Latvian National Guard: Aizsargi and Zemessardze 1918-1940, 1991-

Left: Latvian Aizsargi Organization badge, left Latvian National Guard emblem

Left: Latvian Aizsargi Organization badge, left Latvian National Guard emblem

On August 23 1991 after failure of Soviet coup attempt Latvia fully restored independence and yet to had begun the restoration of the national armed forces. It was the same situation as in 1918 when the Republic of Latvia was founded – the new nation needed auxiliary paramilitary organization to create order in the new state and defend it against any threat possible. It had serve in every district to preserve state order and help in case of emergency. So Latvia had to create National Guard.  August 23 known in Latvian history  for the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact in 1939 and Baltic Way demonstration in 1989  also became known as the founding day of National Guard in Latvian Zemessardze – “the Landguard”. In many ways they were predecessors of first Latvian National guard the Aizsargi  in Latvian “defenders”, “guardians”. Here is a short survey about both paramilitary organizations, one that played crucial role during first independence and one  that is having crucial role in our national defense.

Members of 9th Madona aizsargi regiment Tirza company

Members of 9th Madona aizsargi regiment Tirza company

Latvijas Aizsargu Organizācija – The Latvian Guards Organization 1918-1940

The collapse of Russian Empire sparked the rise on national independence movements in all Northern and Western parts of former empire. First who founded a paramilitary forces similar to Aizsargi where Fins in 1917. Finland had made tradition of partisan warfare against Russians during Swedish-Russian war when Finland became part of Russia. Large numbers of Fins before 1917 Russian revolution served in imperial German army and afterwards returned to Finland to form guard units to fight for independence, they became part of the new Finland army commanded by general Gustav Mannerheim.  The organization was called Suojeluskunnat – (Protection/Defense corps) known in English as White Guard. In Poland the organization was called Riflemen’s Association (Związek Strzelecki)  based on roots of Jozef Pilsudsky Union of Active Struggle and made from Polish rifleman within Austro-Hungarian army they also made the core for the new Polish army, created a system of military schools and supported the Pilsudsky authoritarian regime.  In Estonia the organization was called Kaitseliit, similar organization was also made in Lithuania.

In Latvia the idea of forming paramilitary organization was made in 1918 by Latvian Minister of Interior Affairs Miķelis Valters in December 16 when he asked all local municipalities to create communal guard squads that would be loyal to the Provisional government. It was needed action however as Bolshevik invasion took and Provisional government abandoned Riga no quick steps were made. On March 20 1919 Provisional government issued “Rules about guardian units in parishes” to create auxiliary police in the country side. At first the enlistment was based on old social class rules and objectives for each member was accustomed to his social level. However, as more territories were liberated from the enemy and were affected by the mobilization all was left in them was old men and very young lads. Interior affairs ministry then removed the social class limitations and made requirements that all men from 18 to 60 years must join the local guard. At first local guard was not entirely auxiliary, but was rather a state imposed practice to install order in rural areas.

The state of war was canceled on February 7 1921, but in border areas was not canceled until October 15 1932. There was no reason now for a compulsory guards organization. The early guards mainly did the police function in areas and did not took part in military actions and did not made the core for Latvian army. During the War for Independence there was other semi-Auxiliary Military unit the Landeswehr  (landguard) that was made mainly from Baltic German volunteers and during war switched sides three times, first served with Latvian army, then fought against it and then was again taken under Latvian control. However, this military unit that took direct part in frontlines is not considered as  root for Latvian national guards. It was disbanded soon after war ended. Latvia needed to form new guard organization that would be based on auxiliary principles.

Latvian Guards Organization or Aizsargi was based on Finnish White Guard. Also the name Aizsargs – defender, guardian was inspired by Fins. Latvians before WW2 viewed Finland as example for Latvia. Finland and Estonia had largest National guard with highest member count. Finland guards had 100 000 members 6,7 % of population, while Estonia 60 000 – 11% of population. Latvian Aizsargi had 45 000 members 3,6 % of population. Contrary to modern national guards, the Aizsargi besides defense and law function also had social and cultural function. Aizsargi had own private property the Aizsargi house where social and cultural gatherings and military courses took place. Such houses were built-in many parts of Latvia. Aizsargi had own libraries and many other extras. Aizsargi was not just paramilitary unit it was mass organization playing high social role in the region. The most members of Aizsargi where from country side and small towns. As their prestige increased it was joined by more people from major cities and higher classes. The organization received funding from Interior Affairs ministry. For some time the state support in Estonia and Lithuania was significantly higher than in Latvia. After authoritarian coup in 1934 the state increased its support. On 1926 state gave 212 503 lats while in 1938 it was now 600 000 lats worth of state support.

Aizsargi also served as partners for Latvian army. During War for Independence around Madona and Jēkabpils the aizsargi served as the “green army” and engaged in partisan warfare against the Bolsheviks. Large numbers of Latvian army veterans after the war joined the Aizsargi. As 60-70% members had military experience the organization became increasingly militant. The new regulations allowed gun carry and keeping guns at home, single variant uniforms, berets and badges and later even medals were introduced. Aizsargi became a second army with rights to practice sport, host events, practice cultural work, organize courses and lectures and raise charity.

Aizsargi were organized in military system – regiments, battalions, companies, squadrons, platoons and detachments. Smaller units acted within the parish borders, while regiments along the districts. Latvian aizsargi 19 regiments. The commanders usually were police chief district with deputy for military matters that usually was officer from the army. The organization was led by experienced military officers like general Ludvigs Bolšteins  (1925-1928) lieutenant colonel Augusts Tone 1928-1930 and general Kārlis Prauls (1930-1940). Independence war veteran general Jānis Balodis served as honorary chairman. While in other countries the guards were subordinated to defense ministry in Latvija aizsargi where subordinated to Ministry of Interior Affairs. Aizsargi had small air units made to educate and prepare pilots. The aizsargi had 28 aircraft mostly biplanes  and 3 sea divisions. There was also railroad support units. Only during late thirties the government started to mechanize aizsargi by making bicycle and motorcycle  units  and gave heavy automobiles and tankette’s.

Aizsargi Air force Gourdon-Leseure (GL-21)

Aizsargi Air force Gourdon-Leseure (GL-21)

At first the society was still skeptical about aizsargi and their role and mission. They had to move from compulsory wartime country police units to organized paramilitary society that functions for the state and society. On 1926 the Latvian Aizsargi Organization gathered in their first congress to discuss the future of the organization and create charter to control and organize the movement. The congress and the new charter was positively regarded  by the society and politicians. Organization started to grow attracting more members. During parliamentary period the aizsargi gained friends and enemies from the political parties. The leftist Social Democrats were always skeptical about giving state funding and fought against their politicization. Another factor that Latvian Social Democratic Workers party also had its own paramilitary organization The Defender and Sport of the Worker (Strādnieka, Sports un Sargs – SSS) nicknamed the locust’s this organization in strength of 1000  members and divided in five battalions and 24 companies were made to defend social democrat demonstrations against radical nationalists and communists and often engaged in street battles. They were armed with low caliber weapons and wore blue color uniforms and had raised right fist salute “Ready to be Free!” as opposed to “Ready to Fight” raised left hand salutes by their nationalist counterparts. The SSS and aizsargi obviously had a rivalry as majority of aizsargi were Latvian ethnic nationalists with only small share of Jewish, German, Russian or Polish members. Also its core members were countryside farmers opposed to social democrat workers and landless peasants therefore they became favorited by Latvian Farmers Union and other right-wing parties. Over the years the Farmers Union gained greater prominence over aizsargi gaining more friction from the social democrats. Meanwhile the SSS and aizsargi also had paramilitary rival organizations like the Zionist Betar and Baltic German youth organizations. While Zionists were loyal to the state, the German paramilitary groups became influenced by Nazism from Germany and became dangerous to the state. As democracy went into decay more radical Latvian nationalists took example and formed Thurdercross movement that tried to be paramilitary party and influence the aizsargi.

May 15 coup 1934 - aizsargi gathers near their headquarters in celebration of the coup

May 15 coup 1934 – aizsargi gathers near their headquarters in celebration of the coup

In situation of economic crisis and political rivalry the aizsargi chose to support Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian coup in May 15 1934. Kārlis Ulmanis promised the aizsargi leadership increased state support, giving them special status above other citizens. Aizsargi who were present in every district were crucial for the coup to gain control over crucial buildings and arrest all who oppose. The rival social democrat SSS was caught off guard and arrested without a fight. German Nazis and Latvian radical nationalists were also unable to resist. As both Latvian army and Political (Secret) Police accepted or even supported the coup it was bloodless and took place without much interference.

Aizsargi became the new Kārlis Ulmanis Praetorian guard. Their role in civil control increased and they also served as role in ideological control and education. The organization became more bureaucratic and authoritarian and became submitted to the president that became the supreme leader of the organization. From 1936 the president title belonged to Ulmanis and so aizsargi were under his full control. The organization became privileged class as it became the only society in Latvia with right to bear arms and wear uniform. Aizargi members received social and financial benefits. Aizsargi received extended rights to acquire residential property. In next 5 years aizsargi build many clubs, stadiums and other buildings. It had its own major newspaper. The state propaganda regularly praised aizsargi and covered their work. From now on Aizsargi were special state elite much praised and appreciated within the society.

Aizsargi of 8th Valmiera regiment from the right: Kārlis Liepiņš, Pēteris Ulmanis and Jānis Grīnbergs

Aizsargi of 8th Valmiera regiment from the right: Kārlis Liepiņš, Pēteris Ulmanis and Jānis Grīnbergs

However, as the strategical and political situation of Latvia worsened the role of aizsargi became crucial and sadly was wasted. Aizsargi were forced to accept the Latvian – Soviet mutual assistance pact in October 1939 that allowed Soviet garrison in Latvia. Unable to question the Kārlis Ulmanis government’s decisions they were forced to accept the new situation and try to convince the fellow countrymen there is no danger to the independence. Officially the regime pretendent that Latvia is neutral and there is no danger of war, however in case of war the army and aizsargi will still be able to defend Latvian people. On 1940 the Latvian Aizsargi organization had 31 776 members – it was sharp decrease caused by disappointment over governmental actions. The state mobilization plan now just made aizsargi as part of Latvian army only with its own weapons. On June 17 1940 Latvia was in danger of Soviet invasion. The Latvian Aizsargi Organization was still in larger numbers than Latvian army, it was made of patriotic men ready to defend their country. In theory they might produce a prolonged military struggle and partisan warfare against the Soviets. But, their weak point was their leader. Aizsargi were taught to obey the orders of leader Kārlis Ulmanis without question. Kārlis Ulmanis ordered not to resist and signed death sentence to aizsargi, to Latvian Army and to his country. Aizsargi showed no resistance. On June 23 1940 the new Soviet power disbanded the organization. The commander of aizsargi general Kārlis Prauls was sentenced to death and shot in January 30 1941. Many of the senior members and all commanders were deported to Siberia. The story of aizsargi came to sad ugly end during the German invasion in 1941 when Germans assigned the ex aizsargi members to Latvian Auxiliary Police battalions that took part in defense operations, front line battles and punishment expeditions. On 1944 July 22 when Germans needed all the Latvian support to defend the Eastern front the Latvian Aizsargi organization was officially restored. However on January 1 1945 it formally ceased to exist. Germans were encircled in western Latvia, there was no hope for restoration of independence. Aizsargi had made their role as preservers of state order and national symbol, but failed to defend their country.

Latvian National Guards at the parade

Latvian National Guards at the parade

Latvijas Republikas Zemessardze – Latvian National Guard

In 1991 the Latvian government seeking to separate from Soviet Union again had the same issue as of 1918. There was no Latvian Armed Forces, there was major presence of Soviet Armed forces, attacks by the Soviet special force OMON causing victims. The government again needed paramilitary force. First seeds of new national guard was January 1991 when Riga was under threat from Soviet reactionary forces. Barricades were built do defend the main governmental buildings and among the barricade guards many civilians were armed with guns. In case of Soviet attack they were ready to resist with they had. Fortunately the January 1991 turned out less bloody than in Lithuania, however as the threat still stayed the need for new national guard was being discussed.

Only after the failure of the soviet coup attempt on August 21 1991 when Latvia became fully independent and recognized by Russia itself the order for new national guard was issued. On August 23 1991 the new law about Latvian National Guard the Zemessardze was issued. Zemessardze means landguard. The law stated that national guard is auxiliary military civilian self-defense unit. In few months 17 000 volunteers gathered creating 35 territorial battalions.  It was crucial time as police, army, border and rescue services were under restoration.  Every each of them required assistance. Criminality skyrocketed, bandits gained weapons from abandoned Soviet military bases, contraband was on the rise. The new national guard was again crucial to create civil and state order. The early national guard was poorly equipped, had no single uniform. As time went buy the national guard became more organized. Contrary to their predecessors the national guard is part of Latvian Armed Forces and subordinated to the ministry of defense. They don’t have the same rights for property as aizsargi did, nor they can keep weapons at home. This limitation is seen for many as obstacle and was introduced do accustom National guard to the NATO standarts. Also modern-day Latvia has strict gun control laws. On 1992 the youth organization – The Youth Guard or Jaunsargi was established.

Currently the National Guard has 8000 members, in 2015 1210 people joined voluntary. National Guard is divided in 3 regions that each holds at least five battalions. National Guard also have cyber warfare unit, special unit against weapons of mass destruction. National guard uses Carl Gustav m/45 SMG rifles, Heckler & Koch G36, Heckler & Koch G3,  FN MAG G3, RPK, rifles. It has anti air artillery and low caliber field artillery. National Guard has its own distinct insignia and badges and uniforms. The commander-in-chief is brigadier general Leonīds Kalniņš. The goals of the national guard is defend the country, take part in international operations, assist guest military units, preform sapper duties, take part in disaster relief and fire emergencies, and take part in cyber defense.

zemessardze

Today’s National Guards suffer from issues of state funding, recruitment problems, also the support from society is not as high as it was before WW2. However, the Latvian Aizsargi organization before the WW2 was different unit. It was a large organization with private property and self funding, while National Guard is part of Latvian Armed Forces and serves as crucial support unit. One thing remains that the main goal of both organizations is to defend the country and its people. On August 20 during National Guard parade the president of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis said crucial words – during foreign invasion every national guard, soldier and common must defend his country without waiting for orders from commanders in chief. This is in contrary of 1940 when Latvian Army and Aizsargi was in trusting subordination of inept, passive dictator unable to issue orders for resistance. Today Latvia again feels the danger from the same neighbor in the east. Now Latvia has strong allies, but still the ultimate power lays in hands of the Latvian people and their military.

