CASE FILE

Vilis Arveds HāznersDaugavas Vanagi, Who Are They?” = KGB Fabrications Ground Zero

Hāzners' deportation case was the first such action to be brought against a Latvian based on fabricated Soviet evidence. The case was made all the more sensational—spawning more than one "Nazis among us" network documentary—by Hāzners' leadership position in the émigré Latvian community and his being singled out by Soviet authorities. As Holocaust scholar Dr. Andrew Ezergailis writes in his Six Versions of the Holocaust in Latvia[1] (our emphasis):

The Soviet propaganda version, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish: like an abstract collage it was pasted together piece by piece: cannibalizing both the Nazi and the survivor narratives. The Soviet version is encapsulated in the 1961 pamphlet Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They?, by Paulis Ducmanis, a Nazi era, Berlin-educated, journalist.

This pamphlet was a collage of extended passages from [Max] Kaufmann’s memoirs [published in 1947][2]that were combined with material from the 1961 show trial of the 18th Police Battalion. Conceptually the Soviet version differed from the Nazi one, if we penetrate their ideological armor, only in one particular: the Soviets peppered their text with the words “fascism” and “nationalism.”

Of the three “Germanless” variants, it was the Soviet one that gained the greatest currency and influence on Nazi hunters and Holocaust historians the world over. The Soviets used its diplomatic reach to distribute the KGB literature throughout the world. Naming of names was the bait that hooked the Nazi hunters in the West on the Soviet/KGB pamphlets. The pamphlet became a kind of a handbook for Nazi hunters in the West and was the source of the famous Wiesenthal lists that were circulated to a number of Western governments during the 1980s. It took several trials, exhaustive investigations, and millions of dollars to discover that the KGB had given the westerners a run around. In as much as Ducmanis, who originally compiled these names, had done it with total disregard for truth, no successful prosecution could result by pursuing the names on the lists. The first major case in which the KGB and survivors’ accounts were tested was that of Vilis Hāzners in 1979. The OSI (the Office of Special Investigations) picked up Hāzners’ name, but no evidence, from KGB literature. It was up to the hapless American prosecutors to hunt up witnesses and establish credible evidence. They thought they found the witnesses and evidence among the Jewish survivors in Israel[3] and the West. The evidence that they garnered from them was not better or worse than one usually gets from eye witnesses — full of errors, misidentifications, and contradictions. Hāzners’ defense attorney Ivars Bērzinš made short shrift of the witnesses, thus persuading the trial judge of Hāzners’ innocence. The trial records show that the prosecution would have been better off without calling any eye-witnesses at all.

The question, then, is, how did Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They? come to form the backbone of a scholarly narrative[4] of the Holocaust in Latvia which persists to this day?


[1]Symposium of the Commission of the Historians of Latvia, Volume 18, Six Versions of the Holocaust in Latvia, pages 65 and following, retrieved 19-November-2015
[2]From earlier in Ezergailis' essay: "Among the insupportable assertions one can name the following:
(1) that prior to the German occupation there was a Latvian center that planned the killing of the Jews;
(2) that an uncounted number of Jews were killed by Latvians prior to the German occupation;
(3) the most absurd of all, is that while Latvians were killing Jews the Germans saved them.
Like Latvians and the state of Latvia ought to face the Latvian role in the Holocaust, the surviving Jews ought to face the stubborn fact that Latvia was an occupied country. They ought to show an understanding of the system that Germans imposed within their zones of sovereignty. To me the three above assertions that some surviving Jews view as unquestionably true, appear as basic misjudgements of the Nazi regime.
Max Kaufmann’s Die Vernichtung der Juden Lettlands, published in 1947, was the first, and still is the most extensive memoir by a Holocaust survivor in Latvia, and is one that contains the[se] three misapprehensions. It is remarkable that years have not mellowed these assertions but, if anything, they have rigidified them."
[3]Israeli authorities introduced photos of Hāzners (and others) as Nazi war criminals. They then coached and drilled witnesses to identify Hāzners as the person in photographs once they thought they might have recognized him. One issue in the INS case, but not the one causing it to fall apart as is contended, is that the "trial" exhibits were copies, not the originals, and that the exhibit of photographs was also rearanged during the proceedings.
[4] David Cesarani (1956–2015) wrote “much of the material it [Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They?] presents has been verified independently.” Cesarani, David. Justice Delayed, 2001, page 304.

Updated: October, 2016

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