Latvia in World War II

Latvia in World War II

Latvia in World War II

Latvia in World War II

Synopsis

Valdis Lumans provides an authoritative, balanced, and comprehensive account of one of the most complex, and conflicted, arenas of the Second World War. Struggling against both Germany and the Soviet Union, Latvia emerged as an independent nation state after the First World War. In 1940, the Soviets occupied neutral Latvia, deporting or executing more than 30,000 Latvians before the Nazis invaded in 1941 and installed a puppet regime. The Red Army expelled the Germans in 1944 and reincorporated Latvia as a Soviet Republic. By the end of the war, an estimated 180,000 Latvians fled to the West. The Soviets would deport at least another 100,000. Drawing on a wide range of sources - many brought together here for the first time - Lumans synthesizes political, military, social, economic, diplomatic, and cultural history. He moves carefully through traditional sources, many of them partisan, to scholarship emerging since the end of the Cold War, to confront such issues as political loyalties, military collaboration, resistance, capitulation, the Soviet occupation, anti-Semitism, and the Latvian role in the Holocaust.

Excerpt

Writing the history of Latvia in World War II has been an exercise in reconciling myth and reality. For this Latvian immigrant, who from the age of five grew up as a Latvian in exile aspiring to be nothing more than an American kid, the myth coalesced as I learned everything I knew about Latvia within the narrow confines of my immediate family. As I grew up in South Florida, far from any Latvian community of substantial size, it was left to my family alone to impart to me what they believed were the essentials of being a Latvian in exile, trimda. Their image of what Latvia was, is, and would be, was all I would come to know about my homeland until the realities of my everyday life gradually chipped away at that vision, culminating in the writing of this book and bringing me to this epiphany—the realization that much of what I had learned about Latvia was more myth than reality. What startled me most about my discovery was not that my conception of Latvia and Latvians, in particular their experience in World War II, was more fable than truth, but rather that so many others, with far greater knowledge, deeper insights, and more direct personal experiences with the subject than I, believed and clung faithfully to the same myth.

My image of Latvia began to form with my first childhood awareness in DP camps in Germany, and then continued to coalesce after our arrival in the United States. My father, Olgerts Lumans, a veteran Latvian Legion junior officer, my mother, Skaidra Lumans, a former University of Latvia student, and my maternal grandparents, Karlis and Alma Klavins, both schoolteachers in Daugmale—my family's hometown in Latvia—collectively taught me and my younger sister, Zinta, that everything Latvian was inherently good, and Latvia itself was a veritable paradise. They reminisced nostalgically and yearned for the good old days of the Ulmanis years, or Ulmana Laiki—associated with the rule of the last president of prewar independent Latvia, Karlis Ulmanis, who, as I was told, personified all Latvian virtues. In a corner of our living room my family even arranged a shrine to this man—displaying his photograph, a small Lat-

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