Nazi Radio Propaganda in Latvia 1941-1945

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Latvian made radio receiver

The head of the Nazi propaganda Joseph Goebbels recognized radio as the most advanced tool of propaganda. At the age of the printed press, posters and leaflets radio was truly the most modern way of political communication. During the interwar period the radio broadcasting became more advanced and radio stations were established all around Europe. The Latvia got its first official radio station in 1924. Radio became fairly popular in Latvia before the World War II. In 1939 the Latvian Radio had 154 400 subscribers. Latvian main industrial company the VEF produced modern radio receivers. Also many radios were imported from Germany. Before the WWII the main frequency range was the longwave (150-375 kHz) and the mediumwave (AM) (535-1600 kHz). However already in the late twenties broadcasters started to use shortwave band (1600-2900 kHz) that allowed to send signals in more further areas. With usual pre-war receiver Latvians could tune to stations from Germany, Great Britain and Soviet Union. After the Soviet occupation in 1940, the registration of radio receivers begun and many people had their radios confiscated. Not only because of the possibility of receiving “rouge” situations, but also because the ownership of radio receiver indicated that the owner belongs to bourgeois class.

At the very beginning of the German invasion on June 22 1941, German radio station called “Vineta”  located in Konigsberg (Kaliningrad) started broadcasting in Latvian language. Radio transmitted the German declaration of war and Hitler’s address to the German nation. Germans understood the importance of broadcasting their propaganda in Latvian maiden language. The listener is always more positive to information in his own language.  Radio issued calls to Latvians not to resist the Germans and not to support the Soviets.

On July 1 as the Red Army was retreating away from Riga, the non-soviet Latvian Radio begun its work. An hour before the German soldiers appeared the director of company “Latvian Films”, Albets Jekste took over the main radio building. He did this with the consent of the German colonel Walter Ulersperger also the commandant of Riga. The radio broadcast begun at 10:00 with the opening speech by colonel Ulerspeger who declared that Riga was liberated and ended his speech in Latvian by saying “God Bless Latvia!” After that the Latvian anthem was played followed by Jekste announcement.  The announcement was “Greet the German soldiers with jubilant gratitude and give a  helping hand everywhere you can!   Because once and for all the end has come to communism and Jewry in Latvia!” The slogans of the Riga radio broadcasts were completely adjusted to the needs of the Nazi propaganda. There is a myth that during the first days during the Nazi occupation Latvians had time for their self action against the Soviets and Jews. However, the transcripts of the Riga radio broadcasts shows that the Latvian “free action” did not last for a second.  Everything was under according to German instructions. Latvian radio just as press sparked large anti-Semitic propaganda.

On October 1941 the Riga Radio was included in the Reich Radio Structure RRG (Reichs Rudfunk GmbH”. The Ostland (the official name of German occupied Baltic States) radio group was made. The Alberts Jekste was replaced with Hans Kreigler who took charge of all transmitters within the Baltic states. Latvia had radio transmitters in Riga, Madona, Kuldīga and Leipāja. The board of the radio was replaced entirely by Germans. Latvians kept their jobs but was under German command.

The Ostand radio had following orders: fight the British and Bolshevik propaganda, show British as traitors and reveal the Bolsheviks as the main enemies of the Baltic people. Also show the Jews as the main initiators of the war and financiers of the Allies. The Germans were to be portrayed as the saviors of the Baltic nations. Radio also issued provisions and orders. Positive information about Germany and introduction about the Nazi ideas was also included. Commentaries about world issues and military events followed. All materials came from the main German Bureau of information (DNB). Nothing else could be broadcasted. The German sent materials were translated into Latvian. Local news was taken from Nazi approved newspapers. There were also cultural programs playing music or reading poems. The Latvian radio program broadcasted usually for 15-20 hours and was filled with music.

However, those who owned the receivers could still tune to the enemy broadcasts. BBC World Service had a transmitter in Sweden and Radio Moscow could reach Latvia. German propaganda called Latvians not to listen to the Jewish propaganda that only causes chaos and misunderstanding. The Radio Ostland was enough and listening to the German radio was the sign of loyalty of the Eastern nations. When that was not enough a punishment to the “irresponsible” listeners were issued. A punishment was arrest and radio confiscation or even death sentence.

German propaganda warning not to listen to the enemy broadcasts because its forbidden and unjust to the German liberators. Also warning is given not the spread the rumors made by those stations for one who does that becomes sick with "rumor plague".

German propaganda warning not to listen to the enemy broadcasts because its forbidden and unjust to the German liberators. Also warning is given not the spread the rumors made by those stations for one who does that becomes sick with “rumor plague”.

German authorities were worried that many Latvians are listening to the Radio Moscow. Others tuned to the BBC World Service. There was a case when two Latvian workers living next door to the German soldiers were caught listening to the Radio Moscow. They were listening the radio too load and alerted the Germans.  To curb the enemy broadcast listening rumors about special radio direction devices were spread.  People were warned that their radio receivers will be located when tuning to restricted frequencies. However, there were no such devices and most people was reported by their neighbors and colleagues. Even today the radio direction is mostly experimental.

German authorities constantly monitored the enemy broadcasts. On 1944 German authorities were alerted by the fact that clandestine broadcast called “Soltadensender Calais” (Calais Soldiers Station) can be received in the Baltic area. This station was made by the British to demoralize German soldiers. As the hopes of German victory became even weaker more and more reports were made about listening the allied broadcasts. Germans constantly criticized the propaganda made by the BBC and Radio Moscow. But people were tired of German propaganda. Some were tuning to BBC World Service to hear the news of the coming allied landing on the coast of the Baltic sea. Others listened Radio Moscow to know how close is Soviets to Latvia. Many were just curious and wanted to know different opinions on what is happening.

German radio propaganda in the end proved ineffective. Radio receivers were not widespread. Most people relied on newspapers.  Another factor that German radio propaganda was targeted more for the Germans rather than Latvians. Most air time was just rebroadcasts from Berlin and targeted for soldiers. Latvian listeners received little attention. Most local information was about the local economy and everyday issues.  So it was no wonder why people tried to listen to allied broadcasts.

On October 12 1944 Soviet Army approached Riga. The Germans destroyed the radio transmitter tower and evacuated the radio station. The last German radio station was located in Liepaja and was called “Hallo Liepaja!”. After the radio tower was destroyed in Kuldīga, the German radio was receivable at very small distances around Liepāja. The German radio ceased its broadcasts on May 7 1945. After this Latvia entered a new age of radio broadcasting where Nazi propaganda was changed with the Soviet propaganda. And once again occupants had to find ways to silence the radio broadcasts from abroad.

Selected Sources:

Zellis, Kaspars (2012) “Ilūziju un baiļu mašinērija. Propaganda nacistu okupētajā Latvijā: vara, mediji un sabiedrība (1941‒1945)” Riga. Mansards.

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