Karlis Kangeris


The reorganization of the ethnographical situation in Eastern Europe was described by Reichschancellor Adolf Hitler in a speech at the Reichstag October 6, 1939 as "a most important undertaking". Emigration, leaving one's habitat or, as propaganda would have it, "accepting the invitation of the Führer" or "the return home to the Reich" was one aspect of ethnic reorganization. The other aspect of this ethnic reorganization was finding a new place of abode for this "group of endangered German nationals", either in the German reich or in newly annexed parts or else in occupied territories.

With the departure of Baltic Germans from Estonia (18.10 – 15.11.1939) and Latvia (7.11. – 16.12.1939), the ethnic reorganization was begun: the mass displacement of inhabitants in Eastern Europe. These Baltic German "repatriants" were at first settled in the regions annexed from Poland October 12 (the former "Polish corridor" that Germany forfeited as a result of the Treaty of Versailles) that were now the Reich provinces Danzig-Westpreussen and Warthegau. In order to accommodate the Baltic Germans and compensate them for the material possessions left behind in Estonia and Latvia, Poles and Jews were displaced, their property and possessions confiscated and they themselves were taken to occupied regions of Poland — the General Government (from June 1940 onwards). With increasing numbers of ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) arriving, increasing numbers of Poles and Jews had to be displaced thus creating growing problems for the technocrats in charge of displacement, encouraging them to seek more radical solutions, especially with respect to the future fate of the Jews.

The Baltic Germans were followed by ethnic Germans from Volhynia, Galicia and Narew in the first months of 1940 and in the summer, Germans from the territories of Bessarabia and Bukovina annexed by the Soviets from Romania and from the Romanian territory of Dobrudja. These were in the end followed by Germans from Lithuania in early 1941 and Nachumsiedler (late resettlers) from Estonia and Latvia. March 1941 some 500,000 Volksdeutsche were returned, half of whom were still in camps, but from these regions 408,000 Poles and Jews were displaced to the General Government.

Thus, it is no coincidence that present day research indirectly places the beginning of the systematic destruction of Jews with the ethnic reorganisation of Eastern Europe, namely the transportation of the Baltic Germans from Estonia and Latvia to the territories annexed from Poland — the new provinces of the German Reich. On the other hand, a causal relationship may be found with the mass executions of psychiatric patients in the hospitals in the area of the port towns Danzig/Gdingen, Swinemünde and Stettin and the arrival of the Baltic Germans.


The answer to the question as to why the Volksdeutsche return to the German Reich began with the Baltic Germans cannot be found in the considerable literature on the "repatriation" of the Baltic Germans. Is it so self-evident that the new Volkstumspolitik of the German Reich should be initated by this particular move? (Were Baltic Germans more in peril than other Germans abroad in September, 1939 when Estonia and Latvia were still independent states?)

Since the publication of the memoirs of Erhard Kroeger, the version has been accepted by historians that the change in German politics with respect to Volksdeutsche began September 25, 1939 when the Headquarters of the Führer (Führerhauptquartier) in Sopot (Zoppot) was visited by the leader of the Baltic German National Socialist movement (Bewegung), Dr. Erhard Kroeger, from Latvia in order to inform Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler about conditions in Latvia. After this talk, Himmler succeeded in convincing Hitler to "repatriate" the Baltic Germans from Estonia and Latvia. In the days that followed at the talks in Berlin, headway was made to apply the Baltic German "model" to other groups of ethnic Germans.

Why were the first "repatriants" not the Germans from Volhynia, Galicia and Narew which were in Poland in the region occupied by the Red Army? Why were not the Lithuanian Germans invited "back home" (Heim ins Reich) before the Germans from Estonia and Latvia? After all, Stalin himself, in his talks with Ribbentrop 27.9.1939 had mentioned that Lithuania would be the first to be annexed (einverleiben) if Germans agreed to the territorial exchanges.

Before giving an answer to the Baltic German question, some comments need to be made on National Socialist plans and policy with respect to the Volksdeutsche (before the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact August 23, 1939).

1) Ever since the era of the Weimar republic, the German government and organizations especially founded for this purpose (e. g. Verein für das Deutschtum im Ausland – VDA) looked after the interests of German ethnic groups in other countries. These efforts increased when the National Socialists came to power. In 1935, a special institution — Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle — VoMi (Ethnic German Liaison Office), was formed. By seeing to the needs of the Volksdeutsche (Germans living outside the Reich) both with respect to culture and their economic situation, these groups were to be made dependent on the German Reich and their loyalty was to be assumed so that in case of need, they could be used to promote the political interests of Germany. (C. f. the Germans in Sudetenland.) It was not in the country's interests to return these groups to Germany.

2) This policy of VoMi did not really co-incide with that of the NSDAP and the thoughts expounded by Hitler on the long range plans for the German race by uniting all Germans, as written in Mein Kampf: "One blood demands one Reich". Before the onset of the war, assembling Germans occurred by incorporating in the Reich the neighbouring territories that were peopled by Germans: the Saar, Austria, Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia and the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda.

