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Migrations of Latvians during WW2

It is supposed that this text is read after the Page:

Migration history of Latvians

and later it is connected to

Postwar population changes


The WW2 caused a very great migration of Latvians including the migration to the Nowhere.

Their fates and migration routes could be classified by migration direction:

Latvians who went eastward
Latvians who stayed in the region of Latvia
Latvians who went westward


Latvians who went eastward

The Nazi German troops captured Riga after about a week they invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. It took an additional week till all the region of Latvia went under Germany (July 8). During those some days the Soviet officials and their family members fled eastward. There is also information that about 3000 Latvians were taken eastward against their will. A total  of moved people is estimated at about 60,000 or maybe 50,000, but it is not known exactly. One may estimate that there were about 40,000 Latvians (about 15,000 were Jews) among the war refugees. I think it is worth to mention that quite frequently not a whole family went eastward but only some its young members. A considerable number of young Communists activists moved eastward quite willingly - they thought they would return in some days, in the worst case in some weeks.

In reality, the refugees returned only after the war, though not all of them. The first losses took place during the evacuation period due to the attacks both of the Nazi Armed forces and the pro-Nazi partisans. About 1700 local persons were killed from both sides in the region of  Latvia.

On September 12, 1941 the Latvian riflemen division was created that at the beginning comprised about 10,000 men. Theoretically this had to be a Soviet Army unit of ethnic Latvians, but in practice it was also remanned with refugees of other ethnicities from Latvia and later with any draftees. Initially the division had, for example, pretty many Jews from Latvia, but later their number decreased due to losses (see the list of 2156 Jews from Latvia that perished in the warfare of WW2 /Arolovich/). Unfortunately, nobody ever cared to compile the personal losses of Latvians in the Soviet Army during the warfare.

The Latvian riflemen division had severe battles in the vicinities of Narofominsk, Staraja Russa, Demjanovsk etc. These are localities approximately in half way between the Latvia border and Moscow.

The life of the refugees, who were not drafted, was not splendid at all, but mostly they survived the War. The main part of them returned to the postwar Latvian SSR, but not all of them - some remained in the places of the evacuation.

When the Nazi forces rolled back and the Soviet Army entered the region of Latvia, the draft in this Army was announced and many Latvians were called in. Some information about this process I propose in the Page about my father's fate. It is asserted in some publications that a total of about 130,000 persons from Latvia served on the Soviet side. In this number the participants of Soviet partisan movement during the War are also included. The total losses of Latvians on the Soviet side are estimated at about 30-35,000.

The USSR, the United States and the Great Britain were The Allies in the time of the WW2 and had common enemy - the Nazi Germany. So just mentioned human losses was some contribution in the common victory. I thought it was necessary to remind this fact, because in the politically correct publications of modern times very few information on the participation of Latvians in the warfare against Nazi Germany could be found, if any. At best case some bad words are said about the Bolsheviks who made Latvians to fight for quite alien goals, and usually only those Latvians who fought on the side of Nazis are found worth to mention.

To be honest, the Latvians, who fought against Nazis during the WW2 on the Soviet side, in general are less prioritary for the genealogical investigation of the Western people with Latvian ancestors. The probability that your relatives joined the Soviet Army is not very large, because the people who went eastward and those who went westward belonged to different social strata. Nevertheless, the touching points are not very rare, and, if they are discovered, some additional difficulties could arise that I am going to explain now.

It is important to know that in the USSR till the middle of the 1960s it was highly desirable to hide the very existence of Western relatives, especially if one hoped for a career, or already had a position in the Soviet system, not obligatory very good one. To say the truth, those who had, as it was said, "bad biographies"  could also get some position, but it was harder, no doubt. If it was not possible to hide the existence of relatives in foreign countries, then people usually declared that they personally had no contacts with the capitalists in the West. And in practice, if the contacts with the relatives were continued, this was a duty of the older generation who did not marvel about a career. As fast as this generation left the world, the contacts were lost quite easy, and the relatives were forgotten. I explained the general scheme that could be applied to concrete cases with precautions, of course.


Latvians who stayed in the region of Latvia

Arrested persons
The Nazis in Latvia arrested and killed a number of Latvians for being sympathizers to the   Bolsheviks. Only rough estimations of their number are available. Nowadays the publications most frequently show about 18,000 individuals. Not so few people were arrested and jailed in concentration camps. The mortality there was high enough, but many of the prisoners survived the War and returned home, and some went westward.

