Banned Soviet Movie about Latvian Waffen SS Legion

Movie poster for the "Rocks and Splinters""I Remember Everything Richard"

Movie poster for the “Rocks and Splinters”
“I Remember Everything Richard”

Again the 16th March approaches heating up the discussions between historians, politicians and other members of the society. The Latvian Waffen SS Legion day will be commemorated again. The story about this celebration and the Legion itself has been already told here. This article is about interesting attempt to make a full feature film about the Latvian Legion during the Soviet times in Latvia. A film that was made for 10 years, had changed its title many times and finally made on the cinema screens for only 24 days, after it was banned by local Latvian communist authorities. Ironically outside Latvia, in Russia the movie was praised and no opposition from authorities in Moscow against the movie ever followed. It was a cowardice of the local Latvian censorship and officials that canceled this interesting war drama about the Latvian Waffen SS Legion. The movie was called “Rocks and Splinters” or “I Remember Everything Richard”.

After the death of the Soviet leader Josef Stalin, the relative liberalization in culture allowed to talk about questions that were suppressed before. During the so-called thaw times, the Soviet film directors dared to make a new kind of war films. In movies such as “The Cranes are flying” (1957) by M Kalatozov, “A Soldiers Ballad” (1959) by G Cuhray, “A Mans Fate” (1959) by S Bondarchuck, and “Ivan’s Childhood” (1962) by S Tarkovsky the emotional side of the war was shown for the first time. The Stalinist movie characters were shown as manful, brave and mature fighters, while the new kind of war heroes were allowed to have fallbacks, weakness and fear.

The movie “Rocks and Splinters” or “I Remember Everything Richard!” featured this kind a characters. The movie tells a story about three friends – Jānis, Zigis and Ričards who were conscripted in to the Latvian Legion. Their fate turns differently – Ričards to save his friend executes the Soviet war prisoner and gains respect from the commanding officers. Zigis tries to defect to the Soviet side, but gets killed during the attempt. At the end of the war the disillusioned Janis deserts. Twenty years later in Riga the Jānis and Ričards meets again. Jānis lives in Soviet Latvia and works as a stonecutter and keeps friendly relations with Ričards youth time bride Antra. Ričards and Jānis both remember their war days and find out that their point of views differ. In the finale Ričards turns out as the spy from the West and in his deadlock stabs Jānis to death.

Two main movie characters-Jānis (Harijs Liepiņš) and Ričards (Eduards Pāvuls)

Two main movie characters-Jānis (Harijs Liepiņš) and Ričards (Eduards Pāvuls)

The movie is about whole generation, its worries, the feel of guilt and need to be understood by the society. The active participants of the World War II were born from 1920 to 1928. This was the movie about them.

The idea of this movie was first brought up by the Viktors Lorencs who wrote the script called “Fatherland forgive me!” (Dzimtene Piedod!) Viktors Lorecs was the son of the prominent Latvian Socialdemocat politician Klāvs Lorencs before the war, who was supportive of the Soviet occupation, but later in 1951 was arrested. Viktors Lorencs himself in the age of 17 in 1944 was mobilized by the German army and sent to Air Force Assistant Squad. It was his goal to defend the mobilized men in Latvian Legion against the accusations from the regime. He later remarked: “We were aware that we are no fascists. Furthermore, none of us believed in the German victory. The tragedy lays in there. After that, together with older man, myself seventeen we had to go trough filtration camp”. He wrote the script in 1957 and published in the students almanac „Творчество молодых” (The Youth Art). In same year the in the Riga Movie Studio the works for the movie begun and Varis Krūmiņš was chosen as a director. Lorencs submitted all needed materials for the script, but in 23 December 1957 he suddenly received note from the chief of the Riga Movie Script department O Kublanov that the work for the movie “Fatherland forgive me!” has been canceled. Lorencs received no explanation for this, however the archive documents show that script was declined for its ideologically artistic qualities. More notable was the note made by unknown author on the script that said: “Was there before Soviet power in Latvia? If it was then the movie is useless!”

Things changed only in 1964 when the members of the Riga Movie Studio script editorial staff were invited to visit the Latvian Communist Party Central Committee. The first secretary of the Central Committee Arvīds Pelše, the first man in the Soviet Latvia wanted to make a good historical movie to celebrate the 25 years of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. Lorencs again submitted upgraded version of the script that was criticized, but was encouraged to be continued and edited. In 10 November 1964 the Council of the Arts discussed the edited script and approved it. It was then sent to Moscow for approval. Rolands Kalniņš was chosen as the director. Rolands Kalniņš was mobilized in the Legion, but did not believe that it could restore the Latvian independence and managed avoid the war. However, he also felt the strong need to make this movie to show the tragedy of his generation.

