|In this Page a short review of the migration history of Latvians in the reference period 1800-1955 is discussed. At the beginning of this period (1800) all Latvians were subjects of the Russia Empire. There were in the Empire about 780,000 Latvians in 1800 and about 1,350,000 in 1900. Population statistics for the period of independent Latvia is available in another Page.|
Migration inside the Russia Empire
Migration to other countries
The Revolution of 1905
The World War I and the Revolution 1917
Soviet Russia and Soviet Union
Population changes in 1940-1941
World War II
Postwar losses in people
|Around 1800 the vast majority of Latvians were serfs and could
move to other places only with permission of their owner. However some Latvians
were free, and the ways how they got the freedom are described in a separate Page.
The free Latvians in the period of serfdom migrated but, as far as I know,
primarily within their home province. The migration of Latvian serfs then
was fully the responsibility of their owners. They could move their serfs
to any place they wanted. I have some information about forced migration
of Estonian serfs to manors of Livland, and I am sure something similar
could also happen to Latvian serfs, though I have no direct information
about such cases.
In 1801 a document of the Empire officials was distributed to the manor owners of the Baltic provinces which proposed them to organize the settling of their serfs to the border regions with China in the Irkutsk province of Siberia. The serfs were to be sent in families, and all family members were counted in the quota of recruits, so it was rather profitable to support the colonization of Siberia in this way, because the price of colonizers for manor owners was less - the market price of a woman was smaller than that of a man for recruiting. At this moment only the text of the document in German is available, and I will publish the document in more details later, but in any case I have no information how successful was the project - how many Latvian serfs were transferred to Siberia. It is known, however, that this project in general failed.
During the 19th century the Russia Empire took part in pretty many wars but the only warfare in the region of Latvia took place in the war of 1812 with Napoleon whose army entered Kurzeme [Kurland] province. In 1812 the quota of recruits was 1 man of 500 registered souls in Kurzeme and 14 of 500 in Vidzeme [Livland]. I do not know how many Latvians perished in this war, the only hint I have found in the book of A.Švābe on Latvian history /Švābe/ that informs that about 25,000 men with horses were mobilized in Kurzeme additionally for transportation needs of the Army, and nothing is known how many of them returned home.
The serfdom in Kurzeme [Kurland] province was abolished on August 25, 1817 and in Vidzeme [Livland] province on March 26, 1819. In Latgale (Vitebskas province) as well as in all other Russia Empire it was abolished much later on February 19, 1861.
However the real freedom to move to other places was not that easy to gain:
So the first serious migration of Latvians could be registered at the end of the 1840s, when some peasants of Vidzeme [Livland] province settled in the Southern provinces of Russia. They wanted to get there their own land, because at that time it was practically impossible to get land even for rent in Vidzeme province.
Analogous migrations also occurred in the 1860s and 1870s and later. I have no direct
information about the quantity of migrated people, and no lists were published, and I
suppose they were never gathered, because even the investigations carried out at the
beginning of the 20th century complained on the lack of information. However
some facts are available.
The most intensive migration routes at the end of the 19th century were to the neighboring provinces of Pleskava, St. Petersbourg, Kauņa and others, later since 1870 also to Ufa, Orenburg provinces and beginning from 1890 also to Siberia. The migration to Vitebska province should be mentioned specially, because the Latvians from Kurzeme and Vidzeme provinces migrated to Latgale that was part of Vitebska province, as well as to other parts of this province. The Latvians of Latgale in their turn began to migrate after 1895 to Siberia, because they as being Catholics had limitations in land acquisition in other regions.
M.Skujenieks informs that, according to the results of the Census of 1897 /Skujenieks/, the number of Latvians in various provinces of Russia was the following:
Now Kauņa is in Lithuania; Vitebsk, Mogilev, Minsk are in Belorus; other regions are in Russia.
A total of Latvians from Kurzeme and Vidzeme who migrated to Latgale part of Vitebska province was about 30.000.
It is also worth to know that at the end of the 19th century some brain drain took place. In 1908 the list of Latvians, who studied in or have graduated from the higher education institutions of Russia, was published /Latweeschi/. It informs that 462 of the graduates worked in Kurzeme or Vidzeme and 563 i.e. 55% outside the Baltic provinces. Many returned home later, but, of course, it is not known how many of them.
