Tag Archives: World War II

The Courland Fortress 1944-1945

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The Map of Courland fortress

The Christmas is getting close this time and spirit of love and joy is in the air. But in 1944 at this time the air was filled with rockets, artillery shells and gunfire. It was the Battle at Courland (Kurzeme) region of Latvia between the trapped German army and advancing Soviet forces. May Latvian soldiers fought there on the both sides. This battle has many names the Courland pocket and the Courland Fortress. I like the therm fortress because the German army defended the Courland like a fortress fighting of six large Soviet offensives. Also Courland was a last stand for many Latvians – those who fought on the German side, those who still believed in independent Latvia and Courland was the last resort for many Latvian refugees who escaped the Soviet regime. Latvian SS Legion veteran and author Visvaldis Lācis has called Courland as the fortress of the Latvian spirit and shelter. This article tells the story of this fortress.

In Summer 1944 Soviet army returned to Latvia. First Soviet forces entered Latgale forcing German forces to give up their positions. In September Soviet forces reached the line that crossed large part of Vidzeme and Semigallia (Zemgale) Then heavy battles were fought by the Soviet advance to Riga. The German army could fight back many Soviet attacks and hold on for a long time. However, the German army was forced to evacuate Riga at  October 13 and it was taken without a fight by the Soviets. Then the Soviet army advanced to west to Mēmele river. Soviets managed to break through to Palanga and Klaipeda (Lithuania) at the Baltic Sea and Rucava at Latvian side. In so the German army group North was trapped in to Courland. Later the group North was renamed as army group Courland. Along with Germans Latvian SS Legion 19th Division was trapped in to Courland fortress.

The Courland fortress had strategical importance. As the Soviet fleet was still unable to move because of the frozen Gulf of Finland, Germany was still able to send evacuation and supply transports to ports of Liepaja and Ventspils. Courland helped the Germans to paralyze the Soviet Baltic fleet and preserve Swedish iron ore exports. The Soviets had to capture Courland to gain control over ice- free harbors and take over the Baltic sea.

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Latvian soldiers in the 19th division

First battles for Courland  started in  October 15 as the Soviets were attacking to Sloka and Dobele. The Latvian 19th Division was set to defend the positions. On  October 11 19th Divison along with German 6 Corpus retreated to Džūkste. Here all main division parts gathered. On October 12 the division received orders to take over defense positions at Lestene command point. On 15 October Soviets were attacking this position with tanks and artillery fire.

The 19th Division survived continuous Soviet attacks from 15 to 22 October. Facing heavy causalities Latvians defended its sector. At Putnukrogs Soviets lost 26 tanks and reported an especially heavy resistance in this sector. At the same time at night to 17 October German units retreated to Tukums line that they held until the end of the war. By  that the Latvian defense line was moved from Līvbērze station to Apšupe station.

Adolf Hitler decided to hold German troops in Courland and defend is as a fortress. Many of the German General staff resisted this including General Heinz Guderian who in the day of his sacking at  March 28 1945 in heavy argument again criticized  Hitler that he had not evacuated the Courland army group. But for Latvian legion it was a relief because many thought that they will have to leave Latvia that cause many to desert the ranks.

On  October 20 after the Soviet attack a front line in length of 218 kilometers from the Gulf of Riga to Žagare had been taken by the Second Baltic front group with six armies and air force army under the command of the general A Yeryomenko. A 80 divisions at whole.  The first Baltic front group was located from Mažeikiai to the coast of the Baltic sea with four armies and air force. The Germans had two field armies with 33 divisions.

First Baltic front planned to crush the fortress with two armies on the direction of the Vaiņode – Skrunda. On the second day including 5 tank guard army to reach Durbe. The Second Baltic front planned to break through to direction of Saldus. This was the first Courland great battle.

In reality the Soviet plans failed. The attack began on October 27. Soviets could not break through the German lines for three days. Only in  November 6 Soviets reached Venta river at Nīgrande. Heavy battles were fought around Auce that was captured but the Soviet attack was stopped. Only Soviet success was capture of  Mažeikiai.

The second great battle for Courland took place at 19 to 27 November. Soviets again tried to achieve what they did not in the first place. First Baltic front advanced to Skrunda, but was stopped at Pampāļi. Second Baltic front attacked Auce- Zvārde. Soviets captured Ezere but were halted by Germans. Soviet commanders blamed the lack of ammunition and because of the winter mud the artillery was unable to move. Also the thick clouds and fog made air force unable to operate.  Air force commanders said that had enough flights. While German planes were out of fuel their only hope as anti-air guns that many Latvians operated including boys.

Soviets were too sure about themselves and underestimated the Germans. After first two failures the marshal M Vasilevsky came to conclusion that Latvian 130 Rifleman corps will be best units to break through the German lines. The corps had two divisions 43 guards division with 8276 men and 308 guards division with 7128 men. They would have to fight against their nationals in the Latvian Legion. Vasilevsky ordered to attack the direction to Saldus with Latvian divisions attacking to Lestene, Irlava and Kandava and Ventspils. The corps was commanded by major general Detlavs Brantkalns with chief of staff colonel Pēteris Baumanis. Once again the Soviets relaid on the Latvian soldiers.

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The 130 Latvian Rifleman Corps

In the line of the Soviet attack the Latvian SS 19th Division stood against. The Frontline was fortified and well prepared for soviet attack. The Germans had no idea where the next attack will take place and it will be watched by chief of Soviet General Staff Vasilevsky himself.

After month of preparation at December 21 the third great Battle for Courland started. With three armies with 44 divisions Soviets could only capture Pampāļi and reach Zvārde. Soviets opened a heavy artillery fire dropping 177 000 shells and 1600 air attacks. Latvians lost all of their fortifications, almost all officers were hurt or killed. All transport cars were destroyed.

The Soviet attack went as planned with 43 Latvian rifleman guards attacking. However, the 312 mobile artillery corps that was sent as tank replacement became stuck in first ditches and was stopped at the anti – tank ditch. Same happened with 19th tank corps. At 106 corps sector Soviet tanks came trough legionaries positions because there was no more any communications with artillery. Only then the tanks were discovered by Latvian artillery and great duel between tanks and artillery started. 14 tanks were shot and Latvian rifleman was tied to the ground because of opposing Latvian artillery and gun fire. Latvian artillery also had heavy causalities only 5 cannons out of 24 were still in order.

Soviets made a breach and Germans added reinforcements. Soviets were unable to move further in the dead of the night. Latvian legion lost 40% of its man. In exchange of attacks and counterattacks both sides suffered great casualties. Latvian rifleman was unable to attack and tanks were crushed. At  December 29 Latvian rifleman was replaced with units from 1ts strike army. The fire ceased at December 31 with Soviet offensive stopped again with great cost.

The fourth great battle took place in 5-7 January. Germans aware that Latvian rifleman was removed from their captured positions intended to counter attack and take them back. With three tank battalions with Latvian grenadiers. But the Soviets had already swapped Latvian rifleman with four divisions and artillery support. Thrusting into Soviet positions German tanks directly came over Soviet artillery and Soviets needed 30 shots to destroy them. Germans could not fulfill their goals completely.

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The Badge for wounded soldiers in Courland

In December 16 Germans started their last offensive in the Ardennes hoping to beat the Allied forces to free more forces at the Eastern front. With surprise to allies Germans managed to break through behind the Allied lines at 100 km where they stopped because of the lack of ammunition. British prime minister Winston Churchill was forced to ask Stalin to fasten up his attack on the Eastern front. Really since September the Eastern front was stranded. Stalin agreed and on 12- 14 January Soviets attacked region between Visla river, Oder river and East Prussia. Within six days in heavy fights Soviets crushed the German defense and Soviet first line units even reached the Oder. It affected the Courland as the commander in charge general Sherner was moved to command group Center and was replaced with general Hilpert. The army group North was renamed as the Army Group Courland. Also some units were moved to Germany from Courland.

Soviets saw this a new chance to attack and in 21 January 1945 again attacked in whole front but were halted after two days. In 25 to 26 January Germans left Klaipeda that was still under their control. Soviets fired all of their shells at the besieged city.

Soviets united two Baltic fronts in one army group under the command of Marshall L. Govorov. New commander wanted to split German forces in half from Irbene to Skrunda. He wanted to that with two armies and one tank corps.

The attack began on February 16. Soviets headed to Liepaja but were stopped after five days. The only achievement was capture of Priekule with two armies in five days. Soviets lost the greatest number of casualties in all the war times in the Baltic region. In war cemeteries of Priekule, Vaiņode 29 188 were buried. At Ventas Pampāļi a 7 361 men were lost but at Rucava 1174 more.

