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If War Comes Tomorrow 1938 Soviet Movie that predicted the World War II


On 1938 whole Europe was worried about possible second full scale war. Hitlers troops had already marched into Austria and later Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile in Soviet Union the saw again the possibility to trigger new Worldwide Socialist revolution. According to Stalin’s understanding there were two ways of how do it – first drag the capitalist countries against each other in a full scale war, but don’t take part in it until the most favorable moment.  Other way was to provoke the enemy to attack USSR and then defeat the enemy in their own territory. And that is how it was shown movie made in 1938 called If the War Comes Tomorrow (Если завтра война). The movie quickly became long forgotten after Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and later after the war. However, the movie has been fully preserved and available to us all in here

The movie was directed by Efim Dzigan. He made Stalinist style propaganda movies like We from Kronstatd (1936) and the First Cavalry (1941). However, If the War Comes tomorrow was his most famous work of propaganda art. One of the main features of this movie was the main theme song of the same name composed by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach. Later he wrote the legendary song “The Holy War”.

It the War comes tomorrow lacked same artistic and dramatic depth as Sergei Eisenstein movie “Alexander Nevsky” that also had very similar message- he who comes to Russia with spear dies from spear. Dzigan movie characters were shown as simple and brave soviet citizens fully loyal to the Soviet power and the leader Stalin. In fact the movie had no in depth characters in whole. Dramatic dialogs were only needed to illustrate the massive battle scenes that took great part in this movie.

The movie plot starts in the New Year anniversary in Moscow. Since the Christmas was officially removed from the holiday list, the New Yer celebrations became widely popular. A dialog between two retired males about their children in the Red Army is shown. One brags about his four sons who are in the Red Army tank force and forms a family tank crew, other talks about his daughter in the army, who is also a wife of the border guards commander. Occasionally the propaganda voice talks about the great Soviet achievements and  large tall structure that proves the Soviet greatness. It could be that this large structure was the intended Palace of Soviets a gigantic 415 m structure that would became the tallest building in the world. The construction was begun on 1937, but the war canceled this grandiose plans. Right now its foundations have been turned in to worlds largest swimming pool.  But, then the propaganda voice alarms everyone about the uneasy situation in the border areas caused by foreign powers and the growing fascist threat”.

Movie then switches to USSR border areas in the night before the dawn. A enemy troops speaking in German gathers up the forces for the attack. Their symbol is swastika however its displayed different than official Nazi Germany symbol. One of their officers have a mustache just like Adolf Hitler, although the toothbrush mustache was quite popular among many before the WWII the occasional movie viewer would understand what the movie is trying to show. However, the “Fascist’ soldiers whose country and nationality is not shown, but speaks in German looks more like WWI British or French soldiers. A another message – the Soviet enemy is not just “Fascists” but also capitalists. Enemy uses an outdated TS-18 (MC-1) tank that was also the very first Soviet built tank.

The "Fascist" invader symbol

The “Fascist” invader symbol

On 1938 the Soviet Union had no border with Germany or any other “Fascist” country. So according to this movie at least Poland was no longer existent in this war. For many Soviet citizens who were unaware of the European geography or political situation this might be a missed spot. But, from our perspective this detail is pretty important. The fate of Poland was long decided in the Kremlin.

Enemy soldier with peculiar mustache

Enemy soldier with peculiar mustache

The enemy is striving for a surprise attack however, Soviets aware of the alarming situation have sent reinforcements. And so the first attempt of the border crossing fails – the Fascist infantry lead by Hitler like captain is forced to retreat. The enemy attempt on crossing the border is shown in pretty vague WWI tactic style in heavy contrast to later massive Soviet attack shown in the movie. When the land attack fails, Fascists sends bombers to Minsk and Kiev. According to research made by historian Mark Solonin Stalin had planned to make fake bombing raids on his own cities, to justify his attack on Germany. To fight the enemy aircraft, Soviets sends their fighters. After the enemy bombers are destroyed, S0viet Pe-8 bombers takes flight to bomb the enemy airfields. Pe-8 was one of the heaviest long range bombers of those times. It could reach Berlin and even London. Interesting that the leading pilot of the bomber squad is called “Gromov” Interesting that the Soviet plan for aggression against Germany made in May 15 1941 is also called “Grom” (Thunder).  Actually this name went well with the people of those times, since the idea of fast and decisive strike was very popular both in Germany and USSR. The Soviet concept of the “deep operations” was published in book by N Shpanov “First Strike”.

Soviet bomber squad leader Gromov

Soviet bomber squad leader Gromov

Soviets issue a full mobilization. A grandiose parade is gathered in the Red Square. This parade actually took place on May 1 1938 with the presence of Stalin and the chief commander Voroshilov Millions are rushing to join the Red Army including 12 old boy and the old man seen in the movie opening. He wants to support his four sons who are already in the army. Many woman joins too. Then movie switches to Uzbekistan, Georgia, Ukraine and other Soviet republics that also joins the  fight. And then the most interesting thing happens: a large movie comment appears declaring that “From the Black Sea, to the Arctic  from the Baltics to the Pacific Ocean millions of sons joins the fight”. The Baltic States were still independent from USSR on 1938. So we suppose that the fate of the Baltic States was also decided in this movie.

