The Soviet propaganda film Приговор обжалованию не подлежит (The Decree is not Subject to Any Appeal), produced in 1965 at Riga Film Studio, has appeared and is being circulated on social networks, as well as on several Latvian internet media channels, in the Russian language. It is a 20 minute long film that has been designed as a documentary. The script writers of the film are K. Bērziņš, V. Lorencs, the producers are Hercs Franks and I. Brils.
The film tells the story of the so called Rēzekne Policemen Trial, which was heard by the Supreme Court of the Latvian SSR from 11 - 30 October 1965 at the VEF Culture Palace. The aforementioned trial was one of three “staged trials”, as characterised by the prominent holocaust historian Andrievs Ezergailis, which were organised by the Committee for State Security (KGB) in the early 60s.
The head of Rēzekne District Police, Alberts Eihelis, the head of the 2nd Police Department of Rēzekne District, Boļeslavs Maikovskis, the head of the Malta Police Department, Haralds Puntulis (in the film “the commander of the shooting squad”), as well as policemen (in the film “participants of the people shooting squad”) Jāzeps Basankovičs, Jānis Krasovskis and the Rēzekne Prison Warder (in the film “assistant of the prison supervisor”) Pēteris Vaičuks were put on trial for their participation in the elimination of the residents of the Audriņi village in January 1942, for the killings of the Jewish population and other crimes against humanity, namely, for the elimination of 15,000 peaceful residents in the Rēzekne district of the Latvian SSR.
Only the last three persons were actually present at the court session, because Eihelis, Maikovskis and Puntulis were in exile in the West and were tried in absentia. Five of the suspects were sentenced to death, except for Vaičuks, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The film, which was once produced in Russian, with a slight Latvian accent, was first made public on 20 January on YouTube and then circulated further. Chauvinistically disposed commenters believe this film to be “proof” of the “fascist nature” of Latvians, etc. Attempts have even been made to link the footage in the Soviet propaganda film with the currently scheduled gradual transfer to the Latvian language of studies at general educational establishments.
For instance, on "baltnews.lv", the following statement is placed in an article under the heading "Executioners Have Long Lives": “Shame and humanity – these are the things that current day Latvia seems to lack critically. This includes the clearing of unpleasant pages of history, as well as the fight against the education of children in Russian language"
Undoubtedly, Audriņi was a tragic and, unfortunately, as regards details, unclear episode in the history of Latvia. However, the facts displayed in the film “The Decree is not Subject to Any Appeal” bear evidence of Soviet propaganda and methods of KGB operation rather than attempts to find out the truth and punish the guilty.
The number of victims published in the film, in conformity with the absurd Soviet assumption that a tragedy is a tragedy, only if the actual number of victims is multiplied by a certain number, has also been increased several times (approximately 2,000 people were killed in the Ančupāni hills during the German occupation, while the film claims that the number of victims was 8,000).
The main narrator Basankovičs, who participated in the shootings, is acting in apparently staged scenes and, at times, even reads what is required from him from a sheet of paper. It has not been sufficiently clarified that he had to be brought to trial from a mine in Vorkuta, where he had been pretending to be an honest soviet citizen and “hiding”.
During the Soviet occupation, the tragedy of Audriņi was depicted in accordance with a particular template, by the non-disclosure of several facts (for more about that, see the book by Uldis Neiburgs “Dievs, tava zeme deg!” Latvijas Otrā pasaules kara stāsti. (“God, Your Land is on Fire!” Stories of World War Two from Latvia)).
Historians U. Neiburgs and A. Ezergailis, as well as a former KGB, USSR, and USA intelligence services agent and defector, Imants Lešinskis, remind us that the purpose of such “war criminal” trials organised in the early 60s was not aimed at the determining of the truth. As early as in the exile press of 1985 Lešinskis emphasized that the main target of such trials were people who were not present in the court rooms – they were activists in Latvian societies in exile. In this case, they were Eihelis, Puntulis and, especially, Maikovskis, who was the vice-chairman of the American Latvian Association and an active member of the public life of the exiled Latvian Catholic Church.
“The persons that had to be exposed were always selected by the intelligence department of the KGB, the orders of which were submitted to the newsrooms by the supervising KGB officer of the editorial board. Typically such attacks were addressed against people who actively participated in anti-Soviet organisations or press in exile. (..) However, since the very beginning, it was clear that the KGB had no interest in determining the truth. It was enough, that a particular person, at a particular moment in time, was located in the particular place and was occupying an administrative, military or police position, to accuse them of the most repulsive crimes against humanity,” Lešinskis wrote.
The main objective was to show that exiled Latvian organisations were led by “war criminals”, to arouse suspicion, to cut the older generation in exile off from the younger generation and, eventually, to arouse suspicion in the countries in which exiled Latvians resided. In several cases, the KGB succeeded to do so. In order to reach the objective of discrediting exiled Latvians, these exemplary trials were organised by virtually sacrificing the members of former police battalions residing in Latvia – people, who had already gone through filtration camps, were again arrested in the early 60s on the same charges and went on trial again, this time getting sentenced to death.
After defection in 1982, Lešinskis, during his testimonies to the US Department of Justice, emphasized that, for instance, in the exemplary trial of 1961 against the policemen of the 18th battalion, the witnesses described events that they could not have been aware of at the moment they happened and, most probably, were under pressure from the KGB.
Lešinskis also did not exclude the possibility that the KGB used falsified documents to sustain charges against certain individuals. It must be noted that, pursuant to the Soviet effort, Maikovskis, Puntulis and Eihelis were brought to trial in the West as well, Maikovskis was on trial even twice – for the first time in the USA and then in Germany. However, under democratic trial the guilt of these persons was not proved, because all the evidence was based on assumptions.
“Unfortunately, the conclusion must be drawn that the elimination of Audriņi village residents of the Rēzekne District was used by the USSR in the past and by Russia now to implement open propaganda against Latvians. Linking the education reform that is planned in Latvia with a crime committed during the occupational regime of Nazi Germany without limitation is a typical manifestation of the informational war waged by Russia.
“Such manifestations will, most probably, be observed during this entire Saeima election year. The propaganda of the USSR and LSSR links the connections of Latvians with crimes actually committed during the period of Nazi occupation with sheer falsifications. This was mainly done with the purpose of discrediting exiled Latvians in western countries.
“Organisations of exiled Latvians were actively opposed to the occupation of Latvia, thus affecting the public opinion of their countries of residence and the decisions of politicians. Therefore, the Soviet propaganda, either in Latvia, or abroad, attempted to depict any Latvian living abroad as a Nazi follower”, historian and the deputy of the Saeima Ritvars Jansons (NA) commented about this 1965 film which is being distributed through Russian-language media.
The preparation of this report was supported by the Latvian Ministry of Culture