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Shifting Interpretations
 
Prof. Andrew Ezergailis

“The truth may not set you free
but used carefully,
it can confuse the hell out of your opposition.”
― Laurell K. Hamilton, Micah

Geopolitics & History

Shifting interpretations of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe

I write this essay mainly from the personal knowledge that I have accumulated as a historian and as a consultant to Canadian, British, Australian, and American war-crimes prosecutors and/or historians. However, my story has no information that is not already in the public realm. My intention is to cast some light on a historiographical problem: the emergence of the concept of a Germanless Holocaust—how it became a feasible alternative to the judgements made at Nuremberg. My belief is that this conceit arose and was in part confirmed as a consequence of Khrushchev’s search and prosecution of East European nationalists aka collaborationists in the early 1960s. As a historian, during my consultant days, I shared my knowledge as an unpaid consultant with anyone who wanted to talk with me. My wages were the exchange of documents and other information, including names of possible collaborationists. Except for compensation for some trips, I charged no fees. Since at the time I was doing research for a book on the Holocaust in Latvia, exchange of documents and forthright conversations more than satisfied my cupidity. The only significant payment I received was by being on the winning side of Pēteris Vītols case, a Latvian emigrant, whom Canadian judiciary had sought to deprive of citizenship.

The ADDENDUM contains an example of influence that Khrushchev-era literature had among American prosecutors at the OSI.[1]

The Nuremberg war-crimes trials, adjudicated by the victorious Allies from 1945 to about 1949 also established the first framework for our understanding of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. The peculiarity of that paradigm, viewing it from today’s vantage point, is that no essential difference was drawn between the Holocaust in the East and West. The decision to kill Jews was seen as emanating from the Nazi criminal mind, which in all Nazi-occupied lands decided the fate of Jews. We knew about collaborationist phenomena, but in the Holocaust literature it played a minimal role and was mostly associated with the Petainists in France. Among the Holocaust historians, Lucy Dawidowicz, author of The War Against the Jews, 1933–1945 (published in 1975), perhaps most fully represented the Nuremberg school. A concept such as “Polish camps,” for example, was unknown at that time.

Khrushchev picks enemies

Contrary to Russia’s previous leaders, from the tsars through Stalin, who had battled against the Jews, Khrushchev came to the conclusion that Jews are not the enemy of or to Russia. Instead, he concluded that the USSR in the future can expect both more predictable and unpredictable “convulsions” from within its nationalities, especially those facing the West, that is, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and Belarusians—the same nationalities that had been “contaminated” by the Nazi occupation. (Satellite republics were another bag of cats.) To re-Sovietize the nationalities, to put them in their place, to cow and shame them, Khrushchev played the Holocaust card, and being an heir of the duplicitous Stalin, he played it from the bottom of the deck. He gamed it from the position of staatsräson[2], like a hegemon of old, refusing to be encumbered by truth, ethical constraints, or the need for clarifying scholarship.

It is perhaps only for the Jews to judge whether Nikita Sergeyevich’s use of Jewish catastrophe was friendly to the Jews. As time has shown, the campaign was maximally hostile to the nationalities: Kremlin’s intelligentsia took the 20th Century’s greatest crime and transmogrified it into a blood war amongst East European ethnics. In the late Tsarist gosudarstva[3] when revolution threatened it, the Okhrana[4] came up with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a tract that to date has not stopped shedding its poison upon the Jewish people. Whereas the Protocols libeled the Jews as murderers of Christians, Khrushchev’s KGB brainiacs turned the deceit around, portraying Christian neighbors as butchers of Jews—mindless killers who did not need Germans to ignite the Holocaust.

Choosing the horror of the Holocaust as a weapon to solve a geopolitical governance problem, Khrushchev must have known something that the wise men of the West—being empiricists and liberals, looking for reconciliation—did not. Khrushchev seems to have understood the power of bones, resentments, and wrath—the dragon’s teeth—that murder seeds in its wake.[5]

*

Soviet war-crimes investigations had begun in 1944 as the Red Army reclaimed Soviet lands and continued almost until the empire’s end. In Latvia they petered off only in late 1970s.

It is not true, as rumored, that Jewish victimization was not investigated by the Soviets. Soviet collections of documents at times leave a slapdash impression, but the data is there. The assembled documents and reports were stockpiled in the archives, and given a top secret classification, thus making Holocaust documents as inaccessible to public as was information about nuclear weapons and documents relating to Lenin’s bout with syphilis.[6]

Soviets were in possession of three different categories of war-crimes evidence:

  1. Captured German documents;
  2. Information collected by the Soviet Extraordinary Commission that started its operation before the war had ended;
  3. Records of local war-crimes trials, sometimes referred to as “troika trials” which in Latvia operated from 1944 to about 1980.