The last six great battles started on March 4 . The objective was to reach the line between Kandava – Saldus. 22th army with 130 Latvian Rifleman corps started the attack but was stopped again. On March 13 the attacking forces were regrouped and 8 Estonian rifleman corpus was added and from Latvians and Estonians the 42 Army Baltic shock group was formed.

Battle took place during spring when ice melting caused floods with only roads used for moving around who also were in bad condition. A week break was taken by both sides until in March 16 battle restarted again. The route of attack was intended to Kuldīga. Because of thick spring fog the attack was postponed to 17 March. In three days of fighting both Latvian and Estonian corpus’s reached Dobele-Saldus railroad, while Russian divisions were unable to move. The Germans suffered great casualties and Latvian 19th Grenadier division was called to help also 43 legion corps came along. With great losses on the both sides again the Soviet offensive was stopped at 3 April. Soviet staff removed the Baltic Front and joined it with Leningrad front.

On April 4l Allied forces reached the River Elbe and stopped. On  April 16 Soviets started an offensive against Berlin. 23 to 26 April the encirclement of Berlin was complete. Hitler made suicide on  April 30. On May 7 the act of capitulation was signed in Reims.

On May 3 decision was made to evacuate from Courland as much as possible. In 7 and 8 May 26 000 men were evacuated with all possible ships in Courland harbor. Some Latvian motorboats reached Sweden while others were intercepted by Soviet ships and taken back to Ventspils.

On May 7 the Leningrad front command sent a radio message to Courland command that contained the terms of capitulation. Germans made radio contact with Govorov staff  at 7:00 local time. Govorov demanded to cease-fire on 14:00. At 18:00 at Ezere both staffs met and signed to halt warfare on land, air and sea at 23:00 Central European time.

Using the unset time on 8 May at 12:00 Soviet bombers attacked the Liepaja harbor. All German aviation excluding the damaged planes already left for Germany while anti-air guns still intact. Three soviet bombers fell into the sea. 32 transport planes Ju-52 took part in the evacuation and were destroyed by the Soviets on their way back. Even if technically the May 7 capitulation in Reims was signed also by Soviet general Sulsoparov the Soviets still fired on German forces. To escape further causalities Germans retreated from Tukums, Saldus and Brocēni.

On May 9 last capitulation was  signed in Berlin the war was over. Soviets reported that 181 032 soldiers and sergeants, 8038 officers and 42 Generals were taken captive in the Courland front. 130 Latvian rifleman corps disarmed 4172 soldiers from 24 German infantry division and also 16 officers 170 junior officers and 1291 legionaries from 19th division. Most of the legion disbanded few made it to Sweden and Denmark. There were 14 00 Latvian soldiers in Courland still remaining – 5200 at 19th division and 2500 in Rusmanis combat group. Soviets also detained all adult males in Courland and sent to filtration camps.

The Courland fortress was never conquered it survived until the last day of the war. Soviets with their flawed planing and underestimation of the German forces took great casualties. It was a tragedy for Latvians as the 19th Latvian SS division  had to fight against the 130 Latvian rifleman corps. Brothers fought against brothers, fathers against sons. In a Lestene largest war cemetery for fallen Latvian legion soldiers was unveiled after the regain of independence. Many cemeteries for Soviet soldiers are all around these places. Today German organizations are coming to Latvia to take care of fallen German soldiers. The forests of Courland are still full of war relics, one can find shells, rusted medals and human bones… The bravery and tragedy on the both sides in the Courland fortress can never be forgotten.

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The war cemetery and memorial at Lestene where the heaviest battles took place

Selected Sources:

Pētersons, Aivars. (2007)  Krustugunīs : latviešu karotmāka, 1940-1945 : 60 gadus no tautas slēptais. Riga : Author publication.

Kurowski,Franz. (2002)Bridgehead Kurland: The Six Epic Battles of Heeresgruppe Kurland. Fedorowicz (J.J.) Canada
Lācis, Visvaldis (2010) Kurzeme (1944-1945) Latviešu gara un patvēruma cietoksnis. Rīga. Jumava.

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The Baltic Question 1940-1945

The Welles declaration signed in  July 23 1940 stating US policy on the occupation of the Baltic states

The occupation and annexation of the Baltic States in 1940 by Soviet Union took place in the time of the Allied failure in the Western front, British weakness and American isolation. The Soviets hoped that the Western world would let not notice the occupation and acknowledge it as legal action. In the turn US and UK did not legally recognized the occupation and annexation despite the Soviet efforts. Although in  practice  nothing was done by the western powers to free the Baltic states the non recognition policy made a serious effort at regaining the Baltic States independence. As in most Western world Latvia was not recognized as legal juridical part of the Soviet Union and its exiled diplomats continued to work there was serious legal ground for state continuity of the Baltic states that helped to restore independence in the late eighties and  restore them according to pre-war legislation and borders.

On  August 23 1939 the German-Soviet nonaggression pact that included secret protocols dividing Eastern Europe into spheres of interest settled the fate of the Baltic states. On September 28 Soviet Union forced Estonia to sign a mutual cooperation pact that allowed the entry of 25 000 man large Red Army garrison. On October 3 Latvia had to sign the same agreement allowing formation of 30 000 men large Soviet garrison. A size larger than Latvian peacetime army. On 10 October Lithuania also was forced to open borders to garrison of 20 000 men. The Baltic states became the satellite states of the Soviet Union. While the governments remained in their seats, the independence and sovereignty could be fully canceled by Stalin at the every moment he pleases. It has to be noted that the agreements with the Soviet Union was signed in the atmosphere of threats and Soviets gave no peaceful compromise.

While watching the actions of Nazi Germany in the summer of 1941, the Soviet Union decided to completely occupy the Baltic States and annex them. At the time of the Nazi invasion in France they presumed that their actions in the Baltic states will go unnoticed.   The Baltic States received ultimatums demanding the change of the government and unrestricted entry from the Red Army. With the large number of Soviet armed forces already on the ground and international diplomatic isolation the Baltic states had no other option but to meet the demand. On 17 June Soviet Army occupied the Baltic states.

According to Hague convention (1907) it was an occupation, by seizing other country territory by military force and taking control over its administration. According to  point 42 of the convention the occupation means the country being in full control of the foreign military. In 1940, de facto Latvia was under full control of the Red Army and Soviet emissary Andrey Vyshinsky. After staging one party list elections that were faked in August Latvia was annexed along with Estonia and Lithuania.

One of the important tasks by the Soviets was to make the occupation look legal. However the United States were one of the first who officially condemned the Soviet action. It was thanks to American diplomats in Latvia who closely watched the events unfolding. US ambassador  John Wiley and his deputy Earl Packer sent reports to US State Department about the real Soviet intentions. John Packer criticized the Latvian government for having no escape plan for actions in exile. Only few top officials left Latvia for the west. Also the Americans discovered that other countries even Latvians themselves were not informed about the Soviet intentions for ultimatum in June. Even the Soviet Ambassador in Latvia found about the ultimatum from radio news. Moreover the German diplomatic staff was caught by surprise from the Soviet action. That was one of the reasons for the German invasion in the Soviet Union year later.

American diplomats in June 17 1940 reported that Latvians were not willing to resist and after occupation they had no free hand in every state matter. In so the US diplomats clearly understood the situation in the Baltic states. Until the closure of the US embassy in Riga in 7 September US had detailed information that proved that Soviet accusations of breaking the mutual agreement pact that was used as pretext for occupation was false and about the Soviet pressure on Latvian government.

On  June 23 1940 the acting US State Secretary Sumner Welles issued a special declaration that stated the Soviet Union is close to its goal to destroy the independence of the Baltic states by using phoney ways. The US condemned the breach in Baltic affairs by the Soviet Union and its use of force to annex them. In so with this declaration the US officially did recognize the annexation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union. In  July 15 1940 the US froze the Baltic monetary assets in their banks to not let the Soviets get hands on them. Latvia had gold deposit of 17 890 422 Lats according to prizes of those times. However the US allowed the funding of Baltic diplomatic consulates and diplomats which were important step.  The Soviets reacted angrily by accusing US of the appropriation of their property and sent official protest to US ambassador in Moscow. US ambassador Thurston sent an official note to the Soviet deputy of the Foreign commissary Lozovsky  explaining that the Soviet actions in the Baltic states have caused a great loss to American property and US has made steps to defend its interests.

