Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Latvia

Along with the other Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia had the unfortunate fate to be occupied by both the Soviet Union and Germany during World War II. The initial Soviet occupation was presaged by the German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact of 23 August 1939, which had a secret "additional protocol" stipulating that Latvia and Estonia would be under Soviet control and Lithuania under German control. In October 1939, Latvia was forced to agree to the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Moscow, which permitted the stationing of Soviet troops.

The Latvian representative in Great Britain, Karlis Zarins, was given authority to handle national affairs overseas should contact with the home country be broken. In June 1940, following the German invasion of France, the Soviet Union activated the pact and its troops invaded Latvia. Threats by Moscow to bomb Latvian cities ended preparations for armed resistance, and Moscow established a puppet "people's government" in the country. On 5 August 1940, the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was formally admitted into the Soviet Union.

In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and the German army occupied the Baltics. The German blitzkrieg moved with great speed, and some 15,000 men in Latvia defense battalions surrendered to German forces. Certainly, an element of the population strongly favored the Nazi cause.

German plans called for annexing the Baltic states, expelling approximately two-thirds of their populations, and integrating the remainder with German immigrants. Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg, a Baltic German, proposed a substantial expansion of Latvia and the other republics with land from Belorussia and the USSR. The harshness of the occupation was reflected in the confiscatory devaluation of the Latvian currency, the seizure of private property, and the forced conscription of citizens into labor and military units, including deportations. Property that had been expropriated by the Soviets was not returned but rather was turned over to specially created German companies.

Censorship and a strict regulation of formal education were also features of the occupation. Riga and Tartu Universities were closed, then reluctantly reopened in early 1942. Kaunas and Vilnius Universities were opened in the fall of 1941 following Soviet closure, then closed again early in 1943. Nazi principles were integrated into school textbooks on biology and history. The burden of censorship, combined with paper shortages, forced newspapers out of print. Certain books were also banned.

Administrative directorates implemented German instructions but provided for some informal independence and resistance to the occupation as well. The directorate of Latvia successfully opposed a conscription of 13,000 women from Estonia and Latvia that was announced in the spring of 1943. Bribery and promises of a smooth administration of the economy were useful tools in persuading the occupiers to be more flexible in their policies. Nonetheless, the German occupation steadily grew more harsh, with the directorates bypassed in the drive for laborers and other assets. The total number of Latvian people killed or deported by the Nazis has been estimated at 120,000, approximately half of them Jews. At the end of the war, the Soviet Union reestablished its control and replenished the loss with Soviet immigrants, who soon threatened to become an absolute majority.

Arthur I. Cyr


Further Reading
Mangulis, Visvaldis. Latvia in the Wars of the Twentieth Century. Princeton Junction, NJ: Cognition Books, 1983.; Misiunas, Romuald J., and Rein Taagepera. The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940–1980. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.
 

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