The latter were simple procedures frequently conducted by professionally untutored or only partially educated “experts”. As a rule, in Western jurisdictions, on procedural grounds alone, most of the verdicts would be reversed. Yet in truth one can say that the testimonies, given by intimidated defendants and assembled by guileless interrogators are not without value to historians. In reliability they favorably contrast with the bulked-up folders of scripted documents fabricated for the “show trials.”

In Latvia there were three such show trials, four if we include Jekeln’s, for which the Soviets turned on the kliegs. They were:

  1. The 18th Police Battalion trial, 1961;
  2. the Rēzekne Maikovskis (emigrant) trial, 1965; and
  3. the 21st Battalion trial 1974/75.

The most important one is the trial of the 18th Battalion, because it, for demonstrable reasons, via the pamphlet had an extensive influence on Western juridical and public opinion.

*

In America the search for East European collaborationists was slow to start. To suggest a soft linkage, the investigations in the United States started when Khrushchev’s trials within the Soviet empire ended. It was the Holocaust survivors, in the main, who, in the United States, provided the energy for the search for collaborationists.[7] However, the American effort from the beginning suffered from an excess of righteousness and a deficit of knowledge. In the pursuit of Latvian war-criminals for the want of moral clarity, Nazi hunters had to settle for itsy-bitsy victories. The information that Americans received from the Soviets was not all bad—Americans lacked specialists who could skim off the fat from the lean. The OSI (Office of Special Investigation) prosecutors not only lacked knowledge about the German occupation of Latvia, they were deficient in their knowledge of Nazism. Thus, it appears the American team had no other option than to accept the Holocaust precepts that permeated Soviet literature. To mention two: Germanlessness of the Holocaust[8] in Eastern Europe; and that functionally there was no difference between police organizations such as the Einsatzgruppen, and military formations, such as the SS-freiwillige—or battalions designated for fighting partisans from units that were picked for killing Jews.

*

The roots of the “Germanless paradigm”—that the evil of occupation—came from local nationalists, go back at least to the late 1950s, when a special order from Moscow reached the CC (Central Committee) offices of the Western Republics. It ordered the Republics to stage war crimes trials on an expedited basis. The order noted that the trials were needed to restrain the activities of the anti-Soviet nationalists and their Committees in the West, especially those in Germany and the US. It also indicated that absence of actionable evidence should not be a reason for failing to have a trial.

Since educated Western gentlemen and ladies no longer could be expected to be conversant about the Soviet legal system, as was the case when Trotsky was spooking Stalin, it needs to be restated that the “show trial” was not just an aberration of the 1930s. Some elements of it came into Russia with the introduction of revolutionary jurisprudence in 1917. After 1945 Stalin frequently imposed “show trials” on the Satellite Republics.[9] After the war, the most noted trials took place in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Albania. Thus, the use of the “show trial” for Khrushchev must have been a simple decision. Drawing from Soviet juridical precedents, Khrushchev, using history as precedent, invoked the show trial without much consideration or debate and although the various trials differed slightly from country to country, they all had in common the theme that the Holocaust in eastern Europe was the work of local nationalists, not the German military or police.[10] The surprise would have been if the trials had been conducted in the bourgeois mode of the West.[11]

*

Starting with 1960 Soviet Holocaust trials—evidence lacking—“show-trials” began to pop up within Western Republics. How true or false these trials were, in each of the sister Republics, I will not presume to know or discuss at this time. The Latvian targets of the trials were painted as “nationalists” and incorrigible murderers of Jews.

*

Due to coincidence or serendipity Latvia became one of the crosshair points where Khrushchev’s desire to punish his “collaborationist” nations, intersected with the desire of some American Nazi-hunters to find Nazis and/or their collaborationists, amidst East European emigrants. By early 1970s the desire to prosecute war-crimes had reached the US Justice Department and a search for ”real” collaborationists was begun. For about a decade among Nazi hunters emerged the notion that documentation of Eastern Europe collaborationists would emerge from the archives of and cooperation with the Soviet Union. Readers can double check my assertion by consulting Allan Ryan’s—cri de guerre—his book, Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals in America, 1984. As Ryan was honing up for the trials, the high point of his tenure was a visit to Roman Rudenko, the most visible “Nazi-hunter” in the USSR, and a confidant of Khrushchev, one the strategists in the war against nationalities. Rudenko convinced Ryan that more than 10,000 East European Nazis had settled in the green suburbs—the Edens of America. Ryan left Rudenko’s enfiladed Kremlin office believing that documentary help would be arriving.

