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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

Fourth Sub-Commission: Crimes against Humanity in the Territory of Latvia during the Soviet Occupation 1944–1956

Aims of the Sub-Commission

             The encompassing objective of the Sub-Commission is the investigation of all aspects of the second Soviet occupation of Latvia (1944–1991), including the economic, social, ethnic and cultural policies and their implementation.  To fulfill these objectives, three areas must be researched first:

             It is necessary to investigate and lay bare distortions and falsifications of fact put out by the authorities during the occupation period.  These range from distortions of economic performance to falsifications of crimes against humanity.  If the Nazi rulers (1941–45) tried to justify and legitimize their crimes against humanity by referring to the crimes of the previous Soviet regime (1940–41), the Communist rulers in turn legitimized their crimes by referring to Nazi crimes and creating historical myths.

             It is necessary to investigate and reveal the internal workings of the central and local power structures of the Soviet Union and their real role in economy and public life, including agricultural policy, ethnic relations and cultural policy.

             It is of prime importance to investigate criminal aspects of the occupying power and its administrative structures, emphasizing crimes against humanity.

             The latter area of investigation is in the immediate purview of the Historical Commission’s charge.  Because of these crimes committed by both occupation powers and their war, Latvia lost a large number of its population, including most of its national elites, as well as its traditional minorities, Germans and Jews.  The total loss is estimated at 325,000 (17%) as compared to 1940 (1).  Besides physical annihilation, mental deprivation took place.  These crimes against humanity were not episodic.  They continued throughout the occupation period and affected all population groups (2).

 Previous Research

             Post-World War II crimes against humanity in Latvia were first researched by exile Latvian historians.  With few exceptions (3), exile research was hampered by the absence of substantial source material.  Publications were oftentimes journalistic in nature.  Memoir literature also developed in exile.  Historians in Latvia could get involved only after the renewal of independence.  Three research directions dominate in Latvia at this time: document discovery and edition, monographic publications and publications of eyewitness testimonies. 

            The first articles and documents about this topic were published by the history journal of the University of Latvia, Latvijas vesture (The History of Latvia) in 1991(4).  The journal continues its activities on a broad basis. 

            From the mid-1990s, the Latvian State Archive became an important center for the edition and publication of documents (5).[1]  Crimes against humanity committed by the Communist regime in the post-war period are well documented in the Latvian State Archive’s annotated edition Policy of Occupation Powers in Latvia 1939–1991(6).  The document collections published by the Latvian State Archive are an important contribution to the documentation and further research on the second Soviet occupation.  However, these collections emphasize more the human and economic losses than the role of various armed and non-violent forms of resistance. 

            The history of armed resistance was investigated by several scholars between 1994 and 1998 (7).  Armed resistance of the Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian people against the occupation power, which in 1944 involved an estimated 80,000 men, was the most extensive partisan war in the history of these nations.  It went by almost unnoticed by public opinion in the West.  Research has been done about the 25 March, 1949 mass deportations from the Baltic, which took ca. 94,000 from their homelands and were in part directed against the supporters and family members of the partisans.  According to declassified documents from Russian archives, the deportations were planned in Moscow and carried out by local occupation authorities (8). 

            During the last few years both the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia (1940–1991) and the War Museum of Latvia have conducted research and published articles on crimes against humanity in Latvia in their yearbooks (9).  The Center for the Documentation of the Consequences of Totalitarianism also has a research program. 

            During the ten years of renewed independence, many eyewitness accounts have been published, mainly written by former participants in resistance groups and deportees to forced labor camps and settlement areas (10).  These accounts confirm many of the facts found in documentary sources.  However in many cases they are published in a manner that decreases their value as historical sources: they lack biographical data about their authors and professional historical commentaries. The Occupation Museum is working on an encompassing database of such materials in its possession to allow scholars easy access to basic information (names, birth and family data, places, dates, organizations, record of imprisonment or administrative resettlement, type of document, key biographical data) and make cross-checking of information among various sources possible (11). 

            The following factors are currently impeding the development of a strong research program on crimes against humanity during the post-World War II period: absence of a research center, insufficient financing, lagging coordination of research in Latvia and in the Baltic, as well as limited access to foreign archives, especially in Russia.

Work of the Sub-Commission

             The Sub-Commission agenda for 2000 included three main problem areas on the theme “Crimes against Humanity during Soviet Occupation 1944–56.”  Seven scholars participated in the research projects.

