Christopher SimpsonBlowback: America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War

Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They?” ala Simpson

Did you know?

Where the Latvians have the KGB's Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They? to contend with, the Ukrainians have their own Soviet propaganda pamphlet, The SS Werewolves, published in Canada (1982) to strike at the leadership of its large and virulently anti-Soviet émigré Ukrainian community.

Simpson features the Daugavas Vanagi organization and its leadership prominently in the pantheon of Nazi conspirators. Simpson's contentions regarding the "Vanagis" [sic.[1]] are certainly damning, if true.

1Right-wing émigré organizations, which had once been little more than instruments of German (and later U.S.) espionage agencies, began to take on a distinct life and authority of their own during the cold war, particularly inside America’s large Eastern European immigrant communities. Through organizations such as the 2CIA-funded Assembly of Captive European Nations (ACEN), certain Ukrainian fraternal groups, and 3the Latvian Daugavas Vanagi alliance (each of which included in positions of leadership persons whom U.S. investigators have alleged to be Axis war criminals), these extreme-right-wing exiles gradually expanded their reach in American affairs.
Contention versus Fact

Simpson begins with his unfounded contention that organizations such as Daugavas Vanagi were sinister espionage operatives working first for the Nazis, then for the CIA after WWII, that is, Nazi agents before, during, and after WWII. Daugavas Vanagi is a veterans' self-help welfare group founded in Zedelgem POW Camp, where Allied guards shot Latvians for live target practice until they were informed the Latvians weren't Nazis. The contention they were in any way Nazi agents is sheer fabrication.

That legitimate anti-Soviet émigré organizations received CIA funding to support their operations does not detract from their mission to end Soviet subjugation of 100,000,000 Europeans.

Simpson casts a pall of illegitimacy on the aims and members of Daugavas Vanagi and other organizations by branding them and their leadership as right-wing, extreme-right-wing, fascist, and instruments of [Nazi] German espionage agencies.

A full third of the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations' alleged Nazis were individuals of Baltic origin. The Ukrainians followed closely in count. And where did those names originally come from? From the Soviets. Soviet-fabricated accusations have morphed into "U.S. investigators," media, and other parties alleging the same. Indeed, Russian propaganda now cites disproven KGB propaganda reproduced in Western scholarship as historical fact.

Yet in several cases Nazi collaborators and sympathizers took control of key aspects of refugee relief agencies serving their nationalities in the United States. Among Latvians 4a secretive organization known as the Daugavas Vanagi (“ Hawks of the Daugava River”) gradually built up an influential political machine in Latvian displaced persons camps in Europe and, later, in Latvian communities in this country as well. The Vanagis began as a self-help and welfare society for Latvian SS veterans in Germany in 1945; 5many of its leaders had been involved in Fascist activity in Latvia since the 1930s. Like the OUN Ukrainian nationalists, 6some of the Vanagis’ leaders had served as the Nazis’ most enthusiastic executioners inside their homeland, only to be spurned by the chauvinistic Germans. 7The Latvian extremists held on tenaciously during the Nazi occupation, however, and many were rewarded with posts as mayors, concentration camp administrators, and—most frequently—officers of the Latvian Waffen-SS division sponsored by the Nazis during the last years of the conflict. 8Most of the Vanagis’ leadership fled to Germany with the retreating Nazis at war’s end. In the first five years after the war the Vanagis gradually came to control Latvian displaced persons camps in Germany. The semi-secret society also served as an organizing and coordinating force among the Latvian Waffen-SS veterans who enlisted in the U.S. Labor Service units. Many 9Vanagi members found their way to Britain, Canada, and the United States in the guise of displaced persons during this period. Highly disciplined and organized, the Vanagis maintained their linkages during their diaspora and used their international connections to expand their influence inside Latvian communities abroad. 10In the United States several Vanagis who had once been high-level Nazi collaborators created interlocking directorships dominated by party members among the American Latvian Association, the Latvian-American Republican National Federation, and the CIA-funded Committee for a Free Latvia. These organizations, which came to be controlled or strongly influenced by the Vanagis, 11exercised considerable unofficial authority over which potential Latvian immigrants would obtain visas to the United States—and which would not. Not surprisingly, their exercise of this power has consistently tended to reinforce Vanagi authority inside Latvian-American communities. It is clear today that several of these groups and a number of 12individual Vanagi Nazi collaborators enjoyed clandestine U.S. government subsidies from the CIA. This money was laundered through the CIA’s Radio Free Europe and Assembly of Captive European Nations channels or through private organizations such as the International Rescue Committee, among others. Whether or not the CIA approved of the 13Vanagis’ sometimes openly racist and pro-Fascist political behavior, the fact remains that it helped underwrite the careers of at least three—and probably more—senior Vanagi 14leaders that the U.S. government itself has accused of Nazi war crimes. The three beneficiaries were Vilis Hazners, Boleslavs Maikovskis, and Alfreds Berzins.
Contention versus Fact