Rudenko was not the first and only Soviet contact.

*

“Very well!“ a post-Soviet German or Russian could ask, “But what do these fifty year old Germanless trials have to do with academic postulates today? Where and what is the proof?”

“Well! For one, Vladimir Putin’s ideologues have accepted the ideas of Khrushchev era trials as effective—contrariwise, Russia’s Foreign Ministry would not be sending streams of position papers to Brussels calling Eastern European people Nazis and neo-Nazis.”

*

It shouldn’t take much discernment to see that the Kremlin intelligentsia of today are still riding the same pony as those of yesteryear. If nobody listened, Russia’s Foreign Ministry today would stop dispatching Khrushchev time memos.

Khrushchev’s “engineers” had a problem when organizing the trials: they had stacks of archival documents that conflicted with the phantom documents produced for the trials. To be sure that the archival holdings did not interfere with the plan to humiliate “nationalities,” control and secrecy of the archival holdings had to be enforced. In other words, there were real reasons for Roman Rudenko, the Soviet prosecutor, to renege on his promise to send documents. The jilted Americans never realized that open archives are incompatible with mock trials; thus, the Soviets promised more than it was prudent for them to deliver;[12] Soviet officialdom also must have known that in open court rooms, the meaning of documents is not always what you want it to be. It is evident that by mid 1970s German and American prosecutors were pressuring Soviet juridical authorities for Holocaust related documents.

The Hannover Landgericht in their pursuit of Liepāja Einsatzgruppe leadership in early 1970s, was the first Western judicial body that received authentic Soviet documents. The Hamburg Landgericht, that was prosecuting Viktors Arājs, was the second.[13] Soviets began limited cooperation with Americans (OSI) only in the 1980s. Germans were easier to satisfied, because unlike Americans they only asked for supporting documents.

“Show-trials”

Unlike the troika trials, the “show trials” were preceded by publicity, and as in Vishinski’s trials also by moralizing, and a pre-trial announcement of the verdict. Attendance however, was by invitation; and a Baltimore journalist was invited to at least to one of the trials.[14] As with the Vishinski trials, the 1960s trials were examples of radical jurisprudence that placed no limits on self-incrimination, torture, and also prosecutor’s unlimited privilege to introduce unexamined, one-sided evidence. For example in the trial of the 21st Police Battalion, the judges validated an identical [verbatim] deposition that prosecution submitted as if by three different witnesses, given at three different places and times.[15]

The pamphlet

The trials without a follow-up would have been so many falling logs that nobody heard. During the 1960s and 1970s the Latvian KGB chapter issued about ten war-crimes pamphlets, but only two, Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They (1963) and Political Refugees Unmasked (1965) need to be discussed for the purposes of this essay. They were two early ones, they were translated into English, and Western scholars, by referencing them in their works, promoted them to an academic status. In books and legal documents Western experts derived more than names and factual information. From the Soviet texts, they also lifted ideologically tainted narrative passages. (See the Addendum below)

The booklets and other literature was channeled to the West through academic circles, the formidable Soviet diplomatic network and Mezhdunarodnaya kniga, the Soviet book outlet, that sold everything at half price, sometimes for pennies. The Soviets made sure that their jury-rigged “Holocaust” literature find a place in all important libraries of the world.

Neither the booklets nor films that were part of the information barrage were of high quality, but quantity in this case trumped quality, and Khrushchev, being a post Leninist nihilist, had called it right about capitalist gullibility. Regardless of the wrap, audience for the book, especially the United States, materialized. Except for German prosecutors (but not historians), who had their own way of finding indictable defendants, the booklets, became a reference works on the shelf of all prosecutors, Nazi-hunters, and many journalists who wrote about the subject.[16]

While Holocaust scholars, Rauol Hilberg, for example, took years (sometimes decades) to complete a project, the Soviets made their “war” literature available in matter of months. Generally these publications while available in London were not sold in domestic book-stores. To save on postage, the booklets in some instances were printed in Berlin, although the place of publication was listed as Riga, etc.

