"Tragedy of Maslenki - Latvia's Tragedy, June 15, 1940"

A new exhibition, which opened on June 15 at Latvia's Occupation Museum, documents a bloody incident that took place 60 years ago on the Latvian-Russian border and heralded the tragic era of Soviet domination. The exhibition is based on research by Andrejs Edvins Feldmanis (born in 1939), a Latvian cinematographer and board member of the Occupation Museum Foundation. Feldmanis dedicated the exhibition to his father, First Lieutenant Fridrichs Feldmanis of the Latvian Army, who was murdered by U.S.S.R. NKVD units at an army summer training camp in Litene, Latvia, on June 14, 1941.

Excerpts from the exhibition's brochure allude to the dangerous political backdrop of Europe in the late 1930s, which portended a bleak future for Latvia.

"The government of Latvia had to pay special attention to its eastern border, because under Stalin the U.S.S.R. actively pursued the idea of 'exporting the Revolution,' [with the aim of dominating the world] in the name of protecting the proletariat. Soviet Special Forces exerted considerable pressure on Latvia's eastern border in the form of intelligence activities (with a training center for spies located in the Russian frontier city Ostrov), and the activities of members of the outlawed Latvian Communist Party, smugglers, saboteurs, and the like.

"Between the two world wars Latvia's eastern border was in many ways a dividing line between the East and West in Europe. […] Contrasting political systems and ideologies [sparked various countries' intelligence activities in Latvia]. Local people and border guards were actively recruited and became involved in these activities. Some local Russian families […] were pro-communist and supported the Soviet secret service. […] Some local inhabitants and border guards were double agents…

"On the night of June 15 the [Latvian] border is being guarded by Janis Macitis on patrol and Peteris Cimoska in the blind. Karlis Beizaks and Valdis Grinvalds are in the duty room. The wife of patrol leader Fricis Purins, Hermine, and his son Voldemars are in his apartment. In a house rented by Zanis Krievins, his wife Lida-Julija, his son Arturs, and his daughter Rita, and the children's guest, 6-year-old Erika Kalnina, are asleep.

"At around 2:30 a.m. 25 NKVD [Interior People's Commissariat] men cross the Ludza River and surround the Maslenki border guards' [patrol] house and the Krievins' house. The attackers place hand grenade packets around the guardhouse. Possibly, the initial plan is to capture the patrol, but the attackers are spotted by Macitis. As an exchange of gunfire ensues, the tactics of the NKVD unit turn to destroying the patrol. Macitis is seriously wounded and retreats towards the guardhouse. Cimoska returns the attackers' automatic rifle fire and, retreating towards the guardhouse, steps on a grenade packet and is torn to shreds in the explosion.

"Grinvalds returns the fire through the guardhouse window, while Beizaks tries to run for help to the 1st Patrol. After running 199 meters, he is gunned down.

"The attackers throw a firebomb into the guardhouse, first setting the interior on fire and then the entire house. Hermine Purina tries to save herself by jumping through the window but is shot 8.5 meters from the guardhouse. Her son Voldemars runs out the door and seeks refuge in a nearby woodpile. He is shot by the attackers in the leg and stomach and dies from his wounds the following day at the hospital in Rezekne. Macitis, too, has been mortally wounded. He is found dear close to the house, with his legs burned. Grinvalds runs unhurt from the burning house and throws himself into the river, where he is captured.

"As the guardhouse is attacked, the NKVD men also storm the Krievins' house, tossing in hand grenades. These seriously wound Krievins' wife and she loses consciousness. Krievins and his son sustain lighter wounds and are captured by the attackers. The girls escape by hiding under a bed.

"The NKVD posts an advance guard 250 meters from the Maslenki cordon to prevent possible aid to the Maslenki patrol. Here the leader of the 1st Patrol, Vilis Lazdins, and guards Arvids Polis and Jezups Abrickis are captured as they hasten to the tragic event.

"When the attackers have overcome the guard, they capture some other survivors, including the family of farmer Dmitrijs Maslovs, who lives nearby. Rounding up their own wounded and their casualties, they hastily gather some of the evidence and retreat beyond the border, into Soviet territory.

"…After the October 5, 1939 treaty [which provided for the establishment of] Soviet army bases on Latvian territory, the Latvian Army [was] forced to design a new mobilization and defense plan. This plan [had] a single objective: to resist the U.S.S.R. armed forces should they attempt to take over all of Latvia. According to [Latvian] historian Edgars Andersons, mobilization was to take place in three days' time, and two defense lines were to be established in the east. The Daugava, Aiviekste, and Pededze rivers were to form the defense line.
"As is well known, neither the Latvian Border Guard nor the Latvian Army received orders to resist the occupation forces. The government of Latvia and its army [were] forced to accept the situation in Europe, when none of the Western powers [were] willing or able to help the Baltic States [defend themselves against the Soviet invasion]."

The Soviet invasion of Latvia on June 17, 1940, following its ultimatum, interrupted the official investigation of the attack on the Maslenki border post. There had been attacks on other posts. Only after Latvia regained independence in 1991 was the case reopened. The case concluded that Soviet military persons had killed three Latvian border guards - Karlis Beizaks, 25, Janis Macitis, 27, and Peteris Cimoska, 26, and two civilians, Hermine Purins, 44, and Voldemars Purins, 14. Three members of the Purins family were wounded. Ten Latvian border guards and 27 civilians in all had been captured. Several small children and one infant were among the captives. Less than a month later, on July 7, 1940, all the captives except Dmitrijs Maslovs were returned. Maslovs was later tried by an NKVD court, sentenced to death, and shot in 1942. Seven-year-old Silvija Smukkalne suffered a nervous breakdown; she contracted a disease of the nervous system after her release and died.