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The History of the Occupation of Latvia

Fake News: A Soviet Propaganda Film as Proof of Latvian “Fascist Activities”.

Fake News: A Soviet Propaganda Film as Proof of Latvian “Fascist Activities”.

Author: Viesturs Sprūde

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"

EXPOSED

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

  • 1939 - 1940 Okupācijas priekšvēsture
    1939 - 1940
    Occupation prehistory
    • 23 August 1939
      The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany sign a non-aggression treaty.
    • 1 September 1939
      Germany attacks Poland – World War II begins; Latvia declares neutrality.
    • 17 September 1939
      USSR attacks Poland.
    • 5 October 1939
      As a result of military and political pressure, Latvia signs a “bilateral assistance” agreement with the USSR, allowing military army bases to be placed on Latvian territory.
    • 30 October 1939
      Nazi Germany signs an agreement with the Latvian government to transfer ethnic Germans living in Latvia to Germany.
    • 15 June 1940
      USSR attacks several border guard posts on the eastern border of Latvia.
    • 16 June 1940
      USSR presents Latvia with an ultimatum demanding Latvia allow unlimited Soviet troops to enter Latvian territory.
  • 1940-1941 Padomju okupācija
    1940-1941
    Soviet occupation
    • 17 June 1940
      USSR occupies Latvia.
    • 20 June 1940
      A new government, created by Moscow and led by Augusts Kirhenšteins, is installed in Latvia.
    • 14-15 July 1940
      Rigged, non-democratic elections, which contravene Latvian election laws and the Latvian Constitution, take place; only one party participates – Latvijas Darba Tautas bloks [Latvian Workers’ Bloc].
    • 21 July 1940
      The illegally elected Parliament declares Latvia a Soviet Socialist Republic and requests that the USSR admit it to its Union. Kārlis Ulmanis steps down as president; he is arrested and deported to Russia the following day.
    • 5 August 1940
      Latvia is admitted to the USSR.
    • 13 August 1940
      The All-Union Communist Party (bolshevik) (AUCP(b)) Central Committee ratifies the constitution of the Latvian SSR.
    • November 1940
      The Soviet Russian Criminal Code officially becomes law in Latvia.
    • 14 May 1941
      The Soviet government and the AUCP(b) begins planning mass deportations and repressions of Latvian citizens by adopting the secret decision "On the deportation of foreign elements from the Baltic republics, Western Ukraine, and Moldavia ".
    • 13-14 June 1941
      The Soviet Union deports 15 443 inhabitants of Latvia.
  • 1941-1944/45 Nacionālsociālistiskās Vācijas okupācija
    1941-1944/45
    Nazi German occupation
    • 22 June 1941
      Nazi Germany attacks the Soviet Union. Hostilities begin on Latvian territory along with Nazi occupation.
    • 16 July 1941
      Berlin creates the administrative region Ostland – Latvia is one of the four regions that make up Ostland.
    • July 1941
      The first mass annihilation of Jews begins – the largest actions take place in Riga, Daugavpils, and Liepāja, as well as in other smaller towns.
    • 30 November 1941
      Killing of Jews in the Riga Ghetto begins. In total, 70 000 Latvian Jews were killed. Thanks to the efforts of local citizens, 400 Latvian Jews were saved.
    • 5 December 1941
      The German army is defeated at Moscow.
    • 7 March 1942
      Nazi occupiers create the Landesselbstverwaltung – local administrative rule.
    • 29 января 1943 года
      Nazi occupiers adopt regulations for the arrest of Latvia’s Roma population and their incarceration in concentration camps.
    • 11 February 1943
      Orders are passed for the creation of a “voluntary” Latvian legion under the auspices of the SS; mobilization is often involuntary.
    • 13 August 1943
      Representatives of the four largest parties from the last Latvian Parliament found the Latvian Central Council (Latvijas Centrālā Padome – LCP) in Riga, which calls for the renewal of Latvian independence. Konstantīns Čakste is named head of the LCP.
    • 28 November 1943
