German Rule in Ostland

Lithuanian Jews and a German Wehrmacht soldier during the Holocaust in Lithuania, June 24, 1941.

WHEN the Nazis occupied the countries which Soviet Russia had annexed in 1939 they acquired their one opportunity to pose as friends and liberators. All the other countries which they had entered regarded them from the start as brutal invaders who had come to kill and to plunder. In none of them was there a chance that they could ever succeed in making themselves popular even if they genuinely wanted to do so. But in the east of Europe things were different. In the Baltic countries, Eastern Poland, and to some extent also in White Russia and the Ukraine, there was a possibility that the Germans could win over a substantial part of the population by introducing a more tolerant and palatable régime than the one they had just ended.

The Soviet régime had not yet had time to assimilate more than a fraction of the local population in the former Baltic States. Large masses remained unreconciled and potentially rebellious, ready to welcome any power that would remove the Bolshevist rule. When the German armies overran Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in midsummer 1941 they were in fact greeted as "liberators" by a large section of the population. Coöperation with the Nazis in Estonia and Latvia was on the whole passive, but a powerful Lithuanian fifth column -- Colonel Kazys Skirpa's "Freedom Fighters" -- took active part in the campaign against the Red Army.

But Germany then was at the apex of her power, and the Nazi armies were marching east to conquer colonies, not to make friends. They never dreamed of restoring national independence to the Baltic States. The provisional government set up in Kaunas by the "Freedom Fighters" lasted only a few days. The organization was disbanded by the German military authorities and its leaders were taken into custody. Latvia and Estonia did not enjoy even a flurry of independence. The result of the German invasion was merely that all three Baltic countries changed masters.

The German conquerors set

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