*

On the one hand it is beyond our powers to reconstruct Soviet dealings and thinking about war-crimes evidence; on the other, it may be even more complicated for us to understand the reasons why Western educated specialists took the KGB handiwork as real evidence. As far as I know the pamphlets contained the first information, save for some Nuremberg documents, that the Soviets shared with the West. Purportedly the pamphlets were intended to embarrass the target nationalities, but they ended up embarrassing everybody: Nazi-hunters, scholars, survivors, and prosecutors—all who thought they had found, in Latvia, a trove of stealthy Nazis.

At the beginning of this essay I promised not to moralize or steal candy from a baby. Yet I find it irresistible, once more, to point out that the reliance on the pamphlets boomeranged: out of fifteen Latvian cases, OSI prevailed in only two.[17]

*

Although the war-crimes pamphlets that the Soviets dispatched to the world were skewed, at the time they filled a gap of silence and knowledge which the lock-down of Soviet archives had produced. At the outset even the people, especially the young emigrants, of the target nations were eager to read the pamphlets. Soviets used the world’s ignorance as a wedge, not only to keep nations, but also generations, apart. The silence about the Holocaust in their homelands had prepared the young to expect the worst, and the Soviet pamphleteers rose to the occasion. Generally the pamphleteers linked their narrative to some truth, sometimes it masked as a reportage of a trial, but in sub-stories there were no limit to embellishment and exaggeration. All rules of honesty and ethical principle were left naked to their enemies as were many peoples on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

The pamphlets’ reception

The trial of the 18th Police Battalion took place in 1960 in Riga. By 1961 Paulis Ducmanis, my drinking pal to be, had written his masterwork Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They?.[18] By 1962 Gladys Evans, a Canadian poet had reset it into impeccable English.

By 1963 the pamphlet had reached the US. However during the first decade in America the pamphlet was dormant. At first, Nazi-hunters had not marked East Europeans as prime objects of attention. But when the United States Department of Justice was persuaded to establish a special investigative division (OSI) to prosecute Nazis, the search for East European collaborationists began in earnest.

Although on the periphery, I was also involved in the search for the collaborationists and in the dance with the Soviet pamphlets. According to my recollection of the chronology, the Latvian pamphlet played a deciding role, for only after the US “Nazi” prosecutors had encountered the Latvian masterwork, they acquired a serious interest in East-European suspects.

The slate of Latvian suspects would have stayed on a slow boil, had it not been for the happenstance that a fellow historian, a Holocaust survivor, and a former friend, Prof. Gertrude Schneider, made a research trip to Riga in 1971. According to her own telling, in Riga she met “Latvia’s Cultural Minister” who showered her with Soviet publications, that included the baited brochure, the one that has managed to overwhelm humanity’s resistance to falsehood, penetrated the shield that members of the legal profession are reputed to possess in double density. The pamphlet Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They? is a matchless work, in a class by itself. From the array of recovered addicts, I do not exempt myself.

In retrospect the pamphlets perhaps made the hunt for the hunters too easy. The prosecutors failed to understand that in reality the persons named in the booklets constituted only a Soviet hit list—a roster of anti-Soviet activists in emigration—not theirs. The anti-Nazis mistakenly perceived the booklet as honest journalistic reportage, or even an academic study. The ease with which the names of suspect streamed from the booklets, could have been one of Soviet hooks. The inconceivability that a book can be so constructed that every word within it is a lie, may be another. And finally, the book lies about a subject, which in Americas was the height of impudence.

For the first decade of the brochure’s existence, I couldn’t have guessed that its author—Paulis Ducmanis—a cagy conversationalist, in due time would become an irresistible drinking pal in Riga.

Prof. Gertrude Schneider’s discovery

We know about Dr. Schneider’s discovery from the two geographical ends of her trip: Riga and New York. Upon returning to New York, Schneider wasted no time to make the pamphlets known to people who worked on lassoing in collaborationists.

In an interview with Roschelle Saidel, author of Outraged Conscience. She related her side of the Riga story. Her host, the appointed Riga concierge, who turned out to be KGB lieutenant, Imants Lešinskis, told his version in 1978, after his defection. The stories did not conflict.

Everybody, who in those days visited the USSR knows that for a foreigner to get in a library one had to surrender oneself to a kindly host, whose rank in the KGB usually approximated the visitor’s academic one. I know that because I’ve been there, done that.

Six years after Gertrude visited Riga, her Riga watchdog, Imants Lešinskis[19] defected in New York, while on an assignment at the United Nations. Not only did he remember that he had played a Minister for Dr. Schneider, but that, at a soirée, he had also danced with her.