      USA president Franklin Roosevelt, Great Britain’s prime minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin meet at the Teheran Conference. Stalin succeeds in gaining permission to have a free hand in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe after the war.
    • 22 March 1944
      189 Latvian politicians submit a resolution to the Nazi occupiers for the renewal of Latvian independence, which is denied.
    • 18 July 1944
      The Soviet army defeats German troops and crosses the Latvian border at Šķaune in Ludza county. The second Soviet occupation begins.
    • End of July – beginning of August 1944
      German occupiers allow General Jānis Kurelis and the chief of his headquarters, Captain Kristaps Upelnieks, to create a separate military unit. It cooperates with the LCP in the hopes of becoming the nucleus of the army of independent Latvia.
    • 8 September 1944
      The last LCP meeting to occur on Latvian soil takes place at which a declaration for the renewal of Latvian independence is adopted.
    • 20 November 1944
      Unable to control troops under the command of Kurelis, German SD units arrest all military personal at his headquarters. Eight officers are convicted and shot. The remaining military personnel are imprisoned in concentration camps.
    • 5 February 1945
      Leaders of the USA, GB, and the USSR meet at Yalta. During discussions, Soviet demands are met, and the Soviets occupy Latvia once again.
  • 1944/45-1953 Staļinisma terors. Padomju okupācija.
    1944/45-1953
    Soviet occupation
    Stalinist terror
    • 8 May 1945
      WWII ends on Latvian territory; German forces in Kurzeme surrender, including the 19th Latvian Legionnaire division.
    • 3 October 1945
      The first meeting of members of the LCP who have escaped to Germany takes place in Lustenau, Austria. Latvian citizens in exile continue the struggle for Latvian statehood.
    • 6 October 1945
      Latvian SSR Supreme Council members accept Moscow’s decision to annex the city of Abrene and six neighbouring townships to the Russian SSR.
    • 10 February 1946
      Latvian SSR Supreme Council elections take place.
    • 17 February 1947
      In order to weaken communist rule in Eastern Europe, the USA begins transmission of the Voice of America, which is listened to in Latvian territory illegally.
    • 29 January 1949
      USSR Council of Ministers decide to deport members of the National Partisans and their supporters, as well as wealthy farmers (kulaks) from Latvia to Siberia.
    • 25 March 1949
      Soviet occupiers carry out the second mass deportation of Latvian inhabitants to Siberia – in total 42 322 people.
    • July 1949
      As a result of repressive Soviet occupation politics, the number of collective farms (kolkhozes) triples, creating 3857 kolkhozes.
    • 17 January 1953
      Latvian SSR Supreme Council adopts the decree creating a new Latvian SSR flag.
    • 5 March 1953
      Stalin dies.
  • 1953-1959 “Atkusnis”. Padomju okupācija.
    1953-1959
    Soviet occupation
    “Thaw”
    • 12 September 1953
      Nikita Khrushchev becomes First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee (CPSU CC).
    • 14 May 1955
      Creation of the Warsaw Pact.
    • 25 February 1956
      At the CPSU 20th Congress, Khrushchev openly speaks of crimes committed by Stalin and condemns the Stalin “personality cult”.
    • 23 August 1956
      The uprising by the people in Hungary is put down by Soviet forces.
  • 1959-1985 “Stagnācija”. Padomju okupācija.
    1959-1985
    Soviet occupation
    “Stagnation”
    • 7–8 July 1959
      Latvian CP plenum condemns the national communists.
    • 13 August 1961
      The GDR closes the border to West Berlin; building of the Berlin Wall begins.
    • 10 October 1964
      Khrushchev is forced to resign as First Secretary of the CPSU CK; Leonid Brezhnev takes his place.
    • December 1965
      The Hydroelectric Station at Pļaviņas begins operation.
    • 27 May 1968
      Calls for ending censorship and freeing political prisoners in Czechoslovakia initiates the “Prague Spring” demonstrations.
    • 20 August 1968
      Soviet troops put down the “Prague Spring”.
    • 25 December 1979
      Soviet forces invade Afghanistan.
    • 10 November 1982