Selected Sources:

Butulis. Ilgvars. (2011) Sveiki Aizsargi. Rīga. Jumava

http://www.zs.mil.lv/lv/Par%20Mums/Vesture.aspx

 

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Russian Invasion in the Baltic States: Nightmare or Reality?

Baltic Invasion

Since 2014 the relations between Russia and NATO has reached the levels of Cold War. Russia has annexed Crimean peninsula from Ukraine  and wages proxy war in Eastern Ukraine. Russia has also made intervention into Syrian civil war. Russia has increased arms race and military buildup causing NATO countries to respond. Right now in NATO summit in Warsaw has decided to increase its military presence within Baltic States and Poland by deploying four international battalions in Baltic States under Canadian command while US will deploy 1,000 additional troops in Poland. In so Baltic region will become a NATO war base. This decision will create increase of Russian military near Baltic borders and inside Kaliningrad region. However, since 2013 Russia has already increased its presence and already outmatches and will outmatch the NATO forces in the region. Last two years in Baltic States the social tensions have been increased by the fears of war and Russian invasion. Is this a still far-fetched nightmare created by historic past and inner insecurity or a real threat and does the invasion already taking place by non military means? What are the possible scenarios for Russian invasion? What are the reasons for Russia to invade and not to invade the Baltic States? What consequences it would make for both sides. These questions will be discussed here.

NATO vs Russia. Balance of Military Power in the Baltic Region

Baltic States have population of six million and all three countries suffer from significant depopulation issues. So creating a sizable military force for all three countries is impossible task both financially and by means of manpower. Estonian Defense Forces has 6,500 active officers and 12, 600 in paramilitary Defense League.  In case of war Estonia plans to use 30,000  men and woman. Estonia spends 2,07% for military the required amount by NATO guidelines. Land forces have 2 infantry brigades, infantry is well equipped with NATO, Swedish, Finish and Israeli firearms and special weapons. The army motor pool is currently being expanded and consists mainly of infantry fighting vehicles.  Estonia employs compulsory service. Latvian National Armed Forces have 5, 350 active personnel. In case of war NAF could gather 50, 000 soldiers. Latvian infantry has modern firearms from NATO, Sweden and Israel with bit outdated artillery and only for last two years it has begun supplying its motor pool with infantry fighting vehicles.  Along army the National Guard is a sizable force. Latvian National Forces are currently most underfunded in the region with 1,4% spending on defense. For years the Latvian government has neglected the defense spending and only for last two years are trying to improve the situation. Ādaži training poligon has been improved and regularly hosts foreign troops on rotational training. Lielvārde Airfield has been fixed to host advanced NATO aircraft for landing. Latvian Navy is on path of improvement and is regularly involved in patroling Latvian waters   checking for passing Russian naval vessels. Latvia is the only country in Baltic States with professional military service.  Lithuanian Armed Forces  have  8,120 active land troops with two mechanized infantry brigades. Lithuania has the most advanced vehicle force and artillery. Lithuania has reverted from professional to compulsory service on 2015. The Šiauļai Air Base that hosts NATO Baltic Air Patrol mission is one of the most important military objects in the area. All three countries have small air forces suitable for training, local search and rescue missions and patrolling.

This means that all three countries are heavily reliant on support from NATO allied countries. Closest military ally with significant active force of 120,000 man and woman is Poland with its sizable Air Force and Navy. Polish forces have key importance in securing so-called Suwalki gap, containing Russian forces in Kaliningard and assisting Lithuanian army. Currently there are no constantly present NATO troops in the region. During last two years US, Germany, Poland, UK and other countries have sent their forces for temporary period for training. These mostly brigades and battalions stays in Baltic for few months then head to next assignment. That is about to change as Warsaw summit in July 9 2016 has decided to station permanent troops in Poland and Baltic States. In Latvia 450 a battalion sized Canadian contingent will arrive, in Poland 1,000 US troops will be stationed. This actually means the NATO Article five on invading allied country will come fully into effect as in case of invasion in Baltic States or Poland the stationary troops will be first to be involved. This serves as clear warning to Russia that if it would wish to undertake the invasion there would be almost no chance to avoid a World War 3 situation.

However, the size of newly stationed troops in region will be still be minimal. Russia had begun its buildup of military forces already before 2013 and has modeled conflict with NATO in its massive drills before conflict in Ukraine. Russia has divided its military in four main military regions with most of its European part is called the Western military district. Russia has gathered already more that 20, 000  men and woman in Western Military district and 10, 000 men and woman in Southern Military district in Caucasus region. A special territory of importance is Kaliningrad region. Formerly German East Prussia it was divided between Poland and Soviet Union on 1945. Soviets established forward army in naval base in more far west region of USSR to support Soviets stationed in Poland and East Germany and gain entry for Soviet Baltic Navy to Atlantic. That changed after 1991 when Kaliningard region became sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland cutting direct land supply routes. After both countries joined NATO the Russian army and Navy considered themselves surrounded in 15,100 km² small area. So steps were taken to improve regions defense. Now Kaliningrad has become the most militarized region in Europe with 225,000 military personnel (2014 data) the main Baltic Naval base in Baltiysk. The region hosts about 60 different military units, has functional airfields, early warning radar station and radio listening stations. The 941,873 large regional population affected by militarization and constant propaganda emphasizing 1945 victory and military strength is considered one of the most loyal supporters of the Moscow policies. Kaliningrad is also a vulnerability and burden for Russia. Since it cannot supply it and deploy more forces by land it its forced to use the only route along the Baltic Sea from St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad. This is done by air and sea transport. Since the narrow route is between Baltic State and Swedish and sea and air space the task is made difficult because Russian Air Force and sea vessels always impose secrecy on their routes and never allows to track them by use of radars. Transponders are always off and ships do not respond to identification calls from NATO Air force and Navy. For this reason the NATO Air Policing mission always have to take off to scramble and identify Russian warplanes and NATO navy must detect ships and submarines that passes by. This equal harassment so far has always ended peacefully, however we must take note of Turkish experience when SU-24 that supposedly entered Turkish air space was shot down on October 29 2016. Russians themselves are sometimes risking to cause a serious incident by making low pass fly by over USS Donald Cook giving US warning signal that Baltic Sea belongs to them.

Another point of argument is Belarus. Belarus is one of the most loyal allied states to Russia, not to mention Armenia. It has force of 62,000 active men and woman, sizable tank and air force. Whats more to add to importance is that Belarus hosts Russian troops and probably will host more as answer to NATO buildup. While Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko officially seeks a partnership with EU countries he has stated many times that in case of Russian conflict with NATO Belarus will side with Russia and take direct part. That means Belarusian army is a threat to Latvian eastern region of Latgale and to Lithuania particularly to Lazdijai and Druskinkai municipalities along the Polish border that have Belarusian border on the east and Russian border on the east. Presumably both forces could attempt to take the region to cut off Baltic States from Poland and Western Europe. So far there has been insignificant opposition towards Russian military presence among Belarusian society. That could change if economic difficulties deepen for Belarus.

Two nearby Scandinavian countries Sweden and Finland with sizable military, but are not NATO members are concerned over worsening security issues in the region. There are many in both countries who advice to join NATO or at least expand the cooperation with NATO. Sweden that has maintained long history of neutrality and now it as the crossroads. Russia knows this and ha begun campaign of intimidation against Sweden to weaken their will to join NATO. Finland has very long border with Russia and historical policy of keeping neutrality with Russia, however that may change at some point and how Finland would react to the assault against ethnically close Estonia? So involvement of these two countries remains a question.

Russia’s reasons for invasion. For and against.

Baltic States provides almost no valuable natural resources for Russia to plunder. Financial gains might be the worth, however Russia already gains from Baltic States by trade, transit and gas supplies. Baltic States are trying to shake off reliance on Russian energy export, most successful in this matter is Lithuania. That’s way as same in Ukraine, Russia’s goal is to prevent Baltic States independence on energy sources and that can be done by multiple means.

One of the main reason for invasions are political and emotional. Baltic States was possession of  Russian Empire and was under Soviet occupation for most of XX century. Moscow highly regarded the European cultured territory and invested much in their industrialization and militarization. Now what is left is mostly empty carcasses of abandoned factories and war bases but what was left as inheritance was large numbers of Russian speaking immigrants in Latvia and Estonia. Both countries in early nighties did crucial and disputable actions to deny citizenship for most of these people creating a massive disappointment towards Latvian and Estonian ethnic population. The creation of large non-citizen community had political reason – Latvian national parties feared that Russian speaking voters could elect anti-western political force that would disrupt Latvian and Estonian path to NATO and US. In last 20 years the naturalization laws have allowed non citizens to obtain citizenship and indeed most of them vote for parties supporting Russia. While still significant size of non citizens remain and they are material for Russian special foreign policy to support Russian speakers outside Russia.

The policy to support Russian speakers by civil and military means was already introduced  during Boris Yeltsin and fully deployed by Vladimir Putin. Moscow spends millions of rubles to create so-called Russian World a net of organizations committed to protection of Russian language, education and culture outside Russia. In Latvia some of these organizations like Non Citizen congress, Russian party “Zarya”, Russian National Union and others are openly rebellious towards Latvian government and have been persecuted by law agencies. In Georgia 2008 and in Ukraine 2014 Russia claimed that Georgians and Ukrainians are creating violent actions against Russian speakers and was obliged to protect them. In Baltic States only violent outburst was Bronze Soldier riots in Tallinn on 2006 when Russia instigated massive cyber attacks and sent the provocateurs from Russian border. With financial capability and willing agents Russia could instigate a violent provocation to get casus belli for invasion. So far from 2014 various pro-Russian and anti-Russian demonstrations have taken place with small incidents not enough to cause outrage. Russian speaking community nevertheless is important recourse for Russia and worry for Riga and Tallinn. Tallinn has made many successful steps for Russian speaker integration, while Latvia has its ups and downs. The largest parliamentary fraction in Latvian Saeima the Harmony is kept in opposition and for its ties with Kremlin the major Latvian parties had vowed to keep it out of power. While Harmony is charge of Riga and Rēzekne municipality and is plagued with corruption scandals it has enough voter support base. On 2012 Russian national radicals managed to hold referendum for Russian as second state language and failed. Russian and Latvian languages both have been politicized by both sides and is used in political argument.The latest surveys show that Russian speakers feel most endangered by Latvians in areas where they live the most like Riga, Daugavpils and Latgale region while in Kurzeme (Courland) and Vidzeme with Latvian absolute majority they feel almost no danger and support Latvian policies. So Russia has many reasons both real and imaginary to use military action to protect Russian speakers in the region. However, as today it seems highly unlikely that Baltic States would impose any repressions towards its Russian speaking community.

The third reason is common Russian political strife against NATO. Vladimir Putin and his ruling elite started its carrier during last decades of the Soviet Union and deeply regrets its fall. Many of them blames directly US and West for the breakup and still suspects US of plotting against them. Some authors suggest that Putin at first wanted to create good relations with US and UK by trying to create good impression on Tony Blair and George W Bush, but, was deeply disappointed when  they made steps that  contradicted his own interests. Such was Eastern Europe’s admission to NATO and western support for democratic movements in Georgia, Ukraine and Russia itself. Putin’s inner circle has always blamed all the democratic revolutions in former Soviet countries as CIA plot and deeply feels that such plot could be carried out in Moscow. Russian propaganda has created the story of Fortress Russia that is encircled by NATO and China. So to contain this “threat” Russia has increased its military strength and severely limited political freedoms since 2012. One of the Russian strategies is to stage a preventive war to prevent NATO to attack or expand further to Russian borders. Currently preventive wars are being carried out in Ukraine to prevent in ascension to NATO and EU and in Syria to keep the Damascus pro-Russian regime and do not lose valuable Tartus Naval base. If Russia would feel further endangered by NATO increasing presence  in the Baltic States it may choose a “preventive strike” to remove NATO “threat” from its close borders. Question yet remains and cannot be answered – does Kremlin really do believe its being threatened by Western countries or it’s just propaganda phantom for Russian people made to justify Kremlin foreign and inner policy actions.

Fourth last reason for invasion is the use of war as tool for mass control. Russian society was deeply moved by annexation of Crimea  and had its support for war in Eastern Ukraine and intervention in Syria. War was and is central part of Russian propaganda since Soviet times and it is enough to hold massive support for the region despite economic difficulties. A war against NATO an event both feared and propagandized would be last and final straw for Kremlin to keep support of its people should there be danger of economical collapse. Also its a “leave nothing behind us” thinking by some of the Kremlin people who would rather perish in war then be arrested or hanged during revolution. That’s why Russian military doctrine does not fear using nuclear weapons.

The main reason for not invading the Baltic States is obvious: they are part of NATO. Russia may gamble that for sake of their own citizens and soldiers NATO countries might sacrifice the Baltic States, but as NATO has decided on permanent presence in the region the military conflict with all the member states will be impossible to avoid. Secondly such action will result complete international isolation of Russia that only contribute to its difficult economical and political state caused by War in Ukraine. Thirdly  the failure of this invasion may in light variant my cause breakdown of regime in worse case – nuclear war.

Scenarios for Invasion.

