Friday, 20 April 2012

Latvia's tragic war 2: The silent scars .. Audrini's secrets revealed

From the sombre killing field of Ancupani, we drove two kilometres down country roads to Audrini. Ahead, on the right, a large statue marked the turn off for the town.

As in Ancupani, there's no public explanation of what happened here, or what this statue marks. Those who want to know have to do some research.

In December 1941, while Germany and the Soviet Union were at war, Soviet partisans hiding in the Latvian village of Audrini, then under German occupation, killed at least two Latvian police officers. As a reprisal for those killings and as a warning to other villages not to harbour Soviet partisans, the Nazis ordered swift and brutal retaliation: All the villagers of Audrini, some 200 to 300 men, women, and children, were arrested and shot, and their village was burned to the ground. 

Boleslavs Maikovskis, a Latvian native, had been installed by the Nazis as chief of a police precinct for the area that included Audrini. Maikovskis ordered his Latvian police officers to assist German soldiers in arresting the villagers and burning their town. It is not clear whether he or his police officers played any role in shooting the villagers.

At the time of the Nazi Germany invasion of the Soviet Union, Maikovskis lived in Rezekne. In July 1941, German forces reached Rezekne and established a local Latvian police unit under the command of the SS. Maikovskis volunteered for and obtained the position of Chief of the Second Police Precinct of the Rezekne District for the Nazi-created police force, a full-time job he held from about July 1941 until 1944.

Maikovskis was responsible for an area that included the village of Audrini, which had an ethnic Russian population of the Orthodox faith believed by the Germans to be inclined toward Communism. In December 1941, altercations occurred between Latvian police and Soviet partisans believed to be harbored in Audrini, and at least two Latvian police officers were killed.

Nazi authorities ordered that action be taken against Audrini, and, on or about December 22, 1941, Maikovskis ordered his Latvian police to join with German soldiers in arresting all of the Audrini villagers, totaling 200-300 men, women, and children; on or about January 2, 1942, pursuant to Maikovskis's orders, his policemen assisted the Germans in burning the village to the ground. 

Maikovskis testified that he had had no choice but to order the mass arrests and burning of the village because the Nazis, through his Latvian superior, had ordered him to do so. Subsequently, in events with which Maikovskis denies involvement, about 30 of the Audrini villagers were publicly shot in the Rezekne market square, and the remaining villagers were transported to the nearby Anchupani Hills where they too were shot.

(from an appeal against deportation to the US Appeal Court, Board of Immigration 1985 by Boleslavs Maikovskis: 

There's a plaque in the town square - in reality, little more than a small car park - which details the bare facts of the Audrini incident, along with a map which shows the road that the villagers would have been marched along to their deaths. As I remember there's also a plaque by the Post Office (now closed) which lists the names of the villagers, but in Russian, and that at least a dozen of the victims, maybe more, had the same family name.

I asked our friend who lived in Audrini nowadays. He said: "Russians".. but not knowing the facts of the massacre, we didn't stop any of the few people around to ask them what it's like living in Audrini today.

It's a strange place: a mixture of ancient wooden houses - probably dating back to 1945 though, no later - with a scattering of three to five storey Russian-built flats. 
It would be inapppropriate to say the town has seen better days, but the recession has forced the closure of the Post Office and the nearest place to get a stamp is all the way into Rezekne. There's not much going on, apart from the odd dog barking.

In one final research sweep for this article, to try to confirm the number of Soviet POWs executed in the Ancupani hills (18,000 according to one contemporary account), I came across this Russian website:

which may hold the secret to all this. It gives perhaps the simplest account of why such a terrible fate befell Audrini.

The village of Audriņi in Eastern Latvia, populated chiefly by Russian Old Believers, was burnt in January 1942 by local collaborators, and 215 of its inhabitants were shot. The reason for this bloody act – one of the women from the village, Anisya Glushneva, had concealed her son, a Red Army soldier, and five of his comrades. When they were discovered by policemen they put up resistance, killing several of them. The chief of the German security police gave the order to ‘wipe the village of Audriņi off the face of the earth’. The Nazi policeman-collaborant Boļeslavs Maikovskis was put in charge of this action. 30 residents of Audriņi were shot on the market square in Rēzekne, the others in the Ančupāni hills. The village of Barsuki in the Lūdza District suffered a similar fate.

So in its simplest terms, a mother's love was the catalyst for Audrini being wiped out.

Reading about Lidice I saw a sentence which said the Nazis chose to boast about Lidice to show the brutality of their reprisals against those who chose to act against them (1,300 deaths for the assassination of the very senior Nazi Heydrich), but - tellingly - other massacres were kept secret. 

Because of the Nazi propaganda, Lidice was picked up immediately by the Allies. The liquidation of Audrini was known locally but doesn't seem to have reached a wider audience. Try googling both.

So why is this? Perhaps amid the horrors of the discovery of the concentration camps, the euphoria of the ending of the war, the division of Europe between Russians and Allies along pre-agreed lines and the probably daily discovery of yet another act of barbarism, the wiping out of 200 men, women and children suspected of harbouring Soviet partisans was a mere drop in the ocean on the atrocity scale.

My Latvian friend's resigned sigh - "but this happened everywhere" - seems to be borne out. But awful as it is, Audrini is nothing compared to the horrors of the Holocaust to be uncovered in Rezekne.

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