German Fascism, Soviet Communism, and Latvian Nationalism in the Education of Latvia (1940-1944)

Iveta Kestere & Iveta Ozola. Paedagogica Historica. Volume 56, Issue 5. 2020.

The Context: Latvia Under Two Occupations

Although much research is devoted to the destiny of the Baltic States during World War II, the complicated issue about the teachers’ position has received only modest attention in academia. More attention has been paid to the relationship of university professors with dictatorships, but even these studies are available almost exclusively in the Latvian language. The few studies of educators are focused on their victimisation, i.e. the central narrative discusses repressions in the field of education, with teachers as the most morally and physically affected group. In addition to this traditional and unavoidable narrative, we want to take a different perspective, namely, to look at teachers’ efforts as well as existing opportunities to realise their own agenda under occupation.

We cannot deny that many leading and highly respected Latvian pedagogues publicly preached Nazi ideology. The reason for this must be sought in the events accompanying the establishment of the Latvian state in 1918 and its subsequent violent liquidation and incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Latvia—a province of the Russian Empire—experienced a rise of nationalist sentiments typical of Europe at that time. Education became the central pillar in forming national identity, and teachers were “moral agents in fostering their particular nation”. Educators in Latvia were no exception. It is safe to say that the Latvian nation-state was an ideal initiated by teachers whose number grew as Latvian schools were flourishing all over Latvia. The Latvian ethnic elite struggled for political power as it began to strengthen its position vis-à-vis Tsarist Russian officials and German landed nobility.

The idea of Latvia as a nation state was realised after the First World War. Teachers felt personally responsible for the fate of the Latvian nation state, and that feeling turned into an integral part of their professional identity and moral imperative, which transferred from the nineteenth century into the twentieth century.

Latvia was founded as a liberal parliamentary democracy after the collapse of the Russian empire in 1918, but state building began only after battles against foreign forces and local Bolsheviks had been won. If in the beginning the concept of nation state was advocated by a tiny group of Latvian intelligentsia, then by 1920 the idea of statehood was supported by all social layers of the multicultural population.

Cultural variation raises the question about relationships between the titular Latvian nation and other social and ethnic groups in the country. In the years of democracy, the official position was quite supportive and tolerant. Equal rights of national minorities were ensured as a prerequisite for the Baltic countries to join the League of Nations in 1921. At all stages, compulsory education (preschool, basic school, and supplementary school—from ages 6 to 16) had to be offered in the pupil’s mother tongue. Latvian was the official language, but in daily life, German and Russian were also used. Some 84.6% of Latvia’s inhabitants spoke Latvian in 1930.

Being part of the Latvian nation did not require “blood purity”. Both at the state and private levels, the Latvian nation or Volk became an inclusive concept for all those who spoke the Latvian language, shared sociocultural attitudes and historical memories and a sense of common mission, and were loyal to the Latvian statehood. Those who did not meet these criteria were excluded from the Volk and could, in fact, blame Latvians for nationalism. In the 1920s and 1930s, the most prominent group against an independent and sovereign Latvian state was the Latvian Communist Party with its several hundred supporters.

We can argue that in the years of democracy, Latvian nationalism, as aggression in the name of a nation, barely existed. A few ultra-right-wing organisations that propagated classic fascist ideas and the supremacy of ethnic Latvians were the exception in this relatively friendly multicultural milieu. Moreover, no ultra-right-wing organisation functioned for a long period of time as they were persecuted by the Latvian government during the period of independence as well as during Soviet and Nazi occupations.

Nationalism as a distinction of the titular nation on the state level was propagated after the bloodless 15 May 1934 coup-d’état, led by agronomist and then Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis and supported by army and militarised groups of Aizsargi (Home Guards). Democracy in Latvia ended, Parliament was dissolved, political parties were not permitted, and Ulmanis became dictator. He was a national protectionist; versions of the slogan “Latvia for Latvians” became increasingly popular among his supporters. “Latvia is the land and nation of Latvians; we are its sole base and support!” poets recited. The number of national minority schools was significantly reduced. Left-wing educators were marginalised or even banished and their press publications were closed. At the same time, Ulmanis’ dictatorship was a disappointment for the right-wing extremists—he imprisoned and marginalised politically members of Latvian fascist organisation Pērkonkrusts (Thundercross).

