Latvians in the Western Exile 1944-1991

Latvian Song Festival parade in exile

Latvian Song Festival parade in exile

Latvians have always been proud of their homeland. However, the calamity of WW2 and second Soviet occupation forced many to seek refuge in the Western world. It was a political exile. Exiles where middle class citizens, politicians, intellectuals and patriots. Together with the support of the exiled Latvian diplomats, Western Latvians made organized societies and campaigned for the restoration of independence. For nearly 50 years they actively waited for Latvia to be free again. When the dream was finally realized, many of them were unable to return home and were disappointed about the politics in Latvia. As a new wave of emigration to west dictated by economic means became more important, these people became forgotten. But, the western exiles were the ones who deserve praise for their unity and active struggle for Latvian freedom. A new generation of the Latvian economic exiles needs to learn from these people. Never forget your nationality, language and will to return to Latvia. And make Latvia a better place even being a million miles away.

Before the WW2 about 45 thousand Latvians lived in the west. Most of them in US and Brazil. Their exile was dictated either by political and social reasons. Most of them assimilated, some 15-20 thousand people kept their Latvian identity. The WW2 was a demographic disaster: Latvia lost about 0,4 million people. Many perished in Soviet repressions or sent to Siberia. Latvia also lost its Baltic German and Jewish minority. Large  numbers of Latvians died at the war front. The approaching Soviet army in 1944-1945 made many Latvians find escape routes to allied countries. About 250 thousand people became refugees. Many got stuck in Courland, some 50-60 thousand were murdered by the Soviet troops in Poland and Germany. After the war 6 thousand Latvians found refuge in Sweden, West Germany 120 thousand, Austria 3 thousand and Denmark 2 thousand.  In later years Latvians spread out to US, Canada, Australia and other places. First years were harsh: from refugee camps in the Western Germany to countries without any proper language skills.  However, after many years of adjustment Latvians were able preserve themselves and be socially and politically active. It’s not exactly known how many Latvians were in the numerous western countries. 165 -180 thousand or even 200 thousand. Many were not counted as Latvians, some countries also included Latvian born Jews and Germans as Latvians. Latvians gathered in global organization – Worlds Free Latvian Alliance (WFLA- PBLA in Latvian) founded in 1955. Also The Hawks of Daugava is an international support organization for Latvian war veterans. In every country with a large Latvian population, active organizations, schools, newspapers and even radio stations were active. Latvian exiled diplomats were officially recognized by most countries and supported the cause.

United States of America

First Latvians came to North America already on 17 century when Latvian colonists together with Swedes entered the shores of river Delaware. Some Latvians moved to the island of Tobago a colony owned by the Duchy of Courland. In 1780 in the state of Connecticut immigrant iron forgers founded a colony and named mountain and lake after Riga. The so-called Reggies could be the same colonists from Tobago, who moved to US after the Courland duchy was dissolved. Latvian missionaries also moved to US. However, first dedicated emigration occurred in 19th century eighties. So called Old Latvians were people who pursued more freedom and wealth. Some of them made it good and opened farms, workshops and factories. Augusts Krastins was about to outscore Henry Ford with his own cheap and fast automobile. He managed to release 10 such models in 1902, however his business was short-lived as his factory burned down. The future president of Latvia Kārlis Ulmanis also owned a farm in Texas. The main Latvian social center was Boston. On 1889 Jēkabs Zīlbergs founded the Latvian Society, on 1891 the first Latvian Lutheran congregation was made. First Latvian newspaper “Amerikas Vēstnesis” (American Herald) was released from 1896 to 1920. On 1918-1921 active Old Latvians assisted the Latvian War for Freedom and founded the American Latvian National Union. The movement campaigned for US to acknowledge Latvian sovereignty which was achieved in 1922.

The Revolution of 1905 brought many political exiles to US. Four thousand exiled revolutionaries found refuge. Many of them started a leftist movement. American Latvian Socialist Workers Federation and American Social Democrat united organization had constant quarrels over ideology and goals. After 1917 3,5 thousand of these emigres left US for Latvia or Russia. Those who stayed joined the American Socialist Party that became part of the American Communist Party. On 1935 the Latvian group separated from the American Communist Party and made American Latvian Workers Unity. They were the main Latvian exiles sparking soviet propaganda until ALWU disbanded. There were other types of 1905 exiles like Kārlis Ulmanis, who was right-winger and later went back to Latvia. Other famous Old Latvia exile was Edward Leedskalnin who came to US in 1912. He took part in the revolution, but his official reason for leaving Latvia was being heartbroken after his “sweet sixteen” Hermīne Lūse abandoned him in the wedding. He then moved to Miami, Florida where for the rest of his life he built a castle made of the coral blocks. The symbolic stone structure with many mythic themes still lies a mystery to many. Nobody knows how exactly he made this castle and his love story laid for inspiration for the Billy Idol song “Sweet Sixteen”.

Latvia had official diplomatic envoys in Washington DC. Alfreds Bilmanis was the official envoy from Latvia. When Latvia was occupied by the Soviets he officially condemned and  defied the aggression. With his efforts the US Foreign Department officially condemned the Soviet occupation and kept the Latvian gold reserves from the Soviet hands. US never accepted Latvia as juridical part of the Soviet Union. So the Latvian diplomats in exile could act officially. The Latvian Embassy worked in the Washington trough out the Cold War and was an official support center for exiles. Alfrēds Bilmanis was the ambassador until 1948, when he was replaced by Jūlijs Feldmanis who acted until 1953, then replaced by Arnorlds Spekke to 1970, and then Anatols Dinsbergs took the office. Old Latvian from New York made Latvian Relief Fund in 1941 and helped 17 thousand people to get immigration visas.  Some other 40 thousand entered in illegal means. The US Congress in 1948 allowed to welcome war refugees without immigration quota. From 1947 to 1952 some 40 thousand Latvians from West Germany, Austria, Sweden and other parts entered the US.

Latvian ambassador to US in exile Anatols Dinsbergs

Latvian ambassador to US in exile Anatols Dinsbergs

Latvians moved to New York, California and Florida. Every year 200-300 Latvians entered the US from South America and Western Europe. In 1951 the main American Latvian Alliance was founded. Its main newspaper is “Laiks” (“Time”) Latvians united in student, educational, press and economical sectors. ALA opened schools to teach Latvian. Latvians gathered in their own churches Lutheran and Catholic. Song and Dance festivals in exile were occasional. American Latvians were supported both by Democrats and Republicans who were against the occupation. Most Latvians however were supportive of the Republicans. Usually during the election campaign both presidential candidates approached Latvian exiles and even invited them to the White House. Latvian exiles made constant pressure on the US politicians to do more for Latvia and be tougher against USSR. So both US leading parties regarded the Baltic exiles as an important part of their electorate.  During the awakening from 1987 to 1991 the American Latvians became the most active and made contacts with Latvian freedom fighters in Latvia and helped them to talk to the US leaders. In 1991 US finally fully supported the restoration of Latvian independence.

Latvian leaders in exile D Rudzītis and A Deksnis with President George Bush Senior

Latvian leaders in exile D Rudzītis and A Deksnis with President George Bush Senior

Canada

Canada a vast and rich country was the ideal second choice for many Latvian exiles. First Latvians already came in the 19th century. There were 1 thousand of them before the WW2. On 1932 Latvian consulate was established in Toronto and Montreal. Canada was also against the Soviet occupation and allowed consulates to work. Canadian lawyer Rey Braison was the Latvian consul who made great effort to support the Latvian exiles. Latvian exiles in Canada were well established and strong fighters for independence. On 1947 Canadian government recruited German refugee camp people for work in forestry, building and mining. Many Latvians took this chance. In 1961 the Canadian national census counted 18, 1 thousand Latvians. The main organization is the Latvian National Alliance in Canada (LNAK). At the end of the eighties there were 20 thousand Latvians in Canada. The main newspaper is “Latvija Amerikā” (Latvia in America”). Important intellectual magazine is “Jaunā Gaita” (The New Path). Canadian Latvians and American Latvians had active cooperation.

Australia

It’s been reported that the duke of Courland Jakob also intended to send colonists from Courland to Australia. The plan failed because the possible investor Pope Innocent X died too early. Latvians came to Australia in the 19th century. 250-300 Latvians escaped from the 1905 revolution as far as possible. On 1933 430 people from Latvia with 230 children lived there. Most Latvians came to Australia from 1947 when Australia signed the International Refugee treaty.  Australian government placed them in transit camps, teach English and then sent them to license work for two years. After that people had to find a place for their own. Since apartments were scarce they had to build house. Some 25 thousand people lived in main cities. The main organization was the Latvian Alliance in Australia (LAA). The main newspaper “Austrālijas Latvietis” (Australian Latvian). The Latvian political activity reached a peak when on a 1974 Labor party Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam decided to accept the occupation of the Baltic States to improve relations with USSR. Large scale protests supported by local Australians wrecked the Labor government. After it was replaced with Liberal government the occupation of the Baltic States was not recognized once again. It was a clear signal for other real-politicians in other countries. In 1991 the Australia officially recognized Latvia.

Latvian Education Center "Dzintari" in Australia

Latvian Education Center “Dzintari” in Australia

United Kingdom (Great Britain)

First Latvians entered UK during the 1905 revolution. Some 400-500 Latvians lived before 1940. The UK government was quite reluctant to give official condemnation of the soviet occupation, because it wished the Soviet support for the war against the Nazis. But, the UK was also quite reluctant to accept the occupation and for the rest of the Cold War kept this policy of non-recognition. In 1946 the UK labor government was first to welcome all war refugees. This was needed to attain more working force. On 1950 18 thousand Latvians lived in the UK. However, some restrictions  made many to move to the US and Canada. On eighties 9 thousand Latvians remained in Latvia. Latvian diplomats worked in London under constant British pressure who were joggling between the American and the Soviet demands. The most famous Latvian diplomat was Kārlis Zariņš. Latvian Society in Great Britain was the main organization with “Londonas Avīze” (London Newspaper). The Latvian exiles came in bitter conflict with the labor prime minister H V Vilson who spent the Baltic gold reserves to pay clearing debt to the USSR. Protests continued until 1969 when H V Vilson promised to reexamine the Baltic gold question when Latvia attains sovereignty. Even if Latvians were more supportive of the Conservative party their prime minister Margaret Thatcher was quite skeptical about the restoration of the Latvian independence until the end. It finally happened in 1991.