However US decided not to seriously breach the relations with the Soviet Union as its goal was to make it go to war against Germany. However, the Soviets did not back down and started a negotiation rounds with Sumner Welles and US ambassador to give back the Baltic assets and not cancel the diplomatic rights for Baltic diplomats. In all events US declined the Soviet demands and kept their policy.

The British Empire also did not recognize the occupation of the Baltic states, but did not issue any official declaration for it was vital for them to keep good relations with Stalin. After the German invasion in 1941, Soviet diplomats again tried to persuade the US and UK to recognize the occupation. UK was ready to back down in December 1941 when Stalin demanded to UK Foreign Secretary Antony Eden to recognize the annexation.  Eden showed understanding and willingness but UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill turned down Stalin’s demands.

In 1942 May 20 Soviet Foreign Commissary Vyacheslav Molotov arrived to London to sign British-Soviet agreement. In the first agreement draft the Baltic states were already included in the Soviet Union, however, Stalin sent a request to add annexed parts of Finland and Poland in the agreement. Eden turned down the demand. The agreement was signed but the Soviet 1941 borders were not officially recognized. The US and UK could not legally acknowledge the Baltic occupation because they signed the Atlantic Charter in August 1941 that declared that every nation has its rights for sovereignty and right to choose its own government. Soviets later joined the charter but interpreted in the borders of 1941.

Even though the Western powers refrained from official recognition of the occupation they did nothing to prevent it. Already in 1942 the Western powers were quite submissive to Stalin’s demands and was ready to acknowledge the Baltic occupation as de facto while not recognizing de jure. Latvia was not allowed to join the United Nations and Atlantic Charter. US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt was pessimistic about restoring the Baltic states independence. He however in Tehran conference asked Stalin to hold referendums of statehood after the war, Stalin turned down this idea and the question was not raised again. The British officials on the other hand did not see much to do to stop the second occupation of the Baltic states and recommended to see it as already happened fact. In 1944, Britain came to conclusion that no diplomatic action is needed in both recognizing and non recognizing the occupation, as it would cause problems both with US and Soviet Union. The British Foreign minister Eden stated her majesty’s government has not recognized any other  governments in the other Baltic states than those that existed before 1940.

When World War draw to conclusion the US concluded that it must not take two extreme steps in the Baltic question. First the Baltic question must not be a serious drawback in the US – Soviet relation, second US must never legally and  morally support the Soviet actions in the Baltic States. Basically that was the US policy for decades to come.

In 1945, at the Potsdam conference the Baltic question was not raised. Although the Soviets wanted voting rights for all Soviet republics including the Baltic Soviet republics in the United Nations. That would de jure recognize the Baltic occupation. The demand was turned down. But nothing further was done as the US and UK was not considering a military conflict with the Soviet Union and kept its rights to not recognize the occupation and annexation of the Baltic States. With that Latvia had no real possibility to restore independence in the next decades. After the Soviets acquired nuclear weapons it was even more unreal for west to make any serious steps for it.

The western policy was dual, on one hand it supported the Atlantic charter notion for freedom and sovereignty of the nations in other hand in practice it was not refereed t0 the Baltic States. But, the non recognition policy that most states except Sweden practiced throughout the Cold War helped Latvian exile organizations to defend the interests of Latvians in the west and during the process of regaining the independence it was used as serious ground to restart diplomatic relations with the US and gaining its support for independence. In so the US and UK non recognition policy should be viewed as noble and productive over a large period of time.

Selected Sources:

Zunda, Antonijs. (2012)  Baltijas valstu jautājums, 1940-1991.  Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC.

Hidden, John (Ed.) (2008) The Baltic question during the Cold War.New York : Routledge, 2008.

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Great Soviet myths about World War II

Again the 23th August the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact has arrived. From all the latest researches in the last two decades we can say that Soviet- Nazi agreement started the World War II and it was the Soviet Union who took the most responsibility for starting it. It has been discussed in this site before. This article will speak about so-called Soviet mythology the distorted view of history of World War II from the Soviet history books, propaganda movies and literature. Stalin and his henchmen made an enormous effort to re-write the Russian history and after the end of World war II the myth of the Great Patriotic war was created. Every Soviet history textbook declared that Soviet Union only joined WWII in 22. June 1941, was not ready for such war, nor it even wanted the war with Germany. Also the secret protocols of the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact, the occupation of the Baltic states and the Katyn massacre was declared a false accusations or just not mentioned. The Soviet historiography generated a number of myths about the German-Soviet relations, the great defeat of 1941, the bravery and loyalty of Soviet soldiers, the great victories in 1943-1945 and the outstanding talent of the Soviet Generals. Also the defamation campaign against the Baltic States and Ukraine has already begun in the Soviet Era.

Today not much have changed. Russian official historiography still accumulate the many biases of the Soviet propaganda. The official Putin ideology still endorses the myth of the Great Patriotic war and the attempts of questioning it may end with repressions. Book shelves are full of biased “academic” works and Russian movie industry refrains from showing the ugly side of Soviet -German war. In fact these myths are massively used in the war of information against the Baltic states and Ukraine. Now we will list some of the most popular Soviet Myths about the World War II that still correspond today.

The “Great victory” occurred on 9th May not later and not earlier.

It is a widespread view in Russia that German capitulation signed by German chief of staff Alfred Jodl together with Allied commander-in-chief Dwight Eisenhower in Reims on 7th May was a separate and unfinished act of surrender and the real complete capitulation took place on 9th May in Berlin.

  The first act of capitulation was signed in Reims in the presence of Dwight Eisenhower, general Walter Bedell Smith and Soviet representative of the main Soviet Staff general Ivan Susloparov, also France signed the act. The ceremony of surrender took place in 7th May 2:40 at the Middle European time. General Susloparov sent a request to Moscow for authorization to sign the protocol, however no answer came in time and he signed it with his own risk. The act of capitulation came into action in 8th May 23:01 Middle European time while it was already 9th May at Moscow. Stalin sent an instruction to Susloparov not to sign the agreement, but when found that it was singed anyway, ordered to organize a separate capitulation signing with Germans. Stalin said that the capitulation in Reims must not be recognized, for the importance of this act dictates that it must not happen in the territory of the victors, but in place the fascist aggression came from – Berlin. And the real action was supposed to be signed by the all the main commanders of the allied forces and some top executive of Nazi Germany. The repeated act took place in Berlin suburbs of Karlshorst with the presence of German Feldmarchal Wilhelm Keitel, Dwight Eisenhower and Soviet commander marshal Georgy Zhukov. Since the capitulation text was the same as 7th May signed since it was already approved by the US and UK, the World war really ended on 7th May and it was signed by the Soviet representative albeit not authorized by Stalin. The 9th May capitulation was Stalin’s caprice and later in the era of Brezhnev, the 9th May victory day was introduced as a mass celebration to make big parades and get more medals. 9th May has become a mythical victory festival to Russians the only date they really celebrate.

The World War II really started on 22th June 1941, after the German invasion in the Soviet Union and it was called the Great Patriotic War. All the combat actions that took place before was a separate happening that has nothing to do with the Soviet entry in World War II

The Red Army first opened fire on 17th September 1939, when entered the Eastern Poland. Soviet forces captured all Polish territory that was marked as the Soviet sphere of interest in Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. It was a use of force and therefore the Soviet Union entered World War II as a German ally since they held a friendly joint parade at Brestlitovsk. Soviet invasion was the finishing blow to Poland and helped Germans to win the invasion more quickly. Even if the Winter war in Finland could be taken as the separate war, it also was a part of a Soviet campaign to acquire all territories in the Soviet sphere of interest and at this time the Soviet Union was the German ally and British were considering to send an armed support for Finland. Also the occupation of the Baltic states and Bessarabia of Rumania was a military action. So again the Great Patriotic war myth was created to hide the unholy alliance with Germany and the actions done before 22. June 1941. The Napoleon invasion of Russia in 1812 is also called  Patriotic War, but it was also a part of Napoleonic war same as the Eastern campaign in 1941 was the part of World War II that the Soviet Union already begun in 1939.

