The History of the Occupation of Latvia

Fake News: Russian Language Media Call the New Exhibition at Salaspils Camp a “Whitewashing of Nazism”

Fake News: Russian Language Media Call the New Exhibition at Salaspils Camp a “Whitewashing of Nazism”

Author: Viesturs Sprūde

You don’t have to be a wizard to anticipate that the renovated exhibition, that opened on 7 February at Salaspils camp, which was actually a newly developed exhibition, will cause an avalanche of anger and reproaches from Russia, full of absurd conclusions, lies and fantasies. It could also be anticipated that the reproaches voiced in the media throughout the entire month of February will not be directed towards the “word”, but rather towards the “spirit”.

The content of the new exhibition was developed by a historian of the Museum of the Occupation, Uldis Neiburgs, and a historian of Daugava Museum, Zigmārs Gailis, who avoided ideological constructs in the displays of the museum and provided only known facts. It was the omission of the myths about Salaspils, composed during the Soviet period, giving up one-sided interpretations and tenfold or even hundredfold increasing of the number of inmates and victim statistics that caused the loudest protests.

The accusations that foreign diplomats were not invited to the opening of the exhibition, that inmates who survived Salaspils camp, and the children of the earliest Belarussian inmates, were not permitted to speak (otherwise they would shatter the “official” version of Salaspils...), that the authors have used only documents “that emphasise the positive role of Nazis in the history of Latvia” for the exhibition and similar were voiced. To summarise the case, Russian media used Salaspils to “add up” the other traditional set of labels for Latvia – non-citizens, school reform, “SS marches” etc. 

“Historians are convinced that the new exhibition has been created to erase the crimes of Latvian collaborators from memory,” portal Rubaltic.ru says. “The bourgeois government of Latvia has again demonstrated its real face, disgracing the memory of the people, who died in the Nazi death camp of Salaspils” (politsturm.com). “A memorial to the butchers of Salaspils camp” (eurasia.film).

A frequent guest of the Russian television channel Rossija 1, propagandist Armen Gasparyan, who is sometimes referred to as “a historian”, at other times “civic activist” and sometimes “a writer”, for instance says: “An impression is being created about Salaspils, that it was, in essence, something in between a pioneer camp and a recreation base, where no one was ever killed, but all documents, no matter if they were the documents of the Soviet commission for the investigation of the atrocities committed by Fascist occupants or German documents – they are “a hundred percent fake”. 

Meanwhile, a history enthusiast, who is popular in the Russian-speaking circles of Latvia, Vlads Bogovs, has managed to observe the following in the new exhibition: “First of all, the purpose of this exhibition is to emphasize that, in comparison to the Soviet regime, the Nazi regime was much better.” The mortality data of “only” approximately 3,000 people in Salaspils “have been pulled out of thin air”. Incapable of providing counter arguments to the facts, Bogovs starts literally picking on details in the portal Rubaltic.ru. Namely, why the information has only mentioned that the personnel of Latvian and Lithuanian police battalions participated in the guarding of the camp, but there is no mention that “they participated in the degrading attitude towards people”. 

Meanwhile, the Russian orthodox TV channel Tsargrad uses the fact that the exhibition in the memorial was created with EU funds to make the following statement: “EU money is used in Latvia to whitewash Nazism.” The exhibition allegedly demonstrates that Salaspils was a “resort” and “it appears that life in Salaspils was a sole pleasure.” The aforementioned television channel, on the fly, named the Minister for Culture Dace Melbārde an “ultranationalist”. The critics were enraged even by the introductory information of the exhibition, which stated that the memorial complex of Salaspils camp was built “during Soviet occupation”. 

Another peculiarity – the authors are being “exposed” for failing to use the photo collections available online, while selecting photo evidence, allegedly, for ideological reasons. As Sputnik says, the exhibition of Salaspils “lacks killed people, emaciated adults and children, although archives are full of such photos”.


The amount of original photo evidence from the time of Salaspils is indeed rather scant, furthermore, Sputnik would, most probably, consider them not efficient enough. Another issue – photos of inmates have been frequently used in the stories about Salaspils in Russian media. The only problem is that these photos usually come from other Nazi detention centres that were specifically used for the extermination and elimination of people, which were not located in the territory of Latvia. For instance, they are taken from Auschwitz or Jastrebarsko camps in the former Yugoslavia.

Frequently the photos do not reflect the topic at all – the stories are illustrated by a photograph from the 16 March legionnaire commemoration day, and the readers must assume that the elderly people seen in these photos in pre-war uniforms of Aizsargi or contemporary parade forms of Latvian army are the same “SS fighters”, who guarded Salaspils punishment camp. 

It is not true that foreign diplomats were not invited to the opening of the renewed memorial. The representatives of the embassies of Germany and Israel definitely participated, and, as it is said, the representatives from Belarus and Ukraine were also there. Furthermore, on 7 February, people, who were brought to Salaspils from Belarussian villages during anti-guerilla campaigns as very young children, were also represented among the guests. They viewed the exhibition, talked to journalists and none of these, now rather elderly people, seemed to demonstrate a desire to take to the floor behind the microphone. 

The most frequent accusations that the Latvian government tries to present Salaspils as a “resort” and a “pioneer camp” are absurd, because no Latvian media has ever called the punishment camp established by Nazis such. The epithets “recreation camp” and similar have come from the same Russian language media that attacked the joint work of historians Kārlis Kangers, Uldis Neiburgs and Rudīte Vīksne, Behind These Gates The Earth Moans. Salaspils Camp 1941-1944, which, to great extent, was the basis of the new exhibition.

Regarding the attitude of Latvian historians towards Salaspils, it is demonstrated in a sufficiently balanced and argumentative manner in the aforementioned book. The fact that the critics, although condemning this book, have not even read it, is another matter to reflect on. The situation with the materials visible at the memorial is similar. Only a minor number, perhaps a couple, of Russian media journalists have actually been to the memorial and observed it with their own eyes. The rest of them use the same biased reports; each adding more and more elaborate and chaotic improvisations on the article they have read, and finally creating their own “oracle predictions” based on their fantasies, lies, and delirious considerations that result in the assumption that the exposition has been created only to demonstrate that the “Nazi occupation regime was “better” than the Soviet one”.

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
    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
    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.
    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.
    Soviet occupation
    • 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.
    Soviet occupation
    • 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.
    Soviet occupation
    • 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.