Christopher HaleHitler's Foreign Executioners: Europe's Dirty Secret

Latvians Sided With the Red Army to Liberate Their Homeland of the Nazi PlagueBrother Kills Brother as the Red Army Anti-Fascist Heroes Sacrifice Themselves in Battle Against Hitler's Evil SS

Hale contends the Latvians were a microcosm of the life-and-death struggle on the Eastern Front — Latvians freely serving in the military instantiation of evil, Hitler-henchman-Himmler's SS, pitched in a battle against other Latvians siding with the Soviets to rid their homeland of the Brown Plague:

Tuesday, 16 March 2010. For Latvians, this has been the worst winter for thirty years and overnight temperatures have plummeted. Heavy snow falls and long lines of traffic crawl blindly across the Daugava bridges, generating a sickly yellow haze. A giant Baltic ferry squats in the iced-up river. Snow ploughs rumble through Riga’s old town towards the Dom, where the legion will begin its march to the Freedom Monument. Ice sheaths a red granite memorial to the Latvian 1‘Red Rifleman’, recruited by the Russians at the end of the First World War to fight the German Imperial Army – a reminder that 2many Latvians backed the Soviets and fought against the Latvian SS divisions[1].

The microcosm here is that of Hale's misinformed Latvian history.

The “Red Riflemen”

1 “‘Red Rifleman’, recruited by the Russians at the end of the First World War to fight the German Imperial Army”

Hale appears to labour under basic misunderstandings of the origin, role, and motivations, of the Latvian Red Riflemen ("Latviešu strēlnieki")—whom some even credit with saving the Russian Revolution.

Latvian nationalism at the dawn of the 20th century did not strive for freedom from the Russian empire but for increased autonomy within the empire. The Baltic provinces already had a significant degree of autonomy as compared to the rest of the empire. Within that paradigm:

  1. The Germans ("Balts"[2]) were seen as the major impediment to Latvian self-determination, having held the seats of influence and power regardless of empire.

For a time, the Russian Revolution was seen as the path to accelerate the road to self-determination. The Latvian communists—Rainis, the greatest of Latvian poets, was a champion of the working class and brother-in-law to Pēteris Stučka, a prominent Latvian communist—were "communists" in the European tradition, that is, Marxism, as opposed to Russian communism, born in the anti-Tsarist radical nihilism of the late 19th century. Rather than Russians recruiting Latvians for their cause:

  1. The Bolsheviks were highly distrustful of non-Russian units—far from being "recruited" the Latvians had to both volunteer and prove themselves, only for disillusion to set in later.

As fears crystallized that the Bolsheviks had no intention of granting autonomy, despite their promise of an independent Latvia, Latvian nationalism re-envisioned itself as casting off both German and Russian yokes. Latvians with a new mission to get out from under all foreign influences declared independence November 18, 1918. Bolshevik Russia, which controlled a majority of Latvian territory at that point, recognized the sovereignty of the "Soviet Republic of Latvia" on December 22nd—not of the entity which had declared independence a month earlier.

Hale fails to appreciate the separate origins of Latvian and Russian communism, and that widespread support for socialism among Latvians in the wake of the 1905 revolution did not equate to an embrace of Russian Bolshevism. Those who remained in Russia after the peace were later rewarded for their loyalty in the Great Purge of 1937–1938, during which merely being Latvian was a crime—eventually, anyone with Latvian nationality indicated in their passport was automatically branded a subversive. Punishment? Death. Death to the prime suspect, his wife, his children, his relatives. But not before being tortured to give up other "subversives."[3]

“Latvians Backed the Soviets” Against the “SS”

2 “many Latvians backed the Soviets and fought against the Latvian SS divisions”

Hale ignores his own early confirmation that both Germans and Russians were occupiers.[4]

Nor does Hale's cited source, Geoffrey Swain, discuss the Waffen-SS as footnote placement implies. Latvian service in the Red Army was not "siding" with the Soviets. What Hale interprets as joining-with-Soviets Latvian motivation in battle was far more likely to be driven by their commanding officers having standing orders to shoot anyone who retreated than by Bolshevik sympathies. There were individual Latvians who survived being arrested by both sides and pressed into military service by both sides. Latvians did not support the Red Army or join to "fight the SS". Indeed, Latvians facing Latvians across the front line laid down their arms refused to engage. Eventually the Soviets learned to send "their" Latvians into action far from the Latvian Legion.

Hale wilfully ignores the elephant in the room. Latvians on the Eastern Front bore no allegiance to the armies they fought in or to the occupying regimes those armies served.

The Wrong Parallel

The question, then, is, where does Hale stand with his comparison of the Latvian War of Independence to WWII and his contention that that Latvians allied in both with Russians against Germans vis-à-vis historical facts?

The historical parallel is actually the opposite. Latvia achieved independence as Latvians first allied with the Germans against the Bolshevik Russians to drive them out, then turned on the German forces to free their homeland of both external powers. That was the historical parallel which the Latvian Legion hoped to repeat, to use German arms to fend off the Russians and then drive out the Germans.

The post-war division of Europe consigned 100,000,000 to Soviet brutality. Fighting on the Eastern Front against the re-invading Red Army was an act of patriotism and heroism irrespective of conscripted or volunteered. The Germans were the means to an end. No one fought "for" either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. There is no dispute among reputable historians regarding these facts, yet Hale promulgates a blatant historical lie of Russian-Latvian unity against Germans across two wars.

[1]Sourced to "G. Swain, ‘The Disillusioning of the Revolution’s Praetorian Guard: the Latvian Riflemen, Summer–Autumn 1918’, in Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 51 No 4 (1999)"
[2]"Balts" properly refers to Baltic German nobility and their descendants, not to the Baltic peoples, the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians.
[3]We would add that after WWII, all Latvians were interrogated by the Soviet regime and asked a range of questions, including: "Name three [Nazi] collaborators."
[4]"At the intersection [of the Freedom Boulevard and City Canal] stands the granite-clad Freedom Monument, built in 1935 to honour the soldiers killed fighting for Latvian independence in 1919. It is a potent symbol of nationhood which has withstood three foreign occupations."

Updated: May, 2017

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