Participants in the forum are surely aware of the constant barrage of anti-Latvian propaganda flowing out of Moscow, and of its essential contents. One aspect puzzles me, and perhaps this list’s historians can clarify it.
A standard feature of the screed is the claim that Latvians jumped at the chance to participate in the Holocaust, and in this connection the Pērkonkrustieši and the Aizsargi are always mentioned (although not necessarily with correct spelling). What puzzles me is the role ascribed to the Aizsargi.
If I have the history right—and please correct me if I don’t—this paramilitary organization, founded in 1919, was regarded by the Soviets (no doubt correctly) as extremely hostile, and consequently was dissolved early in the first Soviet occupation (in 1940—I don’t have the exact date). Furthermore, in June of 1941 the senior officers of the Aizsargi received tickets for a train ride across scenic Russia to the resorts for which the USSR was so renowned.
When the Soviets were replaced by Nazi Germany, the Aizsargi had formally ceased to exist. The Selbstschutz units were organized in large part on the model of the Aizsargi, and a fairly large proportion of its members seem to have been former Aizsargi; but the Selbstschutz was essentially different. It was a temporary expedient that served two purposes: to assist the Nazis in the task of rapidly killing Jews in the Latvian countryside, and to help establish the appearance that the Jews were murdered by Latvians acting on their own initiative (that is, to conceal the fact that the Nazis were behind the whole thing, and that Jews were killed only when Germans organized it). The Germans were certainly not at this time going to tolerate a patriotic Latvian organization of any sort organized at the national level, let alone a paramilitary one. The Selbstschutz were issued only an armband. They would have had to wear civilian clothes or to use whatever military, paramilitary, or police uniforms they had; if the latter, to outsiders they might well have looked like members of a revived Aizsargi or whatever the uniform suggested. Where the Germans had the personnel to do the job themselves, the Selbstschutz was not very active; where the Germans were short-handed, the Selbstschutz arrested and held Jews, awaiting the arrival of extermination squads; and where the extermination squads were overworked or busy elsewhere, the Selbstschutz were ordered to do the killing themselves; so the tasks to which they were put varied locally. After six or eight weeks, the Selbstschutz was ordered to stand down, because the rural Jews were almost all dead already. Selbstschutz units were organized all over Ostland, so there is nothing particularly Latvian about them.
Some time in the autumn of 1943, the Germans, now sorely pressed in the war, informally permitted the Aizsargi to reorganize; in June of 1944, this concession was confirmed by written orders and around 13,000 men were mobilized as Aizsargi.
My question is, who the devil were the Aizsargi who supposedly participated in the Holocaust? The original corps had been disbanded and its leadership eliminated by the Soviets; it did not exist, and could hardly have revived without higher-level leadership, certainly not in the short time required for them to be going around murdering people in 1941; nor would the Germans have permitted such a revival in those heady days when everything seemed to be going their way. Is it that the Selbstschutz are being called “Aizsargi”? If not, who are the alleged “Aizsargi” supposed to be? Should we regard the claim is mere nonsense?
By 1944, the Latvian Jews were gone, and the Holocaust in Latvia consisted mostly of killing prisoners brought in from Germany and elsewhere. Other that serving as guards in concentration camps, how could Latvians have participated? In any case, by that late date the Germans needed all the men they could get at the front; the Legion was engaged in straight military service, not in chasing Jews, and I would expect that the same would be true of the revived Aizsargi, although I have been unable to find any information about them.
So when the Russian publicists and their dupes assert that the Aizsargi participated importantly in the (pre-Rumbula) Holocaust, I don’t know whom they have in mind. Can someone clarify this?