There are two possible scenarios for invasion. First: full-scale invasion. Second: limited, non-direct like it’s happening in Eastern Ukraine. Full scale invasion would require much use of land, sea and air force. The main Russian objectives would be securing control over the air and blockade the Baltic Sea. Kaliningrad region would be used to blockade the land route trough Suwalki, Poland to Vilnius and Riga. Russia would not necessarily need to assault Suwalki itself, but rather secure control over Lithuanian towns of Kybartai, Marijumpole, Kalvarija and Druskinskai. First cities to fall would be Narva, Tartu, Balvi, Kārsava, Rēzekne, Krāslava and Daugavpils. Since Vilnius is close to Belarusian border it would be first Baltic capital  to be attacked. The question of further advance will determined in the skies over Baltic, in the sea and the Suwalki gap zone. If Russia manages to secure access points to Baltic States it has chance to overrun the NATO forces trapped in encirclement. NATO forces in every way has technical  and numeric advantage over Russia and using it NATO would eventually break the blockade and force Russia to retreat. So NATO objective is to prevent the Baltic blockade and cut off Russia from Kaliningrad. Air, Naval and tactical superiority is in need.

A logical question then arises what about nuclear weapons? First no country has ever had experience of using nuclear weapon against country that also have them. However, the common sense and most military doctrines is to use nuclear weapons after the warring country has exceeded all conventional means. Their forces are defeated and are on rout and country is on breakdown. That is one of the actions Russia would possibly choose. However, Russia has far-fetched doctrine of using nuclear detonation to prevent NATO for acting further. A scenario in mind that Russia would use tactical nuke against military unit or city and then in fear of nuclear war would try to impose ceasefire advantageous for them. However, such strategy is a gamble. One country might possibly not respond and seek solution while other fires tactical nuke in response, creating response after response leading to ultimate nuclear annihilation.  So using or not using nuclear weapons it’s a question of common sense.

Second scenario is limited invasion like the one that takes place in Ukraine. Russia could try to form Russian peoples republics in Narva, Daugavpils and Rēzekne and try to instigate revolts in Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius. Same as in Ukraine Russia has large Russian speaking population to use for their goals, many of them including some Latvians would support pro-Russian revolt. Russia might still try to blockade Baltic sea and Suwalki gap, but it will refrain from taking all countries completely. Border areas would fall for Russian control and there Russia would try to create environment for frozen conflict that would bleed out three Baltic States and NATO trying to help them. Such scenario may avoid discussion of using nuclear weapons, however, Russia would have hard time to prove that there are no Russian troops in Latgale.

The Consequences

  In both case of full and limited invasion Russia would fall under tougher sanctions and isolation. Russian populace at first would support the invasion., however basing on military success or failures it would change drastically. Victory if such is possible would lead to Russia as totalitarian fortress in opposition against western block for times to come. Defeat would cause an unpredictable series of events, like state breakdown, civil war and foreign intervention. Limited frozen conflict in Baltic states will lead to same Russian totalitarianism and isolation only to hope find agreement over the conflict. Failure and loss of national prestige will leave its regime vulnerable.

For Baltic States its means great loses of lives, destruction of infrastructure and economical breakdown. In some ways the limited invasion and frozen conflict would be more crucial as it would be  a constant bleed out.

For the world it would mean the danger of WW3. Not to mention fear of use of nuclear weapon, the conflict might spread to Poland, Caucasus, Moldovo everywhere where NATO and Russian troops might encounter each other. This would be major political and economical disruption for EU countries and US and UK that are already plagued by social disturbances. By all means such conflict would be highly disadvantageous for both sides.

The Covert Soft Invasion Already Taking Place 

The Chinese military theorist Sun Tzu has stated that the supreme way to win the battle is to win it without fighting it. This is soft power, propaganda, espionage and subversion of state and society. In many accords this is already taking place for many years and has intensified. Russia clearly is aware of all the risks mentioned above. Thats why its obvious goal is to create climate in the West and Baltic States where its leaders and people are unwilling to fight a war. First its massive emission of Russian propaganda in all languages using all possible ways. Often this has success like Western Media still has issues who are the armed people in Donbass – separatists, terrorists, or Russian soldiers and mercenaries. There are people who are against sanctions and don’t see the need for supporting Ukraine and Baltic States. What Russia needs is for such people to be in large numbers and elect populist, nationalist or far left politicians who leads against so-called establishment and will contribute to lifting sanctions, recognize Crimean annexation and weaken NATO. Such politicians gained their successes recently in UK and managed to disrupt the EU and cause divide within British society. In France, Czech Republic, Austria, Greece ect. there are forces who wish to come to power and are supported by Russia. In US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump who has proved he almost no understanding about European and Russian policy wishes to achieve deal with Russia and question the need American involvement in  NATO.  Trump might be a gamble for Moscow to weaken the US by populist Russia sympathizing president. But, Trump is highly unpredictable person with zero experience in politics. If he keeps his America First! doctrine he would soon find that his deals with Russia are playing against him and will break them and cause problems for Russia. In similar way Napoleon and Hitler broke his deals with Russia after they found disadvantageous for them. In countries like Poland and Latvia where nationalistic conservative forces have taken power but are ideologically against Russia a another phenomena  is taking place while these forces are generally against Putin’s regime, they are very found of his conservatism and authoritarian methods. On both countries these forces are trying to sit on fence – while supporting military alliance against Russia they try to impose same laws that Putin would impose. Such situation is anomalous. The greatest fight for European hearts and minds are taking place now and will decide the events on battlefield if such takes place.

Conclusion

As it was discussed here war in Baltic States are not advantageous for both sides and will lead to plenty of worse consequences. So its fair to say that likelihood of such invasion is not possible. However, as long as Russia continues its war in Ukraine, does not end occupation of Crimea and continues intervention in Syria the danger of Russian military aggression stays.   As it was stated here Russia often does not need a logical or rational reason to start a war the decision can be based on fear, hate, power mongering and  oversight. Thus the war can be caused by simple unforeseen incident like in Sarajevo 1914 when few shots brought whole Europe to war that was waiting for it for last few years. So there is no reason to competently override the danger of Russian invasion. As long as aggressive, suspicious and totalitarian regime is in power in Moscow that relies heavily on its military success the danger will stay and should be considered and prepared for.

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Žanis Lipke

Žanis Lipke and his wife Johanna

Žanis Lipke and his wife Johanna

Holocaust was the most massive crime in the Latvian history. About 70 000 Jews from Latvia were killed and 19 000 Jews brought from Western Europe were killed on Latvian soil. It was time of despair for Latvian nation as they had to make a very tough choices. Took part in crime, assist the crime or be a bystander.  Most took the second choice, but there were many who sadly took the first. However, the most toughest choice was to rescue Jews from killings. This action was associated with great risk as it was punishable by death and Nazi authorities carefully searched for any Jew that escaped the murders. So such act of humanity and resistance was rare and brave thing to do. In 1945 in Jerusalem a memorial museum “Yad Vashem” was established to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, documentation and research and special focus for them was the Jewish rescuers. Yad Vashem issues special Honorary Title “Righteous Among Nations” to all Jewish rescuers. A special tree is planted in memorial garden to commemorate them.  65 of them are persons from Latvia. The small number can be explained due to the suspicion by the Soviet authorities towards rescued Jews preventing them to establish connections with Israel and Yad Vashem. Only if the persons were permitted to emigrate they could safely report their rescuers to Yad Vashem commission. According to research done by Marģers Vestermanis 400-500 Jews were rescued during Nazi occupation. Many Jews were failed to rescue and their rescuers arrested. 32 people are known to be repressed for rescue attempts. Museum “Jews in Latvia” has gathered 220 events of Jewish rescue attempts with 400 people involved.  Among the rescuers most known were Roberts and Johanna Sedols in Liepāja who rescued 11 Jews in Liepāja,  Sonja Švarca rescued nine persons in Riga, Elvīra Rone eight, Artūrs Motmillers seven people. Baltic German politician Paul Schiemann is known hosting young Jewish woman before his death on 1944 and gained title “Righteous Among Nations”. The person with the most rescued people count was Jānis (Žanis) Lipke. He helped 55 people to survive the war hiding them in various places in Riga and rest around Dobele in Kurzeme (Courland) region. With assistance of few trusted associates he did frantic work rescuing people during Nazi occupation and was the one of the first of Latvian rescuers who gained international recognition. This story is about him and his rescued ones.

Jānis Lipke nicknamed Žanis for most of his life was born on February 1 1900 in Jelgava then known as Mittau. He finished three classes but was fluent in German and Russian. His parents did not live long, father lost his life in the frontlines of the First World war and mother died in 1920. Žanis himself joined the Latvian Rifleman on 1918 and year later joined Latgale Artillery regiment. After the war was over he came to Riga and met his future wife Johanna Novicka who 17 years old at the time of their marriage.  From 1926 to 1940 he worked in Riga harbor in docks and storage facilities. There he mastered his underground work abilities by giving refuge to social democrats and communists who were persecuted by Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian regime. He was also called in for smuggling, made private bus rides between Jelgava and Valmiera and owned yacht.

On 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded Latvia Lipke started to work in “Luftwaffe” storage near Riga Central Market. The Riga Ghetto established by Nazis to prison all the Jews in Riga was close. Before 1941 Ghettos were never established in Latvia. Jews lived where they wanted, sometimes in larger concentrations in one place than other. The Moscow district near the Riga Central Market and Railway station was one of the most Jewish populated districts in Riga. Nazis moved all the Jews in Riga there and surrounded the territory with barbed wire and guard posts. Similar ghetto was established in Daugavpils the city with most Jews and many other smaller cities were Jews were separated from other citizens until the time of their death.

Lipke gained Nazi trust by graduating air defense courses and was appointed to transport Jews to forced labor sites and back. That allowed him to start his rescue mission. First rescued was family friend Chaim Slomensky  who was picked up by Lipke during transport from ghetto to labor site. Few others were prevented from returning to ghetto. As the ghetto security became tougher every such attempt became more difficult. Few trusted friends and relatives were involved in rescue attempts. He found people who hosted rescued Jews in various places in Riga and rural house around Dobele. The success of his mission was contributed by his talent of talking people in, bribing the guards or divert their attention by use of alcohol or casual talks. Lipke lived in small house in Ķīpsala an island in Riga. Ķīpsala was located in front of city center separated by river Daugava. During the Nazi occupation Ķīpsala was made of small tensely build wooden fisherman houses that were ideal for covert rescue shelter. There he made small bunker for some of the rescued while others were sheltered elsewhere.

Žanis Lipke shed under which the bunker was made for his rescued ones

Žanis Lipke shed under which the bunker was made for his rescued ones

In such way he and his rescued ones made until October 13 1944 when Red army marched in Riga. Before soviets marched in he also managed to smuggle out Latvians who deserted Latvian Waffen SS Legion. He did so by working in German Forestry service and transported captured trophy vehicles from Riga to Kurzeme. Soviet paratroopers brothers Rozenbergs were also sheltered by him. He was arrested by Soviet secret police NKVD who questioned him about his son Alfrēds who served in German army support service. After finding out that he rescued Jews the NKVD then started to question his reasons and tried to find the hidden Jewish gold and diamonds. During questioning Lipke lost his patience and shouted to Soviet officer that communists are the same bandits as Nazis, Nazis shoot you by looking in the eye, while Soviets shoot from the back. Despite such grave insult he was released by the Soviets and not bothered again.

After the war he continued to live in his house in Balasta dambis in Ķīpsala. His rescued ones who made it to Israel made him popular and on 1977 when he visited the country he was greeted warmly by crowds of people. Yad Vashem recognized him as the Righteous Among Nation   and holds documents related to his actions and planted a tree in alley of heroes within the memorial complex. Those who remained in Latvia visited Lipke two times in a year. He was very popular among Latvian Jewish community. One of his rescued Dāvids Zilbermans wrote a book “As a Star in Darkness” where he gathered the accounts from rescued ones about Lipke.

Žanis Lipke memorial

Žanis Lipke memorial

On May 14 1987 Lipke died from stroke and was buried in Riga II Forest cemetery. Since then actions were made to commemorate his name. A memorial stone to Lipke and his family was placed in Riga New Jewish cemetery,   on 1995 at the location of main Riga Ghetto gate a memorial plaque was placed commemorating him. Lipkes relatives continued to live in their small wooden house in Balasta dambis 8. On 2005 a society “Žanis Lipke Memorial” lead by ex Prime Minister Māris Gailis was established to create a memorial next to Lipkes house. The project was designed by his wife Zaiga Gaile. The memorial was finished on 2012 and was instantly praised for his architectural design and interior. The museum holds permanent exhibition about life and work of Žanis Lipke and his family. The basement levels holds space for temporary exhibits and small guest hall is often used for lectures and presentations. The wooden building was made to recreate the Lipke’s shelter in form of Noah’as ark and the bunker within the lover levels of the memorial. The memorial itself is perfectly hidden between the buildings in Ķīpsala as the original Lipke’s shelter was. To this day is the most modern and popular Holocaust memorial in Latvia. The Lipke museum also has made a project “Underground Riga” to mark all the sites in Riga where Lipke and other rescuers made shelters for Jews, Communists and Legion deserters by erecting small   plaques on the ground next to the buildings. Thanks to the memorial Žanis Lipke has became popular in Latvia and abroad more than ever.

Lipke himself described his actions as purely non-selfish. To question how much he rescued he said he did not count, those who saved he saved without much counting. Lipke was remembered as nice person and a risk taker that contributed to his savior person. His efforts and names lives till this day and serves as example to how to act in times of war and despair.