Latvian exiles in protest

Latvian exiles in protest

West Germany

Latvia had deep diplomatic and commercial ties with Germany before the war. About 300 Latvians, and more Latvian born Jews and Germans lived there. The Baltic Germans left Latvia in 1939 by the will of Hitler. 55 thousand Baltic Germans together 1 thousand Latvians came to Nazi Germany. Those Latvians who came along had family connections with Germans, or were pro-German. Others used this chance to escape the coming soviet occupation. Nazi Germany used the Latvian exiles for the invasion on the Soviet Union in 1941. During the Nazi occupation 20 thousand Latvians were sent to work duty in Germany. The Nazi German Workers Front had a special cultural section for the Latvians in Germany. When on 1944 Soviets came back to Latvia, large masses started to move to Germany. 35 thousand Latvian Waffen SS Legion members were caught up in the battles of the East Prussia and Pomerania. The survivors made it trough Berlin and reached the Western allies. 202 thousand civilians tried to reach Germany far from the Soviets as possible. 50 thousand Latvians were taken to Germany by force.

Many did not make it. Soviets either killed them or sent them back to occupied Latvia. Latvian Refugee Authority and Latvian Red Cross tried to help refugees. There were 400 Latvian refugee camps in Germany before the end of the war. After May 9 there were 135 thousand Latvians in the Western allied captured German part. 9 thousand came back to Latvia, because they were taken to Germany by force and wanted to reunite families. From 1946 to 1949 the West Germany turned into “Little Latvia” filled with refugee camps full of Latvians. Many believed that war will start again and the allies will chase away the Soviets. There were 1 million refugees from all Eastern Europe in sole Western Germany. Civilians could either try to make living in West Germany or live with others in the camps. 23 thousand war veterans from Latvia were placed into internment camps. Since the Allies disregarded the Latvian Waffen SS as criminal organization they were released in 1946. Veterans made social support organization “The Hawks of Daugava” that worked and works in every country with a significant Latvian population.

The Hawks of Daugava International meeting

The Hawks of Daugava International meeting

Latvians made many organizations in the refugee camps. German Latvian Central Council, Latvian National Council and exiled resistance movement Latvian Central Council. The Latvian Red Cross was restored. Western German occupiers formally did not recognize these movements, but did not make any steps against them. When the Western allies rejected the Soviet demands for repatriation, people felt more relaxed. Many now moved to another countries or crossed the ocean to US and Canada. In 1986 there were 9-10 thousand Latvians remaining in Western Germany. The main Latvian newspaper in Germany is “Brīvā Latvijā” (Free Latvia).

Sweden

The relations between the Latvian exiles and the Swedish state has always been tense. Latvia placed high hopes on their neighbors. Sweden was the only country on 1940 who accepted the Soviet occupation and evicted the Latvian embassy. Despite that the exiled Latvian diplomat Voldemārs Salnais organized cooperation with the Latvian Central Council and helped about 5,2 thousand people to cross the Baltic sea to Sweden. About 2 thousand was lost because of the Nazi and Soviet counteractions. 150 deserting Latvian Legion members made it to Sweden. On January 1946 they were handed back to the Soviets. Latvian soldiers resisted by making hunger strike, when it did not help they self-injured themselves or even made suicides. Whole Swedish society including the archbishop, officers and the king himself were against the handover. However, the government was afraid of the Soviet Union and hand over the soldiers.

Latvians mistrusted the Swedish government. 2 thousand Latvians left Sweden for more friendlier country. 4, 5 thousand Latvians remained in Sweden. Latvian organizations helped them. Sweden soon became the center of the Latvian intellectual activity. However, there was a great split between leftists and nationalists. Swedish Latvian National Council rivaled with the Swedish Latvian Central Council. Exiled Latvian Social Democrats stood on their own. Their leader was Bruno Kalniņš, a chameleon personality social democrat, Soviet spy, soviet collaborator, anti-nazi resistance activist and the social democrat leader in the end. During the national awakening the colorful Swedish Latvian exile was the closest to support independence movements. As in 1990 even the Swedish social democrats stood up for Latvian independence, Latvia finally received support from Stockholm.  Official apology was given to deported Latvian legion members and the diplomatic relations were restored.

Latvians went all over Europe, in the Benelux countries, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France ect. In every country there was and are small societies to assist local exiles.

Brazil

For Latvians the Brazil is rather unusual place to take refuge. But since the end of the 19th century many Latvians have started to go there. The first ones were Latvian Baptists who looked for free agricultural land. In the first wave 600-800 people emigrated from Russian owned Latvia to Brazil. In 1906 400-600 colonists came in and formed the Novu Odessa colony. From 1923-1924 2,3 thousand Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists came to Brazil. This was a part of the popular campaign among Baptists and other small Christian movements who believed that their mission is to go to Brazil and teach Christian values to locals and live with them. After WW2 1,5 thousand Latvians arrived. Most Latvians who came as Baptists and did missionary work mixed with locals and lost the Latvian identity. Most Latvians escaping war soon emigrated to US and Canada.  Latvians were also to be found in other South American countries like Bolivia, Venezuela and Argentina.

After Latvia regained independence, many did not knew what to do next. Some were too old and social and economic situation in Latvia was lot worse than in their place of exile. Some were disappointed about the national ethnic situation that was lot worse than expected. However, some found their new place. Vaira Vīķe Freiberga from Canada took the office of President of Latvia from 1999 to 2007. Many took part in the politics. Nils Muižnieks also from Canada serves as Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. Gunārs Birkerts is the architect of the National Library that will be finished this year. Jānis Kažocinš from UK was the head of the Latvian counterintelligence service SAB. Two notable media personalities Kārlis Streips and Juris Kaža has been around for years.

For years Latvian exile was the place for many Latvian historians. Egars Andersons, Ādolfs Šilde, Arnolds Spekke an Edgars Dunsdofs was written many great works about Latvian history. Their view of history is national conservative. Two rather radical historians Haralds Biezais and Andrievs Ezergailis has challenged the usual positive view on Nazi occupation within Latvian exiles.   Today the most prominent exile Latvian historian is Andrejs Plakans from US.

During the last two decades Latvia has witnessed a great wave of economical emigration to EU countries and US. This emigration is economic not politic. People are forced to leave Latvia because of financial problems and unemployment. The challenge for these people is even greater than WW2 exiles. While WW2 exiles had common cause to be united and keep their identity to return to free Latvia someday, the economic exiles main cause is to survive by  material means. They are waiting for Latvia to improve its economy and repay all the debts. It’s the responsibility of the Latvian government and its people to make at lest some part of them to come back. It’s also the responsibility for the new generation of Latvians not to lose their national identity so they don’t feel as strangers when they come back. The status of the new economical exiles are not the same as the WW2 exiles. They are not political refugees, they are just part of the multimillion immigrant workforce that is often viewed rather negative by the locals. The risk of alienation and assimilation is great. So the challenge for Latvian people and these new exiles is far more greater and will affect our future most greatly.

Karte25

Selected Sources

Veigners, Ilgvars. (1993) Latvieši ārzemēs. Zinātniskā asociācija “Latvija un latvieši pasaulē”. Rīga : Latvijas enciklopēdija.

Veigners, Ilgvars. (2009) Latvieši Rietumzemēs : un vēl dažās zemēs. Rīga : Drukātava.

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Five years of the LatvianHistory.wordpress.com

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On July 6 2009 I Maris Goldmanis made first two posts in this new blog LatvianHistory.wordpress.com. Back in 2009 I was a Bachelors study course student in the Latvian University. My inspiration for this blog was the finest English books I came across from great authors like Niall Ferguson, Walter Laquer and  Norman Davies. However, I came to the sad conclusion that our Latvian historians have not done enough to spread out our national view of the Latvian History in English. Yes there were some books made by them, but the internet has lacked valuable information about our history in English language. So it was my personal duty to my homeland to spread the word of Latvia in a language that everyone could easily understand. And I am grateful to everyone who have found this blog useful and interesting. There is too much deformation made about Latvia in the foreign media coming from the East, so I as Latvian and a patriot see as my personal duty to show the Latvian History in the way as we Latvians see themselves.

I have made 134 posts until this day. Most of them are based on authentic academic sources. At first my English grammar skills were not the finest ones, I say thanks to all who have pointed out my mistakes and gave some healthy criticism. According to WordPress stats 156,844 people have viewed this blog in five years, if one or two has found it useful I am very grateful. I say a big thank you to people like Kevin O Connor and  from Gonzaga University Washington US, who have personally endorsed my cause  and I fully support their strive for understanding the Latvia better. Latvia belongs to the western world and I want to keep it that way.

I will not abandon this site as there is more to be told to about Latvia and its history. Soon to mark this five years of work I will release something big. I would like to say great thank you to all my followers in WordPress, Facebook and Twitter. It’s been my joy and honor t0 serve the needs for everyone striving for knowledge and wisdom.  Thank you! Paldies!

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KGB in Latvia

The main KGB headquarters in Riga. The tallest building in Riga since people could see Siberia from its tower.

The main KGB headquarters in Riga. The tallest building in Riga since people could see Siberia from its tower.

The Soviet Secret Service widely known as Committee for State Security or KGB was a direct successor of the All-Russian Extraordinary Committee to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage or simply known as Cheka founded in 1917. Since then the Soviet secret service has changed its name many times. It was known as OGPU, NKVD, NKGB, MGB and finally from 1954 as KGB.  But, the very basis of this secret police has always stayed the same: strict protection of the communist party and its power. The KGB was omnipresent in every part of the Soviet life and it did everything to combat any means of the anti-Soviet movement.  For 50 years KGB also did everything to keep Latvia under the Soviet Iron fist.

