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 up their new order with a promptness which suggested a prepared and minutely elaborated plan. On July 17, 1941, Hitler signed a decree creating a new German administrative unit, the "Ostland," under Reichskommissar Hinrich Lohse, the former Gauleiter of Schleswig-Holstein. As the German armies rolled eastward, the Ostland expanded and its administrative structure took clearer shape. By September 1941, the pattern of the New Order in Eastern Europe had been evolved.
Alfred Rosenberg is overlord of all conquered territories in the east and is responsible only to the Führer. His official title is "Reichsminister für die besetzten Ostgebiete." His Ministry comprises two branches: the "Reichskommissariat Ostland" under Hinrich Lohse, and the "Reichskommissariat Ukraine" under Erich Koch. The Ostland is divided into four general commissariats, the Ukraine into five. Both are further subdivided into regional commissariats.
The general commissariats of the Ukraine -- Zhitomir, Kiev, Poltava, Nikolsev and Dniepopetrovsk -- correspond by and large to the former territorial divisions of that area. The Ostland, however, is an artificially created unit, made up of diverse elements: the former independent states of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and the Byelo-Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (White Russia) which the Germans have renamed White Ruthenia. The long-disputed Vilno district of Lithuania is included in the "Generalkommissariat Litauen" as part of the Ostland.
The four General Commissars of the Ostland are veteran members of Hitler's party. Latvia is ruled by the former mayor of Lübeck, Otto Heinrich Drechsler; Estonia by the S. A. General Karl Sigismund Litzmann, a son of General Karl Litzmann who distinguished himself in the last war; Lithuania's boss is Dr. Adrian von Renteln; the General Commissar for White Ruthenia is Wilhelm Kube. The General Commissar is the highest civilian official in his territory, but he shares authority with two military personages, the Wehrmacht commander and the chief Gestapo official. Dr. von Renteln in Lithuania, for instance, has at his side the Commander of the "Sicherungsgebiet Litauen," Major General Just, and the "SS-und-Polizeiführer Litauen," Lucian Wysocki.
A certain amount of home rule was granted the Baltic countries early in 1942. In the General Commissariat Estonia there is a five-man State Council headed by Dr. E. Mae; Latvia, which apparently enjoys the greatest autonomy of all occupied territories in the east, has a "self-government" of six "general directors" headed by General Dankers; and in Lithuania one finds seven "general councillors" under the chairmanship of General Petras Kubiliunas, the former Chief of the General Staff of the Lithuanian Army. White Russia and the Ukraine have no degree of self-government.
There is great variety of official titles in the local administrations. The city of Riga, for example, is headed by a burgomaster, a German Balt named Wittrok, but Kaunas has a "Stadtkommissar," Hans Krämer. In other towns the Russian titles of "natchalnik goroda" and "gorodskoi golova" are used. Odessa, in the Ukraine, is ruled by a governor. None of these officials is elected; all are appointed by the German authorities, or have their appointments confirmed by them. Autonomy is limited to such matters as education, public health, agriculture, industrial production and social insurance, although in the Baltic countries the various "self-governments" are also charged with the maintenance of order and safety. A superabundance of police formations has sprung up in the Ostland, as in the Reich. In addition to the city police, rural police, criminal police and so on, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania each now has its "Schutzmannschaft," organized along the lines of the German "Schutzpolizei," its "Sicherheitspolizei" or security police and, of course, a Gestapo.
German propagandists claim that the various general commissariats of the Ostland enjoy almost complete autonomy and that German influence in local administration is held to a minimum. They assert, for instance, that only 15 Reich Germans occupy posts in the Latvian government. If this were true it would mean nothing, for there are thousands of Baltic Germans who can be passed off as Latvians or Estonians. (In Lithuania, the German element never played a comparable rôle.) In reality these "Latvians" and "Estonians" are 100 percent German and Nazi. Alfred Rosenberg himself is a native of Reval, Estonia, as is well known. In point of fact, there is not a single office of any consequence that does not have its Reich German or Baltic German adviser attached to it. All the real decisions are made by Germans.
History alone can decide whether the various "autonomous" administrations should be set down as Quisling governments or deserve to be described merely as shadow cabinets. General Dankers of the Latvian "self-government" appears to be a full-fledged collaborationist who heartily endorses the anti-Russian crusade. The records of some of his ministers and of Dr. Mae, his Estonian colleague, are not so clear.
