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Paul Schiemann 1876-1944

schieman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentīna Freimane with her husband

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

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

Selected Sources:

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

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

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

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Muslims in Latvia

Latvian translation of the Quran.

The refugee crisis in Europe has also affected Latvian society. Latvia as EU country is taking part in handling the crisis and has agreed to accept to host at least 776 refugees from Syria, Libya and other countries. Meanwhile the country is already holding a large number of refugees who managed to cross the Latvian border. They are from various Muslim countries including Afghanistan. In following years Latvia might experience an influx of Muslim immigrants in form of refugees or work seekers. Although by no means Latvia is one of the most desired places for Middle Eastern refugees, on the contrary Latvia with its economic issues and rough climate is one of the lest desired. Also the knowledge and contact between Latvia and Middle Eastern Muslim countries have been limited. But, that does not mean that this will be first time in Latvian history when a new ethno-religious community will emerge. Muslims in small numbers have lived in Latvia since 19th century and their presence has increased in last two decades. This is a story about first Muslim communities in Latvia and how they evolved in the restored independent country. The therm Muslim is used here as for followers of Islam. The Islam is transnational religion, and various national groups practicing Islam who had lived and lives in Latvia are described here. Lastly the phenomena of last twenty years is the growing numbers of Latvian converters who will be mentioned here in the end.

Before Crusades at 8th to 11th century trough Viking traders the Arabian silver Dirhams reached Latvian territory bringing first artifacts of the emerging Muslim civilization in Baltic pagan lands. First direct contacts with Muslims in Latvian territory goes back to 13th century when the Tatars of the Golden Horde took part in raids against Livonia hosted by Russian Duchies. During the Livonian War (1558-1583)  it said that around 40 000 Tatar and Russian soldiers under the command of the Han Shahghali and later Simeon Bekbulatovich took part in the Muscovite invasion. Many centuries later during Russian-Turkish war on 1877, hundred Turkish prisoners of war were brought to Cēsis and Līvāni district. The land where they were settled became known as the Turki parish. 26 Turks died of illnesses and bad weather, but others survived and settled in the city of Cēsis. There they opened Turkish Bakery.   The Turkish cemetery was opened in Cēsis and has been preserved and restored by the help of the Turkish consulate. Turkish cemeteries have been built elsewhere in Latvia, where mostly Turkish war prisoners were taken.

Tatar community in Latvian territory emerged at the last half of the 19th century, mostly from immigrants who came to industrialized cities like Riga, Jelgava and Daugavpils. On 1890 the local Tatar leaders mullah Muhamet Shakir Abdul Arapov, Abdulla Myazhitov and Kurma Hamet Ishniyezov pleaded to establish Muslim cemetery next to Catholic cemetery in Pletenberg street (now Aizsaules street). On 1902 first Muslim congregation was established. The local imam  was Ibragim Davidov, who soon opened the first house of prayer. According to the 1897 all Russia census there were 1 541 Tatars living in Latvian parts of the Russian empire. 920 of them served in the Russian army. There were also small amount Bashkirs and Kyrgyzs who also served in the army. 3/4 of the local Muslims were illiterates and mostly were peasants. The Muslim soldiers after the end of duty headed back to home. Some few tens of Muslim civilians lived here permanently who mostly were small time traders. 564 Tatars lived in Daugavpils that had major Russian war fortification’s. On 1913 510 Muslims mostly soldiers  lived in Riga and close areas. Most of them lived in Moscow District in Riga and mainly spoke in Tatar or Turkish. According to their reports on 1914 their congregation had 1000 members. However, if excluding the temporary soldiers the Muslim community in Riga and elsewhere was much smaller.

The First World war made most members of the Muslim community to leave Latvia. The imam Ibragim Davidov who was promoted  mullah left Riga on 1917 after Germans captured Riga. Because Russia entered war against Ottoman Empire, there were repressions against few of the Turks. Turkish Bakeries were closed in Rīga and one Turkish house owner was arrested. During the War for Independence some Tatars previously fighting for the Red Army were conscripted into Latvian Armed forces. Around 25 Tatars served in the Latvian army up to 1920. Some of the Muslims came back to Latvia after the end of the war. The Latvian army even issued order for few of the Muslim soldiers to give holidays during Kurban Bayrami (Eid al-Adha)  celebrations. On April 1920 Tatar Hassan Haretdinov-Konikov  came to Riga from Finland and tried to acquire the objects belonging to Riga House of Prayer. He insisted all the Muslims of Riga have relocated to Finland. The 24 consecrated carpets and Quran  was not given to him by Latvian authorities because the Riga congregation was not legally closed and its members might come back. Then Hassan Haretdinov-Konikov unsuccessfully pleaded to the Ministry of Justice to build Mosque in Riga.

On July 1920 the Riga Muslim Council elected Turkish cafeteria-bakery owner  Shakir Husnetdinov as deputy imam. On 1928 he was officially appointed by Latvian Spiritual affairs council as permanent imam of Riga. The prayers and ceremonies were held in the imams apartment at the Marijas street 48. Although Hustedinov was not allowed to register marriages despite many pleas to the Latvian authorities. On 1920 there were 115 Tatars and 19 Turks. There were 130 registered Muslim men (2 of them Latvians) and 32 woman. On 1925 census 9 Poles were registered as Muslims. On 1935 just 66 Muslims were counted in the last national census before world war. The Riga congregation had only 42 members left. 39 Tatars, 28 Turks, 17 Persians, and 1 Syrian were counted in the census. Comparing to other minorities such as Jews who were 4% of the state population the Muslim minority in Latvia was overly marginal.

On 1940 Soviets occupied Latvia. Some of the Muslims were repressed. Tatar Abdula Husnetdin disappeared. One Tatar of noble ancestry was arrested in hotel “Roma” cafeteria and tried to poison himself to avoid arrest. The Nazi occupation did not make remaining Muslims flee. on 1943 40 Tatars and 35 Turks were registered  by Nazi authorities. Some of them were prisoners of war from the Red Army. Germans also brought some Tatars to Latvia for work.  Mullah Shakir Husnetdinov continued to serve as leader of the community. As the soviets came back most members of the interwar community left Latvia including  Shakir Husnetdinov. Trader Alimzhan Husnetdin with his Latvian wife spent first post war years in Latvian refugee camp in West Germany. Almost all original interwar Latvian Muslim community was lost, only few remained.

The new wave of Muslim immigrants emerged during Soviet occupation and was part of the overall influx of the immigrants from the Soviet Union. First who came after the war were retired Soviet soldiers and officers with their family. Few of the Crimean Tatars who were deported on 1944 after being rehabilitated moved to their army relatives in Latvia. On 1959 census there were 1 811 Tatars, also people from soviet Central Asian republics and Caucasus came.   The number of the Tatars grew steadily: on 1970 2 671, on 1979 3 764, on 1989- 3 168. New Azeri and Chechen communities emerged along with those of Central Asia. One part of them were Russianized, spoke Russian and had abandoned the Muslim traditions.   Others still kept their identity and traditions. Crimean Tatar Refat Chubarov was a long time director of the Latvian State Archive. Currently he is a Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People and lives in exile after Russian occupation of Crimea.

The religious practice in many cases were kept unofficially as the soviet authorities regarding  religious organizations issued restrictive measures. There were now official house of prayers, rituals were carried out in private apartments.  On 1958 the mother of Riga Muslim Congregational council chairman Rufiya Sheviryova who was member of the Jēkabpils district soviet managed to establish a Muslim Cemetery in the Jēkabpils next to Jewish cemetery. Before that the Muslims were laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery causing protests.

After the regain of independence many Muslims left Latvia for their ethnic homelands. The size of Tatars dropped from 3 168 in 1989 to 2 164 in 2011. 2765 Azeris lived in Latvia on 1989 but dropped to more a half four years later. Large numbers of Crimean Tatars returned to Crimea. Remaining Tatars and Azeris have established cultural societies. The “Ideļ” for Tatars and “Azeri” for Azeris.  The Chechen Diaspora became active because of Chechen War of Independence. Their representatives tried to convince Latvian authorities to recognize the Republic of Chechnya and open its embassy albeit unsuccessfully. The “Chechen Mafia” scare has been present in Latvia, as some Chechen businessman have been accused of criminal actions. They also been attributed to have political influence on some of the Latvian political parties. However, none of the Caucasian Muslim communities have ever posed serious threat to Latvian state and society.

 As Latvia became member of EU, some sparked fear of the influx of economical immigrants from Turkey and other Muslim lands. That did not happen, most representatives of the Middle East  states are foreign exchange students and small number of permanent settlers. In recent years illegal immigrants who  crossed Latvian-Russian or Latvian-Belarusian border from various countries as Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Pakistan, Syria and others have been living in detention centers. Small numbers of them have asked for permanent stay in Latvia, as they view Latvia as transit point to other EU countries.  They have general problems learning Latvian and find work. If the state is considering to settle immigrants currently displaced in other EU countries, serious considerations needs to be taken of how to integrate them, teach Latvian language and involve them in to jobs. Permanent living in migrant center and constant living on small state benefits will cause long therm problems.