During the first years after the war, the Secret police was preoccupied with battling the armed resistance movement. There were even cases of CIA and M16 involvement when Western allies sent special commandos to aid the national partisans. The CIA and M16 had naive belief that the partisan movements in the Baltic States and the Eastern Europe will weaken the Soviet Union and would help to crush it. However, the NKVD was aware of this and all western agents fell in their traps. The national partisan movement was eventually crushed and KGB now was more afraid of the non-violent resistance.

The Khrushev “Thaw” pawed way for more freedoms for the intelligentsia. For instance Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was freed and released his eponymous One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich which revealed the Stalinist crimes. This made many to question the Soviet policies and their past. As Khrushchev was deposed, KGB started to combat such authors. On 1967 the new Fifth Department was made in the ranks of the KGB to combat “ideological diversions”. KGB believed that the intelligent anti-Soviet movement is directed by the Western secret service. Before that the task combating the “anti-Soviet elements”  was given to the Second Department of the counter-intelligence. While the Second Department was searching for foreign agents the Fifth Department now was searching for ideological dissidents.

The usual task was monitoring the Latvian emigration and foreign radio stations. The creative intelligentsia – artists, writers, actors and composers were under the KGB watch.  The Latvian nationalist movements like “Helsinki-86”, “Latvian National Independence Movement” and the “Environmental Club” was monitored and persecuted. When “Latvian Peoples Front” became the most active force for independence it was under the KGB watch. The KGB also monitored the national minorities like Germans and Jews. The KGB was involved in youth and student activities and closely watched them.

The nationalism was a prime concern for the KGB. Latvia was overflown with immigrants from the Soviet Union. The cultural differences between Latvians and the immigrants was very visible. Despite the official calls for national equality the Russian speaking immigrants were more privileged than  local Latvians. Also the Russian language was placed above Latvian language. However, Latvians themselves did not do much to force immigrants accept Latvian language and culture. For instance in Estonia, the local Estonians were more reluctant to speak Russian and enforced their rules on immigrants. Immigrants in Latvia took the Latvian passivity for granted and dictated their rules. This all made very bad national micro-climate in the national relations. However, most Latvians understood that the regime is too stable to stood openly against it.

Because of that KGB was occasionally accusing people of “masked actions against the Soviet order”. This usually involved private conversations where people condemned the Soviet power and praised the pre-war Latvian Republic. KGB had informants in many working collectives. The KGB was concerned about people who refused to hang out the flag of LSSR or USSR. The KGB also discovered that in case of foreign invasion the locals cannot be trusted. Two fake groups landed with parachutes near Ventspils. First group head for the city and was discovered and stopped. Other one was heading inland and met many locals, who did not report them.

Soviets destroyed many monuments built-in the time of the Latvian Republic. However, they were unable to remove the Monument of Freedom and the Brothers War Cemetery. At least what could they do was placing trolleybus depot around the monument. However, people still went there and placed flowers. They were arrested by militsya (Soviet police) and taken to KGB. KGB was aware that many people on every November 2 in so-called Totensonntag – the Lutheran commemoration day for the death comes to commemorate not their relatives, but the leaders of the Latvian Republic. People like the first president of Latvia – Jānis Čakste and general Jānis Balodis. Many restrictions were made and cemeteries were monitored day and night.

Soviets were afraid of the international radio broadcasting. Latvian leading companies VEF and Radiotehnika made brilliant receivers, however they could also receive the Western broadcasts aimed at Latvians. The Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America had their Latvian service. From 1948 Soviets built powerful jamming systems. People who listened to western broadcasters were reported and arrested by KGB. For a short time in the Seventies the jamming was halted when the relations with the US improved. Soon after the crushing of the “Solidarity” movement, the jamming was resumed until it was halted completely in 1986.

KGB was suspicious about Latvians leaving Soviet Union for trips and people from the West arriving here. KGB checked every application for visa. Often when large group of tourists went on a trip, a KGB informant was included to control them. KGB was worried about the intentions of the Latvian exiles who entered Latvia to meet their relatives. Actions were made to monitor them and ideologically influence them. In return Latvian exiles started to view their compatriots who visited Latvia with suspicion. KGB installed listening devices in the main hotels, after the collapse of the USSR they were removed in secret.

KGB was also aware of the anti-Soviet literature. Many sailors brought it home and sell it as contraband. Books by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or the Latvian exiled authors were confiscated. Local intelligentsia made self published books or samizdat. The restricted books were kept in special funds and could only be viewed with special permission. Sometimes even the most loyal communists were affected by the restricted literature.

  Singing songs with national content was also a crime. Old songs from the pre-war times or even worse the Latvian Legion songs were viewed as deeply danger0us. As new tape-recorders were invented, the possibility of copying illegal songs became widespread. The Latvian famous band in exile “Čikāgas Piecīši” became a fad. Everybody had heard about them, but nobody had seen them. KGB disliked the hippy movement and later rock music. Being a hippy or a rocker was soon understood as a sign of dissent. KGB was unable to stop them. Rock bands inspired by the western music appeared. Although it was unthinkable to write openly critical songs, many had “between the lines”. Rock band “Pērkons” (Thunder)  was the experts in this. Even when they were officially shut down, they reformed under the name “Soviet Latvia” and authorities were unable to stop them. After new perestroika policy, the song texts became more aggressive and  open calling for independence. That’s why many call the regaining of independence as “the singing revolution”.

The youth was viewed as potentially dangerous factor to the Soviet power. Soviet ideal youngster first went trough Pioneer movement, then entered the Komsomol – the Young Communist movement and joins the party in result. But, not all were so perfect. Some secretly embraced the national ideals, others joined punk, hippy and Hare Krishna movement. People caught doing anti-Soviet stuff was put under “prophylaxis” that meant ideological re-education. In schools and higher education facilities informants were placed to report illegal activities. The school teachers and lecturers were also under the KGB pressure.

KGB was eager to fight political dissidents. One of the most famous Latvian political dissident was Gunārs Astra. Despite many persecutions and imprisonments he was far from giving up. In his last court he spoke openly about the russification and occupation and said prophetic words “I believe that this time will go away like bad nightmare”. Astra died in prison. Writer Knuts Skuejenieks spent 7 years in Mordovia prison. Lidija Lasmane Doroņina suffered from many arrests and imprisonments. Latvian dissidents were often stabbed in the back by traitors employed by the KGB. KGB was capable of placing listening bugs in the dissident apartments and also listen to the telephone conversations. The head of the KGB Yuri Andropov even wanted to bug the phones of every Moscow citizen. They told him that its technically possible, but it would require enormous size of workers to monitor all the conversations.

The Jewish minority who survived the Holocaust was thankful to Soviets for rescuing them. However, the Soviets answered by suppressing the Zionist movement and openly condemned Israel. Not only that – the commemoration of the Holocaust was deemed as nationalistic. Soviet propaganda disregarded genocide against individual nations, because everyone in USSR was officially viewed as the “united soviet nation”. The mass murder site at Rumbula forest was the center of the Zionist activities. People gathered there to commemorate the victims and placed signs. KGB chased them away and removed the monuments. Eventually Jews managed to place commemorative stones, if they would not include the word “Jewish” and no Jewish symbolism. If not the Star of David was scrapped or monument was even removed. Many Jews wanted to move away to Israel or US. Soviets were desperately trying to stop this, however because of the international condemnation many thousands of Jews managed to leave.  There was even a case when a group of Latvian and Russian Jews attempted to hijack a plane in Leningrad to leave USSR. They were arrested on spot, the international condemnation saved them from death sentence. Also local Baltic Germans who still lived in Latvia wanted to leave for West Germany sparking KGB resistance.

As the time went KGB found it more difficult to control the masses. The technologies went ahead, connections with the Western world deepened. Even illegal possession of western porn movie was seen as act of anti-Soviet resistance. But, when Gorbachev introduced his democratic reforms the KGB became paralyzed. The work of the KGB was thwarted by many new liberties and the Western eyes were watching on the Baltic State more than before. First nationalistic movement Helsinki-86 in 1987 who heated up the society by openly commemorating the deportations of June 14 and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact were halted and their leaders exiled. However in 1988 the KGB was unable to stop people waiving national flags and chanting nationalist slogans. All national organizations were monitored, but even placing informants and provocateurs did not help. The economic failure of the USSR was eminent and large masses now stood against the Soviet order.

KGB now have to answer a tough question – return to Stalinist style repressions or let the country collapse. The return to Stalinism was impossible, Gorbachev had promised too much  to the western leaders. Baltic States and Moscow was full with western media. Everyone wished for Soviets to “go west”. After the communist party lost its monopoly and Latvia declared restoration of the independence, KGB played a desperate double game. By using the “Interfont” movement and special OMON forces, KGB hoped to spark national violence to install presidential order from Moscow. When it failed, the last straw was the 1991 August coup. After the coup failed large crowd entered the KGB headquarters in Stabu street. The KGB agents were forced to handover ID cards and all of their archives. KGB was made illegal. Current law states that ex KGB agents cannot take in the politics. However, many of them owns large businesses like Juris Savickis the head of the energy company Itera, that imports the gas from Russia. The full list of KGB agents are yet to published, however the large part of the KGB archives are available to researcher allowing us to see the real nature of this draconian institution.

Selected History:

Bergmanis,Aldis, Zālīte, Indulis.(2007) Latvijas PSRS Valsts drošības komiteja un sabiedrības ideoloģiskā kontole (1965-1990). In book: Okupētā Latvija 1940-1900. Latvijas vēsturnieku komisijas raksti 19. sējums. Rīga. Latvijas Vēstures institūta apgāds.