Schneider told Roschelle Saidel that at a social gathering, she had met Latvia’s Minister of Culture, who, out of the blue, surprising her, had posed a query:

“You know, you have lots of Nazis in your country.”

Who was leading whom? Lešinskis having graduated from the best spy-schools in the USSR, did not rush it.

Schneider—jumped:

“I beg your pardon!”

To fill the breach, to satisfy Schneider’s aroused curiosity, it took Lešinskis a good part of the coming week. For the purposes of this essay it is important to know that in addition to some documents about alleged Latvian “war criminals,” he gave her copies of two KGB pamphlets: Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They? (1963) and Political Refugees Unmasked (1965).

Upon returning, on the basis of the information she learned in Riga and found in the brochures, Schneider made herself into an expert speaker about the Holocaust in Latvia. She delivered lectures to whomever would listen: Jewish organizations, human right groups, New York television stations, and Nazi hunters. Schneider’s energy also gave boost to Elizabeth Holzman’s (US Congresswoman from Brooklyn) effort to pass the legislation establishing, the Office of Special Investigation (OSI). As she was building up the case for prosecution of Latvian “collaborationist,” she also purveyed “the truth” from KGB lips to OSI ears. Paradoxically her energy in reality thwarted the prosecution of Latvian suspects. The problem was that the KGB sold the OSI lawyers on the wrong cast of Latvians, but also a warped narrative about the “collaboration” in Eastern Europe. See the ADDENDUM.

Schneider did not start the search for East European collaborationists, but she added a momentum to the process that had started in Europe a decade earlier. She drew her energy from the trip to Riga and the plethora of names that poured out from the pages of the pamphlets. Schneider’s diligence may be the reason why Latvia, being one of the smallest countries in Europe, provided the OSI with the largest number of—fifteen—defendants. Out of the fifteen prosecuted Latvians, at least twelve were rooted in the pamphlets.[20] Canada judiciary prosecuted three Latvians—two came from the KGB materials—all three were exonerated.

If you make it in New York, you make it everywhere.

Although, the KGB distribution of the pamphlets had been planetary, it became important only after it became known in New York. As if by a slight of hand the renown of the brochures mushroomed. Every name mentioned in the booklets became an object of scrutiny. The search for collaborationists started in America but expanded the world over. The fame of the brochures also proliferated the views of the Holocaust that was associated with the Khrushchev-era literature. Research of German role in Eastern European massacre practically stopped.

In the early 1980s, I began to think about writing a book about the Holocaust in Latvia, thus among the list makers and searcher, I must include myself. The most impatient searcher, as expected, was Simon Wiesentahl Center in Vienna. Using the KGB pamphlets as a database, the Center made up specific lists for countries in which Latvian refugees resided, requesting their prosecution. As I recall it, there were no, to very few, hits. I started having doubts about the veracity of the lists and the brochures, when it was established that most of the Latvian “suspects” on the Swedish list had died decades ago.

By mid 1980s, on the basis of materials that I found at the Hamburg Landgericht, I had written a biographical article of Viktors Arājs. The article gave me reputation that opened doors and access to sources that added to my collection. Everybody (mostly journalists and lawyers) who wanted to pursue a Latvians suspect wanted to talk to me. I talked and shared my documents and knowledge with anybody, including Ephraim Zuroff, as long as the other party was willing to play by the same rules: share their documents with me. Thus my cache of information began to grow, even without leaving Ithaca.

By mid 1980s, I had made a contact and exchanged documents with the OSI in Washington: Allen Ryan, its founding director, was no longer there, the score of prosecutions of Latvians was something like 7-zip in favor of defendants. After a fiasco of such magnitude, the OSI team had began to speak to Latvian emigrants. The OSI hired Hermanis Redins, a Latvian, a retired US Army colonel, as a researcher. His assignment was to find some real indictable Latvian collaborationist. And to the degree that OSI, at the end, had some success with Latvian suspects, I think it was a result of Herman’s digging. The OSI had also contacted Eriks Pārups, a Latvian Army Lieutenant, participant in anti-Nazi resistance, whose war-time experience and knowledge gave the OSI team a shot of antidote, that in part neutralized the influence of the pamphlets.

Concentrating on the Arājs Commando, in tandem, with Herman, by early 1990s, when I was finishing my research, we had compiled a list of about 1200 likely suspects. Our list mostly consisted from those Latvians who had served in the German Security Police. However, to underscore the difficulty of finding the real collaborationists, the OSI checkers found none of them living in the USA. There ought to have been some kind of a lesson in it.