The presence of Islam as religion in Latvia has been so far mostly invisible. The only House of prayers are located in  Rīga, Brīvības street 104.   First Muslim congregation in Riga was Ideļ established on 1993.  Muslim congregations were established also in Jēkabpils and Daugavpils. The Riga Imam since 1997 is Tatar Midhat Satdanov. There is 15 Muslim congregations in Latvia with no united umbrella organization. On 2005 the Lebanese Christian Arab doctor Hosam Abu Meri established Latvian Arab Center who unites the members of the Latvian Arabs, who are around 120 people currently in Latvia as claimed by the center webpage.  On 2011 The Latvian Islamic Center was established with Zufars Zainullin as the chairman. On 2013 he was replaced by Imran Oleg Petrov. 2015 he was replaced by Hamza Jānis Līciņs. The members and visitors of this center is mostly foreign students and Latvian convertees. The number of ethnic Latvians converted to Islam is small, but some of these members consider them more religious then their native Muslim counterparts.

The influence of the Muslim culture on Latvian  nation has increased in last two decades. The Kebab shops are common sight in Riga, Middle Eastern motives can be seen in Latvian music and art. There is fairly common interest in Islamic culture. The University of Latvia has opened Asian Study Chamber with the leading expert on Islamic culture professor Leons Taivāns.  The Holy book of Quran has been translated twice in Latvian. Egypt and Turkey are common tourist routes for Latvians. Generally Latvians are no stranger to Islamic culture. There also been many cases of mixed marriages and international contacts. However, the ongoing war on terrorism and recent refugee crisis has sparked the rise of islamophobia within Latvian society.  Fear that terrorist acts that took place in Europe may take place in Latvia, fear from more immigrants of unknown culture have divided the Latvian society. The division is also boosted by far right nationalistic party who is in the government.

Latvia has always been a multicultural country. The history shows that Muslims were rather marginal and silent part of the diverse nations in Latvia. It could stay like this or is about to change. The historic Muslims in Latvia where Turks and Tatars and Caucasians. The tides of history may bring numbers of newcomers from Middle East a region that Latvia yet has very low connection. Latvian society has been tolerant and accepting and xenophobic at the same time. Muslims in Western Europe went trough decades to integrate and its apparent that full integration has not yet taken place. For Latvia it will take tens of more years. Currently Latvian society is not ready for new influx of newcomers from Muslim world. So if Latvia do face such new of migration it will be one of the grandest challenges of our times. Lets us remind however, that looking back at Latvian-non-Latvian relations; the relations where not without issues and misunderstandings, but always common ground was reached between the two sides. Latvians must accept Muslims, but Muslims despite our cultural distances must accept Latvians and their way of life. This is the life long challenge for all of us.

Selected Sources:

Valters Ščerbinskis. Ienācēji no tālienes: Austrumu un dienvidu tautu pārstāvju Latvijā no 19. gadsimta beigām līdz mūsdienām. http://providus.lv/article_files/1111/original/Ienaceji.pdf?1326908271

Inga Reča. Islāms Latvijā. http://apollo.tvnet.lv/zinas/islams-latvija/289138

Valters Ščerbinskis. Islāma vēsture Latvijā. http://www.islam.lv/lv/islam_in_latvia/history/

Islāmticīgie Latvijā – kas un kādi viņi ir? http://www.ir.lv:889/2015/10/20/islamticigie-latvija-kas-un-kadi-vini-ir

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Latvian-Polish Border Dispute 1919-1939

The percentage of the Polish population in eastern Latvia. The largest percent is seen at six parishes of the Ilūktse district claimed by Poland

The percentage of the Polish population in eastern Latvia. The largest percent is seen at six parishes of the Ilūktse district claimed by Poland

When Latvia proclaimed independence on November 18 1918 the borders of the new country were not clearly determined. The general idea was that Latvia should be based on three main regions – Courland (Kurzeme) and Semigallia (Zemgale), Vidzeme and Latgale. However, when it came to actual border setting between various neighboring countries. Latvia has border related issues with Lithuania and Estonia where Latvia lost the dispute. However, the question of the Ilūkste district and the town of Grīva – claimed by Poland and Lithuania – gained and controlled by Latvia remained unsolved for many years. The Polish- Latvian border dispute caused ethnic friction between Latvians and Poles within the disputed territory. In the end on 1931 it resulted tense diplomatic conflict between Poland and Latvia. How this dispute evolved and how it was solved will be discussed in this article.

The Ilūkste district was located in southern part of Latvia, on the left side of the river Daugava. The two main centers were Ilūkste and Grīva. Grīva was located on the left bank of river Daugava right across Daugavpils. Today both cities are joined together, however then Grīva and Daugavpils were administratively  separated by the river.  Also this district was part of the Courland Province of the Russian Empire, while Daugavpils or Dunaburg was within the Province of Vitebsk. As being located between crossroads of Lithuania, Belarus and Latvia the district was ethically diverse containing Latvian, Lithuanian,Polish, Belarusian and Jewish communities. So both Poland and Lithuania considered that they should have this piece of land.

Polish armies entered the district on August-September 1919. On September 27 the Red Army was forced to abandon the left side of Daugava and retreated to Daugavpils fortress. The Polish government decided that the district must be annexed by Poland. It was mainly do to the strategical reasons as Poland wanted the border to run along the river Daugava. Also the significant Polish population was the argument to include this district within Poland. The district was formed in six parishes Borne, Demene,Kalkūni, Skrundaliena and Borovka. They were added to Polish Braslava district.

Ilūkste and Grīva. Areas of the Polish -Latvian border dispute

Ilūkste and Grīva. Areas of the Polish -Latvian border dispute

However, Latvian government regarded this district also with sizable Latvian population as their legitimate land. On December 1919 both Polish and Latvian armies liberated Latgale from the Red Army. The Polish Military command issued to local Polish administration in Ilūkste to prevent any attempt of establishing of the Latvian authority. On February 22 before Warsaw conference the Polish Foreign Ministry decided to issue demand to Latvia to give up its claims on Ilūkste district. On the spot both sides started to bring in their own governing bodies which resulted in conflict. Latvians attempted to issue new Chief of the Police in Grīva while it was de facto controlled by the Poles. He was turned away, same happened with Latvian border guards who were instructed to establish border posts along the Latvian claimed border line. Poles turned them away and they were forced to establish the posts along the river Daugava. Petitions were gathered along the left bank against giving the disputed land to Latvia. If not the person was threatened to be deported to Latvia and was punished with high fees.

On February 26 the chief of Latgale region A Bērziņš reported to Foreign Affairs ministry that this district can only be gained back by guns. As on March 1 1920 Latvian FA gathered delegation to Warsaw, the notion was to convince Poland of restoring the borders of the former Courland province. Meanwhile Polish FA had already decided that Poland will keep the district. In Warsaw the Polish side argued that border line along the Daugava will be effective in case of military assistance to Latvia. Polish foreign minister F Patek even admitted that this territory is rightfully Latvian but still insisted on turning it over to Poland. Latvian side refused to accept this and the question remained open.  Latvians saw the danger of Polish having border along Daugava that would make them easily to influence or even capture Latgale. So the talks ended with no result. It was no secret that Polish nationalists wanted to restore Poland within its 1772 borders that means also Latgale or even whole Courland was under Polish deepest desires.

Latvia was in risk of loosing this territory for ever. Still in June Latvian side even manged to stage a propaganda trip along the district under the guise of Lutheran clergy visit to Latvian churches. The pastor asked people to pray God for “free, independent Latvia, all the regions of our homeland including those not yet liberated and our Constituent Assembly”. According to 192o census the 1500 km² wide area was populated by 18 571 people. 1702 Latvians, 6116 Poles, 758 Lithuanians, 3015 Belarusians, 6612 Russians, 323 Jews and 45 Germans. The Polish made census on 1919 gathered 9207 Poles, 1273 Belarusians, 251 Lithuanians, 5068 Russians, 1396 Latvians and 134 Jews. In so the both data greatly conflicted in numbers of the size of the Latvian and Polish communities. However, they both showed that the Latvia  community is rather small comparing to Polish, Russian and Belarusian communities.  For a long time this land was dominated by the Polish language and Christian church. Many people were unable to determine their true ethnicity and fluctuated between being Polish or Latvian. Also Belarusians had trouble as they were unsure of being Polish, Russian or even Latvian. Therefore there was large room for error or even fraud in these  statistics.

On summer 1920 the situation unexpectedly turned the other way around. Polish offensive in Ukraine was crushed and swift Soviet counter attack begun. The Polish forces in Ilūkste were in danger of being torn off from the main forces. Poland was unsure of the Latvian actions kept one division to protect the north side. Latvia was unable to take direct part as it has signed ceasefire with Soviet Russia and talks for peace agreement was under way.

However, as Polish forces were pushed inwards, the Latvian army started to cross the river and enter the Ilūkste district. At same time the Lithuanians appeared to gain their share of the district. A small gunfights without causalities erupted and Lithuanians had to turn back. With the help of the English military mission representatives the dispute between Latvians and Lithuanians were calmed and Lithuanians backed off. As there was no Soviet forces around and no Poles, Latvian forces took over the territory. Local populace afraid from the Soviets and disorder welcomed Latvian forces.

