[LH] No. 25, June 2003

15.12.2015. 16:08

LATVIA'S HISTORY: EDUCATION, REMEMBRANCE, RESEARCH

June, 2003 (25)


HEADLINES

  • Historians Commission of Latvia meet at their annual plenary session

  • President of Latvia opens international conference "Latvia under the occupation of Nazi Germany, 1941-1945"


Historians Commission of Latvia meet at their annual plenary session

The Historians Commission of Latvia held their annual plenary session on 11 June 2003 in Riga Castle, which was attended by 11 academics from Latvia and 7 historians from abroad.

Session participants put forward a number of proposals for further improving and intensifying the research work undertaken by the Commission (which has been operating for nearly five years under the auspices of the President of Latvia) into Latvia's complicated recent history.

Discussions also embraced the publication in the near future of the most important volumes of research by the Commission in English. Member of the Commission and Director of the Latvian State Archives Daina Klavina gave a clear presentation on the progress achieved towards creating a database of residents of Latvia who suffered repression under the totalitarian occupation regimes in Latvia during the 20th century, and stressed the importance of this highly labour-intensive project.

The database should be completed by the year 2006, with the subsequent publication of a summary of the findings. Members of the Commission also discussed the development of a curriculum for teaching the history of the Holocaust to schoolchildren.

Chairman of the Historians Commission Andris Caune said: "In talking about the most significant achievements of the Historians Commission to date, we can emphasize with pride the publication of eight substantial volumes of research. On top of this we plan to publish two more volumes this year, which will reflect the results of all our research up to now. In addition we are involving new specialists in contemporary history in our research work every year, in large part thanks to our successful cooperation with the Faculty of History and Philosophy at the University of Latvia. In this way we are broadening our research agenda, which is of course a very pleasing development.

This year we plan to publish a collection of papers in English, which could be considered as a summary of five years of research. In today's meeting we had detailed discussions on content and possibilities for translating the material, as well as on technical matters related to publication. We hope to publish and distribute the volume in 2004. We consider popularising the work of our historians internationally to be one of our main tasks."

Official government gazette "Latvijas Vestnesis"

President of Latvia opens international conference "Latvia under the occupation of Nazi Germany, 1941-1945"

On 12 June 2003, a two-day-long international academic conference on "Latvia under the occupation of Nazi Germany, 1941-1945" opened in the Great Hall of the University of Latvia with an address by President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Congratulations and wishes for success were also extended to the conference organisers and participants by Rector of the University of Latvia Ivars Lacis, who saved particular thanks for those foreign academics and historical eyewitnesses that have recently been helping to fill in the blank pages of Latvia's troubled history.

The first day of the conference featured three plenary sessions on a variety of themes, including research on the Holocaust in Latvia; sources and historiography of Nazi Germany's policy of occupation in Latvia; research issues and objectives of Nazi occupation policy in Latvia. As is characteristic of international academic conferences, the eight papers read at this session were presented solely by guests from abroad - the US, Russia, Finland, Ukraine, Germany and Sweden.

The theme of the plenary on 13 June was Latvia during the Second World War: collaboration, resistance, public opinion and external factors.

Chairman of the Historians Commission, Professor Andris Caune, said that the aim of this, the Commission's seventh conference, is to acquaint the wider public with the latest findings on the nature and manifestations of Nazi Germany's policy of occupation in Latvia and the Baltic States, thus helping to more clearly delineate those aspects of occupation policy particular to Latvia from those shared with other European countries.

This will hopefully serve to stimulate comparative research, opening up new opportunities for clarifying the historical truth.

The papers presented at the conference are scheduled to form part of the next volume of research to be published by the Historians Commission. The organisers of the conference are the Historians Commission of Latvia, the Latvian History Institute and the Faculty of History and Philosophy of the University of Latvia.

Official government gazette "Latvijas Vestnesis"

Extracts of the opening address of the President of Latvia, Dr Vaira Vike-Freiberga at the conference "Latvia under the occupation of Nazi Germany, 1941-1945"

Great Hall of the University of Latvia, Riga, 12 June 2003

Distinguished Rector, Chairman of the Historians Commission, conference participants, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen!