The Finland was to blame for the Winter war

The Soviet Union for a long time blamed the Finns for shelling the Mainila village at Karelia that resulted the Soviet counter attack. In reality Finland was in the Soviet Sphere of interest and after the talks of signing mutual cooperation pact with Finland went nowhere, Stalin gave directives to the Leningrad military district and the Baltic fleet to prepare for the invasion. In 23. November Soviet army received a note that “we are not coming as conquerors, but as the liberators of the Finns!”. Stalin gave an oral order to attack. The shelling at Manila was done by Soviet NKVD (secret police) at 26. November. Soviets took the blame on the Finns and declared that four people was killed and eight was wounded. In reality no military causalities or even gun shots were not recorded in Soviet documents. Finns recorded that the shelling came from the Soviet side at their own territory.

The Baltic States were incorporated and annexed by their own will and consent so as the Bessarabia and Eastern Poland.

This myth is still official in Russia. The mutual agreements with the Baltic states in 1939, was given by the Soviets in ultimatum form and Baltic diplomats were warned of grave consequences  if they refuse to sign it. Soviets gathered large forces at the Baltic borders that Baltic armies could not counter with. The Finland did not sign and it resulted invasion. The Baltic States had no other chance but allow the buildup of Soviet garrisons or to face war of destruction. The Soviets were considering large amount of deportations in case of invasion.  When at the Summer 1940, when Hitler defeated France, Stalin decided to completely solve “the Baltic problem”. As there were already garrisons at the Baltic States and the ultimatum to allow full entry of the Soviet forces in their lands gave no other option it was not really on the consent of the Baltic leaders. And the annexation process was not really supported by a majority of Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians, as no official plebiscite on joining Soviet Union was not held, and the new communist governments were elected in unfair elections with the result drawn out in Moscow before they even started. Same goes for occupied Eastern Poland were annexation took place without the consent of the local populace and the Bessarabia was given away by Rumania after threats of complete Soviet invasion. Also Germany advised Romanians to give up Besserabia  because Germans needed their oil reserves that they did not want to give to the Soviets.

Stalin was afraid of Hitler

The popular myth of Stalin’s fear of Nazi Germany and that he has done everything to preserve peace until the last-minute does not correspond to reality. Stalin did everything to make Germans sign agreement in 1939. When the British were considering sending a military support to Finland, the Soviet navy received directly that their main enemies are not British but Germany and Italy. The war with Finland was stopped because Stalin wanted to move all important forces to the Western borders before Hitler strikes in France. At the 7th May 1940, when German campaign in western front was underway Stalin apparently said: “We will not fight with America, we will fight with Germany and the Americans and British will be on our side!”. He already stated in 1939. 19 August that the Soviets would enter the war when the Germans will get stuck in the western front. Apparently he was waiting for his strike against Germany since the German eastern borders were poorly defended. Even when Germans held outstanding victory over France, Stalin did not lose courage and ordered to prepare more forces to attack. His demands to Germany were aggressive that would violate the security of Germany and its allies. He left no doubts that he wanted Eastern Europe for himself even the Rumania with its oil reserves the only source for Germany. So it was Hitler who was more afraid of Stalin than Stalin from Hitler. There is much evidence that Soviets were ready to attack on Germany some days after the German attack date.

The Soviet Union won the war thanks to the courage of the Soviet people and the wisdom of the Soviet command. The allied help was not that important

In the first weeks of the German invasion, the Germans captured large areas and went to far distances. It was partly blamed on Red Army attack stance not defensive, but also the lack of morale, loyalty and courage was to blame. In fact in the first phases of the war Red Army took a chaotic panicked retreat all the way to Smolensk and Leningrad. The airplanes, tanks and guns were just abandoned to Germans. Divisions located many hundred miles from the front retreated. It was only the Stalins order of “no step back” and shooting the men from behind that stopped the complete collapse of the Red Army. Reason? There was a lack of discipline in the Soviet ranks, lack of professionalism and no big support to Stalin. Especially in Western Ukraine, where after the Stalinist repressions and the Great Famine was a heavy sense of Ukrainian nationalism. Same goes for Baltic states were Red Army had no support from the local populace.

Only when Eastern Front stopped near Moscow, and Soviets gathered enough forces with draconian efforts, Red Army was ready to fight again. Plus the Germans failed to fill out the hopes of the Ukrainians and Baltic people and did many atrocities that moved Russians against the Germans. So it was a fear that helped the Soviets to fight not bravery. And the incompetence of the Soviet command that emphasized on brutal majority not tactics cost thousands of life’s.  The only German advantage over Soviets were their discipline and professionalism of their commanders. However both of the leaders of the Germany and Soviet Union were more or less  bloody military amateurs.

UK and US send 50, 1 billion dollar military support to the Allied countries $31.4 billion went to Britain, $11.3 billion to the Soviet Union, $3.2 billion to France, $1.6 billion to China, and smaller sums to other Allies.  The Soviet Union sent 2,2 billion dollars in return. Allied fleets lost a large amount of ships and sailors on their way to Soviet ports as they were hunted by German submarines. Even if the Soviets counted that only 4% of the allied Land lease was part of their economical surplus, 57% of the plane fuel came from allies, Soviets received more automobiles than they could build. A large part of railway track came from allies. Also the large amount of materials for military industry. True that Soviets almost did not use any of the allied supplied tank or airplane. But their weapons were built with allied resources. In military field the allied war in West did help Soviets to defeat the Germans. On 1943, when the Germans attacked Kursk, the allied landing in Sicily caused Hitler to cancel the attack on the eastern front. If the D-Day would fail or never occurred Germans would have enough resources to fight against Soviets all the way to 1946.

The Red Army veterans are heroes and all the accusations of atrocities are false or the victims deserved it. The local population in the liberated countries who did not greet the liberators are Nazi supporters and scoundrels

At 12th Januar 1945 General Ivan Chernjachovsky commander of the third Belorussian front gave the following order: “Two thousand miles we have walked past to see the destruction of all that was dear to us. Now we are standing at the lands from where the aggressors attacked on us.  We will not stop until we will clear it. There will be no mercy for no one as there was no mercy for us. You cannot demand to the Soviet Soldier that he will be merciful to the enemy. He is burning in flames of revenge and hate. The land of Fascists must become a wasteland as ours is now. Fascists must die just as our soldiers died!”. And the Soviet soldiers did their best to fulfill this order. Only the Fascists they killed and raped were not soldiers and members of the Nazi party but women and children. Eastern Prussia, Silesia, Poland and even Serbia became a subject of rape, killings and looting.  Even if there was a German crimes against Soviet population, it was on a smaller scale, plus the German soldiers and SS members were prohibited to rape because of the racial laws. The Holocaust in Soviet Union is a different story and it’s doubtful that Soviet Soldiers rape and killed to avenge the Jews. Antisemitism was no lesser in Soviet ranks than in German.

Many of today’s   last generation of the surviving veterans had little or no combat experience. The real heroes died on first lines of the battlefield in Soviet mass attacks. Their medal count does not manifest their bravery since the awarding of low rank medals, orders and badges are the part of the Soviet War cult. And the Soviet officers and generals who did nothing to stop the soviet soldiers from doing bad deeds are not worthy to be called heroes.
We cannot call Poles, who knew what happened in 1939, Latvians who knew what happened in 1940 and others who resisted Soviet “liberation” fascists since the freedom that the Soviets brought was no better. Soviet Union had no plans for freedom of the Eastern Europe so it’s no wonder that today the Soviet liberation is not much appreciated.

This is only a short list of the Soviet myths. Its requires books to break them apart. Many of them have been broken by Russians themselves. But Putin’s Russia continues its revisionist policy from Yeltsin democracy  to Stalinism.  So the Great Patriotic war is not only the myth its a religion a belief system on its own and its god is Stalin that still rules Russia.

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The start of World war II on the territory of Latvia and its occupation by Nazi Germany

After facing brutal Soviet occupation, majority of Latvians celebrated Germans as liberators. However the Nazis got their own sinister plans for Latvians and Jews.

