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Reichskommissariat Ostland (RKO) was the civilian occupation regime established by Germany in the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), the north-eastern part of Poland and the west part of the Belarusian SSR during World War II. It was also known initially as Reichskommissariat Baltenland ("Baltic Land").[1] The political organization for this territory—after an initial period of military administration before its establishment—was that of a German civilian administration, nominally under the authority of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (German language: Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete) led by Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, but was in reality controlled by the Nazi official Hinrich Lohse, its appointed Reichskommissar.

The main political objective, which the ministry laid out in the framework of National Socialist policies for the east established by Adolf Hitler, were the complete annihilation of the Jewish population and the settlement of ethnic Germans along with the expulsion or Germanization of parts of the native population - not only in the Reichskommissariat Ostland but also in the other German-occupied Soviet territories. Through the use of Einsatzgruppen A and B over a million Jews were killed in the Reichskommissariat Ostland.[2] The Germanization policies would, built on the foundations of the Generalplan Ost, later be carried through by a series of special edicts and guiding principles for the general settlement plans for the Ostland.[3]

Throughout 1943 and 1944, the Red Army gradually recaptured most of the territory in their advance on Germany, but Wehrmacht forces held out in the Courland pocket. With the end of the war in Europe and the defeat of Germany in 1945, the Reichskommissariat ceased to exist completely.

Ostland should not be confused with Ober Ost, which had a similar role as an occupation authority for Baltic territories by the German Empire in World War I.

History[edit | edit source]

Planning before the attack on the Soviet Union[edit | edit source]

Soviet operations, 19 August to 31 December 1944.

Originally the Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories (German language: Reichsminister fur die besetzten Ostgebiete), Alfred Rosenberg envisioned usage of the term Baltenland ("Baltic Land") before the summer of 1941 for the area that would eventually be known as Ostland.[1] Otto Bräutigam, a major colleague of Rosenberg at the time, opposed this idea. In a later declaration he alleged that Rosenberg (himself a Baltic German), was influenced by his "Baltic friends" in forwarding this initiative, in which a "Baltic Reichskommissariat" with the addition of Belarus would be formed, "and with this the White Ruthenians would also be regarded as Balts". A more important additional colleague of Rosenberg, Georg Leibbrandt, spoke out against this. He argued that the sympathy of the Baltic peoples, who would naturally want the use of their own terminology, could be lost entirely. They would therefore not be won over either as supporters of the German war effort, nor as racially valuable settlers for the region.

After Operation Barbarossa[edit | edit source]

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, vast areas were conquered to Germany's east. At first these areas would remain under military occupation by Wehrmacht authorities, but as soon as the military situation allowed it, a more permanent form of administration under German rule for these territories would be instituted.[4]

A Führer Decree of 17 July 1941 provided for this move. It established Reichskommissariats in the east, as administrative units of the Greater German Reich (Großdeutsches Reich). The structure of the Reichskommissariats was defined by the same decree. Each of these territories would be led by a German civil governor known as a Reichskommissar appointed by Hitler and answerable only to him.[5] The official appointed for the Ostland (Der Reichskommissar für das Ostland) was Hinrich Lohse, the Oberpräsident and Gauleiter of Schleswig-Holstein. An instruction for the administrators (the Allgemeine Instruktion für alle Reichskommissare in den besetzten Ostgebieten) of the territories was prepared by Reichsleiter Alfred Rosenberg[citation needed]. Local government in the Reichskommissariat was to be organized under a "National Director" (Reichskomissar) in Estonia, a "General Director" in Latvia and a "General Adviser" in Lithuania.

Rosenberg's ministerial authority was, in practice, severely limited. The first reason was that many of the practicalities were commanded elsewhere: the Wehrmacht and the SS managed the military and security aspects, Fritz Sauckel as Reich Director of Labour had control over manpower and working areas, Hermann Göring and Albert Speer had total management of economic aspects in the territories and the Reich postal service administered the Eastern territories' postal services. These German central government interventions in the affairs of Ostland overriding the appropriate ministries were known as "special administrations" (Sonderverwaltungen). Later, from September 1941, the civil administration that had been decreed in the previous July was actually set up. Lohse and Koch objected to these breaches of their supposed responsibilities, seeking to administer their territories with the independence and authority of Gauleiters. on 1 April 1942 an arbeitsbereich (lit. "working sphere", a name for the party cadre organisation outside the Reich proper) was established in the civilian-administered parts of the occupied Soviet territories, whereupon Koch and Lohse gradually ceased communication with Rosenberg, preferring to deal directly with Hitler through Martin Bormann and the Party Chancellery. In the process they also displaced all other actors including notably the SS, except in central Belarus where HSSPF Erich von dem Bach-Zelewsky had a special command encompassing both military and civil administration territories and engaged in anti-partisan warfare.

