Latvia during the Second World War

Latvia during the Second World War

On the 22 June 1941 Nazi Germany attacked the USSR. In the first hours of the war the territory of Latvia had already been subjected to bombings. The Soviet army retreated. On 1 July German troops occupied Riga.

The inhabitants of Latvia reacted in different ways to news of the war. Part of the population was evacuated to the Soviet interior. The Workers’ Guard, formed in Latvia in the summer of 1940, engaged in combat together with the Red Army. However, by the beginning of the war anti-Soviet feelings had strengthened in Latvia, spurred by the arrests and mass deportations of 14 June 1941. The more radically minded opponents to Soviet rule rushed to the aid of the Nazi occupiers. Not only did they shoot the retreating Red Army soldiers in the back, but already in the first days of the war set about reprisals against the Jewish population and Soviet activists. On 4 July 1941 in Riga collaborators participated in the burning of a synagogue with several hundred people inside. In September 1941 Latvian police battalions began to be set up on the principle of voluntary membership, which subsequently participated in Nazi punitive operations in Russia, Byelorussia, Ukraine and Poland. After the defeat at Stalingrad, Hitler signed an order to create a Latvian voluntary legion of the SS. Soon, however, the voluntary principle was replaced by that of forced mobilisation.

The policies used by the German occupying forces evoked more and more the indignation of the population, including those who had from the start hoped to have independence restored to Latvia. The majority of Latvia’s residents felt themselves to be between two fires. They cannot accept Nazi ‘new order’, but the returning of Stalinist rule also does not bode well for them. So at the end of the war thousands of Latvians as well as Latvian Russians emigrated to the West.

In the summer of 1944 the Soviet army started the expulsion of the Nazi occupiers from Latvia. Riga was liberated on 13 October 1944. In the western part of Latvia considerable grouping of German troops, including the 19th Latvian Division of the SS were surrounded in the so-called Courland Pocket. It was not until 9 May 1945 that the German troops in Courland capitulated.

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