OPINION | LATVIA | FOREIGN MINISTRIES AND HOLOCAUST POLITICS | GLORIFYING COLLABORATORS | BOOKS | ANTISEMITISM
by Alexander Gilman (Riga)
Latvia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs seems to have found a brand new idol and role model — Ludwig Seya, who had been a diplomat in the prewar Latvian Republic for 22 years. For a short time he was a minister, but mostly he held ambassadorships to various countries. After Latvia was annexed to the Soviet Union he taught at the main Latvian university in Riga. In 1944 he was arrested by the Nazis for underground activities in the Latvian Central Council, a union of pre-war politicians and intellectuals who tried to persuade the West to insist on the independence of Latvia after World War II. After being liberated from the concentration camp on the territory of Poland, Seya was arrested by the Soviet military authorities and sent to a Stalinist gulag.
Mr. Rinkēvičs sees Seya as a bright personality, a patriot and a hero of a noble resistance. Indeed, when a book containing Seya’s diaries and memoirs (covering the period from 1941 to 1961) came out last year, under the title I Get to Know Only Myself, the book launch was organized at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. An exhibition dedicated to Seya was organized, at which the minister delivered a moving speech.
On January 18th this year, in anticipation of the centennial of the Latvian Republic, founded in 1918, politicians presented favorite books, which they consider the most important for this solemn occasion, to the National Library. Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs chose this particular book as a gift. In his speech the minister said: “He held the banner of Latvian diplomacy aloft here, in occupied Latvia, too. Now we can look at our diplomacy, our people from a new point of view.”
I decided to follow the advice. So I went ahead and read the book. Minister Rinkēvičs, of course, was right: the “anti-fascist Seya” truly did reveal an unexpected side of himself.
Ludwig Seya starts his diary with days that were happy ones for him. At long last, the German army liberated Riga from the Soviets’ grip. What is most illuminating here is the author’s ethnic characterization of the Soviet Union:
“I have always observed with horror how strong the sadistic element is among Jewish and Russian Communists […] The most precise one-word definition for the Communists that I can use is Untermenschen with all the conclusions that follow from this word.” (p. 15)
It should be clarified that the author was a philologist by his first profession, he very often uses foreign words in his texts. And here, of course, the term Untermenschen for “subhuman” favored by the Nazis, is very telling. Moreover, the Nazis indeed went ahead and did just what the author hinted at. He says it with obvious pleasure:
“On the night of the 2nd to 3rd July there were arrests of Jews. On July 3rd, the arrested were forced to work.” (p. 16)
The author is very emotional in describing the crimes of the Soviets but very calmly observes the heinous actions of the Nazis. He is full of hope that some kind of Latvian independence would be restored, for example, a “Baltic Protectorate” with its capital in Riga. During all of those early July days he conducts intensive negotiations with various personages. In the first instance, with those Latvian emigrants who came to Riga together with the Nazi army. Many of them soon made a career in Hitler’s system of power: colonels Plensners and Weiss, financiers Skuevich and Valdmanis, — and the fierce antisemitic publicist Shilde.
On July 8th, without prior arrangement, Seya, together with his colleagues, occupied the premises of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Those premises were a terrible mess. Fortunately, 25 Jews were sent from the prefecture to clean the premises.” (p. 23).
The heroic diplomat feels not a trace of regret or embarrassment over the use for slave labor of his fellow citizens of a certain background.
On July 12th, 1941, at the activists’ meeting in the Ministry of Education it was decided to send delegates to Berlin. A telegram to Hitler was put together, but it could not in any way be sent off. The author laments this in several entries. Alas, the Latvian delegation returned empty-handed. Nazi Germany did not need any Riga-based “protectorate.”