Selected Sources:

http://www.lipke.lv/lv

PRETDARBĪBA HOLOKAUSTAM LATVIJĀ Marģers Vestermanis

http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/stories/lipke.asp

 

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The Myth of The Horrible Year

Cover of the Nazi propaganda book "The Horrible Year" (Baigais Gads)

Cover of the Nazi propaganda book “The Horrible Year” (Baigais Gads)

June is one of the most tragic months for Latvian history. Three significant dates June 17 1940, June 14 1941 and June 22 1941 took place in short time span over two years and brought great losses. The country lost its independence, thousands of people were arrested, deported or executed. Then the Nazi German occupation brought another brutal occupation and genocide on Latvian Jews and Romas. The first Soviet occupation in many Latvian history books, memoirs and other news media has been described as the “Horrible Year” (Baigais Gads)  The term has also been picked up by foreigners and has appeared in their publications. However, not always we comprehend the true meaning of the term and the problem that this term was created by the Nazis to justify the genocide against Jews in Latvia. For this reason the term “Horrible Year” has come under scrutiny for last few years. Historians question the correct usage of this nazi propaganda concept in popular and academic history texts and examines how much this nazi propaganda creation still affects the Latvian social memory and current political discourse. For Latvian Jewish minority the term “Horrible Year” serves as unjust accusation to them for soviet occupation and justification for the Holocaust. Yet for many especially the older generation it serves as symbol for 1940 occupation and sometimes people tend to ignore the fact that this term was created by Nazis. In word horrible they see all the horrors and repressions that took place from June 1940 to June 1941. While there is a group of people within Latvian society that openly exploits the antisemitic character of the term. One of the first scholars who openly called “Horrible Year” a myth was Dr. Hist. Kaspars Zellis who has written many publications on this subject. This article discusses was “Horrible Year” a myth a construct of Nazi propaganda and how it affects the Latvian society today. This article in no way denies or questions the soviet occupation or soviet repressions during 1940-1941. The facts are not deniable this article questions how facts and made out facts used for propaganda creates a powerful myth that stays powerful for many years to come.

The Latvian word baigs stands for “horrible”, “dreadful”, “fearful” or “terrible”. The term creates a strong emotions like fear, resentment and condemnation. It also stands a metaphor apocalyptic event the soviet occupation of Latvia that is caused by the satanic enemy – Jews and Bolsheviks. The 1940-1941 the Latvian Golgotha a horrific event with many victims and martyrs that ends with ultimate resurrection and liberation as Nazis tried to describe the invasion in 1941. The second coming is followed by judgement day for those who caused the apocalypse on the first place – the Jews and the Bolsheviks. As the events of history turned the myth evolved – the enemies are coming back, the Latvians must rise again to fight them in the ranks of Latvian Waffen SS Legion. After the battle was lost the myth stayed within minds as explanation for all the calamities of the 1940 and showed “who is the blame” for them. Ultimately the myth creates an idea of Latvian genocide, that must be avenged after the restoration of independence and everything must be done to prevent it from repeating again.

1940 was not the first year in Latvian history to be described as horrible. The Baltic Germans and their exiles in Germany in their publications called 1905 as the horrible year. During the 1905 revolution there were numerous events of violent confrontations between  Latvians and the Baltic Germans. Germans accused Latvian nation of violent aggression against them. The fear from the repeat of 1905 was one of the reasons why many Baltic Germans stood against the Latvian independence during 1918-1919 with arms. On June 22 1941 Germans under Nazi banner returned to Latvia that was occupied by the Soviets since June 1941. First time the word horrible was used was July 4 in Nazi controlled newspaper Tēvija (Fatherland). The newspaper begun its text with “Horrible was the year of the red terror in our beutiful Riga”. The variation of baigs horrible was used in many other Nazi newspaper at the start of the occupation. However, the concept of the horrible year was taken from  famous Latvian poet Edvarts Virza (1883-1940) who wrote a poem called “The Horrible Summer” on 1939. The poem describing a bad times ahead published year before the occupation was seen for many as prophecy. Edvarts Virza himself died on March 10 1940 and did not witness how his poem became symbol and was used by Nazi propaganda. The poem was re-published on August 9 1941 in Tēvija and became popular. Propaganda articles used the term horrible even more until pastor from Mazsalaca Alfrēds Skrodelis first used “Horrible Year” as term for all period of the soviet occupation. In his article “The benefits of the horrible year” he talked about the Bolshevik materialism unsuitable for Latvians that was changed by German “culture of soul” that Latvians have found as their savior.

But it was not until the publication of book called “The Horrible Year”. Collections of images and documents about the time of the Bolsheviks in Latvia” The book was accompanied by documentary “Sarkanā Migla” “The Red Fog”. Both propaganda works were published in 1942 year after the Nazi occupation. The genocide against Jews in Latvia was over by then and powerful works of propaganda was needed to justify the extermination of thousands of people. Since then the term “Horrible Year” became central term for soviet occupation of 1940-1941 and after the war made his way into Latvian exile works and encyclopedias.

The needs for this myth can be explained for Nazi goals in Latvia on 1941-1942. Nazi political directives set by Adolf Hitler was clear Soviet Union out of Jews and Bolsheviks. However, the Nazi policy was to create the image that the extermination was done by the locals as revenge against the Soviets. Germans would only instigate the actions with propaganda and assist the locals. Such conception was realized in Baltic States, Belarus and Ukraine. However, despite the massive antisemitic propaganda Nazis failed to achieve their goals. While in separate cases in Lithuania or Ukraine there were events of violent pogroms made by Nazi influenced locals, all acts of exterminations were carried under German orders and supervision by local self-defense groups who were disbanded after the extermination was done.  And major massacres like Babi Yar and Rumbula was carried out by German special units. In Latvia no pogroms carried out by simple Latvians themselves did not took place. The events of 4th July in Riga when main Choral Synagogue was burned to the ground was carried out by Arājs Commando adjacent to German Security Police. In all territory of Latvia holocaust was carried out in organized manner by German orders. The German propaganda filmed the execution of Liepāja Jews to make it look that the execution was done only Latvians excluding the Germans observing and controlling it. Of course the guilt of Latvians who took part in extermination are undeniable and condemned and their motivation for taking part in the crimes serves to one each individually.

  Jews were killed in every each city and village of Latvia. Such action never been seen in Latvian history needed to be explained to Latvians. While violent actions against soldiers of Red Army, Latvian collaborators with communists needed less explanation the genocide against Jews required some effort. Many Latvians did not understand anti-Jewish actions, some tried to help others stood by and tried to ignore it. Antisemitism in Latvia before the war was present and widespread mainly caused by social rivalry between two ethnicities.  There however, were no events of pogroms and only few violent excesses between the two. There were forces who accused Jews of supporting communists and people who called for Jewish expulsion from Latvian society based on economic social accusations. Nazi propaganda used all these factors to ignite antisemitic propaganda against the Jews.  Jews were accused as the main supporters of the Soviet occupation, Jews were accused for planning and supporting the  mass deportation of June 14 1941. Jews were accused of looting out Latvia during 1940-1941. While pinning all fault on real crimes, often fake crimes attributed towards Jews were widespread.

Nazis would have carried out Holocaust without this propaganda. However, it was needed spread the false view that it was demanded and carried out by Latvians themselves. The authors of the Nazi controlled newspapers often showed self initiative helped Nazis to pin all blame on Latvians. On winter of 1941-1942 Nazi General directory Interior Authority and personal cases issued order to start searching and assembling sources to write history of the Bolshevik rule. The order was for Latvian cities and parishes. The result was book called “Baigais Gads” published in summer 1942. The book contained selected or faked documents and images many of them highly graphic. The books narrative was that Republic of Latvia because of its weakness and mistakes lead itself to Soviet occupation that was carried by Jews according to their plan of world domination. All main repressions were carried out by Jewish Bolsheviks. Nazi Germany came as liberators and rescued Latvians from the danger of Jewish Bolshevism and now Latvians must do their part for creation of the New Europe. There was never a talk of restoration of Latvian independence – Latvian future only lies with Nazi Germany. As its have been noted Nazi propaganda was very against Latvian independent state before 1940.

To accompany the book a propaganda ‘documentary’ “The Red Fog” filled with powerful slogans, exalted narrator speech and mesmerizing images  was released. Movie used false witnesses that accused Jews of burning the tower of St. Peters church that was actually destroyed by German artillery. Film so as the book heavily focused on victims of Riga Central Prison. During the Soviet retreat from Riga on June 27 1941 shot 78 inmates from June 27 to 29 99 more people were killed including citizens. After Riga was captured by Germans the bodies were discovered and buried large funerals filmed by German propaganda makers. The bodies had signs of horrible torture, many appeared mutilated. Crippled faces and bodies were shown in detail and described as atrocity of the Jewish Bolsheviks.  There are critical accounts that state that because of rather hot summer and dry air these bodies suffered from heavy decomposition making them look worse than when they died. But, these images were so powerful that stayed in memory for generations to come. The movie also a featured rather disturbing scene a zoom in image of the face of the Jewish Bolshevik. In reality the face belonged to the Polish actor.

The Face of the Jewish Bolshevik from Nazi propaganda movie the Red Fog

The Face of the Jewish Bolshevik from Nazi propaganda movie the Red Fog

Nazis moved further by making June 14 the day of mourning marked in churches. July 1st when Nazis marched in Riga was marked as day of celebration. The NKVD (soviet secret police) “torture chambers” were placed for public visits. On 1942 a touring exhibit across Latvia was called the “Year of Red Power in Latvia” with openly antisemitic posters was introduced to the public. During 1943 when front was approaching Latvia, Latvian Waffen SS Legion was formed propaganda focused on danger of return of the Horrible Year. All men was called to participate.  On 1944 when Soviets entered Latvia the Nazi controlled media spread the propaganda tales of new Horrible Year emerging and the return of Jewish killer squads. All was done to convince Latvians to resist Soviets and follow German orders.

Poster for Nazi propaganda exhibit the Year of Red power in Latvia"

Poster for Nazi propaganda exhibit the Year of Red power in Latvia”

The statistics of the “Horrible Year” speaks for itself. 15 424 people were deported. 6 081 of them died (%39,43%) The number of killed in Latvia during soviet occupation is said to be 1355. Number of repressed 20 000- 21 000 people. In comparison during first half of 1941 the amount of repressed people was around 20 000, 66 000 Latvian Jews were killed, 24 000 alone in Rumbula massacre. 2000 Roma in Latvia were killed. These numbers show that Nazis needed to justify their equally murderous actions and gain as much as Latvian support and obedience as possible. This all not to mention that Nazi Germany by signing Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23 1939 with its secret protocols also shared responsibility for soviet occupation of Latvia.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany the “Horrible Year” lived on trough Latvian exiles. It was mentioned in their publications and often became part of their identity. During regain of independence the “Horrible Year” again returned in Latvian public discourse. However, it faced transformation as Jews were replaced with Russians as it was no longer convenient to blame the Jews for the occupations. “Horrible Year” as boogeyman and accusation against Russian speaking minority was used by some forces of the Latvian society. Still there are people who apply the core of the myth that Jews are the blame for occupation and repressions. Antisemitic politicians, anonymous commentators often use the term “Jewish Chekist” against Latvian Jewish community. The book “Horrible Year” was re published and spread trough internet. The movie “Red Fog” is available on youtube.  On 2000 historic movie “Horrible Summer” depicting the events of June 1940 was released. Its name hints in “Horrible Year”, however it refrains from Nazi propaganda narrative and instead focused on other myths.  Antisemitic commentators use “Horrible Year” as accusation against the Jews and counter arguments to Jewish related issues such as Jewish property restitution.   One of the leftovers of the “Horrible Year” is a popular claim that most supporters of Kremlin in Latvia are Jews. While there are few such persons really supporting Russian its question if their self-identity is Jewish or Russian. The picking Jews out of large crowd is similar to recent attempts of Donald Trump supporters to place people criticizing Trump in brackets to outline their Jewish nationality or ethnicity.  Outlining ones national belonging and then generalizing with whole nation was a method of Nazis and sadly still used today.

In conclusion to the question was “Horrible Year” a myth? Yes it was. It was a Nazi propaganda concept to justify their own occupation and crimes and gain Latvian support. The Soviet occupation of 1940-1941 was real, the deportations and repressions took place. But what was the myth it was Jewish collective blame for these events, it was myth and great lie that Nazis was the saviors  of the Latvian people. To break the myth we must call things in their true names. During Soviet occupation not only Latvians were the victims of the Soviet occupation, Jews, Russians many others faced repressions and deportations. Nazis in 1941 came as conquerors and realized a genocide against Jews regardless of their age, gender and political convictions.  There can no justifications for such actions. All rest is propaganda. Latvian nation is slowly moving away from effect of the Nazi lies and it needs to focus on current challenges of the dangerous XXI century.

Selected Sources:

Zellis, Kaspars. “Baigā gada” mīts un tā evolūcija. Mīti Latvijas Vēsturē. Rīga. 2006

Зеллис К. «Страшный год» — миф и его эволюция

 

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Latvia and the Belarusian Peoples Republic

Fragment of the map showing new Baltic republics and Belarusian People's Republic. Note the purported Belarusian state includes Latgale, eastern part of Latvia as her territory. Latgale is also shown as territory in dispute for Poland.

Fragment of the map showing new Baltic republics and Belarusian People’s Republic. Note the purported Belarusian state includes Latgale, eastern part of Latvia as her territory. Latgale is also shown as territory in dispute for Poland.

On March 25 1918 national and democratic forces representing the Belarusian nation proclaimed Belarusian Peoples Republic (Bielaruskaja Narodnaja Respublika BNR)  It was done in the spirit of other nations proclaiming independence from the collapsed Russian Empire. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were example for Belarusians and Ukrainians who strived for their own unified state. However, during the crucial years of 1918-1920 the BNR did not survive the tides of war and ceased to exist. At the time of its short existence it had established relations with new Republic of Latvia and for a period of time BNR government was stationed in Riga. BNR had military and diplomatic mission working in Riga and its leaders placed hope on Latvian support. Latvia itself was caught in the tough battle for survival in war against Soviet Russia and pro-German forces and had complex relations with Poland so its relations with BNR at start were generally positive, but as BNR went into oblivion Latvia abandoned its support. Latvian main goals was to establish peace with Soviet Russia and settle issues with Poland so in the end BNR was more a obstacle for Latvian foreign policy and its diplomatic mission left Riga forever. This article marks the anniversary of Belarusian Peoples Republic and tells the story of short and forgotten Latvian and Belarusian relations between 1918 and 1921.