The best source about the migration of Latvians to other provinces of the Russia Empire is /Krasnais/. It contains many names as well, and the book would be worth to translate and publish here, but it is clear I shall not be able to do that.
There is some information that at the beginning of the 1890s Latvians started to emigrate to the USA. However the number of emigrants is not known again. The letters of the descendants of these emigrants now on the Internet allow to suppose that there were more of them as I thought previously and some of them migrated even earlier.
The historians of social democratic movement assert /Dūma, Paeglīte/ that rather many people emigrated to Western Europe and to the USA at the end of the 1890s beginning from 1896. This emigration was called "first wave of revolutionary emigration". I have no numerical characteristics of this emigration. It should be mentioned that this wave as well as other revolutionary waves did not consist of equally thinking revolutionaries. Some of them settled in America for ever, some of them returned to Russia to take part in the Revolution of 1905. Some of them joined the Bolshevik party, some of them remained Social Democrats, and some of them left political parties. And, of course, some of them were neither revolutionaries nor Social Democrats.
The best source about the migration of Latvians to other countries is the above mentioned book of V.Krasnais /Krasnais/, though there are also some publications that have discovered mistakes in this book. For example, E.Katajs mentioned several of them, concerning Harbin in his memoirs /Katajs/, about life in Harbin in China (Manchuria) .
It follows from the book of V.Krasnais that 50 Latvians lived in Canada in 1893, that first Latvians arrived in Brazil in 1890 (see more about Latvians in Brazil in the page about Baptists and in the paper of V.Gruber), that Latvians migrated to Argentina and Australia after the Revolution of 1905, that some of them fought on the Boers side in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa and so on.
A large wave of emigration began in 1905 when the Revolution of 1905 came to the end and the active participants emigrated to Western countries or to Eastern provinces of Russia, where they hid themselves under faked names. The numerous trials of the revolutionaries ended about the first half of 1907, but the emigration continued at least till 1910. For these migrations some numerical estimates are available /Plakans/:
This source (and others) gave no numerical estimates of those who went eastward. It
seems that the number could not be less than 5000.
On August 1, 1914 the World War I began and caused enormously great migrations.
It was especially hard time for the inhabitants of Kurzeme [Kurland].
In the spring of 1915, when German troops approached Kurzeme, a huge amount
of refugees of different ethnicities left their homes and moved eastward
obeying the order of the authorities of the Empire. The total number is
estimated at 570 000 /Plakans/. Most of them remained in
Vidzeme and Latgale i.e. in the regions of future Latvia, however many
of them fled to the inner provinces of Russia.
The Red Latvian Riflemen and the civil refugees formed the Latvian minority in the USSR of 200,000 (rough estimate) persons in 1930. At the end of the 1930s some waves of Stalin's massacres had special accents upon the Latvians in the USSR and as the result about 70,000 of them perished. The last number is a rough estimate calculated from the results of two Censuses, one at the beginning of the 1930s and other one at the end of the decade. It seems to be overestimated but it is widely distributed by most of the available sources except only some of them.
The recent publication of A.Stranga /Stranga/ informs about the results of other two investigations that gave more realistic number of 23 000 perished or about 26 000 of arrested and 5 000 executed Latvians. The paper of N.Ohotin and A.Roginskij /Ohotin/ comments on the order of November 30, 1937 which prescribed the arrest of those Latvians who presumably were members of counterrevolutionary organizations. The authors inform that 22,300 Latvians were sentenced and 16,600 of them shot during 1938 in the fulfillment of this order. The paper of J.Riekstiņš /Riekstins/ informs that 5400 ethnic Latvians were imprisoned in the camps of the Soviet Union to January 1, 1940, but this was the time when the main executions were over. No lists of these persons were created, but one may assume, however, that it would be possible to compile such lists, because all the sentences were documented.
The colonies of Latvians in the USSR are described in the book of V.Krasnais /Krasnais/. He asserted that there could have been about 600 Latvian colonies - the places where relatively many Latvians lived together.
