|Full Name||Republic of Latvia|
|Alliance||Neutral or Non-Belligerent|
|Entry into WW2||16 Jun 1940|
|Population in 1939||1,995,000|
|Military Deaths in WW2||100,000|
|Civilian Deaths in WW2||300,000|
|- Civ Deaths from Holocaust||66,000|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
On 18 Nov 1918, the People's Council of Latvia declared independence from Russia as Russia was engaged in a civil war. On 22 Sep 1921, Latvia was admitted into the League of Nations. On 5 Feb 1932, Latvia and the Soviet Union, which had supported Latvian independence during the Russian Civil War, signed a non-aggression treaty. Karlis Ulmanis, who had played a leadership role since the new nation's beginnings, staged a bloodless coup d'état on 15 May 1934 and established a nationalist dictatorship that would last into the start of the European War. On 1 Sep 1939, the day the European War began, Latvia announced that it would remain neutral in the conflict, but Germany and the Soviet Union had their own designs for Latvia's fate. On 5 Oct 1939, Latvia was forced to enter into a pact with the Soviet Union. In the spring of 1940, the Soviets attempted to rally a general strike which they had hoped would provide them an excuse to overthrow the Latvian government, but such a coup would not materialize. In Jun 1940, with the Soviet fleet blockading Latvian ports, Latvia was simply threatened with force, which it had no choice but to accept. A rigged election shortly after spelled the final end of independent Latvia. Prior to the country's fall, however, the Latvian government had granted emergency powers to Latvian diplomat Alfreds Bilmanis in the United States on 17 May 1940. Fellow Baltic States Lithuania and Estonia were threatened and taken at around the same time.
The Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic was established on 21 Jul 1940 with Augusts Kirhensteins at its helm, and all three Baltic States were annexed into the Soviet Union in the following month. Most western nations deemed the Soviet annexation illegal; Sumner Welles, the US Undersecretary of State, for example, publicly condemned the "devious process" by which "the political independence and territorial integrity of the three small Baltic republics were to be deliberately annihilated by one of their more powerful neighbors." The few months after the occupation of Latvia would be remembered as the Year of Horror (Baigais Gads), with the Soviets deporting somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 and executing about 1,000. Among those deported were most members of the Latvian government, thus depriving the local population the leadership necessary to organize resistance.
In 1941, Germany and the Soviet Union, once allies, entered into war as Germany launched Operation Barbarossa. German troops entered the capital of Riga on 1 Jul 1941. The Germans were initially welcomed by the Latvian people, but they would soon find that the Germans were as brutal as the Soviets. News quickly spread of German massacres of Latvian Jews at Grobina, Durbe, Priekule, Asite, and Jelgava. While the mass execution on the beaches of Skede just north of Liepaja (during which about 700 Jews were executed in the span of about one week) would later become the symbol of the Holocaust in Latvia, the atrocities at Daugavpils which took place around the same time was larger in scale, seeing the deaths of more than a thousand Latvian Jews. About 7,000 civilians were forcibly deported from the Latgale suburbs of Riga, and a Jewish ghetto was set up in that area to house 23,000 Latvian Jews and 6,000 Jews from other European nations; the Daugavpils ghetto in southeastern Latvia held about 15,000 Jews. Between 1941 and 1944, Latvia was a province within the German Reichskommissariat Ostland territory. During this period, Latvia suffered 80,000 to 100,000 civilian deaths, about 66,000 of which were Jews.
Soviet forces returned to Riga in 1944, and the mass deportations soon began again, whose chief goal was to ensure Soviet control of the Latvian population. By the end of 1945, about 120,000 Latvians were deported to labor camps; many of these "traitors of the people" would not survive to return.
With the German siege on Leningrad in northern Russia broken, Soviet troops in the region went on the offensive, reoccupying most of Latvia by the end of 1944 save an area in the Courland (Kurzeme) region of the country, where the surviving German troops there would fight until the very last day of the war.
Having been occupied by two neighboring powers during this period, both sides of the conflict saw Latvians in their ranks, roughly 200,000 in all, both volunteers and conscripts. Large numbers of Latvians also took up arms and joined nationalist groups that opposed both the German and Soviet occupiers. After the return the Soviets in 1944, thousands of fighters disappeared into the woods to continued the fight. Soviet forces would not be able to destroy the last group of resistance fighters until 1957, at a cost of 1,562 Soviet personnel killed and 560 wounded.
Latvia would finally regain independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Events Taken Place in Latvia
|Annexation of the Baltic States||15 Jun 1940 - 9 Aug 1940|
|Operation Barbarossa||22 Jun 1941 - 30 Sep 1941|
|Discovery of Concentration Camps and the Holocaust||24 Jul 1944 - 29 Apr 1945|
Latvia in World War II Interactive Map
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945