The case of General Kubiliunas and of his Lithuanian General Council is particularly interesting. There can be little doubt that Kubiliunas, an old putschist in his own right, was a Nazi stooge when he took over control from the disbanded "Freedom Fighters." General Stasys Rastikis, who played second fiddle in the new setup was another of the same stripe. But last February their collaboration with the Nazis went sour. The Germans, hard-pressed in Russia, demanded more help from the Baltic countries, especially from Lithuania. Kubiliunas and Rastikis were willing enough to help fight the Bolsheviks, but they wanted a much greater degree of national independence and attempted to trade military assistance for concessions in that direction. General Commissar von Renteln refused to bargain, and the Lithuanians refused to budge. There were demonstrations, strikes and acts of sabotage. Then the Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler appeared on the scene, with the usual drastic consequences. The General Council was dissolved and four of its members were arrested. In one Lithuanian district, 40 village eldermen were publicly executed. This savage act of repression led to the outbreak of sporadic guerrilla warfare throughout the country. The Germans resorted to new reprisals, closing the universities of Kaunas and Vilno and arresting hundreds of students and professors. Public libraries and scientific institutions were sacked, burned or closed by the infuriated Gestapo. But the guerrillas have apparently not yet been brought under control.
The press of the Ostland has been largely taken over by the Nazis, or brought into line. Old newspapers have ceased to publish and new ones have taken their places. Each of the four General Commissariats has its German-language paper which carries the official announcements and calls the tune for the rest of the press. The leader of these German dailies is the Deutsche Zeitung im Ostland, the organ of Reichskommissar Lohse, which has been published in Riga since July 1941 and is now the second biggest Latvian daily, with 120,000 subscribers, according to German claims. The other German-language dailies, Revaler Zeitung, Kauener Zeitung (which has a branch paper at Vilno, the Wilnaer Zeitung) and Minsker Zeitung, are published at the respective headquarters of the General Commissars. A special Ostland News Service, with offices at Riga, Reval, Kaunas and Minsk has been in operation since January 1, 1943.
The native press is strongest in Latvia, which has 21 papers of which five are dailies, the most important being Tevija with a claimed circulation of 250,000. Of the 15 Estonian papers, the most prominent is the Reval daily Eesti Sona. In Lithuania, about a dozen newspapers have been published in the native language; the chief one, I Laisve (Towards Freedom), of Kaunas, was reported "suspended" on December 31, 1942. In the General Commissariat of White Ruthenia six newspapers are printed in the White Russian idiom, of which the most important are Bialarusskaya Hazeta and Holos Vioski. In the Reichskommissariat Ukraine there are some 70 Ukranian-language papers, led by Novo Ukrainske Slovo in Kiev. The official German paper, Deutsche Ukraine Zeitung, is published at Luck.
The new masters pursue a strictly opportunistic economic policy. There has been no general restoration of private ownership, German promises notwithstanding. The basic theory of the occupation authorities seems to be that they are legal successors to the Soviet régime and that therefore all property nationalized by the Russians automatically falls to the German "Wirtschaftskommando," the central economic authority of the occupying power. The property which the Soviets had taken from German nationals, whether Reich Germans or Balts, has been restored to a limited degree. More than 100,000 Volksdeutsche were repatriated to the Reich in November 1939 from the Soviet-controlled Baltic States, but only a fraction of them, who qualified as thoroughly reliable, have been allowed to return to their homes.
Lithuania offers the clearest illustration of the Nazi policy in this respect. After the repatriation agreement had been concluded, some 50,000 Lithuanian citizens declared themselves Volksdeutsche and departed for the Reich. Perhaps about 17,000 of these were actually people of German descent. The others were full-blooded Lithuanians who merely wished to escape the Soviet régime which, while not fully established, was clearly in the making. These would-be Volksdeutsche were not permitted to return after the Nazi occupation, but most of the Germans went back and were reinstated in their possessions.
The real estate, land, houses, stores and factories which had been nationalized under the short-lived Soviet régime are being administered by the Wirtschaftskommando through a specially created holding corporation, the "Deutsche Grundstücks Gesellschaft." This agency is supposed to facilitate the return of nationalized property to private hands, but only Germans and Baltic nationals recommended by the occupation authorities can qualify as former owners or as new purchasers. In order to qualify, a native Latvian, Estonian or Lithuanian must accept service with the German armed forces, a police formation, or a labor battalion. The Nazis use the desire of the inhabitants of the Ostland to regain their lost property as the most powerful leverage for keeping them in line.
