The Latvian Exception: Treasures of Latvian Museums and Archives Evacuated by Nazi Germany during WWII and returned by USA Forces to the USSR in 1945 Cover Image
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"Latvijas izņēmums": Nacistiskās Vācijas Otrajā pasaules karā evakuētās un ASV karaspēka PSRS 1945. gadā atdotās Latvijas arhīvu un muzeju vērtības
The Latvian Exception: Treasures of Latvian Museums and Archives Evacuated by Nazi Germany during WWII and returned by USA Forces to the USSR in 1945

Author(s): Jānis Kalnačs
Subject(s): Cultural Essay, Political Essay, Societal Essay
Published by: Mākslas vēstures pētījumu atbalsta fonds
Keywords: Latvian museums; Latvian archives; cultural values; collections; World War II; evacuation; restitutions

Summary/Abstract: One of the most successful cases of recovered cultural treasures taken out by Germany during WWII is still almost unknown even in such Latvian cultural institutions as museums and archives. In 1944 Germany had planned to evacuate the oldest and most significant documents pertaining to German influence in Latvian and Baltic political and cultural history and the property of Baltic Germans as well as important documents and cultural testimonies of the newly founded state of Latvia. There was a plan to evacuate more than 1200 crates of historical documents and other valuables from the State History Archive, Riga City History Archive, Latvian History Museum and its affiliate the Dom Museum, Riga City Art Museum and other institutions as well as about 23 000 packages of State History Archive documents to Opava (Troppau in German). The repositories were arranged in the surrounding Sudetenland palaces that had been seized from the Czech Republic and a department of the German State Archive was situated there. This plan, carried out by Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg in all countries of Eastern Europe, was not as successful as had been envisaged because the employees of the State History Museum hid part of the most valuable items such as the numismatic collection, silver pieces and archaeological discoveries, in the Riga Castle. The State History Archive staff also replaced some of the most valuable documents with less significant ones. Some of the Western European paintings meant to be taken away also possibly stayed in Riga. Most of the items that had been brought to Opava were returned on two trains to Riga already by autumn 1945, so the rather empty repository shelves of Latvian historical documents, artefacts and artworks were now refilled. (Some of the Latvian cultural values had been transferred to Bohemia with quite minor losses in 1945. The State History Archive had suffered more damage.) Perhaps because this process passed off so quickly and happened so long ago, these events have been undeservedly forgotten by now. Materials were returned by different means. In autumn 1945 a train carrying nine wagons of archival materials returned to Riga. It is possible that these had been left behind by the Germans in Opava as it fell to Soviet forces at the end of the war. However, the most precious treasures were more difficult to recover as the Castle of Trpisty and the Abbey of Kladruby were taken by the US army shortly before the end of the war. American army specialists in cultural heritage did not consider their findings as especially valuable so they handed them over (supervised only by Mērija Grīnberga, an employee of the Riga History Museum) along with Ukrainian historical documents (supervised by the Ukrainian scientist Nikolai Geppener) to the Soviet Army in October 1945. This restitution can be called the “the Latvian exception”. During this largest of post-war restitutions, about 1160 boxes were returned by the Americans to the USSR.

  • Issue Year: 2009
  • Issue No: 12
  • Page Range: 71-85
  • Page Count: 15
  • Language: Latvian