The Reichskommissariat Ostland (RKO) was established by Nazi Germany in 1941 during World War II. It became the civilian occupation regime in the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and the western part of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. German planning documents initially referred to an equivalent Reichskommissariat Baltenland ("Baltic Land"). The political organization for this territory – after an initial period of military administration before its establishment – involved a German civilian administration, nominally under the authority of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories led by Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, but actually controlled by the Nazi official Hinrich Lohse, its appointed Reichskommissar.
Reichskommissariat Ostland in 1942
|Status||Reichskommissariat of Germany|
|Common languages||German (official)|
Russian · Belarusian · Estonian
Latvian · Lithuanian · Polish
|Government||Colony of Nazi Germany|
|Historical era||World War II|
|22 June 1941|
|25 July 1941|
|1 September 1941|
|5 December 1941|
|1 April 1944|
• Soviet liberation
• Formally dissolved
|21 January 1945|
• Surrender of Courland Pocket
|10 May 1945|
|Today part of|| Estonia|
Germany's main political objectives for the Reichskommissariat, as laid out by the Ministry within the framework of National Socialist policies for the east established by Adolf Hitler, included the genocide of the Jewish population, as well as the Lebensraum settlement of ethnic Germans along with the expulsion of some of the native population and the Germanization of the rest of the populace. These policies applied not only to the Reichskommissariat Ostland but also to other German-occupied Soviet territories. Through the use of the Order Police battalions and Einsatzgruppen A and B, with active participation of local auxiliary forces, over a million Jews were killed in the Reichskommissariat Ostland. The Germanization policies, built on the foundations of the Generalplan Ost, would later be carried through by a series of special edicts and guiding principles for the general settlement plans for Ostland.
In the course of 1943 and 1944, the Soviet Red Army gradually recaptured most of the Ostland territory in their advance westwards, but Wehrmacht forces held out in the Courland Pocket until May 1945. With the end of World War II in Europe and the defeat of Germany in 1945, the Reichskommissariat ceased to exist.
Planning before the attack on the Soviet UnionEdit
Originally the Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories (German: 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. 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 BarbarossaEdit
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 (Army Group Rear Areas), but as soon as the military situation allowed it, a more permanent form of administration under German rule for these territories would be instituted.
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. 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. The official appointed for Ostland was Hinrich Lohse, the Oberpräsident and Gauleiter of Schleswig-Holstein. 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 determined 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 Erich 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 Adolf 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-Zelewski had a special command encompassing both military and civil administration territories and engaged in Nazi security 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 Heinrich 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 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.
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 Belarusians, however, were considered by the scholars of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories 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. 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. He also toyed with the idea of turning the country into a huge nature reserve.
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.
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. The ancient Russian city of Novgorod, the easternmost foreign trading post of the Hanseatic League, was to be renamed Holmgard. During the occupation, the Germans also published a "local" German-language newspaper, the Deutsche Zeitung im Ostland.
Administrative and territorial organizationEdit
The Reichskommissariat Ostland was sub-divided into four "General Regions" (Generalbezirke), namely Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and White Ruthenia (Belarus), headed by a Generalkommissar. The regions were further divided into "Districts" (Kreisgebiete). In the three Baltic states their previous counties (Es:Maakonad, Lv:Aprinka, Lt:Apskritys) were also retained as a further sub-division (Kreise). The 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. Belarus was to extend east to include the Smolensk region. 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 Gebietskommissars administered Kreisgebieten, respectively. The German administrative center for the entire region, as well as the seat of the Reichskommissar, was in Riga, Latvia.
Generalbezirk Estland (Estonia)Edit
District seat: Reval (Tallinn)
Ruled by Generalkommissar Karl-Siegmund Litzmann.
Subdivided into seven Kreisgebiete:
- Arensburg (Kuressaare)
- Narwa (Narva)
- Dorpat (Tartu)
- Pernau (Pärnu)
- Petschur (Petseri)
- Reval-Land (Tallinn-Rural)
- Reval-Stadt (Tallinn-Urban)
Generalbezirk Lettland (Latvia)Edit
District seat: Riga
Ruled by Generalkommissar Otto-Heinrich Drechsler.
Subdivided into six Kreisgebiete:
- Dünaburg (Daugavpils)
- Libau (Liepāja)
- Mitau (Jelgava)
- Riga-Land (Riga-Rural)
- Riga-Stadt (Riga-Urban)
- Wolmar (Valmiera)
Generalbezirk Litauen (Lithuania)Edit
District seat: Kauen (Kaunas).
Ruled by Generalkommissar Theodor Adrian von Renteln.
Subdivided into six Kreisgebiete:
- Kauen-Land (Kaunas-Rural).
- Kauen-Stadt (Kaunas-Urban).
- Ponewesch (Panevėžys).
- Schaulen (Šiauliai).
- Wilna-Land (Vilnius-Rural).
- Wilna-Stadt (Vilnius-Urban).
Generalbezirk Weißruthenien (Belarus)Edit
Set up across the territory of the Belarusian SSR (including West Belarus, previously Wilno and Nowogródek regions of the eastern territories of Poland annexed by the Soviet Union). District seat: Minsk. Ruled by Generalkommissar Wilhelm Kube (1941-1943) and Curt von Gottberg (1943-1944).
- Baranowitsche (Baranovichi)
- Barisau (Barysau)
- Hanzewitschy (Hantsavichy)
- Glubokoye (Hlybokaye)
- Minsk-Land (Minsk-Rural)
- Minsk-Stadt (Minsk-Urban)
- Nowogródek (Navahrudak)
- Sluzk (Sluck)
- Wilejka (Vileyka)
On 1 April 1944, Generalbezirk Weißruthenien was detached from Reichskommissariat Ostland and was placed directly under the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories.
