On the left : Stamp commemorating the Latvian SSR's entry to the Soviet Union, issued in 1940. Soon afterwards, Latvian stamps ceased to be used and Soviet stamps were introduced.

Soviet stamps overprinted for use in German-occupied Latvia. Soon they were replaced by German stamps overprinted "Ostland" (scroll down for image)

Latvia in World War II

A.) Soviet Takeover and Occupation, 1939-1941

On August 23rd 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union signed a NON-AGGRESSION PACT, the significance of which lay in a secret memorandum attached to it, according to which the cordon of states established after World War I and located between Germany and Russia was to be partitioned amongst these two powers. Latvia was allocated to the USSR. The larger part of Latvia's German minority was repatriated to Germany.
First, Stalin pressed the three Baltic Republics in signing a PACT OF DEFENSE AND MUTUAL ASSISTANCE (Sept. 28th 1939), which permitted the USSR to station Soviet troops in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. On June 17th 1940 (France had fallen to German troops), the Red Army formally declared Latvia occupied, claiming the Republic had violated the Pact of Mutual Assistance. A new government including communists was formed; soon the communists took over the government and "requested" Latvia, as a Soviet Republic (so proclaimed on July 21st), to be admitted to the Soviet Union (granted on August 5th 1940).

About 35,000 Latvians were deported to Siberia; Russians settled in Latvia.

German stamps featuring Adolf Hitler, overprinted "Ostland" (Land in the East), an expression used for the occupied Baltic states as well as areas of occupied Belarus and western Russia. As Germany intended to annex and resettle these areas ("Lebensraum im Osten - Living space in the east) the policy was to introduce new geographic names and disregard both existing names and historical-political borders.
The right stamp bears the cancellation 'San Lorenzo' - obviously a collector somewhere in the Spanish speaking world had this stamp cancelled at his local post office. Stamps overprinted 'Ostland' are more interesting in used condition.

B.) German Occupation, 1941-1944

On June 25th 1941 German forces began to invade the Soviet Union. Stalin was under shock, the Russian leadership paralyzed; German forces quickly gained ground and occupied Latvia.
Soon the occupied territories in what used to be the northwestern part of the Soviet Union, including Latvia, as OSTLAND came under German military administration.
The military front was on the fringes of St. Petersburg, which the Germans chose to systematically starve rather than occupy, and further east. Latvia's Jewish minority was massacred; many of them perished in the concentration camp at SALASPILS. The Germans attempted to recruit Latvian volunteers in the fight against Bolzhevism, with limited success.

C.) Latvia Soviet Again

In September 1944 the Red Army closed in on Latvia. About 100,000 Latvians fled the country, to neutral Sweden, many emigrating from there to Canada or the U.S.A. In western Courland (Kurzeme), German troops, cut off from the remainder of German-held territory, held out for several months, surrendering only in February 1945.
Under renewed Soviet rule, mass deportations again set in, severely affecting the ethnic balance of the population - Russians were to form almost half the population.

In 1941, Britain, the USA and the USSR had become NATURAL ALLIES. With the Soviet Union's role in the defeat of the Axis Powers vital, Churchill had no means at hand to question Latvia's 'voluntary' choice to join the Soviet Union in 1940.

History of Latvia, from vernet.tv
Riga, History of, from vest_ang
Latvia and WW II, from Latvian War Museum
History of Latvia 1939-1991, from Latvia Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Ghastly Year, by Karlis Zuika, on the Soviet Occupation of Latvia 1940-1941
Deathcamps - the Riga Ghetto, from ARC
DOCUMENTS Latvian banknotes, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, w. Secret Memorandum, Aug. 23rd 1939, from The History Place, text of memorandum in German from A selection of events and documents on the history of Finland
Postcards of Latvia under German Occupation 1941-1945, from Lettonica
Register of the Deportations of 14 June 1941: Crimes against Humanity Conference Materials, at Hoover Institution
REFERENCE David G. Kirby, The Baltic World 1772-1993, London : Longman 1995
United States Holocaust Museum, Historical Atlas of the Holocaust, NY : MacMillan 1996 [G]; pp.64-69 on the Baltic Countries
Article : Soviet Union - Latvia, in : Statesman's Year Book 1943 pp.1254-1256 [G]
Article : Latvia (Latvian SSR), in : Americana Annual 1943 pp.424-425 (on events of 1942) [G]
Article : Latvia, in : Americana Annual 1940 pp.427-428, 1944 p.394, 1945 p.410, 1946 pp.424-425 [G]
Article : Latvia, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1944 pp.387-388, 1945 p.393 [G]
Article : Latvia, in : New International Year Book Events of 1940 pp.400-401, 1941 pp.322-323, 1942 p.366, 1943 pp.322-323 [G]
Article : Baltic States, in : New International Year Book 1944 pp.58-59, 1945 pp.57-58 [G]
Article : Latvia, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1940 pp.336-338, 1941 pp.290-291, 1942 p.255, 1943 p.258 [G]
Article : Baltic States, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1944 pp.44-45 [G]
David Kirby, The Baltic States 1940-1950, pp.22-39 in : Martin McCauley (ed.), Communist Power in Europe 1944-1949, London : MacMillan 1977 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 25th 2009

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