Bleiere, Daina. (2012) Eiropa ārpus Eiropas : dzīve Latvijas PSR. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

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Latvia under the Soviet Union. Politics and economy 1945-1987

The Monument of Lenin in the Riga City Center

The Monument of Lenin in the Riga City Center

The Soviet Union defined itself as a Socialist country that is on her way to communism. The official name – The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics was actually “four words, four lies” as Cornelius Castoriadis called it. The Soviets were not democratically elected, it was not a Socialist, and union for in reality it was Unitarian state not union. The main points for the Soviet order was 1) communist party monopoly, 2) Democratic Centralism, 3) Complete state control over resources and production, 4) Communism as the desired goal of the government, 5) Strive for international victory of the communist order. The word “soviet” or сове́т (council) was intended as democratically elected workers and peasants governing body. However, when in 1922 the official USSR name was declared all power in the hands in the Communist party and the Soviets were under its direct control. This means that whole ideology and politics of the Soviet Union were based on double thinking, lies and imitation. The USSR was just a totalitarian single state centralized dictatorship. The double faced absurd system that actually survived for more than 80 years is still a mystery for many.

Latvia was included in the Soviet system as a full time socialist republic. The Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic had limited rights of her own: constitution, own laws, own borders and administrative system. However, it was only on the paper as the Soviet Union was a federal country with the main orders coming from Moscow. However, it was still better because as a full time Socialist Republic Latvia could break away from Moscow more easier. For Autonomous Socialist republics like Chechnya or Tatarstan this proved to be impossible.  The LSSR constitution approved on August 25 1940 was a duplicate of the USSR 1936 constitution. Despite the constitution had promised that the republics may break away from the USSR, there was no mechanism defined how to do that. And even mentioning such possibility in private may cause the repressions from the KGB. There was LSSR passport that was given to all who lived in its territory. But, it had no legal effect , because one could legally live in Kazakh SSR with LSSR passport and with KSSR passport in Latvia. But, if someone wanted to travel outside the USSR, he received the USSR passport.

The Coat of Arms of the LSSR

The Coat of Arms of the LSSR

The Soviet Order was based on the single Communist party. LSSR has its own Latvian Communist Party (LCP) that was subordinated to the Soviet Union Communist Party (SUCP). The main governing bodies were the LCP Central Committee (LCP CC) and LSSR Soviet Council. The Supreme Council of the LSSR sessions was only called in case of  LCP CC appointment. Usually most political decisions were made in informal meetings and later officially issued. LCP CC was responsible for every sector of the republic. But, it was completely loyal to the SUCP CC in Moscow.

The party had committees in every village, city, factory that controlled everything under the guidance of the Central Committee. The Soviet Army had its own system of committees. Slowly the Soviet bureaucratic apparatus grew in enormous sizes, with numerous institutions and various rank officials making the bureaucratic chaos. The most prominent officials were the CC Secretaries who formed the Politburo. The Politburo was the main body above all.Moscow had her own bureaus summoned by Moscow and representatives sent from  Moscow. Local communists often had quarrels and disagreements that ended in the repressions. Moscow sent inspections to Latvia.   Moscow leaders were reluctant to meet directly with the local leaders. Stalin did this only once in 1949 to inform about the deportations, and Khrushchev and Brezhnev were also very distant.

The Latvian membership in the LCP was always quite mediocre comparing to the Lithuania. Lithuanian membership in 1953 in their party was only 37% but in 1965 it was 63,7%. This helped the Lithuanians to have more sovereign say in their local matters. Meanwhile in Latvia in 1959 there were 59% Latvians and in 1989 59% Latvians. The reasons for such low support was the high influx of immigrants from the Soviet Union that was more eager to join LCP. Latvians meanwhile viewed LCP as a rouge Russian party  that they could not join. The main motivation for joining the party was the advancement in carrier and more social privileges. But, the high Russian influence in the party meant that Latvians suffered greater pressure from Moscow and was unable to make nationally beneficial decisions like Lithuania and Estonia did. Estonians and Lithuanians took active part in the system to keep the foreigners away, but Latvians either refrained to work with the foreigners  or submitted to them. Also most Latvian communist leaders like J Kalbērziņs, A Peļše and A Voss where the survivors of Stalinist purges and obeyed every order from Moscow in the result.

The Latvian Communist Party XXI Congress

The Latvian Communist Party XXI Congress

Despite the official slogan for USSR as a completely socially equal country it was divided into complex social castes.  Above all were the nomenclature. It was a party apparatus of the party, administrative, financial and interior security workers. They enjoyed greater social guarantees than simple soviet citizens, better homes and better supply of food and household goods. They enjoyed special secret shops and supply system. The nomenclature was the Soviet bureaucratic elite that was more equal than other equal soviet citizens. While others stood in long lines for a slice of bread and toilet paper the elite communists had the first hand for everything. This was the root of the widespread corruption that slowly teared the USSR apart. After 1965 also WW2 veterans became a socially privileged class.

The Soviet propaganda always pointed the poverty, oppression and low economic advancements in the pre war Latvian Republic. The superiority of the Soviet centralized economy over Latvian trade economy was justified by the enormous Soviet industry. Also Moscow even now says that it invested enormous sums in Latvia.  In reality income gathered from Latvia from 1945-1950 was enough to cover the costs of maintaining the Soviet Army bases in Latvia. From 1945 to 1950 six billion rubles were transferred from Latvia to Moscow. From 1950 to 1959 LSSR gave more income to the USSR than USSR gave back. Money from Latvia was invested in Central Asian Republics and Siberian development. Since Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union this also can be seen as enormous looting of the Latvian resources in a long period of time.

Latvian industry was also advanced before the WW2. After the war much had been looted and destroyed. However, the Soviets managed to achieve great industrial breakthroughs by immigration. From 1945 to 1959 large numbers of people from Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine moved to Latvia. Their original living places were torn apart by the war and Stalinist terror. In 1940 there were 355 200 people living in Riga, but in 1958 489 100. To accommodate these people factories and living blocks had to be built in masses. On 1989 the citizen count in Riga nearly reached million people. Without such immigration Latvia would be unable to achieve such full scale industrialization. The Moscow did little to halt this immigration, because the moving the nations around the Soviet Union and the russifacation was one of the political principles.

The large residental blocks were the symbols of the Soviet immigration policy

The large residental blocks were the symbols of the Soviet immigration policy

The Soviet agricultural system was disastrous for Latvian country side. For centuries Latvians had developed a system of private farming. During the period of freedom from 1920-1940 Latvian agriculture was booming. However, Soviets nationalized all agricultural lands and repressed the rich land owners. The deportation of 1949 finally forced everyone to give up their land and join the collective farms- kolkhozs. The state took most production away from the collective farms, making farmers poor. Eventually to find a way out of this people were allowed to keep strictly normed “nearby gardens”. People could grow their own vegetables and potatoes that were taken away. Strict norms on keeping private cattle made people to device ways to hide their cows and pigs. Soviets changed the usual countryside, by making city like villages and filled them with residential blocks.  People were kept together as possible. Before the war people usually lived in their private households away from each other.

The standard of living in the first years till the death of Joseph Stalin was quite low. Despite the availability of jobs, the pay was low. The countryside was depopulated, people moved to the cities. Riga lacked apartments, in old nationalized apartment buildings built by Baltic German nobles, Soviets made collective flats or communal flats.  Many families shared one living space. In mid fifties new residential blocks were built and building of the new suburban residential areas continued until the end of the USSR. Many were concerned that the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe have a greater standard of living.

After the death of Stalin, his successors understood the danger of the unproductive Soviet system. The Soviet leaders slowly gave up the Stalinist means of repression, but were unable to give up centralized state economy. Khrushchev was a pioneer of many new social and economic policies, but he was unable to change all thing. Khrushchev firmly believed that the modern technology and progressive welfare policies will bring country closer to communism. The pension and payment system was improved, possibility of getting a flat or car was made more greater. People were motivated to work to get advancements. Slowly such things as TV, Radio and the washing machine entered every household. People finally could live more comfortably and enjoy some luxuries. However, Khrushchev also pushed for heavy arms race with US. The Soviet advancements in space and nuclear rocket technology made USSR more prominent. However, the quality and real count of the Soviet super weapons was far lower than the US ones. The US was scared of the Khrushchev threats and weapons therefore greatly overestimated the Soviet military power. That opened doors for mass production of weapons in the US and the reckless Soviet attempts to beat it. US had better chances to survive the arms race because the weapons were made by private industry, while Soviet made more and more weapons at the cost of everything else.

When Brezhnev came to power the Soviet economy faced regression. But, the Soviet politicians were “saved” from making new economic reforms. The Middle Eastern conflict caused the rise of the oil prices. Soviets years before had begun the building of gas and oil pipes, that exported the vast Soviet reserves to the Western world. Stalin had declared that the selling out the nation’s resources is a national treason. Now however, the rising oil prices that were comparatively high until the mid eighties kept the Soviet economy stable.

A collection of the Soviet everyday items.

A collection of the Soviet everyday items.

Some authors claim that on 1975 Latvia reached the highest standard of living than ever before. However, comparing to Italy, Canada or even Poland it was still lower. Soviets tried to prevent Latvians to go abroad. However, those who saw world outside the Iron Curtain or even within it was shocked by the great difference. Consumer goods were still under deficit, having a car was regarded as the sign of personal wealth. The deficit of food, consumer goods and all kinds of products became eminent for years to come. The statewide Black Market emerged. It was called blat (блат) – the informal agreement between people to gain access to deficit goods. It was a system based on social status and profession. People exchanged goods for favors. The pseudo private trade market became so eminent that in many cases it was legalized. Legal trade like vegetables and flower selling emerged. Soviet leadership officially condemned the grey zone market or black market, but in reality did nothing much to stop it. Police fought illegal trade of currency and jewels.  Also book selling, audio copying of vinyl or cassette records was limited. Also antique collectors had to watch out.

The positive side of the Soviet occupation was the culture. Soviets understood that boosting culture and entertainment can keep them loyal an satisfied. The traditional Song and Dance Festival that had already begun on 19th century was kept by the Soviet ideology. Despite including some propaganda songs, the overall folk tradition was kept. However, there was a certain hostility towards Līgo celebrations. No holidays were set there and people were encouraged not to celebrate them. But, people still celebrated them.  In every five years Song and Dance festivals made Latvians again feel like national Latvians. In the sixties and fifties Latvian popular stage music boomed, composers like Raimonds Pauls and Imants Kalniņs were considered as pop icons. As the western records and video tapes entered Latvia, rock, disco and electronic music groups became popular. Despite some restrictions the Latvian music became more western. The Latvian Cinema was making high quality movies every year and artists also enjoyed relative freedom. There was a certain code of “do nots” for the artists, movie directors and the actors, but they received greater state support.

