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Propaganda of Ethnic Hate in 1941

SD Press and Propaganda

From the first hours of occupation the SD took charge of Latvia's press and radio. Among the first announcements—orders to surrender weapons and proclamation of anti-Jewish laws—were announcements that forbade publication without permission. Before the German entrance into Rīga, a group of nationalists, from the Rīga Film studio, took over the radio[1]. One of the earliest acts of the occupying forces was to wrest the control away from them. From the contents of the newspapers that appeared after the occupation, we can say that they could be published only if the editors and the staff were fully engaged in Nazi propaganda. Without exception, all Latvian publications from the first hours of occupation, glorified Hitler, glorified the victorious German army, and engaged in vitriolic anti-Semitism. This was true for Rīga and for all provincial towns. On July 1, before Stahlecker could impose his control over Rīga, there appeared one-sided broadsheet Brīvā zeme. Brīvā zeme was closed without any further ado, and the central press organ of occupied Latvija became Tēvija. The contents, the glorification of an occupying army and the aggressive anti-Semitism, of the nazified press, have no analogue in Latvia's history. Even the takeover of the press by communists in 1940 or for that matter 1944, was a more gradual process, and the Soviet-type of hate-mongering was done in a more measured way.

The Nazi information control was a total and it arrived in Latvia on many levels. It is not likely, as Vestermanis argues, that there was one Wehrmacht controlled propaganda agency under OKW,[2] but rather all of the important branches of the occupying forces Wehrmacht, SD, Abwehr and the Party, had their own agencies. There was radio propaganda aired from Köningsberg, word of mouth, person to person propaganda, and that delivered by loudspeakers. The propaganda personnel consisted of Germans, Baltic Germans, and Latvians. The most insidious of the propagandists was a group of the so called Sonderführers, partly consisting of Latvian officers who after the Soviet occupation had sought refuge in Germany. In May 1941, the Nazis had assembled about 200 Latvian officers in East Prussia, given some perfunctory training, dressed them in German uniforms and attached them to various military units as ”interpreters”, which in practice meant that they had to mollify the local population and explain Nazism (anti- Semitism) to them. The Latvian Sonderführers had a higher credibility among the Latvian population then the Germans or Baltic Germans could ever have.

According to Vestermanis a ”Board of Overseers” was installed over Latvia's press, which was part of a propaganda group called ”Rīga”. Among the people who entered in this agency were mostly Latvian speaking Baltic Germans: Prof. W. Klumberg of the Herder Institute, Sonderführers Grosberg, Mensenkampf, Zichert, and perhaps most importantly of all Stahlecker's confident Hans E. Dressler.[3]

Anti-Semitism. The quickness with which Nazi anti-Semitism penetrated throughout the press of Latvia was the big surprise. It was instantaneous. The emphasis here is on the word Nazi, as distinguished from the native or general anti-Semitic varieties,[4] the kind of anti-Semitism that existed in Latvia prior to Ulmanis's reign. Within the first hours of occupation, hardly any piece of information was allowed to appear without an anti- Semitic message: there was anti-Semitism as theory, history and one that mascaraded as news. There is a school of thought that argues that it took days, some say weeks, before the occupying forces established their control in Latvia. That view's proponents it seems, have not studied the press of Latvia. Even if the provincial papers in some localities were slow to get going, it does not mean that it took Tēvija more than a day to reach the farthest districts of Latvia and Tēvija was published on July 1, the first day of the occupation of Rīga. In Radio broadcasts there was no time differential at all between Rīga and the provinces. [5]

It must be noted that Anti-Semitism in pre-war Latvia, to the degree that it was there, was not visible, either in the press or on the streets, as it was after the Nazi occupation. Anti-Semitisim in independent Latvia lived on the fringes of public life. In the open, in the press of the center, there was none to be found. During the parliamentary period,[6] there was a low level anti-Semitic press, but its circulation was limited and its character, even in the most extreme cases, like the press of Pērkoñkrusts in early 30's, lacked the vengeful intensity that exploded in Latvia in July 1941. There are four aspects that we may postulate about the character of this heightened anti-Semitism in 1941 that resulted in success to the degree it was successful, to the degree that it had credibility.

