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The History of the Occupation of Latvia

Fake News: Latvian Legionnaires Burnt Polish POWs Alive

Fake News: Latvian Legionnaires Burnt Polish POWs Alive

Author: Viesturs Sprūde

Russian language mass media have been using the “Podgaje Case” for years as 16 March approaches and arguments are required to present Latvian legionnaires as “born killers”, “voluntary killers” and “war criminals”. Podgaje is gladly elaborated on in propaganda books, for instance, the book of the fighter against “Russophobic myths” Aleksandr Nosovich “History of decline. Why the Baltics Failed” (“История упадка. Почему у Прибалтики не получилось). Furthermore, an abundant, although full of errors and imprecisions, elaboration on this case can be read in the respective entry of the Russian version of Wikipedia. The essence of the case can be expressed by the quote from the newspaper “Аргументы и Факты” (“Arguments and Facts”): “In February 1945, in the territory of Poland, the troops and officers of the 15th Latvian Waffen Division burned more than 30 Polish soldiers from the 1st infantry division named after Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who had been taken prisoners by them.” The prisoners were brought to a shed, where their hands were tied with barbed wire, then the people and the shed were covered with petrol and ignited. Josifs Korens, the Co-President of the “Latvian Anti-fascist Committee”, as if referring to the stories of “local eyewitnesses”, adds absolutely surreal detail to this barbaric scene in his publications, he claims that, while burning the Polish soldiers, the troops of the Latvian legion “were singing songs and dancing around the shed”... It must be added that only Russian language media are currently attributing the Podgaje massacre to Latvians, although it would be logical to assume that the Polish would have much more grounds to do that.

 

Exposure

The massacre of Polish Prisoners of War in the Flederborn Village of German Pomerania, as the Podgaje village of Greater Poland Voivodeship in Poland was called then, actually took place in January/February of 1945. The total number of Polish POWs killed amounted to 160 - 210 people, instead of the 32 people mentioned in Soviet media and contemporary Russian language media. The tragedy happened at a time when Soviet and Polish units developed a rapid attack in the direction of the so called Pomeranian Ridge. The units of the 15th Latvian legion division and the 48th Dutch SS Grenadier regiment, as well as several groups of German SS units were stationed at Flederborn/Podgaje. The battles that happened in this area were fierce and chaotic and the testimonies about these battles, even as reported by the Polish were controversial. The events of Podgaje were researched by famous Latvian historians Ēriks Jēkabsons and Uldis Neiburgs, however, a more extensive analysis of the events of those few days, as well as the circumstances of the killings of prisoners of war, with the purpose of finding the guilty persons of this war crime was conducted by the member of the United States National Academy of Sciences, astrophysicist, former resident of Liepāja and survivor of the holocaust, Edward Anders. It must be added that he is also the author of the book of memories “Among Latvians During the Holocaust”. An amateur historian from the United Kingdom, Fritz Jurgen, also helped Anders in untangling the leads of the Podgaje tragedy. Their detailed and well balanced research that was published in English, with a brief Latvian annotation, is available in Volume 27 of the publications of the Commission of Latvian Historians of 2011 “The Second World War and Latvia: Events and Consequences. 40s - 60s of the 20th Century”. In 2012 it was also published in Poland. 

By using, among other sources, the previous findings of Latvian historians and the diary of Major Jūlijs Ķīlītis, the Commander of the 1st battalion of the 34th grenadier regiment of the 15th division, which was stored in the collection of the Latvian War Museum, Anders and Jurgens succeeded in finding out the following: “The possibility that Latvian soldiers were involved in the killings of the prisoners of war is highly unlikely.” Namely, the legionnaires arrived to support the dutch and German units in Flederborn in the evening of the 31 January 1945. A few hours before their arrival to the village, they had a battle with Polish soldiers and during the counter-attack the legionnaires took several dozens of them as prisoners. The information on the number of prisoners varies, but it is estimated that a total of 150 Polish soldiers were captured by Latvians. Immediately after entering Flederborn, at approximately 9:00 p.m.. Ķīlītis surrendered the prisoners to the commander of the units that defended the village, SS Hauptsturmführer Helmut Traeger. Afterwards, the legionnaires were relocated to their positions for the defence of the village. On the next day, 1 February, upon arriving to the German headquarters, Ķīlītis asked the German officers, where the prisoners had been placed. “The Germans exchanged expressive glances, huffed in what looked somewhat like embarrassment, and then one of them said that I need not care about them any more, since they needed nothing. This answer surprised and annoyed me, which, obviously was reflected in my face. Before I managed to say something, another of them added that in the situation, where we ourselves are short of food and shelter, as well as manpower for guarding them, there was no other way out. I left the premises without saying a word. On that day I could not go to them again. A feeling of something foreign and vile has fallen between us,” Major Ķīlītis continues. 

Anders, in his research reports that the total number of Polish prisoners of war in Flederborn, together with the prisoners brought by Latvians, was approximately 200. All of them were shot on the night from 31 January to 1 February. 32 POWs were killed and their bodies were left in a shed. On 2 February Flederborn came under intense Soviet and Polish artillery and mortar fire, which caused large-scale fires. 90% of the buildings in the village were burnt down, including the aforementioned shed. On the morning of 3 February Soviet tanks entered Flederborn. The units of the 15th division, after sustaining severe losses, also retreated. They were ordered by Germans to cover the retreat.

Anders and Jurgen concluded that the “disposing of Polish prisoners of war” had commenced before the arrival of the legionnaires to Flederborn and continued at the time, when the units of the 15th division were in the positions of defence.

The particular 32 prisoners of war were not burnt alive, but their corpses were situated in the shed, which caught fire afterwards as a result of the following military activities. The conclusions of the special commission on the burning of live people were based on questionable conclusions and the opinion that prevails in the current day Poland is the version that such statements were released to ignite hatred against the enemy and, consequently, the morale of the soldiers. The hands of the victims were not bound with barbed wire, which would also be difficult to do. However, the hands of some (but not all) of the killed people were indeed bound with telephone wires. The story of using petrol to burn the prisoners is also, most probably, far from the truth, because the German army in Pomerania was severely short of fuel and it would be difficult to imagine that fuel would be used for such purposes, since it was required for a quick retreat. The shootings of the Polish prisoners of war was, undoubtedly, an outrageous and inexcusable act of barbarism and a war crime. However, it was not performed by Latvians, but either by the 48th Dutch SS Grenadier regiment or any of the German Waffen SS battle groups.

 

Supported by the Ministry of Culture of Latvia

  • 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.