The Progress Report of
Latvia's History Commission: Crimes against Humanity Committed in the
Territory of Latvia from 1940 to 1956 during the Occupations of the
Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany
The so-called “German period” of the occupation is a most convoluted and contradictory time in Latvian history. The key to understanding this period is the objective evaluation of the context in which the events took place and a balanced perception of the past.
Historical Background and Summary
Nazi occupation replaced a Soviet occupation, which had been, for thousands of inhabitants of Latvia, a most tragic and wrenching experience. The hopes for renewed independence of Latvia turned out to have no foundation in reality. Nazi plans did not include a sovereign Latvia, but rather its subjugation and turning it into a Germanized province. As a “General District” (Generalbezirk) Latvia became part of the Reichskommissariat Ostland, which encompassed the territories of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and parts of Belarus. The so-called self-government that was formed in March 1942 had very limited authority. German sovereign power in the General District was exercised by a Generalkommissar, who was directly responsible to the Reichskommissar..
The Nazi occupation regime in Latvia ignored international law. It was fully responsible for the serious crimes against the civilian population that were carried out in the territory of Latvia. Nazi terror had a pronounced political and racist nature. Besides the Jewish Holocaust, the annihilation of the Roma and the mentally deficient was carried out. German repressions turned also against Communists and Soviet activists, as well as participants in various national resistance groups. Local inhabitants were caught up in the repressive system created by the occupiers. They were mobilized for military duty or sent as forced laborers to Germany. Nazi economic policy was aimed at the complete pilfering of Latvia.
The criminal nature of the Nazi occupation regime’s policies has been dealt with in many historical treatises. Until the 1990s these questions could be seriously researched only in the West. In Latvia, all historical literature about Nazi occupation policies was to a great extent politicized and subjected to Communist ideological interpretation. It was basically the view of the Soviet occupiers about the “German period” in Latvia and as such—fragmentary, incomplete and one-sided.
Significant advances were made in the early 1990s, involving historians from Latvia and exile Latvian historians. Several document collections were published, thus expanding the available sources for research. Several monographs were published as well, such as by Haralds Biezais, Latvija kaskrusta vara (Latvia in the Grip of the Swastika) and Andrew Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia.
Latvian historians must continue this work by devoting special attention to Nazi crimes against humanity. An encompassing scholarly overview of the “Nazi period” of Latvia is a prime necessity.
Current and Future Research
The Commission has succeeded in activating new research activities. In the area of the Sub-Commission’s charge these include:
The determination of exact numbers of victims of Nazi persecution. The numbers named in historical literature are oftentimes exaggerated and thus untrustworthy. The historians Uldis Neiburgs and Kaspars Zellis have now begun to inventory those repressed or killed during the Nazi occupation. A database is being developed with the following parameters: surname, first name, birth data, residence, occupation, charge, place of detention, the end result, etc. This database will provide scholars with empirical evidence and help identify groups of the prosecuted and repressed.
The Nazi repressive system in Latvia. Much new research is needed here. Attention must be given to the structure of Nazi prisons and concentration camps, as well as their functioning mechanisms. The formation of the police apparatus also deserves serious study, especially concerning the formation and the functions of the Latvian police battalions. Historical literature is still unable to provide answers to several questions, such as the reason for the formation of these battalions and the role they played in the repressive system of the occupying regime. A comparative study of similar formations in Nazi-occupied Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Ukraine is also of importance. These topics are being addressed by Karlis Kangeris and other colleagues.
Collaboration with Nazi occupation authorities. Work in this area must be intensified. At present, Edvins Evarts is conducting research regarding one aspect of collaboration, but a lot more needs to be done to elucidate the problem in its totality. Attention must be above all paid to the specific characteristics of Nazi occupation in Latvia, such as the fact that two different occupations, the Soviet and the Nazi, occurred within a brief period; the contemporary sense and understanding of loyalty by the population (for the main part—loyalty toward the Latvian state, which was destroyed de facto); attitudes toward the Nazi occupiers; and mass psychology at the time. The main characteristics of Nazi occupation must be worked out, especially the determining factors of the preceding Soviet occupation and the desire to regain independence.
Historiographic research. It has already been started (Inesis Feldmanis, Antonijs Zunda, Janis Taurens). This work is necessary to help determine areas that still need detailed attention. It also provides a chance to evaluate views of foreign authors about the German occupation period in Latvia.