  1. Nazi anti- Semitism in Latvia had a fierce anti-capitalist component that resonated with that of Marxism, especially Bolshevism. It was a one-sided Marxism, and a warped variant of it, but the anti-capitalism that Marxists had celebrated received an ugly twist: in the Nazi hands it became anti-Semitism.[7] And not only anti-Semitism, but also anti-liberalism, anti- West, and anti-democracy. One needs to understand that since 1900 Latvia was a Marxist saturated country, and even the lowliest of its people were not free of some of its postulates. To a high degree this aspect of anti-Semitism linked up with the conspiratorial postulates of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and there was an overlap with that of the Pērkonkrusts variant.
  2. The Nazis prior to the occupation of Latvia had pre-packaged a number of articulate refugee Latvians, such as Paulis Kovaļevskis, for the job. It may also be true that the Baltic-German Sonderführers dictated the first series of articles for the Latvian editors. The Latvian press reprinted a lot from the German press. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion received its full publication, and some parts of it were circulated throughout the provinces, during the early weeks of occupation.[8]
  3. But the unseen connection that the invading Nazis were able to find in Latvia, as one reads the press and examines the biographies of the editors and writers involved, was Pērkonkrusts, the hapless fascists of early 1930's. This conclusion emerges much more from examining the writers of the provincial press than Tēvija personnel in Rīga. Much of the post-war literature on the Holocaust in Latvia, especially the Soviet variant, have portrayed the Pērkonkrusts as the members of the Latvian killing squads. That view can only be minimally sustained. For one, the Pērkonkrusts members, had outlived their youthful vigor, and were too ”old” and too intellectual to participate in the killing activities. They did, however, participate as propagandists and agitators for the murder that took place in Latvia.
  4. The most significant aspect of the success of the Nazi propaganda was the ability to associate Jews with Communists atrocities, most specifically the work of the Cheka.[9] As false as the association was, the Nazi propaganda in Latvia had no higher purpose than to establish the linkage. In hundred different ways the Nazi propaganda connected the Jews with the Cheka. The following is one of many examples: I awoke on the floor in another room with my hands and feet tied. Next to me sat a red haired curly Jewess, with a cigaret (papiros) in teeth, looking happy. She looked at me coldly and in her hands held a long needle, with a blood stained tip. The red-haired scoundrel asked me: ”Will you confess or not? I pleaded that I had nothing to confess and that she should free my hands and feet. But the hideous Jewess continued to smoke calmly, and slowly pushed her horrible needle in my thigh. Powerless and yelled for help, but a Jew-Chekist with a wet stinking rag gagged me. I received numberless deep needle stabs in the lower part of my body, so that against my will I began to convulse in pain. Stopping her dastardly work, the Chekist-Jewess told me in a clam voice: «Oi, if you wont confess today, you will do it tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then the day after[10].

There were three interconnected layers to the Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda in Latvia in July 1941.

  1. Print propaganda, in part theoretical, part ”historical”, and in part, as if, ”factual”, consisted of purported reportages about Jews in Communist service or vice versa Communists in the service of Jews. These false reportages frequently emanated from massacre sites and prisons, where Jews allegedly had murdered and maimed people. The propaganda aim was to drill into the minds of Latvians, that Jews were Communists, the preferred German phrasing was Jewish/ Bolshevism, and that the Jews were Chekists. In numerous different variations it was repeated that the Jews were guilty of spilling the blood of Latvians, torturing and maiming their bodies.
  2. The degradation of legal status of the Jews: the prohibition to queue up for food, to walk on the sidewalks, etc. (See the section on Anti Jewish Laws)
  3. The third aspect of anti-Semitic propaganda was one of propaganda of the streets: the visual consequence of the loss of the legal citizenship status, the forced labor gangs driven through the city, and the permission and at times encouragement to loot Jewish apartments. All that was done to shape and heighten anti-Semitism, as if to prove that the Jews were receiving just punishment for their Bolshevism. An especially invidious aspect of the propaganda by the deed, was the uncovering of the Communist victims graves, which frequently the local Jews were made to do. (See Rēzekne, Chapter 8, Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia.) The uncovering of the gravesites were used as if as training sessions for the potential firing squads. The local police men were invited to view the disinterment, as if it was a theater. The uncovering of the corpses was accompanied by a stench of the half rotted bodies, and the whole show was arranged to create a linkage of guilt, an impression that the Jews had caused the murders. It has been said that at least on some occasions (Daugavpils has been named as a case in point) the laboring Jews were killed on the spot and buried in the pits from which they had uncovered the corpses. The burning of the synagogues were not conceived as an act of punishment for the Jews, but as propaganda: Arājs told his men that the synagogue needs to be burned to enrage the city against the Jews.

