First Sub-Commission: Crimes against Humanity in the Territory of Latvia during the Soviet Occupation 1940–41
Western societies that have never had directly experienced crimes against humanity committed by the Communist totalitarian regime are not well informed, sometimes misinformed and even misinformed about them. Information coming from the Soviet Union was strictly controlled. Soviet propaganda agencies and secret services portrayed the Soviet Union as the main, even only, bulwark of anti-Fascism in World War II, denied its own atrocities by ascribing them to others and attempted to vilify those exposing Soviet crimes as traitors or Nazi collaborators. Although it is now possible to find conclusive evidence of Soviet crimes against humanity, attempts are still made to cover up or gloss over the crimes of the Communist regime by using Soviet partnership in the anti-Nazi coalition as a pretext. Thus in case of Latvia, the Russian Federation is trying to use this pretext to justify and excuse actions of individuals accused of murder of civilians and carrying out mass deportations and to save them from prosecution.
Before World War II, Latvia, along with the two other Baltic States, Estonia and Lithuania, was an independent and neutral country, a member of the League of Nations. It threatened no neighboring country. True, on 15 May, 1934 its parliamentary democracy was replaced by the authoritarian regime of Karlis Ulmanis, but it was much milder than the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and Communistic Soviet Union with their concentration and GULAG camps. The Ulmanis regime adhered to the prohibition of death penalty passed in 1929. Latvia, traditionally known for its tolerant attitudes toward minorities, was one of the few European countries giving refuge to persecuted Jews from Germany. Having attained a relatively high living standard for the day and age, as well as a high level of education and culture, Latvia was very much interested in preserving peace.
On 23 August, 1939, the aggressively inclined Nazi Germany and Soviet Union concluded a non-aggression treaty, which led to German attack on Poland and to World War II. A secret amendment appended to the original treaty and to a subsequent treaty of 28 September, 1939 decided the further fate of the Baltic States—a criminal act carried out behind their backs. Although more than 60 years have passed since that time, and although the successor states, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Russian Federation have acknowledged the existence of the secret amendments that led to multiple crimes against humanity in the Baltic, neither of these states have found it necessary to issue apologies to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
After the two aggressors had occupied and divided the territory of Poland between them, the Soviet Union proceeded to extend its influence over its “sphere of influence” as specified in the secret amendments. By claiming security reasons, it forced the Baltic States to accept “cooperation treaties” in late September and early October 1939. These provided for the stationing of major contingents of the Red Army in these countries. In June 1940, when the world’s attention was focused on the German invasion of France, the Soviet Union, occupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The countries were powerless to resist the overwhelming military force. This occupation was carried out with utter disregard of international law and mutual non-aggression treaties.
Because of the brutal inhumanity experienced during this year (17 June, 1940–7 July 1941), this first occupation became popularly known in Latvia as the “horrible year.” Latvia ceased to exist as an independent and sovereign state in its own territory, although its annexation was not recognized by a large number of Western countries, including the U.S.A. and Great Britain. The incorporation into the Soviet Union was organized and carried out by local Communists and other collaborators under conditions of military occupation. The Communists, fewer than 400, had been in the pay of the Communist International and had exerted little influence in public affairs before the takeover. As the governing structures of the independent state were broken up, the incumbents—statesmen, diplomats, civil servants, military officers—were dismissed and persecuted. Repressions were directed against members of the cultural and intellectual elites who did not accept the ideology of Marxism–Leninism and any persons expressing dissent or exhibiting resistance. In the name of Communist pseudo-democracy, social structures were drastically changed, the freedom of the press was revoked, censorship—invoked. Private property was either liquidated or severely restricted. Latvia was, in effect, economically plundered.
The Soviet occupation culminated on 14 June, 1941 when a mass deportation of civilians from Latvia to distant areas of the Soviet Union took place. A total of 15,424 persons, according to latest figures, were arrested and sent away in boxcars unsuited for human transportation. Among those deported were minor children and babies, most of whom died on the way or from cold or malnutrition in their settlement areas in Siberia. Many civilians were brutally executed in Riga and many other places after the beginning of the war between Germany and Soviet Union, 22 June 1941, as the Red Army retreated in disarray.
