Baltic German Nazis in Latvia 1933-1939

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selected Sources:

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

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

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

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