The final piece of propaganda was the murder of Jews itself. It was both, the culmination of the propaganda but also presented as the final ”proof” of ”Jewish guilt”.

It must be noted that the ultimate anti-Semitic effect was created by the various layers of propaganda reenforcing each other. The propaganda of the printed page will live forever, but in terms of 1941, the visual effects on the street, the consequences of Commander Ullersberger's and Stahlecker's orders, perhaps had a more powerful impact than the printed pages of Tēvija. The audio propaganda, what was beamed in from Königsberg at the beginning of the war and later over the air waves of Latvia, with small exceptions, has been lost forever. We may, however assume, that Nazis, being as aware of propaganda as they were, did not neglect the radio[11].

[1]    The Latvian resistance in Rīga began to plan the takeover of Rīga radio on June 26, when the German forces had reached the outskirts of Pārdaugava. We may presume that to some degree the capture of the radio was directed from the German side. The Rīga Film studio group led by A. Jekste entered the radio building on July 1 and started broadcasting at 9:45, about three hours before German forces entered Rīga. Patriotic music was played ”Svēts manotojums šī zeme mūsu,” and the national anthem ”Dievs svētī Latviju”. Jekste delivered a proclamation which was generally patriotic, but he managed to squeeze in one Nazi type of anti-Semitic statement that thereafter echoed through numerous articles in print: ”Once and for all the end has arrived to Communists and Jewry.” The statement is confirmed in two sources, Hallo Latvia, No. 1, 1941 and in Latvia's archives LVCA P-97 1 4—p. 33. In the archival source we also find an exaggeration of Cheka atrocities: ”…but no longer are we able to return to life those Latvian young men and women who were slaughtered in the Cheka cells, Stabu iela 12, and their remains burned in the central heating ovens. I am begging you to save what is rescuable from fire and destruction.” Jekste does not make a hard connection between Jews and Cheka, although the proximity is there.
[2] M. Vestermanis, Tā rīkojās Vērmachts, Rīga 1973, p.78.
[3]Vestermanis, op. cit. p. 78. It must be noted that in addition to the team of immediate censors or overseers, there were branches in the KdS and BdS and the variety of Latvian Political Police branches that participated in control and overseeing functions.
[4]There has been no attempt to isolate specifically Nazi features in anti-Semitism in Latvia of 1941, but among the many features, one can note that it contained assertions of undue Jewish influence in Soviet Latvian administrations and courts. The origin of this goes back to the early Nazi propaganda of 1920's. See Müller, Ingo, Hitler's Justice, The Courts of the Third Reich, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1991, p. 59ff.
[5]The movie propaganda although accessible in Rīga and other towns, could not have penetrated the countryside in 1941. Newspapers note the showing of the Nazi film: Eternal Jew, both in Jelgava and Rīga by September 18.
[6]For further discussion of anti-Semitism in Latvia see Chapter 2, ”Anti-Semitism and the Killing of the Jews of Latvia”, Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia.
[7]On a certain level Marx's early essay ”On the Jewish Question” came home to roost. It must be noted that the Protocals of the Elders of Zion , if one substitutes capitalists for Jews, are not that far from some aspects of Marxist propaganda.
[8]Tēvija published the Protocals of the Elders of Zion first in installments and then it was published as a book. The provincial press did not publish the total text, but ran excerpts frequently. For the genesis of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion see: Cohn, Norman, Warrant for Genocide, Harper, New York, 1967.
[9]The anti-Semitic literature of Latvia only after the collapse of Soviet rule has been opened for examination, and already now it is clear that this mainstay of Nazi propaganda, connecting Jews with Communism and the Checka, was almost nonexistent.
[10]Unsigned, ”The Chekist-Jewess toys with her victim, sticking a needle in his flesh”, Zemgale, October 18, 1941. The teller of the story was given as Herberts Jēkabsons. For an unmasking of an atrocity story see Rēzekne, in Chapter 8, Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia.
[11]Latvia's radio was monitored by Americans in Stockholm, but as yet no reports from 1941 have been found. Monthly reports of the radio broadcasts began in September 1942, but by that time anti-Semitism no longer was the burning issue of the occupying forces. Records of the Department of State relating to Internal Affairs of Latvia 1910-1940. Film series M 1177, Roll 16.