             Repressive Organs of the Occupation Power and Genocide in Latvia.  This problem area was addressed by Indulis Zālīte, Ritvars Jansons and Aldis Bergmanis.  They investigated the formation of the security apparatus of the Latvian SSR, identified the top leaders and their role in crimes against humanity during their tenure.  Besides investigating the overall activities of all such Soviet-style agencies, including the KGB and its predecessor office, they focused specifically upon their role in the battle against national partisans.  The counterintelligence activities of security agencies alone were responsible for the deaths of some 60 partisans and their leaders.  This work is continuing with the aim of producing a monograph on the history of the Peoples Commissariat of the Interior, the Ministry for State Security and the State Security Committee (KGB).  The dearth of factual material is the greatest obstacle to this project.

             The Destruction of the Economic, Social and Ethnic Structure of Latvia.  “The Genocide of Latvian Farm Population and Forced Collectivization” is a research paper by Daina Bleiere.  Her research is based on archival materials and extensive review of secondary literature, both Latvian and foreign.  She concludes that the destruction of traditional family farms and Soviet-style collectivization was the least accepted policy of the occupation regime.  It led to wholesale mismanagement and despoliation of ownerless land under the administration of incompetent and irresponsible members of the Communist nomenclature and to various kinds of repression, including a mass deportation of farm families that resisted collectivization.  An exodus of the farming population to the cities was one of the consequences; immigration of farm workers who had gotten used to malingering in the Soviet Union filled the void.  Thus the entire economic, social and ethnic structure of the countryside was, in effect, dismantled. 

            “The Formation of Military–Industrial Production Facilities in the Territory of Latvia and the Subordination of Industry to Military Needs” is the title of Juris Ciganovs’s analysis.  To operate these Soviet military–industrial facilities trustworthy cadres of workers were moved from Russia to Latvia.  Factory equipment obtained from Germany had to be reimbursed by Riga to Moscow.

                       “The Colonization of Latvia by Migrants” is addressed by Janis Riekstins.  He concludes that the internal migration from the Soviet Union brought three main groups to Latvia:  (1) “spontaneous migrants,” (2) “retired military personnel,” (3) “planned migrants.”  They changed the traditional ethnic composition of Latvia. 

            Research on these topics is continuing by more extensive inclusion of materials found in Russian archives and foreign secondary sources.

             Resistance in Latvia.  “Youth Non-Violent Resistance in Latvia” was researched by Heinrihs Strods.  Three modes of resistance were identified: (1) refusal to participate (mainly 1944–48); (2) anti-Soviet youth groups (1944–59); (3) involvement in general resistance.  The non-violent youth resistance, which involved thousands of young people, had no organized center; individuals and groups worked autonomously.  The demands of non-violent individuals and groups included the cessation of occupation and the restoration of an independent democratic state.  The work continues and will be concluded in the next few years as a history of non-violent resistance in Latvia from 1944 to 1991.

Future Research 

            It is important to expand the scope of investigations beyond 1956.  Contrary to some Western opinions that Soviet totalitarianism changed and assumed subtler forms after 1956, the changes were mainly in the operative mode rather than in the basic nature of totalitarianism.  The underlying premises did not change, and even Gorbachev’s perestroika was not able to change them.  With this expanded scope in mind, the following long-term research projects must be added to the projects already mentioned:

             Activities of exile Latvians and the international democratic society for the restoration of Latvian independence 1944–90. The role of Christian churches in Latvia and abroad in the resistance 1944–90. Investigation of armed and non-violent resistance in all provincial districts of Latvia and among various population groups. The causes, forms and effects of collaboration. The social, economic, cultural and ethnic policies and practices of the occupation power. Creation of a database of all national partisans who were killed in action, murdered and who perished in Soviet prison camps, utilizing the experience of Estonian historians. Creation of a database of inhabitants of Latvia who were deported in February 1945 and on 25 March 1949.

             These projects must lead to the clarification of the following problem areas:

The role of the centralized power in Moscow, the local authorities, the collaborators and the migrants in enforcing occupation. The effects of the policies and actions of the occupation power, especially the crimes against humanity, on deferred development of Latvia, problems of transition to a democratic society and problems of integration into Europe.

(1) Pārsla Eglīte, “Latvijas iedzīvotāju skaita un etniskā sastāva veidošanās XX gadu simtenī” (The Development of the Size and Ethnic Composition of Latvia’s Population in the Twentieth Century), Latvijas Okupācijas muzeja gadagrāmata 2001 Yearbook of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, ed. Heinrihs Strods (Rīga: Okupācijas muzeja fonds, 2002) in print.  Eglīte estimates the total loss of population 1940–1959, including Latvian Jews.  The number 325,000 is her low estimate.

