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Latvian National Partisan War - 19451956

A continuous Latvian national partisan armed struggle against the second Soviet occupation spread throughout the country. The second Soviet occupation returned with major battles that devastated much of Latvia and lasted, in Western Latvia, until the last day of the war on 8 May 1945. Men who had escaped or dodged German conscription or had deserted were drafted into the Red Army. More than 60,000 were sent into war, oftentimes against Latvian units on the German side. It is estimated that close to 200,000 Latvians were involved in this foreign total war, in which their country was not a belligerent. Up to a half were killed in action. It was now the Soviets turn to play the part of liberator. As such they were greeted by Communist sympathisers. Parts of the population that had indeed suffered under the German occupation were relieved.

However for most liberation meant the return of the terror of 1940/41. Now the returning Communists used the Nazi occupation as a tool of intimidation and suppression. The term "fascist" was indiscriminately applied to all who were not Communists or fellow travellers, especially the "bourgeois nationalists" who adhered to the ideas of a national state. Soviet operative groups ferreted out and "filtered" all suspected and actual Nazi collaborators, including people who had been coerced into performing services for the Germans. Prisoners of war and arrested persons were sent to prison camps in distant parts of the Soviet Union.

That the Soviet return was not "liberation" for large parts of the population is attested by the little known fact that, hoping for Western intervention, a major partisan war erupted in 1945. It was strongest until 1949, but in sporadic fashion it continued until 1956. About 20,000 participated in the guerrilla warfare and they had some 80,000 active supporters among the population. The Soviets engaged major military and paramilitary forces and secret services in battling the bandits, as they called them.

It took a huge second deportation to the vast reaches of Siberia to break the back of armed resistance. That was one stated aim of the deportation. The other aim was to eliminate the "kulaks," the owners of larger independent farms who resisted collectivisation. Actually both aims were interrelated armed resistance relied on the support of the rural population. In March 1949, about 43,000 people (2.4% of the total population), mainly farmers and overwhelmingly ethnic Latvians, were deported to Siberia to be resettled for life. This action not only deprived the partisans of their infrastructure but also resulted in the destruction of Latvia's agriculture - the backbone of Latvian economy before the war.

After Stalin's death in 1953, many of the surviving deportees were eventually allowed to return to Latvia. By that time, however, most of them no longer had homes, and they returned to an alienated society that had been dramatically "re-engineered." The traditional social order and culture of the Latvian countryside had been irreversibly destroyed. Though armed resistance was crushed and the indigenous society subdued, resistance continued through other means. Organised resistance groups, such as the "Independence Movement of Latvia," were relatively small, however unorganised and individual resistance, disobedience and dissidence encompassed large numbers of the population.

 



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