In Soviet historiography, the Ulmanis period is consistently labelled as “fascistic”, but the Nazis accused president Ulmanis and other Latvian leaders of disliking the Germans, of being too close to the Jews, and of having an overly Anglo-American orientation, which resulted in Soviet occupation. So, both super-powers condemned Ulmanis’ regime for escalating Latvian nationalism.

At the end of the 1930s, under the rule of Ulmanis, Latvian nationalism had begun to become a routine wrapped in propaganda slogans issued by government. Latvia’s public space was flooded with official statements such as, “It is each person’s duty to serve its Volk and state … To live so that his life benefits not only himself, but also all other Latvians.” Schools were decorated with Ulmanis’ portraits and patriotic slogans. His visits were cheered on by organised crowds. Yet, privately, Latvians themselves began to ridicule Ulmanis and the overblown nationalism.

Soviet occupation on 17 June 1940 and Latvia’s subsequent incorporation in the USSR stirred up a strong sense of Latvian solidarity once again. Upon occupying Latvia, Stalin’s emissaries acted quickly and professionally: the standing Latvian government was dismissed, and the First Secretary of the Communist Party and the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) became the highest authority. All socioeconomic life was subject to dictates from Moscow, and Soviet ideology and propaganda took over the public space. The Latvian state was dissolved.

The Soviet regime, like other dictatorships, communicated with their citizens in two ways: (1) through power, punishment, and fear, and (2) through intensive and aggressive propaganda that legitimised their actions. Concurrently with arrests and mass deportations, the communists began intensive ideological inculcation of their newly acquired citizens. Media broadcasted that the independent Latvian Volk had been included in the teaming mass of Soviet people, giving priority to a particular social class (proletarians and farmers) and political party (Bolsheviks/communists). The task of new schools was to raise the “New Soviet Man” and “valuable Soviet citizens”. Newspapers proclaimed: “No longer does [Latvian] chauvinism separate us from our vast Fatherland—the brotherly nations of the USSR.” Rector of the University of Latvia, Moscow puppet, and NKVD agent Jānis Jurgens declared: “Much effort will be needed for international and anti-religious up-bringing … [i]n order to rid the youth of the effects of nationalism—from the influence of the Ulmanis era …” The goal of raising youth for the future of Latvia was changed into building of communism among the masses of Soviet people under the direction of Moscow.

Private schools were closed, religious studies and Latin were taken out of the curriculum, and emphasis was put on teaching Russian as well as the geography and history of the Soviet Union. Political supervision was brought into schools and it was carried out by local supporters of the new regime or by “missionaries” sent to Latvia and other Baltic countries from other parts of the Soviet Union. Teachers who were not trusted by the Soviets were repressed—thousands of pedagogues were forced to change their workplace or were deported to Russia.

Latvian society was in shock. Resistance began to develop. Anything that symbolised the Latvian state and was outlawed by the new ruling order became a weapon of protest against the communist dictatorship. The use of national symbols turned into a form of non-violent resistance. Harsh punishment could be received for displaying the Latvian flag, signing the national hymn, or celebrating the day of independence on 18 November. Many teachers and pupils were arrested by the NKVD and sent to concentration camps deep in Russia for dozens of years.

The Nazi army marched into Latvia in July 1941. After the terror, uncertainty, and chaos experienced under the communists, many greeted the Nazis with flowers and hopes for the future. People in Latvia believed that they would return to Europe, regain their independence, and that school life would return to what it was before the Soviet occupation. Pedagogical press stated: “The routing of the communists and the return to normal life, albeit with terrible losses, will allow us to renew the Latvian national school.” More than that, Latvians planned to seek revenge on the communists with the help of the Nazis, who had given high priority to the task of saving the world from “Bolshevik horrors”. These hopes were particularly popularised by Latvia’s intelligentsia who had suffered the most during the year of the communist rule. Seeking a Nazi modus vivendi to defy the “communist menace” was typical of East Central European countries:

A considerable part of the [East Central European] region (the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Bessarabia) experienced consecutive occupation regimes of contrary ideological direction (Nazi vs. Soviet), which not only radicalised the war experience but also trigged strategies of playing out the occupiers against each other.