Belarusian nation has deep roots from medieval times when its territory was part of Lithuanian Grand Duchy. According to many historians mostly Belarusian ones, the leading elite of the Duchy was not Lithuanians but Belarusian ancestors. Later when Lithuania united with Poland Belarusian lands were influenced by Polish culture. Only after Polish partitions in 1772, 1793 and 1795 Belarus was integrated in spiral of Moscow. During these long years a distinct Belarusian language and culture evolved but it had to survive under heavy Russification policies and also Polonization. On 1918 Russian Empire had collapsed and was forced to cede Belarusian lands to Germany according to Brest-Litovsk peace agreement. An agreement that allowed nations within German occupied lands to decide their own fate. Similar to Baltic nations, there were people among Belarusians who saw chance to establish a national democratic state.

On December 5 – 17 1917 in Minsk (Mensk in Belarusian language) in All-Belarus congress a Central Belarusian Rada was formed however the Russian Soviet of Peoples Commissars in Petrograd rejected the rights of Belarusian autonomy. On January 1918 the All Russia 3th Congress declared the Rada an illegitimate. No repressions followed as on February 1918 Germans stared major offensive and took control over all Belarusian lands.  On February 20 a Belarusian Peoples Secretariat was formed with J. Varonka in the lead. On March 9 Belarusian Rada issued the creation of democratic Belarusian Peoples Republic. On March 25 the BNR proclaimed independence.

Germany did not recognize BNR as it regarded it as a Russian territory. Rada nevertheless created a War Affairs Committee with Kastus (Kanstancin) Jezavitau, in charge. In April Germans banned the Peoples Secretariat. Meanwhile Belarusian Rada fragmented in many leftist parties and with some difficulties created coalition government. Right wingers also joined pleasing the Germans and trade, industry and social welfare was transferred to Peoples Secretariat. BNR was recognized only by Ukrainian Peoples Republic so action was taken to get more diplomatic recognition from its neighbors. On October BNR made white-red-white flag as its official symbol and knight Pahonia the symbol of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was made as coat of arms.

Situation became crucial after Germany stepped out of war and BNR had real chances for independence. However, the Bolsheviks were boosting up offensive to retake lost lands. BNR made agreement with Lithuania. Many members of Rada joined Lithuanian Council (Tariba) and Belarusian Affairs Ministry was made within Lithuanian government with J. Varonka as minister. On December 3 1918 BNR moved to Vilnius while Bolsheviks were approaching Mensk. Soon Bolsheviks headed for Vilnius and BNR moved to Hrodno (Grodno). BNR was in conflict with Poland who had territorial claims on Belarus and after deepening tensions its government moved to Berlin.

On May 1919 Polish forces captured Mensk and BNR leadership moved there. Polish leader Pilsudsky urged Belarusians to join in common union with Poland and make Rada an autonomous body with jurisdiction only in education and culture. BNR rejected and asked for full independence. BNR Rada was weakened by breakup into BNR Supreme Rada and BNR Peoples Rada. Both Rada’s were lead by rivaling leftist parties and Polish government suppressed Peoples Rada.  After major issues BNR government moved to Riga. Poland did not recognized BNR while all three Baltic States, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland and Turkey had formally recognized.

BNR territorial claims were issue on its own as its included territories claimed by Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. BNR would include Smolensk (Smolinsk), some small portions of Latvian Latgale and Sēlija regions and parts claimed by Lithuania and Poland. There were some maps that included whole Latgale as BNR territory. The BNR borders were drawn according to Belarusian ethnic borders that conflicted with all neighboring states. Ethnically diverse Latgale was also under dispute by Poland and Lithuania, while Vilnius was major hotspot between Poland and Lithuania. The western Belarus main centers Hrodna and Brest had large Polish populations that wished to be under Warsaw. While neither Bolsheviks nor White forces of Russia did recognize any national independence at all. This created a problematic situation for Belarusian independence.

On autumn 1920 Polish and Soviet peace agreement talks were underway in Riga. BNR government observed that Poles and Soviets are taking part in partition of the Belarusian lands and were not successful in breaking up these actions. This finally made BNR conflicting sides the socialist revolutionaries and socialist federalists  agreed to form unified government. A government led by V Lastovskau became official representative of BNR and BNR Peoples Rada was renamed the BNR Rada. BNR left Riga on November 11 and made agreement on common military union against Poland and started work in Kaunas. On 1923 BNR government and Rada left Kaunas and moved to Prague where it remains until this day still coordinating opposition efforts against Alexander Lukashenko (Lukashenka) authoritarian government in Republic of Belarus.

BNR Diplomatic and military mission in Riga

BNR Diplomatic and military mission in Riga

BNR had high interests in Latvia. First contacts were made on summer of 1919 when BNR Minister of Interior Affairs K Tereshchenko arrived in Riga to establish relations with Latvia. He was interview by local Russian newspaper Rizhkoe Slovo where he issued his plans of creating unified front with Latvians and Lithuanians against the Bolsheviks. BNR had a small armed force incapable defeating Bolsheviks alone. On July 24 he met Kārlis Ulmanis the Prime Minister of Latvian Provisional Government who granted his plea to open BNR consulate in Riga. On August the consulate begun its work with B Shmikovich in charge later replaced by R Kazyachi. Consulate was located in Old Riga at Pils street. BNR flag was raised and consulate begun looking for potential BNR citizens issuing calls in press for Belarusian nationals to apply. BNR tried to level down its territorial claims on Daugavpils district until arrival of military – diplomatic mission to resolve the issue.

 The mission arrived on October 1 1919 with Kastus Jezavitau in charge. He was born in Daugavpils on 1893. On October 3 his delegation met the Latvian Foreign Minister Zigfrīds Anna Meirerovics, to whom he assured BNR support for Latvian independence and wished to join the planned Baltic Union. During the siege of Riga on October-November 1919 by pro-German Army of Bermondt BNR consulate remained in Riga. After Estonia made peace agreement with Soviet Russia BNR wanted to move the armed units led by general S Bulak-Balahovich or so called Belarusian corps to Latvia and use as BNR attack force. BNR stared talks with Latvian side to mobilize men within Latvia for BNR army however the talks failed. Only way to enlist people in Latvia into BNR forces was to make them BNR citizens.

During Battle of Riga and afterwards there was a brief positive period of relations between Latvia and BNR because of BNR representatives supported Latvians in many ways. However, soon many became aware of BNR claims on Latvian border areas most prominently the Ilūkste district (it was also disputed by Poland and Lithuania) and started to question the relations with BNR. As most part of Belarus was under Polish or Soviet rule with active combat actions these good relations were declarative that could change if BNR would gain control over Belarus. BNR could not convince Latvians to station Bulak-Balahovich forces in Latvia or include them into Latvian armed forces; Latvians only agreed them to transit to their homeland. A conflict emerged between BNR consulate and Latvian Army command. BNR consulate was on drive to recruit as much BNR citizens as possible without looking much into their motivation and ethnicity. In result some Latvians and Jews applied for BNR citizenship simply to avoid enlisting in Latvian Armed Forces.

On early 1920 Bulak-Balahovich forces of 800 men entered Latvia and stationed near Alūksne at Estonian border. Jezavitau tried to convince Latvians to include them in to offensive against Bolsheviks in Latgale but talks again failed. On January his unit was included in BNR but soon general broke ties with BNR and moved to Poland to join their army. When Latvian and Polish forces liberated Latgale from the Bolsheviks BNR wished to establish consulates in Daugavpils and Rēzekne. However, the talks with Latvian authorities failed. The Latvian military was skeptical about BNR citizenship registers for they served as tools to avoid army and as BNR only existed on paper there was great doubts. At this time much of Belarus was overrun by Bolsheviks and Polish armies on the Western side.

Latvian side became more reserved to BNR claims and requests. To sort out the Latvian and BNR border issues Latvian foreign ministry offered to create a Latvian-Belarusian commission.   Jezavitau requested secretary J Charpulka and consul B Shimkovich to work in commission, meanwhile Latvians did not rush to name their delegates and the commission never begun work. BNR most success in Latvia was laying foundations for national Belarusian minority by creating Belarusian culture and education society “Batjkovschina” (Fatherland) in Riga. Also a journal in Belarusian “Na Chuzije” (In foreign land) was issued, but only made single issue that contained information about Belarusians in Riga and BNR goals.

Latvian authorities started to feel colder towards BNR and Latvian police started to check BNR citizens to see how valid their citizenship is and even made arrests. BNR authorities protested and checks were stopped. Even some official BNR officials were arrested for instance secretary of BNR Rada J Mamonka was arrested at the Latvian border and 14 600 Russian Imperial Rubles he brought to Riga was confiscated. Border guards disregarded his BNR passport and also his diplomatic papers and only after protests he was released and money returned. BNR was not allowed to take part in Baltic States conference in Bulduri, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania voted against, while Latvia abstained. Only Poland this time because of partial loss of the Belarusian territory had nothing against the BNR participation. On August 11 1920 Latvia made Peace agreement with Soviet Union and relations with BNR was now seen as disadvantageous. The Polish – Soviet peace talks also took place in Riga and both sides were splitting Belarus in half. On October 20 after much Latvian pressure BNR started to gather its bags to leave Latvia. On October 27 BNR leader V Lastovsky pledged Baltic States to support BNR both politically and financially and wished that request for BNR war bases in Baltic States would be considered sometime in future.

On November 11 after making successful talks with Lithuania, BNR moved to Kaunas. Last BNR armed units stationed in Latvia left it after Polish takeover of Vilnius. Most of the Belarusian active community left Riga excluding   Kastus (Kanstancin) Jezavitau who became leader of the Latvian Belarusian minority. Belarusian minority received autonomy in education, had their own societies however on 1924 because of false accusation in separatism many of the Belarusian leaders including Jezavitau were placed on trial greatly straining Latvian-Belarusian relations.

The situation in Belarus between 1918 and 1920 was greatly disadvantageous to Belarusian national independence. It was against the interest of both Bolsheviks and Poland who regarded Belarus as their territory. Latvian relations with BNR were based on realpolitics placing Latvian relations with Soviet Union and Poland above BNR interests. BNR certainly had high hopes in Latvian support, but their powers to defend their homeland were too short and in the end BNR became a state on paper. We can only speculate what would happen if Poland would support independent Belarus and ally with it against Soviets. In the result a fourth Baltic State was lost. The Republic of Belarus that was formed after dissolution of the Soviet Union at first tried to relive the legacy of BNR by using its flag as its national symbol. A few years later Alexander Lukashenko dropped all references to BNR and switched back to Soviet symbolism and turned Belarus into authoritarian nation with Russian tanks marching on the streets on Belarusian independence day. But, BNR is not dead. Its Rada still works in Prague. The BNR flag and its coat of arms has become a symbol of the democratic opposition and praised by the Belarusian democratic youth. If democratic Belarus has any future then ideas of BNR will be its guideline for Belarus to become a full fourth Baltic State and member of Europe.

Flag of BNR in Riga in April 2014

Flag of BNR in Riga in April 2014

Selected sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (1996) Latvijas un Baltkrievijas Tautas Republikas attiecības. (1919-1920) Latvijas Arhīvi. 1-2. 

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Paul Schiemann 1876-1944

schieman

There are people whose legacy has outlived their lives and whose actions and deeds were praised many decades after their deaths. During their lifetimes however, they were viewed with controversy, they had many critics and enemies and so as they friends and allies. However, only many decades later their legacy has been fully understood and they are again placed into spotlights. One of them is Paul Schiemann – jurist, journalist and political leader of the Baltic Germans. During his lifetime his liberal policies, support for independence for the Baltic States and campaigning for national minority rights were supported by some and opposed by many. He never scored mutual support among all Baltic Germans. He was a man of principle, a man with high sense of justice that caused him to lose the support of his fellow nationals and was forced to go into obscurity. At the end of his life he did the most humane act of his life – rescued a Jewish woman from the Nazis and was recognized as the Righteous among Nations. Because of memoirs left by his rescued Valentīna Freimane and historical research done by British historian John Hidden (1940-2012) the legacy of Paul Schieman one of the strongest voices for liberalism and minority rights protection has again been remembered and has scored his place in Latvian history.

Paul Schiemann was born in Jelgava (Mittau) on March 17 1876 in Baltic German family. His father Julius Schiemann was a jurist, known for his liberal views and who was against the majority of nobility in courts and state authorities. He was citizen of Russian Empire, but still considered himself a German patriot. However, the Russian government from 1870 started multiple reforms to weaken the Baltic German autonomy within the Baltic States. The new Russian emperor Alexander III started Russification policy and imposed Russian language as the primary language in high schools. The new laws also prevented the Baltic Knighthoods to nominate and dismiss court and police employees. Russian policy was to weaken the German power in Baltic province and impose more direct rule from St. Petersburg. Germans held their autonomy in education very dearly and were shaken by the flash of Russian nationalistic reforms directed against them. These reforms also affected the Latvian education.

Paul Schiemann because of these reforms took “underground” private lessons in Schiemann house in German only opposing Russifacation. In the end Schiemann and his elder brother Oskar went to Germany to get proper education. Here Schiemann finished school and choose further studies in jurisdiction. On 1896 he was drafted by the Russian army and sent to Caucasus. On 1898 in Lithuania he became the reserve officer of Russian army. On 1902 he graduated doctor’s studies in Greifswald. During his studies he enjoyed literature, philosophy and became passionate in theater. In Germany he was supported by his Uncle Theodor Schiemann a conservative historian who emigrated from Russia and worked in German Foreign Ministry.