Local Police forces
One of the first jobs of the Nazis, when they took power, was to begin to organize the Police forces of the local people. There were various Police units with different tasks, and I can not discuss here all the system. And the Police had a lot of work to do during the wartime in the rear area of the Army, be sure. It is very important that many of the Police units were sent to the  front line near Leningrad beginning of October, 1941. These units consisted of real voluntaries. A total of the men that joined these Police units was about 20,000 according to /Silgailis/. Another 22,000 men were included in the so called C group of the Police. They lived in their homes and were called only in the cases of special needs. Many of them later joined the Waffen-SS (see below), but many spent the war time in their farmsteads. After the War they were sought by Soviets, and many of them were jailed in camps.

SiPo and SD
As soon as the Nazis entered the region of Latvia, they created special units of SiPo and SD with the only task of extermination of Jews. SiPo is the acronym SIcherheitsPOlizei what means - security police, and SD is an abbreviation of SicherheitsDienst that is security service. For this Site it is without great importance what was the difference between both organizations and why they were united. There were 5 special units called Einsatzkommandos from which the Einsatzkommando 1 covered Ostland that included former Latvia.

These Einsatzkommandos consisted of several squads, and of them the best known in Latvia is a squad named the Arājs Command after its leader Victors Arājs. The men in this company were mainly ethnic Latvians and they joined the Command voluntary. The Command was the leading actor in the Holocaust events in the region of Latvia and committed their crimes in the localities outside Riga. According to various information sources the biggest killing actions in Riga on November 30, 1941 were carried on by a special team of killers brought from Germany with the support of the local forces, of course.

After practically all Latvia's Jews were killed to the end of 1941, the Arājs Command was increased to about 200 or may be to 300 men and split into several parts. Some of the parts remained in Ostland, the others in early 1942 were taken to a Nazi SD training school in Fürstenberg near Ravensbruck concentration camp. They were trained there either in the extermination of ghettos or for counter-guerilla actions and they really took part in both activities during 1942 and 1943. Later they, as well as the other men from Einsatzkommanden, joined the Latvian Legion (see below). Additional information about the activities of this Command in the Minsk Ghetto is available in the Page about a participant of the group.

Forced labor force
A lot of people were mobilized for forced work in the territory of Germany. It was declared that this would be a voluntary action, however in reality the other choices were not well pronounced at all. The number of the people - both genders of younger generation - moved for forced labor to the West is not known of. It is estimated at about 60,000. Almost all of them survived the war, became displaced persons and moved later to US, Australia and other Western countries or stayed in Germany. Some of them also returned to Soviet Latvia, where they could be arrested, but I do not know of any reliable statistics of this process. It is known that some of them perished in the bombings of Germany cities, but I doubt the share of these losses was significant in the total amount of forced laborers.

Nazi Armed forces
In the first months of 1943 the Nazi Armed forces suffered heavy losses. On January 31, 1943 the Stalingrad battle ended with the result of 140,000 perished and 91,000 captured as war prisoners. The Soviet sources assert that this battle together with followed counteroffensive caused losses of the Nazi forces in 1.5 millions of killed, wounded and captured men.

The Nazi command calculated at that time that over 185,000 men were needed monthly to fuel the War. See /Soveršenno Sekretno/. The human resources of the Germany could not cover the need, therefore no wonder that the Nazi leaders decided to engage in the warfare also the population of the occupied regions.

Of course, some problems of psychological and political character arose, but they were much easier to solve than to get many hundred thousands of German soldiers. The draft of the population of the occupied regions was not accepted by international agreements, and the Nazi leaders themselves had also declared that in the German Army only German men may serve. For these reasons Latvians might not be called in the German Army.

The contradiction was solved quite easy, because the Armed forces of Germany in the time of the WW2 consisted of the Army [Wehrmacht], the Air Force [Luftwaffe], and the Waffen SS. This structure I found explained in the magazine of that time Laikmets 1943, my own understanding was that the Marine should also be part of the Armed forces like the Army. Each of the above mentioned structures had their own rank tables, the organization, the commander-in-chief etc. It was important that the Waffen SS was not part of the Army, so everybody could serve in the Waffen SS. Now the Nazi propaganda declared that The Führer Adolf Hitler driven by his extreme love of the Latvian people allowed them to create a division of Waffen SS. Yes, yes, even to join SS! A.Hitler issued his order on February 10, 1943 i.e. one week after the three days of mourning for the German troops, who died at Stalingrad, were announced.