Latvians had a hard time restoring order in the devastated district  and installing loyal officials as nearly all past officials were Poles. Poland was caught in the war for survival and missed the event. On Autumn 1920 after the Polish victory over the Soviets at the Battle of Warsaw, Polish armies headed back towards the Ilūkste district. Polish forces captured Vilnius and reached the Latvian held territory on November. However, Poland was not willing for the conflict with Latvians and decided to leave by the demarcation line until issue is solved diplomatically.

While some local Poles protested the Latvian power, others like Belarusians decided they are better off with Latvia then with Poland. Despite Polish efforts on March 20 1921 The International Commission lead by D Simpson decided that Ilūkste district belongs to Latvia. However, the commission was intended to solve Latvian-Lithuanian border issues and because of Vilnius conflict it disregarded the Polish claims. Therefore Poland still kept its claims.

In next following years the question remained unsolved. Poland despite formal claims and protest notes did not make strong actions to gain Ilūkste back. Meanwhile the situation in the region stabilized. Latvians schools were opened, the Latvian education in Ilūkste was great concern for Riga. Poles had rights for state funded minority schools. Also the Belarusians gathered to open their own schools.

The issue was raised again sometimes. On 1923 the Polish Sejm (parliament) received 28 people signed memorandum from “the Latvian occupied parishes”. Some of the petitioners had Russian and even one Latvian surenames indicating poloniziation. On 1922 the Latvian Polish Political party declared that it cannot issue their candidates in Ilūkste district because of “sworn allegiance” to Poland on 1919. In the result only one candidate from Latgale was elected into Latvian Saeima. Later they canceled this fruitless principality and issued candidates in Zemgale election district to gain better results.

Latvians placed a great pressure on  Ilūkste resulting national frictions. The leading anti-Polish discourse stated that after the centuries of polonization that has made one large quarter of the Ilūkste Latvians into Poles, the Polish politicians and the Catholic church still try to polonize people of Latgale. The Polish schools were accused of spreading “traitorous spirit”, Catholic Church was accused of boosting separatism. The suspicion affected Belarusians too as  they were accused of separatism and their teachers placed on trial. Incidentally the cause of this trial was map showing Belarusian ethnic borders in one of the schools within Ilūkste district. The Latvian secret police thought that the map was actually map of the future Belarusian state that included Ilūkste district. In the end the Belarusian trial ended in fiasco forcing secret police to free the teachers. Meanwhile Poles in their newspapers accused Latvians of chauvinism and attempts of undermining the Polish language and culture.  Poles also accused Belarusians of attempts of taking away Polish kids and turning them into Belarusians. As matter of fact both Latvians and Poles even questioned if there such nation as “Belarusians”. Another important factor was the resurgence of the Latgalian nationalism. Latvians of Latgale have distinct dialect that some of them considers a distinctive language. As Latgalian nationalists campaigned for Latgalian autonomy and official Latgalian autonomy status, they issued strong messages of confrontation towards Poles of whom the viewed as the representatives of the “dark Polish times”. Polish activists argued back that they rule in 16-18th century was good and more better then the Russian Tzarist rule.

As Poland after 1926 became autocratic dictatorship by  Juzef Pilsudsky the Latvian Poles became more reliant on the Polish Mother State. Poland sponsored Polish minority movements. All the historic dates like the uprising of 183o and 1836 were celebrated making Latvians cringe as these events were made to restore united Polish commonwealth. Latvian Polish Union gained 2 deputy seats in the parliament and even more in local elections. The influence of the Polish state and regime was clearly visible in the Latvian Polish daily paper “Dzwon” (The Bell) where an ode to the president of Poland Juzef Pilsudsky was published. It was written by local from Krāslava a town with significant Polish minority. From today’s perspective that is a clear sign of the Polish “soft power”.

An Ode to President of Poland Juzef Pilsudsky written by local Pole from Krāslava Zofija Rujkowna

An Ode to President of Poland Juzef Pilsudsky written by local Pole from Krāslava Zofija Rujkowna

After many years of passive tension the Ilūkste dispute reached the boiling point. On 1931 the Ilūkste Catholic church tried to increase the number of church masses in Latgalian language. The local Poles were not impressed. On April 26 and May 3 during Latgalian church mass the Poles started to sing their Polish prayers loader than Latgalians. As both sides tried to sing loader then another the mass turned into riot. Many were arrested in result. A scandalous trials followed mostly issuing small term punishments for shouting the church and disrupting the civil order.

In Riga the Saeima parliamentary investigative commission was made and it concluded that the polonization has taken place in Ilūkste district and the Latvian Polish Union is responsible. The commission accused the Union of spreading separatist teachings in Polish schools and spreading school text books from Poland that marked Ilūkste as Polish territory.  1931 was also the election year boosting up the campaign against the rival Polish party. Polish Union split up in the pro-Latvian and pro-Polish block. Despite that two Polish representatives were elected, the Polish Union was temporally shot down and their six owned Polish schools were closed. The main Polish newspaper “Dzwon” was closed. Later do the “formal reasons” the Latvian Polish Union was disbanded. The Polish ambassador from Riga was temporary called off.

After being closed by the Latvian authorities the Polish newspaper issues a one issue call to all Polish voters to defend the Polish national rights and religions against the Latvian chauvinism and vote for the Polish Union that was later also closed down

After being closed by the Latvian authorities the Polish newspaper issues a one issue call to all Polish voters to defend the Polish national rights and religions against the Latvian chauvinism and vote for the Polish Union that was later also closed down

Despite condemnations from Warsaw and rumbling Polish press, Poland did not made any serious steps against Latvia. After all Latvia was one of the main Latvian trade partners and in secret deal between the two states on 1929 Poland by agreeing to pay compensations to  compensations to Polish citizen former land owners (including Ilūkste district) had de facto agreed on Ilūkste Latvian possession.

As Latvian population in the district increased (sometimes it was done artificially, by registering Pole or Belarusian as Latvian), and more Latvians taking over local administrations the tensions cooled down. The Poles made new party and restored their newspapers. However, on 1934 when Kārlis Ulmanis seized power, the new party was again banned. On 1933 both sides started negotiations on the border issue. The commission from the both countries finally reached agreement on 1938 ending the issue once and for all. Interesting event between 1933 and 1938 was the closure of the newspaper “Pēdējā Brīdī”. The newspaper had published article about celebrations of 1836 uprising that did not take place for some reason. Article included reference to the Polish claims of 1772 borders, that angered the Polish ambassador. The Latvian Foreign Ministry received complaints from him and asked to punish the newspaper. Newspaper was  fined for “spreading hate across the society”, soon after that the censors encountered another “bad” article about Baltic Germans and the Latvian Police and was closed down for “the bad conduct”.

That was last of the tensions. Eventually Ilūkste became recognized as a Latvian city. On 1939 after Eastern Poland was occupied and annexed  by the Soviet Union the border with Poland was lost forever. Now the Ilūkste district shares border with Lithuania and Belarus. Still ethnically diverse the Ilūkste district has become an integral part of Latvia.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (1995). Sešu Pagastu un Grīvas pilsētas problēma Latvijas Polijas attiecībās. Latvijas Vēstures Instituta Žurnāls. Nr.1

Jēkabsons Ēriks. (1996) Poļi Latvijā. Rīga.

Newspaper “Dzwon” 1931

The Latvian History Archive. Ministry of the Society Affairs. Press and organization fund 3724.f. The “Pēdējā Brīdī” case Nr. 549.

Various Latvian Newspapers 1920-1936

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Belarusians in Latvia

Illustration from pre-war literal youth journal "Jaunais Cīrulītis"

Illustration from pre-war literal youth journal “Jaunais Cīrulītis”

One of the Slavic nations, besides Ukrainians and Poles  that Latvia shares a common past and future are Belarusians. Latvia and Belarus have common border and cultural and ethical roots. In Latvian the Belarussian is spelled as “Baltkrievs” and not without a reason for the Belarusian ethnic origins come from 5 to 6 century when Ancient Slavic tribes migrated from Central Europe to the lands present day Belarus where the ancient Baltic tribes lived. Various Slavic tribes the kriviči, dregoviči, radmiči moved to lands inhabited by augstaiši, jātvingi, galindi and latgalians slowly assimilating them until the 10 century. The Duchies of Polotsk and Smolensk used old Belarussian language and had political and trade contacts with ancient Latvian tribes. At the 13th century old Belarusian duchies were integrated into  Grand Duchy of Lithuania where Belarusian noble elite played important role. Old form of Belarusian language was used in official jurisdiction of the Lithuanian duchy. No wonder the original Belarus coat of arms was derived from the coat of arms of the Lithuanian duchy. Majority of Belarusian historians consider the Lithuanian Grand Duchy as the state of Belarusians while Lithuanian counterparts tend to disagree.