The Cultural Committee with Latvians Abroad,[21] the organization that had hosted Dr. Schneider, and also the one that published the errant brochures, became embarrassed, so to say, by a surfeit of fame. The European, especially German, Nazi-hunters and prosecutors swarmed the Committee with compliments and requests for proof, none of which the Committee, in good conscience, could accept or satisfy.

Paulis Ducmanis

Paulis Ducmanis, the illusionist-genius, who had bewitched and hexed the Nazi-hunters, my companion through Riga bars, was the only one who ever got paid for writing some of the brochures. His beverage of choice was cognac—neat—by the shot glass. For after everything, he was an intelligent man, and the “success” of Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They? embarrassed him. While the Soviet Union lasted, the regime had him by the throat, although after liberation his condition may not have improved. He stemmed from a visible and patriotic Latvian family. During the Nazi occupation, his hands were clean, but his pen wasn’t. He had worked in the occupation press and that was the snare that made him captive to the KGB. Though living on a razor’s edge, Ducmanis not only survived the Soviet times, in socialist society, he managed to eke out a bourgeois life style. He was as kind and generous as he was clever—both Ryan and Rudenko would have had grounds to send him to gallows. After the liberation he was in an impasse, locked in a stalemate at the edge of life. Although nobody threw knives at him, he lacked the mobility to reclaim the life that left him in 1940.

He worked for the Cultural Committee with Latvians Abroad until its end in 1990. During the final months, he was elevated to the editorship of Dzimtenes Balss, the Committee’s organ. Before he folded the outfit, in the final columns he made yet another turn by extolling the stout-heartedness of Latvian legionaries and also declaring the Daugavas vanagi to have been fighters for Latvia’s liberty.

*

The first time I met Ducmanis was in 1979 when he was appointed to be my watch dog in Riga. He escorted me to theaters and dinners. After the collapse of the USSR I met him, perhaps half a dozen times, mostly in Riga bars; once he invited me to his house in Mežaparks, an elite residential district. He would talk freely about his time in the camps and the writing of pamphlets.

For some time, I entertained a desire to persuade Paulis to make a clean break help the Nazi hunters get on a more productive path; and tell them how the KGB came to trust a bourgeois nationalist to write a tract about Nazi crimes. For a long time I did not understand why he did not want to write an autobiography, but in time I came to realize that his past was too heavy for paper.

When the KGB ordered him to write the Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They?, being pre-war European, he understood that he was asked to “bear false witness”, commit a fiendish crime/sin, whose perpetrators (Dante placed in the VIII circle of Hell) were suffering unbearable thirst for eternity.

While many of his equally situated contemporaries after the war from the so called “filtration camps”, were sent for 25-year stretches to the Gulag, Ducmanis by 1947 was back in Riga, working at a newspaper. Imagination is insufficient to set limits to the bargain that he might have struck with, then, the NKVD. By 1960, when he received the assignment to write the dastardly pamphlet, his treasury of tricks must have been pretty bare. Shards of wit might have been the only devise left in his quiver with which to salvage a modicum of dignity. To write a screed of total mendacity was the only way to go.

Only when he died did I began to understand why he refused to trust his life to paper. Perhaps only those who to survive the brutalities of the 20 Cent. were forced to live on the edge honesty would understand Paulis’ predicament.

The crimes that he attributed to his contemporaries, Vilis Hāzners, for one, were so huge, that their enormity, could not be laughed off or drowned in cognac. While not denying the writing of the brochure, he minimized his role, by explaining that his role was one of a blind hand, he only copied what two KGB heavies dictated to him.

My own thoughts about Ducmanis has ran the gamut—from indifference, to anger, to annoyance, and also to admiration for the high-wire act that he was fated to play. He had written those tracts about twenty years before Americans made use of them. Neither the OSI nor the US Justice Department had asked him to write them.

Last time we met, upon parting, without saying anything, he stuck a Manila envelope in my armpit. It contained a fistful of papers: copies of letters, articles, some pictures, and lists of alleged Latvian collaborationists; the documents appeared to be a leftovers from the pamphlet days. The addresses on the one hand testified about his contacts with a couple of Latvian KGB informers who were living in Germany and on the other with some German Nazi-hunters who seemed to have been his victims, those hooked by his masterworks.[22]

*

The final riddle in my essay hides in the text of the ADDENDUM below.

Let us assume that like in a fairy tale of old, a KGB ogre at midnight appeared to Ducmanis and told him to perform an impossible task: write a book, that is nothing but lies, yet one that nobody believes it to be so.