In July 1941, the civil administration was declared in much of the occupied Soviet territories before one had materialised in the field. A power vacuum emerged which the SS filled with its SS and Police Leadership Structure, exercising unlimited power over security and policing which it gave up only grudgingly in the autumn when civil administration came into being; indeed Himmler would use various tactics until as late as 1943 in unsuccessful efforts to regain this power. This partly explains the strained relations between the SS and the civil administration. In the Ostland, matters were further complicated by the personality of the local superior SS officer Friedrich Jeckeln, attacked by the SS's opponents for his alleged corruption, brutality and mindless foolhardiness.

German plans[edit | edit source]

The short-term political objectives for Ostland differed from those for the Ukraine, the Caucasus or the Moscow regions. The Baltic lands, which were to be joined together with Belarus (to serve as a spacious hinterland of the coastal areas), would be organised as one Germanized protectorate prior to union with Germany itself in the near future. Rosenberg said that these lands had a fundamentally "European" character, resulting from 700 years of history under Swedish, Danish, and German rule, and should therefore provide Germany with "Lebensraum", an opinion shared by Hitler and other leading Nazis. The Belorussians, however, were considered by the scholars of the RMfdbO as "little and weak peasant people" dwelling in "folkish indifference", but also "the most harmless and because of this the least dangerous for us of all the peoples in the Eastern Space" and an ideal object of exploitation.[6] Rosenberg suggested that Belarus will be in the future an appropriate reception area of various undesirable population elements from the Baltic part of Ostland and German-occupied Poland.[7] He also toyed with the idea of turning the country into a huge nature reserve.[7] The regime planned to encourage the post-war settlement of Germans to the region, seeing it as a region traditionally inhabited by Germans (see the Teutonic Order and the Northern Crusades) that had been overrun by Slavs. During the war itself in Pskov province ethnic Germans were resettled from Romania with some Dutch. The settlement of Dutch settlers was encouraged by the Nederlandsche Oost-Compagnie, a Dutch-German organisation.[8]

Historical German and Germanic-sounding placenames were also retained (or introduced) for many Baltic cities, such as Reval (Tallinn), Kauen (Kaunas), and Dünaburg (Daugavpils), among many others. To underscore the region's planned incorporation into Germany some Nazi ideologists further suggested the future use of the names Peipusland for Estonia and Dünaland for Latvia once they had become part of Germany.[9] The ancient Russian city of Novgorod, the easternmost foreign trading post of the Hanseatic League, was to be renamed Holmgard.[10]

During the occupation, the Germans also published a "local" German-language newspaper, the Deutsche Zeitung im Ostland.

Administrative and territorial organization[edit | edit source]

Administrative divisions of Reichskommissariat Ostland.

The Reichskommissariat Ostland was sub-divided into four "General Regions" (Generalbezirke), namely Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and White Ruthenia (Belarus), headed by a Generalkommissar. The three Baltic states were further divided into "Districts" (Kreisgebiete) which were grouped into "Main Districts" (Hauptgebiete), while Belarus was only composed of Districts. Conquered territories further to the east were under military control for the entirety of the war. The intention was to include these territories in the anticipated future extension of Ostland. This would have incorporated Ingria (Ingermannland), as well as the Smolensk, Pskov, and Novgorod areas into the Reichskommissariat. Estonia's new eastern border was planned to be extent to the Leningrad-Novgorod line, with Lake Ilmen and Volkhov River forming the new eastern border of the Baltic country, while Latvia was to reach the Velikiye Luki region.[10][11] Belarus was to extend east to include the Smolensk region.[12] The local administration of the Reichskommissariat Ostland was headed by Reichskommissar Hinrich Lohse. Below him there was an administrative hierarchy: a Generalkomissar led each Generalbezirk, while Hauptkommissars and Gebietskommissars administered Hauptgebieten and Kreisgebieten, respectively.

