Continuing to review this historical piece by Vladimir Veretennikov. About Nazis. Where we left off, an underground cell of inmates were plotting to blow up Salaspils and effect a mass escape, timing their exit with the approach of the Red Army Liberators. Unfortunately the plot was discovered, and all 100 conspirators were shot by the Nazis. Plus, the Nazis executed 200 extra inmates, as a warning to the others.
After the Soviets won the war, the pro-Nazi segments of the various Eastern European nationalities (including Latvians) were forced to tape a smile to their face and hide their seething resentment for 75 years. They resented the anti-Nazi propaganda and bombastic pathos of Soviet statuary. In the end, though, they lucked out: With the geopolitical defeat of the Soviet Union in the 1989-1991 period, and the rise of nationalist elites in cahoots with NATO in each of these countries, nationalist historians set out to revise the history of World War II. For the Latvian nationalists, the main task was to deal with, and somehow whitewash, the Salaspils concentration camp.
“Those Children Were Lucky”
Not long ago, Veretennikov reports, Latvian historians Karlis Kangeris, Uldis Neiburgs, and Rudite Viksne published a book entitled The Earth Groans Behind These Gates: Salaspils Camp 1941-1944. The book is considered (by Latvians) to be the definitive work on this topic and is distributed to schools and universities for study. From the title, one might assume that the writers were anti-Salaspils, yet their goal seems to be more like portraying the place as a sort of “Camp Cupcake” for the inmates. These historians have stated that their purpose is to dispel “myths and lies” about the camp. Speaker of the Latvian Parliament [please please, Russian press, I am begging you, if you spell somebody’s name in Cyrillic, can you also give the Latin spelling so I don’t have to do an extra search on google??] Ināra Mūrniece declared that “The book washes away the old propaganda myths about the Latvian state.”
Washes or white-washes? And which myths is this mousy blonde talkin’ bout? For starters, the trio of historians believe that the Soviets grossly exaggerated the number of people who died at Salaspils. Soviets said it was on the order of 100K souls. Latvian historians say it was more like 2,000 or at most 3,000 people. They say that only about 22,000 people even passed through the camp. Of which, only half of them were political prisoners; the rest were people in transit: like, people from Russia and Belorussia, on their way to work camps in Germany. [And many others probably just tourists taking in the sights!]
Latvian historians also reject the Soviet claim that 7,000 children died in the camp: “We know that, at any given time, there were around 3,000 children in the camp, who were there only temporarily,” writes Neiburgs. “By comparison with the children in the Ukrainian camps, the children who were brought to Salaspils were lucky, since they were later relocated to safe zones or given back to their families.”
The Latvian historians base their contentions on the statements of eye-witnesses, namely employees of the camp: an assistant to Chief Neparts, a nurse named Shalkovitsa, and a supervisor named Riekstiņš. Their conclusion, based on these interviews, is that it is incorrect to call Salaspils a “death camp” or even a concentration camp: “The Soviet government occupied itself with propagandizing Nazi crimes, in order to cover up the crimes of Stalinism, and to discredit Latvian emigrants,” the historians conclude disapprovingly. Pro-Soviet historians, of course, contend the exact opposite: They say it is the Eastern European nationalists who exaggerate the crimes of Stalinism, in order to portray themselves as the true victims, and to cover up their romantic liaisons with Adolph Hitler.
“If there is no corpse, there was no crime…”
In February of this year, the Salaspils museum re-opened after reconstruction. A new exhibit has been prepared by that same Mr. Neisburgs, along with another historian named Zigmars Gailis. Russian-Latvian historian Vlad Bogov visited the new exhibit and drew the following conclusion: “First of all, this exhibit is meant to underscore the fact that the Nazi regime was somewhat preferable to the Soviet one.”
Bogov’s sarcastic comment was met with a thunder of counter-attacks from Neisburgs, who is also a member of the Board of the Riga “Museum of Occupation” [and by “Occupation” they mean Soviet, of course, not Nazi. The Nazis were Liberators, not Occupiers].
While the Latvian historians are not really fooling anybody — it must be conceded that they do have a valid point when it comes to tallying up the numbers of corpses. Reason being that the Soviets did not keep good records of this important metric. On liberating the camp, the Soviets immediately set up an emotional Memorial complex for anti-Nazi propaganda purposes, but did not spend much time rooting about for skeletons. As a result, nobody actually knows how many people, or even the order of magnitude, died here. Soviet “khalatnost” in this respect is all the more astonishing, given that, in Soviet times, Salaspils was considered one of the main international symbols of Nazi criminality.
Russian historian Igor Gusev explains: “The problem with Salaspils is that from the beginning it became a memorial, but there were no official graves found. In Soviet times nobody even bothered to search for the mass graves of the prisoners. Today we are looking to find these graves and to restore them. Partly just to prove the reality of the Nazi ferocities. The classic of the detective novel: Where there is no corpse, there is no crime. The Nazis took special care to destroy and cover up the graves, so as not to leave any trace of their crimes.”
Last year a Latvian cartographer named Alexander Rzhavin did, in fact, discover a grave in the Ogre District of Latvia, in which lay the remains of children from Salaspils. According to Rzhavin, the Nazis were not worried about anything so long as they were winning the war, and did not take any particular precautions to cover up their crimes. Hence the careless dumping of corpses in the Ogre woods. However, once they started losing, they became more careful about how they disposed of the bodies.
[to be continued]