Being a Latvian, not thought of to be the sharpest tacks on this planet—resorting to clichés—he muttered to himself:

Easy as pie!

For a veteran of Stalin’s prison, it took all of three seconds (one…two…three) to conclude:

“Only the one who knows the truth is able to construct its opposite!”

And he proceeded to submit himself to counter-fugal thinking.[23] Since, as we now know, he managed to dodge all truths; we now know that Ducmanis knew what to avoid.

The KGB had placed Ducmanis in an ethical dilemma: the choice between a possible voyage to permafrost regions, or to commit undiluted lies, bear false witness about his countrymen [Vilis Hāzners, e.g.] whose activities, as a Nazi-time journalist he knew.

Yet we must also note that at the time he wrote the pamphlet, it was intended as a propaganda screed, not a legal brief to be cited in the highest tribunal of the United States.[24]

Thus the moral issues raised by the pamphlets become muddied. If Ducmanis' soul will end where its hot, then should Allen Ryan who, hook, line, and sinker, had appropriated Ducmanis information, deserve any better? By borrowing Ryan did not improve the information’s probity. While Ducmanis knew the truth and more, Ryan was clueless.

Analysis of the passages below [ADDENDUM], which comes from Hāzner’s legal files, would show that Ryan became a prosecutor with insufficient preparation for the assignment. That he misidentified Hāzners as a war criminal is still understandable because other sources and lists than Ducmanis' pamphlet had floated his name. His real shortcoming showed up in plagiarizing Ducmanis' lies. For example:

  1. that on July 1941, there was a Latvian self-government;
  2. that Dankers was its head (he arrived in Riga only in August of 1941;
  3. that Veiss spoke on the Riga radio;
  4. that Latvians killed Jews before the arrival of Einsatzgruppen; and
  5. that during this period the paramount goal of the Self-Government and the occupation Government were the same.

[Did the Nazi murder of Lt. Col. Viktors Deglavs prove the unanimity?]

ADDENDUM

Riga—July, 1941: THE PREFECTURE

The German forces moved through Riga in July, 1941, pursuing the retreating Red Army. Within hours, a Latvian “self government,” headed by General Dankers, assumed control of the offices vacated by the fleeing Russians. Even before the Dankers government was functioning, former officers of the Latvian army responded to an appeal broadcast over the radio by Hāzners’ “old friend” (tr. 1027) Col. Veiss to “clean the city of Jews, Communists and Bolsheviks.” (tr. 279) Hāzners and other officers reported to the Headquarters of the ad hoc Latvian Self-Government on Merķeļa iela on July 1 where he received orders to chase “Russian soldiers” (tr. 1027) north of the city who had been cut off by the north-easterly drive of the German Army. In Riga itself students and former members of the Latvian Army started round up Jews. Even before the arrival of German Einsatzkommando, Jews had been killed. ... [25]

...

In the first day of German occupation of Riga, the Latvian Self-Government was allowed to exercise the authority of the displaced Soviet Administration. This was permitted for two reasons: first, the occupation was not in the position to exert control over the populace until its massive police operation ... was in place, and second, during this period the paramount goal of the Self-Government and the occupation Government were the same.

*

After finishing my writ, questions of victims, victors and stupidity remain. I can only talk about the Latvian cases which were adjudicated in American and Canadian courts—only those that emerged from the morass of Khrushchev’s hegemonic worries. Judgements in both countries communicated, if anything, that the accused Latvians were more likely enemies of Khrushchev than of Democracy or of Jews. Their role in the Holocaust wasn’t proven. There were Latvians who had participated in Holocaust actions, but for transparent reasons, in retrospect, Khrushchev’s system was not interested in coughing them up. While American Nazi hunters pursued a moral cause, Khrushchovites played geopolitics.

Glossary

  • Daugavas Vanagi—Organization of Latvian war veterans. Suspected of collaboration.
  • Ducmanis, Paulis—Author of Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They?
  • Hāzners, Vilis—Captain in the Latvian Legion. Accused of collaboration. Exonerated.
  • Lešinskis, Imants—KGB Lieutenant. Defected.
  • OSI—Office of Special Investigation. Chapter of US Justice Department charged to prosecute collaborationists with Nazism.
  • Ryan, Allan—First Director of the OSI.