The administrative center for the entire region, as well as the seat of the Reichskommissar, was in Riga, Latvia.

Generalbezirk Estland (Estonia)[edit | edit source]

District seat: Reval (Tallinn)

Ruled by Generalkommissar Karl-Siegmund Litzmann.

Subdivided into five Gebietskommissariate:

  • Gebietskommissariat Arensburg (Kuressaare)
  • Gebietskommissariat Dorpat (Tartu)
  • Gebietskommissariat Pernau (Pärnu)
  • Gebietskommissariat Petschur (Pechory)
  • Gebietskommissariat Wesenberg (Rakvere)

Generalbezirk Lettland (Latvia)[edit | edit source]

District seat: Riga

Ruled by Generalkommissar Otto-Heinrich Drechsler.

Subdivided into five Gebietskommissariate:

  • Gebietskommissariat Dünaburg (Daugavpils)
  • Gebietskommissariat Libau (Liepāja)
  • Gebietskommissariat Mitau (Jelgava)
  • Gebietskommissariat Riga
  • Gebietskommissariat Wolmar (Valmiera)

Generalbezirk Litauen (Lithuania)[edit | edit source]

District seat: Kauen (Kaunas)

Ruled by Generalkommissar Theodor Adrian von Renteln.

Subdivided into four Gebietskommissariate:

  • Gebietskommissariat Kauen (Kaunas)
  • Gebietskommissariat Ponewesch (Panevėžys)
  • Gebietskommissariat Schaulen (Šiauliai)
  • Gebietskommissariat Wilna (Vilnius)

Generalbezirk Weißruthenien (Belarus)[edit | edit source]

District seat: Minsk

Ruled by Generalkommissar Wilhelm Kube (1941-1943) and Curt von Gottberg (1943-1944).

In March 1943, Wilhelm Kube succeeded in installing the Belarusian Central Rada (a collaborationist puppet regime), which existed concurrently with the German civil administration.[10] On 1 April 1944 Generalbezirk Weißruthenien was detached from Reichskommissariat Ostland and was placed directly under the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories.[10][13]

Government figures[edit | edit source]

German political leaders[edit | edit source]

Baltic political leaders[edit | edit source]

Estonian political leaders[edit | edit source]

Latvian political leaders[edit | edit source]

Lithuanian political leaders[edit | edit source]

Belarusian nationalist and political leaders[edit | edit source]

Policies[edit | edit source]

State property[edit | edit source]

Upon taking control, Hinrich Lohse proclaimed the official decree "Verkündungsblatt für das Ostland" on November 15, 1941, whereby all Soviet State and Party properties in the Baltic area and Belarus were confiscated and transferred to the German administration.

In Ostland, the administration returned lands confiscated by the Soviets to the former peasant owners. In towns and cities, small workshops, industries and businesses were returned to their former owners, subject to promises to pay taxes and quotas to the authorities. Jewish properties were confiscated. In Belarus, a state enterprise was established to manage all former Soviet government properties. One of the German administrators was General commissar Wilhelm Kube.

Ostgesellschaften (state monopolies) and so-called Patenfirmen, private industrial companies linked to the German government, were quickly appointed to manage confiscated enterprises. The Hermann Göring Workshops, Mannesmann, IG Farben and Siemens assumed control of all former Soviet state enterprises in Ostland and Ukraine. An example of this was the takeover, by Daimler-Benz and Vomag, of heavy repair workshops, in Riga and Kiev, for the maintenance of all captured Russian T-34 and KV-1 tanks, linked with their repair workshops in Germany.

In Belarus, the German authorities lamented the "Jewish-Bolshevik" extremist policies that had denied the people knowledge of the basic concepts of private property, ownership, or personal initiative. Unlike the Baltic area, where the authorities saw that "during the war and the occupation's first stages, the population gave examples of sincere collaboration, a way for possibly giving some liberty to autonomous administration".

Economic exploitation[edit | edit source]

According to Schwerin von Krosigk, the Reich Minister of Finances[citation needed], until February 1944, Reich Government receiving in concept of occupation costs and taxes (in million of RM) 753,6 RM. The German Ministry of East Affairs required Lohse and the Reichskommissar in Ukraine to deliver immediately slave labour from the occupied territories to Germany: 380,000 farm workers and 247,000 industrial workers.[citation needed]

The Germans viewed the Slavs as a pool of slave work labour for use by the German Reich; if necessary they could be worked to death.