A negative side in the culture was the suppression of the national themes. Nationally driven writers were persecuted by the KGB. Soviets banned any kind of national minority movement. For instance Jews had double feelings about the Soviet power. From one side Soviets rescued them from the Holocaust, from other side any kinds national and cultural movement were suppressed.  Zionist activity was banned, all Jewish cultural life was based around few legal religious congregations. Because of this many Jews emigrated from Soviet Latvia making a bad image on the USSR. Other national minorities suffered from this too.

Education was sufficient, however students had to go through months of boring lectures about Marxist theory. In humanitarian sciences there was a high pressure of the Soviet propaganda and double speak. Books were widely available in Latvian and Russian. Western authors were translated. The youth spent their time in the pioneer movement, all kinds of sport activities were available.  Latvian sportsman brought golden medals from almost every Olympic games.

Meanwhile all that, the corrupt, infective and absurd soviet system was heading for collapse.  Brezhnev decided to do nothing about it since he knew the danger of reforming the totalitarian system. Gorbachev wanted reforms when it was too late. While Brezhnev was slowly sinking in a pool of the marsh, Gorbachev wanted to get out of it fast – in result he was sinking even faster.  And that brought a great chance for Latvia to finally break loose and restore independence.

Selected Sources:

Bleiere, Daina. (2012)Eiropa ārpus Eiropas : dzīve Latvijas PSR. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

Grava-Kreituse, Ilga. (2009) Pagājušo gadu Latvija 1945-1990 : kā dzīvojām, no kā iztikām, ko apsmējām, par ko priecājāmies.Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC.

Prikulis, Juris. (Ed) (2012) Starptautiskā konference “Padomju Savienības nodarītie zaudējumi Baltijā”. Padomju Savienības nodarītie zaudējumi Baltijā : Rīgā, 2011. gada 17.-18. jūnijs : starptautiskās konferences materiāli.Rīga : Latvijas Okupācijas izpētes biedrība.

Pavlovičs, Juris. (2012) Padomju Latvijas ikdiena : mūsu vienīgā vakardiena.Rīga : Jumava.

Суворов, Виктор. (2011)  Кузькина мать : хроника великого десятилетия : к 50-летию Карибского кризиса, новое историческое расследование от автора супербестселлеров “Аквариум” и “Ледокол”. Москва : Добрая книга.

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Latvian National Resistance Against the Soviet Occupation 1944-1956

Latvian National Partisan

Latvian National Partisan

On May 9 Latvia once again fell in the Soviet captivity. This time the Soviet power was intending to stay here forever. However, there were people who did not give up their fight for national independent Latvia and continued to resist occupiers in the forests. So called “forest brothers” or national partisans fought local Soviet government from 1945 to 1956 when most of them were defeated. Soviet government called them “bandits” and used NKVD death squads against them. The national partisans were hoping in the coming war between Western powers and the Soviets. The western spy agencies even sent assistance and special agents to help them. They all were uncovered by the Soviet secret service. After the all hopes for outside support and victory were lost these men left the woods. This is a story about them.

Latvian partisans had not prepared for resistance. There was no support bases, communications and no Latvian government in exile to direct them. The first battle was fought on 27 August 1944 in the Abrene region (now in Russia) 4 NKVD men were missing in action. In whole 1944 NKVD lost 12 men. Most action took place in the eastern regions. In Vidzeme first groups showed up in May 1945 after the ice melted and the warm weather allowed people to gather. Usually a group of 5-7 men assaulted local Soviet activists, beat them up or even killed them. On April 17 Kārlis Krēmers murdered local Dzelzava party organizer (partorg) Mihial Kodalev on his wedding day and wounded many other Soviets.

The organization of the partisan movement started in Latgalia on the winter 1944-1945. In Courland after the end of the war partisans were mostly former Waffen SS Legion members vanished in forests and formed partisan ranks. North Courland Partisan Organization, Latvian National Partisan Organization, “The Hawks of the Fatherland” were part of the Courlad combat movements. In Vidzeme the “The Latvian Self Defense”, in Latgalia “Latvian Fatherland (partisan) union” and “Latvian National Partisan Union”. All movements tried to print their own illegal newspapers and leaflets. At first they were written using typing machine, as the conditions worsened the last newspaper “Homeland” was handwritten. The partisans wanted to inform people about their cause and attract new members.

After first spontaneous formations of the partisan groups in the summer of 1944 they started to look forward to make contacts and form unified command. On Northen Latgalia December 10 in the Abrene district Viļaka parish the Latvian National Partisan Union (LNPU) was formed.  It was lead by Pēteris Supe (“Cinītis”). His deputy was the former student of the Latvian University National Economy faculty Staņislavs Ločmelis (“Dūze”). They were even joined by catholic dean Ludvig Štagars. At first LNPU consisted 123 partisans, after forming of united camp in the Stampaku swamp in Abrene district, the fighting force was about 350 men. In 1946 there were already 1000 men.

On March 2 1945 the camp was surrounded by the NKVD forces and local destroyers. Attackers were convinced that there is only 30-35 men there. Instead they met a sizable force that was not willing to give up. The battle lasted all day and the partisans managed to leave the Stampaku swamp and took refuge in pre-made covers. Soviets lost 32 and partisans 28. The leadership changed frequently as commanders fell in battles. Finally after three commanders were lost Antons Circāns (“Spike”) took the lead and re-organized the LNPU. He formed many regional staffs since the central staff could no longer lead all remote partisan units. LNPU operated all around Latgalia and Vidzeme. Most of the staff leaders sooner or later were captured or killed by NKVD. On July 7 the commander in charge Circāns was lost in action. The central staff ceased to exist. Local staffs continued to operate autonomously. On July 4 1948 the head of the Central Vidzeme staff Rusovs was captured along with the archive of the LNPU general staff. In months’ time all groups submitted to him were crushed.  The last remnants of the LNPU continued to resist until 1953.

In Southern part of Latgalia on January 28 in Līvāni parish Vanagu catholic church dean Antons Juhņevičs was hiding the Red Army deserters. The church was raided by the NKVD, the partisans fought back and defeated the Soviets. The catholic dean hid in the forest and organized Latvian Fatherland guard (partisan) union (LFG(P)A). The partisans had to give an oath to God and the fatherland.  The LFG(P)A) was formed into divisions that would operate in every Latvian region. That was never realized however many sizable partisan regiments Latgalia was formed. The dean wanted a full time resistance army that would lead an armed uprising. He was obviously counting on allies to start a war against the Soviet Union. Because of this he was not prepared for long time partisan warfare . As the winter came his “divisions and regiments” were one by one destroyed. On October 23 1945 NKVD assaulted the Ilūkste staff. In heavy frontal battle with great losses on both side’s partisans retreated to other forests. Since the ammunition was low  the regiment was forced to begin talks of legalization – surrender. 90 out of 200 men did this. On 17 December almost all fighters of the Daugavpils regiment turned themselves. The end of LFG(P)A) came when the undercover agent of NKVD captured the leader J Zelčāns.

Meanwhile in Courland many ex-Waffen Legion members took refuge in the forests. If they would surrender they would be sent to “filtration camps” in Siberia. Some changed his identity with fake documents. Lieutenant Miervaldis Zeidainis as Miķelis Pētersons worked as an accountant in Ventspils. However, while driving around the countryside he was looking for former Legion members. Soon together with Lieutenant A Zutis,  first lieutenant J Bērziņš, first lieutenant Ēvalds Robežnieks he formed The Northern Courland Partisan Organization (NCPO). They wanted to establish connections with the west and 17 men with one Estonian and German with fisherman boat reached Gotland. However, soon both leaders of the NCPO were arrested by  the NKVD. But, the NKVD was unable to extract information about other groups hiding in the forests.

In Talsi district Latvian National Partisan Organization (LNPO) was formed lead by former “Jagdverband” leader Alberts Feldbergs. In Kuldīga district Luitenant Ēvalds Pakulis (Sheriff) gathered men in the Latvian National Partisan Unit “Courland”. (LNPU”C”). Both groups made meetings and later were united in the Latvian National Partisan Union “Courland”. Unfortunately NKVD agent Marģeris Vītoliņš was present at the last meeting. He was posing as a British agent and convinced partisans that the British secret service will take command of them. Because of this the partisan leaders were invited to Riga to meet the British resident and discuss further cooperation. Partisans waited for such opportunity for so long that they actually fell for this trap. On October 13 they were arrested at Matīsa street.

At first Soviets sent regular Soviet Army soldiers against partisans. From May 31 to August 9 1945 in Latvian eastern parts operation “Vostok” was issued. 4 divisions and 3 NKVD battalions swept the forests, but only managed to eliminate 21 partisans. However for “filtration” 3471 civilians were arrested, meaning Soviet soldiers fighting more against them rather than partisans. On Summer 1945 battles erupted every day. On Ilūkste district in 10 days time 32 Soviets were shot and 10 wounded. Soviets were only safe in the Ilūkste district center. In Abrene district partisans paralyzed the work of the village soviets. They were either destroyed or unable to operate. On May 25 1945 partisans burned down the Bērzpils executive committee. The Tilža parish center was assaulted in the night burning down the executive building. In Jersika partisans raided the parish executive building killing major Parfenov and captured two Soviet food trucks. In retreat partisans blew up the bridge. Many villages were taken, Soviet activists were constantly under threat and shops were raided. In case of shops, milking farms and money transports  partisans spared peoples life’s. But when they encountered soviet activists- the party organizers, committee workers and executive chiefs they were usually executed.