Aims of the Sub-Commission
The major aim of the Sub-Commission is to investigate objectively and, as far as possible—concretely, crimes against humanity committed by the Soviet regime in the territory of Latvia during the time period 17 June, 1940 – 7 July, 1941. These crimes against citizens of independent Latvia included arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, execution, deportation to the so-called Gulag camps or banishment for life in distant areas of the Soviet Union. These actions were carried out without a proper court procedure, oftentimes without a proper arrest warrant. Most of the charges were based on Soviet laws and applied retroactively—for alleged transgressions while serving in institutions of the independent Latvian state. They completely ignored international conventions and laws. The investigations include determining the role of collaborators in carrying out these repressions, i.e. participation of local Communists and the so-called Soviet activists in the repressions against the inhabitants of occupied Latvia. It is also important to find out whether, where and to what extent the retreating members of the Red Army participated in the murder of civilians in the territory of Latvia during the last weeks of June and first week of July of 1941.
The crimes against humanity carried out by the Soviet regime could not be investigated in Latvia before the renewal of independence and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Only Western scholars, especially of Baltic origin, could address these questions and publish their findings, although they lacked access to sources in the Soviet Union and in occupied Latvia. In Latvia, a certain amount of work dealing with the first Soviet occupation had taken place, before the Commission started its activities—since and even before regaining independence in 1991. Document collections concerning the occupation of Latvia (1939–40), the politics of the occupying powers (1939–91) and political processes (1940-86) have been published. Published material also includes lists of repressed persons, testimonies of the victims and publications about other types of repression. These research activities were carried out on the initiative of enthusiastic scholars without a general plan and in many cases without financial support.
Work of the Sub-Commission
Systematic work began after the appointment of the Commission in late 1998. The Commission enlisted both experienced and younger scholars interested in pursuing topics in the Commission’s purview. Research was stimulated by financial support supplied by the state.
The international conference organized by the Commission on 14–15 June 1999 gave impetus to research on repressions carried out by the Soviet regime against the inhabitants of Latvia, including both mass and smaller scale deportations, arrests, torture and executions by the secret police.
In 2001, on the 60th anniversary of the 14 June, 1941 mass deportation, a major international conference was organized under the aegis of the Sub-Commission. The Commission also helped subvention a major new list of the 15,424 deportees, Aizvestie. The conference presentations provided a comparative evaluation of the deportation from the perspectives and experiences of various nations. The majority of the participants, including all participants from Latvia, regarded the 14 June 1941 deportation in Latvia as a form of genocide based on several criteria named in Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (9 December 1948). They rejected the attempts of conference participants from the Russian Federation to contest such an interpretation. The conference resolution, however, called for a more detailed evaluation and more thorough argumentation of this form of genocide.
The conference materials are being prepared for publication in 2002. Several research papers by Latvian historians not presented at the conference will be included as well. Dr. hist. Irene Sneidere has prepared a report concerning Soviet retributions against civilians in Latgale (Eastern Latvia) June–early July 1941. Dr. hist. Eriks Jekabsons deals with Soviet repressions against ethnic minorities. He has also produced a co-authored report with Ainars Bambals concerning Soviet repressions against officers of the Latvian army. Ainars Lerhis deals with the fates of Latvian diplomats.
Work in progress, to be completed by the end of 2001, includes several studies, including a study concerning collaboration during the first Soviet occupation. These studies are receiving financial support from the Commission. The results put forth underscore the fact that historical research concerning the crimes of the Soviet regime has significantly increased during the Commission’s tenure.
The following aspects need to be further studied and elaborated: the extent of Soviet repressions in occupied Latvia; the causes and reasons for collaboration; the social background of collaborators. It is also important to investigate the role of Latvia and the other Baltic States in the overall short and long-range plans of the Kremlin. Further research also must include studies concerning Soviet economic and nationalities policies, including Russification, cultural Sovietization and other aspects.
Further financial support is needed to carry out this research. Potential hurdles are posed by the relative inaccessibility of Russian archives. These are the main concerns about the future work of the Sub-Commission dealing with the first Soviet occupation 1940–41.
