After NATO published an online short film about the Baltic resistance movement that followed World War Two, called “Forest Brothers. Fight for the Baltics”, a hysterical reaction from Russia, which has not subsided to date, followed. Among different accusations and inventions, the especially outstanding news was entitled as follows: “Expert: Forest brothers killed 80% of the Jews in the Baltic States”. This article was initially posted on RIA Novosti news agency’s website, and was later published by several other websites.
RIA Novosti refers to Mikhail Myagkov, the Director of the Russian Military Historical Society, who said: “During Hitler’s aggression, they served in the Nazi formations and guard units, eliminating Soviet prisoners of war. They participated in the Holocaust: 80% of the Jews in the Baltic States were killed at the hands of these collaborators.” It is especially indicative that this article has been translated into Latvian and published in the Latvian version of the website “Sputnik” .
“As simple as that, an imaginary figure has been chosen to ensure that it sounds loud and horrible. One hundred percent could not be written, the sound of it would be too banal, but 80%, 85%, 90%, whatever fits. The “expert” clearly lacks any documents or research results – it is just a loud phrase to be used for propaganda purposes,” the historian Zigmārs Turčinskis responds.
Turčinskis has spent years researching the national resistance movement, and he is the author of the book “Ziemeļvdzemes mežabrāļi, 1944. - 1953. gads: Latvijas nacionālo partizānu cīņas Valkas apriņķī un Alūksnes apriņķa rietumu daļā” (The Forest Brothers of Northern Vidzeme 1944 - 1953: Battles of Latvian National partisans in the Valka District and the Western Part of Alūksne District).
Among the 13 Thousand, Probably a Few
Who were the forest brothers? The precise number is unknown, but, according to estimates by Z. Turčinskis, there were around 13,000. They were very different people – people who have never before participated in military activities and have been evading mobilisation into the legion or the Soviet army, farmers, people who had been serving in the auxiliary police, former legionnaires, as well as people who were fleeing repressions.
“There were regional differences – in the area of Vidzeme and Latgale they predominantly consisted of people, who have deserted from both armies, in Kurzeme most of them were former legionnaires. This also predetermined the form of resistance. The forest brothers in Vidzeme and Latgale most frequently tried to avoid direct contact with NKVD force, except for the forest brothers in Stompaki and some other individual cases. While in Kurzeme, the legionnaires, who had experience of frontline battles, did not avoid clashes. Especially in 1945 and 1946, Kurzeme experienced fierce battles with the Soviet side, sustaining severe losses,” the historian describes.
If the Soviet government managed to capture forest brothers, court sessions were held, however, there is no information that charges for the killings of Jews were brought against them. “It was a popular movement consisting of different people, there is a possibility that some of them had participated in the shootings of Jews, I could mention three or four names. But does this give rise to bringing charges against the entire movement? Of course, not. Such people could be found among the personnel of the Soviet regime with an equal success rate. The Cheka also used them.
“For instance, there is a story from the Bauska region. One of the chairmen of a collective farm, a member of the Communist Party, had been sent on a business trip to visit colleagues in Belarus, and the local people there recognised him as a former war criminal. If we follow this logic, the Communist party could be equally well accused of Nazi crimes,” says Turčinskis.
The Holocaust – A Sensitive Topic
Who is responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust in the territory of Latvia? During the Nazi occupation 70,000 local and 20,000 foreign Jews died. As the historian Uldis Neiburgs narrates, before October 1941, the elimination of almost all Jews in the rural areas of Latvia occurred. It was organised by the operative group “A” of the German security Police SD under the command of Walter Stahlecker. Latvian auxiliary police was used for the detaining of Jews, confiscating their property, convoying of the detainees to shooting sites, as well as for killings.
Afterwards, the elimination of Jews in Latvia was taken over by the Commander of the German Security Police SD in Latvia, Rudolf Lange, and the senior head of the SS and the police in Ostland and Northern Russia, Friedrich Jeckeln. The auxiliary unit of the Latvian security police, headed by Viktors Arājs, actively participated in the killings of Jews in the territory of Latvia and beyond.
“No precise calculations have been performed in the historical research on exactly how many Jews were killed in Latvia by different German SS, SD, police and other structures, nor how many by the participants of Latvian self-defence or auxiliary police units. However, it is known that, for instance, the killers during the largest massacres of Jews in Rumbula on 30 November and 8 December 1941 (where 24,000 Riga Ghetto Jews and 1,000 foreign Jews were killed) were Germans, while the “Arājs Group” performed killings of at least 22,000 local Jews in different places of Latvia.
“Meanwhile, during the largest campaigns to eliminate Jews, in Liepāja and Daugavpils, the killings were performed both by German and Latvian units. This allows the assumption that different German, as well as Latvian units, were involved in the killings of the approximately 70,000 Jews of Latvia in comparatively equal amounts (50/50),” U. Neiburgs estimates.
However, even he confirms that such people occurred very rarely among the post-war national partisans. “I assume that Russian propaganda uses the information that national partisans killed 80% of Baltic Jews in order to discredit the national resistance movement, especially in the eyes of the international public, knowing the significance and sensitivity of the issue of the Holocaust,” the historian believes.
The Distinguished Falsifier
There are no historians in Russia who have researched the forest brother movement in the Baltic States, therefore there is no point in expecting any scientific facts from there. The aforementioned “expert” Mikhail Myagkov, who has expressed the absurd statement that forest brothers killed 80% of the Jews, prides himself with various titles. For instance, he is a lecturer at the famous Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), a professor, the representative of the Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the advisor of the Minister for Culture of the Russian Federation.
“Why would Mr. Myagkov express such erroneous information? There are two obvious reasons: 1) such absolutely wrong calculations may be present in some documents of Soviet security institutions or other documents of Soviet origin that are uncritically used and retold, 2) it is a deliberate falsification without attempting to understand the subject matter, but simply voicing information that is required for the needs of propaganda.
Both of the aforementioned considerations allow for questioning of the professional qualifications of Mr. Myagkov as a historian, and confirms the situation in the study of history in Russia that has been observed for a long time; that several representatives of this field, especially officials occupying leading positions, are rather far from objective historical research, while being involved in the implementation of the objectives of Russian propaganda,” U. Neiburgs says.
The preparation of this report was supported by the Latvian Ministry of Culture