On June 22 1941 Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Although the fact that both sides had signed a non–aggression treaty at 1939 August 23 Nazi Germany decided to attack its former partner state. This decision was based on Adolf Hitler mistrust on the Soviet Union and his desires for expansion in the east. The outbreak of war was crucial for Jews since it changed Nazi Jewish policy towards the “final solution”. Before that Nazi leaders had unclear visions how to “solve” the Jewish question. After the Nazi occupation of Poland Adolf Hitler first approved plans for Jewish deportation from Eastern Europe. The desired place was the island of Madagascar in Indian Ocean. This plan was taken for serious consideration until new plans to invade the Soviet Union.  Soviet Union was inhabited by 5 million Jews that made the deportation plan impossible. Thus Madagascar was not even controlled by Germany.  On  March 13 Hitler then entrusted SS to fulfill special tasks for preparation of political administration that allowed SS Einzatssgruppen to operate in the territory of the Soviet Union On June 6 1941, the Nazis issued so called Commissar Order, which ordered to kill all the Soviet officials.  Although Jews were not directly mentioned in the order it laid down plans for further treatment of the whole population of the Soviet Union. At  June 17 chief of German Security Service Reinhard Heydrich met with all four Einzatsgruppen commanders and set out the goals and assignments for the invasion.  Although they knew their goal of destroying all Jews of Soviet Union, it’s not known if they had received direct orders of it. It is however known that on  July 17 three weeks after the initial invasion Heydrich ordered to kill all Jewish POWS.  Already at July 2 he has instructed to kill all Jews that were members of the Soviet Communist party.   However, most Hitler’s orders concerning Jews were oral and documents were written in concession form, leaving vast explanations.  A direct order ordering destruction of Jews of Soviet Union has never been found. Hitler was over optimistic about his campaign and wanted to clear the vast territories of the Soviet Union from people he considered unneeded. The idea of Lebensraum (the living space for Germans) obsessed the minds of Nazi leaders and set bad prospects for nations living in the Soviet Union. In the event of victory Nazi regime would also Germanize Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, but first victims of their blacklist were Jews. Another aspect of this order was Hitler’s belief that the Soviet Union is controlled by Jews and Marxism was invented by them. So the destruction of Jews was an important aspect of Hitler’s struggle against Marxism.

First battles in the territory of Latvia started in  June 23 in Liepaja. The city was taken in hard street fights in  June 28. German army reached Riga at  June 29, and captured it on July 1. The city was taken with fewer fighting then Liepaja, but suffered sustained damage on parts of Old Riga. On June 26 German 56 Tank group led by general Erich von Manstein captured Daugavpils. The Red army failed to recapture the city and Germans gained control over the right coast of River Daugava so Soviets were forced to retreat. German tank formations crushed trough Soviet lines and on  July 2, Soviets began a chaotic retreat to the East. In  July 5 military activity in Latvia was over.

German invasion in 22. June 1941.

This study will discuss problems of the start of war in Latvia from June 22 to July. The first part describes various Latvian nationalist organizations and their preparation for the destruction of Jews. The second part will take a look on pro–nazi underground in Latvia, was there such in how it was involved in the destruction of Jews.

German plans for Latvia

Adolf Hitler already stated in his book “Mein Kampf” that Russia must be new living space for Germans. All Eastern Europe must go through radical ethnic reforms to fulfill the domination of the German race. Jews, Slavs and Baltic peoples were supposed to go through ethnic cleansing to make the Soviet Union a “garden of Eden” for “superior German race”. Hitler did not consider the independence of Latvia, as it should be added to German Lebensraum.  Baltic German Alfred Rosenberg – the Nazi philosopher had large affection on Hitler’s ideas. He made Hitler believe that Jews and Bolsheviks are one in the same. He also taught Hitler about Baltic peoples, in  July 11 1941 Hitler had said that Estonians are “elite” of the Baltic people, then comes Lithuanians, last are Latvians.  Hitler also said that Stalin used Latvians for his executions that Russian dreaded to do themselves. Latvians were also in charge of killings in old Russian Empire according to him.

Latvia was designed for colonization, and Latvians were thought as the “dying race” and should be replaced with more energetic Germans. About 10 to 30% Latvians were considered eligible for Germanisation but the rest must be deported.  Such intentions are found in Dr. Wetzel letter to Heinrich Himmler where he strives for mentioned goals,   Also more detailed Nazi view on Latvian problem can be found in head of the political department of Ostland Trampedach report,  The designed plan was called General Plan Ost. Modern German historians call it the racist utopia.  Luckily, the Germans wanted to that with Latvians after the victory, but since it never came Latvians escaped a bitter danger for their survival. Ultimately, Latvians would meet the same fate as the Jews.  However, Jews were first on the German list, and they had to be destroyed before the victory.

German plans for “spontaneous” anti-Jewish pogroms

There is no direct order known for killing the Jews in Latvia. However, we have a set of SD chief Reinhard Heydrich instructions to General Walter Stahlecker and other Einsatzgruppen leaders to conceal the killings and to make it appear as that the “natives” were doing it.  These instructions were spoken in  June 17 1941. The unambiguous plan was to induce “spontaneous” anti-Jewish pogroms by the local peoples. Also a part of concealment was to film and photograph the killing actions performed by the “natives” but to avoid doing the same with the Germans.   Those instructions can be found in Einsatzgruppe A report on October 15 1941.  It was a sign that “spontaneous” “self-purification” actions done by Latvians were a cover-up by Germans.

The Latvian Nationalist organizations

To do such devious plan Germans required local collaborators from national circles. Not all nationalists are necessarily radicals and anti-Semites. Such people can be found in radical nationalist parties and organizations. From 1919 to 1939, nationalism was the popular ideology across Europe and was no stranger to Latvia. In fact, Latvia itself was built on national principles. However, the constitution of Latvia (Satversme) clearly stated that the rights of citizens belong to all people living in Latvia not just Latvian nation. Minorities were accepted in culture and politics and had a visible presence in national affairs. Such form of nationalism is to be called “democratic nationalism” that was official state ideology throughout the years. More radical national groups that often showed xenophobia and chauvinism objected such concept. These men called themselves “active nationalists”. They were strongly against Bolshevism, democratic party system and most visibly against national minorities. While Latvian nationalists had always despised Baltic Germans, Jews became even more targeted by them. Anti-Semitism was a rather new phenomenon among Latvians. First anti-Semitic references were published late 19th Century where Jews were accused of treachery and doing harm for Latvian economy.  However at that time more serious was Russian imposed anti-Semitism than Latvian. The swift rise of anti-Semitism appeared after 1920. Anti-Semites accused Jews of takeover of Latvian economy and attempts to seize control over the politics of Latvia. Another accusation was the large amounts of Jewish immigrants who entered Latvia together with war refugees from Russia. Such claim has been false since the majority of those who returned lived here before. However, because of citizenship law that granted citizenship to those who had lived here since 1914 about 23% Jews were without it. However, until 1925, 83% Jews were citizens which meant that most of them had applied for citizenship. Jews also were accused for close corporation with the Communist party and the Soviet Union. But the amount of Jews in Communist party was small and became larger only because of the rise of anti-Semitism.
First visible radical nationalist party who became the seed of all nationalist organizations was Latvian National Club (LNC). The club was founded in 1922. It was formed by mostly young age students. The club was sympathetic to Benitto Mussolini Fascist Regime in Italy and sent greeting letters to him personally.   Club despised parliamentary struggle and instead preferred aggressive demonstrations that often resulted in violent incidents. LNC had an influence on anti-Jewish violence at the University of Latvia on December 1922. Radical students who supported LNC caused student riots in University rooms.  Because of radical methods and use of violence club  became more dangerous until it was banned in 1925. The reason was murder of young Jewish social democrat agitator Alexander Massak.

LNC had many follow up parties who existed until 1934. Most of them were marginal and could not reach the LNC fame. But in 1932 new radical movement “Ugunskrusts” (Fire cross ) appeared. This organization will have part in the Holocaust. Because of their anti-governmental agenda and violent acts, it was banned in 1933. However, it was renewed as “Pērkonkrusts” (Thunder cross) at the same year but was again banned by Karlis Ulmanis regime in 1934. The party remained underground trough out the years of Ulmanis regime and was a sharp enemy against it. It had the same ideology as LNC but was even more xenophobic towards minorities. The party was sympathetic towards Nazi Germany and praised its actions against Jews. However before the war they were as much against local Germans as Jews and declared that in the event of takeover of power they will kill Germans along with Jews .  Pērkonkrusts called for expulsion of Jews from Latvia but had no clear plan how to do it.  They declared that if they came to power, they would not spare anyone and destroy the Latvian democracy. Radicals even came to violent attacks against Jews. In February 7 1933 group of radicals attacked the Cionist club in Riga calling “Heil Hitler!”  Similar attacks were made against Jewish shops and individuals. Luckily, radicals killed no one. Pērkonkrusts was also anti-German but their anti-Semitic stance was more visible. During the Ulmanis regime “Pērkonkrusts” became even more grotesque when their members moved around masked in hoods and burned swastika signs on their right elbows.  The leader of the movement was Gustavs Celmiņš. By the German data Pērkoņkrusts had 5, 000 to 6, 000 members.   The LNC and Pērkonkrusts were the main radical forces in the pre–war Latvia.