The Latvian riflemen, who did not move to the Red Russia, were joined by draftees and
created the Army of liberation of Latvia from Bolshevik troops. After the establishment of
independent Latvia the participants of the liberation had serious privileges in the
agrarian reform. For this and other reasons the lists of their names should exist, however
I do not have them in my disposal and do not know at this moment where one can find them,
except the list of the people, who were decorated for their heroism in these battles. The
histories of particular Latvian military units in the WW1 were written in the 1930s, they
contain a lot of names and the lists of those who fell in the warfare.
It is known that some Latvians, especially those who had German relatives, migrated to Germany at the end of 1939 when the German minority of Latvia was moved to Germany and Poland.
There was also some inner migration from one location to another and from rural to urban regions. I think that the most important was the migration of the hired labourers from Latgale region to Zemgale region. Theoretically the workers went back after the contract expired, but in practice it happened not always.
In 1940, when Latvia was incorporated in the USSR, a small unknown number of Latvians from the USSR migrated to Latvia. Much more important were the losses of the people because of the arrests. A total of arrested, exiled and executed persons during the year from June 1940 to June 1941 was about 27,600, according to the most reliable sources. I estimate the number of Latvians among them as 22,000. (The most frequently referenced total of the arrested persons is 35,000 that was reported in the publications of Nazi times.)
To tell the truth, this number is quite frequently speculated about. The standard politically correct approach is to speak about 35,000 victims without specification of the number of exiled and executed. It is supposed by default that all of them were executed. This is rather misleading approach, and a lot of people in Western countries do not try to seek for their relatives, because they think that all of their relatives were exiled and all the exiled perished. Really, many of them perished, but not all, and it is fully reasonable to investigate the fates of the relatives that were left in Latvia. For some understanding of the processes, the technology of arrests and the legal practice of that time is tried to explain here.
The main part of total human losses consists of those who were arrested and exiled on June 14, 1941. Their number was 14,200 that comprised 4200 arrested and 10,000 exiled persons. The number of Latvians among them was 11,400. The list of arrested and exiled people was compiled and published by the General Management of Latvia Archives in 1995 /Represētie/. The list gives information when an exiled person died in the exile or when he/she was set free. Unfortunately, the list is grouped by the living places of the people and in a living place the people are grouped by the number of the appropriate file in the NKVD archive. So it is difficult to find a person you know of only by the name.
The technology of the arrests and of the deportation was the following: At night of June 14, 1941 the groups of officials arrived at homes of the people, that should have been accused of a crime, and arrested them and their family members following the lists that were prepared beforehand. Then the family with some belongings was transported to a railway station and there the accused people - mainly the fathers - were separated from other family members. The accused people were sent to a camp, but their family members to the place of exile. The only exception of this scheme was if a family member was arrested prior to June 14, and it was later decided to exile the whole family. The exiled people were on their way to Siberia when Nazi Germany invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941.
The fates of the above two groups were very different.
In any case, if you have a family branch that was exiled in 1941, it would be a good idea to check the list of exiled people to find who and when were set free after 1956.
As a total of the repressed persons was 27,600, and 14,200 of them were arrested on June 14, 1941, the other 13,400 were arrested during the end of 1940 and the beginning of 1941. It is clear that most part of them were sent to camps and I think that most of them perished, though again not all of them.
It would be quite normal to ask what were the crimes the people were accused of. The short answer is - nobody knows. Theoretically the arrested people were the opponents of the Soviet regime, but in practice even true supporters were arrested and real enemies of the Bolsheviks slipped out of the comb quite easy. Rich people were arrested but not all of them. I have at the moment more detailed information only about some of the cases, and I am feeling that in standard cases the arrested persons were denunciated. If somebody was arrested, they were asked what anti-Soviet activities they were involved into, who else collaborated with them and after some psychological and frequently physical pressure they said what and who, and then new people were arrested and investigated and confessed and so the cascade rolled further.
World War II
The WW2 reached the region of Latvia in few days after the Nazi troops invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. It took an additional week till all the region of Latvia went under Nazi Germany (July 8). The information concerning this period is overviewed in another Page.
Postwar losses in people
The postwar losses in people due to Soviet repression are discussed in a separate Page to make this Page shorter.
© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002