From the Black Sea to

“From the Black Sea, to the Arctic  from the Baltics to the Pacific Ocean millions of sons joins the fight

Movie then goes back to battlefield showing grandiose scenes of the Fascist attack and the Soviet counter attack. The enemy uses a French Renault FT-1 tanks. They get easily beaten. In return Soviets sends a horde of the BT-7 tanks. BT-7 was one of the fastest tanks of those times. According to some authors, this tanks were only good for the Western roads and therefore were  only used for aggressive purposes.  After the German invasion on 1941 large part of these tanks were made useless, destroyed and abandoned. Here the tanks are shown in their best – in fast speed they escape the enemy cannon fire and break their lines. In one of those tanks all four brothers mentioned earlier attacks. Its quite true that until 1941 the German tanks were quite lighter than the Soviet tanks. After meeting heavier Soviet counterparts Germans switched to more heavier models.

Soviet main battle tank BT-7 attacks

Soviet main battle tank BT-7 attacks

The desperate enemy uses chemical weapons to stop the Soviets. Chemical weapons were never used by the Nazi Germany at least in the battlefields. This movie still was in the spirit of the WWI when chemical weapons were occasionally used. However, Soviets have gas masks and all the necessary equipment to survive a gas attack. Under the white smoke they gather up their attack fore.

Enemy gas attack

Enemy gas attack

Fascists sends reinforcements and that is where the Soviet paratroopers comes in. With the help of the Pe-8 bombers they land behind the enemy lines and ambushes the fascist reinforcements.   The enemy staff is alarmed that the paratroopers are near their positions. The Soviet paratroopers were not just an empty brag. Actually the Soviet Union had a force of 1 million of them. Since the paratroopers were almost impossible to use in the defensive actions it was obvious that their sole purpose was  to penetrate the enemy from behind. In the movie showed how it should be done.

Soviet paratroopers takes of from Pe-8 bomber

Soviet paratroopers takes of from Pe-8 bomber

Soviets accompanied by tanks, aircraft and even  cavalry starts a massive attack. Enemy is routing in panic. Cavalry lead by Marshal Budyonni chases them, Fascists sends they own cavalry resulting a bloody battle. Already after the Polish campaign it was clear that the cavalry is useless in this new kind of warfare.

Then something that the Soviets had long desired happens in the main Fascist capital. The “proletariat” the workers starts marching under the red banner. Police and army (interesting that soldiers shown there have a Nazi style helmets while soldiers shown in the front line have a British style helmets) fires at the crowd a desperate battle for red flag erupts. In the end the crowds march in the streets with the Soviet flag. That was according to long time Soviet belief made by Lenin, that the world war will cause a socialist uprising in the capitalist centers before the Soviet tanks reach them.

Proletarians takes over the streets

Proletarians takes over the streets

And the Soviet tanks are marching in masses accompanied by grandiose hordes of bombers. Captured Fascist generals are watching this with the fear and disbelief. In the end the massive hordes of the Red Army is shown. The slogan reads “The First attack of the enemy has been beaten. In such way the war might start that would lead to the destruction of the capitalist world” And the song plays warning that there is no such force to destroy the Soviet Union.

The movie failed to prove its point. Despite the enormous resources gathered by the Red Army, on 1941 Germans managed to advance all the way to Moscow. Red Army needed not two days to beat of the enemy aggression, but four years. But in therms of destruction of Poland and the Baltic States the movie was right. Poland and the Baltic states were in between Germany and USSR. Only way to attack Soviet Union or Soviet Union to attack Germany was to remove these buffer states. And that was done by signing the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact on August 23 1939. But, the main movie slogan the destruction of the capitalist order left unfulfilled.


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Latvian Soldiers in the Red Army 1941-1945

Latvian Red Army soldiers in the Battle of Moscow 1941

Latvian Red Army soldiers in the Battle of Moscow 1941

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selected Sources:

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

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

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Latvian Resistance Against the Nazi Occupation

The Leader of the Latvian National resistance Konstantīns Čakste

The Leader of the Latvian National resistance Konstantīns Čakste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Kurelis

General Kurelis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The leader of the Soviet Red Partisans Otomārs Oškalns

The leader of the Soviet Red Partisans Otomārs Oškalns

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

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

Selected Sources:

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

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

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

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

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Nazi Germany Invasion in Latvia 1941

The Soviet fast moving tanks BT-7 abandoned in the streets of Riga

The Soviet fast moving tanks BT-7 abandoned in the streets of Riga

On June 22 the long tensions between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union finally turned into full scale war. Modern research shows that the both countries were planning to attack each other at the same time. In fact the aggressive stance of the Red Army was the cause of the enormous defeats on Sumner of 1941. Gathered across the Western border in large numbers and not prepared for defense and was caught by surprise. Recent studies show that in the first weeks of the war the Red Army was not simply retreating, but running away and deserting in panic. Tanks and airplanes were abandoned and the Germans captured many thousands of POW’s. The most serious cases of resistance were when Red Arny soldiers were simply surrounded and unable to escape. This was the case of the Fortress of Brestlitovsk and the city of Liepāja. This article is about the first war battles in the Soviet occupied Latvia.