However, the Nazi had their own agenda, which they gradually revealed to the Latvian public. A secret document issued on 24 October 1941 stated: “I. Political goal in the Baltic area: a) The Baltic area should become a German space, not just a living place for Germans.” The Nazis had no intention of restoring the Latvian state, although they used the idea of Latvian autonomy for the purpose of manipulation.

All three Baltic states and part of Belarus became the administrative region of Ostland governed by Reichskommissar Hinrich Lohse. Each country was reduced to a Generalbezirk (district), separately governed by a Generalkomissar, with Otto-Heinrich Drechsler as Generalkomissar in Latvia. All officials were Germans appointed by Berlin, and the entire pyramid was placed under the Ministry of Eastern Occupied Territories, headed by Alfred Rosenberg. Gradually, less important positions moved to loyal Balts; even so, all policy decisions had to be approved by Germans standing higher in the chain of command.

Nazi occupation was immediately followed by repressions against communist regime functionaries, Jews, the Roma, and the “mentally ill”. A system of mandatory labour sent young men and women to Germany proper towards an uncertain future. The first six months of Nazi occupation was the bloodiest period in the modern history of the Baltic States. Subsequent Nazi plans included massive deportations of the local population (nationalistic Latvian intelligentsia in particular) to the vast hinterlands of Russia, Germanisation of the remainder, and colonisation of the territory by surplus Germans.

However, the Nazis were more cunning than the communists regarding Latvian national sensibilities. For example, they manipulated with Latvian national symbols, allowed the Latvian national anthem to be sung along the German national anthem and Horst Wessel’s song, and the red-white-red colours of the Latvian flag were not a taboo as they were under communist rule. It lifted Latvian spirits and hopes for independence, but these dreams died quickly.

In the field of education, Jewish schools were closed and their pupils and teachers were put into ghettos. Almost all of Latvia’s 70,000 Jews were killed, including newborns and children. The absolute majority of Latvia’s society observed the unprecedented crime with indifference, horror, or helplessness. The Nazi propaganda actively propagated the image of the “Jews-communist” and it was picked up by Latvian press, including Education Monthly.

Education had to be reorganised according to the German school system. Religious studies were restored at school, and German had to be studied intensively as the only foreign language offered. Pedagogues hostile to the regime were dismissed from work, but teachers and professors who were dismissed in the Soviet years were re-recruited.

Schools were required to raise citizens of “New Europe” as part of the plan espoused by Nazi leadership. Yet, Nazi ideology had to be explained and introduced by Latvian teachers—the same professionals who raised and cherished the independent state, who had just recently fought for the independence of Latvia, who had taught their pupils and students to be proud of that fight, who had suffered communist repressions later and had had the role of “Soviet citizen” shoved down their throats. This situation obviously created a dichotomy between Nazi plans and national interests of Latvians.

Still, Latvian teachers supported Nazi ideology. We have already discussed one reason for this support, namely, the desire to seek revenge through Nazi civil and military actions on the Soviets for destroying the Latvian state. The second reason was far more complex. Pedagogues attempted to use legal methods such as Nazi mass media to save Latvia, unifying teachers around the idea of Latvian Volk.

Sources of Nazi Indoctrination in Education: Journal Education Monthly

We have chosen to analyse Latvian pedagogues’ interpretations of Nazi ideology in the materials of the pedagogical journal Izglītības Mēnešraksts [Education Monthly: EM] (1942-1944). As our research focuses on the relationship between teachers and Nazi ideology, we will not analyse school reality, but rather declared “must be” ideological elements in education. In order to identify exactly Nazi plans, we compared 30 issues of EM published from 1942 to 1944 to 30 issues of Izglītības Ministrijas Mēnešraksts [Education Ministry Monthly: EMM] (1920-1939) published from 1937 to 1939.

Since both journals are digitised, we were able to analyse a significant number of articles, namely, 201 from EMM and 314 from EM. We selected the articles containing general education concepts and curriculum statements, as well as such phrases as “tautas kopība” [people’s unity], “tautas kopa” [people’s group] or “tautas kopiena” [people’s community], Volksgemeinschaft, and other synonymous compounds. We used the content analysis to reveal the understanding of the notion of Volksgemeinschaft and the transformation of this concept. We also paid particular attention to the background of the authors in order to better understand the consolidation of their opinions.