 Although many of the early Western publications on the topic had a clearly political intent, especially on the background of the Cold War—denunciation of Soviet crimes and calls for liberation of the Baltic States—not all can be dismissed as lacking a documentary and serious scholarly dimension. Among the publications can be mentioned: These Names Accuse: Nominal List of Latvians Deported to Soviet Russia in 1940–41 (Stockholm: Latvian National Foundation, 1952); Report of the Select Committee to Investigate Communist Aggression and the Forced Incorporation of the Baltic States into the U.S.S.R.: Third Interim Report (Washington: US Printing Office, 1954), 537 pages (known as the Kersten Committee Report); Ādolfs Šilde, Pa deportēto pēdām (Tracking the Deportees) ([New York]: Grāmatu Draugs, 1956) 304 pages (Šilde interviewed returning German POW’s to obtain the information). An interesting and because of its publication date oftentimes overlooked source is Alfreds Ceichners, Latvijas boļševizācija (The Bolshevisation of Latvia) (Rīga: A Ceichnera apgāds, 1944, repr. 1986) 595 pages. The work of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies, which was founded in 1969, deserves special mention for its serious unpoliticized scholarly approach. Articles appearing in the Journal of Baltic Studies and other publications are listed in: Laurence Kitching, Baltic Studies Indexes 1970–1997 (Hackettstown, NJ: AABS, 1998) 136 pages. Also see: Romuald. J. Misiunas and Rein Taagepera, The Baltic States: Years of Dependence 1940–1980 (Berkeley: U of California P, 1983) 333 pages.
 I[lga] Grava-Kreituse, I[nesis] Feldmanis, A[ivars] Stranga, eds., Latvijas okupācija un aneksija 1939–1940: Dokumenti un materiāli (The Occupation and Annexation of Latvia 1939–40: Documents and Materials) (Rīga: Preses nams, 1995) 603 pages; Elmārs Pelkaus, ed., Policy of Occupation Powers in Latvia 1939–1991: A Collection of Documents (Rīga: State Archives of Latvia/Nordik, 1999) 624 pages (also in Latvian and Russian); Rudīte Vīksne and Kārlis Kangeris, eds., Politiskās prāvas Latvijā 1940–1986: Noziegumos pret padomju valsti apsūdzēto Latvijas iedzīvotāju rādītājs (Political Processes in Latvia 1940–86: A Register of Inhabitants of Latvia Charged with Crimes against the Soviet State) (Rīga: Latvijas Vēstures institūta apgāds, 1999) 978 pages.
 Represēto saraksts 1941 (List of Repressed Persons 1941), Latvijas Arhīvi 1–2, Pielikums (Rīga: Latvijas Republikas valsts arhīvu ģenerāldirekcija, 1995).
 Anda Līce, compiler. and ed., Via Dolorosa: Staļinisma upuru liecības (Via Dolorosa: Testimonies of Victims of Stalinism), vols. 1-2 (Rīga: Liesma, 1990, 1993) 604, 622 pages; vols. 3-4 (Rīga: Preses nams, 1994, 1995) 312, 320 pages. An English edition: Astrid Sics, ed. and transl., We Sang Through Tears: Stories of Survival in Siberia (Rīga: Jānis Roze Publishers, 1999) 372 pages.
 J[ānis] Riekstiņš, “‘Kulaki’ Latvijā (1940.–1953. gads): Kā varasvīŗi Latvijā ‘kulakus’ taisīja un kādas sekas tas radīja (“Kulaks” in Latvia 1940–1953: How the Rulers Created the “Kulaks” and with What Results), Dokumenti un fakti (Rīga: Ievanda, 1996) p 129. A[inārs] Bambals, “Staļinisma genocīds pret Latvijas armijas karavīriem Baigajā gadā” (The Stalinist Genocide against Members of the Latvian Army during the “Horrible Year”), Komunistiskā totalitārisma un genocīda prakse Latvijā: Zinātniskās konferences materiāl (Rīga: Zinātne, 1992) pp. 74–86.
 See Article 2 of the Convention: “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.” Cited from: Günter Hoog and Angela Steinmetz, eds., International Conventions on Protection of Humanity and Environment, (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1993) p. 32.