The soviets had gathered enormous forces in the Baltic states or the Special Baltic war region lead by colonel-general Kuznetsov. 24 divisions with 375 863 men, 1514 tanks and 1814 airplanes. In Lithuania the 7 Army by Colonel General Sobennikov, the 24 Territorial corpus made out of the surviving ranks of the Latvian Army was under command of the 27 Army of Major General Berzarin. Also 11 army lead by lieutenant general Morozov. Also 16 ad 67 Rifleman division. German military intelligence was well informed about the Soviet military situation and that was the reason for their quick success in the Baltic front.

The German attack force was gathered in the army group “Nord”. Its main task was not the capture of Riga, but advance quickly trough the Baltic States to Leningrad. So Daugavpils was more important. The main attack force was the 4 tank group. The leading commander was marshal Leeb, the 4 tank group was lead by colonel general Hepner, and 56 tank group was under the command of colonel general Manstein.

On 4:00 in a morning German aviation made air raids against the main airfields, war ports and railways. There was an occurrence when airfield received warning about the air attack and the joyful Soviet pilots rushed to their planes shouting “It’s time to bomb Germany!”.  After the second air strike and artillery cannonade German infantry moved on the way of Kreitinga-Palanga-Rucava -Liepaja. German army did not bother to meet the Soviets in frontal battles, but tried outmaneuver them and encircle them. That proved successful as the Germans already in June 22 reached Palanga and Rucava. On the next day Germans were around Liepaja and Ventspils. The Red Army was unable adequately react as their airfields were too close to the border and tanks too heavy to move quickly. Even the state of the art fast moving BT-7 tanks suddenly were unable to move on the rotten Soviet roads.

German invasion on 22. June 1941.

German invasion on  June 22 1941.

As the Germans invaded in Lithuania and Latvia a sharp rise of the partisan activity occurred.  However, these people attacked Soviets not Germans. Motivated by the will to avenge the Soviet terror and reclaim independence the Red Army faced even harder times. Important factor in this was the mass deportations in  June 14 that made many to take their arms and chase away the Soviets. After one year of terror the Nazi’s seemed as the lesser evil.

On June 24 Germans reached Liepaja and moved to Daugavpils. The Red Army forces defeated in Lithuania were retreating. One of the first heavy tank battles took place near Šiaulai, where medium level German tank 41 tank corps destroyed 2 Soviet tank division featuring the most modern Soviet tanks. At the start of the war the Soviet tanks were actually heavier and stronger than the German tanks. However, the discipline and maneuverability of these tank corps were quite low. On June 25 Soviets were routed in panic as the Germans entered Ilūkste next to Daugavpils.

The Daugavpils had supreme tactical importance as the main direction of the attack was Pskov and Leningrad. 56 tank corps lead by General Manstein was tasked to capture the bridge over the Daugavpils unharmed. The special task force “Brandenburg” with four captured Soviet trucks and soldiers in the Soviet uniforms headed to the bridge.  The bridge was full of moving Soviet transport. After they attempted to check the fourth truck the fire was opened. After bloody 2o min fire exchange the bridge was captured. The path to Leningrad was clear. Out of 50 Brandenburg group men only 15 survived. General Manstein went over bridge himself and greeted them. A similar attempt was made on the bridge of Jekabpils, however it failed and the bridge was blown in half.

Between June 23-29 June the Battle for Liepaja took place. Despite the usual Soviet stories about the heroic defense of the city in reality the Soviets were desperate to break out of the city. Similar story took place in the famous fortress of Brestlitovsk. Because of the specific planing of the fortress the soldiers could not escape the German encirclement and was forced to fight until the end. Liepaja was the home base for the Red Baltic Fleet. Liepaja was bombed on the first hours of the war. The military command had no plans how to defend the city and the war port. Soon the whole city was under the German siege. The Soviet Soldiers were trying to get rid of their uniforms and leave the city. However, the national partisans were hunting them too. Those who really resisted were the young cadets of the Infantry war school. As all the attempts of breaking out and counter attacks were thwarted the  defense force was broken. In the rush Soviets sunk all the ships and submarines. On the 29 June after chaotic street fights Liepaja was captured.

On June 29 Germans captured Jelgava, before that Saldus and Tukums. Soviet heavy divisions were running trough Riga abandoning their tanks. The only ones who tried to defend Riga was the 5 NKVD regiment. German tanks in many cases draw away 300 km from the infantry units. While German commanders were worried about this, the gap between tanks and infantry was controlled by partisans. The Germans had already made contacts with the most partisan units and gave them orders. Nazi planners had actually included a handful bunch of the Latvian commandos made of the exiles, but they were surprised about the local support. From June 22 to July 1 Soviets had lost 57 207 men, 1087 men were captured. 631 tanks, 40 airplanes and 3 armored trains were captured. On Daugavpils airfield Soviets simply left 30 warplanes to Germans. Soviets were more concerned about saving their skins than tanks, planes and cannons.