The notion that the Daugavas Vanagi was or is a secretive organization comes directly from the pages of KGB propaganda. Along with the church, Daugavas Vanagi was, and continues to be, a center of Latvian community life. There is nothing sinister in its founding, membership, operation, or non-existent "secrecy."

The pre-war Latvian fascist organization, Pērkonkrusts was banned, its members arrested, its leader exiled. We would also make the point that those pre-war Latvian fascists were not pro-Nazi. Rather, they were rabidly anti-German because the Germans represented seven centuries of conquest and subsequent hegemony prior to Latvia's independence. Daugavas Vanagi has never welcomed or harbored fascists.

Beyond his generic accusations of racism and fascism, this is the most vicious and malignant of Simpson's contentions. Simpson brands Daugavas Vanagi and entire post-WWII leadership of the Latvian émigré community as Nazi war criminals with unrepentant Hitlerite hearts forged of German Iron Crosses. In a book dense with citations, he provides none for any of his ad hominem attacks—because no such evidence exists. Neither Daugavas Vanagi members nor leaders had any involvement in the Holocaust.

Simpson's contention defies comprehension. His allegation that fighting on the Eastern Front against the Red Army—Latvian units always ill-equipped and often sent in as cannon-fodder by Germans too fearful for their own safety—was some sort of "reward" for being a good Nazi is so historically inaccurate as to suggest prejudice and bias. Representing the Waffen-SS as "sponsored" ignores that by the end of the war the Nazis had conscripted every Latvian male born after 1905—under pain of death. Simpson's contention that Latvians ran Nazi concentration camps is similarly outlandish.

The tenacity of Latvians holding out to the end of the war in Kurzeme (Courland) enabled refugees to escape across the Baltic to Sweden or down the Baltic to occupied Poland. Many perished either in storms or as the Soviets bombed fleeing refugee ships. That Latvians, Legionnaires included, fled "to" Germany is not an indication of any alliance or sympathy with Germany or seeking safety with their Nazi masters, but, rather, a reflection of the limited options available in a war-time occupied territory and a measure of how brutal the year of Soviet occupation had been which culminated in the first mass deportations just a week prior to the German invasion. Indeed, many of those fleeing already knew from captured documents that they would be deported or killed upon the Soviets' return.

Yet another reprehensible cheap shot from Simpson. Latvians lived in Displaced Persons camps in Germany for years, having lost family, friends, all their possessions, and their homeland, until they could get sponsors to resettle, or, as many did, remain in Germany and help rebuild their lives and their new home.

That someone served in the Waffen-SS does not make them a collaborator in Nazi crimes. The Latvian Legion has never been accused of involvement in any war crime.

Simpson conjures more non-existent conspiracies, here, of suspiciously interlocked Latvian organizations. The Latvian community was and is relatively small. It is quite common for individuals motivated for the good of the Latvian people—and prior to the fall of the Soviet Union tasked with the very preservation of Latvian culture in the face of Soviet-threatened extinction—to serve on multiple cooperating organizations. That leadership was shared among these organizations is a testament to the honor, dedication, and industriousness of the individual, not a litmus test for a sinister conspiratorial dictatorship.