[1]  In the early 1970s Allan Ryan was the first director of the OSI (Office of Special Investigation). For evidence of Soviet imprint upon Ryan’s thinking, compare the ADDENDUM passages from Vilis Hāzner’s case with writings in Soviet propaganda literature, specifically, Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They?
[2]  German for raison d'état, the pursuit of security and self-assertion of the State by any means—Ed.
[3]  Государство, Russian for "state" as an entity of political power, sovereignty, coercion, and control—Ed.
[4]  The Отдѣленіе по Охраненію Общественной Безопасности и Порядка ("Department for Protecting the Public Security and Order") was a secret police force of the Russian Empire—Ed.
[5]  While in the ethnic wars Khrushchev favored Jews, he did nothing to liquidate anti-Semitism in general. The street of Russia continued to be one of the more anti-Semitic countries in Europe. That Soviet Jews evaluated Khrushchev’s show trials positively, needs to be taken as part of that country’s pluralism or anarchism.
[6]  The level of secrecy in which information about war-crimes were kept, must as yet harbor some unanswered clue about the Soviet mind. To this day there are scholars who deny the existence of show trials. And there are also those who do not deny their existence but refuse to grant them show-trial status.
[7]  The early search for Nazi collaborators in America is well documented by Saidel, Rochelle G. The Outraged Conscience. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.
[8]  The addendum below illustrates the American team’s incompetence.
[9]  The quickest way to learn about the Soviet trials would be to consult Vol. 1 of the Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
[10]  In this respect the Soviet trials were similar to the Nazi propaganda skits that at the beginning of the war appeared in their Wochenschauen. The Soviets differed from the Nazi in their use and abuse of the words “fascist” and “nationalist”.
[11]  Although, as unexamined and forgotten, as these show trials are, they still they are not without defenders, in whose eyes it is a sacrilege to criticize them and suggest that they are phony.
[12]  In the Demjanuk’s case the Soviets actually sent some real documents. They turned out to be too real for American prosecutors, who, not to harm their case, opted to break the law rather than share them with the defense as trial rules required.
[13]  The German juridicial establishment unlike the American and Canadian, never fell for the evidence presented at the Soviet “show-trials” or their pamphlets. Germans won all three prosecutions won all three Latvian cases. Canadians lost three out of three. Americans (who engaged in most extensive use of Soviet “evidence”) thirteen of fifteen cases..
[14]  Baltimore Sun, 12 October 1965.
[15]  One of the purposes of the 21st battalion’s trial was to undo the decision of the Hannover trial which proved that the killing of Liepāja Jews were organized and carried out by the German SD personnel. In the Soviet trial Germans were eliminated.
[16]  I know that because at that time, I had long conversation with Canadian, British, Australian, and American war-crimes historians and/or prosecutors about sundry matters of Nazi occupation of Latvia that included KGB supplied information. Not only did we exchange information, we also exchanged documents and names of likely collaborators.
[17]  For those who are clever with statistics there must be a lesson in the above findings. One can also note that these judgements were not made by Latvian nationalists, but by American and Canadian judges. I have no good explanation for the results so skewed, except to say that it must have been old fashioned biblical zealotry. And I would not blame the OSI historians with whom my contacts were friendly and comradely, and who never gave reason to question their objectivity, or their professionalism.
[18]  See my study of the pamphlet’s history and influence, Nazi-Soviet Disinformation about the Holocaust in Latvia, Occupation Museum of Latvia, 2005.
[19]  “KGB defector talks about former job in 'ethnic espionage'”, Warren Richey, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, June 14, 1984
[20]  It can be noted that the two “victories”, those of Kondrads Kalējs and Boļeslāvs Maikovskis, started as Holocaust, but ended up as partisan cases. It is a difference that needs to be mentioned.
[21]  The full title is Liaison Committee for Cultural Relations with the Countrymen Abroad of Latvian SSR; similar committees were set up in Estonia and Lithuania.—Ed.
[22]  An interesting case faced Canada judiciary, which moved to denationalize Eduards Podiņš. His name was found on a salary roaster of prison guards. Canadian prosecutors jumped to conclusion that he was a member of the guards and thus belonged to the SD. The case collapsed, when it was shown that he was a manager of Prison shop with no duties as a guard.
[23]  [Counter fugue is an answer to an inverted imitation of the fugue.]
[24]  Ducmanis to escape the ethical trap at the time might have intended to write an unbelievably absurd tale of the Holocaust in Latvia.
[25]  In the matter of Vilis Hāzners, Governments’ Post Trial Brief, p. 8. Reprinted in Vilis Hāzners, Varmācības torņi, 1985. pp. 91-94.
Updated: December, 2014
 
   
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