Schiemann was bohemian who could smoke and drink to early morning hours and then show up for work as usual. He became involved in theater and even had affair with famous actress Hertta Weeren. Despite all this he graduated the doctor’s studies with highest excellence and applied for German citizenship. He was turned down for being Russian reserve officer. As foreigner he could not become a lawyer in Germany and therefore started carrier in journalism. Schiemann considered that journalism is the same fight for justice as in jurisdiction. His uncle Theodor considered his liberal views as illness wanted him to become an official German news editor in Japan. Because of this Schiemann took freelance job in newspaper in Norddeutsche Allegmeine Zeitung and took English lessons. But, he was turned down as the Russian relations with Japan were heading towards war. Schiemann’s Russian reserve officer was doing more harm than good.

After this failure Schiemann returned to Baltics and moved to Dorpat (Tartu) and discovered that according to Russian laws he needs more years in courses to gain lawyers rights. Instead he took job in journal Baltiche Monatsschrift and became a theater critic in Nordlivandiche Zeitung. After breakup with his lover Hertta he moved to work in Reval (Tallinn). There at local German newspaper he became the theater critic. On 1905 the revolution started in St. Petersburg and spread to Baltic provinces. Schiemann stood against the enemies of the Baltic Germans the social democrats that encouraged country side people to attack the mansions of the Baltic German nobles. He criticized the Russian government that their 17th October manifesto that proposed new parliament (Duma) as it did not weaken the violence and influence of the far right. In last months of 1905 the riots moved to country side. German noble mansions were burned, cities taken by armed mob. In response a punishment expeditions were sent by Russia and ended the revolution in bloodshed.  Despite that Schiemann called to use new rights to form parties and joined the Estonian Constitutional Party as secretary. It was sister party to Baltic Constitutional Party. Party was moderately liberal and tried to appease all social classes. 180 000 Baltic Germans lived in Reval so party needed also support from ethnic Estonians who considered the party as reactionary German movement and none of the Baltic Germans were elected into Russia Duma. On 1906 Schiemann started working in the Provincial Council that was made of representatives of nobility, farmers and city dwellers. However, the council had no effect on decisions within Baltic provinces and on 1907 the Russian Prime Minister Stolypin dismissed the second Russian Duma.

The Baltic Constitutional Party official newspaper was Rigache Rundschau based in Riga. The publisher Richard Ruetz asked Schiemann to join the editor team and Schiemann came to Riga. A cosmopolitan city filled with Latvians, Germans, Russians, and Jews and was politically diverse. Schiemann observed the growing national tensions between Germans and Latvians and he considered that only thing that can unite the both sides is equality in political and social rights. He was also started to oppose the conservative German forces that called for protection of the rights of nobility and was against the Latvian national movement. Soon he gained enemies from Baltic German reactionaries, was dismayed on their press as “red”. Opposition led to his worry of his publishers and his publications were reviewed. However, it was his strong worded articles that made the run of the Rigache Rundschau from 6 000 to 20 000 from the time period of 1907 to 1914. On 1907 he became the chief editor.

On February 2 1914 he married Charlotte Shuler and was well known in Riga and beyond, had many critics among the conservatives and he tried to gain some Latvian friends in his plight to unite both nations in the name of democracy. All this was interrupted when Russia entered war with Germany on 1914. Schiemann was Russian reserve officer and as it hard it was for him to fight against his German brothers his principle that “war can be opposed only in the time of peace”. He joined the Russian army, while his brother Oskar served the German. He was wounded during fighting while his newspaper was taken over by state authorities following anti-German campaign. On 1915 Lithuania and Courland and Semigallia was occupied by Germans and many of the local Germans and within Germany called for annexation of the Baltics. Schiemann although saddened by the anti-German campaign was still loyal to Tzar. Following the February revolution Schiemann joined the new Baltic German Democratic party. On December 3 1917 the German army marched in Riga and the party was banned. Schieman moved away from Riga and again joined the Russian army. After the bolshevik coup in St. Petersburg Schiemann felt grave danger and left Russia on March 1918 and made to his wife in Riga. The experiences of war made Schiemann strongly against both radical nationalism and bolshevism.

The Brest-Litovsk peace agreement on March 1918 included call for all German occupied Baltic territories to decide their future on the will of the people. However, German authorities suppressed the Lithuanian and Estonian governments who had declared independence. Meanwhile conservative Baltic German landtag sent letter to Berlin on April 12 1918 with plea to German Kaiser to unite Baltic province under single Baltic State that would serve as German protectorate in union with Prussian crown. The plea gained widespread opposition within German Reichstag who wanted to weaken the Kaisers power and feared such move would endanger peace with Soviet Russia. Schiemann who arrived in Riga on March was against the Baltic State was arrested by occupation authorities as a pro-Latvian spy. He was placed in house arrest until in August he moved to Germany.

Gaining financial support from his friends in Germany and his new book “The Fiasco of the Russian Democracy” he came to Berlin and started to acquire a net of supporters for liberal ideas. Schiemann supported the Baltic independence from Russia and insisted that fate of these countries lays on the will of the local majority. Meanwhile he warned about the rise of the Latvian Social Democratic workers party that would only lead to bolshevism. The enemies of Schiemann were alarmed by his influence in Germany, his uncle Theodore was also against his ideas. However, on November 11 1918 war came to an end with revolution in Berlin and ceasefire on the Western Front. The Baltic German conservatives could no longer hope for their Baltic State instead on November 18 1918 Latvia declared its independence. As the new Republic promised equal rights for all nations in Latvia Schiemann was in full support of the new state.

Schiemann moved to Latvia and joined the democratic German forces and worked together with the new Provisional Government led by Kārlis Ulmanis. Soviet Russia had declared war on Germany again and was preparing to invade Baltic States. Latvians were forced to accept that German army and Landeswehr the Baltic German land guard stays in Latvia and fights with them against the Bolsheviks. The new Baltic German National Committee hoped to gain privileges for Germans from the new Latvian state and opposed the Bolsheviks.  Their demands for national parity with Latvians were declined by the Latvian Provisional government. That led to conspiracy by German reactionaries and General Rüdiger von der Goltz against the Latvian government. On April 16 the baron Hans von Manteuffel and Goltz Iron Brigade made a coup against the Ulmanis government, but failed to arrest it. The new pro-German government led by Pastor Andrievs Niedra was not supported by French and British who helped Ulmanis government to escape on ship Saratov. Most Latvians were against Niedra and Goltz. On May 22 Germans chased the Bolsheviks away from Riga who had occupied since January 1919. On June 22-23 the tides of war moved against German reactionaries as Estonian and Latvian forces defeated the Iron Division and Landeswhehr and forced to sign ceasefire and give up the Niedra government.

Schiemann returned to Latvian politics formed union with moderate conservative baron Wilhelm von Firkss who became the leader of the National Committee. With his efforts and allied pressure Ulmanis government included two Baltic German ministers in his government Edwin Magnus as Justice and Robert Erhart as minister of Finance. Firkss founded his own conservative Baltic German Peoples Party. Baffled by many liberals he chooses to co-operate with conservatives while still trying to achieve common ground with Latvians. Schieman wanted Baltic Germans to be united to gain as much as they can from the new Latvian state, but by democratic means. He again became the chief editor of the restored newspaper Rigache Rundschau that became the main Baltic German newspaper in Latvia and his newspaper was read also by Latvians and his voice was heard and his views were always known. He became leader of the re-founded Baltic German Democratic Party.

One of his first achievements was influencing the new State Education Law. Karl Keller was appointed as deputy for Minister of Education and he and his team influenced by Schiemann made important proposals to gain school autonomy for national minorities. The new law was accepted on December 8 1919 and created autonomous school authority within Ministry of Education for German, Russian, Jewish, Polish and Belarusian schools. Germans were assured now that Latvians will not harm their education as it was done by Russians in the past. That eased the German relations with Latvian state.

Latvia survived the attack from the West Russian Voluntary Army that was made from German Freikorps and White Russian forces looking to destroy independent Latvia once and for all. Frikss managed to persuade Landeswehr from joining the war against Latvia while Schiemann campaigned for Baltic German support for Latvia during the critical days of war.  When the war was over the new elections were called for Constitutional Assembly. The election law allowed only political parties to enter elections and the Baltic German National Committee was abolished. Three new Baltic German parties emerged: moderately centrist right wing Baltic German reform party, conservative Baltic German party lead by Frikss and Liepāja City Unity party.  Schiemann undertook efforts to unite all parties under common Baltic German list for better results in the elections.

His efforts were successful creating the German Party Committee and in every election until 1931 the Baltic Germans gained more seats than they share of national population could allow. No other national minority except Poles could achieve such unity. Russians making 10% of the population had division between Old Believers, Conservatives and the Liberals. Large percent of Russian rural population living in Eastern regions were illiterate and therefore politically inactive. Jews making 4% of the Latvian citizens had division between Zionists and Orthodox Jews, while Zionists had their own left and right wing division. They also spoke different languages, Russian, German and Yiddish and often could not find common ground. Poles 2% of the population had one central party and support from the Poland, but during the 1931 conflict with Latvian government their split up in two rival factions. Germans were 3% of the population and their common goal was to preserve their national rights and keep their presence within Latvian politics and economy.

However, it proved to be tough and often un-successful battle. Schiemann was first elected into Riga Town Council and then moved to Constitutional Assembly. The main tasks of the Assembly were to write new constitution (Satversme) and realize Agrarian reform. The reform involved in confiscating large plots of land from German noble families. For centuries the majority of the rural land was owned by German nobles. Latvians at first were subjected to them, when serfdom was abolished they had to either rent or buy small plots of land from them. The new reform wanted to expropriate their land without compensation. For many of the noble families such reform would be disaster. Frikss and Schiemann proposed to nobles to give their land voluntary in return for compensation. Their proposal was turned down and all they gained was that land owners could at least keep 50 hectares of land and delay the question of compensations. Latvian Social Democrats left the parliament room in protest, but the Baltic German fraction voted for Agrarian reform. Many of the German conservatives felt betrayed by Schiemann. He himself understood the needs for reform, but saw it as weapon for aggressive chauvinism.

Kārlis Ulmanis compromise with national minorities led to his government downfall and new one by Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics that based on more nationalistic premises was not supported by minority parties. Schiemann also went on tour to Germany to convince Baltic German émigrés that resistance against internationally recognized Latvia is pointless and combated the propaganda spread by exiled reactionaries. In his tour to Germany and Austria he joined discussions for common national minority rights amongst the League of Nations. He made proposals for the new constitution and two of them to guarantee free usage of the minority languages and guarantee to create autonomous associations for cultural proposes were accepted in the constitution. However, the legislators failed to vote for second part of the constitution that was focused on civil rights and determined equal rights for man and woman, freedom of press and political rights and also defined national autonomy. Therefore national minorities were cut short of promises to ensure their protection of rights and  state refused to define their rights in detail as they had promised when it joined the League of Nations. Schiemann was disappointed and called the constitution half-baked. His efforts from now on were only not to defend the rights of Germans but all national minorities of Latvia and beyond.

On 1922 the new Latvian parliament Saeima was elected. Schiemann along with Frikss, Karl Keller, Egon Knopp, John Karl Hahn and Manfred von Vegezack were first elected Germans. The parliament was in deep division between right wing parties, left wingers, regionals and minority parties. Schiemann was elected in all following elections in 1925, 1928 and 1931. He took active part in parliamentary work and legislation. He a lot of time protecting the minority schools as many parties of the Latvian right wanted to limit school autonomy. He did not manage to win battle against the Latvian parties for the main churches in Riga. The Catholic St Jacobs cathedral was the first to be overtaken by the Latvian Catholic clergy, and tough campaigns for Lutheran Dome Cathedral and St. Peters church followed resulting in referendums. On 1924 Social Democrats finally achieved that no compensations should go to nobles with confiscated lands.

The nationalistic Latvian forces saw Schiemann as one of their main adversaries, while conservative Germans were opposed to Schiemann’s liberal policies that they called appeasing Latvian chauvinists. He was forced to be in regular power balance struggle to keep his ruling position within German Party Committee and his editor seat of the Rigache Rundschau. The Latvian governments were unstable and Schiemann had to choose which new coalition to support or not. On 1927 he was even asked to form the government but as he understood he would not receive enough support he refused the offer.

Latvian cartoon about Paul Schiemann and his German Party list. From Svari 1928.

Latvian cartoon about Paul Schiemann and his German Party list. From Svari 1928.

One of the main failures faced by all minority parties was failure to create laws for national autonomy. In Lithuania and Estonia such laws were made. While in Latvia one of the main reasons for failure was that each minority made their own autonomy proposals. The national autonomy proposals not only included cultural autonomy, but also permitted own national councils and use of minority language in state affairs. None of the proposals from all sides ever came to voting floor. In defense of Latvian parties one must state that some of these proposals were too radical and would mean “state in state” situation that was undesirable. On 1925 Schiemann joined the First Congress of Organised Ethnical Minorities (Nationalities) in European Countries in Geneva as and served as its Vice President from 1929 to 1936. Congress goal was to form a link between the ethnical minorities of Europe. And to afford their responsible heads an opportunity of regularly exchanging views and constantly co-operating for the purpose of throwing light upon, and solving the problem of, nationalities in order to eradicate the principal cause of European wars. Schiemann’s views became more internationally known. During his time in the congress he developed many new theories about the defense of the national minorities and liberal democracy. Many of his ideas came to realization many decades later. For a brief period when Germany was influenced by powerful liberal politician Gustav Streseman the Foreign minister with his special  focus on Eastern European countries and policy towards national minority as similar to Schiemann, there was hope for democratic and liberal Europe. Streseman met Schieman many times and supported his ideas for national cultural autonomy in Europe. Streseman died on 1929 on early age and since then the situation begun to deteriorate for Schieman and national minorities.