The leader of Perkonkrusts Gustavs Celmins

However, after one year of Soviet occupation much had been changed, and Latvian nationalists were divided into many groups. Andrievs Ezergails has given definitions for them and set their goals at the start of the war. Ulmanieši (the supporters of Ulmanis) was largest part of the Latvian nationalists at 1941. In ranks of them were many who wanted to collaborate with the Germans. Oskars Dankers, Alfrēds Valdmanis were among those that had the elite position in times of Ulmanis and wanted to regain it with help of Germans. However, it’s worth to note that the majority of these people had hopes for restoration of independence, and they hoped for German help. The Germans, on the other hand, viewed them with suspicion. Another group was Kalpakieši a set of high rank military officers who survived Soviet occupation. They were named after the first commander of the army of Latvia Oskars Kalpaks. Lt. Col. Aleksandrs Plensners and Viktors Deglavs were agents of Abwehr (German intelligence service). Their main goal was the restoration of Latvian national military forces. Such intentions were viewed with hostility from Germans.

Special group was Aizsargi – the civil defence guard. It was formed in 1919, to protect rural areas and fight brigandage. Guards became extra powerful when they allied with Karlis Ulmanis regime. After the occupation, they were dissolved and repressed by Soviets. At the start of the war, many former civil guards entered the partisan movement. Under German occupation some of them entered Schutzmannschaften and also some were part of the Arajs commando.  It appears that Stahlecker first choosed the Aizsargi for collaboration. The behavior of these men is explainable because of Soviet repressions enforced especially against them. Smaller group was Officers of former Latvian army who however did not rush to join German formations. Some of them did join Arajs commando but the count was very small.

Already mentioned Pērkonkrusts had high success at first months of the war. Yet Germans could not forgive their anti-German stance. The main guilt of Pērkonkrusts in Holocaust was the spreading on anti-Jewish propaganda before and after the start of the war. Their connections with murders are unclear but some members are known to taken part in the killings. It is known that Viktor Arājs himself was a student member of Pērkonkrusts but as a policeman in Ulmanis regime, he could not maintain his relationship with the organization.

The preparation of nationalist collaborators for Holocaust

The main forces behind gathering participants for Jewish destruction were: 1, Abwehr– the military intelligence service, Himmlers men and RSHA group, 2, Security Police and SD, 3, civil government and Alfred Rozenberg men.

The agent of Abwerh Curt Greb made contacts with colonel Aleksander Plensner and colonel-lieutenant Viktor Deglav. V. Deglavs was military attaché in Lithuania when Soviet Union occupied Baltic States. He escaped to Germany. A. Plensners was recognized war veteran and intellectual who apart from his military carrier wrote poems. He was attaché in Germany from 1937 who stayed in Berlin after the occupation and in 1941 became an agent of Abwerh. Before the start of the German invasion A. Plensners gathered 200 Latvians living in Germany. In May 1 1941, A. Plensners met with Abwerh in Marienburg in a friendly atmosphere. Abwerh promised that in case of war Latvians would have a chance to form their national forces. A. Plensners men were scattered among many German army units. Abwerh used them for “defense and sabotage tasks”. After Nazi occupation of Latvia A. Plensners and V. Deglavs was quickly removed away from ruling structures. They reached Riga only in  July 5 when Stahlecker’s men already had started to operate.  Unaware of German betrayal Plensners and Deglavs still demanded for the formation of national forces. In the July 18 1941, V. Deglavs was killed in the stairway of A. Plensners apartment.  A large funeral at Latvian main war cemetery were done for Deglavs  and his death was commemorated in main newspaper Tēvija,  but the reason for his death was never revealed.    This event was a clear sign that Germans used Latvian officers as puppets and had no desire to give them more freedom.

Latvian Army war officer Viktors Deglavs killed by Germans because of his demands about restoration of Latvian armed forces

SD worked with the members of Pērkonkrusts. They allowed them to takeover Latvian press. Pērkonkrusts leaders Gustavs Celminš and Evalds Andersons were present in Germany before the war and come back together as Sonderführer under the aegis of Abwehr.   The Pērkonkrusts did notable “intellectual” work on promoting anti-Semitism in their ranks was writers like Raimonds Čaks, Teodors Zeltiņš Mārtiņš Vāgulāns, Artūrs Kroders and Ādolfs Šilde. A. Šilde was best known for his propaganda against Jews and promotion of Holocaust in newspaper Tevija.   Later after the war he completely changed his position and became a notable democratic author.  Known Pērkonkrusts members that took part in Arājs commando was Arnolds Trucis, Valdis Didrichsons and Kārlis Deglavs.

The third agency searching for potential collaborators was the Ministry of the East, Alfred Rozenberg’s purview. The ministry needed a coterie of puppets a group that would play a public role yet allow the Germans to do everything they wished. The puppets had to be men of importance within Latvian community and had accommodated with the Nazis. Chosen persons were Pastor Dr. Visvaldis Sanders from Liepaja, and Arturs Freimanis a retired army officer. These persons, however, was not widely known in the public. But Germans found the support of Oskars Dankers a retired army general with prominence within the society. He, however, was described as a dull man.

There were certainly a sizable number of Latvian collaborators who decided to work with Germans. One side of them took part in Holocaust. However, the others had no anti-Semitic intentions; their motivation was the restoration of Latvia in which they could have some power. While Pērkonkrusts certainly wanted to realize their goal of Jewish expulsion, they also wanted more power in their own hands. Leader of Pērkonkrusts Gustavs Celmiņš made a detailed application for Germans to form Latvian national armed units in German army that would be very common to the future Latvian Waffen SS Legion,   Germans supported none of these intentions. Nazi Germany had an expansionist agenda based on racism and the independence of Latvia was not in these plans. Latvian collaborators were used as puppets; Germans deceived them all. Pērkonkrusts survived Ulmanis and Soviet regime but were smashed during the Nazi occupation. On August 17 1941, German authorities banned Pērkonkrusts. Some members still worked with Germans others turned to resistance. Main leader Gustavs Celmiņš was arrested in 1944 and thrown into concentration camp.

Nationalist collaboration with Nazi Germany is unacceptable; a true nationalist and patriot would never support any occupation regime and fight for only behalf of its country and people. The persons that choused to support Nazi occupants were careerists and criminals not nationalists. However its must be noted that one year of Soviet occupation made an illusion that Germans will support and restore the Latvian independence and therefore many rushed to ally with Germans.
National partisans and their role in the first days of war

Soviet occupation from 1940 to 1941 was shocking time for many Latvians. Even more blowing was the deportation to Siberia at June 14 1941. It widened the will of resistance against Soviet regime. On  June 22 German invasion and their quick success made way for spontaneous resistance against Soviet troops. Armed groups that called themselves “national partisans” attacked retreating Soviet troops and made sabotages.  First partisan regiments formed soon after  June 14 but became active after June 22. Former army officers, civil guards (Aizsargi), and deserters of 24, Rifleman corpus joined the armed struggle.  Armed units had random numbers from few men to many hundreds. They were armed with rifles, sometimes with machine guns, mortars and even tanks. Partisans were present in 20% of Latvian parishes. The amount of national partisans was between 6000 to 8000 partisans.  Ex Latvian army member Lieutenant Colonel Voldemars Veiss and Roberts Osis enlisted 5, 000 men to show up.  Most active they were in Vidzeme, less active in Latgalia. Partisans attacked weapon storages, retreating army men and NKVD agents. Other than that they also were accused of opening fire to evacuating Jews, who fled Nazi army. However, there are no documentary proof on that.   Partisans did many atrocities against communist supporters; there were rumors that partisans hanged a boy only because he had a pioneer uniform.  In Riga during two days of war partisan activity was very high, Red Army was shot from rooftops. Partisans did everything to prevent the escape of fugitives; many Jews could not make out safe because of them.  In combat actions about 120 national partisans lost their lives . Latvian public was exited to meet Germans as their new liberators. Streets of Riga were filled with armed men awaiting their arrival.  Some thought now it’s time to set scores with the Jews  but most were just exited of “liberation of Riga”. A sudden rise of national partisans can be described as sense of revenge against soviet occupation and their crimes especially the deportation of June 14 few days before the war. Most of simple Latvians who joined national partisans were motivated to fight soviets not specially Jews.

Latvian national partisans on the streets of Riga at 1 July

When Germans finally captured Riga, a large crowd went to greet German army. A large demonstration with national flags was set to offer flowers and bread to German soldiers. Latvian national anthem “God bless Latvia!” was sung along the way. However, a day after all flags were removed and anthem was prohibited to sing.  Germans wanted to exclude the usage of words “Latvia” and Baltic states”.