The military command was controlled by the Wehrmachtbefehlshaber Ostland ("Military Commander Ostland"). He was responsible for security within the occupied territories, to protect traffic connections and to record the harvest. These commanders were :
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 nationalised 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" policies that had allegedly 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".
According to Schwerin von Krosigk, the Reich Minister of Finances, 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 labor from the occupied territories to Germany: 380,000 farm workers and 247,000 industrial workers.
The Germans viewed the Slavs as a pool of slave work labor for use by the German Reich; if necessary they could be worked to death.
Extermination of the Jews in OstlandEdit
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.
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.
Aside from the German political leaders mentioned above, including Reich Minister Alfred Rosenberg, General Commissar Karl-Siegmund Litzmann and General Commissar Wilhelm Kube, the regional collaborationist structures across Reichskommissariat Ostland included Estonian political leaders such as Hjalmar Mäe, Oskar Angelus, Alfred Wendt (or Vendt), Otto Leesment, Hans Saar, Oskar Öpik, Arnold Radik, Johannes Soodla; Latvian political leaders with Oskars Dankers, and Rūdolfs Bangerskis; Lithuanian political leaders: Juozas Ambrazevičius, and Petras Kubiliūnas; as well as the Belarusian nationalist leaders from the Belarusian Central Council.
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.
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. p. 129. ISBN 1845451864. Retrieved 2013-06-25.
In the week following [...] 2 May , Alfred Rosenberg produced three papers relating to his preparations for the future administration in the occupied East. The first, dated 7 May, was entitled 'Instruction for a Reich Commissar in the Ukraine'. [...] The second, produced a day later, was its equivalent for the area of 'Baltenland', as the Baltic States and Belarus were at this stage being collectively referred to. In his drafting of the paper, Rosenberg crossed through 'Balten' and replaced it with 'Ost'. [...] The designation 'Ostland' would stick.
- Pohl, Reinhard (November 1998). "Reichskommissariat Ostland: Schleswig-Holsteins Kolonie" [Reichskommissariat Ostland: Schleswig-Holstein's Colony] (PDF). Gegenwind. Gegenwind-Sonderheft: Schleswig-Holstein und die Verbrechen der Wehrmacht (in German). Gegenwind, Enough is Enough, and anderes lernen/Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Schleswig-Holstein. pp. 10–12. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
Vom Einmarsch im Juni 1941 bis Ende Januar 1942, der Niederlage vor Moskau, töteten die deutschen Truppen im 'Ostland' etwa 330.000 Juden, 8359 "Kommunisten", 1044 "Partisanen" und 1644 "Geisteskranke". [...] Die erste Tötungswelle hatten ungefähr 670.000 Juden überlebt, dazu kamen im Winter 1941/42 noch 50.000 deportierte Juden aus dem Reichsgebiet, die in die Ghettos von Minsk und Riga kamen. [...] Anfang 1943 begann die zweite große Tötungswelle, der mindestens 570.000 Jüdinnen und Juden zum Opfer fielen. [...] Die letzten 100.000 Juden kamen in Konzentrationslager in Kauen, Riga-Kaiserwald, Klooga und Vaivara, sie wurden 1944 beim Heranrücken der Roten Armee liquidiert. [Translation: From the invasion in June 1941 until the end of January 1942 (the defeat at Moscow) German troops in 'Ostland' killed approximately 330,000 Jews, 8359 'Communists', 1044 'partisans' and 1644 'mentally ill' people. [...] About 670,000 Jews survived the first wave of killings, in the winter of 1941/1942 another 50,000 Jews deported from the Reich area joined these and ended up in the ghettos of Minsk and Riga. [...] At the beginning of 1943 the second great wave of killings began, in which at least 570,000 female and male Jews became victims. [...] The final 100,000 Jews entered the concentration camps in Kauen, Riga-Kaiserwald, Klooga and Vaivara; they were liquidated in 1944 with the advance of the Red Army.]
- Czesław Madajczyk (Hrsg.): Vom Generalplan Ost zum Generalsiedlungsplan. Saur, München 1994, S. XI.
- 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. Retrieved 2013-06-25.
- Rich, Norman. (1973). Hitler's War Aims: the Nazi State and the Course of Expansion, page 217. W. W. Norton & Company Inc., New York.
- Nazi Conspriracy and Aggression Volume 4. The Avalon Project. Decree of 17 July 1941.
- Rein, L. (2010), The Kings and the Pawns: Collaboration in Byelorussia During World War II, p. 89, ISBN 1-84545-776-5
- Rein 2010, p. 90-91
- (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.
- Lumans, Valdus O. (2006). Latvia in World War II, p. 149. Fordham University Press.
- Dallin, Alexander (1981). German rule in Russia, 1941-1945: a study of occupation policies. Westview. p. 185.
- Raun, Toivo U. (2001). Estonia and the Estonians. Hoover Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-8179-2852-0.
- (German) Dallin, Alexander (1958). Deutsche Herrschaft in Russland, 1941-1945: Eine Studie über Besatzungspolitik, p. 67. Droste Verlag GmbH, Düsseldorf.
- Dallin (1958), pp. 234-236.
- 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.
- Hilberg, Raul (2003). The Destruction of the European Jews. Yale University Press. pp. 1313–1316. ISBN 0300095929.
- 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.
- Ostland - Verwaltungskarte. Herg. vom Reichskommissar f. d. Ostland, Abt. II Raum. Stand der Grenzen vom 1. Nov. 1942 (map, in German)