History of Latvia between 1941 - 1944
The Soviet Union guaranteed its interests in the Baltics with the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany on August 23, 1939. Under threat of invasion, Latvia (along with Estonia and Lithuania) signed a mutual assistance pact with Soviet Union, providing for the stationing of up to 25,000 Soviet troops on Latvian soil. Following the initiative from Nazi Germany, Latvia on October 30, 1939 concluded an agreement to repatriate ethnic Germans in the wake of the impeding Soviet takeover.
Seven months later, the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov accused the Baltic states of conspiracy against the Soviet Union. On June 16, 1940, threatening an invasion, Soviet Union issued an ultimatum demanding that the government be replaced and that an unlimited number of Soviet troops be admitted. Knowing that the Red Army had entered Lithuania a day before, that its troops were massed along the eastern border and mindful of the Soviet military bases in Western Latvia, the government acceded to the demands, and Soviet troops occupied the country on June 17. Staged elections were held July 14–15, 1940, whose results were announced in Moscow 12 hours before the polls closed; Soviet documents show the election results were forged. The newly elected "People's Assembly" declared Latvia a Socialist Soviet Republic and applied for admission into the Soviet Union on July 21. Latvia was incorporated into the Soviet Union on August 5, 1940. The overthrown Latvian government continued to function in exile while the republic was under the Soviet control.
In the spring of 1941, the Soviet central government began planning the mass deportation of anti-Soviet elements from the occupied Baltic states. In preparation, General Ivan Serov, Deputy People's Commissar of Public Security of the Soviet Union, signed the Serov Instructions, "Regarding the Procedure for Carrying out the Deportation of Anti-Soviet Elements from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia." During the night of 13–14 June 1941, 15,424 inhabitants of Latvia — including 1,771 Jews and 742 ethnic Russians — were deported to camps and special settlements, mostly in Siberia. 35,000 people were deported in the first year of Soviet occupation (131,500 across the Baltics).
The Nazi invasion, launched a week later, cut short immediate plans to deport several hundred thousand more from the Baltics. Nazi troops occupied Riga on July 1, 1941. Immediately after the installment of German authority, a process of eliminating the Jewish and Gypsy population began, with many killings taking place in Rumbula. The killings were committed by the Einsatzgruppe A, the Wehrmacht and Marines (in Liepāja), as well as by Latvian collaborators, including the 500-1,500 members of the infamous Arajs Commando (which alone killed around 26,000 Jews) and the 2,000 or more Latvian members of the SD. By the end of 1941 almost the entire Jewish population was killed or placed in the concentration camps. In addition, some 25,000 Jews were brought from Germany, Austria and the present-day Czech Republic, of whom around 20,000 were killed. The Holocaust claimed approximately 85,000 lives in Latvia, the vast majority of whom were Jews.
A large number of Latvians resisted the German occupation. The resistance movement was divided between the pro-independence units under the Latvian Central Council and the pro-Soviet units under the Latvian Partisan Movement Headquarters in Moscow. Their Latvian commander was Arturs Sproģis. The Nazis planned to Germanise the Baltics after the war. In 1943 and 1944 two divisions of Waffen-SS were formed from Latvian conscripts and volunteers to help Germany against the Red Army.
Het Steen is a medieval fortress in the old city centre of Antwerp. Built after the Viking incursions in the early Middle Ages as the first stone fortress of Antwerp, Het Steen is Antwerp's oldest building and used to be its oldest urban centre.
Previously known as Antwerpen Burcht (fortress), Het Steen gained its current name in around 1520, after significant rebuilding under Charles V. The fortress made it possible to control the access to the Scheldt, the river on whose bank it stands. It was used as a prison between 1303 and 1827. The largest part of the fortress, including dozens of historic houses and the oldest church of the city, was demolished in the 19th century when the quays were straightened to stop the silting up of the Scheldt. The remaining building, heavily changed, contains a shipping museum, with some old canal barges displayed on the quay outside.
In 1890 Het Steen became the museum of archeology and in 1952 an annex was added to house the museum of Antwerp maritime history, which in 2011 moved to the nearby Museum Aan de Stroom. Here you’ll also find a war memorial to the Canadian soldiers in WWII.
There are some beautiful plaques on the back side of the Steen Castle at Antwerp. Canadian visitors will especially want to see the plaques thanking the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry for their part in the liberation of Antwerp, in 1944.
At the entrance to Het Steen is a bas-relief of Semini, above the archway, around 2nd century. Semini is the Scandinavian God of youth and fertility (with symbolic phallus). A historical plaque near Het Steen explains that women of the town appealed to Semini when they desired children; the god was reviled by later religious clergy. Inhabitants of Antwerp previously referred to themselves as 'children of Semini'.
At the entrance bridge to the castle is a statue of a giant and two humans. It depicts the giant Lange Wapper who used to terrorise the inhabitants of the city in medieval times.