Other than providing form letters for Latvians still learning English to lobby Congress that the Waffen-SS were not Nazis (as Simpson notes in the next quoted section), Daugavas Vanagi had nothing to do with and no say in which Latvian refugees entered the United States.

The CIA subsidized a wide range of activities, whether broadcasting news and entertainment via Radio Free Europe or paying stipends to exiles to interview Soviet visitors to acquire information on conditions behind the Iron Curtain. None of these implies a pact with Latvian "Nazis."

Vilis Hāzners, for example, received a modest fee ("not to exceed $300 in any one quarter"[2]) for his services as field agent, digesting and translating Soviet Latvian materials, interviewing defectors and "Redskins" (visiting professionals, academics, etc. who were known KGB spies). However, the declassified CIA Hāzners files we've reviewed—129 in all—could not prove more banal and uninteresting to a Nazi conspiracy seeker.

The Legionnaires were honored for having held out to the end of the war in Kurzeme (Courland). Regardless that Latvians lost their homeland, regardless that most who served in the Latvian Waffen-SS were conscripted, pride in having fought against Soviet re-occupation was in no way an expression of fascism. There was no reason for any Legionnaire to hide their service.

Accusations, such as those levelled at Vilis Hāzners' deportation proceedings, were Soviet-originated lies which KGB propagandists fabricated and fed to the West. That U.S. government repeated those accusations verbatim did not make them any more factual than Russia now quoting scholars repeating that same KGB propaganda as historical truth.

These Vanagis did not hesitate to use their political clout and government contacts to 15sponsor former SS men and Nazi collaborators for U.S. citizenship. In fact, they waged a successful campaign to 16reverse U.S. immigration regulations to permit Baltic SS men, who had long been the primary beneficiaries of Vanagi assistance anyway, to enter the United States legally. The Latvian-language Daugavas Vanagi Biletens, for example, helpfully provided its readers with English-language texts to send to U.S. officials protesting exclusion of Baltic SS men from U.S. visas and citizenship. 17Their argument, in brief, was that the Baltic SS men had not “really” been Nazis, only patriotic Latvians and Lithuanians concerned about protecting their countries from a Soviet invasion. “My [brother] who is already a U.S. soldier,” the Vanagis urged their supporters to write to Washington, “is going to defend the Free World against Communist aggression [in Korea]. Whay [sic] are those Latvians who did the same in 1944—defend our country Latvia, against Communist aggression—not now admitted to the U.S.? These are not more fascists [sic] than those American boys who now die from Soviet manufactured and Chinese Communist fired bullets,” the appeal continued. 18Their effort bore fruit in late 1950, when Displaced Persons Commissioner Edward M. O’Connor forced through an administrative change that redefined the Baltic SS as not being a “movement hostile to the United States.” The decision cleared Baltic SS veterans for entry into this country. 19O’Connor’s maneuver was opposed by DP Commissioner Harry N. Rosenfield, but without success. Charitable organizations such as Latvian Relief Incorporated and the United Lithuanian Relief Fund of America made sure that the 20favored SS veterans were not only permitted entry but often given free passage, board, food, emergency funds, and assistance in finding jobs as well.
Contention versus Fact

There was no "Latvian SS." No Latvian was a card-carrying Nazi or held any position of any authority in the occupational regime, not even the Germans' most notorious collaborators. Anyone emigrating to the U.S. required a sponsor. That Daugavas Vanagi sponsored members is to be expected, and it is patently absurd to contend Daugavas Vanagi sponsored war criminals.

There's no "reversal" to speak of. The Latvian Waffen-SS were thoroughly investigated. They were granted permission to enter the United States based on not having been a criminal organization or adversarial to the interests of the United States. Indeed, the only action by legitimate Latvian authorities in WWII had been to place its merchant marine at the disposal of the Allies, where it served with distinction. Certainly, this change was a clarification and adjustment to policy, but there was no "reversal" that Nazi criminals would now be granted permission to enter, as Simpson contends.

