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Latvia under Soviet and Nazi occupations
Article added on July 4, 2005
  
The Symposium of the Commission of the Historians of Latvia has recently published its 14th volume: The Hidden and Forbidden History of Latvia under Nazi and Soviet Occupations 1940-1991. This first English publication of the series "constitutes an attempt to summarize and illustrate the Commission's findings to date". The aim of the research done by historians residing in Latvia, the United States, Sweden and Germany is to offer a balanced account of the history of Latvia of the periods of Soviet and Nazi occupations, especially regarding the crimes against humanity.

The Latvian president Vike-Freiberga notes in her foreword of the publication: "Gradually, myths and misconceptions promulgated by the propaganda publications issued during the Nazi Germany and Soviet Russian occupations are giving way to documented facts and verified figures."

The book's editors Erwin Oberländer and Valters Nollendorfs, whom I met in the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia in Riga, write in the introduction that the Communist and Nazi occupants "twisted and distorted" Latvian history to their ends. "It was forbidden - and dangerous - to carry out research that would contradict the officially established historical point of view."

The Baltic republics gained independence after the First World War. Latvia declared its independence on November 18, 1918. The Red Army immediately tried to take over the country, but with the help of German troops and the support of Western Allies, Latvia managed to remain independent. Soviet Russia (the predecessor of the Soviet Union) and Latvia signed a Peace Treaty on August 11, 1920 in which the communists recognized Latvia's independence.

The tiny Baltic states had the misfortune to be located between the totalitarian regimes of the Soviets and the Nazis. In August and September 1939, Hitler and Stalin had their countries sign treaties and secret agreements; by this time, the Baltic states were no longer republics, but had authoritarian regimes.

Hitler, in order to execute his plans of aggression, had to pay a price. In secret agreements he "gave" Stalin not only a part of Poland, but also a free hand in Bessarabia, Bukovina, Finland and the three Baltic states.

On June 15, 1940 Soviet NKVD troops attacked three border posts in Eastern Latvia. The following day, the USSR gave the Latvian government an ultimatum to be answered within six hours. Based on unfounded accusations, the Soviets demanded that Latvia immediately form a new government and allow an unlimited number of Soviet troops enter the country. Latvia could not resist the aggression and conceded. The Red Army occupied Latvia on June 17, 1940. On August 5, the Supreme Council of the USSR admitted Latvia as the 15th Republic of the Soviet Union (Lithuania had joined the SU on August 3, Estonia followed on August 6). Nevertheless, although it had lost its sovereignty de facto, Latvia continued to exist de jure, in international law, since many nations including the United States and Switzerland never acknowledged its annexation.

This was only the first occupation of Latvia, two others followed: Hitler soon violated his secret pact with Stalin. In June and July 1941, Nazi Germany invaded Latvia. This occupation was ended by Soviet troops from July 1944 to May 8, 1945 when battles ended on the last day of the war in Europe. However, Latvia was not freed, but remained under Soviet occupation until 1991. That is why President Vike-Freiberga and most Latvians cannot celebrate the end of the Second World War as a day of liberation, as wished by Russian President Putin.

The Hidden and Forbidden History of Latvia under Nazi and Soviet Occupations 1940-1991 tries to counterbalance "Western misconceptions and official Russian positions that are still based on Soviet ideological myths, as well as to reveal the extent of crimes against humanity perpetrated under both occupation regimes."

Therefore, the book's main topics focus on the illegality of the Soviet occupation and its relation to the 1939 Nazi-Soviet agreements, the Holocaust in occupied Latvia and the role of the local populations in it, the participation of Latvians in German repressive and military forces, the question of genocide, especially mass deportations by the Soviets, the resistance to and the collaboration with both occupation regimes, the sovietization, Russification and colonization of the Baltic, the manipulation and falsification of historical fat to ideological end by the Soviets and the Nazis.

The book offers new insights, clarifications and a lot of previously unknown details. Here a few notable aspects: There was no Holocaust without German participation, but on the contrary, the Holocaust was carried out under the command of the Nazis, who initiated and administered it. 65-70,000 Latvian Jews were killed out of a pre-war population of some 92,000. Most of them were killed as early as in 1941.

Though the Nazis represented the lesser evil for many Latvians, "the ultimate hope of much of the population for restoring independence lay with the Western Allies and their principles proclaimed in the Atlantic Charter and the United Nations Declaration."

A major partisan war erupted after 1945, which remained strong until 1949, when about 43,000 people or 2.4% of the total population, mainly farmers and ethnic Latvians, were deported to Siberia to be resettled for life. Resistance continued until the mid-1950s.

After the Second World War, Latvia's pre-war Russian minority grew from 10% of the population to 34%, building a majority in the major Latvian cities. Until today, Russian's in Riga count for about 50% of the population. From 1939 to 1989, the percentage of ethnic Latvians decreased from 75% to 52%.

After the guerilla warfare and the following years of inner resistance as well as dissidence, informal folk and rock groups emerged in the late 1970s. In the mid-1980s, when Soviet President Gorbachev's glasnost policy relaxed the regime's control, the "singing revolution" took place in the years from 1987 to 1991. Unfortunately, this is not documented in The Hidden and Forbidden History of Latvia under Nazi and Soviet Occupations 1940-1991. The first informal and illegal social organization founded in Latvia was the human rights group Helsinki '86, which managed to organize its first large demonstration as early as 1987 to commemorate the mass deportation of June 14, 1941. On the 50th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1989, some two million Balts joined hands across the Baltic. On Independence Day in November 18, 1989 some 500,000 people demonstrated in Riga.

Further studies will have to corroborate the Commission's findings. There was a brief period of access to Soviet and Russian documents. Unfortunately at the time, the Latvian government was in transition and Latvian historians lacked the funds to travel to Moscow. Therefore, very few took advantage of the window of opportunity under Russian President Boris Yeltsin. The day these archives will reopen, new findings may corroborate, complement and even change the current views of historians.

For more information on Latvia read our interview with Latvian President Vike-Freiberga.

The Hidden and Forbidden History of Latvia under Nazi and Soviet Occupations 1940-1991. Symposium of the Commission of the Historians of Latvia, Volume 14. Institute of the History of Latvia, University of Latvia, 2005, 383 p. ISBN: 9984601927.

Additional source used for this article: Occupation of Latvia. Three Occupations 1940-1991. Soviet and Nazi Take-Overs and Their Consequences. Occupation Museum Foundation, Riga, 2005, 47 p. Edited and compiled by staff members of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, including Valters Nollendorfs.


Added on September 18, 2006:
New in German on the subject of the extermination of Jews in Riga: Andrej Angrick/Peter Klein: Die "Endlösung" in Riga. Ausbeutung und Vernichtung 1941-1944. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2006. 520 S. Bestellen bei Amazon.de.


 

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