The 24 Territorial corpus was formed from the remains of the Latvian Army before 1940. The elite officers were already deported or shot. However, the simple soldiers were unwilling to fight and deserted. The Soviet Command in fear of uprising rushed to get them out of Latvia. The 181 division was moved from Litene to Russia where it faced battles and destruction. 183 division moved from Riga and made it to defense lines near Strugi Krasnije and Pavi. The 24 Territorial corpus at  the end was destroyed and disbanded. Later a new national Latvian unit was formed in the Red Army.

On June 29 Germans had captured the main points at the river Daugava. Only Riga was still under the Soviet control. On June 30 Germans advanced to Madona and Gulbene draw back the Red Army group at Rezekne, and bypass Riga from the north and Rezekne from the west. The Germans reached Madona. Soviets left Rezekne, the 28 motorized corps lost nearly all of their tanks in the vain attempt of defense.

Riga on fire 30 June 1941.  The Nazi propaganda blamed Jews and Bolsheviks for the destruction of the St Peters church while actually it was German cannon fire

Riga on fire 30 June 1941.
The Nazi propaganda blamed Jews and Bolsheviks for the destruction of the St Peters church while actually it was German cannon fire

On June 29 Germans entered the Pārdaugava the Riga neighborhood over the west bank of the River Daugava. Germans were intending to assault the bridges of Riga. They were defended by the two workers guard battalions and NKVD guards. Also two armored trains and artillery. 3 German mobile assault cannons managed to cross the river, but the special unit was unable to stop the Soviets from destroying the bridges. Bridges were blown up. Those who managed to cross the river were now involved in heavy firefight. Only few managed to cross the river back to safety. Battles emerged around Pārdaugava as more Germans arrived. The Germans then built a pontoon bridge at Katlakalns and crossed the river. On the night of July 1 the Soviets completely abandoned Riga. The Riga historical center was damaged by the artillery fire. The House of Blackheads, The  Riga Town House and the tower of the Church of the St Peter was in ruins. The whole city was filled with armed national partisans attacking the Soviets and NKVD agents.

The Soviet occupation of the 1940-1941 was the Great Shock for the Latvian nation. Latvians were ready to greet the Germans as liberators. The 700 year old hate was suddenly forgotten. People were gathering in the streets and greeted the German soldiers. Latvian national flags were waved and the anthem of Latvia was sung. Many believed that Germans will restore Latvian independence. Germans used this and posed as liberators, the propaganda on the radio and the press issued that Riga is finally free from the Bolshevism. Pretty soon Germans found the main scapegoats of the 1940 occupation – the Jews. At same time the Germans had no intentions of restoring independent Latvia. The Latvian flags were removed the anthem was forbidden. The conquered territories of Lithuania and Latvia were later included in the new Ostland province. Local self-government of collaborators was made, but it was a merely a puppet government unable to act independently. The national partisans were gathered in self-defense units and were used in the Holocaust and anti-Soviet activities.

Nazi Propaganda showing Germans as the liberators of Riga

Nazi Propaganda showing Germans as the liberators of Riga

After Riga was captured the Soviet army was all about retreating to Tallinn and Pskov. Many cities were taken by the national partisans before the Germans reached them. The Red Army was in disorder and run as fast they could. Soviets were running 50 km in a day and 10 hours in a single day. About 10 000 men were shot for retreating. All Soviet government officials left in a panic. Those  who did not make it were taken by the national partisans and shot. The Latvian Soviet government had already abandoned Riga on June 29. The dramatic breakup of the Red Army can be explained by the bad military training, lack of discipline and morale. The Red Army officers were incompetent and simple soviet soldiers were unwilling to fight.  However, Stalin was actually hoping to use this army to conquer the Western Europe.

After  5 July nearly all territory of Latvia was captured. On July 10 Germans captured Tallinn. Actions against the Jews that already begun in the first days of war is a different story.

Selected Sources:

Strods, Heinrihs. (2002) Sarkanarmijas haotiskā atkāpšanās no Latvijas (1941. gada 22. jūnijs- 5. jūlijs) In: Latvijas Okupācijas Muzeja Gada Grāmata. 2001. Nācija gūstā. Riga: Latvijas 50 gadu okupācijas muzeja fonds.

Pētersons, Aivars. (2007)  Krustugunīs : latviešu karotmāka, 1940-1945 : 60 gadus no tautas slēptais. Riga : Author publication.

Lācis, Visvaldis. (1995) Otrais Pasaules karš 3 daļa. Rīga. Preses Nams.

Солонин, (2009)  23 июня «день М». – Москва,

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Latvian Foreign Policy 1921-1940

The Main Building of the Latvian Foreign Ministry

The Main Building of the Latvian Foreign Ministry

After Latvia was internationally recognized by all major powers in 1921, it was ready for its own part in the world diplomatic arena. The diplomacy in the twenties and thirties was complicated and double sided. There were hopes and talks about regional unity, international assistance in case of invasion and even calls for disarmament. However, the old imperial interests, national ethnic issues and revisionism by some countries made this impossible. Latvia as a small country had to find a way to keep their sovereignty  in these uncertain times.