In 6 March 1965 after many months of discussing the script the movie was allowed to be filmed. In 26 May the first day of shooting begun and first scenes were taken. But, then they were suddenly interrupted by deputy of the film director Gunārs Sops who announced that movie shooting must be canceled. Not Sops or anybody else knew what was going on. It turned out that the script was discussed in the party Central Committee and some members pointed out that this movie could cause scandal for its politically wrong.

However, the Movie Studio decided to continue to make the film. 13 November 1965 the movie title was changed to “Rocks and Splinters” and allowed to be put on screens. In 19 November the LSSR Cinematography committee decided not to put the movie on-screen. In 23 November the making of the movie was finished. In 3 November the main USSR Cinematography committee praised the movie and allowed it to be shown everywhere in the Union.

In 24 December 1965 the social discussion about the movie was made. The participants were LSSR War Commissar I Chasha, Rector of the Latvian State University V Šteinbergs, the LSSR Minister of Education A Elvih, former partisans V Samsons,  H Bendiks,  the Minister of Culture V Kaupužs, the Secretary of the Youth Communist League J Barkāns, the circus director A Mlokit. The war commissar I Chasha who was apparently little drunk shouted: “What are they doing? Drinking in the army is bad, but in the movie the soldiers are drinking in the party!” Understanding his failure he then continued: “Anti-Soviet movie, for it forgives the legion! The Brothers war cemetery is shown in pre-war style.” The red partisan leader and historian V Samsons noted that people must speak about this tragedy and defended the movie. Minister of Culture V Kaupužs was against the movie and accused of attempts of dividing the society. The Minister of Education declared that this movie suits the interests of the Latvian emigrants and stated that the Legion is no longer important for Latvians. The rector of the University said this movie is politically detrimental. Other party officials called the movie as a danger to youth. It was decided not to show the movie on screens.

In 10 January 1966 the LSSR Cinematography committee orders to rename the movie to “I Remember Everything Richard”. The main script redactor J Lūsis was fired and replaced with A Grigulis.

In 6 May after many script and scene reconsiderations the movie production was canceled. 245 300 rubles spent on production were called as losses. The original copy of the movie was however, ordered to be preserved in the cinematic archive.

18 August the movie was officially finished and allowed to be shown in movie theaters.

From April 3 to 26 1967 the movie was shown in theaters, banning it from being mentioned in the press. After that the Soviet bureaucratic carousel ended. The movie disappeared completely for decades. In 10 January 1992 the movie was restored and shown again. In 1999 it was distributed in VHS format, but in 2009 included in DVD collection of Rolands Kalniņš banned films.

Why was the movie banned in Soviet Latvia while it was praised by the critics and officials in Moscow? Apparent reason was the fear of the local communist officials from the “big” masters in Moscow. The leadership of the Latvian Socialist Republic was mostly Latvian communists from Russia, who survived the Stalin’s purges and was franticly afraid to do anything that could be seen as hostile to Moscow. The movie “I Remember Everything Richard” in no way praised the legionaries as heroes. Instead they were shown as tragic victims of the Nazi policy, forced to fight useless war bound to fail. The main character Jānis shows no sympathy to the Legion, while Ričards who is nationalistic minded turns out to be Western spy. Also the commanding officers were shown as hypocrites and involved in Holocaust. Therefore now such movie may not be liked by people who admire the Legionnaires and calls them heroes. However, the communist elite still saw this movie as politically incorrect and danger to them. The reason, why despite numerous orders to not to show the movie, it did appear for the short time on screens, was because Moscow had accepted it.

With that the local Soviet leaders showed the usual weakness against the high power, a weakness that persisted until late eighties. We can see that this weakness in issues about the Latvian Legion has not gone until this day. Latvian political elite constantly juggles with the Latvian Legion. First it allows to officially celebrating it, even makes a parliamentary declaration defending the Legion. After protests from Russia and its supporters in Latvia and the West the government removes the 16th March from the official calendar. But still as many celebrates it, and its supporters are now coalition the Latvia continues to ridicule itself more and more. The Russia and West enjoys this Latvian inability to take a concrete stance on this important matter and continue the diplomatic harassment of our country.


Music video shows scenes from the movie


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