Both journals are appropriate for comparison, because the purpose of both was to inform educators about official policies and positions in the field of education during the period of Latvian independence as well as during Nazi occupation. Both journals were highly influential and positioned as opinion leaders in Latvian society.

Education Ministry Monthly was first published in January 1920 and, as the title suggests, was issued by the Latvian Ministry of Education. The journal reflected the Ministry’s and the entire government’s position on and work in the field of education. EMM published laws and directives in education, as well as articles about up-bringing, methodology and didactics, school administration, and general cultural issues, such as history, Latvian language, and education practices in other countries.

The first chief editor of EMM was notable teacher, literature historian and critic, and University of Latvia docent Teodors Zeiferts. Professor Ernests Blese became chief editor in 1930 after Zeiferts’ death. The authors were people who worked for the Ministry of Education in various capacities, including Ministers themselves, heads of departments, and other civil servants, as well as schoolteachers and staff at teacher education institutes and the University of Latvia. Articles were also published by well-known philosophers, historians, linguists, and musicians in Latvia. The journal was the meeting point for the intelligentsia of Latvia who were interested in education issues.

The journal was not published during the Soviet occupation of 1940-1941, but was reborn in January 1942 during Nazi rule. The journal was renamed Education Monthly, as the Ministry of Education no longer existed: after Nazi occupation, educational life in Latvia was led by the Education and Culture General Office (Generaldirektion für Bildungs- und Kulturwesen) and its General Director Jānis Celms, followed by professor Mārtiņš Prīmanis.

EM was published by the Education and Culture General Office, Department of Teaching Aids. The official function of the journal had not changed: it continued to inform educators about important developments in the field of education. Education policies in Nazi occupied territories were used as an instrument of occupation, and the purpose of the journal was to publish official propaganda on the up-bringing of the Volk. A relatively unknown philologist, Heronims Tichovskis, was appointed chief editor during the entire Nazi occupation, but contributing authors were almost the same, in terms of people and their positions, as those from the 1930s—Latvian teachers, philosophers, linguists, professors, and other intellectuals. However, besides well-known authors, anonymous contributions were also found on the pages of EM during the Nazi occupation.

Declared Curriculum

The Nazi education curriculum stressed history, German language acquisition, and physical education. Special attention was given to these subjects on the pages of EM, in addition to the significant position attributed to the teaching of the Latvian language.

Although articles on history make up a fairly large percentage of Nazi era discourse (11%), it is still significantly less than in the 1930s, when articles on history made up 37.3% of the total. It is common knowledge that master narratives of historical background serve not only academic, but also ideological goals: by giving people a common past, history develops common identity and strengthens patriotism. That is why in many countries, nationally-oriented pedagogical journals paid special attention to their “glorious past”. Thus, since the establishment of Latvian statehood, history was among the most developed, leading school subjects. In turn, during Nazi occupation, Latvian history became a sensitive topic because strengthening Latvian patriotism was not part of the Reich’s plan: quite the opposite—Latvians needed to adopt myths based on German history. Since there were not many reliable specialists in the “new” Nazi history among Latvians, and Latvian historians were severely criticised by fascists for their “conscious Latvian nationalism” (bewustes Nationallettentum) and “[Latvian] chauvinism” (Chauvinismus), two Baltic Germans were employed to introduce teachers to questions of “new” history.

The author of a lengthy article published in several parts, “History teaching from the perspective of new Germany”, was an advisor (Studienrat) to the General Commissariat in Riga, Hans Namneek, whose articles did not appear in Latvian academic milieu before the Nazi occupation. His name could be found only among the contributors to Baltic German daily press.

But the main proponent of this “new” history was a graduate of the University of Latvia and head of the Department of Culture at the General Commissariat, Karl von Stritzky. He published an article “On the task of teaching the local history” in German. Stritzky felt no connection to the Latvians or their history, and he looked upon Latvians as nationalists who were unfriendly towards German culture. He declared that the Germans’ task was to create a new ideology for Latvian history that would weed out overly nationalistic sentiments.

Both these articles are examples of typical Nazi propaganda, written through the lens of “race theory”. The support of Latvians by Germans and their cooperation are stressed throughout history, as well as the heroism of the German Volk and German leaders in comparison to the treachery and avarice of the Bolsheviks and Jews.

