia.

Four Latvian Jews received the highest Latvian military award – The Order of Lāčplēsis. All of them were awarded with 4th Rank of the order.  Josifs Hops born on 1898 was from Parnu Estonia and was mobilized into Latvian forces. Before he served in the Russian armed forces. He was admitted to the 1st Valmiera infantry regiment. He fought the Bolsheviks and the army of Bermont. From September 1 1919 he was the squad commander. He was promoted to private first class. He was decorated  with 4th Rank of the Order of Lāčplēsis  for crossing the enemy lines from behind, cutting the telephone wires and assaulting the Mamoņu house. Under heavy crossfire they first reached the enemy post and captured the machine gun along with its crew. After that they turned the machine gun towards the enemy and retreated leaving behind many dead and wounded soldiers. After retiring from office in 1921 he and his brother who also served returned back to Parnu Estonia. In 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded Estonia he joined the Soviet destroyer battalion where he was lost in action.

His brother Zamuēls Hops born on 1890 also served in the Russian army was medic, he then was admitted to Latvian army where he gained the rank of sergeant. He was decorated for his outstanding service as a medic. He survived the Holocaust by evacuating to Russia. He then returned to Estonia where he died on 1962.

Robrts Simons Maļeckis born in 1899 September 17 in Riga was mobilized on October 3 1919. Together with his brother Herman he was admitted to the 1ts Liepāja Infantry regiment. He was decorated for outstanding courage against the Bolsheviks. His brother lived in Soviet Russia and was a high rank official. He joined his brother in USSR and became a communist party member. He and his brother was killed in Great purge of the 1937.

Maksis Gringūts was born in 1896 in Jēkabpils. Served in the Russian ranks, was decorated with the Cross of St George fourth rank. On 1919 he was mobilized in the Latvian army North Latvian brigade. He fought both Germans and Bolsheviks. He received the award for entering the enemy lines from behind and with a rifle fire he dispersed the whole enemy squad allowing for attack to continue and capture two enemy canons. He was later suffered a concussion  and was sent to Border guard. After retiring was caught in smuggling over the Estonian border and fined. He went to France on 1923, later on 1935 returned. He was soon arrested for using fake Czechoslovakian passport. He was jailed from 1936 to 1938 and was dishonored by the Jewish Liberators society. He died in Riga on 1941. Latvian first foreign minister Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics was a Jew from a fathers side, but considered him a Latvian.

Four Latvian Jews received The Order of Three Stars. They received the 5th rank. Hiršs Berkovičš  was from Estonia and voluntary joined the Latvian army. He was a brave soldier who was assigned to difficult tasks and left memoirs of his action in the field. Eliass Rihters fought the Bermont army in Ķemeri, Rīga and Jelgava and was outstanding first line soldier. Zālmans Levinsons and Dāvids Bērs also were awarded.

Nine others were nominated for the order but did not received. Filips Farbmans was a Lithuanian citizen, but joined the Students Company. He showed courage at the battles near Jelgava and Kalnciems. Later he joined the Lithuanian army, but went back to Latvia after the war. Beiness Bērmans a lieutenant of the 5th Cēsis regiment and sergeant Leopolds Šalīts who was the member of the Oskars Kalpaks special Latvian battalion were among the nominated.   The corporal of 4th  Valmiera infantry battalion Jāzeps Binders also my distant relative received the award for capturing the enemy machine gun and as a skilled mechanic he repaired it and used against the enemy. He fought both Bermont and Bolsheviks. Later he was a member of Aizsargi (Civil Guards) and received the Civil Guard cross. From the same 4th Valmiera infantry regiment Zālamans Levitāns made an outstanding act of courage by capturing two Red army soldiers and their machine gun with out using a single weapon. Mozus Lihmans was captured by the Soviets, but escaped captivity. Together with other Latvian soldier he for nine days in cold and hunger reached back his army lines. Leiba Blumbergs was part of the original Kalpaks battalion. Mozus Špungins was one of the first who joined the Latvian army by his own will. Izāks Jāzeps Usikers was nominated to be awarded posthumously.

There was some deserters among the Jews, however their numbers were low. Some Jews fought in Latvia in the enemy ranks mostly in the Bolshevik army together with Latvian Red Riflemen. The Latvian Army was not always tolerant to Jews, there was event of looting the Jewish shops and assaults. Polish army who was present at Daugavpils also made many robberies were Jews suffered. However, in this hard years were Latvia faced many enemies and little support the outstanding courage of these men is to be remembered for ever.

Memorial to fallen Jewish soldiers who fought for free Latvia

Memorial to fallen Jewish soldiers who fought for free Latvia

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks (2013)  Aizmirstie karavīri – ebreji Latvijas armijā 1918.-1940. gadā.Rīga : Biedrība “Šamir”

 Atbrīvotājs : almanachs : Žīdu tautības Latvijas atbrīvotāju biedrības izdevums.  (1931-1933.) Rīga : Žīdu tautības Latvijas atbrīvotāju biedrība.

Dribins, Leo. (2002)  Ebreji Latvijā. Rīga : Elpa

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Latvian Orders and Medals

The three most famous Latvian Orders. The Order of Viesturs (left) The Order of Lāčplēsis (center) and the Order of Three Stars (right)

Awarding people for high merits of the state has been a noble tradition for many centuries. Even the most revolutionary countries like United States of America and the Soviet Union have and had the most complex system of state awards.