 (2) The estimates of people persecuted and repressed during the occupation regime indicate that about 1/3, or 600,000–700.000, of the population was directly affected.  See P. Zvidriņš, J. Vanovska, Latvieši. Statistiski demografisks portretējums (Rīga: Zinātne, 1992) pp. 23–24.  Also: M. Šmulders, “The Results of 70 Years of Bilateral Relations between Latvia and the USSR,” Latvijas Zinātņu akadēmijas Vēstis, (1992) 1: 31–38.

 (3) Adolfs Šilde, The Profits of Slavery: Baltic Forced Laborers and Deportees under Stalin and Khruschev (Stockholm: Latvian National Foundation, 1958) 302 pages.  Periodical publications of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies are: Journal of Baltic Studies and Baltic Studies Newsletter.  Articles published in the JBS and in books published by the AABS are indexed in: Laurence Kitching, Baltic Studies Indexes 1970–1997 (Hackettstown, NJ: AABS, 1998), 136 pages.  Tadeušs Puisāns, ed., Okupācijas varu nodarītie postījumi Latvijā 1940–1990 (Stockholm/Toronto: Memento/Daugavas Vanagi, 2000) 592 pages. 

(4) Latvijas vēsture, a quarterly published by the University of Latvia continuously since 1991.

 (5) Jānis Riekstiņš, ed., Represēto saraksts 1941–1953 (List of Repressed Persons), 2 vols. (Rīga: Latvijas valsts arhīvs, 1995).  Jānis Rieksiņš, ed., Represēto saraksts 1949, 4 vols. (Rīga: Latvijas valsts arhīvs, 1995).  Elmārs Pelkaus et al., eds., Aizvestie: 1941. gada  14. jūnijs (The Deported: 14 June 1941) (Rīga: Latvijas Valsts arhīvs, 2001), 808 pages. 

(6) Elmārs Pelkaus, ed., Policy of Occupation Powers in Latvia 1939–1991: A Collection of Documents (Rīga: State Archives of Latvia/Nordik, 1999), 624 pages (also in Latvian and Russian). 

(7) Heinrihs Strods, Latvijas nacionālo partizānu karš 1944–1956 (The War of the Latvian National Partisans) (Rīga: Preses names, 1996) 574 pages.  Heinrihs Strods compiler. and ed., Latvijas nacionālo partizānu karš: Dokumenti un materiāli 1944–1956 (Rīga: Preses nams, 1999) 656 pages. 

(8) Heinrihs Strods, “PSRS Valsts drošības ministrijas pilnīgi slepenā Baltijas valstu iedzīvotāju isūtīšanas operācija ‘Krasta banga’ (priboj)” (The Top Secret Operation “Surf” (priboi) Carried out by the State Security Ministry to Deport Inhabitants from the Baltic States), Latvijas vēsture, nr. 2 (1998) pp. 38-47.  Also in Latvijas Okupācijas muzeja gadagrāmata 1999 Yearbook of the Occupation Museum of Latvia 1999 (Rīga: Okupācijas muzeja fonds, 2000) pp. 164–186.  Also published in Lithuanian, Russian and Ukrainian. 

(9) Latvijas Okupācijas muzeja gadagrāmata 1999 Yearbook of the Occupation Museum of Latvia, ed. Heinrihs Strods (Rīga: Okupācijas muzeja fonds, 2000) 282 pages.  Latvijas Okupācijas muzeja gadagrāmata 2000 Yearbook of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, ed. Heinrihs Strods (Rīga: Okupācijas muzeja fonds, 2001) 340 pages. 

(10) Anda Līce, compiler and ed., Via Dolorosa: Staļinisma upuru liecībasi (Via Dolorosa: Testimonies of Victims of Stalinism), vols. 1-2 (Rīga: Liesma, 1990, 1993) 604, 622 pages; vols 3-4 (Rīga: Preses nams, 1994, 1995) 312, 320 pages.  An English edition: Astrid Sics, ed. and transl., We Sang Through Tears:Stories of Survival in Siberia (Rīga: Jānis Roze Publishers, 1999) 372 pages. 

(11) Matthew (Matīss) Kott, “Gaining Ground on the Battlefield of Public History: The Work of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, June 1999–June 2000,” Latvijas Okupācijas muzeja gadagrāmata 2000 Yearbook of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia (Riga: Okupācijas muzeja fonds, 2001) p. 309.

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

Crimes against Humanity in the Territory of Latvia during the Soviet Occupation 1940–41

Holocaust in the Territory of Latvia during Nazi Occupation 1941-1945

Crimes against Humanity in the Territory of Latvia during Nazi Occupation 1941-1945

Crimes against Humanity in the Territory of Latvia during the Soviet Occupation 1944–1956

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