      Leonid Brezhnev dies; Yuri Andropov becomes First Secretary of the CPSU CK.
    • 9 February 1984
      Yuri Andropov dies. Konstantin Chernenko becomes First Secretary of the CPSU CK.
    • 10 March 1985
      Konstantin Chernenko dies.
    • 11 March 1985
      Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the leader of the CPSU CK and the Soviet Union.
  • 1985-1990/91 “Perestroika”. Padomju okupācija.
    1985-1990/91
    Soviet occupation
    “Perestroika”
    • 10 July 1986
      The first Latvian human rights organization Helsinki-86 is founded in Liepāja.
    • October 1986
      Widespread public support for the environmental protection of the Daugava River begins.
    • 28 February 1987
      The Environment Protection Club (Vides aizsardzības klubs – VAK) is founded.
    • 14 June 1987
      Helsinki-86 invites people to lay flowers at the Freedom Monument to commemorate the deportations in 1941.
    • 23 August 1987
      A protest takes place by the Freedom Monument to commemorate the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact.
    • 27 April 1988
      VAK organizes protests against the proposed construction of a metro in Riga.
    • 1–2 June 1988
      The Latvian Creative Society organizes a plenum. Journalist, Art Academy professor, and member of the Supreme Council Mavriks Vulfsons publicly declares that Latvia was occupied in 1940.
    • 10 July 1988
      The Latvian National Independence Movement (Latvijas Nacionālās Neatkarības kustība – LNNK) is founded.
    • 16 July 1988
      VAK organizes a protest in Mežaparks at which the Latvian national flag is flown.
    • 8-9 October 1988
      Latvian National Front (Latvijas tautas fronte – LTF) founding congress. Dainis Īvāns is elected leader.
    • February 1989
      The pro-communist supporters of Moscow Interfront organize protests – they oppose proposed policies to stop migration to Latvia from other Soviet republics and to give the Latvian language official national status.
    • 5 May 1989
      Latvian SSR SC adopts a law granting Latvian national language status.
    • 23 August 1989
      The Baltic Way – a human chain over 660 km long is formed through all three Baltic countries to commemorate the 1939 Hitler- Stalin Pact.
    • 9 November 1989
      The Berlin Wall falls.
    • 18 November 1989
      Mass demonstrations for an independent Latvia on the banks of the Daugava with over 500,000 participants.
    • 18 March 1990
      Latvian SSR parliamentary elections.
  • Neatkarīga Latvija
    Independent Latvia
    • 4 May 1990
      Latvian SSR SC adopts the resolution for the restoration of Latvian independence.
    • 2 January 1991
      Soviet special forces OMON occupy the press building in Riga; there are armed attacks by OMON against other strategic government sites.
    • 13–27 January 1991
      Residents of Latvia create barricades in Riga to protect key locations from forces loyal to Moscow.
    • 3 March 1991
      Inhabitants of Latvia participate in a referendum on declaring an independent democratic state – two-thirds vote for restoring independence.
    • 12 June 1991
      Boris Yeltsin is elected president of Russia.
    • 19 August 1991
      Radical communist attempt a coup in Moscow – the August Putsch.
    • 21 August 1991
      Republic of Latvia Supreme Council declares the Republic of Latvia as an independent democratic state.
    • 22 August 1991
      Iceland is the first nation to recognize Latvian independence.
    • 24 August 1991
      The Russian Federation officially recognizes Latvian independence.
    • 17 September 1991
      Latvia joins the United Nations.
    • 30 December 1991
      The Soviet Union officially ceases to exist.
    • 14 February 1994
      Latvia joins the NATO program “Partnership for Peace”.
    • 12 March 1999
      The first post-Soviet nations join NATO – Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.
    • November 2002
      Prague summit. NATO leaders decide to invite Latvia to begin negotiations for admittance.
    • 20 September 2003
      Referendum on joining the European Union.
    • 29 March 2004
      Latvia becomes a member of NATO.
    • 1 May 2004
      Latvia becomes a member of the European Union along with 10 other nations.