Soviets answered the partisan attacks by sending large forces including armored vehicles. Until September 1945 3145 partisans had either lost their lives or have been legalized. 17 987 people were arrested. Soviets tried to stop the revolt by issuing legalization programs. People were asked to give up their weapons in return facing no repressions. 1268 people did this at the end of 1945. NKVD, however mistrusted them because they could find legal means how to overthrow the Soviet government. Also some of them were hired as double agents and sent  back to the active partisan units. Issues of legalization were made many times and many thousand men gave up their fight.

The NKVD men searching the woods for partisans

The NKVD men searching the woods for partisans

The only event when partisans and NKVD men made talks was the Alsvišķu truce on 28 September 1945. Lutheran priest Eduards Grāvītis was against active means of resistance and did not believe that the allies will come anytime soon. So he made contacts with NKVD to look for peace agreement. On September 4 he met them in the Zeltiņi forest. He demanded to stop repressions and release the captured ones so the partisans can freely give up their arms. He also asked to withdraw the Soviet forces. Two NKVD officials were unable to answer these questions so they proposed to take him to Riga to meet more senior NKVD men.  He arrived in Riga and met the NKVD peoples commissar  Eglītis. He gave the list of the partisan demands for proper legalization. Eglitis published answer in party newspaper “Cīņa” on October 12 where he called partisans “bandits” who only attack and pillage the locals. At the end he asked the partisans to surrender. Partisans were unable to meet such call. On September 26 commander of LNPU A Circāns met E Grāvītis and asked him to arrange a meeting with the NKVD. Grāvītis informed NKVD about this. On September 28 NKVD Anti-banditism chief lieutenant-colonel Kornejev met Circāns calling himself “major Šmits” and Grāvītis. After two hour talks of useless bloodshed, Circāns proposed a 10 day ceasefire so the signal troops can reach every partisan group and ask about the possibility of legalization. After the talks were over all partisans could freely go back to their forests. The Alsvišķu truce was in effect from September 29 to October 9 in the Valka district. This was the only such case of mutual talks between NKVD and the partisans.  However, this caused the opposite effect- LNPU gained so much respect that legalization significantly dropped among Valka district partisans.

The NKVD was dissatisfied with the anti-partisan warfare results.  In so they decided to make united NKVD-NKGB staffs in the most active areas. Gathering up the forces helped to use effectively the intelligence data and make decisive strikes. During cold winter NKVD was more effective  attacking the slow moving partisans. Already mentioned attack on Ilūkste partisan staff was a failure since the partisans escaped. More attacks were made in Madona and Valka district. In Kuldīga parish even tanks and reconnaissance aircraft was used against the force of 30 men. Battles took place all winter with more losses on the Soviet side.

However, the partisans were far from giving up. The Vinston Churchill speech about the Iron Curtain on March 5 motivated them. NKVD made operative fighting groups. To force partisans to legalize NKVD took their families hostage with all their children and abused them. Whole families went to the forest to the partisans. Now women and children died in the battles. To scare the locals Soviets publicly displayed the naked bodies of the killed partisans. Public executions were made as well.

Partisans still tried to assault Soviet, and ambushed and killed the officials and their convoys. The tight security and pressure made impossible to make a full scale attacks. However, in Gulbene district partisans assaulted Līgo village and captured the main building. Soviets sent destroyer battalion and forced partisans to leave. Partisans attacked again and destroyed the executive committee in Galgauska.

NKVD went on full scale attack crushing the partisan movements in every part of Latvia. In some parts partisans were surprised while sleeping in their bunkers, others resisted til the last man. The 15 men group lead by Gulbis was all destroyed, despite his heavy wounds  Gulbis fired the machine gun until his final bullet.

On 1947 after heavy NKVD offensive the battles were more quieter. In Talsi district NKVD faced heavy battles with the Felbsbergs group. Partisans assaulted the armored vehicle and killed MGB senior lieutenant Dmitrij Krup. In answering strike Feldsbergs lost his life. On 1948 situation remained the same. NKVD used the effective method of sending double agents within the national partisans and either turned them in or assassinated their leaders. On Marc 19 NKVD assaulted the joint Latvian and Lithuanian bunker in Īle parish. 18 of 24 partisans were killed.

Then on March 25 the Soviet mass deportations took place in all Latvia. Partisans were unable to stop them. Most of them were deeply entrenched in their bunkers because of the winter. And Soviets gathered large security forces. Many partisans learned the fact about the deportations only after a few weeks. Now all could they do is to attack local soviet activists who assisted the deportations.

Soviets thought that is the end of the resistance, and removed the main MGB Interior soldiers and left only the destroyer battalions. Instead new partisans showed up, many who escaped deportations joined in. Partisans started attacks on the soviet activists killing all their families. In Jēkabpils parish partisans ambushed and eliminated whole MGB command. Since the collectivization was  underway partisans now attacked the local kolkhoz chiefs. Soviets were forced to resend the MGB forces. Again battles erupted in forests of Alūksne and Jēkabpils district. Heavy battles were also present in Courland. Even in the streets of Saldus, where NKVD was attacking two partisans. Six buildings burned down and 4 civilians were killed along with two partisans. The deportations did not halt the partisan war, but the losses of the partisans were catastrophic. Many strong groups were destroyed and surviving partisans  switched to more passive action.

Partisans became more mobile and undercover. NKVD sent fake partisan groups to destroy the real partisans. Partisans became more viscous and murdered the whole families of soviet officials and fighters. NKVD was no less brutal to partisan woman and children. On 1951 partisan activity was minimal. Soviets disbanded the MGB 24th rifleman division and changed with OKON the Special task force team a forefather of the Specnaz. Battles still erupted in some parts. To avoid capture partisans killed themselves singing “God Bless Latvia!”. From 1952 to 1953 the Moscow authorities sent special forces to stop the revolt. The 1953 was the last bloody year with 100 Latvian partisans lost.

After the death of Stalin and fading western support the partisan war activities became more rarer. From 1954 to 1956 11 were killed, 49 captured, 39 legalized. 533 people were still hiding individually or in small groups. In 13 February 1957 Mičulis partisan family of five people came out and legalized. They were resisting from 1945. They still had a sizable arsenal of weapons. Last partisan to leave the woods was Arnolds Spārns who did this in 1959. He resisted the Soviets for 14 years.

The armored resistance was over, however there are many untold stories about the non-violent resistance. Latvian intelligentsia, Jewish Zionists, all kinds of dissidents struggled for many years and made the dream of the national partisans possible.

Memorial to the fallen partisans in the city of Jekabpils

 

 

Selected Sources:

Turčinskis, Zigmārs. (2007) Karš pēc kara: Latvijas nacionālo partizānu cīņas 20. gadsimta 40. gadu beigās – 50. gadu sākumā. In: Karš pēc kara 1944-1956. Latvijas okupācijas muzeja gadagrāmata. Riga. Latvijas Okupācijas muzeja gadagrāmata.

Strods, Heinrihs. (2012) Latvijas nacionālo partizānu karš, 1944-1956. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

The unknown war : the Latvian national partisans’ fight against the Soviet occupiers, 1944-1956 : the battle and memorial sites of the national partisans (2011) Latvian National Partisan Association ; English translation by Peter Jacob Kalnin. Rīga : “Domas spēks”.

 

 

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Latvian Soldiers in the Red Army 1941-1945

Latvian Red Army soldiers in the Battle of Moscow 1941

Latvian Red Army soldiers in the Battle of Moscow 1941

Much has been said about the Latvian soldiers fighting in the German lines. However, there were thousands of Latvians fighting in the ranks of the Red Army. Some of them served the duty with full support of the communist ideas, others were conscripted by force some just wanted to go back to their homeland. During the Soviet times these men were regarded as heroes, however after the regaining of independence they were mostly neglected by the society. The attempts of reconciliation between the veterans of the Legion and Soviet Latvian divisions have been mostly unsuccessful because of the political involvement. These men also deserve to be a part of the Latvian history for their fate and suffering was no less than the Latvian Legion.

The remains of the National Latvian Army were included in the 24th Territorial Corps. On June 22 1941 there 3000 Latvians left in the corps. The corps retreated to Russia, however large part of the soldiers deserted and joined the national partisans. Some were forced to spend many months in the POW camps in Eastern Prussia. Those who made it to Russia faced Germans in the battle of River Velikaya. On Latvian soil many workers guard battalions and the Riga War School faced Germans and were forced to retreat in Estonia. There they were united 1st and 2st Latvian destroyer regiments. They attacked Germans  and also the national partisans and civilians. Later they were included in the regular Red Army ranks, where they suffered heavy casualties near Talinn and Leningrad. On September 1 1940 the surviving men of the 1st regiment were included in the 10th rifleman division 62th rifleman regiment. The 2th destroyer regiment was turned into 76th Special Latvian rifleman regiment, that was completely destroyed and later disbanded.

On August 3 1941 the State Defense Committee and the Latvian Communist Party, issued an order to form a Latvian Rifleman division out of surviving worker guards, militiamen, party members and other Latvian citizens. There were many volunteers who wanted to escape the hard life in the soviet kolhozus. Latvian refugees were suffering from starvation and wanted to get back to Latvia. Women also joined in medical and communication ranks. There were also female snipers. The orders were given in Russian, but many soldiers still used Latvian in their conversations. Because of the Great Purge of 1937-1938 there was a lack of qualified Latvian officers.

The new formation was called 201th Latvian Rifleman division commanded by colonel Janis Veikins. The starting point was the Gorohoveca training camp in Ivanovo region near Gorky. On 12 September 1941 the oath was given and flags were received making one of the first national formations in the war time Red Army. The division consisted of 92th,122th,191th rifleman regiment, 220th artillery regiment, 10th special anti-air battery, 170th special communications battalion, 53th special sapper battalion, 112th special scout company, 43th medical sanitary battalion, and other smaller units. In October there were 10 877 men 1100 of them communists, 940 young communist league members, 70% joined voluntarily. They believed that the victory will come and Latvia will be liberated under the Soviets. At first the division was filled with the communist elite- party member, civil war veterans and Secret police members. Most of them perished in the first years of the war.