[In the mind of Himmler the Volk was an indivisible, living organism composed of its individual members. All Germans, whether living within the Reich or abroad, belonged to this organic Volk body. Although initially the Volk was a cultural concept, defined by criteria such as German language and heritage, for the Nazis it was racially determined. One could only be born into it, and by virtue of this biological fact, one was permanently bound to it. No artificial divisions, such as state frontiers, could divide the Volk.]

3) The return of the Baltic Germans is often compared to the South Tyrol case on which German and Italian governments had reached the first agreement as early as June 23, 1939. However, the comparison or even reference to the South Tyrol "model" and experience defaults on several counts. Firstly, the evacuation of the Volksdeutsche was suggested by Benito Mussolini. If Hitler agreed, it was rather on account of political considerations, a show of good will to preserve the German-Italian alliance. While the Germans in South Tyrol were being registered, the "repatriation" move in Estonia and Latvia was completed in its entirety.

[The "repatriation" in South Tyrol was planned to take place over a longer period of time in several stages resettling the evacuees either in the German Reich or Austria. It was rather the convert situation, that the experience of the Baltic actions could be of use in the South Tyrol undertaking. However, preparation for this effort forced Himmler's experts to begin planning in concrete forms and creating the structures necessary for evacuation and resettlement.]

4) A further consideration discussed with respect to the complex of problems on the Volksdeutsche was the measures against labour shortage in agriculture and industry. Early 1939 it was estimnated that the German economy needed a further 550,000 labourers. A natural human resource to meet this need was the ethnic Germans abroad. Why should one resort to "foreign blood labour" if "the return of German labourforce and life blood", estimated at 30 millions, "could in part fulfil the tasks set by the Führer", according to Ulrich Greifelt, in his analysis on the fulfilment of the plans formulated by Hitler; Greifelt, a member of Himmler's personal stuff (Persönlicher Stab des Reichsführers-SS) responsible for questions relating to the Four-years-plan (Vierjahresplan).

It may be concluded that on the signing of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty with its additional secret protocols, August 23, 1939, no plans existed for the ethnic re-organization of Eastern Europe. The Nazi-Soviet pact was concluded to create the pre-conditions for war - the solution of the Polish question. This pact secured Germany in diplomacy, militarily and materially.

However, the idea of uniting all Germans in the world was ever present either as part of the racial policy of the National Socialists or to solve the problem of labour shortage. As the agreement between Germany and Italy on the question of the Volksdeutsche of South Tyrol demonstrated, political consideration on ethnic questions had a place in decreasing or liquidating possible causes for conflict between nations. (This idea was at back of Hitler's mind on signing the treaties with the Soviets on September 28, 1939.)


Since Erhard Kroeger was from Latvia, let us examine the development and situation of the German minority in Latvia. In 1939, the population of Baltic Germans was 60,000 in Latvia and 18,000 in Estonia.

1) After the First World War the Baltic German minority were faced with either assimilation or holding onto their positions (Assimilierung oder Selbstbehauptung). The Baltic Germans opted for the latter. As demography and economic resources dwindled, this became increasingly difficult. Thus in the early 1930's the Deutschbaltische Volksgemeinschaft had become financially dependent on the German Reich. This dependence increased so that more than 60% of the budget of this organization came from Germany.

2) After Hitler's Machtübernahme the National Socialist movement also spread in Latvia where youth in particular became enthused by it. Through his contacts in the VoMi, Kroeger became a deciding factor in the Volksgemeinschaft in 1937 and gradually filled important positions with members of the Bewegung (in particular concerning leadership in youth affairs and Nachbarschaften).

3) Nazi German ethnic policy (Volkstumspolitik) experts estimated that the Baltic German situation in Latvia was precarious. Similarly Latvia was deemed as unable to retain its independence for long. (Baltic German and Latvian relations were also strained, especially after the coup of 1934.: the German minority complained about restrictions of their rights but the Latvian government accused Germany of interference in internal affairs.) Of particular importance in this connection is the secret document worked out in the first months of 1939 by Der Reichsführer-SS, Der Chef des Sicherheitshauptamtes, II (NO): "Sonderbericht. Die Bevölkerungsverhältnisse im Baltikum". In this the possible alternatives available for the future are clearly defined: If the Baltic countries continue to exist as independent states, the German groupings there should be supported in every possible way in order to influence the politics of the respective countries; If, on the other hand, Slavic pressure increases (Slawischer Drang nach Westen), then in order to preserve racial purity, the possibility of evacuating these groups must be considered. (The pacts did indeed leave the Baltic countries to the Slavic sphere of influence thus creating the necessity for putting into effect the latter alternative.)