Latvia was in full of support of the so called Versailles system, a system based on Paris peace conference. The Versailles system allowed Baltic States to be independent and added new countries in the Eastern Europe. However, this was done at the expense of collapsed empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russian Empire. The heirs of these empires the Veinmar republic, Hungary and the Soviet Union were looking for revision and revenge. That was one of the main reasons of the failure of the Versailles system.

The first conception of the Latvian foreign policy was designed by Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics. He was the first Foreign minister and desired to ensure mutual solidarity between the Baltic States to keep the Soviet Russia off. The potential allies were seen as the Great Britain and France. Also for the sake of the stability good relations needed to make with Germany and the Soviet Russia – the ex enemies. The first period of the foreign policy was the “vertical line” that was based on forming the Baltic Union. After 1925 the line went horizontal and was based on making common ground with the Soviet Union and Germany.  The main concern for the Latvian diplomats was to find ways for solid external security.

Latvian attempts at forming the Baltic Union was rather unsuccessful. The mutual defense fact between Latvia and Estonia signed on November 1 1923 was the only real achievement. The main reason for the failure of the Baltic Union talks was the conflict with Lithuania and Poland. In 1920 Poland had captured the city of Vilnius, that Lithuanians regarded as their historic capital. Lithuania was unable to get it back and the Vilnius region became the official part of Poland. The tensions between the two states continued throughout the two decades. Poland was against the small Baltic Union and Lithuania was against the big Baltic Union together with Poland.

Germany and the Soviet Union were also against the Baltic Union and did everything to prevent it. Soviet Union regularly boosted the Vilnious question to prevent forming the union with Poland in the lead. Soviets signed separate pacts between all three Baltic countries to weaken their position. Lithuania was also playing a highly dangerous game by regarding the Germany and the Soviet Union as their allies since they both were against Poland. So they had to balance between them both.

Germany prevented the Baltic states from initiating the Eastern Lockarno Pact. The Lockarno conference made the Western German borders inviolable making illegitimate to change them. Poland and The Baltic states wanted to the same with the Eastern German borders. The plan however failed making it possible for the Germans to manipulate with the Polish and Lithuanian borders in the future.

The League of Nations proved to be ineffective from the very start. Latvian delegation actively pushed to add more changes that would empower the national sovereignty. The Geneva Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes was intended to find solutions for international conflicts in a peaceful way. The rights of the invaded nation and the aggressor was set out in this paper. However,  it failed to reach majority support. The protocol of 1928 that issued the forming of the international jury  for solving diplomatic conflicts was only supported by 23 countries.

The disarmament conferences failed due to the lack of support from the US and USSR. The pact of Paris in 1928 called to cancel war as a diplomatic solution. But, since of the lack of the aggressor definition and no institutions that should monitor the fulfillment of the pact it was again very useless. Moscow made Baltic States and Poland and Romania to sign a protocol that would ensure that the Pact of Paris comes to an effect with the Soviet Union before it comes in full international effect. Soviet Union tried to play the role of peacemaker by signing non-aggression pact with each Baltic State in 1932. However, on 1940 Soviet Union without hesitation broke every agreement they signed.

All the international treaties that Latvia signed guaranteed its full sovereignty only in paper. In reality Latvia was in constant danger. While Latvia was placing too much hope on Great Britain and France, their interest in defending the Latvian sovereignty was not so high. For some time the stabilizing factor was the German trade interests with Latvia and bad relations with Poland that kept the Moscow further.

On September 12 1934 all three Baltic States with new authoritarian regimes in each (Lithuania abolished democracy in 1926, Latvia and Estonia in 1934) finally signed the Baltic Union Pact. All three states agreed to make tighter diplomatic contacts and form meetings. The Vilnious question was treated as specific problem only for Lithuania.

On July 1934 France and the Soviet Union both proposed an Eastern Pact. The pact included guarantees for USSR, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Finland and the Baltic States. France should guarantee the Eastern Pact, but Soviet Union the Lockarno pact. Estonia and Latvia both supported the pact. However, the pact never came to reality.

The international situation in mid-thirties changed. The new German Nazi leadership signed non-aggression pact with Poland, the Soviet Union was enforcing heavy militarization while calling for more peace conferences. Latvia was forced to use neutrality politics and try to find common peaceful grounds with Germany and Soviet Union. Such policy was unstable and regularly shifting. From 1935 to 1938 Latvia was more pro-soviet, but after the Munchen conference Latvia was pro-German.

Latvian Foreign Minister Vilhelms Munters was elected as an impermanent member of the council of the League of Nations.  It was an honor, however the League of Nation was heading for a breakdown.  Failures to stop Italian and Japanese aggressions. In 1938 Latvia made a mistake by stepping away from the principles of the collective security of the League of Nations. By not recognizing the 16th point that was the only guarantee for Latvia in case of invasion. This foul step was dictated by the growing pressure of the Soviet Union. Latvian neutrality was a delusion because Latvia could not make anyone to accept it.