The author of the third most extensive article on history was Latvian teacher Nikolajs Vīksniņš. He noted that the task of the National Socialistic school was not only the development of pupils’ intellect, but also the development of personality in general by paying special attention to character development, as well as creating a sense of community and responsibility. Vīksniņš claimed that the National Socialistic movement’s mission for the German Volk included a new way of viewing their past. History must be taught from the perspective of race by highlighting the historic achievements and their significance of the northern races.

Although Vīksniņš espoused typical Nazi ideology, he, like other Latvian authors, presented the Nazi concept of history in a distanced manner—guiding the reader to view the “great” German Volk and its history from the perspective of “they”, not “we”. That is, Latvians were not encouraged to identify themselves with the Germans.

One of the most important school subjects was German, and the journal’s editorial board flattered the Nazi regime by declaring that every educator needed to know this language. Four EM issues even had articles in German without Latvian translation. The first issue published in 1942 was introduced by an article in German entitled “Zum Geleit!”. Articles about teaching German made up 7.3% of the content, but during the 1930s, only 0.99%. The Nazis viewed the German language as the “mirror” of the German “soul” and claimed that language had to match the national/racial “instincts” of the German people.

Latvian teachers picked up on the special mission of German language teaching, writing that one of the tasks of teaching German as a foreign language is to become “acquainted with the soul and culture of the German Volk”. Like history, German was no longer just a teachable subject; it became an instrument of ideology. EM has a lengthy description of how Latvian teachers of German travelled to Berlin for didactics courses, which were “mainly meant to introduce Latvian teachers to the German education system, its spirit and accomplishments in the field of pedagogy, and to create friendly ties between Germany’s and Latvia’s teachers”.

Learning German was nothing new for Latvians. Since the nineteenth century, the ability to speak German was an indicator of a “good education”. During the interwar period in Latvia, seven German-language newspapers were published regularly and 5.9% of all book published were in German. It is highly unlikely that teachers in Latvia, who were familiar with multilingualism, would have looked upon the teaching of German as some sort of propaganda trap.

Many articles in EM and EMM deal with the teaching of the Latvian language: during the 1930s, they made up 13.74% of all articles and their number insignificantly grew to 14.7% during German occupation. The importance of language as an identity marker for a Volk was recognised by both Nazis and Latvian teachers: “The basis for education incorporates the concept that the language community (Sprachgemeinschaft) is the basis for the people’s community (Volksgemeinschaft).” Acceptance of intensive Latvian language instruction in school could also be looked upon as the occupiers’ “cynical tolerance” towards the indigenous people; that is, unlike the communists, they respected the Latvian language. This attitude by the Nazis worked well in Latvian society, which had been diligently nursing its language since the mid-nineteenth century.

In addition to history and languages, EM paid much attention to physical education. During the 1930s, only one article is published about physical training, but during Nazi occupation, a total of 22 articles (7.0%) are devoted to the subject and its didactics, because “Exercises that correspond to the character of the Volk will improve the legacy of the race—its body and soul”. Sport and discipline were the focus of Nazi education concepts, and this view was transferred to occupied territories as well. Leading Nazi officials believed that the development of the physique and disposition of men was much more important—the goal being the creation of a soldier—than the development of intellectual capacities. For this reason, physical education was equated with military training in order to develop courage and will, the ability to give and take orders, steadfastness and firmness, and readiness to sacrifice oneself for the benefit of Volksgemeinschaft.

In the first edition of EM, teacher Jānis Malovka stressed that physical education was no longer playing sports just for fun, but that the body needed to be trained in order to create the desired characteristics for protection of the homeland and development of leadership skills. But for girls—they needed to be in good health to be able to fulfil their duty as mothers in the future. The term “homeland” is not defined in Malovka’s article: German censors could understand that to be the defence of Great Germany, but Latvians—the struggle for their native Latvia.

Latvian educators clearly supported the German belief that history, the native language, and physical fitness were the bases for development of Volksgemeinschaft—the people’s community.

Interpretations of Volksgemeinschaft

The idea of raising youth for the state and the people’s community [Volksgemeinschaft] already appears in the very first issue of EMM in 1920, proving the topicality and importance of this task among educators. The messianic concept of serving the “homeland” and the Volk has always been closely associated with teachers as a professional group and especially with Latvian teachers who had nurtured the idea of the nation-state.