The 1929 financial crisis took one of the strongest hits on Germany and created a outburst of protest and resentment towards moderate and liberal policy creating opportunities for National Socialists. The rise of nationalism was eminent in Latvia too and was present in both Latvians and Baltic Germans. In this crucial time Schieman fell ill with tuberculosis. His constant smoking habits made him to move to rehab in Davos, Switzerland. There in 1930 he learned of first major Adolf Hitler party victory in the German elections. During this time the famous French politician Aristide Briand who came forward with his plans for European economic and political union. Schiemann was against any union that would exclude Baltic States and was skeptical of such union if it would be based on old 1914 principles.

Meanwhile the Baltic German parties in Latvia became more conservative and influenced by events in Germany. This was also a reaction to rise of Latvian nationalists who called for “latvianization” of economy and education. On 1931 first Baltic German Nazi organization Ostgruppe started activity in Latvia. While Schieman was in Davos many of his colleagues became found of the Nazi ideas, read their newspapers and made contacts with them. Schieman from his rehab reacted by sending strong worded statements to his newspaper  Rigache Rundschau increasing conflict with Nazi sympathizers.

Meanwhile the economic crisis deepened in Latvia and Latvian nationalistic parties started campaign to expropriate Dome cathedral from German Lutherans. Ailing Schieman was forced to gives his MP seat to V Sadowsky who next behind him in his party list because he could not take part in the vote for the church. The campaign created a wave of anti-German sentiment and alienated German fraction from the Latvian government. In the end on 1931 despite failed referendums the Dome Cathedral was removed from German Lutheran parish and they could only rent the church.

On 1931 last parliamentary elections took place in Latvia. Schieman returned to Riga, and Germans scored six seats as usual. However, the new nationalistic coalition led by ex moderate social democrat Marģers Skujenieks created more doubt and was not supported by Schieman. On 1927-1928 Marģers Skujenieks was Prime Minister of left wing coalition that was in good relations with Schiemann and achieved trade agreement with Soviet Union.  Now one of the new Skujenieks government ministers of education Atis Ķeniņš started an offensive against minority schools. Atis Ķenins wanted to make Latvian language as official state language as until now the status of Latvian language as official was more de facto than de iuire. He also wanted to increase the use of Latvian within minority schools and called Latvia a “Eldorado” for minorities. After the collapse of Skujenieks government many of his ideas were not realized, but growing tension only increased Baltic German support for Nazi ideas. Instead of using liberal ideas against nationalism and chauvinism as Schiemann did many turned to use same weapons against their adversaries. Also many Baltic Germans scared by the rise of Latvian nationalism believed that strong and unified Nazi Germany would come and protect them. Sciemann was strongly for creation of un-national state – the state with no dominating nation that focuses on cultural and national equality in all matters of the society. For years he fought his efforts, but as of 1933 it seemed his hopes of such states would never be realized.

On 1933 Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. Rigache Rundschau was also co-financed by Germany and question was raised should this newspaper be led by openly anti-Nazi editor? As pressure grew the Sciemann’s health begun to weaken again and he was forced to go to rehabilitation to Austria. The Baltic German parties became penetrated by local Baltic German Erhard Kroeger and his Movement (Die Bewegung) that was supported and financed by Berlin. On 1933 Wilhelm von Frikss one of the main leaders of the Baltic Germans died and Schiemann lost a valuable ally. Schiemann left the editors post of his beloved newspaper and also left the German fraction in the parliament and lost his leading role in Baltic German politics. The 1933 was endgame for Schieman. On May 15 1934 Kārlis Ulmanis and his supporters took power by coup and created a personal dictatorship. All parties were banned and that meant even greater Nazi influence on Baltic Germans as now National Socialism was seen as resistance against Ulmanis dictatorship.

Paul Schieman could no longer live in Latvia and immigrated to Austria that was still democratic but also influenced by Nazis. Schieman was alarmed by persecution of Jews in Germany and was saddened by the breakup of the Congress of Organised Ethnical Minorities. In Austria he continued journalism and followed events in Europe and Latvia with deep concerns. On March 1938 Austria was invaded annexed by Nazi Germany. Paul Schieman was on the Nazi dossier as potentially dangerous liberal activist and Schieman had to return to Latvia where lived in political isolation. He was isolated both by the state and his Baltic Germans who were convinced that Hitler would come to liberate them.

On August 23 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact shocked them all. Hitler in exchange for one front war on Poland made agreement with Stalin. Latvia was assigned to Soviet Union as its sphere of interest. On September 25 1939 in Soppot SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler informed the leader of the Baltic German Nazis Erhard Kroeger about the secret protocols and shocked Kroeger begged not to leave Baltic Germans behind in case of Soviet invasion. Himmler was surprised by such concern and promised to speak to Hitler about it.  On October 6 1939 Hitler decided that he needs Baltic Germans for colonization of the recently conquered Polish lands and also wanted to keep them away from Soviet repressions. The repatriation came as surprise to everyone including Schieman who resisted this. Schiemann’s protests were heard by Swiss and Swedish press he was against that Germans leave their country behind making great economical problems caused by their departure and move to country with imposed ideology alien to our religion and sense of morality. Meanwhile majority called “that that who stays it’s not real German!” Schiemann called repatriation a death sentence to Baltic German culture. But, only few listened to him. Latvian government endorsed the repatriation and official press celebrated the event. In just few months the most historic national minority in Latvia with strong cultural roots became extinct. Majority of the Baltic Germans were sent to occupied Poland. Schieman could not he stayed in Latvia doomed for soviet occupation.

Schiemann was opposed to Communism as much to Nazism. Latvia was occupied by Soviet forces on June 17 1940. Kārlis Ulmanis decided not to resist and was removed from his presidential seat and replaced by Soviet agent Dr. Augusts Kirhenšteins. New “elections” were issued and Schiemann even wrote a letter to Kirhenšteins to inquire his intentions and future of Latvia. He was recommended to join democratic list by led Atis Ķeniņš, but he refused to add a German candidate. And better off as soon the democratic list was declared illegal and all the candidates arrested. A single list was elected with 96% results issued by Moscow before votes were finished counting. As Soviet Union was still in good relations with Nazi Germany Schiemann was spared for a while. First who were repressed were Latvian politicians and intellectuals. Schiemann unable to work as journalist stayed at home and made notes where he criticized dumb and deeply flawed Bolshevik regime. He was horrified by the mass deportations of June 14 1941 where 35 000 people were sent to Siberia. But, it was just beginning of the storm.

On June 22 1941 Nazi Germany began war with Soviet Union. On July 1 1941 German army moved in Riga. Schieman now had to face Nazi terror in face. The new occupiers included Latvia into Ostland reichcommissariat administered by Alfred Rosemberg. Latvian general district was administered by Otto Heinrich-Drehsler. Germans created self ruling bodies filled with Latvian collaborators and Baltic Germans who came back to Latvia. One of them Hugo Vitrock was appointed as mayor of Riga and was one of the strongest Schiemann’s opponents before the war. However, because Schiemann’s illness they did not considered him dangerous and instead just prevented him from journalism and kept him in the house arrest. Schiemann was under observation however, he did one last thing to oppose the Nazis – he provided shelter for young Jewish girl Valentīna Friemane. Freimane was born in February 18 1922 in Riga was a German speaking Latvian Jew. She spent her childhood in Berlin and Paris. On 1941 she married and when war came she took shelter with her husband. After he was arrested she hided in many other places until she ended up at Schiemann’s house.

Schiemann was sick with tuberculosis and diabetes and was under care by Jewish doctor Idelson who was rescued from Ghetto, but during German evacuation from Riga caught and shot. Valentīna Freimane spent with him his last days. He dictated her memoirs and she managed to gather up his memoirs up to 1919. Schiemann treated her with dignity and respect. On 1943 the Germans started to form Latvian Waffen SS Legion, Schiemann was visited by guests who described the Legion as heroic patriots. After the left he came over to Freimane’s shelter and complained over fools that wish to combat one evil with other. It 1944 and Soviets came even closer to Riga. Before his death he was visited by representatives of the Latvian Central Council who opposed the Nazi regime. They offered him to sign manifest for restoration of independence in hope that after the war such would be possible. Schiemann rejected signing for “another castles in the sky”. Schiemann was afraid that Soviets when they come back would arrest him and his wife, but he could not leave as he was too sick. On June 23 1944 at the age of 68 Schiemann passed away. Valentīna Freimane moved to another family the Melnikovs and spent last months of the war. His wife gave her his photo and few his books, they never met again.

Valentīna Freimane with her husband

Paul Schiemann funeral took place June 26 1944. A small funeral was taken place under observation by Gestapo. Month later his wife Charlotte was ordered to evict her house and moved to Germany. Remaining Schiemann’s archives were taken by his wife and later moved to the Baltic Central Library in Lineburg. Paul Schiemann was viewed with controversy by surviving Baltic Germans. Many had resentment for him not joining repartition and there was still a sense of conservative even post Nazi views among the Baltic German exiles.

Valentīna Friemane became doctor in arts and now lives in Berlin. She helped to spread the story of Schiemann as Jewish rescuer and on 2000 the Israeli Yad Vashem awarded Schiemann with title Righteous Among the Nations. On 2010 she published her memoirs “My Atlantis” where she described her refuge and last days of Paul Schiemann. 140 years later after his birth many of his ideas of un-nation state, minority rights and cultural autonomy has been realized. Many of these ideas are under danger from new wave of nationalism and humanitarian crisis. Paul Schiemann called “the defender of minorities” is one of the symbols of interwar Latvia. Only now we can fully review his legacy and place him in the spotlight of the Latvian history.

Selected Sources:

Hidden, John. (2004) Defender of Minorities. Paul Schiemann. 1876-1944. London. Hutrst&Co.

Šīmanis, Pauls. (1999) Eiropas Problēma. Rīga. Vaga.

Freimane, Valentīna (2010) Ardievu Atlantīda. Rīga. Atēna.

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Salaspils Camp

"Behind this gate the land cries" entrance in the Salaspils memorial

“Behind this gate the land cries” entrance in the Salaspils memorial

World War 2 was the most tragic event for the Latvian people. Thousands were killed and deported by two totalitarian regimes in short time span of five years. Latvia is full of mass killing sites that serves as memory for the times of terror. Since 1967 one of the most known symbols of the Nazi terror in Latvia was the Salaspils camp. Salaspils was the site of camp run by Nazi SS and Security police SD Salaspils camp was the site of thousands of prisoners including children with great number of causalities. On 1959 a decision was made to build a memorial dedicated to the victims of the camp. It was follow-up to the trend in memorial architecture to mark the sites of Nazi concentration camps started by Buchenwald memorial in Eastern Germany, later memorial in Majdanek Czechoslovakia and Auschwitz in Poland. The result was a large memorial ensemble of brutalist style sculpture and architectonic foundation. The memorial was 25 ha in width and emotionally powerful example of synthesis between architecture and sculpture. The authors were architects Gunārs Asaris, Ivars Strautmanis, Oļģerts Ostenbergs, Oļegs Zakamennijs and sculptors Oļegs Skarainis, Ļevs Bukovskis, Jānis Zariņš.

Since then the Salaspils camp became one of the most known symbols of the Nazi terror in Latvia. Soviet power however, made ideological fallacy by trying to compare the Salaspils camp to above mentioned Nazi camps in Germany and Eastern Europe. Soviet propaganda meanwhile ignored the mass killing sites of Jews and Roma’s and Mežaparks (Kaiservald) concentration camp that was exclusively made for Jews and contained larger number of inmates. Instead Soviet propaganda and official history overly focused on Salaspils camp creating exaggerations that has caused heated arguments between modern-day Latvian and Russian historians. The discussion was again brought to light after new joint research was published this January by Latvian historians that played down many of the Soviet exaggerations especially the number of victims and inmates and the fate of camps children prisoners. Here we take a look on the claims made by Soviet and Latvian historians about the camp in Salaspils.

During the Soviet occupation no major academic work on Salaspils camp was made. Instead it was mentioned in popular texts and newspapers and mentioned in general history publications. The camp was mentioned in Soviet newspapers already in November 30 1944 where it was claimed that Nazis collected blood from children prisoners for the German Red Cross. The newspaper called to avenge every blood of the Soviet children for the blood of the dirty Germans. It was in line of the Soviet war-time propaganda for vengeance against the German nation. But, the thesis of Salaspils as “Blood Factory” remained within Soviet publications for years to come. Many more newspaper articles described the horrors for children in the camp and claimed that Jewish children were used for firing range although no Jewish children were ever known to be there. On 1945 when the war was over the USSR Extraordinary Investigation Commission (EIC) started to gather evidence for the Nazi crimes within Latvia. It concluded that camp had 56 000 death prisoners within them 7000 children.  During the sixties and seventies the camp was now described as death camp. The publications claimed that camp also used gas trucks to murder the inmates. It was claimed that Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer had visited the camp personally. The usual claimed death toll was 100 000 people including the affiliated camps in Latvia with 12 000 to 7000 children. 3500 liters of blood was taken from children. Soviets also added the Soviet prisoners of war to the list of civilian inmates as the Soviet propaganda avoided to mention the large numbers of Soviet POW’S. This trend was continued by Russian modern historians who repeat the Soviet interpretations. The latest attempts by Russian foundation “Historic Memory” was an exhibit “Deported childhood: The fates of deported children from Russia and Belarus to Latvia” that was called a disinformation by Latvian historians and authorities. Later the same foundation tried to do an exhibit in UNESCO headquarters in Paris, but the request was denied.

The Latvian historiography tends to question two main things: the actual number of inmates and victims and the classification of the Salaspils camp. Popular way of calling Salaspils camp is to label it as “concentration camp.” Soviet publications called it a “death camp”. According to German historian Gudrun Schwartz there are 17 categories of the German run camps during the WW2 starting from work labor camps to the death camp. Salaspils was camp where people were imprisoned, humiliated, forced to harsh labor and killed. All these actions took place almost in every of 17 categories of camps. The historian must take two turns of how to categorize the Salaspils camp. The emotionally subjective way of the documentary way based on German and Soviet documents. The emotionally subjective way most often leads to call Salaspils as concentration camp as large numbers of people were concentrated and imprisoned for various reasons; nationality, political affiliations and crimes against the Nazi laws. People in Salaspils died from violence, death sentences, hunger and diseases, however it was a never a death camp where people were killed in industrial manner for the very purpose of extermination. So calling a death camp is incorrect to very least. The Soviet Gulag camps often operated the same ways, but are not described as death camps. The death camp was camp where prisoners were killed right after their arrival namely six camps: Belzek, Sobibora, Treblinka, Helmno, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. In Auschwitz the work able people were sent to concentration camp while others killed.

