Latvian anti-Nazi resistance movement 1941–45
A large number of Latvians resisted the occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany. The Latvian resistance movement was divided between the pro-independence units under the Latvian Central Council and the pro-Soviet units under the Central Staff of the Partisan Movement in Moscow. Around 22,000 deserted both from the Red Army and German Army during 1943–45 in Latvia. Daugavpils was the scene of fierce Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Many local Latvians were actively involved in the resistance movement against the ethnic policies of the German occupation regime. Žanis Lipke risked his life to save more than 50 Jews. 134 Latvians later have been honored with the title Righteous Among the Nations.
National resistance movements
Civic circles in Latvia were dissatisfied with the German occupation regime and secretly plotted to reinstate democracy. There were many small underground groups of the national resistance movements focused on the restoration of the independence of Latvia like The Latvian Nationalist Union, Latvian National Council, the Officer Union, organizations “The Latvian Guards”, “New Regiments“, “The Free Latvia”, “The Latvian Hawk organization” and others. The radical nationalist organization “Thundercross” was allied with the Germans in the first months after the invasion, however when repressed by the Germans it again started underground resistance.
On August 13, 1943 members of four biggest Latvian political parties founded the Latvian Central Council. It published the outlawed publications Jaunā Latvija (New Latvia) and Neatkarīgā Latvija (Independent Latvia). The periodicals propagated the idea of renewing democracy in Latvia after the war.
The Latvian Central Council managed to form their own military unit, disguised as a Home Guard unit, commanded by General Jānis Kurelis; the men were popularly known as Kurelians (Latvian: Kurelieši). The unit was organized in July 28, 1944 by a directive from Veide, the administrator of Rīga township, for the officially avowed purpose of fighting Soviet partisans who had recently been dropped by parachutes in great numbers, and for the formation of German-supported Latvian partisan groups which would operate in Soviet-occupied Latvian regions.
The size of the Kurelians is uncertain. Estimates range from 1,200 to 16,000, while the Germans were told that the group had only 500 men. Volunteers were attracted by word of mouth. The Kurelians expected ultimately to fight both Soviets and Nazis and to remain in Latvia as nationalist partisans if the Germans withdrew, or even to hold a part of Latvia until help arrived from the Western Allies. On September 23 the Kurelians retreated through Rīga to northern Courland, leaving behind a group of 150 men to operate in the Soviet rear. The Kurelians assisted the Latvian Central Council “boat actions” to Sweden and established radio contacts with Sweden.
On November 14 the Germans surrounded and disarmed the Kurelians. Seven of their officers (including Upelnieks, the member of the military committee of the underground Latvian Central Council) were sentenced to death by a Nazi military tribunal and shot in Liepāja on November 19. A Kurelian battalion commanded by Lt. Rubenis fought the Germans for three days and was annihilated; Rubenis fell during a Latvian counter-attack trying to break through the German encirclement but some of the Kurelians escaped. General Kurelis was deported to Germany. 545 of his men were sent to the Stutthof concentration camp.
Armed combat behind the German front lines was carried out by the soldiers of the Red Army units: Latvian Riflemen Soviet Divisions and people guards. Activity picked up in 1942, one year after the first winter war, but real work by the partisans in Latvia started only in 1943 after the German Army Group B stalled at Stalingrad and Kursk. The partisan regiment "To padomju Latviju" was organized and started training in June 1942 in Leningrad, and from Staraya Russa three small Latvian partisan units (about 200 men) headed for Latvia. On July 7 the regiment reached the Latvian Kārsava region, but there the German found and dispersed them with great losses and only several partisans escaped. The next partisan unit was formed in September 1942 by Moscow from volunteers from 201st Latvian Riflemen Division and the Latvian partisan regiment "Par Padomju Latviju". The commander was Vilis Samsons. This partisan regiment began fighting east of the Latvian border and only in the winter of 1943 did it start to fight in Latvia. In March this unit was renamed as Latvian Partisan Brigade. Since the local population in Latvia would not support Soviet partisans, they could not gain a foothold. From January 1943 the Red Partisans in Latvia were directly subordinated to the central headquarters in Moscow under the leadership of Arturs Sproģis. Another prominent commander was Vilis Samsons, who later became a historian. Altogether Latvia had 24 partisan units, together with 33 smaller groups. From March 1944 until July they formed 4 partisan brigades: 1st Brigade with about 3000 men (commander V. Samsons) fought in Northern and Northeastern Latvia. 2nd Brigade (about 1500 men, commander P. Ratins) fought in the centre of Latvia. 3rd Brigade (about 500 men, commander Otomars Oškalns) fought at Zemgale, along with the 4th Brigade, also with about 500 men. The Leningrad partisan brigade, which consisted only of Russians (commander M. Klementyev) fought around Lake Lubāns. In 1944 and 1945 in Courland they formed many partisan units (2 to 12 men each) which, though small, were very active. Most noted was "Sarkana bulta". The Latvian Red partisans suffered great losses, and many from smaller groups were completely eliminated. The Red partisan movement in Latvia ended in October 1944.
The Latvian commander of the pro-Soviet units was Arturs Sproģis. However, Moscow failed to create pro-Soviet units on a large scale in 1941–1942. In the beginning of 1944 Sproģis reported to Moscow that only 1500 Soviet partisans had been transferred to Latvia. Because of lack of local support for Soviet partisan units they were based in woods in Belarus and Russia and only made raids into Latvia, afterwards retreating to their bases across the border.
After World War II
- Estonian anti-German resistance movement 1941–44
- Latvian independence movement
- Resistance during World War II
- Resistance movement
- Lithuanian resistance during World War II
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- Laar, Mart. War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944-1956, translated by Tiina Ets, Compass Press, November 1992. ISBN 0-929590-08-2 p. 24
- The Telegraph: Ex-Soviet partisan Vasily Kononov fights his last World War Two battle