On December 1941 the 201th division joined the Battle of Moscow. Under the command of the 33th army their task was to capture the city of Narofominsk. The battle took place in the snowy fields near river Nara. Soldiers had to cross the frozen river. The weather was extreme: -35 on the day and -42 at night. Despite the lack of proper intelligence and artillery support the Narafominsk was captured. 5000 men were either lost or wounded. On January 4 1942 Latvians joined the 33th army and captured Borovsk. 200 Latvians were awarded with orders and medals. On January 16 the division was stationed at Aprelevka and received reinforcements.

In February they were called to join the battle at Staraya Rus. 1st special Latvian rifleman reserve battalion was formed in Gorohovec camp. 33 000 soldiers of them 51% Latvians, 17% Jews, 3% poles and 3% other nationals. After great losses in the Battle of Moscow more non-Latvians were included. Only 60% of the division were from Latvia after the receiving reinforcements. Latvian commander Jānis Veikins was replaced with Russian. Many deserted because of the Russifaction in the division, poor commanding and lack of supplies.

On February-March 1942 201th division took place in the battle of Demyansk. Many villages were captured assisting the encirclement of the German 16th army. The division was positioned in a flooded swamp unable to get supplies by land. Only way to get them was from the air. That was not enough and for many months the division suffered from starvation. Soldiers lived like prehistoric people, eating frogs, horses, birds and gathered nettles, sorrels and berries. 2494 men were taken to hospital because of severe weight loss. In August to September Latvians joined the Battle of Tuganovo. The Junior lieutenant sniper Jānis Vilhelms received the Hero of The Soviet Union tittle and later US medal Distinguished Service Cross.

To mark the achievements in the Battle of Moscow the 201th rifleman division was renamed as the 43th guard Latvian rifleman division. The new commander was major general Detlavs Brantkalns. On 1943 January to February heavy battles took place near Staraya Rus and Nasva. Then it took place in the liquidation of the Demyansk breached. The new flack artillery regiment was made and only national air unit in the Red Army. Latvians had three PO-2 bomber squads that operated at nights in Russia and later Latvia.On January 1944 43th guard division broke trough the German Eastern wall fortifications near Nasva. It was one of the biggest achievements of this division.  On June 1944 Soviets entered Latvia. From the 1sth Special Latvian reserve regiment a 308th Latvian rifleman division was formed. Commander was Voldemārs Danbergs later Mārtiņš Kalniņš. The division consisted of 319,323 and the 325th rifleman regiment, 677th artillery regiment, 377th special anti-tank regiment, 301th special sapper battalion, the 326th medical battalion., 282th special scout company. A 7319 men in whole.

Later, both divisions were joined in the 130th Latvian rifleman corps. The new commander was Detlevs Brantkalns. On 43th guard division there were 47% Russians, 35% Latvians, 8,5% Jews, 2,1% Ukrainians, 3,7% Belorussians, Lithuanians and Tatars. On July 18 this force entered Latvia. They attacked Germans at river Aiviekste and captured Krustpils. Both divisions suffered great casualties, the 43th guard division lost  1192 men, 308th division lost even more. In September 2318 men from Latvia were conscripted into their ranks. All those who were too young to be conscripted by the Germans were now taken to the Soviet army. This was the breach of the 1907 Hague convention that prohibited the conscription of civilians in the occupied lands. Both Soviets and Nazis did this in Latvia. Many deserted, others wanted to get to the hospital as fast as possible.

The 130th Latvian Rifleman corps spent last months in war fighting in Courland. On December 1944 they faced the Latvian Waffen SS 19th division. For the first time Latvians fought each other. The 130th rifleman corps faced great casualties and was unable to break  the German defense line. Battles continued in Courland until May 9 1944 when the war was finally over.

17 368 Latvian Red army soldiers were decorated with Soviet Orders and medals. Jānis Vilhelms, Jānis Rainbergs and Mihails Orlovs received the highest award – The Golden star and became the Heroes of the Soviet Union. 12 men received The Order of Lenin. 80 000- 10 000 men from Latvia fought in the Soviet lines. One part of them were evacuated from Latvia in 1941, the other part was mobilized in Latvia. More than 50 000 men lost their life’s.  While the Latvian Legion members spent their days in Siberian camps and were outcasts of the society; the Red Latvian soldiers enjoyed special social status and propaganda admiration. After the fall of the Soviet Union many of them could not forgive that the state and society’s attention changed positively towards Latvian Legion veterans. We must not forget that both of these groups of people are direct victims of the Nazi and Soviet crimes that forced the Latvian nation to fight under rouge flags.

Selected Sources:

Neiburgs, Uldis. (2011) Latviešu militārie formējumi PSRS un Vācijas bruņotajos spēkos Otrajā Pasaules karā. In:  (Divas) puses. Latviešu kara stāsti : Otrais pasaules karš karavīru dienasgrāmatās. Riga : Mansards.

Kažociņš, Indulis. (1999)  Latviešu karavīri zem svešiem karogiem 1940.-1945. Riga : Latvijas Universitātes žurnāla “Latvijas Vēsture” fonds.

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Latvian Resistance Against the Nazi Occupation

The Leader of the Latvian National resistance Konstantīns Čakste

The Leader of the Latvian National resistance Konstantīns Čakste

When Nazi Germany  invaded the Soviet Union many greeted them as liberators and took arms against Soviets. There were many legitimate reasons to do so. However, soon many realized that the Germans are just another occupiers and foreign oppressors.  This made some Latvians to start resisting the Nazi occupation. There were many types of the anti-Nazi resistance. The nationally motivated resistance movements fought for full restoration of the Latvian independence and also regarded the Soviets as enemies. There were movements who tried to resist using peaceful means and tried to contact the Western allies. Other small groups took arms and engaged in battles against Germans. There is also another type of anti-Nazi resistance- the Red Partisans. Soviet propaganda exaggerated their importance. After the fall of the Soviet Union the Red Partisans have been viewed rather negatively in the Latvian historiography and are considered not as partisans, but as special commandos sent in from the Soviet side of the front. There are still discussions going on about the legitimacy about the actions of the Red Partisans and they cause for the Latvian people.

First underground resistance groups have appeared already against the first Soviet occupation in 1940-1941. The largest ones were the New Latvians, Latvian National Legion, The Combat organization for Latvian liberation”, The Guards of the Fatherland. Most members were schoolboys. Some tried to establish the contacts with the Nazi intelligence service. However, Soviet secret police were ready enough to combat them. The rise of the National partisans on Summer of 1941 is a different subject.

The Germans made a solid administration of the occupied territories of the Baltic states. During the active war phase whole power belonged to German military government lead by infantry general Francis von Roques, later to cavalry general lieutenant Walter Bramer. At first three days of the war the center of command was located in Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania but after July 17 in Riga. In all cities and other vital military locations, a commandant’s office was established. In Courland and Lithuania at  July 25 1941, then in September 1 in whole Latvia military government was changed with civil government. Adolf Hitler issued an order on June 17 to appoint Alfred Rosenberg as minister of the east. Alfred Rosenberg was a Baltic German from Estonia. He was a German chauvinist and visible anti-Semite. He witnessed the Russian revolution in 1917–1918, which made him strongly against Jews and Communists. He also showed no sympathy to the Latvians and Estonians downgrading them at the same level as Jews. He is mostly known as the main Nazi ideologue and author of the famous book The Myth of 20, century (Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts) . Despite the fact that he was appointed on June 17, it was officially declared only in  November 17 1941, because German leaders hoped to announce the fact after some important event, like the capture of Moscow or Leningrad.

The Germans resisted all attempts of forming autonomous Latvian government, but allowed certain forms of self-rule formed by loyal Latvian politicians. Those were general–offices that helped the Germans to impose order in occupied Latvia. Ex–Latvian ministers like Alfeds Valdmanis headed them. General Oskars Dankers lead the “loyalty council” called General office of Latvia. On December Germans united all “self-rule” bodies and picked the main directors of the offices. O Dankers was in charge of the interior affairs, A Valdmanis administrated jurisdiction, Mārtiņš Prīmanis overlooked the education and culture, Jānis Skujevics took over finances, Voldemārs Zāgars worked with economy, Oskars Leimanis maintained transport and Pēteris Vanags was at control affairs. The Germans called the self-government the “Self-Government of the land”. The self-government had no real rights to impose laws on their own; they completely depend on Germans. General Oskars Dankers was known as most loyal collaborators who fulfilled almost every German order. His loyalty was crucial in the organization of the Latvian Waffen SS legion when he promoted mobilization and called to join the legion.

Occupied Eastern territories were divided in reichskommissariat’s. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus were combined in reichskommissariat Ostland. Hinrich Lohse administrated it. Otto Heinrich Drechsler governed general region Latvia. The center of Ostland was Riga. The Latvian general region was divided into six districts (Gebietskommissariat’s) – Liepaja, Jelgava, Daugavpils, Riga and Riga rural area. Thus they were subdivided into counties and parishes. Gebietskommissar ruled districts. Riga was directly under Rosenberg’s jurisdictions and had special status. The administrator of Riga was oberburgomaster Hugo Vittrock, he was also a gebietskommissar of Riga district.

Germans dismayed any hopes for national independence. This made some brave men to start to form their national resistance movements. There were many small groups like The Latvian Nationalist Union, Latvian National Council, the Officer Union, organizations “The Latvian Guards”, “New Regiments, The Free Latvia”, The National Latvia Hawks of Daugava”, the Latvian Hawk organization” who called for independent Latvia. The radical nationalist organization “Thundercross” was allied with the Germans at the first months after the invasion, however then became repressed by the Germans and again started underground resistance.

The most senior movement was the Latvian Central Council founded on August 13 by the members of four biggest Latvian political parties- the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party, Democratic Center, Latvian Farmers Union and the Latgalian Christian Farmers party. These men survived the Soviet terror and now strived to restore the democratic Republic of Latvia.

