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The Baltic States: Overview
Baltic States: Profiles


Baltic States

The Baltic States, comprising Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, found themselves between a rock and a hard place in WWII. Forming part of the Russian Empire since the 18th Century, each enjoyed a brief period of independence from the end of WWI until the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia ceded them back to Russian control. With the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941, the states were quickly overrun by Nazi forces, and were consolidated with parts of Belarus and Poland into a single administrative unit, the Reichskommissariat Ostland.


As in other parts of Eastern Europe, many people initially viewed the German invasion as a liberation from the cruelty of the Soviet occupation, which had seen the conscription, deportation or execution of over 120,000 citizens from the Baltic States. As Nazi occupation proved even crueller, the population started to turn against them and resistance movements began to take shape, although there was still significant collaboration and SS units were created from local recruits.

The resistance movements were divided into two distinct camps.

The resistance movements were divided into two distinct camps. Pro-Soviet forces received orders and support from Moscow; pro-Independence fighters sought assistance from the Western Allies. 

Soviet partisans were active in parts of the Baltics throughout the war, carrying out ambushes and sabotage, but lacked the support among local populations that was a necessary element of sustained guerrilla warfare. As many as half of the pro-Soviet partisans fighting in the region were soldiers who had been left stranded by the Red Army’s rapid retreat, while others were specially trained soldiers parachuted in to assist with the fight. With that in mind, Soviet partisans in this region can be seen more as an extension of Moscow’s war effort than as a native resistance movement. 

The pro-Independence resistance was hampered by the leadership vacuum created by the Soviet deportations and executions prior to the invasion, which had sought to destroy the entire non-communist leadership of the Baltic States. Many of these groups operated underground newspapers and fashioned themselves as underground governments, but shied away from direct military resistance, in part because they were preparing for a subsequent conflict with the Soviets if and when the German forces were expelled. Their primary aim was to prepare to take power in the event of a German withdrawal, and position themselves as the legitimate government in hopes of recognition from the other Allied nations.