Clearly Simpson equates the Waffen "SS"—forces largely illegally conscripted to fight the re-invading Red Army—with Hitler's elite and criminal "SS." The slightest research would have clarified the distinction for Simpson, whose hostile derision of the contention that the Waffen-SS "had not 'really' been Nazis" underscores, at best, ignorance by choice. As the Latvians serving in the Waffen-SS really had not been Nazis, Simpson's entire conspiratorial house of cards collapses.

As was stated in the judicial review of Hāzners' deportation case: "The Service's [INS's] contention wrongly assumes that the Soviet forces were the legitimate government of Latvia. The same assumption underlies the Service's contention that the respondent lied by testifying that he was never a Nazi sympathizer, based only upon his military service against the Russians. The Soviet Union had overrun his native country, terminating its independence. A more reasonable explanation is to conclude that a Latvian could fight against the Soviet occupying forces without necessarily being a Nazi sympathizer."

In keeping with his other smears, Simpson tars Displaced Persons Commissioner Edward M. O’Connor by contending he forced the change in the status of the Waffen-SS and other Baltic legions. O'Connor acted only after a full and independent fact finding was conducted in Germany. Simpson would have us believe that the change in the status of the Latvian Legion was in response to intense lobbying by Nazis.

Regarding the contention Rosenfield was attempting to protect the U.S. from an influx of Nazis but was shouted down—Simpson provides no detail other than the decision on the Baltic Waffen-SS was not unanimous—the source he cites provides no information on what objections might have been voiced.[3] What does matter is Rosenfield's official correspondence in the matter. We point you to Holocaust scholar Prof. Andrew Ezergailis' web site for the full exchange of correspondence—including Rosenfield's—on the matter.[4]

"Given" by whom? Latvians assisting other Latvians? Offering them an address to which to ship their single trunk of belongings, all that they possessed on this Earth? Every immigrant Latvian family, no matter how meager their own circumstances, has their own story of helping neighbors and newcomers with less. But Simpson paints such charity as conspiratorial and contemptible.

One of the most important characteristics of the 21war criminals who did come to the United States is that they did not arrive here as isolated individuals. As has been seen in the cases of the Croatian Ustachis, the Ukrainian OUN, and ...[as in the case of]... the Latvian Vanagis, to name only three ... , many of these immigrants were, in fact, part of experienced, highly organized groups with distinct political agendas that differed little from the Fascist programs they had promoted in their homelands. 22The anti-Communist paranoia of the McCarthy period gave these groups fertile soil in which to put down roots and to grow. In time they began to play a small but real role in the political life of this country.
Contention versus Fact

Simpson offers up more of his baseless conspiratorial fabrications. Neither the Daugavas Vanagi or individuals Simpson indicts came from any sort of fascist background or sympathized with or promoted any fascist "agenda." Nor did the Waffen-SS commit a single war crime.

It's not paranoia if your name was on a Soviet deportation hit-list which fell into the hands of the Western Allies.

Prior to the large-scale deportations on June 13 and 14, 1941, of Latvian citizens, many Latvian statesmen and prominent officials and politicians were arrested and deported by individual orders. This is an example of such an order, issued on July 31, 1940, by V. Lācis who was Vice-Premier and Minister of Internal Affairs of the then Latvian "People's Government". Lācis orders that the former Minister of War, General J. Balodis, and his entire family be deported to the U.S.S.R.[5]
George Kennan, Allen Dulles, and a handful of other foreign affairs specialists came up with the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) as a unique solution to a knotty problem. The U.S. government found it advantageous to maintain conventional, albeit frosty, diplomatic relations with the Communist-dominated governments of the USSR, Poland, Hungary, and the other satellite states. However, the Department of State and the intelligence community also wished to underwrite the anti-Communist work of the numerous 23émigré organizations that claimed to represent “governments-in-exile” of the same countries. It was impossible to have diplomatic relations with both the official governments of Eastern Europe and the “governments-in-exile” at the same time, for obvious reasons. The NCFE was therefore launched to serve as a thinly veiled “private-sector” cover through which clandestine U.S. funds for the exile committees could be passed. ...
Contention versus Fact