The theoretical bases for creation of a people’s community were found in books by German philosophers and pedagogues, which is no surprise: Germanic culture had been authoritative in Latvia due to long-standing historic, educational, and linguistic connections. Latvian opinion leaders saw nothing ominous in German writings, but rather viewed them as a stable argument for developing Latvian civic identity. History teacher Dreimanis referred (1923) to Paul Natorp’s call to love and defend one’s Volk and merge with its interests. Professor Kauliņš referred to future Nazi ideologist Ernst Krieck’s Philosophie der Erziehung (1922): “The propensity and attempts to lead the young generation in a wrong direction, i.e. away from the Volk and society to the jungles of individualism, should be admitted to be fruitless and injurious.” The Volk, clearly the Latvian Volk, had been placed above the interests and needs of the individual since the 1920s—many years before Hitler came to power in Germany and before the Nazis occupied Latvia.

After Nazi occupation, the idea of Volksgemeinschaft was again brought to the forefront, but now it needed content acceptable to the occupiers. The first issue of EM in 1942 published an explanation of the “new” purposes of education, written by Education and Culture General Office employee Arvīds Dravnieks. He expressed a typical opinion of the time—Germans would protect Latvians from the Bolsheviks, which would allow Latvians to retain their Latvian identity: “when we stand against the Eastern front together with the heroic German Volk, then we can … preserve our Volk.” Gratitude to the Nazis for saving the Latvians was also expressed by Students:

We knew very well that our independence had to be defended, but we gave up it to the most horrible monsters of the 20th century—communists … This wish, and this refers to teachers and pupils—that is the entire school community—is that they remain loyal to their Volk and, simultaneously, be active fighters for New Europe.

Although the future of the Latvian Volk was seen as part of “New Europe” under German protection, none of the pedagogues openly mentioned assimilation of Latvians by Germans, which was not a publicly declared, yet clear Nazi goal. Latvian authors did not shy away from the use of the word “Latvians”, unlike German authors. Malovka writes that youth should be raised “in the people’s community, as upstanding young Latvian men and young Latvian women in the spirit of cooperation with other European nations”. Teacher Medulājs stated: “Let us be diligent and active, because we are Latvians … Let us not forget that the future of our Volk is in our hands.”

Sacrifice for the good of the Latvian Volk was traditionally supported with German philosophers’ works, but unlike in the 1920s, articles published in 1942 cite books that support National Socialistic upbringing principles:

Giese indicates three basic concepts that, since the events of 1933, have made E. Krieck’s works the foundation for educational philosophy in the new era … the assimilation of future generations does not just occur through blood, but also through carefully planned education and leadership of youth, a complete people’s community, and order, language, intellectual property, virtues and customs, poetry, art and traditions.

However, Latvian pedagogues who explained the concept of Volksgemeinschaft were not a homogenous group. It was precisely association of the Volk with race that divided them. Some spoke only of national upbringing and the Volk as the highest value, and even in early 1942, at the highest point of euphoric support for the Nazi occupiers, the term “race” is never used (e.g. Students). But many described Volksgemeinschaft in classic Nazi terms: a racist and anthropological understanding of a biological nation—a selection of people from whom others, who do not conform, shall be excluded. E. Grants comments on racial policies: “The goal of New Germany’s schools is: racially northern, healthy, and beautiful individuals with a whole body, clean and strong soul, and a clear, life-forming intellect.” Jānis Kronlīns enlightened Latvian readers on the views of Krieck:

In this way, nationalism founded on race is simultaneously a foundation for up-bringing and its goal. “The basic conditions for both physical and also spiritual growth is racially guided”, says prof. Ernst Krieck, “which each individual receives from his dominant race.”

In his article, Kronlins distances himself from Nazi opinion: he positions himself solely as a mediator between Krieck and the reader of EM. This can be interpreted both as concealment of his true opinion and also as self-preservation behind the Germans’ backs.

Latvians were compared to other races by Jānis Konstantīns Pabriks, who concluded that

they were able to maintain racial purity: Latvians, who have existed since the beginning of time, and still exist, are a Volk of strivers whose slogan—Only the best is good enough!—still applies and who have managed to maintain racial purity throughout their history and can stand beside any other Western European nation in its cultural achievements, even besting many of them.