All major countries in 1938-1939 head for the abolition of the world peace. Great Britain and France payed a heavy price for WWI and feared that a new one will destroy its imperial status. However, the British-French methods of appeasement only boosted the German ambitions. The nazi aggressive foreign policy could have been effectively stopped already in 1936 when Germany was still very weak. Allowing the occupation of the Rheinland on 1936, and silently watching the Austrian Anschluss was a prime mistake. Hitler was now sure that the French and British will fulfill his every wish in order to keep peace. After Munich conference and the annexation of Memel from Lithuania his ambitions went further to Poland. Meanwhile Soviet Union was watching this with joy. All the proposed peace conferences have been just the guise to keep the Eastern Europe apart. In reality Soviet Union was waiting for the new world war that in their minds would initiate the worldwide socialist revolution. When Germany came in conflict with the Poland and UK and France was looking for the Soviet support, Soviets instead pushed for agreement with Germany. And that would cause war.

Latvia had signed a non-aggression pacts with Germany and the Soviet Union. When allies tried to make talks with the Soviets, Latvia was strictly against the allied- soviet agreement. Moscow proposed that the invaded nation may be directly supported even without its permission. Soviets even designed so called event of indirect  invasion that would also need the Soviet support. Understandably this would mean that the Soviet Union may occupy Latvia for every small reason.

Since Stalin from the very start had wished to sign an agreement with the Nazi Germany, the talks with the allies were just a cover up and tool to blackmail Germans. The Molotov-Ribentrop pact signed on 23 August 1939 effectively canceled the Latvian sovereignty. Ribbentrop had a disagreement with Stalin about Latvia. Germans wished to divide Latvia and add Courland to German sphere of interest. Stalin with anger replayed until the Germans withdraw this demand no further talks can continue. Ribbentrop phoned Hitler and he agreed to give whole Latvia to Stalin.

After the WWII broke out, Latvia was in a grave situation. UK and France were far away, Poland was invaded from both sides. As the Soviet Union was gathering enormous forces at the border Latvia had to submit to the Soviet demands. On 10 October 1939 Latvia signed mutual assistance pact  with the Soviet Union, together with Lithuania and Estonia. Latvia allowed to host the Soviet garrisons and gave part of their sovereignty away. Latvia was aware of the secret protocols but hoped that the Soviets would keep them as a satellite state with some freedom. Finland who rejected the Soviet demands was invaded. Interestingly enough even Germans also thought that the Baltic states will not be annexed, just kept as Soviet satellites.

On June 1940 one by one the Baltic states were occupied. The hopeless situation with Soviet troops already inside the Baltic governments was forced to surrender. Twenty years work of keeping the national sovereignty failed.  The imperialistic interests prevailed over ideas of peace and international rights. This is the lesson that the Latvian modern diplomats must learn: never get in isolation, never rely only on treaties and sound promises. And report to the whole world if the country ever falls into danger.

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Nazi Radio Propaganda in Latvia 1941-1945


Latvian made radio receiver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selected Sources:

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

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The Evolution of the Soviet Victory Day Celebration. The Cult of the Great Victory


All Soviet and Russian Federation Medals for anniversary of the Great Victory from 1965 to 2010

Tomorrow on the streets of Moscow and other capital cities of the former Soviet Union a large military parade will be held commemorating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in May 9 1945. In Riga, Latvia there are no military parades just a large celebration at the Monument of Victory. Latvian Russian political movements have used this date for their political goals. For last four years the Riga city council has been led by the Russian party Harmony Center that has done a great deal of politicizing this celebration. There are similarities with the March 16 commemoration day of the Latvian SS Legion. While March 16 is  the main mythical date for Latvian nationalists and May 9 is an important date for all who still live with the soviet conciseness. The May 9 Soviet Victory day is artificially made celebration based on Soviet propaganda that made the cult of the Great Victory. Yet in first years after the war nor the soviet people nor the Stalin himself really believed that the victory over Nazi Germany needs to be celebrated.

Despite the fact that Soviet General  Ivan Susloparov had actually signed the capitulation agreement on May 7 at Reims, France that came to power in May 8, Stalin was dissatisfied with this and demanded to make another act of capitulation in Berlin. Because of these Soviets regarded the May 9 as the official end of the World War II.

The soviet Union explained the victory as the superiority of the communist system and the political and the moral unity of the Soviet people with Stalin in the lead. As the radio announced the victory the streets of Moscow rejoiced in celebration. With singing and fireworks from 1000 cannons the May 9 was celebrated with great joy. But, for many is was just sign of relief that the war killed over that more than 26 million Soviet people. In Germany and Poland the repressions and massacre against the German civilians continued for many months. In Latvia the Courland was still under the German control and last shots were fired there.