4) In connection with this document, it should be noted section II (NO) was specially formed in 1937 within the framework of the Sicherheitshauptamt and delt specially with questions related to Estonia and Latvia. (This priviliged situation obtained only for Baltic Germans.) The personnel comprised Baltic Germans from Estonia and Latvia, led by Dr, Friedrich Buchard from Latvia, who regularly reported results of their efforts directly to either the director of the Sicherheitshauptamt Reinhard Heydrich or to Himmler himself. The section II (NO) had close contacts with VoMi. This meant that the highest ranks of the SS were very well informed on conditions in Estonia and Latvia. (It must be deduced that this was also the case in the summer of 1939.)


The progress of the "repatriation" of the Baltic Germans indicates that this was not an undertaking that was carefully planned long in advance bet rather that it was an unforseen and improvised activity triggered by the immediate political situation. The main protagonist at this point was the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and it seems that he used the situation as it developed in the Baltic countries to further his own interests. The end result was that October 7, 1939, Hitler made Himmler the Reich Commissioner for the Strengthening of Germandom (Reichskommissar für die Festigung deutschen Volkstums), that empowered him, viz. the SS, with all rights to plan and execute the ethnic reorganization proclaimed by Hitler in his speech of October 6, including the solution of the Jewish question.

As the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact on Augsut 23 demonstrated, Hitlers thinking was dominated by political, military and economic considerations. The defeat of Poland opened up new possibilities for those in charge of planning and executing the racial policy. Himmler had a problem in directing Hitler's attention to carrying out the racial policy. (The most urgent task was the territorial reorganization of Poland including the displacement of inhabitants.) The developments in Estonia and Latvia provided him with the necessary arguments.

Without going into detail and discussing any contradictions or uncertainties, the course of events in the "repatriation" of the Baltic Germans was as follows:

— September 16, Baltic Germans in Latvia lodge a complaint to the German Ambassador that Latvians were hostile towards them and they needed protection. (The creation of panic that "chauvinistic Latvians and Jews" were going to wreak revenge on the Germans continued until October 7.)

— September 17, the Red Army marches into Poland.

— September 18, the interned Polish submarine Orzel escapes from Tallinn.

— September 19-22, Soviet Army manoeuvres in the borderlands of Estonia. September 24, a repeated gathering of army forces near the Estonian border.

— September 24, at 21.00 hrs., Soviet "threats" to the Estonian government.

— September 26 at 0.30 hrs. Stalin suggests talks on exchange of territories.

— September 27, Ribbentrop to Moscow. (Soviet ultimatum to Estonia.)

— September 28, confidential Soviet-German protocol on population exchange.

* * * * *

— September 20, Heydrich suggests that Kroeger be invited to Sopot.

— September 25/26, nocturnal talks between Himmler and Kroeger followed by Himmlers talk with Hitler.

— September 26, Hitler agrees in principle to "save" the Baltic Germans.

— September 28, Hitler gives the ultimate consent to the Baltik German undertaking given that an agreement with the Soviet Union is expected.

— September 29, at four o'clock in the morning Hitler makes known his plans with respect to Poland.

We can make the following comments on this sequence of events:

1) Plans to save Reich Germans and Baltic Germans in Latvia had already been attempted. In October, 1938 it was likewise considered to send ships to Latvia to save them from Latvian brutality.

2) The main threats made by the Soviet Union were to Estonia. Why, then, was the Estonian leader of the Bewegung, Oskar Lutz, not invited to Sopot?

3) What possible new information could Kroeger furnish if all necessary information on the Baltic countries had until September 26 had already been prepared? (Also, Heydrich and Himmler were constantly kept up to date through the information received from the Latvian and Estonian section of the Sicherheitshauptamt II (NO).)

Kroeger's presence in Hitler's headquarters had symbolic value so that Himmler would have at hand a "victim" in case of necessity. If Himmler had intended to save only the Baltic Germans amically disposed to Germany then Himmler would not need to ask Kroeger if all or some were to be rescued. Kroeger's presence and the Baltic German question were necessary as proof-in-hand for long range planning. Undoubtedly the wide net of contacts between Germany and Latvia/Estonia played its part in pushing the Baltic German problem into a prime position. (The Nazi leaders had no doubts that Baltic Germans would suffer at the hands of Bolshewiks.)


The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 23, 1939 opened the doors to war. The defeat of Poland and in turn the supplementary treaties of September 28, 1939 set into motion the machinary of National Socialist racial policy. The basic idea of this racial policy was the unification of all Germans in one territory and the superiority of the German race existed from the very beginning of the National Socialist movement, but political pragmatism had dictated another course of action, that of strengthening Germandom abroad. When, at the onset of war, political and National Socialist value boundaries collapsed, the politics of the VoMi also collapsed. The basic ideas were not new, but possibilities to realize them were. Also in the case of Baltic Germans the alternative suggesting the possible evacuation to Germany was not new. The decision to "repatriate" the Baltic Germans from Estonia and Latvia was not so caused by the wish to put into effect these earlier plans but rather from the immediate political situation that the Reichsführer-SS used to further his own interests. (When in 1939 these new possibilities were being effected, it is doubtful whether anyone had pondered over the consequences of the mass displacement of peoples.)

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