For various reasons on 16th century the therm “White Russia” or “White Ruthenia” was derived. Consequently people living in it and talking in language different  than in Russia and Ukraine became known as Belarusians. Sadly on the same time after Lithuania united with Poland, Belarusian nobility was slowly removed from the ruling elite. Country had to go trough many destructive wars between Russia and Poland. After the full inclusion into Russian empire the Belarusian nation went into silent decay.

As mentioned the ancient Latgalain rulers had connections with Duchies of Polotsk as early as 12th century. Merchants traveled across river Daugava they called Dvinsk. Larger number of Belarusian settlers came to Latgale when it was under Polish-Lithuanian rule. Either Belarusian nobles or peasants. It’s known that the town of Jēkabpils originated from settlement of refugees of the Orthodox Old Believers, that came from Vitebsk and Smolensk  that may be Belarusian origin. Belarusian migration continued under the Tsarist rule in bordering areas. As Latgale was part of Province of Vitebsk the entry was less restricted than to other parts of present day Latvia.

On 1897 the All Russia National Census concluded that in six districts of the Province of Vitebsk – Ludza, Daugavpils (Dinaburg) and Rēzekne a 66 thousand Belarusians and 63 thousand speaking Belarusian lives in this area. Some Latvian historians and demographers however argued that this amount was boosted by local Poles and Latvians calling themselves Belarusians for their own reasons.    Another crucial factor was the so-called “tuteiši” – people who had no perception of their national identity and simply described themselves as locals or Catholics or Orthodox. Latvians, Poles, Russians and Belarusians not to mention the Jews lived in Latgale side by side and often were prone to assimilation.  As we know today the once national identity is not derived from genes or family roots, but by state of mind and education.  Latgale was ethically and religiously  mixed with a very complicated social structure. For these reasons people in Latgale often had difficulty choosing their national identity.

After Latvia gained independence on 1918, various national census held in 1920, 1925. 1930 and 1935 showed inconclusive results. On 1920. the first national census still counted Russians and Belarusians together, however to distinguish them  Russians were called as “Great Russians” (Lielkrievi). In result according to interpretations 75 thousand Belarusians lived in Latvia on 1920. However, the 1925 census counted now just 38 thousands. Without proper understanding some historians as Viktors Guščins made a claim that a massive Belarusian deportation was organized by Latvian authorities. Since there were no documented proofs of such action taking place the “Belarusian Deportation” is just another of the Guščins wild fantasies. On 1935 just 25 thousand Belarusians were counted. This rapid decrease was dictated by many reasons. Firstly as the Latvian Statistic Authority admitted they often lacked knowledge to determine who is Belarusian and who is not. Some Belarusians were counted as Russians or Poles or even Latvians. Another problem was the low literacy of the Belarusian farmers as some data shows only some 63% of them knew how to read. In same matter Russian and Polish farmers especially in Latgale had this litercy problem. Another factor was the constant Latvian national policy of trying to absorb some nationally unsure Latgalian people as Latvians in same matter as Poles and Russians tried to do same. During the twenties and thirties Latgale was a constant cultural, ideological and  diplomatic battleground to make Latgale more Latvian free from foreign influence. In this matter many Belarusians lost their national identity.

On March 25 1918 the Belarusian Peoples Republic was proclaimed. It had diplomatic relations with the Republic of Latvia and some even took the BPR citizenship. However, the republic was steamrolled by the Bolsheviks and Poles. Part of Belarusians came under Soviet rule with its own Belarusian Soviet Republic. Other part was ended up in Poland and Lithuania. Both countries especially Poland was in uneasy relations with the national minorities. Latvia on the other hand issued a minority friendly laws allowing to form own native language schools. Belarusian intellectuals living in Latvia saw a great chance to start a Belarusian national revival. However, this seemed harder than expected.

On 1922 The Belarussian school authority was established. Baltic Germans, Jews, Russians and Poles already had their own. As much as 40 state funded schools and 2 gymnasiums were opened.  A special courses for Belarusian teachers were made. However, the Belarusian schools had various problems mostly because of the low number of school children. Only 40% of school age children actually attended because of poverty and even lack of shoes. In Daugavpils 19 teachers worked with 86 students in Ludza 5 teachers with 50-60 students. However, it was common sight for many national minority schools such as Jewish schools and others. The national Latvian forces in parliament and press always made a negative discourse towards minority schools calling them “a useless spending of state money” and hostile to Latvians. Even greater was the cross minority rivalry for funding for their schools and school children. Polish and Russian national minority forces were annoyed by the existence of the Belarusian schools and started a campaign against them as early on 1923 resulting a political farce.

Konstantin Jezovitov - the leader of the Belorussian national movement on 1920-1940

Konstantin Jezovitov – the leader of the Belarussian national movement on 1920-1940

Russian and Polish newspapers started to spread propaganda that there is no such nation as Belarusians, but they are just confused Russians or Poles used by ex Tsarist officers who claim themselves as Belarusians. The Latvian press especially the Latvian Latgalian press pick this up and started to write word Belsrusian in commas. In their hypocrisy the Latvian newspapers had no problem writing about Belarusians in Poland or USSR a real nation. On 1923 in the Latvian parliament the “Belarusian”  question was officially discussed. Polish deputy Jans Veržbickis accused the Belarusian national leader Konstantin Jezovitiov and others of intentionally devising a nation called “Belarusians”   to gain national state support and new carrier grounds at the expense of Poles and Russians. The Latgalian deputies Fricis Kemps and Jāzeps Trasuns picked up the subject and agreed that there are no Belarusians but instead accused the Poles of attempting to assimilate Latvians. In their view Belarusians were Latvians mislead by the Poles. Belarusians got themselves into cross national crossfire.

The whole 1923 was spent in arguing between both sides. Konstantin Jezovitov wrote a defending publication outlining the Belarusian history and culture. Fricis Kemps answered with  a strong worded publication that caused a lawsuit where Jezuvitov managed to prove him guilty of personal insult. Then on 1924 the anti-Belarussian campaign reached its height. In the Kapiņu parish Belarussian school a school inspected saw a map showing Belarusian borders including parts of Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Latvia. This was reported to Ministry of Education because the school inspector believed these borders signify the future state of Belarus taking away Latvian lands. Latvian Secret Police had Jezovitovs and other Belarusian activists on their watch-list.  Partly because of alleged conections with the radical leftist forces and Belarusian organizations outside Latvia. Two years before on 1921-1923 both in Poland and Lithuania a trial was made against Belarusian organization “Gromada” that was accused on plotting uprising against the Polish state. Knowing this the Latvian Secret Police made a suspicion that Belarusian organization “Batjaukaščina” of being separatist force.

Eight Belarusian schoolteachers were accused of treason, with them Jezovitov, A Jakubecky, V Korcius and others. The case against the “Belarusian national separatists”  were orchestrated by negative publications in the press and resulted the closure of many schools. Jezovitov spent in prison 11 months as only one of the accused. On 1925 the trial took place and resulted in fiasco. Latvian Secret Police failed  to prove the existence of the “criminal separatist” organization. The witnesses were mostly agents or hostile Russian schoolteachers. It turned out that the map that caused the process actually showed the Belarusian ethical borders not state borders. Although Konstantin Jezovitov was an ex officer of the Belarusian Peoples Republic his separatist actions could not be proved. In the end all accused were found not guilty resulting a heavy strain on Belarusian national movement.

In the following years Latvian politicians were forced to accept the fact that Belarusians live in Latvia and deserve their schools. Belarusians did made hostile opposition in return, and praised the Latvian state support. Nationalist pressure on Belarusian schools  still continued on 1925 local Latgalian newspaper celebrated the closure of the Belarussian  gymnasium in Ludza. However, as the national and diplomatic relations with Poles and Poland worsened especially on 1931, Latvians now accused Poles of inciting hate between Latvians and Belarusians.

Belarusians had many supportive Latvian friends like Rainis the famous Latvian poet and leftist leader.  With his help Belarusians could find their schools and enter politics within the social democratic party ranks. Later, more intellectual Latvians acknowledged the Belarusian national movement. Cultural developments were on the go despite low funding and other problems.

Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian regime limited the Belarusian national cultural activities while the Soviet Occupation destroyed it completely.   During the Nazi occupation 0n 1943 48 601 people within Latvia were called as Belarusians. The sharp increase can be explained by the flow of people from German occupied Belarus, who either were moved against there will by the Germans or moved by themselves.  Some Belarusians served in Latvian SS Legion some resisted the Nazis. Konstantin Jezovitov was arrested by Soviet SMERCH and died in captivity on 1944.

Belorussian national activists with the first flag of Belarus along with flag of Ukraine and Latvia in 1990.

Belarusian national activists with the first flag of Belarus along with flag of Ukraine and Latvia in 1990.