The Victory parade in Moscow took place on June 24 1945. It was intended that Stalin himself would enter the Red Square on horseback. However, during the practice Stalin fell off the horse and decided to hand him over to Marshal Zhukov. So it was Zhukov who entered the parade. For years this fact has circulated among the historiography and was mentioned even by prominent western historians. While there is a high possibility that Stalin never even took part in the practice as the whole story was made up. For the Cavalry Colonel S. N. Maslov who allegedly choose the horse for Stalin was sentenced in War Tribunal at Germany for 10 years. So he could not choose the horse for Stalin. More significantly this presumably false story was included in Zhukov memoirs. Zhukov memoirs have many false stories many of them not written by himself. So in reality Stalin simply did not want to participate in the parade because he did not consider the outcome of the World War II as truly victorious.

When one American diplomat told Stalin about how grateful for him must be to know that Soviet troops are marching in Berlin, Stalin replied:” Tsar Alexander reached Paris.” There is also another similar quote from Stalin: “This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach. It cannot be otherwise. If now there is not a communist government in Paris, this is only because Russia has no an army which can reach Paris in 1945.” This is a well known phrase, but most people only pay attention to the first part of the quote about how far the army goes is how far the soviet power goes. It’s true that communist governments were established in every country that was reached by the Soviet army. But, it seems even the whole Eastern Europe was not enough for him as he wanted to establish a communist government in Paris. The main goal for Stalin and the whole Soviet Union before the WWII was the Worldwide Socialist Revolution. Stalin saw WWII as the clash between Nazis and Capitalist forces, where the Soviet Union at the most advantageous moment could make the most decisive strike. As we know that his plan backfired when Germany attacked the Soviet Union first. Berlin was not enough for Stalin, he wanted Paris and maybe even London or Washington. That is why he did not take any direct part in the parade. Even if there was any incident with the horse it was used as a good excuse not to take part in the parade that was shameful for him.

It was also June 24 when Stalin significantly changed the main accents in the Soviet ideology. In the victory ball Stalin made a toast for the well being of the Russian nation, since it was the greatest of the Soviet nations and deserves the main recognition for her bravery in the war. Ethnic Georgian Stalin unleashed the Russian nationalism at the full scale. All talks of internationalism were forgotten, Russian nation now declared as the main nation in the USSR. On 1943 the old Soviet anthem Internationale was replaced with more patriotic and nationalistic anthem praising the Russian nation. Stalin had acknowledged that his quest for international Soviet republic had failed so he instead restored the traditions of the old Russian Empire.

On June 23 1945 a decree was issued to demobilize older soldiers. Complete demobilization was finished in 1948. About 8,5  million soldiers with them 3,8 invalids went back home. 2, 6 million of invalids were completely unable to regain health and find a new job. 2 million Soviet prisoners of war went home as traitors and cowards. 67% of them had to go through filtration camps for the Soviet power was suspicious if they collaborated with the Germans.

During the last years of Stalin’s rule until 1953, no major celebrations for the Victory day ever took place. Despite the official ideology praised the veterans, they got little attention from the state.  Stalin was afraid from the military elite and in coming years discharged most war generals like Zhukov from top posts. The social payments  for veterans and money for receiving awards were reduced.  No celebrations or holidays took place on May 9.

After the death of Stalin in 1953, his successor Nikita Khrushchev seek to remove Stalin from the soviet historical memory. The campaign to disclose the Stalinist cult was underway and Soviet propaganda now accused Stalin of great losses of 1941 and too much trust on Hitler. However, the main myth of the peaceful policy of the Soviet Union before the WWII remained intact and was improved. Also Nikita Khrushchev had not abandoned the idea of the worldwide socialist revolution. He wanted to achieve with the economical and technical supremacy of the Soviet Union. His plans of outmatching the United States generally failed in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. However, for many years his propaganda of the great future reached by space race and technology shadowed the WWII memories.

On 1965 Khrushchev was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev. Brezhnev understood that reaching the worldwide Soviet supremacy was impossible; instead his policy was to keep the Soviet system stable for many years to come. In such situation a new festivity that would keep the peoples minds busy was needed. So in 26 April 1965 the May 9 was made as an official holiday. Before that official holidays were May 1 and November 7 the October Revolution day. Many books were published, awards and special coins were made, and special monuments were made. The cities that suffered heavy battles were named as the “Hero towns”.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev introduced the Soviet Victory day celebrations

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev introduced the Soviet Victory day celebrations

Leonid Brezhnev formed his own ideology of the Great Victory. The victory was international and the role of the Soviet Army was crucial in the WWII. The victory meant the Soviet supremacy over Nazi and the capitalist system. Also Brezhnev now called all major nations of the USSR including Latvians as the “infinite heroes”.  Also one of the main points was the commemoration and the worship of the war veterans and the war generation. For the cause for what they fought was infinite.

On May 9 1965 an epic, never before seen parade took part in Moscow. After celebrating 20 years of victory such parades were taken every year. The Victory Day became the main argument of legitimacy for the Soviet regime. The Great victory was the main reason for the revolution and the building of communism. The Brezhnev view of history was close to the Stalinist version of history. War films were made in masses. The main basis of WWII history was no longer the war but the victory. The dark side of the war: the great losses of the 1941-1942, GULAG, Stalin’s aggression’s before 1941, punishment battalions, the Vlasov Army and the Soviet War crimes was diminished by the myth of the Great Victory. This myth halted the Khrushchev policies for anti-Stalinist, and slowed down calls for democracy. With that the Stalinist terror was also partly justified. There was also another prosaic explanation for this new policy. Brezhnev really liked orders and medals and like to receive them and award others. So such festivity was needed for mass awarding of medals and orders. Brezhnev even got himself awarded with the highest award the Order of Victory that he did not deserve in any way.