Germans had a dilemma on what to do with these people. Hitler on July 16 1941, banned non–Germans to bear weapons.   However, a year earlier Himmler, on May 28 1940, noted that non–Germans could become town majors and policeman.  When Germans met local partisans, they renamed them to self-defense forces. They appreciated their help fighting Red army but feared from their will to set vertical networks reaching towards every pagasts (parish) of Latvia.

On  June 30 German military command set out main points on what to with the national partisans.  The formation of these forces was encouraged, but at the same time they were limited to cleansing land from Bolshevik terror and Russian stragglers. But they were banned from the political initiative and only set as auxiliary forces. National army was disallowed. Regiments had to be commanded by local rulers under jurisdiction on German military command. In so national partisan units were organized in Selbstschutz (self-defense) regiments.  Germans organized 700 self-defense commandants’ offices across Latvia. These were armed structures that were responsible for the law and order. Wermacht and SD controlled them. All orders came from them although in some cases self-defenders could make their own moves.

Instructions from Heydrich made it clear that existence of these units should be temporary and their role only should be limited on pogroms against the Jews. At  July 8 Stahlecker dissolved all national partisan units. Those who he trusted were included in auxiliary police under his control.  It’s important that the term for new regiments was not Latvian, military, nor police but auxiliary police. Later they were renamed to Schutzmannschaften on October 1941.

From National partisan units Stahlecker also organized several Security police and SD auxiliary units and teams sometimes refereed to as Sonderkommandos. These commandos on whom the largest was Arājs commando were under Stahleckers own guidance, and when he left their supervision was entrusted to the leadership of the Eiznatzkommando 2. These units were directly involved in killings of Latvian Jews.

Only after the establishment of Self-defense forces Germans started mass murders all around Latvia.  This means that Germans only used national partisans for this purpose. Some men from national partisans were not inclined to kill the Jews, but now Germans gave them such task. It could be seen, as tragedy for those men who wanted to fight for Latvian freedom became the perpetrators of Nazi crimes. Nazi propaganda however managed to convince many Latvians that the Jews were the blame for the Soviet occupation and atrocities.   German plans for spontaneous pogroms failed, einzatsgruppe A reported that only few thousand Jews were killed by the locals.

The Arājs commando

It is not exactly known how many Latvian Jews fell in the hands of the Arajs commando. The number may be at least 26 000 people. Commando was formed from radicals, members of student fraternities and simple people who applied to join.  The official name of the commando was Latvian SD police but because of notable presence of Arājs it was mostly called Arājs commando.

Viktors Arajs the head of SD commando that took thousands of Jewish lifes

The main face of the commando was Viktors Arājs. He was born on January 13 1910 in Baldone, a small town near Riga. He was a son of the Latvian blacksmith Teodors and German–Latvian Berta. German was often spoken in his parental household. However, he felt himself as a Latvian. First world war separated his family; his father joined the Imperial army. He returned to Latvia, by a way of China, bringing along a Chinese woman. Arājs was forced to live in poor conditions and work hard during the wartime.  He received education in Jelgava gymnasium and in 1930, was enlisted into the army. In 1932 he applied to join a law faculty of Latvian University.   He joined nationalist organization Viestura savienība (Viestur’s Society) at 1930. He also looked for more possibilities and entered the student fraternity Lettonia, the most oldest and respectable of all.   In 1935 he attended police school and was sent to practice to Zaube parish. In 1937 he married Zelma Zeibots a Zaube local. Because of these departures he could not finish university. He dropped out but returned in November 1940 under Soviet occupation. His study results were average from very good to bad. There are three CV’s written by Arājs in 1935 1940 1941. In first he shows how he makes his carrier and hides his material difficulties. In January 7 1941, CV he conforms his life completely to Soviet standards. This CV is most detailed and shows Arājs as a good Soviet citizen.  This means that Arājs could collaborate with any foreign regime on the behalf of his personal carrier. He received a lawyer’s diploma in March 1941 and stated that he starts to believe “that Bolshevism was the best of systems. Indubitably, I was then a communist.”   This remark, however is doubtful because is hard to tell when he was telling the truth or lie. He also had remarks about anti-Communist feelings in his trial. He told that he joined partisan movement at the start of the war.

Arājs declared that when Germans entered Riga, he had gathered about 400 to 500 men under his command and had occupied the police headquarters.  Such claim is credited false. However it could be that such group of ex–soldiers and policemen may have “spontaneously” gathered. A radio call on 1, July asked all policemen to return to their police stations. He met Stahlecker at 1, July and 2, July, he was appointed to head a commando.
Arājs was a typical opportunist. He came from poor family and had limited chances to start a successful carrier in independent Latvia. So he looked for opportunities in ranks of foreign invaders. He could well work together with Soviets as he did in 1941, when he received degree. To hide his shameful communist past, he joined partisans and then Germans. Sadly, he was most successful with Nazis.
The exact conditions of establishment of the commando are still unknown. The persons involved are SD agent Roberts Štiglics a Latvian political police functionary under Ulmanis, Hans Dressler, a Baltic German, who was a member of the EG and Stahlecker’s cohort. Dressler knew Arājs from Jelgava gymnasium and the Latvian army.

Arājs gathered members for his commando. His closest associate was lieutenant Fēliks Dībietis who helped Arājs to make the structure for his commando. Arājs used his fraternity membership to attract more members. One of them was Herberts Cukurs a famous pilot and adventurer. Before the war Jews once knew Cukurs as very friendly to them when he took journey to Palestine and presented his adventures to Jewish public, at main Jewish club.  Also members from Pērkonkrusts, and Aizsargi (civil guards) were asked join. However, not only members from these social groups entered the commando. Most of the commando members were simple workers and farmers.  The motivation for joining was different for many. Some had political motivation while others wanted to find a good job. This means that commando was not generally made of radicals and anti–Semites; some who joined probably may not expect that they had to kill unarmed civilians.

First task of the commando was the organization of “spontaneous” pogrom. On July 4, they burned all the synagogues in Riga including main Horal Synagogue at Maskavas street. Many people burned alive in synagogue the number of the perished is unknown.
Arājs commando was not the only Latvian formation that took direct part in the Holocaust. In Jelgava Jews were killed by Vāgulāns commando. Latvians recruited in Hilfspolizei lead by lieutenan colonel Veiss and members of Selbstschutz also were involved in the killings. But the Arājs commando was the most notorious and most lasting killing squad of all. Commando was deformed in 1944, when it was no longer useful.
Latvians who wanted to collaborate with Germans in order to fulfill their carrier became a part of Nazi crimes. Some of them may not want to kill Jews, not all national partisans attacked Jews at first days of war, and neither, they joined Nazi formations after it. But those who joined and took active part in Holocaust are criminals despite their motives and intentions.

The leader of Nazi Germany Adolf Hitler made a decision to attack his former ally – Soviet Union. Modern research shows that Hitler made the decision to kill Jews right before the operation Barbarosa. The two main planers of this action was chief of the SS Heinrich Himmler and SD chief Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich who devised a plan of “spontaneous” pogroms to make  appear that the locals did the killings. To do this Germans found enough Latvian collaborators, radicals and opportunists to do this. Some of them were radical anti-Semites like Perkonkrusts. Others like Viktors Arājs were opportunists who could fare well in NKVD as well they did in SS. Most of these people were lees of Latvian nation not the elite.  It’s not objective to accuse all Latvian nation in Holocaust because of these killers. Simon Wissenthal has said “Already a year after the war I washed away a thought about collective fault, because I know history who shows that we Jews in our thousand year time always been victims of collective fault”

But the fault of these Latvian collaborators must not be forgotten. Although they called themselves nationalists, it’s not the nature of true nationalist to support foreign invaders. Especially if they have plans for large–scale crimes. It is a question of morale of every person who is involved in such actions. Holocaust was the collective tragedy for Latvians and Jews because both became victims of German imperialism. It was only the German defeat in Eastern front that saved Latvians from German plans of Germanization.

It is also worth to remember that whatever the crimes committed by non–Germans it was the Germans, who established a pattern of systematic persecution.  Independent Latvian state was not capable and had no desire for the killing of Jews. It was only the Nazi Germany, who opened doors for radicals and opportunists to realize their darkest intentions.