The return of agricultural property to private ownership presented special difficulties for the Germans. The collective system of agriculture has been in operation for up to fifteen years in the Ukraine, White Russia and other territories originally belonging to the U.S.S.R.; and to have broken up the collective farms might dangerously have reduced their yield. The Nazi approach to this problem has been cautious. In principle, collective farms were abolished in all territories under Alfred Rosenberg's jurisdiction by a decree of February 27, 1942. In practice, however, a majority of collectives still operate as before, although they now go under the names of "communal farms" or "joint farming establishments" and are under the supervision of German commissars. The only real change is that the surplus of a collective is no longer divided among its members but is seized by the "Wirtschaftskommando." Similarly, most of the former state farms are operated as before, but under German management and for German account.
In the Baltic countries, where the Soviet régime was hardly able to take root and where collectivization was still incomplete when the Germans marched in, many former estates could be easily reconstituted. They were restored to their former owners, who in most cases were German Balts or aristocrats sympathetic to the Germans. In cases where a return of the former owner appeared undesirable, estates or large farms have been reconstituted in their original form but placed under the management of a German commissar. A limited number of Dutch and Danish Nazis have also been settled on land confiscated from Baltic nationals.
Much the same tactics have been followed by the Germans in industry, finance and commerce. Needless to say, all establishments belonging to Jews have been "aryanized," or placed directly under the "Wirtschaftskommando." Germans and reliable Balts have regained possession of their enterprises. In doubtful cases the former owner of a factory or commercial establishment has merely been appointed director or manager, subject to dismissal. There has never been much large-scale industry in any of the territories now included in the Ostland, and present conditions are not conducive to its establishment. The occupation authorities are doing all they can to encourage small industrial establishments and handicraft. Trade is centralized in the hands of two or three large German firms.
The money system of the Ostland was reconstituted by a Rosenberg decree of November 4, 1942, which set up the "Notenbank im Ostland," with head offices in Riga. This bank has the sole right to issue bank notes in a new currency called Ostland mark. Hitherto, both rubles and "Reichskreditkassen-scheine" were also legal tender in the Ostland.
Working conditions in the Ostland are the same as those in other Nazi-occupied countries. The workday in theory is 10 hours, six days a week, but most workers are forced to put in 12 hours or more. The average pay does not exceed four marks a day, even in hazardous occupations like work in saw mills, limestone quarries and cement factories. One of the main grievances of the Baltic people against the new régime stems from the discrimination in food rationing. Germans are favored at the expense of the native population. Not only do they get larger rations but they have exclusive access to special restaurants which serve cheaper and more substantial meals than those catering to the general public.
Since the last days of February 1943, general mobilization has been in effect throughout the Ostland, supplanting the former recruitment of volunteers for the Waffen-SS, which had produced singularly meager results. Now all able-bodied men between the ages of 17 and 45 are being forcibly drafted into SS-legions, one each for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These legions, like the Waffen-SS to which they belong, are considered integral parts of the German Army; they are officered by German Balts or German-minded Baltics. The legionaries wear the field-grey uniforms of the Waffen-SS, with the coat-of-arms of their respective countries on the left sleeve. Nominally at least they enjoy the same rights as German soldiers as regards pay, rations, clothing and pensions. If wounded or sick, they are treated in German military hospitals.
It remains to be seen whether this total mobilization will yield the Germans useful reinforcements. It has exacerbated patriotic resistance everywhere, although no such explosive developments as the Lithuanian outbreaks mentioned above have occurred in Latvia and Estonia. To press subjugated foreign nationals into uniform and to place firearms in their hands would seem to be a move of desperation. One instance in which members of the SS-Legion Latvia promptly opened fire on the Germans after receiving their rifles has already been related in the Russian press. It would not be surprising if entire units of these Baltic legions deserted to the Red Army, at the appointed hour, or joined the guerrilla bands now operating in the Ostland. Even those who do not rebel will hardly have much heart to fight for Adolf Hitler, Hinrich Lohse and their hierarchy of commissars.