Latvians were not the only ethnicity that was allowed to create ethnic Waffen-SS troops. A total of about 14 ethnicities had created (were allowed to create) their national Waffen-SS divisions in 1943-1944.

Some information on the SS
SS stands for Schutzstaffeln - Defense corps. Initially the SS were created as the personal guard units of the leader Adolf Hitler at the beginning of National Socialist movement. In the time being the organization was charged with a new task to defend all the State from inner and outer enemies, and it grew enormously, and its structure became really complicated. I decided not to explain the structure here, because this problem is not directly connected with the main goals of the Site; but some words are necessary to make the events clearer.

At the beginning of the WW2 the SS consisted of three following parts:

1. The general SS (Allgemeine SS) that had no definite political tasks and was the reserve of the organization.
2. The watch units (Wachterverbaende SS) that had to keep watch over the concentration camps.
3. The combat SS (Waffen SS) was part of the SS that took part in the combat operations and was part of German armed forces.

The most important for this Page is the fact that the Waffen-SS were not considered formally as part of the Army, though it was part of the Armed forces. In reality this formal difference played no significant military role, if any. The Waffen-SS units participated in all of the combat operations in the Eastern direction, they were regarded as the elite part of the Armed forces, and they really were the elite at the beginning of the war, and, what was more important, they felt themselves as an elite. The elite in this case also means that an SS-man had no Jewish ancestors at least 200 years back.

Later on, after heavy human losses, the Waffen-SS were remanned with ordinary draftees without great care for the elite character. The real difference between the regular Army and the Waffen SS was that the latter had in some cases special situation, because they had two commanders-in-chief. They were under their own Reichsfürer H.Himmler and under the commanders of the highest rank in the Army.

Latvian Legion of Waffen-SS
The first announcement of the conscription of Latvians into the troops of the Waffen-SS, that was usually called the Legion, took place on March 22, 1943 when the Inspector General of the Legion (the highest military rank for Latvians in the Legion) R.Bangerskis published an appeal to join the Legion. He himself signed the military oath on March 20. The Nazi planned to conscript at the first phase about 58,000 soldiers. Not so many. This quantity could cover the needs of 1.5 weeks of the War, but in reality the number of Latvian legionaries was less.

The mobilization began at the end of March 1943. All the men fit for military service and born 1919-1924 received draft notices for obligatory military work, but, when they arrived, they were informed that they can choose between the service in the Legion and in the Support corps of the German Army (Wehrmachts-Hilfswillige); in some cases they really were sent for work in Germany or in other territories. All the draftees signed a document that their choice is fully voluntary. The forced mobilization started later in November 1943 when military orders were published with no elements of voluntary choice. Later some more mobilization orders were also issued. According to /Silgailis/, a total of draftees in the Legion was more than 32,000, in the Support corps about 15,000. The latter number also includes 3000 young men and teenagers of the Air Force support corps (Luftwaffen-Helfer) that were created at the end of the War.

The above mentioned Police units that actually took part in the combat operations beginning from 1941 were also included in the Legion. Initially the Legion consisted of one division (the 15th division), but later the second (the 19th) division was created.

Controversies about the Waffen-SS
Much ink has been spilled over the participation of the Waffen-SS in the mass killings in general and in the Holocaust especially. I think it is important to know that they were troops trained for combat operations and was involved in many heavy battles at the Eastern front of Nazis. For Police operations, running of camps, people transportation and extermination other units existed that were specially trained for those goals. To my understanding, Nazis had enough of these units to fulfill all the goals of this kind - after all, to kill a Jewish woman with a couple of kids is a much easier job than to combat with armed Soviets; though a simple murder job also demands some training - technical and psychological. Nevertheless, many Waffen-SS units and some Army units were also engaged in some mass killings. Evidently it was necessary to stain them and/or their commanders. It may be added that, if the SD and SiPo, that were responsible for mass killings, had been engaging other military units very frequently, they would have demonstrated their own laziness and nonprofessionality, so they were willing to do most butcher job by themselves. But all this was only my understanding, and you may choose your own vision and explanation.

As for the Latvian Waffen-SS divisions, they never took part in the Holocaust events and even could not, because, when they were created, almost all Jews of the region of Latvia were killed, so the Legion really combated with the Soviets on the Eastern front. I hope you understand the military matters enough to agree that it is not simple for a division to left the front line for finding where to commit some mass murders and then to come back quickly. As it was said, some hundreds of men from the Einsatzkommandos joined the Latvian troops of the Waffen-SS. It happened because the Einsatzkommandos had already committed the crimes, and the Nazis had no need in these kinds of specialists more.