Selected Sources:

Ezergailis, Andrievs. (1996) The Holocaust in Latvia, 1941–1944 : the missing center. Riga: History Institute of Latvia; Washington, DC: US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Bleiere, Daina, Ilgvars Butulis, Inesis Feldmanis, Aivars Stranga, Antonijs Zunda. (2008) Latvija Otrajā pasaules karā (1939–1945).Rīga: Jumava

Felder, Björn M. (2006) Lettland im Zweiten Weltkrieg : zwischen sowjetischen und deutschen Besatzern 1940–1946. Paderborn; München; Wien
Biezais, Haralds. (1992). Latvija kāškrusta varā : sveši kungi – pašu ļaudis.   Īstlansinga : Gauja.
Browning, Christopher R. (2005) The origins of the final solution, The evolution of Nazi Jewish policy 1939. –1942. London.
Documents of the Holocaust. Jerusalem Yad Vashem, 1999.
Латвия под игом нацизма: сборник архивных документов. М.: Европа, 2006.

Mēs apsūdzam: Rakstu krāj.: Dokumenti un materiāli par hitlerisko okupantu un latv. buržuāzisko nacionālistu ļaundarībām LPSR : 1941–1945. Iev. aut. un red. kol.: A. Kadiķis (atb. red.) u. c.; sast.: R. Skrābāns, L. Stonāne, M. Vestermanis] ; LPSR Ministru Padomes Arhīvu pārv. LPSR Centr. valsts vēst. arhīvs. LKP CK Partijas vēst. inst. PSKP CK Marksisma–ļeņinisma inst. filiāle. Rīga: Liesma, 1965.

Kaprāns, Mārtiņš, Zelče, Vita. Vēsturiskie cilvēki un viņu biogrāfijas. Viktora Arāja Curriculum vitae Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīva materiālos. In: Latvijas Arhīvi, 2009. Nr. 3.

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Soviet Mass Deportations of June 14 1941

The arrested people were loaded into cattle trains and taken to camps in Siberia

The June 14 was one of the darkest nights of the Latvian nation. Thousands of people were taken from their homes and loaded on freight trains and taken to Siberia. Whole families, women, children and old people were sent to death camps in Siberia. This terrific crime was done by the Soviet occupation regime, ordered by high authorities in Moscow.

In  August 23 1939  Soviet Union and Germany signed non aggression agreement the Molotov- Ribbentrop pact. Latvia was included in the Soviet sphere of interest. On  June 17 1940 Latvia was occupied by Soviet forces. As the Karlis Ulmanis government was removed new illegitimate elections were held in June 21 1940 with only one party list “electing”fake parliament which made resolution to join the Soviet Union. The resolution was drawn up in Moscow already before. Latvia became part of the Soviet Union in August 5  and on 25 August all people in Latvia became citizens of the Soviet Union. The Ministry of Foreign affairs was closed isolating Latvia from the rest of the world.

Occupation was locally administered by a Latvian Communist Party that became part of the main All Union Communist (Bolshevik) Party. From the first days of occupation it loyally carried out all orders from Moscow. The main task was the liquidation of the “bourgeois” state apparatus and establishment of the Soviet state apparatus everywhere. In economical field the task was the elimination the private property.

 From the first days of occupation the campaign against the enemies of the regime begun. The puppet government lead by Augusts Kirhensteins called to wipe out all reactionary and nationalist elements from the state apparatus by all means.

 So the first arrests of  the “people’s enemies” and “alien class enemies” begun. The first victims were members of the Latvian Army and National Guards (Aizsargi). The number of arrests rose from 20 in June 1940 to 300 in August 1941. On August 30 the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic Peoples Commiserate of Interior was established lead by Alfons Noviks. The NKVD officers appointed from Moscow such as Semyon Shustin became the main organizers of repressions. An underground prison was made at Riga Brivibas Street Nr. 37/39 that became the place of torture and death for political prisoners of Latvia.

 Local repressive authorities gathered lists of “people’s enemies” in all Soviet western republics. First deportations already were carried out in the occupied area of Eastern Poland. Polish nationals were first to be sent to Siberia. The decision of mass deportations was made on May 14 1941, by Moscow authorities. The draft order stated that in the Baltic states there is a considerable amount of former members of counter-revolutionary nationalist parties, former policemen, gendarmes, landlords, civil servants of the former government who carry out destructive anti-Soviet activities. Local Interior commissariats were allowed to arrest these people, confiscate their property and deport them to concentration camps for five to eight years. After passing the sentence they will be settled in remote areas of the Soviet Union.   On  May 19 1941  an instruction was sent out to local authorities about how to carry out the deportations. To make the list of the deported people LSSR PCSS central authorities, departments of districts, cities and towns as well as the staff of the Baltic Special Military district prepared the files of the persons to be arrested and deported. The main persons involved in this were Semyon Shustin, Janis Cinis and A. Brezgins.

Shortly before the deportation in  June 14 1941, the Peoples Commissariat established operational groups who preformed arrests, search and seizure of the property. Whole families were arrested and taken to train stations where trains made to transport the cattle awaited them. The arrests took place in all parts in Latvia including rural areas.

The main deportation routes and locations of the camps

  According to research made by Latvian State Archive in 2001, 15, 424 people were deported of them 5, 259 were arrested in 14, June actions in Latvia. Of nationalities 11 418 Latvians, 1771 Jews, 742 Russians, 36 Germans and other nationalities 247 were deported. Of professions 616 merchants, 306 policemen, 29 prison guards, 166 army officers, 7 deputies, 6 diplomats, 31 judges 71 teachers, 24 doctors, 7 clergyman, 15 students, 39 foresters, 1345 peasants, 44 chiefs of pagasts (small rural areas) 13 secretaries of pagasts. The breakdown by nationality and profession of the reported peoples are not completely  accurate  since not all archive files contain such information.

The deported people ended in the Soviet prison camp system also called Gulag. Latvians were sent to Yuhnov, Vyatka, Norilsk, North Uralian labor camp Sevurrallag, Usolye, and to Astrakhan prison. The working and living conditions in the camps were extremely hard. Often there were no light or heating, no possibility to wash themselves or wash and dry clothes in the barracks. People were forced to work to complete exhaustion often 16 hours a day without any proper tools, just hands only. Because of the lack of proper clothes in the bitter cold and extremely small food portions 3 400 prisoners died at their places of imprisonment. Because of that Soviet prison camp could also be called death camps. Unlike the Nazi camps where people were killed systematically, the Soviet camps took their prisoners to slow painful death by imposing hard work and life conditions. Mostly the male prisoners died, families lost their fathers. A large number of children spent their childhoods in Siberia.

On 1948 those who served their sentence in the camps were sent to settlement “forever”. They had no passport, just identity card. The places of settlement were Abana, Achinsk, Bogotol, Boguchani, Dzerzhinsk, Irbeisk, Kansk, Kozulka, Partizansk, Taseyo and other districts in Krasnoyarsk area, also in Novosibirsk, Kazakhstan and Igarka and Dudina in Siberian far north. The living conditions in the settlement were hard as there was no support, the houses and dugouts were not fit for living especially in the winters. Many people again died there.

After the death of Joesph Stalin, the  “thaw” of Nikita Khrushchev allowed the release of the deported persons. Many were rehabilitated and were allowed to move back to Latvia. Many people stayed in Siberia, where they married locals and lived in towns and rural areas. Today there is still few hundreds of deportees and their children and grandchildren living in Siberia.

  Although Latvians were not deported by ethnic means as may Jews and Russians also were deported, it was a heavy blow to the nation as a whole since the those the ones deported were elite members, intellectuals and members of the middle class. The action was done to destroy nationalistic and democratic people within Latvians to cease any possible resistance. They are some speculation that there was another deportation planned shortly after the first but was interrupted by the German invasion in June 22. The deportations of the June 14 sparked a large will of resistance within Latvian people that was shown in the first days of the German invasion.

The memorial site at Tornukalns Train Station Riga where the deportation took place

Selected Sources:

Pelkauss, Elmārs (Ed.) (2007) Aizvestie : 1941. gada 14. jūnijs.Rīga : Latvijas Valsts arhīvs : Nordik.

Starptautiska konference “1941. gada 14. jūnija deportācija – noziegums pret cilvēci”. 1941. gada 14. jūnija deportācija – noziegums pret cilvēci : starptautiskās konferences materiāli, 2001. gada 12.-13. jūnijs, Rīga = Deportation of 14 June 1941: crime against humanity : materials of an International Conference 12-13 June. (2001). Riga. Latvijas vēstures institūts.

 

 

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