Horrible Year, 1940-1941

Section: - 2006-04-14/2006-10-31

Still not sufficiently studied and documented is the period from summer 1940 to summer 1941 in Latvia, that has become known as "The Horrible Year"*. Still both domestic and international community is lacking complete and systematic information about this period, when, after the “liberation” of Latvia brought about by Soviet tanks, a new regime was vigorously being established under control of former Communist underground and bolshevization “specialists” from USSR, until attack of the Germany on USSR put an end to it.

The Soviet occupation culminated on 14 June, 1941 when a mass deportation of civilians from Latvia to distant areas of the Soviet Union took place. A total of 15,424 persons, according to latest figures, were arrested and sent away in boxcars unsuited for human transportation. Among those deported were minor children and babies, most of whom died on the way or from cold or malnutrition in their settlement areas in Siberia. Many civilians were brutally executed in Riga and many other places after the beginning of the war between Germany and Soviet Union, 22 June 1941, as the Red Army retreated in disarray. [1]

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Now there are suggestions to publish a new comprehensive and illustrative study, in order to fill in the white spots created artificially during Soviet years for this particular historical period.

One of the historians who is proposing to publish the comprehensive report about the Horrible Year is Dr. hist. Austra Mierina. She also writes:

[...] among those 25 brutally murdered victims, who found their terrible death in cheka** of Ludza town from 21 June to 2 July 1941 and whose mutilated corpses were found near Greizais hill in vicinity of Selekova village, was also my father's brother Aleksandrs Mierins. As interrogation record of 2 July shows it, his only “crime” was his membership in Aizsargi*** organization.

What crime against Soviet rule could have committed farmer T., who owned only 3 ha of land, but who was arrested on 21 June and found mutilated on 27 June near Greizais hill (tongue cut off, intestines pulled out through his mouth). Also remains of the last victims were found mutilated in the manner typical for cheka officers: arms and legs broken out, fingernails pulled off, tongues, ears and other body parts cut off. [2]

So far a book “Baigais gads” (“Horrible Year”), published in Riga during German occupation in 1942, has been an important source of visual information. The book clearly is a propaganda material produced in the notorious spirit of Third Reich's extreme antisemitism exaggerated to grotesque, nevertheless, if one leaves the text aside, the photographic images contained in the book serve as a valuable historical material by themselves.

The photos were taken right after the retreat of Communists, to document their atrocities. Corpses were inspected by commission consisting of judge for especially important cases Snikvalds, vice-prosecutor Silins, investigation judge Grantskalns, director of scientific justice expertise institute Berzins, expert Suta, Riga district medicine doctor Ciemins, justice medicine doctor Kocers, head of Riga district police colonel-lieutenant Veide, under supervision of Riga District court prosecutor Zutis, with participation of director general of interior affairs of Latvia self-governance general Dankers. [3]

Soviet Communist regime was not so active in making photographic and cinematographic documents of its crimes itself as the Nazional Socialist regime was, besides, being the victor in its part of the world, it had unlimited time and opportunities for hiding all their traces. Probably a lot of other dramatic documents are kept secure today in the archives of Russia. As we know, availability of Russian archives, after short improving during Yeltsin's presidency, is again diminishing and the old Soviet tradition of denial and secrecy is returning. Therefore even more cynical seem the Russian accusations of East European countries of attempts to “rewrite history” - the propaganda term for attempts to find out the truth buried behind the wall of disinformation and silence built by the Communist regime over half of the century.

As even mentioning of the book “Horrible Year” in certain circles, sharing political radical leftist sentiment, triggers hysterical hatred and immediate accusations of “antisemitism” and “rehabilitation of Nazism”, it would be appropriate to quote:

Supreme prosecutor Uldis Pauls Strelis of Department for investigation of totalitarian regimes and crimes of General prosecutor's office has admitted to news agency LETA that the the book “Horrible Year” describes events verified during the trial of Alfons Noviks, who was found guilty of genocide, and, if anyone questions the credibility of events, Riga regional court archive has the ruling for this case. [4]

Investigation of the crimes of Communist regime in Latvia was started already by prosecutor's office of Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic on 23 October 1988. The facts of mass murder of people of Latvia in Litene, Baltezers, Katlakalns, Liepaja, Valmiera, Ludza and many other places, as described in the book “Horrible Year”, were found to be true. But the criminal case was terminated because of the lapse. The legal process was restored in 6 April 1993 after a special section was added to the Latvian Criminal Code which provided for a criminal responsibility of the crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes as not having a lapse limitation.

[...] During all after-war occupation period of Latvia the crimes committed by the totalitarian Communist regime were hidden, the evidence was destroyed. Therefore any acquirable testimonies and evidence about this period shall be thoroughly considered. The events illustrated and described in the book “Horrible Year” shall be evaluated from this point of view.

[...] When evaluating the events described in the book “Horrible Year”, one shall disassociate himself from the antisemitic propaganda, which shall be condemned. The book is illustratively documental reflection of a historical events and the evaluation shall be made objectively. [5]


* Alternative translations to English are "The Gruesome Year", "The Year of Terror".
** Cheka - first of the many names for Soviet secret police (known at different times also as OGPU, NKVD, KGB) and also its colloquial name.
*** Aizsargi (Defenders) - a voluntary paramilitary organization in Latvia before WWII, established in March 1919 to assist government in maintaining law and order. Carried out functions similar to National Guard or Home Guard in other countries.
**** Militia - Soviet replacement for police.


[1] “Crimes against Humanity in the Territory of Latvia during the Soviet Occupation 1940–41”, Chancery of President of Latvia, Committee of historians, First sub-commission
[2] “Ar dokumentiem pret apmelojumiem”, Dr. hist. Austra Mierina, Latvijas Avize, 24.03.2006
[3] "Par lietām, kuras nepāriet...", Leonards Inkins, "Latvietis Latvijā" Nr. 4(7) 25 February – 10 March, 1999
[4] “Aicina izvertet gramatu Baigais gads”, Evija Ozola, “Neatkariga Rita Avize”. Publication by “Crimes against Humanity”.
[5] “Kam pieder vestures patiesiba?”, senior prosecutor Uldis Strelis. Publication by “Crimes against Humanity”.
[6] Online version of 1942 book “Baigais gads”, Leonards Inkins (Please keep in mind, that the particular book was written during German occupation as an antisemitic material for Nazi propaganda purposes and as such shall be regarded with a sound criticism!). Note: Direct link is not provided in order to avoid possible accusations of “proliferation of antisemitic propaganda”.

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