After the start of the second Soviet occupation people from Belarus, just as from Ukraine and Russia came to Latvia to settle for a new life. Belarus was utterly devastated by the war and soviets pushed to build factories that needed large amount of workforce. In result between 1959 t0 1989 about 120 Belarusians lived in Latvia. Most again settled in Latgale and Daugavpils, while others moved to Riga and other centers. On 1989 43 thousand Belarusians lived in Riga. Large part of Belarusians still lived in rural areas. However, because of the lack state support towards Belarusian language education some 36% of Latvian Belarusians knew the Belarusian language. Same difficulty they had with Latvian  resulting that many were placed in mass of immigrants simply described as “Russians” or “Russian-speakers”. However, not always the lack of native language skills signify the loss of national identity as common for Belarusians, Jews, Poles and Ukrainians.

In same manner as other national minorities Belarusians founded their cultural societies during the events of 1988-1992. On 1988 November 27 the Belarusian cultural society “Svitanak” that gathered established members of society and culture. A Belarusian Primary School is working in Riga, and many cultural activities are taking place. Unfortunately, from the early start the independent state of Belarus was taken over by post-sovietic authoritarian regime with more emphasis towards  Russia, as Russian language is most used in Belarusian majority country. Latvian politicians for economic reasons have often ignored the political situation in Belarus. Some parties have eagerly expressed support towards Ukrainian national movement while praising Alexander Lukashenka. In result the Belarusian opposition considers Lithuania and Poland as more supportive towards their cause rather than Latvia. According to 2012 census 4,1 of Belarusians live in Latvia making them second largest national minority. Only above 600 of them use Belarusian language at home. The bad effect of the Russification policies is clear, but in the spirit of the changing times can be overcome as the Belarusians is a nation of a historical value and legacy.

Selected Sources:

Apine, Ilga. (1995) Baltkrievi Latvijā. Rīga. 1995.

 Jēkabsons Ē. Белорусы в Латвии в 1918–1940 годах (Baltkrievi Latvijā 1918.–1940. gadā) //Беларуская дыяспара як пасреднiца ў дыялогу цывiлiзацый. Матэрыялы III Мiжнароднага кангрэса беларусiстаў. Мiнск: Беларускi Кнiгазбор, 2001

http://www.svitanak.lv/

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Ukrainians in Latvia

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Latvia despite somewhat far from Ukraine has always shared common connections with Ukrainian people. In the Middle Ages the Vikings or Varyags came down from river Daugava to river Dnieper to the Kievan Rus. The territory of Latvia and Ukraine were united within the Poland -Lithuania and the Empire of Russia. Some Latvians moved to rich Ukrainian lands to gain their own farming land. Many Latvian nationals were sent on military duty to Ukrainian lands. In the same matter the first Ukrainian people appeared in Latvian lands on 19th century.

Ukrainians served in Russian garrisons, students went to Riga Polytechnic Institute  and various specialists and teachers. According to national census of 1897 1000 people called them as Ukrainians, most of them were from Russian  army. On 1910 Ukrainian students  in Riga Orthodox cathedral held a church service on the day of death of the Ukrainian writer Taras Sevchenko. This became a tradition until 1940. On 1911 first Ukrainian national organization “Gromada” (Alliance) was formed. Despite being short of members it had its own choir, dramatic ensemble and support cash desk. On 1914 Tsarist authorities forbid Ukrainians to  celebrate openly the 100 birthday of Taras Sevchenko and the celebration was held privately at the Gromada office. Latvian organizations were invited also.

On 1915 the German army invaded the Latvian territory.  The work of the national organizations were stopped. Factories were evacuated and the Riga Polytechnic institute was closed. Many Ukrainians were  sent to Latvian rifleman battalions. After the February revolution of 1917 within 12th army stationed within Riga of whom many Ukrainians served, created their national organizations. The newspaper “Ukrainian voice”, the Ukrainian socialists-revolutionaries  (esers), and the Ukrainian Rada of the 12th  army with Aleksandr Blonsky as the leader. On May 6 the congress of the Ukrainian soldiers were held in Riga. A nationalistic goal was set to “Ukrainianaze” the 21 Corpus of the 12th army and send it to Ukraine. The congress ended with march trough the streets of Riga with Ukrainian songs.  The Rada worked until January 1918 when most of the Ukrainian soldiers came back to homeland.

On November 20 1917 in Kiev the Ukrainian Peoples Republic was proclaimed. Ukrainians tried to make contacts with Latvian counterparts. From 1919 to 1921 a diplomatic and consular connections between UPR and the Republic of Latvia were established.  On September 1 1919 the UPR  Consulate in Riga begun its work. Consulate supported the Ukrainian refugees. Also the Ukrainian as well as Belorussian Peoples Republic citizenship served as a loophole for some who wanted to avoid serving in the Latvian army during the War for Freedom. Both national countries did not survive the Russian Civil War. In result on August 3 1921 a treaty with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic recognizing its sovereignty was established.  The treaty regulated the exchange of refugees and disregard any other form of government within Ukrainian SSR. Therefore all relations with UPR were canceled and their citizens within Latvia had to find a new citizenship. Ukraine was divided between Soviet Union, Poland and Romania.

Ukrainians in Poland had uneasy relations with the nationalist minded Polish government, in Romania the existence of the Ukrainian minority was officially denied. In Soviet Union at first the politics were quite friendly towards Ukrainian language, but after start of the Stalin’s collectivization it turned into national genocide or Holodomor killing at least 5 million people.

Latvia meanwhile has its one of the most liberal national minority policies. Jews, Germans, Russians and others enjoyed an autonomy in their schools and took part in politics. On 1925 there were 512 Ukrainians, on 1930 – 1629 and on 1935 1844. Most lived in Daugavpils district – 166, at Rezekne district and Liepaja 90. The rise of the Ukrainian numbers can be explained by the fact that first national census of 1920 counted Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians together as Russians, and also many who before were unaware of their nationality counted themselves as Ukrainians.

In contrary to vast masses of Russian and Belorussian peasants, the Latvian Ukrainians were city dwellers and middle class citizens. Most of them not born in Latvia, with good education worked as businessman and state employees. Some took important posts within Latvian Army like Captain Vladimir Romachenko in Topographical department. Andrei Cibulsky from 1919-1935 was deputy of the chief of the Riga Police District. Before 1934 some Ukrainians took part in Latvian politics, Latvian Tuberculosis hospital nurse Olga Markovich was active within Latvian Social Democratic Workers party, while Lubova Lejiņa within Latvian Farmers Party. Retired Riga District Court chief executive joined the Democratic Center on 1932. Some Ukrainian intellectuals like Jakub Kastiluk worked with the Belorussian culture society “Batyakaushina” and took lessons in the Belorussian schools.

From 1921 to 1922 the Ukrainian political refugee – emigrant committee was  established but closed after the pressure from the Latvian Ministry of Interior Affairs. On 1932 a “Latvian-Ukrainian society”was established by Ukrainian nationals mostly business owners.  On 1938 it had 111 members. On 1934 it established library and organized culture events. At the end of the 3oies the Latvian authorities wanted to limit the number of the national organizations and requested to join it with “Cultural contacts establishment with the nations in USSR”. It was never done as after the Soviet invasion the society was closed.

Soviet power restricted Ukrainian national life as much as other national minorities were repressed. On August 6 1940 the former leader of the Ukrainian political refugees Maxim Didikovsky and other past UPR representatives were arrested. Most people who had some connection with UPR were sent to Siberia or executed.

On 1943 Nazi German occupation made local cenus and counted 11339 Ukrainians within  Latvia part of Ostland. The sharp increase was made because of deported Soviet prisoners of war and people sent on compulsory  work. Nazi occupation had no special policy towards Ukrainians due to their small numbers. Captain V Romachenko on 1941 joined the anti-soviet partisans within Ventspils to fight against Red Army. Pyotr Abramchenko was one of the first to join self-defense unit to assist German invaders. It was because of the common belief that Germans will give back independence both to Ukraine and Latvia. Many Ukrainians were mobilized in Latvian Waffen SS Legion. At least 549 Soviet Ukrainian POW’s joined or were forced to join the German Army support service. Some Ukrainians took part in Soviet underground resistance.

During the Soviet occupation the amount of Ukrainians sharply increased. On 1959 294, 4 thousand, on 1989 92, 1 thousand making them 3,5% of the Latvian SSR population. This was because of the unrestricted immigration boosted by forced industrialization.  Ukraine was devastated by Stalin’s genocide and WW2. Those who came from Eastern Ukraine deeply affected by Russification could not speak Ukrainian and only added to massive amounts of “Russian speakers” in Latvia.   The Russification of the Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews disguised as creation of “unified Soviet nation” with one common Latvian language left deep scars within Latvian society.

However, already on  1988 as the independence movement started the Latvian Ukrainian national cultural society “Dņipro” was founded. With the leadership of Viktor Prudiss and Volodomir Stroy the society had 300 members. The politically active Ukrainians joined in society “Slavutich” and the Ukraine patriotic organization “RUH” Riga branch for the first time in Soviet Union went to streets with the Ukrainian blue and yellow banner. The flag of Ukraine first flew in Riga before it appeared in Kiev.