Problems of Research
A most important research problem is the process by which the Nazi occupation replaced the Soviet occupation in Latvia in the summer of 1941. Juris Pavlovics has been commissioned to start work on this topic. It is important to determine on which dates German occupation started in provincial towns and townships in Latvia, how the system of German command posts (Kommandanturen) developed early in the occupation and how the local “self-defense” units were involved in the German command structure. It is unclear, for example, which German institutions controlled the “self-defense” units.
It is also necessary, in this connection, to solve the so-called “interregnum” problem, namely the question whether and to what extent in late June and early July 1941 there existed a power vacuum without effective control. Right now, two diametrically opposed views are represented in historical literature. One is the relatively untested and questionable thesis that there was a period of interregnum. Thus it is asserted that “there was no real German occupation, at least in the early phase, that Latvians acted on their own (for days, weeks, even months) without German control and orders.” It is also asserted that members of the “self defense” “shot the Jews without German presence and knowledge.” The opposite side is represented by historians who argue that Germans established immediate and tight control and that there was no extended interregnum.
Another important question is Latvian involvement in German armed forces. The numbers mentioned range from ca. 80,000 to 160,000. The newest research (Kangeris) suggests that the exact number may be closer to 100,000, of whom about 70% were members of the “Latvian SS Volunteer Legion.” Despite the title “volunteer,” the main recruiting tool was conscription. The proportion of real volunteers may not exceed 15%, but reliable data are difficult to come by because of lacking documentation.
It is important to counteract disinformation about the nature of Latvian involvement in German fighting units spread by Soviet agencies. The determination of the numbers and the method of recruitment of Latvians in German units is one way to show that there existed no direct link between the battle units of the Latvian Legion and war crimes committed by earlier military and paramilitary formations. The connection claimed by Soviet propaganda, “self defense”–police battalions–Legion, established guilt by association and is not supported by facts. Latvian soldiers were not involved in repressive acts, and no Latvian legionnaire has been accused or tried for war crimes in connection with service in the Legion. The Legion was formed after the last mass murders of Latvian Jews had taken place. The mere fact that members of former Latvian units under the control of the German Security Police SD later became members of the Latvian Legion does not make the Legion a criminal organization. “The Nuremberg war tribunal’s final decree clearly determined persons who are to be considered part of the criminal organization SS in its totality. Persons conscripted by force who had not committed war crimes were exempted” (Kangeris).
The formation of the Latvian legion must be viewed and evaluated in the context of similar military formations and their actions in all of Nazi-occupied and administered countries. Such a view demonstrates that the Latvian Legion was not an exceptional creation, but it also allows conclusions to be drawn about the unique situation of Latvia. Latvian legionnaires fought only against Soviet armed forces, the army of the state that had occupied Latvia and deprived it of its independence, had persecuted and repressed its civilian population and was threatening to occupy it again.
Difficulties Facing Research
In order to achieve considerable progress in researching the policies of Nazi occupation, it is necessary to ascertain and sift through large amounts of documentary material located in the archives in various countries.
 Haralds Biezais, Latvija kâðkrusta varâ: Sveði kungi — paðu ïaudis (Latvia in the Grip of the Swastika: Foreign Masters—Own Servants) ([Lansing, MI]: Gauja. 1992) 535 pages.
 Heinrihs Strods, Zem melnbrûnâ zobena:Vâcijas politika Latvijâ (Under the Black-and-Brown Sword: German Policies in Latvia), Rîga, 1994.
 Andrew Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia 1941–1944: The Missing Center (Rîga: The Historical Institute of Latvia, 1996) 465 pages. The expanded Latvian version was published in 1999.
 Kârlis Kangeris. “Die baltischen Völker und die deutschen Pläne für die Räumung des Baltikums,” Baltisches Jahrbuch (1988), pp. 177–196. Kârlis Kangeris. “Kollaboration vor der Kollaboration?” Okkupation un Kollaboration (1938–1945, Berlin: Huthig, 1994, pp. 165–190. Kârlis Kangeris. “Die Deutschbalten und die nationalsozialistische Okkupationspolitik im Baltikum: Fragen der Rückkehr und des Einsatzes der Deutschbalten in Lettland 1941–1944,” Die deutsche Volksgruppe in Lettland. Bibliotheka Baltica 2000, pp. 187–206
The Progress Report of Latvia's History Commission: Crimes against Humanity Committed in the Territory of Latvia from 1940 to 1956 during the Occupations of the Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany