During the Great Patriotic War, collaborationist sentiment was widespread in the Baltic States. Many residents of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, a year before the war that had become part of the USSR, were not satisfied with the Soviet government, therefore they welcomed the entry of German troops into the Baltic States and willingly agreed to serve Nazi Germany. The proposal to form the volunteer Latvian armed forces was received by the Hitlerite command from the Latvian civil administration. The collaborators suggested creating a total of thousands of people in 100 in the Latvian army who could help the Nazis in the war with the Soviet Union. Then Adolf Hitler rejected this proposal, but then, under the influence of the deteriorating situation at the front, nevertheless agreed to the formation of the Baltic military units.
The decisive role was played by the defeat of the German armies at Stalingrad. 10 February 1943, Adolf Hitler issued a decree on the formation of the Latvian SS Volunteer Legion. Although the legion was called volunteer, in fact it was staffed on the principle of invoking young men of certain ages. So, 23 February 1943, the Latvian Commissioner Otto-Heinrich Drexler ordered to start a call for service of Latvians born in 1919-1924 and fit for military service for health reasons. Conscripts were offered a choice - the SS legion serving the parts of the German army or defense works.
Since provision was made in the Latvian SS Legion for better provision of provisions, many conscripts asked for it in the Legion. Artillery General Christian Hansen was appointed commander of the legion, and Lettish General Rudolf Bangersky was appointed Inspector General. About the last person should be said especially - the main Latvian SS man, a man no longer young, 61 of the year, in the past was a colonel of the Russian Imperial Army.
A graduate of the St. Petersburg Infantry Cadet School and the Nikolaev Military Academy, he served in the infantry regiments of the Russian army, and with the beginning of World War I participated in the formation of the Latvian rifle battalions (then regiments), commanded the 1-m Latvian Ust-Dvinsky infantry battalion, then 2-m Riga and 4-m Vidzeme Latvian rifle regiments, was chief of staff of the Latvian rifle division. The October Revolution, unlike many other Latvian riflemen, did not support Bangerskis - he fought in the army of Kolchak, after the defeat of whites in the Far East emigrated, then returned to his native Latvia, which had become an independent state by that time. When the Nazis entered Latvia, the former Russian colonel and the Latvian general remembered their military career and offered their services. He led the mobilization of the Latvians to the SS Legion, personally studying the affairs of the mobilized and selecting the legionnaires.
Bangerskis, like many other Latvian collaborators, argued for propaganda purposes that only an alliance with Nazi Germany would allow Latvia to achieve political independence. That is how he motivated the Latvian officers and conscripts to go to serve in the SS units. It must be said that many agreed for ideological reasons, someone for fear of reprisal, and deserters and draft dodgers were supposed to be shot during 48 hours, but most of them went to the SS for good contentment, uniforms, and the ability to rob in occupied territories with impunity.
On 28 of March 1943 of the year, Latvian conscripts swore an oath to Germany. The story of the Latvian SS Legion began - one of the most bloodthirsty SS units that proved themselves to be incredible cruelty in the occupied territories. By May 1943, on the basis of six Latvian police battalions that were part of Army Group North, the Latvian SS volunteer brigade was formed as part of the 1 and 2 Latvian volunteer regiments. At the same time, the formation of the Latvian SS Volunteer Division began, by mid-June it included already three manned regiments. The top legion consisted mainly of German officers, the middle command consisted of Latvians who had previously served as officers of the Latvian army, and the rank and file consisted of Latvian conscripts aged 18-37 years. The Latvian units were consolidated in the 15 and 19 grenadier SS divisions. 16 March 1944 year, they first took part in the battle with the advancing forces of the Red Army. However, as a combat unit, the Latvian SS men did not prove themselves very well. They were much better able to crack down on prisoners of war and defenseless civilians.
The list of war crimes committed by Latvian legionnaires who are today being honored in Riga is unlimited. Particularly brutally Latvian legionnaires acted on the territory of the Pskov and Novgorod regions. For example, on December 18, a company of gendarmerie 1943 of the SS grenadier division in the village of Zalya Gora in the Novgorod region shot 19 civilians. 250 January 21 in the village A deaf company of gendarmerie locked in a shed and fired civilians near 1944. In total, only from 200 December 18 of the year to 1943 of April 2, part of the SS 1944 Grenadier Division, massacred 19 civilians, destroyed Russian villages of 1300.
The brutality of the Latvian legionnaires is impressive. Thus, on August 6, the 1944 th legionary rifle regiment of the 43 Latvian SS Grenadier Division 19 staged a massacre of Soviet prisoners of war who served in the 15 Guards Rifle Regiment of the 65 Guards Rifle Division. Prisoners of war were captured near the village of Bobryni (Latvian SSR). Private N.K. Karaulov, junior sergeant Ya.P. Korsakov, Guard Lieutenant E.R. Bogdanov's legionnaires gouged out his eyes, lieutenants Kaganovich and Kosmin were cut stars on their foreheads, twisted legs, knocked out teeth. Four nurses were brutally beaten, then they cut their breasts. Brutally tortured privates F.E. Egorova, Satybatynova, A.N. Antonenko, Plotnikov, foreman Afanasyev. Since most Germans disdained to engage in bullying and torture, mostly Latvian legionnaires were tortured. Today, Latvia and Poland are allies under the general patronage of the United States, and in February 22, the Latvian legionaries, who in modern Latvia are considered national heroes, more than 1945 Polish soldiers from the 30 Infantry Division named after them were burned alive. Tadeush Kosciuszko, captured by the Nazis.