The documentary way is often criticized by supporters of emotional classification who accuse of following the Nazi paradigm. The official German name for the camp was “Extended police prison and work labor re education camp” On 2005 main Latvian historians published book called “Latvia 20th century” where this term was used. When Vaira Vīķe Freiberga the president of Latvia made visit to Moscow on May 9th and gave the Russian translation of the book to Vladimir Putin. It’s doubtful Putin ever read the book, but the Russian propaganda took out the official camp name as a proof that Latvia is “re-writing” history. The wave of anti-Latvian propaganda was followed by books and movies accusing Latvia of rehabilitating Nazi occupation.

The question what was Salaspils camp can be answered how the Germans viewed the camp themselves and what were their plans regarding and outcomes of their plans. The discussion for the camp building in Salaspils was started in 1941 when head of the Einsatzgruppe A SS-Brigadeführer Walter Stahlecker raised the issue of overcrowding of prisoners and recommended to build a concentration camp to sort out work able prisoners. The camp would be under direction of Security Police SD. He was granted build such camp on August 4 1941. Month later the Reich Chief Authority sent note that its unacceptable by all means that SD maintains concentration camps and if the camp is made they are to be called extended police prisons  and under jurisdiction of directive issued by SS reichsführer Heinrich Himmler about police prisons and work labor re-education camps.

Local German authorities continued to ask for rights to build a concentration camp and added an argument that camp was needed to host the Jews for they cannot be kept in the Riga Ghetto forever. But requests were written in eased out form calling the desired object as “extended police prison similar to concentration camp” A specialist from Germany was requested to lead the camp building.

On October 11 1941 Stahlecker asked the General Commissioner of Latvia Otto-Heinrich Drechsler to gather large amount construction supplies for concentration camp in between Riga, Jelgava and Tukums for Jews exiled from Germany and occupied Poland. 10 days later the camp site was moved to the site near Riga-Daugavpils railway and was no longer called a concentration camp. As of November 30 the first Rumbula massacre took place taking lives of hundreds of thousands lives of Jews of Riga Ghetto the camp was no longer required for them. Last surviving Jews were taken to Mežaparks (Kaiserwald) camp in Riga that was officially called by Germans as concentration camp by the order of Heinrich Himmler on June 21 1943. Salaspils camp in the process of its existence was never officially called a concentration camp. The classification was important for Germans as it would determine the authority it would subordinated to and laws regarding it. The SD did not want to lose its authority and the Himmler’s requirements to change it to concentration camp were not met. Instead The Chief Authority of the Reich Security issued note to SS court that Salaspils is not a concentration camp but extended police prison with added SD labor re-education camp.

The second main question is the number of victims and inmates. The first victims of the camp were Jews from Germany and Austria who were sent to take part in the camp building. As no expert from Germany was sent the building and design was directed by local Latvians Jānis Irbe the chief of the Riga second building office and technical chief Frīdrihs Mednis. At first the work force was hired locals and Soviet POW’S who were held captive at Stalag 350 POW camp nearby. As of early 1942 the most workforces was now Jews from Germany, Austria and occupied Poland. 1000 Jews were involved in the building on January 5 1942. The harsh winter, rough labor, small food rations and illness lead to constant deaths of the forced labor. 10-12 people may have died within the day. As the ground was frozen it was hard to dig graves and bodies were kept behind barracks to await ground blowouts to bury them. Jews died from harsh punishments, many were killed on spot. The punishments were made for not working, stealing, trying to escape and speculation. People were shot or hanged. The amount of dead Jewish workers it’s not clearly known. The estimates call 1500-1800 Jews to be involved in the camp building and 1000 of them dead from various causes including death punishment.

Salaspils camp drawing by former inmate Kārlis Bušs

Salaspils camp drawing by former inmate Kārlis Bušs

After the main building works were finished the Jews were transported away to Riga Ghetto and new inmates of various categories were sent to camp. Small numbers of Jews for “special reasons” were kept in the camp. They were possibly Jews from Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. Jews also were stationed in camp temporally in transit. 100 or Jews may have died in the camp. But the camp was mainly built for non-Jewish persons.

One of them was work truants as Nazi occupation took many steps to combat work truancy and dawdling. Also speculates, thieves, tax avoiders and illegal alcohol producers. These people were sent to camp. 1800 of them were imprisoned at Salaspils. Salaspils also hosted political prisoner’s mostly Soviet activists who also took part in building process. Also members from the Latvian nationalist movement that opposed the Nazis. Members of the Polish nationalist resistance movement were also present. Nationalist Latvian inmates were mostly spared from harsh works by Nazi authority and guards looked at them with ease. Some of them were freed or sent to Latvian Waffen SS Legion. Latvian collaborators within occupation authorities often tried to help their compatriots and German Nazis saw Latvian nationalists as lesser evil. For a short time the leading members of the Latvian Central Council the main anti-Nazi movement in Latvia were stationed in Salaspils and then sent to camps in Germany. More than 100 Latvian national resistance movement members were present in Salaspils. Most women prisoners were political activists either Soviet activists or nationalists. Women were kept in separate barracks and camp guards forbidden men to have contacts with women and severely punished them when such contacts were made. There were woman who gave birth to children in the camp and were forced to live in harsh environment. Before camp liquidation the many women were sent France or Germany, some released under police watch.

Salaspils camp was also prison for sentenced members of the Latvian Waffen SS and Police battalions. These were soldiers who broke the rules. disobeyed orders or tried to desert. Also for avoiding military service. Some reports say that Norwegians, Dutch, Poles, Finns, Danes and even two French from Alsace were in the camp that were sent there for military offenses. On May 1944 the Lithuanian general Povils Plehavičus with his staff was sent to Salaspils. Plehavičus and his supporters were forming Lithuanian Local Brigade to resist the return of the Soviets and was seen as attempt to restore Lithuanian army by the Germans. Pļehavičus who was anti-communist complained that he is in the sane camp with many sentenced for supporting communism and demanded transfer threatening hunger strike.  They were released few months later. While most Latvian and Lithuanian soldiers were given second chance the life in the camp for Soviets POW’s was harsher. Soviet sources say that 47 000 soviet POW’S died at Salaspils without stating how they got that number. On 1942 in Latvia there was 59 805 POW’S and by October 43 0060 as many were sent to Germany. Salaspils camp contained only 10% of the Soviet POW’S of the Stalag-350 POW camp system. So it was nearly impossible to kill so many people at Salaspils camp. However, it’s confirmed that 500 disable Soviet soldiers unable to move themselves were killed at the time of the camp evacuation.

Salaspils served also as transit camp. As from 1943 German army was in retreat in the Eastern front the Nazis tried to sort out refugees and people useful for work. The refugees from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus were sent to filtration camps. In Latvia they were settled in Daugavpils, Rēzekne, and Strenči and Salaspils was suggested but then ruled out. However, there was individual case in 1944 when refugees from Belarus were filtrated in Salaspils. On 1943 there was 43 000 evacuated Russians on 1944 152 576. However, Salaspils was mainly a transit camp for captured civilians from Russia and Belarus who were intended by SD to be taken away to Germany.

On 1943 Germans issued operation to combat Soviet partisan movement in Belarus. The order was to destroy the villages around partisan infested zones and deport civilians away from them. The Operation  Winter Magic (Operation Winterzauber) took place from February 15 to early April. Near Latvian-Belarusian border the area was controlled by partisans and order was to clear the 40 km wide zone clear of civilian population supporting the partisans. 7465 people were held captive and then sent to Salaspils for filtration. The work able would be sent to Germany. Not all of them were sent as large numbers of weak and old were shot on the march to Salaspils. In two rounds about 4000 people entered Salaspils. Since the whole families were deported the children were within the prisoners. In February 1943 1100 children entered Salaspils. On second transport 1000 children were sent. Children were often separated from their families sent to nurseries or rural works. Camp authorities tried to sort out and disinfect the captives as fast as possible to send them further so never in camp history all the captives were in camp in one place.

Another anti-partisan operation Winter Journey took place in Latvian eastern region of Latgale to punish and deport the supporters of partisans. 3284 people were taken captive, 985 men, 1285 women and 1041 children. As before children were separated sent to relatives or unknown people.

The main cause of death in most cases around the inmates was diseases and starvation. The living environment was insanitary, food rations were low and work conditions were brutal. People died from typhus that was brought in by captives from Operation Winter Magic. The medical branch of camp was tasked to disinfect, remove louses as fast as possible and process was carried brutally. Children often caught dysentery, measles and other sickness. There was no medication so every sickness was a danger. Typhus epidemic killed more than 100 people. Documentary sources state that 700 people died from malnutrition.

Children in the camp were treated harshly. They were sent to quarantine collectively and treated with brutality. Then the most precarious moment was the separation from their parents. Parents were given only one minute to say goodbye to their children. Many children saw their parents for the last time. The Nazi propaganda made film shots of camp doctors disinfecting the children while barrack guards made children to dance and play music for their amusement.  When children barrack was hit by diarrhea the children went to barrack guards to dance and sing to get diarrhea pills. About 3000 children were in the camps at various times. Many hundreds died from starvation and epidemics and bad treatment. However, after few months of captivity they were sent to nurseries or adopted. The terrible living conditions and treatment separation from family is highest crime against these children. However, there is no sources that confirm the Soviet allegations of mass killings of children and blood removal in large numbers. Soviet investigation placed a lot of effort to investigate the fates of the children in the camp. Soviet reports concluded 7000 children died in the camp and based on testimonies of 33 people there was regular blood taking procedure imposed on captive children. Most of these testimonies  contained many numbers of overall captives, but contained no explanations of how the witnesses knew these facts. Some testimonies contained nearly impossible facts that do not correspond to logic and reality. The Soviet documents contain no information how the investigation committee came to their conclusions and number of causalities and inmates.  The accusations on deliberate blood collection from children were often based on rumors and suspicion from witnesses whose blood was not collected. Many interrogated sanitarians denied the fact there was widespread blood collection from children. Also there are not confirmations of the accusations of children poisoning and experimenting. The story about 3500 liters of blood taken from children for the German Red Cross is probably based on rumors, false stories and errors in investigation. There was no logical reason for mass blood collecting without determining the blood type that would make blood transfer out of question. On 1943 because of issues the German medical authority canceled the use of blood doses in the Eastern Front instead preferring direct transfer. Also the blood transport to Western front from Latvia would be costly and unreliable process.  Blood collecting took place, but not in large-scale and mostly for medical reasons as doctors tried to limit the spread of diseases that would endanger not only children but also adult workers.

Most deaths were in the camp were caused by famine and diseases. However, many died from repeated brutal punishments. People were punished for not working, speculation, gambling and other disobeying orders. Death penalties were issued for trying or planning to escape or planning an uprising. There were few events hangings in front of other inmates. 19 people were killed or injured during escape attempts. There were few mass killings such as at the end of 1943 when 30-35 people from Riga were brought in shot by the SD firing squad. 16 prisoners who were brought in from Rēzekne and Daugavpils prison were shot because they were sick with typhus. There are no viable sources that proof the claim that there were gas chambers in the camp.

The end of the mass sufferings of the Daugavpils camp came to September 29 1944 when because of approaching Soviets the camp was liquidated. By then the camp had already very small number of prisoners and it had suffered a Soviet air strike destroying one of the barracks. Before the liquidation many inmates were released but disabled inmates were shot. Last inmates left the camp on September 29 1944. Camp was burned down before the Soviets could capture it.

Salaspils was camp of suffering and horror and until this day there are still many unanswered questions and discussions about the number of inmates and number of people killed there. The latest research published this year concludes that from 1942 to 1944 the camp had 21 855-23 035 prisoners 11 735 of them were transit prisoners being here for a limited time. 400-500 people died from starvation. 100-150 died from harsh work environment. Four people were hanged. 19 people were shot during escape attempts. 6 were shot after being caught trying to escape. 31 were killed for planning uprising. 80 disabled people were murdered. 11 735 people including children who were sent to Salaspils from Belarus or Latgale died from various causes. 500 Soviet disabled POW’S were executed. The total of 1952 people died in the Salaspils camp.

The research shows that Soviet estimates of number of casualties were greatly exaggerated. Soviet post war investigation although valuable, holds within many inaccuracies, deliberate exaggerations for ideological reasons. Russian media has already condemned these research results as re-writing of history and turning into Salaspils “death camp” into “resort”. However, the lesser number of victims than thought before does not make the camp less horrifying.  It was nevertheless a horrid place ruining people’s lives and comparing to its actual size of inmates it had a very high dead toll. This is not “re-writing” of history as these facts by no means justify the Nazi crimes. Instead these facts make the accusations more concrete against the Nazi regime and downplay the revisionist claims of exaggeration of the Nazi crimes. Today Latvian historians are making the Latvian history more concrete and fact based contrary to Russia where there is actual re writing of history trying to hide the Stalinist crimes.  Let us remember and commemorate the victims of the Salaspils camp and let their fates known in the history.

Sculptures at the Salaspils memorial

Sculptures at the Salaspils memorial

Selected Sources: 

Kangeris, Kārlis, Neiburgs Uldis, Vīksne Rudīte. Aiz šiem vārtiem vaid zeme. Salaspils nometne 1941.-1944. Rīga. Lauku Avīze.2016.

Strautmanis, I, Asaris, G. Padomju Latvijas memoriālie ansambļi. Rīga. Zinātne. 1986.

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