Simpson receives a failing grade in international law. All three Baltic States had functioning vested authorities operating in exile which continued to be recognized de jure as the legitimate holders and representatives of their respective nations' sovereignties. That the U.S. and other Western countries continued pre-existing diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. did not confer recognition of the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states. Indeed, the 1975 Helsinki Accords recognized no borders whatsoever. Parties only agreed not to violate existing "frontiers." This was seen as a big win for the U.S.S.R., as it meant the West would not invade any territory (including the Warsaw Pact countries) the U.S.S.R. controlled. Nevertheless, the Accords in no way legitimized the Soviets' illegal occupation of the Baltic states. The Soviet-occupied Latvian S.S.R. was no more "official" or legitimate than Nazi-occupied Reichskommissariat Ostland or Vichy France.

Similarly, the [National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE)] used its economic muscle to rent meeting halls and provide the public relations support that puffed up scores of otherwise minor émigré events into major “news” stories that enjoyed extensive play in the American media. 24Former Nazis did not control such programs, but they were sometimes able to make use of the prevailing anti-Communist hysteria to promote policies that they favored. The NCFE gave the annual Baltic Freedom Day Committee free use of Carnegie Hall once a year for at least three years, according to the organization’s annual reports, then used its influence to line up noted speakers, including a half dozen U.S. senators, the president of the NCFE itself, and a leading board member of the U.S. Displaced Persons Commission to grace the event. Most important to the favored Baltic politicians was a flood of endorsements arranged by the NCFE that included a proclamation by the governor of New York and public messages of solidarity from the then president of the United States, Harry Truman, and the man who was soon to be Eisenhower’s secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. These were obviously not “Nazi” political gatherings. The major theme was support for democracy and for national independence of the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia from the USSR. Even so, the Vanagis among the Latvians and other extreme-right-wing forces within the Baltic immigrant community succeeded in placing speakers at the rostrum at Carnegie Hall to 25promote the myth that the Baltic Waffen-SS legions were simply anti-Communist patriots and to press for changes in U.S. immigration regulations that would permit easy entry of such persons into this country under refugee relief programs.
Contention versus Fact

As already indicated, there was no such thing as a "Latvian Nazi." No Latvian ever belonged to the Nazi party. No Latvian ever held a position in the Nazi hierarchy. Neither the Waffen-SS nor Daugavas Vanagi were "Nazis" or supported Nazism in any way.

We arrive at Simpson's big lie. Field reports to Berlin unequivocally stated—rather worrisomely for the Germans—that the Latvian Legionnaires had no allegiance to Germany, that they could only be counted on to resist the Soviet advance. That Simpson has already described appointment as an officer in the Latvian Legion Waffen-SS on the brutal Eastern Front as a "reward" for Hitler well served makes his ultimate contention here regarding the "myth" of the Baltic Waffen-SS units as unsurprising as it is baseless and irresponsible. Latvians wore a Latvian flag under their uniform, next to their heart, a symbol of the day they would drive both Russians and Germans out of their homeland, as they had after WWI. That the Latvian Waffen-SS were patriots is a simple truth.


[1]“Vanagi” is already plural.
[2]per declassified CIA documents
[3]"One of the organizations which was the subject of considerable controversy with respect to the effect of membership in it [i.e., did it denote participation in a movement "hostile" to the U.S.] was the Baltic Waffen-SS, otherwise known as the Baltic Legion. Membership in the Baltic Legion was for several years considered by both the Commission and Visa Division to be a bar per se under the security provisions of section 13 of the Act. After extensive research and review, and on the basis of a change of view by the Visa Division, and strong evidence showing that membership in the organization was due to conscription and force by the Hitler regime, the Commission revised its policy on September 1, 1950, by holding the Baltic Legion not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States under section 13 of the Act. This view was not a unanimous decision with the Commission; an extensively documented statement of the minority views was filed by Commissioner Rosenfield." at page 101, The DP Story. It's not clear whether the head of the DP Commission, Harry Rosenfield, was with the dissenting minority or simply filed its views.
[4]Legionnaires Cleared of SS Status, retrieved 15-January-2016
[5]Original at Latvians.com, retrieved 15-January-2016

Updated: June, 2017

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