Extermination of the Jews in Ostland[edit | edit source]

Map titled "Jewish Executions Carried Out by Einsatzgruppe A" from the Stahlecker report. Marked "Secret Reich Matter", the map shows the number of Jews shot in Ostland. The line of text toward the bottom reads: "The estimated number of Jews still on hand is 128,000". Estonia is marked as judenfrei ("Jew-free").

At the time of the German invasion in June 1941 there were significant Jewish minorities in Ostland — nearly 480,000 people. To these were added deportees from Austria, Germany, and elsewhere.

Jews were confined to ghettos in Riga and Kauen, which rapidly became overcrowded and squalid. From these they were taken to execution sites.

The Soviet Red Army reported the discovery of Vilna and Kauen extermination centres as apparently part of the Nazi Final Solution. The extermination of the resident Jews began almost immediately after the invasion and was later extended to the deportees.

In autumn 1943 the ghettos were "liquidated", and the remaining occupants were moved to camps at Kaiserwald and Stutthof near Danzig or, if not capable of work, killed.

Partisan movement[edit | edit source]

German and local security authorities were kept busy by Soviet partisan activities in Belarus. They noted that "infected zones" of partisan action included an area of 500 or 600 km², around Minsk, Pinsk, Gomel, Briansk, Smolensk and Vitebsk, including the principal roads and railways in these areas.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Alex J. Kay (2006). "Guidelines for Special Fields (13 March 1941)". Exploitation, Resettlement, Mass Murder: Political And Economic Planning for German Occupation Policy in the Soviet Union, 1940-1941. Berghahn Books. pp. 70–71. ISBN 1845451864. http://books.google.ca/books?id=l20PlJtfk0IC&pg=PA70&dq=%22Guidelines+for+Special+Fields%22+%2213+March+1941%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=UavJUc6rOMbliwK33oHABA&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22Guidelines%20for%20Special%20Fields%22%20%2213%20March%201941%22&f=false. Retrieved 2013-06-25. 
  2. Pohl, Reinhard. Reichskommissariat Ostland: Schleswig-Holsteins Kolonie
  3. Czeslaw Madajczyk (Hrsg.): Vom Generalplan Ost zum Generalsiedlungsplan. Saur, München 1994, S. XI.
  4. Rich, Norman. (1973). Hitler's War Aims: the Nazi State and the Course of Expansion, page 217. W. W. Norton & Company Inc., New York.
  5. http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/document/nca_vol4/1997-ps.htm
  6. Rein, L. (2010), The Kings and the Pawns: Collaboration in Byelorussia During World War II, p. 89, ISBN 1-84545-776-5
  7. 7.0 7.1 Rein 2010, p. 90-91
  8. (Dutch) Werkman, Evert; De Keizer, Madelon; Van Setten, Gert Jan (1980). Dat kan ons niet gebeuren...: het dagelijkse leven in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, p. 146. De Bezige Bij.
  9. Lumans, Valdus O. (2006). Latvia in World War II, p. 149. Fordham University Press.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Dallin, Alexander (1981). German rule in Russia, 1941-1945: a study of occupation policies. Westview. p. 185.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "dallin" defined multiple times with different content
  11. Raun, Toivo U. (2001). Estonia and the Estonians. Hoover Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-8179-2852-0. 
  12. (German) Dallin, Alexander (1958). Deutsche Herrschaft in Russland, 1941-1945: Eine Studie über Besatzungspolitik, p. 67. Droste Verlag GmbH, Düsseldorf.
  13. Jehke, Rolf. Territoriale Veränderungen in Deutschland und deutsch verwalteten Gebieten 1874 – 1945: Generalbezirk Weißruthenien. Herdecke. Last changed on 15 February 2010. Retrieved 13 June 2011.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Arnold Toynbee, Veronica Toynbee, et al., Hitler's Europe (Spanish: La Europa de Hitler, Ed Vergara, Barcelona, 1958), Section VI: "Occupied lands and Satellite Countries in East Europe", Chapter II: "Ostland", p. 253-259 and footnotes.
  • (German) Ostland - Verwaltungskarte. Herg. vom Reichskommissar f. d. Ostland, Abt. II Raum. Stand der Grenzen vom 1. Nov. 1942 (map)

External links[edit | edit source]

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