Pabriks, using the German example, associates being Latvian with race and declares this racial purity to be even greater than that of other European nations. The Nazi stand on the purity of the “Latvian race” was not so flattering: among the Baltic people, the Estonians were considered the most worthy race, followed by some Latvians who deserved to be Germanised, but others would have to be deported from Latvia. By the approach of the end of the war in 1943-1944, the Latvians had gained much respect in the eyes of the Nazis, earning equal alignment with Germanic peoples.

The term Volksgemeinschaft is also often corrupted. For instance, in an article about physical education, the author devotes a few paragraphs to the significance of sport in the development of national unity and racial heritage, but then quickly goes on to describe didactics, never again mentioning ideology.

Another author uses the call for Volk unity for clearly utilitarian goals—to prove that the number of speech therapists should be increased: “Language is one of the most striking witnesses of the people’s community, and correct language is one of the first requirements. The current number of speech therapists … should be tripled.”

In 1943, the tone of the articles begins to shift and by 1944, it is distinctly Latvian in its nationalism. This is in line with political events outside the field of education. The German army was experiencing losses at the front, and the worse things got for the Nazis, the more Latvians could express their own nationalism. On 13 August 1943, the underground Latvian Central Council (LCC) was formed, which coordinated the activities of various resistance groups that were calling for the restoration of Latvian independence. In March 1944, the LCC wrote a memorandum that was directed to the governments of Western European nations, signed by 190 of Latvia’s best known social activists, including some of the previously mentioned teachers. Many LCC members were arrested by the Gestapo.

In 1943, articles about the Latvian Volk and its future destiny increasingly begin to appear in EM, but the number of articles about Germans as “saviours” decreases.

Professor Pauls Jurevičs published a lengthy article on the tasks of a teacher. His words are almost pleading in their invitation to care for the future of the Latvian Volk:

Latvian teachers should concentrate all their efforts on winning the struggle for the existence of the Latvian Volk, because they are the main force that can ensure this victory … Teachers should set themselves the goal of developing in their pupils such a stance that would make them question any step they take and consider how it would influence the interests of the Volk.

Increasingly, articles in EM suggested that Latvians have no one to rely on but themselves. Latvian identity and Latvian nature began to be named explicitly in each publication. One author even dared to use independent Latvia as an example, which until then, had never been mentioned and the discrediting of which was one of the tasks of Nazi propaganda: “The walls of the classrooms are livened up with neat patriotic slogans, like the ones that existed, for example, in independent Latvia.” Eduards Pētersons published his vision on teacher training in which he referred to pre-war Latvian pedagogues (Jānis Kauliņš and Aleksandrs Dauge) and, more importantly, on the works of German authors published before 1933: e.g. Georg Kerschensteiner, ‘Wesen und Wert des naturwissenschaftlichen Unterrichtes’ (1926) and Otto F.C. Schultze, “Grundlegung der Pädagogik” (1926).

The final issues of EM were published when many authors were already going into exile. June 1944 saw the last issue of EM. It publishes an article, claiming again and again, the significance of the Volk in people’s upbringing: “History shows us that Volk in all periods have had a notable propensity for independence and development … The existence of a Volk is a precondition for its cultural development: without it, culture or up-bringing is not possible.” These last publications express uncertainty about the scattering of the Latvians around the world, which would destroy the sense of belonging to a community.

On 13 October 1944, the Red Army marched into Riga, and, once again, Latvia fell under Soviet dictatorship.


Historians know the consequences of historic events, so one of their greatest sins is “presentistic outpourings”, that is, judgement of the past from the viewpoint of today. When discussing Latvian history, two traditional traps have emerged: (1) attaching the “fascist” label on Latvian nationalism of the 1920s to 1930s, and (2) justification of Latvian collaboration with the Nazis, knowing that Latvians were repressed during long years of Soviet dictatorship.

In this article, we have attempted to present the metamorphoses of Latvian nationalism in the “hands” of Latvian teachers during turbulent political change. Alter stated:

It is clear that nationalism, so convenient a label and justification of many developments, conceals within itself extreme opposites and contradictions. It can mean emancipation, and it can mean oppression: nationalism, it seems, is a repository of dangers and opportunities.