Many politically correct publication of modern time assert that Latvian Waffen-SS and German Waffen-SS were quite different units, because they had different goals to fight for. It is supposed that the goals of Latvian Legionaries was to recreate an independent Latvia State. The assertion is also based on some decisions of the American Army command about the Latvian Waffen-SS. Whatever were the American decisions concerning Latvian Legionaries, when the cold war began, and whatever was the personal feelings and opinions of particular Latvians in the Waffen-SS, I do not doubt much that there were no serious differences from military point of view between German and Latvian Waffen-SS troops in 1943 when the latter were created. Both of them were regular combat units quite similar to other units of the Armed forces. The elite character of the German Waffen-SS that really existed at the beginning of the war was lost, as soon as the elite SS-men were killed in the warfare.

Many Western publications did not and do not still realize the difference between Waffen-SS and Einsatzkommanden and frequently accuse Latvian Waffen-SS (and sometimes all Latvians) of mass murders, which have direct impact on genealogical studies. It seems that many former soldiers of the Legion, when they began a new life in the Western countries, tended to hide their military service in the Waffen-SS even from their children. If you feared to study the fate of your grandfather or father, because you thought he committed crimes in the Latvian Legion, you may revise your approach. The vast majority of the men from the Legion deserve the same attitude as any other soldier of the conquered enemy, when the War is over, and the guns are put aside. Any war should once be ended. You are not responsible for the deeds of you ancestors in any case, I think, but I do not know what is the opinion of the people around you. You know better.


Latvians who went Westward

Various routes existed for Latvians to reach the Western countries after the end of the WW2

1. The Latvians, who were sent to Germany or to the occupied countries for forced labor, mainly remained there after the end of the War. They were mainly young people who did not fit for active military service.

2. The part of Latvian troops of the Waffen SS and namely the 15th division were captured by the Western Allies and became prisoners of war (POW). I have heard that all documents of this division including the passports of the draftees (they had passports of prewar Latvia) are gathered in an archive of the United Kingdom. If you have more information, please, inform this Site. Another unit - the 19th division surrendered in Kurzeme [Kurland] on May 9, 1945.

3. The Nazi administration insisted that the Latvian civil population moved westward as the Soviet Army approached the region of Latvia. In some places the people were directly ordered to left their homes and more or less forcibly pushed in the Western direction. Rather large part of them were transported by ships from Riga to Poland ports. See for additional information the route of Eglītis family. At the end of the war many civilians were transported in the Western direction from Liepaja [Libau] port.

4. Some people left the region of Latvia by boats from the Baltic coast at Kurzeme [Kurland] to Sweden. Their number was about 5500.

According to various publications with different estimations, the range of the total number of the Latvian war refugees was about 200-280 thousand people who willingly or unwillingly went westward as the Soviet troops approached the region of Latvia. It is also asserted that about 100,000 persons were sent back to the USSR from the Soviet occupation zone of Germany after 1945.

Those who occurred in other occupation zones were put in various camps of Displaced persons (DP) and stayed there until the beginning of the 1950s. The book of A.Bērziņš /Bērziņš/ informs that the card index of Latvians in the camps of DPs was created that comprised 111,495 cards. Unfortunately, I do not know what happened to these cards and where one can find them now. According to these cards, there were 27,415 non-married men and 19,005 non-married women among the DPs. It follows that at least 8,000 men later married non-Latvian women or stayed unmarried.

The further emigration out of Germany took some time. This process is described in the above mentioned book of A.Bērziņš /Bērziņš/, but I do not think this is the only published investigation. According to the author, the first people that left Germany were some men who arrived at coal mines of Belgium on April 22, 1947. Rather soon the refugees that were capable of hard working were allowed to migrate to the United Kingdom and about 9000 migrated by September 1947. The first ship to Canada with the refugees left Germany on July 23, 1947. In summer 1947 an immigration officer of Brazil started work in the camps of the DPs.

The most part of the DPs went to the USA and Australia, however. The Congress of the USA accepted The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 on June 25, 1948, and then the migration to the USA started. It should be added that initially the former soldiers of the Latvian Legion were not allowed to enter the US. It was permitted only on May 12, 1949.

The first ship to Australia cast off on October 30, 1947. A total of the war refugees, that migrated to Australia, was about 20,000.


© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002