At the initiative of Latvia's historians, historians from Latvia, the United States, Germany, Israel, Sweden, Russia, Lithuania, Finland and other countries have today assembled in the Great Hall of the University of Latvia in order to analyse and evaluate a very complicated and contradiction-filled period in Latvia's history - that of the German occupation from 1941 and 1945. [..]

The Second World War and the Soviet and Nazi occupation regimes brought unprecedented suffering and desolation not only upon Latvia, but also many other European countries. Millions of people lost their lives on the field of battle, economies were obliterated, towns and villages reduced to rubble. The specific feature of Latvia's experience was its successive occupation by two totalitarian regimes at war with one other. Both these regimes had their own objectives, but neither of them included the restoration of Latvian statehood.

Latvia and its people were drawn into war against their will and fell victim to both Nazi and Communist regimes. During the Second World War Latvia lost nearly a third of its population, of which more than one hundred thousand died in battle, fighting under foreign flags.

The Nazi occupation in Latvia is associated with one of the greatest evils of the 20th century and indeed of all time - the Holocaust. The policies of the German Nazi regime deeply impacted not only Latvia, but also other occupied European countries, such as Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. The Jews living in these countries were subjected to mass extermination. The events that took place at Rumbula, the forest of Bikernieki, the Skede dunes and other places, in which not only Jewish residents of Latvia, but also Jews brought in especially from other parts of Europe were slaughtered, are well-known in Latvia and many other countries. It is thanks to the efforts of the Historians Commission and other researchers that we know so much about these dark pages of history today, much more than it was possible to know prior to the restoration of independence. It is now clear that the extermination of the Jews in Latvia was an operation centrally organised, led and carried out by the Nazis, in which a certain number of local inhabitants were also involved.

It is my hope that, thanks to the activities of the Historians Commission, research into the Holocaust in Latvia will continue, and by dispelling myths and stereotypes we will gradually come closer to the objective historical truth. In this way Latvia will affirm itself as tolerant and loyal to the principles of democracy and universal human rights.

In researching the so-called "German years", historians and society in Latvia are also paying increased attention to issues such as collaborationism, the resistance movement and the Latvian Legion. [..]

National resistance to the German occupation regime in Latvia had begun as early as the end of 1941. The Latvian Central Council was established in 1943 - of course, in complete secrecy - and played a significant role in coordinating the resistance movement. Tragically, it was uncovered by the Gestapo and eliminated.

On the order of Adolf Hitler, the formation of a Waffen-SS Legion of Latvian volunteers began at the beginning of 1943. The establishment and activities of the Legion need to be considered and evaluated within the context of overall Nazi policy. With the advent of problems on the Eastern Front, Germany, in contravention of international treaties and conventions, illegally conscripted the inhabitants of occupied territories into its armed forces. The Latvian Legion was no exception in this regard. Similar units were composed of French, Ukrainians, Walloons, Hungarians, Italians, Serbs, Estonians and the inhabitants of other occupied territories. Soldiers in the Latvian Legion fought against the Soviet Union to prevent the return of the despised Communist regime to their country, a regime that they had experienced as one of terror and Stalinism.

The Legionnaires did not fight the Western powers - the United States and Great Britain. On the contrary, they hoped to gain recognition and support from the Western Allies for their efforts to regain independence. They hoped for their support in restoring Latvia's statehood. [..]

In my opinion, the task of today's international conference is to evaluate the Nazi occupation regime in Latvia from a variety of perspectives, in order to resolve questions that up until now have remained unclear or controversial. There are indeed many such questions. We need to understand that, as opposed to other countries, Latvia was faced with two enemies at once - the Nazis and the Communists. Both of these totalitarian regimes have left an indelible mark on the history of our country. [..]

(Unofficial translation)

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Newsletter "Latvia's History: Education, Remembrance, Research" is a compilation of press releases and news reports drawn from the mass media and official sources.