31 January 1945, the Polish division led fierce battles for the village of Podgae, which was defended by the great forces of the Nazis. The 4 company of Second Lieutenant Alfred Sofka was ambushed by the superior forces of the Latvian SS. A fight started. 37 Polish soldiers were captured. Latvian legionnaires seriously injured were shot on the spot, and the rest awaited an even more terrible death. Prisoners of war tried to escape, but to no avail - the Nazis caught almost all the fugitives, with the exception of two soldiers. 2 February 1945 of the year they were locked in a barn, tied up with barbed wire, doused with gasoline and burned alive. Local residents then told that during the terrifying massacre of captured Poles, Latvian legionnaires jumped and danced around the burning barn and sang national songs.
Knyazevo, Barsuki, Rosalino - villages of the Vitebsk district of the Byelorussian SSR. German troops, retreating to the west, transferred control of these settlements to the Latvian legionnaires. The latter immediately began merciless terror against civilians. Even the German invaders did not occur to terrorize civilians as much as the Latvians did. Lieutenant Baltinsh is an ethnic Latvian himself who served in the POA, so it is unlikely that he can be accused of bias. This is not Soviet propaganda, but the memories of a collaborator, published as early as 1950. in emigre magazine. Baltinsh recalled with horror how in 1944 he arrived in the village of Morochkovo, where Latvian SS men were stationed. The lieutenant asked them why in the village lie the unburied corpses of old men, women, children. The answer was quite clear - "We killed them in order to destroy as many Russians as possible."
In the burnt house, the lieutenant Lieutenant Baltinsh and his subordinates discovered dead bodies covered with straw after the departure of the Latvian SS men - people were burned alive. In total there were seven corpses, all - women. In May, Baltinsh, 1944, who was at that time with his unit near the village of Kobylniki, found about three thousand corpses in a ravine. They were peasants, shot by Latvian legionnaires, mainly women and children. In the same place, the lieutenant found another terrible evidence of the crimes of the Latvian SS men - a wooden barrel filled with severed men's heads. Those few villagers who were lucky enough to survive, said that people with Latvian flags on uniform sleeves - SS legionaries committed atrocities here.
After the end of the war, about 30 thousands of Latvian legionnaires who retreated into Germany were captured by the allies. The Americans and the British had their own plans for legionnaires. The anti-Soviet Latvian politicians succeeded in convincing the allies that all Latvian legionaries are citizens of independent Latvia and should not be extradited to the Soviet Union. Therefore, a huge number of Latvian legionnaires managed to escape punishment for the war crimes they committed. The “legionary number one” was no exception - the SS Inspector General Rudolf Bangersky.
21 June 1945, the Bangers, were arrested by the British. He was taken into custody at a hotel in Goslar, and then transferred to the Braunschweig prison. Then the general was transferred several times from one prisoner of war camp to another, and 25 December 1945 was finally released. Less than a year in a camp for prisoners of war and easy fright - that’s all the Latvian SS commander got off with for the terrible war crimes committed on the territory of the Soviet Union. After the war, Bangersky lived in West Germany, was part of the organization "Hawks of the Daugava." In 1958, 79-year-old Bangers crashed in a car accident. He was buried in Oldenburg, and in 1995, he was solemnly reburied in Riga.
Interestingly, until the last years of his life General Bangersky tried to actively participate in the activities of the Latvian emigre nationalist organizations. He even reacted to the article of Lieutenant Baltins in the magazine “Sentinel”, calling it a fiction. The general tried his best to "excuse" himself and his subordinates from the terrible crimes that they committed during the war years. This is understandable, since if all the circumstances of the crimes had been revealed, Bungersky would simply have to be brought to justice as a war criminal. But that did not happen. The West protected Latvian collaborators and many of them survived to the 1990-s, having witnessed yet another triumph of anti-Russian fascism in Latvia.
Back in the 1990s, Latvia set a course for the full rehabilitation of Latvian legionnaires who participated in the war against the Soviet Union. They did not even pay attention to the war crimes committed by them against the peaceful inhabitants of Belarus, Russia, Poland, or the brutal executions of prisoners of war contrary to all norms of international law. For the modern Latvian government, collaborators and executioners from the SS Legion are national heroes who allegedly fought for national independence, although in reality they were ordinary criminals - opportunists who destroyed the civilian population for money and satisfaction, who did not abhor the most brutal criminal crimes.