Despite that large parts of the Latvian Ukrainians did not support the Latvian independence, 8 elected Ukrainian nationals within Latvian Supreme Soviet ranked with communists in who voted against the Declaration of the restoration of the independence. After 1991 24 thousand Ukrainians left Latvia for Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian integration in Latvian democratic society was obstructed by the fact that large part of them became non-citizens. At first Ukrainian organizations made mistakes by cooperating with pro-Kremlin political parties. Gradually the connection with Latvia was established however it caused rift within Ukrainians as many still supported pro-Kremlin opposition. On 2006 the many Ukrainian national    organizations joined within Union of Ukrainian Societies. On 2012 the Latvian Ukrainian Congress was formed as part of the World and European Ukrainian congress.

According to 2011 national census 45 798 Ukrainians are living in Latvia. However, only 1 774 people are using the Ukrainian language at  their homes. That means that most of them use Russian language as the size of the Russian speakers greatly exceeds the size of the ethnic Russians. Many Ukrainians have very loose national identity and are still part of former “Soviet nation” with different national outlook. However, in last 20 years the connections with independent Ukraine has greatly increased. During the events in Ukraine the Latvian Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian Congress organized many support actions and showed support towards Ukrainian revolution. On March 2 2014 after Russian invasion in Ukraine the Ukrainian society organized anti-war protest gathered about thousand people most of them Latvians. This is a sign of a Ukrainian national revival and great support from Latvian society. As mainland Ukraine is under foreign invasion the more support and unity between Latvians and Ukrainians is essential to  the survival of the both nations.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (2007) Ukraiņi Latvijā 19. gadsimta beigās – 1988. gadā. //Mazākumtautības Latvijā. Vēsture un tagadne. Rīga. 2007.

Dribins Leo (2007) Ukraiņi atjaunotajā Latvijas republikā. //Mazākumtautības Latvijā. Vēsture un tagadne. Rīga. 2007.

http://ukrlatvian.lv/%D0%BE%D1%83%D1%82%D0%BB/

http://www.ukrkongress.lv/lv/

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Mordehai Dubin The Leader of the Latvian Jews 1889-1956

For a nation that lost its homeland many centuries ago and was stranded in many countries a unity and strong leadership were needed. When Latvia gained its independence on 1918 Jews were living there for many centuries. The new democratic country although based on the national will of the Latvian nation offered equal possibilities for all national minorities. Latvian Jewry was never united in its cause. One part of them were Zionists, among them right and left wing ones. Some Jews embraced leftist and even communist ideas. Others stick to orthodox Judaism. On every parliamentary elections Jews submitted various rivaling party lists. Even at the municipal level their views often conflicted. Because of that many great personalities emerged among the Latvian Jewry. One of the most notable Jewish leaders were Mordehai Dubin. He was a Rabbi, businessman, political and spiritual leader. Despite being religious orthodox he often managed to find a compromise between various conflicting Jewish views and was well favored among Latvian politicians. Doing so achieved many humanitarian victories by saving lives and gaining great respect from many. Some have called him Shtadlan the intercessor a meditative figure between Latvians and Jews. This is a story about this remarkable person who deserves its eternal place in history.

Mordehai Dubin was born on January 1 1889 presumably in Riga. His father was a Rabbi Zalman Ben Dubin who made prayers at synagogue in the Marijas street. Dubin himself also frequently attended this synagogue for the most of his life. He received education at the Riga Heder. The First Word war was traumatic for the Latvian Jewry. During the German invasion in the Latvian territory in 1915, the Tzarist authorities ordered to expel all the Jews from front-line areas. This action was based on biased belief that Jews support the German invasion and may act as spies. During the long tsarist times, Jews living in the Russian Empire were subjected to various forms of discrimination. No doubt some of them hoped that the more progressive German Empire may bring positive change to their status. However, the forced move of nearly all Jews from Courland and Semmigallia was an ill fated act. The Tzarist laws for many years restricted Jews to live outside the former borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. That meant that living in places such as Moscow and Petersburg was mostly restricted. Now as large masses of Latvian and Jewish refugees, locals wrote in their diaries that Petersburg is full of “Latvians and Jews”. That seriously effected the revolution in 1917 when these masses were quick to support the revolutionary movement.

Mordehai Dubin was 26 years old at the time. Already a successful wood salesman Dubin also moved to Russia and joined the Jewish refugee supportive committee. That was the beginning of his social and political activity. There he met Mordehai Nurok – his future rival from Tukums, educated in foreign universities. From 1913 to 1915 he was already the main Rabbi of the city of Jelgava. Nurok was  a religious Zionist who believed in a Jewish return to the Promised Land-  Eretz Israel (Palestine). He was deeply affected by Teodor Herzl the founder of the Zionist movement of who he met personally. Dubin on the other hand was Lubavitcher Hassid who believed that Jews must stay were they were born and improve their culture on the spot.

On March 1917 a revolution took place in Petrograd (Petersburg) and Tzar Nicholas II abdicated from the throne. The new provisional government lead by Alexander Kerensky on March 20 made a historic step – all past restrictions to national minorities were abolished. Jews, Latvians, Estonians and many others were free to participate in politics and social affairs. However, many Jews and Latvians used this freedom to join Bolsheviks and on November 1917 deposed the provisional government.

Mordehai Dubin was not one of them. In 1917 he moved back to Riga. On November 18 1918 the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed. The Latvian national leader Kārlis Ulmanis declared equal rights to all disregarding their ethnicity.  While many Jews were weary of the new government, Dubin  was one of the first to support it. At the end of 1918 Latvia was invaded by the Bolsheviks. The Latvian Provisional Government moved to Liepāja and was forced to ally with Baltic German Landeswehr because it lacked enough forces to stop the Bolsheviks themselves. When the Bolsheviks captured Riga, Dubin remained there. He almost managed to achieve approval to get flour to bake matzo. However, Bolsheviks saw this as a contra-revolutionary step and wanted to arrest him. However, Dubin was infected with typhus that made the Bolsheviks to think that he will die anyway.  However, Dubin managed to survive and was back on his feet just as Bolsheviks abandoned Riga.

After the harsh times of the Bolshevik terror and the defeat of the German armies near Cēsis, most Latvian Jews understood that Kārlis Ulmanis Latvian government is their only friend. On July 13 1919 The Peoples Council was called and had 6 Jewish representatives. 2 were from the social democrat Bund, 1 United Jewish Socialist party, and three Jewish National Party members. Dubin was one of them. While the Latvian government made many promises to support national minority rights, they did not accept calls for complete national autonomy. Demands for Jewish national parliament and Cadastre was impossible to meet. However, the national autonomy for Jewish schools was achieved. However, the Jews had arguments about the way the Jewish education must be taught. Zionists wanted to reintroduce Hebrew to make children ready to leave for future Israel. Orthodox Jews wanted a strict religious education with gender separation.  Socialist Jews wanted to teach children just Yiddish the local Jewish Ashkenazi language that most Latvian Jews spoke. Others insisted that Jews must have modern education and there is nothing wrong to get an education in Latvian, German and Russian schools. In 1934 there were 119 Jewish Schools with 14 gymnasiums. While Dubin stood up for religious schools he did not resist other schools since the orthodox education was not widely popular.

As the war for freedom ended with Latvian victory, Dubin rushed to form his own political party. His party was called Agudat Israel and was mainly religious conservative. It was also against Zionism and Bolshevism. His supporters mainly resided in Riga and Latgale. He had many rivals, the Jewish Bund, left wing Zionists Cerei Cion lead by Maxis Lazerson, Mordehai Nurok Mizrachi. Dubin managed to enter all four Latvian parliaments. His magnetism is expressed at best by the fact that the Jews of Jēkabils in the election day came over river Daugava to the city of Krustpils, because Dubin was listed in the Latgalia election district where Krustpils was located. As a man of willpower and ambition he received conflicting views of his personality. Mendel Bobe and Maxis Lazerson his rivals called him a man with “convinced Jewish hearth and soul that did not discriminate anyone regarding his class and political affiliation”. His distant relative Herbert Dubin called him a ruthless and intolerant towards others. Many Latvian politicians praised him for his support and cooperation. Nationalist Latvians feared him and expressed that Dubin holds too great power over Latvian governments. Kārlis Ulmanis was often criticized for his friendly relations with Dubin.

His close aide was Ruben Vittemberg from Daugavpils. He was later replaced with Simon Vittemberg who was not related to Ruben. His secretary was Abram Godin who managed to survive the  war and wrote his memoirs about his time with Dubin.

Dubin stood out as  a strong defender of the Jewish national rights. During the anti-Jewish riots in the rooms of the University of Latvia in 1922 Dubins along with his counterparts appealed to parliament to stop the beating of the Jewish students. The University administration and police was unable to stop angry hateful Latvian students from attacking their Jewish study mates. After main condemnation from the parliament the riots finally stopped.

In his quest for defending the rights for Latvian Jews, Dubin made many departures from his political and religious ideals. He helped the Jewish communist to get out of prison. He rescued the Jewish theater from closure by the state despite his disapproval of such free form of art. Not only that the theater worked on Saturdays, that was forbidden for religious Jews. When the director of the theater asked Dubin why he helped them despite of his disapproval,  he answered: “Yes, I truly never had attended your theater, and will not attend in the future and that does not mean that I like what you are doing there. However, we Jews must receive equal state support as others do!”.  From this on the Jewish theater no longer worked on Saturdays. He also socially supported the Jewish soldiers and veterans despite his pacific beliefs.