Latvia is no stranger for Orders and Medals and since its foundation it has introduced many notable state awards. The first award was the Order of Lāčplēsis (Bear Slayer) named after the Latvian epic war hero. The order was founded on  November 11 1919 the day when the Latvian army fought the battle of Riga. Only after complete liberation of Latvia at 18 September 1920 the requirements for the order were made. The order was to be awarded only for war merits and only for those who served the duty to act of valor for the honor and glory of Latvia. The other recipients were members of the Latvian Army, the members of the former Latvian rifleman corps and foreigners who took part in the War of Freedom.  The Order statutes included 62 points and the questions of awarding were decided by the Council of the Order of Lāčplēsis.

The Order of Lāčplēsis

The president of Latvia awards soldier with Order of Lāčplēsis

The order is a stylized swastika with white enamel coating and red and aureate enclosing. In avers in the center of the cross on the medallion is the depiction of Lāčplēsis. At the corner of the cross two crossed swords. On the reverse its written in medallion ” 11 November For Latvia”. The order has three classes. The order was designed by J. A. Libert. The first class also had its own star.

The first class was awarded to high rank officers like General J. Balodis, K, Berķis. O. Kalpaks the first commander of the Latvian army and F. Briedis the famous leader of the Latvian rifleman was awarded posthumously. The first class was also awarded to foreign leaders. The king of Belgium Albert I in 1923 the Estonian general J. Laidoner who fought on Latvian soil, Polish marshal J. Pilsudsky, two French generals, one British general and the king of Italy Emanuele III. Also the dictator of Italy Benitto Mussolini was later awarded. The second class was awarded to 18 Latvians and 43 foreigners, with 3th class 1600 members of the Latvian army. And 271 foreigners (the Estonians, Poles, French, Finns, Czechs, Lithuanians and the fortress of Verdun.). Three women were awarded with the third class.

The Order of The Three Stars

The Order of Lāčplēsis was a strictly a military order. It took some years before the highest civilian award was introduced. The Order of the Three Stars was founded in 1924. The order has five classes and three decorations of honor. The council of the Order was led by the president of Latvia and parliament members along with two high awarded members. The Order was given to all Latvian soldiers who voluntarily joined Latvian forces and took part in battles (excluding those who received the Order of Lāčplēsis).

The first class was given to 285 people, second to 391, third 1323, fourth 2194 and fifth 4417. The last order was given in  May 11 1940. The honor decorations were given in three classes. First class 2834, Second class 3624, Third class 1515.

The Order of Viesturs

In 1938 a new military decoration was founded the Order of Viesturs named after the ancient Latvian war leader. The order has five classes and three class decorations of honor. It’s a rare award because it was only awarded few times from 1938 to 1940. The first class was given to six Latvian army generals. Including J. Balodis, K, Berķis and J. Kurelis. The second class was given to 28 people, third in 126, fourth in 390 and fifth to 701 persons.

The Cross of Recognition

In the same year the Cross of Recognition was founded as the award for highest Latvian elite members. The Order was first was founded by the Duke of Courland and Semigallia Friedrich Wilhelm (1692-1711) in 1710. The eighteen year old king took over the throne and issued the new order. However, the Order existed only for a year as the young king died on his return from the wedding in Petersburg. The restored order was meant for people with great love for the fatherland and for the merits in state, social and cultural work. First who received the first class was historian the director of the Latvian State institute professor A. Tentelis. The next ones were the foreign minister V. Munters, professor V. Purvītis, J, Vītols. The last awarded to the third class the chief of Civil Guard K. Prauls. The second class was given to 21 persons including opera singer E. Laube, poet Aspazija, and many other high merit cultural workers. The fourth and fifth class was given to many notable members of various professions.

The Latvian Liberation War Commemorative badge

The Latvian War of Liberation 10Th anniversary medal

There were also many medals. The Latvian Liberation War Commemorative badge was given to all who served duty during the war of liberation. In 1928 during the celebration of 10th anniversary the Commemorative medal was given to persons who took part in the battles.

 The Civil guard (Aizsargi) was a paramilitary organization that took the role of imposing order and security in towns and countryside after the war. The organization became a popular army like formation that everyone could join in. The Aizsargi became even more prominent after the coup of Karlis Ulmanis where they played an active role. They had their own Cross of merit and medal. The National youth organization “The Hawks of Latvia” had their medals, also the Red Cross of Latvia four classes of awards. The firemen had their decoration, rare decoration was the medal for life saving.

The Aizsargi (civil guard) cross of merit

The Soviet occupation removed all these awards. During the years of occupation Latvians were awarded with Soviet awards. After the restoration of independence the main decorations the Order of Three Stars, The Order of Viesturs and the Cross of Recognition was restored. For now the most popular award is the Order of the Three Stars. The notable members of the Barricade movements have their own award. Many new medals have been made for police, military and firefighters. The awards are given by the president of Latvia. The Latvian Orders and Medals are beautiful and are made in the best Western European traditions.

Selected Sources:

Ducmane, Kristīne, (1993) Apbalvojumi Latvijas Republikā 1918-1940. Rīga : Latvijas Vēstures muzejs : Latvijas enciklopēdija.

Gerts,Oskars (Ed.) (1997) Triju zvaigžņu gaismā. Rīga : Latvijas Vēstnesis.

Grīnberga, L. (1999) Ceļvedis ordeņu vēsturē. Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC.

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