The main leaders of the LCC were Konstantīns Čakste the son of the first president of Latvia Jānis Čakste and Captain Krišs Upelnieks. Already in 1941 they made contacts with the ant-Nazi resistance movements and looked for members of the parliament Saeima dissolved in 1934. They were joined by the Jānis Breikšs from the Democratic Center and the Social Democrats adding left wing of the resistance movement. On 1942 Voldemārs Salnais the envoy of the Republic of Latvia in Sweden was looking for ways to form a unified resistance organization. It was needed to prove the Western allies about Latvian intentions for freedom because of the noticeable existence of the Latvian collaborators. On March 29 1943 Salnais with the help of his mediator Edvards Skujenieks from Tallin to Riga sent a call to Latvians to form an organized resistance movement. There has been one already in Estonia. The resistance was based on a belief that the Nazi Germany will lose the war and the Great Britain and US will dictate the peace terms. First contact making with the West were discovered by Germans. However, the conspirators were released because of lack of evidence. On July 22 in a fisherman’s raft from Venstpils harbor to the island of Gotland Leonīds Siliņš entered Sweden. He sent valuable information to Stockholm about the Soviet and Nazi occupation. A complete report was sent to all Latvian diplomatic envoys.

On 1943 August 13 Čakste gathered  his colleagues in Riga. The main founders of LCC were social democrat Pauls Kalniņš, bishop Jāzeps Rancāns, Breikšs, social democrats Bruno Kalniņš, Voldemārs Bastjānis and farmers union member Ādolfs Klīve. Konstantīns Čakste was elected as the chairman with deputies Kalniņš and Ludvigs Sēja as general secretary. Seven commissions were made for most important sectors like defense, foreign affairs and finances. The LCC was made by members of all former Latvian top politicians and had high aims to be the governing body after the war.

LCC sent instructions to Latvian diplomats in exile and had contacts with the Higher Committee of the Lithuanian liberation and the Estonian Resistance center. The meetings with the resistance movements from both Baltic countries took place in Riga. A joint declaration to the UN was made and sent abroad. A foreign delegation was planned.

The LCC hoped that in the event of Nazi capitulation, Latvian Waffen SS Legion could raise arms for the Latvian state. So contacts with patriotic officers Mārtinš Peniķis and Eduards Kalniņš were made. The military commission with general Jānis Kurelis in charge was established.  After Kurelis established his armed resistance group the LCC provided the radio communications with the west for him.

The German intelligence service was aware of the actions of the LCC. The Germans arrested Lithuanian messenger in Estonia and learned about the main members of the resistance. On April 29 Čakste was arrested, on May 22 Sēja and in July Kalniņš was also taken. In mean time similar arrests were made in Estonia and Lithuania. The LCC members were sent to Salaspils Concentration Camp. On September 1 1944 they were transported to the Stuthoff Concentration Camp near Danzig. LCC continued its activities and elected Verner Tepfer, Breikšs, and Rudze as the new leaders.

The flag of Latvia in the crematory room of the Stuthoff concentration camp

The flag of Latvia in the crematory room of the Stuthoff concentration camp, commemorating the Latvians imprisoned there

Salnais and Siliņš convinced the Swedish government to make an escape route from Courland to Sweden. The distance between Courland and Gotland was good enough to escape unnoticed.   2141 people and 400 unregistered children managed to escape. The US state institutions also took part and hoped that LCC will save some Jews as well. Despite the fact that by 1944 the majority of the Latvian Jewish community was destroyed, LCC managed to transport many Jewish survivors to Sweden.

The last LCC meeting took place in September 8 1944 in Riga. The Soviets were approaching and the LCC decided to evacuate to Sweden. The LCC signed a Declaration of the Restoration of the Latvian Independence. Pauls Kalniņš became the President of Latvia until a new one is elected. The evacuation  to Sweden failed as not all made it trough. Kalniņš was halted by the Germans in the Baltic Sea and taken to Danzig. Others like Jānis Rancāns had to go to Germany or Austria. Remaining LCC members trapped in Courland fortress tried to escape to Sweden. Until the last day Germans tried to arrest them. After the war LCC divided in Swedish and German groups. Konstantīns Čakste and Pauls Kalniņš died in German captivity. Both groups still tried to affect the Western governments until the LCC ceased to exist in 1951.

General Kurelis

General Kurelis

The most famous Latvian national armed resistance movement was the Kurelis group. The group emerged from the German order of forming a battalion from remaining civil guards of the Riga region. Three battalions were made in Riga, Skriveri and Sloka. General Jānis Kurelis was installed as the commander of the group. Their main tasks were to support retreating German forces. Kurelis had close contacts with LCC and General Krišss Upelnieks. The Kurelis men were ex national partisans, fiercely patriotic and eager to fight both Germans and Soviets when the time comes. Even if the Germans tried to control the Kurelis group, they soon found out its anti-Nazi character.

When the German army retreated in Courland and became trapped the Kurelis group reached the highest level of activity. Many joined the group mostly the deserters from the Latvian Legion and people escaping from conscription. The Kurelians assisted the LCC “boat actions” to Sweden and established radio contacts with Sweden. Kurelis group even passed intelligence data to the Western allies who later passed them to the Soviets. That was met with great disappointment.

The Germans finally had enough of the two faced actions of the Kurelis group. On October 30 Kurelis was summoned to visit the head of the Ostland police SS Opergruppenfurher Freidrich Jeckeln on November 2.  On November 2 Jeckeln instructed Kurelis and Upelnieks to summon to him and SD (Security Police) and give full report the size and members of the group. Jeckeln asked Kurelis to write a call to all deserters to turn themselves in in return promising independence. Kurelis suggested that Jeckeln should first publish the promise of independence first. Jeckeln ignored that.  On November 5 the list was given not including the unofficial members. In last meeting Upelnieks urged the Germans to proclaim the Latvian independence and form the Latvian Army to stop the deserting. Germans replied that Germany has already made the positive decision for Latvian independence, but because of war situation it cannot be issued for it would like German weakness.   SS obberfuhrer Fuchs promised to inform the head of the SS Heinrich Himmler about Upelnieks suggestions, when he will arrive in Berlin.

On October 9 Upelnieks and Kurelis met at the headquarters. They decided not to provoke the Germans with violence. While they had no suspicion, the Germans secretly gathered forces around their positions. On November 14 Germans came to disarm the Kurelis men. Kurelis was instructed to disband his group and gave in the deserters. Kurelis agreed, but refused to give in the deserters. A firefight erupted  wounding three Kurelis men and killing two civilians. All officers were arrested, but Kurelis was told to go to his family. Then Jeckeln came and told that officers will be shot and others taken as POWS. On November 20 Kurelis was sent to Danzig. The main officers including Upelnieks were sentenced to death and executed the same night. Others were sent to Stutthof or to German formations.

The only ones who defied the German orders of disarming were the men of the  General Rubenis. His battalion was surrounded by the Germans. From November 18 to December 8 Rubenis men fought against the Germans. They were even supported by the Red Partisan group “The Red Arrow” who attacked the Germans from behind. Rubenis men manage to break through the German encirclement. Some continued to fight the Soviets after the war. Some however joined the Red Partisans.

The restored bunker of the Rubenis battalion where the battle with Germans took place

The restored bunker of the Rubenis battalion where the battle with Germans took place

The Red Partisans are a complicated subject. The Red Partisans were mostly completed in Soviet side of the front out of Latvian Soviet activists, special commandos and Red Army regulars. At the first organization of the Soviet resistance was complicated. The Soviet partisan leaders Otomārs Oškalns and Vilis Samsons in 1941 reported that there is a great lack of support for the Soviet cause. First partisan or commando groups were destroyed. On 1942 special partisan schools were made. First partisan unit made out from the remains of the 201 Latvian Rifleman division tried to reach the Latvian border on July 1942. Despite the heavy German security the partisans entered Latvia but failed to set up strong positions there. On December 1942 first successful incursions were made by Samsons and Oškalns men. Red Partisans operated in the forests of Latgalia and Selonia. On 1944 Soviets entered Latvia. 200 special groups were sent behind the German lines. Some men from the Legion and the police battalions  joined them. At the end of the 1944 when the Germans were encircled in Courland a special unit called “The Red Arrow” was formed. They operated in the forests of Courland and hindered the German fighting force.

The leader of the Soviet Red Partisans Otomārs Oškalns

The leader of the Soviet Red Partisans Otomārs Oškalns

The very difference between the national partisans and the Red partisans was that they had different aims.  National partisans fought for full independence both from the Soviets and Germans. The Red partisans were under full command of the Soviet general staff. The partisan warfare was an important part of the Soviet strategy. Even if some members of the Red Partisans were genuinely from Latvia and wished freedom for it, they were fighting for the second Soviet occupation. The war crimes done by Vasilijs Kononovs partisan unit on May 27 1944 in the  Mazo Batu village are proven many times in all courts. There were many other outrageous crimes done by the Red Partisans in Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland.  All the units of the Red Partisans in Latvia were actually the special forces in the Red Army. Their behavior in many cases was just as bad the regular Soviet units who relentlessly raped and murdered women.

The hope of LCC for the western support for independent Latvia faded. However, until 1956 the woods of Latvia were filled with the national partisans fighting against the Soviets…

Selected Sources:

Neiburgs, Uldis. (2000) Nacionālās pretošanās kustības organizācijas Latvijā padomju un vācu okupācijas laikā (1940-1945). In book: Latvija Otrajā Pasaules karā. Starptautiskās konferences materiāli 1999. gada 14.-15. jūnijs. Rīga.

Strods, Heinrihs. (2006) Nacionālie un padomju partizāni Baltijā 1941.-1956. gadā: kopējais un atšķirīgais. In book: Nacionālā pretošanās komunistiskajiem režīmiem Austrumeiropā pēc Otrā pasaules kara. Starptautiskās konferences materiāli 2005. gada 7.-8. jūnijs, Rīga. Riga. Latvijas vēstures institūta apgāds.

Andersons, E., Siliņš, L. (1994) Latvijas Centrālā Padome – LCP. Latviešu nacionālā pretestības kustība 1943-1945. Upsala: LCP.

Biezais, Haralds. (1993) Kurelieši : Nacionālās pretestības liecinieki. Riga : Junda.

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