But, one of his main achievements was the rescue of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson from the Soviet repressions. In 1927 the spiritual leader of the Hassidic Jews was imprisoned by Soviet secret police. At the same the Latvian leftist government was making talks with the USSR about trade treaty. Dubin used his political influence to use the release of Shneerson as condition to sign the trade agreement. Shneerson was arrested and  sentenced to death, however the sentence was dropped and he was moved to infamous Solovki Monastery prison camp. Later he was moved to Kostroma prison and later released. But, it was apparent that he would be arrested again. Since the left wing coalition lacked support and had only one vote majority. The Dubin who was in right wing opposition the situation where his single vote could affect the vote for trade agreements. Dubin himself went to Moscow in risk of being arrested himself. Soviets who wanted the treaty to be signed, agreed to release Lubavitcher Rebbe. However, since he was released on Saturday that was a Sabbath, Rebbe refused to leave his prison cell angering the soviets. With nearly dooming all the Dubins efforts, Rebbe left the prison when the Sabbath was  over. He moved to Riga and gained Latvian Passport. He stayed in Riga until 1929 when he moved to Warsaw Poland.

Mordehai Dubin visits the US president Herbert Hoover  From Kultūras Bals Satīriskais kalendārs 1931

Mordehai Dubin visits the US president Herbert Hoover
From Kultūras Balss Satīriskais kalendārs 1931

The influence of Dubin was so grand that on 1929 he was privately received from Hebert Hoover the president of the United States. Many Latvian politicians including the president himself could only dream of such possibility. However, on May 15 1934 Kārlis Ulmanis took power by coup and dissolved  the parliament. All political parties were banned including Dubin’s party. In anger he called Ulmanis and declared: “If I am no longer needed here, I will leave!” Ulmanis however, talked him out of it and instead insisted on more personal cooperation. Kārlis Ulmanis limited the Jewish school autonomy and removed the Jewish school authority. He replaced it with the single senior administrator for each minority and that was Dubin for Jews. Dubin used his powers to enforce religious lessons in every Jewish school. He also insisted on teaching Hebrew rather than Yiddish. That lead to disappointment for many.

On 1933 Dubin along with other Jewish leaders took a stand against the rise of Nazi Germany. They organized a boycott of German products. In return Germany blocked Latvia butter exports. Latvia exported 59% of butter to Germany and such block was highly disadvantageous. Dubin sparked concerns about rise of support for Nazism and national radicalism. In return many Latvians started to boycott Jewish shops. In the end Germany dropped the restrictions on Latvian butter.

Soon however the deeply antisemitic Nazi Germany started to make even greater concerns for Latvia and Dubin. Large masses of Jews emigrated from Germany and emerged in Latvia. Many only considered Latvia as half-way to Palestine that was mandated by British or other safer places. Fearing national protests Ulmanis did not want to allow them to stay in Latvia for good. Instead he allowed them to remain here until they find safer destination. And Dubin was the man in charge to find a safe destination for them. Dubin did everything for each of the refugee and even worked with Zionist organizations to get them to Palestine. In 1935 there were 159 Jewish refugees, at the end of the year 55, and in 1937 only 48 remained in Latvia. The situation became much more difficult after Arab uprisings in Palestine that made the British authorities to limit the entry of Jews. In 1939 it was completely banned to enter Palestine.

In 1938 Austria was annexed by Germany. There were now 118 Jelws from Germany in Latvia. When a ship containing 77 Austrian Jews reached the port of Riga. They were told to leave despite Dubins efforts. His son Zalman’s wife was an Austrian Jew. On 1939 559 Jews from Germany and Austria remained in Latvia. Dubin could not sent everyone to a safe place as the international situation worsened and moved to world war.

On September 1 1939 Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany. It was the beginning of Shoah – the Jewish catastrophe. Lubavitcher Rebbe who Dubin rescued from Soviets now was in prime danger since he was living in Warsaw. Dubin again rushed to rescue him. But, all contacts with Latvian embassy had been broken. Rebbe however had Latvian passport. At first it was considered to transport him with a car, but the main route to Riga was under German bombardment. Then Latvian Foreign Ministry managed to get German agreement to transport Latvian citizens from Poland. Since the railway was also bombed the refugees had to  go trough Koenigsberg. However, at the evacuation day a Yom Kipur festival was more important for the Rebbe and he again refused to leave. In the end Rebbe managed to reach Riga on December. On April 1940 he moved to US. Dubin had rescued him both from Soviet and Nazi genocide. Rebbe lived a long life and became famous worldwide.

However, after two months Soviets occupied Latvia. There was no one to rescue Dubin. Dubin declared: “I will go nowhere!” and vowed to remain in Latvia despite the possible Soviet arrest. Dubin in despair tried to keep Jewish youth from taking part in the pro-soviet demonstrations. They only laughed about him. The leader had lost his power. On February 1941 he was arrested and deported. After the pleas from international Jewry he was released and lived in Kuibishev (Samara) where he again helped the Jewish refugees. His whole family, wife and son perished in Riga Ghetto.

In 1946 he returned to Riga. His beloved synagogue in Marijas street was destroyed. He was told to leave by other surviving Jews. And he did so and never returned to Latvia, his homeland. He moved to Moscow suburbs and supported local Jews. He then was arrested again and died in  prison in 1956.

During his captivity he was imprisoned in the same cellar with German soldiers. He said to them: “Should it be known that I feel no hate against you and the German people, despite the fact that your compatriots destroyed my family. I understand that it was the will of the God and you fulfilled it”. He kept his religious traditions in prison and refused to open package that was sent to him on Saturday. Angered Soviets placed him in the locker room. Only when midnight approached he opened the package sent by the Russian Jewish community. Dubin said to the Germans that the cause of his suffering is carelessness towards his mother. After his father died, she asked him to stay with her, of what he answered that I must daily commit to 150 people not only her. He now viewed this a punishment for placing the interests of others rather than her own mother. He was buried in Russia, Malahovka.

Mordehai Dubin has been Latvian patriot since the very beginning until the very end. He was also a staunch defender of the Jewish rights and crossed many barriers for it. For his heroic and rightful deeds he is one of the most exceptional persons in Latvian history.

Selected Sources:

The Jews in Latvia / Ed.–board Mendels Bobe, S. Levenberg , I. Maor . – Tel Aviv: Assoc. of Latv. a.

Годин Абрам. Память о праведнике. Воспоминания о Мордехае Дубине. Иерусалим: Шамир, 5761 (2000).

Bobe, Mendels. Ebreji Latvijā. Rīga : Biedrība Šamir, 2006

Stranga, Aivars. Ebreji un diktatūras Baltijā (1926–1940). Latvijas Universitātes Jūdaikas Studiju Centrs. 2002.

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Poles in Latvia

Latvian Polish political poster from 1931

Latvian Polish political poster from 1931

On 1561-1562 the Livonian Confederation was forced to surrender to the kingdom of Poland-Lithuania. It was done to save themselves from even greater foe – Ivan IV the Terrible who invaded Livonia. The Livonian war ended with Polish victory. Poland-Lithuania acquired all territories of Latvia. The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was autonomous from Polish throne, however the Duchy of Pārdaugava which included Riga, Vidzeme and Latgalia was under the direct Polish rule. After loosing the war to Sweden in 1629, Poland lost both Riga and  Vidzeme, but kept Latgalia until 1772. Therefore Latgalia had the most sizable Polish national population. Most of them were nobles. However, on 19th century because of social economic reasons many Latvian peasants changed their nationality to Polish. Such phenomena even happened during the interwar period. The national census shows unnatural growth of the Polish minority in different places, that can be explained by nationality change. Many poor people still had no perception of their true nationality, many used Polish in work, family and church sermons. Not only Latvians, Belorussians and Gypsies claimed to be Polish. There were even records when a Polish priest registered Gypsies as Polish without telling them. Today there are many Latvians with Polish surnames, including Prime Minister of Latvia Valdis Dombrovskis (Dombrowski). Some Latvians got their Polish surnames because of the Polish landlords who gave them to his peasants, others had some connections with Polish people.

The Polish revival in Latgalia was obstructed by the Russian repressions against the Polish people. However, few notable intellectuals like historian Gustav Manteifel, scientist and revolutionary Boleslav Limanovsky came from Latgalia. Because of industrial revolution many Poles went to big cities to work in a factory. In 1897 in Riga there were 13415 Poles, in Liepaja 6015. In whole Latvian territory there were 65056 Poles. On 1878 the first Polish organization was made – the catholic charity society and in 1879 the Polish singing society “Aušra”. In the main higher education facility the Riga Polytechnic school two Polish fraternities were formed. First Polish theaters were organized. The revolution of 1905 was also very important for Poles. Just as Latvians they wanted more national freedom and was united in common cause against the Czarist regime. Polish society became more active – first national schools were made and Poles got elected in City Councils. For a long time Russia had imposed the ban on printing with Latin letters in Latgalia. That was damaging both for Poles and Latgalian Latvians. The ban was lifted on 1904 allowing the Poles to start their own press and literature.

