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Portrait of Vilis Lācis.
May 12, 1904|
Vecmīlgrāvis, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire
February 6, 1966 (aged 61)|
Riga, Latvian SSR, Soviet Union
Lācis was born Jānis Vilhelms Lāce into a working-class family in Vecmīlgrāvis, near Riga. During World War I, his family fled to the Altai region in Siberia, where Lācis studied at the pedagogical seminary in Barnaul. In 1921, Lācis returned to Riga and at various times worked as a fisherman, port worker, ship's fireman and librarian while writing in his free time. In 1933, he published his hugely successful novel Zvejnieka dēls ('Fisherman's Son'), making him one of the most popular and commercially successful Latvian writers of the 1930s. His novels have been characterized as popular fiction, not always liked by high-brow critics, but widely read by ordinary people.
Throughout this period, Lācis maintained underground ties to the officially banned Communist Party of Latvia. Lācis was under periodic surveillance by the Latvian secret services due to his political activities. Eventually Lācis became a favorite of Latvian president Karlis Ulmanis, who personally ordered the destruction of the surveillance files on Lācis. Lācis wrote newspaper editorials highly favorable of the Ulmanis regime, while still remaining a Communist supporter, and Ulmanis's government generously funded Lācis's writing and a film adaptation of 'Fisherman's Son'. During the Soviet period, eight films based on Lācis's works were produced, including a new adaptation of 'Fisherman's Son' in 1957.
After Latvia was incorporated in the USSR in August 1940, Lācis became Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Latvian SSR (nominally, Prime Minister) and served in this position from 1940 to 1959. When Nazi Germany occupied Latvia from 1941 to 1944, Lācis was evacuated to Moscow, where he continued to write in a socialist realist style. He was regarded mostly as a figurehead, as most of the actual decisions were made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. As first Minister of the Interior and then Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, he must take personal responsibility for the Stalinist deportations and other aspects of the police state, and signed orders for the arrest and deportation of over 40,000 people.
Lācis's books have been translated into more than 50 languages, with translations into Russian being the most numerous. He remains the most translated Latvian writer.
|Party political offices|
| Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic
August 25, 1940 – November 27, 1959
|Party political offices|
| Chairman of the Soviet of Nationalities
April 20, 1954 – March 27, 1958