Indeed, Latvian nationalism, as an ideological movement whose agents were the intelligentsia, including teachers, transformed through several stages: (1) it began in the mid-nineteenth century as national romanticism, patriotism, and compensation for subjugation by Tsarist Russian officials and German landed gentry; (2) transformed into state nationalism praising the titular nation, daily routine, and ridiculed pomposity in the mid-1930s, and (3) continued as a sense of a common mission against Soviet communism and as a “safe haven” under Nazi occupation. Throughout, nationalists agreed on one issue—the Latvian Volk was placed above the interests and needs of the individual. Typical of nationalism movements, Latvian nationalism escalated in times of crucial societal change when the “need of belonging” became a response to threats from “others” and compensation for humiliation.

Latvian nationalism was perceived as dangerous by both dictatorships—Soviet communists and German fascists—who attempted to meld the Latvian Volk into New Soviet People or racially pure Europeans, respectively. Neither of these options was acceptable to Latvians, who once again felt marginalised—a position from which they felt they had already escaped during the existence of their nation-state.

Yet, Latvian teachers publicly supported Nazi ideology. Germans definitely were not loved by the Latvians, but they were looked upon as the lesser of two evils. We believe that the most important reasons for cooperation with the Nazis were revenge against the communists for the destruction of the Latvian nation-state and an apparent opportunity to unify and save Latvians physically and morally. Saving the Volk was viewed also by many teachers as their “raison d’être”—the struggle for Latvia’s statehood had not been not futile.

The well-known German concept of Volksgemeinschaft was viewed as a means to unify the Latvian Volk during the years of occupation. The paradoxical situation in which Nazi concepts were used against the Nazis themselves is described by several authors: “very often the same ideological platform (such as legitimist nationalism) prompted some individuals or ideological subcultures to shift their allegiance from first supporting the Germans and then to turning against them …” Kott writes that National Socialism was adapted to different contexts and, therefore, “[i]t would be preferable to speak not of a single National Socialism, but of national socialisms in the plural”. The same could be said of Volksgemeinschaft, in which various versions pitched the desired content, even controversial ones. Although Volksgemeinschaft was hoped to be as monolithic a concept as Nazi pedagogy, opportunities for interpretation existed and were adapted by Latvians for their nationalist interests.

Under authoritarianism, every phenomenon has an ideological value (positive or negative) and, therefore, must carry a label to guide everyone towards a “correct” understanding. Officially approved phrases were constantly refined, reproduced, and disseminated. However, in a totalitarian society,

The vast majority of the receivers of political statements are left guessing, with only small circles of insiders having definite knowledge about the concrete implications of policy statements formulated by power-holders … Observers and critics on the outside are reduced largely to guesswork.

Volksgemeinschaft was a phenomenon that had positive virtues for both Latvians and Nazis. Yet, it seems that even the most subservient Latvian collaborators did not understand it in the same way as did Nazi ideologues. The Nazis did not reveal their true intentions, and the Latvians, too, had their own plans. Volksgemeinschaft became, borrowing from Musolff, “camouflage terminology” in which Germans understood it as the inclusion of racially pure Europeans into the New Germany, but Latvians took it to mean unity and protection of their identity that could possibly culminate in the reestablishment of their own state. Latvian educators stressed Latvian elements and did not invite identification with or assimilation into the German nation. Germans were always “they” in contrast to “us”.

However, a unified understanding of Volksgemeinschaft did not exist among Latvian educators. The most vivid divergence was between Volk and race relations. Some educators viewed Volksgemeinschaft as “welcoming”; that is, Latvians were willing to accept anyone who was prepared to fulfil the main loyalty criterion—sacrifice for the good of Latvia. In turn, regarding the importance of racial purity of Volksgemeinschaft and the position of “worthless” people, the emphasis was on “exclusion”.

Lastly, the Nazi regime envisioned a monolithic “Führerstaat”, but in reality, it was relatively open to different intents: Nazi rule had been improvised. Although there were attempts to formulate Nazi upbringing theories, educational science (Erziehungswissenschaft), like other intellectual fields, lacked political support. In Nazi Germany, ideological elements (nation, race, militarism, leadership, etc.) were attached to pedagogy without theoretical basis. A logical conclusion may be that since Nazi pedagogical concepts were not fully developed in Germany, a clear concept of reform for occupied territories also did not exist. The indifferent and inconsistent position of the Germans about several ideological issues was an additional factor that encouraged Latvian teachers to publicly express their own national agenda.