The punishment chamber in Riga Polytechnic school (modern day University building) with Polish writings on them

The punishment chamber in Riga Polytechnic school (modern day University building) with Polish writings on the wall

The First World War made many Poles as refugees and they found themselves in Russia. Others joined the Latvian Rifleman battalions and fought the German invaders. However, after the war many came back home. Those who stayed in the Soviet Union became victims of the “Polish Action” on 1937. The new national governments of Latvia and Poland were united in their struggle against the Bolsheviks. The Polish victory over Soviet Russia in 1920 was a guarantee for the Latvian independence. Polish forces assisted the Latvian army in the battlefields of Latgalia and chased the Bolsheviks away. The large number of Poles fought in the ranks of the Latvian army. 9 of them received the highest military award the Order of Lachplesis. In the result of Polish-Soviet peace agreement which was signed in Riga, Latvia established a common border with Poland. It was however, no secret that Poland desired to annex whole Latgalia as their old territory. The “Greater Poland” dream never realized, but Poland still acquired the Vilnius region, Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine. That caused the resentment for Stalin, which was one of the reasons for the outbreak of WWII.

In 1920 there were 52244 Poles 3,4% of the population. In Riga there were 7935 Poles, in Liepaja 2904, Daugavpils 8178 and in other cities there were large Polish minorities. Most Poles lived in cities, others were farmers. Poles got a lesser hold on commerce and industry than Germans and Jews. At first only 57,7% Poles were literate, however in 1935 the numbers rose up to 82%. Poles were mostly farmers and factory workers. On 30ies because of shortage of agricultural workforce many Poles came to work in Latvia. Most of them went to work for few months and then returned. On September 1 1939 there were 26000 such people in Latvia. Many of them stayed there.

The state of Poland was very sensitive about the Polish minority in Latvia. There was many diplomatic quarrels between Poland and Latvia. Poland accused Latvians about Polish discrimination while Latvia feared that Poland may try to use the minority rights as a guise for their territorial claims. Polish deputies were represented at the Peoples Council 0n 1919-1920 and in the Saeima (Parliament) 1922-1934. There was a Polish fraction with one or two deputies. Germans, Jews and Russians had more parliament seats. Jaroslav Vilipshevsky was the first non-Latvian who was elected to the Latvian Land Bank board. Jan Vezhbicky was the assistant to the Minister of the Interior affairs in 1928. The main Polish party was the Polish Peoples Union. There was also a Polish section of Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party. The main national society was the Latvian Polish Union with almost thousand members. Poles were elected in the City Councils.

Polish printing press was active and many Polish newspapers came out. From 1922 to 1923 “Glos Polski” (The Voice of Poles), 1925-1928 “Tygodnig Polski” (The Polish Weekly Paper), 1928-1931 “Dzwon” (The Bell), 1931-1934 “Nasz Glos” (Our Voice) and on 1934-1940 “Nasze Zycie” (Our Live).

Polish schools just as other minority schools were autonomous. There was four Polish schools in Riga, three in Liepaja. In whole Latvia already on 1919 17 Polish schools were active. In 1931 there were now 45 Polish schools with 5274 pupils.  Until 1934 in the Ministry of Education a Board of Polish Education handled all affairs of Polish education. After the coup by Kārlis Ulmanis, all minority education boards were removed and replaced by the senior manager. The number of the Polish schools dropped to 16. Most Polish students went to study in Poland, because the entrance examinations in higher education facilities were taken in Latvian.

Poles had active community life. The national organizations like “Polish Union”, and many catholic charity organizations took care for less fortunate. Polish fraternities and academic organizations were active. On the Warsaw street at Daugavpils a “Polish House” was made for many Polish organizations. Polish youth took part in Scout units. Many famous Latvian sportsmen were Poles. Also there was many Polish academics and stage artists.

The Nazi and Soviet invasion of Poland was a deep blow for Latvian Poles. On September 17, when the Soviet Union invaded Poland the Latvian Polish Union made a declaration of unbroken ties with the whole Polish nation and promised to support Poland at all costs. Latvian government was unfriendly to Poland, by closing its embassy in Warsaw. No other Baltic State did that. 1500 soldiers of the Polish army entered Latvia together with 300-400 civil refugees. Polish national organizations did their best to help these people.

The interned Polish air force men in Latvia 1939

The interned Polish air force men in Latvia 1939

The Soviet Occupation of Latvia in 1940 was taken unfriendly by Poles. Soviet Union had helped to destroy the Polish state and was against any kinds of national activity. The Polish national organizations were closed. Many leading Polish persons were arrested and sent to Siberia. The Soviet secret police the NKVD discovered an underground Polish resistance group. Large numbers of Poles were sent to Siberia in June 14 1941.

After the Nazi invasion 38191 Poles were registered in Latvia by the Nazi authorities. This count was artificially downsized because many Poles, registered as Latvians, Belorussians and Ukrainians to escape the Nazi repressions. Some Poles openly resisted the Nazi occupation by joining the Soviet underground. The pro-soviet Polish Peoples Army (Armia Ludowa) was active in Latvia. Many Latvian Poles were mobilized in the Red Army. However, because of the Soviet terror some Poles welcomed the Nazi forces and took arms against the Soviets. At first German authorities refrained from mobilizing Poles in the Waffen SS Legion by sending them to work in Germany. However, many Poles were included in the German ranks because they were registered as Latvians or joined voluntarily. Latvian Poles also formed units loyal to the Polish Government in Exile. The “Armia Krajowa” had special intelligence units in Latvia. More than 150 Latvian Poles fought for the “Armia Krajowa”. Many of them were captured by the German secret police and executed.

After the second Soviet occupation of Latvia, Poles remained in strong numbers throughout the decades.  Poles formed 2,3% of the Latvian population at 1989. Some Poles arrived from Soviet annexed West Belorussia and West Ukraine. The Soviet Union rejected the Polish national education and forced Poles to go to Russian or Latvian schools. In result the major part of Poles became Russianized and forgot their native language. The same thing happened to the Jews, Belorussians and Ukrainians. Only 27% Latvian Poles knew Polish language.

Some Poles continued to resist the Soviet occupation and joined the partisan movement. Poles were the only national minority to do so. Together with Latvian partisans they unsuccessfully combated the NKVD. On March 25 1949 many Polish farmers were sent to Siberia.

The leader of the Polish National revival Ita Kozakevich

The leader of the Polish National revival Ita Kozakevich

Polish national activity was mainly suppressed by the Soviet regime. Polish intelligentsia made unofficial meetings and activities. The main point of unity was the Catholic church that made social services for Catholic Poles. At the beginning of the restoration of the independence Poles took an active role. First Polish national society “Promien” (Ray) was organized by Henrik Svirkovsky. In 1988 the Latvian Polish Cultural Society was founded by Ita Kozakevich in charge.  She however tragically died in Italy on 1990. She stays as legendary figure for Polish national struggle. Polish national Jānis Jurkāns became the first foreign minister in restored Latvia. Latvian Polish Society supported the Barricade movement. Many Poles took part in Latvian Peoples Front.

After the restoration of independence there was 38, 9 thousand Poles in Latvia. Latvian Polish Union is active and is lead by Rishard Stankevich. With difficulties Poles are trying to maintain their own national schools. Poland is giving them some support. Many Poles are taking part in politics and  culture. Ivars Bičkovičs is the chairman of the Latvian Supreme Court. Zbigņevs Stankevičs is the main archbishop of the Latvian Catholic church. Viktors Ščerbatihs was Olympic medalist in weightlifting. Many Latvians will find a Polish roots in their family trees. Latvia tries to make good relations with Poland. Poland exports many products to Latvia and Latvia in return. Polish and Latvian historians are seeking common understanding in WWII history since both countries had similar experience of Nazi and Soviet invasion. Last year the President of Poland Bronisław Komorowski visited the University of Latvia where the Riga Polytechnic school was located and opened the restored punishment chamber for unruly students. Since there were large numbers of Polish students, the infamous chamber had many writings in Polish. Together with the chamber a book about the Polish students in Czarist time Riga was opened.  Many famous Polish people including president Komorowski himself had ancestors studying in Riga. The connection between Poland and Latvia is many centuries old and unbroken.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks, (1996) Poļi Latvijā.  Rīga : Latvijas ZA Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts.

Dribins, Leo (Ed.) (2007) Mazākumtautības Latvijā : vēsture un tagadne. Rīga : Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts, 2007.

Janicki, Arkadiusz, Laszczkowski, Michal, Jēkabsons, Ēriks Polentechnikum. Inowroclaw : Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego.

Polacy na Łotwie : wybór dokumentów prawnych dotyczących mniejszości narodowych = Poļi Latvijā : tiesisko dokumentu izlase, kas skar nacionālās minoritātes. (2003) Warszawa : Stowarzyszenie “Wspólnota Polska”

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