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.
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