In the meantime, the Jews were not only being arrested, but they were being, increasingly, murdered, up to that point by the forces of Latvians from the antisemitic organization “Perkonkrusts,” but with the Nazi German invaders’ obvious support. Seya approves those actions:
“The execution of Jews occurs in large numbers. Last night about 1,000 Jews were shot… The execution of Jews is entrusted to ‘Perkonkrusts.’ The Latvian people do not feel sorry for the Jews. If not for the German actions, it seems, Jews would have got off lightly, because our people are kind-hearted.” (p. 29)
The author returns more than once to the topic of the massacres of Jews in December 1941 when in the course of two actions about thirty thousand prisoners of the Riga Ghetto were murdered. Our “hero” finds some sort of justification for this:
“The number of executed Jews runs into thousands. […] But it is apparent that Latvians do not feel sorry for the Jews. It was only a very rare Latvian family that did not suffer heavy losses during the Bolsheviks’ power, and at least part of the fault for this lies with the Jews.” (p. 35)
It is not only deplorable that the fault is ascribed to a people a whole. The author knows that they killed children as well, who are certainly not to be blamed for the Bolsheviks’ crimes, but this does not bother him:
“The Riga ghetto is not completely emptied yet, but it is thinned out a lot. There are four to five thousand Jewish craftsmen and workers left. Women, children and most men have been executed” (p. 37)
The next two years’ entries are in the same spirit. The author gently criticizes the Nazis for the disorder, their strict policy of requisition, and their reluctance to return property that the Bolsheviks had nationalized. But not their policy of genocide of his fellow Latvian citizens of a certain minority. But he still lives in hope of some form of Latvian independence or a protectorate, granted by the Nazi regime, so that Latvia could participate with them in the war against the USSR. The puppet state Slovakia is constantly mentioned as a model. The author does not know (or care?) that most of that nation’s Nazi-puppet leaders were hanged after the war. Only in December 1943 does he suddenly thins that the recognition of this particular version of an independent Latvia can cost the nation a lot of trouble after the war. And he immediately repeats the mantra:
“The collapse of the Bolsheviks cannot be remote future. The days of Stalin are numbered.” (p. 157)
It emerges clearly in the book that Ludwig Seya’s activities at least during the first two and a half years of Nazi occupation — including precisely the time during which the Latvian Holocaust transpired killing nearly all the country’s Jews — were completely pro-Hitler. He obviously did not kill anyone personally, but he expressed his preferences in the book with absolute clarity. And he became the Secretary General of the Latvian Central Council only after the actual outcome of the war was obvious to all.
From that point onward, the fate of the author can only evoke sympathy. He again came across Jews in a Stalinist concentration camp near Ukhta. Here the relations between companions in misfortune are completely different. The author writes very warmly about the widow of the famous Soviet diplomat Adolf Yoffe, Maria Mikhailovna, who was incarcerated in the same camp. They had long ago met in Riga in 1920, when Yoffe came to the talks about the independence of Latvia with his young wife.
After liberation Seya was sheltered by a Jew called Turovsky. Being himself a former prisoner, he let Seya stay in his room. It is interesting that while mentioning both Yoffe’s and Turovsky’s nationalities he adds the caveat: “fully russified.” This, apparently gives them a pass into the category of full humanity.
But when he returned to his homeland, in 1953, on holiday and in 1958 for life, his entries once again immediately become overtly antisemitic. He already forgot that he had welcomed the execution of Latvian Jews right “then and there” during the Holocaust. But now?
“New circumstances brought together Latvians and Latvian Jews. I must say that I’m glad that I have distinguished the Latvian Jews from the East European ones before, the latter are real vagabonds, who do not like any country, but only know how to rob and exploit” (p. 429)
The author puts flesh on his attitude toward surviving Jews after the war:
“Judging from the external evidence, thousands of Jews flooded Riga. With a few exceptions they operate in trade and industry. There are no Jews among blue collar workers except for a few outsiders. There are attempts to somehow limit their activities in trade and at the leading positions in industry, but these people are too sneaky and they find holes, which they can get through. In 1958 Jews were drawn into various frauds and regular scams at many enterprises, about which I often read in the newspapers, but they cannot be put down, as far as I can tell. They stick together, support one another and are a noticeable force.” (p. 526).
I hope that the appearance of this article in Defending History will lead to Western media, foreign ministries, human rights and foreign Jewish organizations taking this up with the Latvian Foreign Ministry and its able ambassadors in many parts of the world. Is it “the new normal” for an EU and NATO member foreign minister to publicly recommend for high honors a book that spews antisemitism and expresses “understanding” for various aspects of the genocide that all but wiped out Latvia’s Jewish community?
Translated from Russian by Ludmila Makedonskaya.