The monument of Mother Russia in Volgograd (Stalingrad) one of the distinctive sites of the Victory cult

The monument of Mother Russia in Volgograd (Stalingrad) one of the distinctive sites of the Victory cult

Since then the Victory day celebrations have been routine for the Soviet people. Forgotten veterans now enjoyed social privileges. Veterans and war invalids became a special social group. As the years vent the privileges expanded marking the feeling of social injustice among many. This also made many to became a fake veteran. This people made up their birth dates and biography to get the medals and social status.

In 1985 the Victory Day was still celebrated as usual. In 1990 the common policy was more revisionist, mentioning Stalinist crimes, Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. In a social survey in Leningrad 60,8 % people agreed that the Soviet Union had begun a bloody war of conquer. Only 20% disagreed. The myth had collapsed as the Soviet power was now held responsible for the great war losses.

After the complete collapse of the USSR the revision of WWII history continued. However, many still believed that the common people during the Stalin’s era where good and honored and got nothing to with Stalinist crimes. Russian democratic regime canceled the official commemoration of the Soviet past. However, the social difficulties in  Russia the failure of the transformation to capitalist system made communist slogans to reborn again. People again looked for an iron hand to fix their problems and Stalin again was praised in many surveys. The Boris Yeltsin government failed to introduce the Russian society with ideas of national unity and the “Russian Idea”. The problem with the Great Victory was that the Stalinist crimes did not allow to use it in democratic propaganda.

The war veterans united in unions and committees.  In 1995 there were 2,4 million surviving war veterans. Yeltsin celebrated the 50 years of victory in 1995 to boost his re-election campaign. Also because of the war in Chechnya the boost for army was needed. The parade in the Red Square was restored. A Medal of Zhukov was introduced. Yeltsin had given up his desires for democracy and again introduced May 9 as the tool to unify the nation. And it worked because of large mass appraisal. The editor of the newspaper Nezavisimaja Gazeta Vitaly Tretyakov called the May 9 as the “unofficial commemoration day of the Soviet Union”.

The traumatic decade of the nighties made many think that the Soviet Union was not so bad, that the greedy statesman was the blame for its collapse. The memories for “good and stable” Brezhnev years again made the Victory day cult rise again. The new president Vladimir Putin sought to restore the good image of Stalin and KGB. And since the Putins reign just as the Brezhnev reign begun with high rise of oil prices that returned stability, the old ways were good again. Also the attitude towards the war in Chechnya also changed from negative to positive.

A new attribute to the May 9 Victory cult was the “George Ribbon”. Taken from the Czarist time ribbon of the Order of St Georgy, the black and orange ribbon became the symbol of the national solidarity. In Czarist times the use of the colors of the St George was only for nobles and awarded officers. The simple mass use of these colors is a degradation of old tradition. On 2005 the celebrations in Moscow hit new heights with massive parades and use of aircraft and rockets. Since the war veterans are slowly depleting in numbers, many think that the Victory day is a day of nostalgic solidarity and commemoration of the great soviet past. As the years pass by the understanding of the WWII events have significantly changed. The young generation is sometimes more fanatical than the old veterans who really faced the war. The biased image of the WWII made by movies, TV documentaries and computer games are causing for young generation to misinterpret the history. The neo-soviet propaganda in Russia is growing. As the Putin’s regime is facing difficulties the pattern of Stalinist revision is making its way. Even if there are great numbers of liberal and educated young Russians, large numbers of Russian youth still worships the victory cult. Even worse a relative number of people who rejects both no-sovietism and liberalism turns to radical nationalism or even Nazism.

Putinist Era propaganda poster for Victory day "I remember I take pride"

Putinist Era propaganda poster for Victory day “I remember I take pride”

In Latvia the May 9, has evolved as the day of protest and day of nostalgia. For some its the way of remembering the Soviet past, for others its a sign of protest against the Latvian democratic system. The Harmony center has failed to enter the government by its own fault for years and uses the Victory day to lure the voters. The movement to remove the Liberation monument where the celebration is held has been active for years. Calls for not using the WWII as a political tool and commemorate the victims on all sides on May 8 has been met with little support.

In the conclusion it must be said that the Soviet Victory day on May 9, was made as the tool of mass control. The struggling Soviet regime was searching for common sign of the Soviet collective identity and found it in the May 9. The main leader of the WW2 Soviet victory Stalin himself did not even want to celebrate his own victory. The cult of the Great Victory was made by people who had small or no experience in war and was made as the only uniting thing for the whole nation. Today as the Russian Federation is struggling to let go of the Soviet past and it has no uniting factor of its own; the Victory day continues to be the main event. It’s a matter of the new generation to finally let go the Stalinist grip and move into the new era.

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