Georg Von Rauch
and Company, London
38 King Street, London, WC2E 8JT
Hurst is to be congratulated for publishing an English translation from the German of a work whose importance has grown with the passing of time. George Von Rauch was spectacularly wrong in his conclusion that compared with the Yugoslavs and the Finns, the Balts had nothing to look forward to where freedom was concerned, observing 'The Baltic States have acquired no freedom whatsoever, and it would be foolish to suppose that this situation is likely to change in the immediate future.' But von Rauch was 100 per cent accurate in the rest of his comprehensive and detailed analysis of the historical background, the early independence period, and the international status of the Baltic States 1917-1940.
When they first emerged as independent republic in the 1920s the Baltic States had several common features. All owed their independence to the collapse of the tsarist regime, all were multi-racial populations, and all had agrarian-based economies. And after their experience at the hands of the Bolsheviks, the people of the Baltic States were unanimous in their opposition to the Soviet Union, and unequivocal in their embrace of the cultural tradition of the west.
What went wrong in the interwar years? The complex answer to this simple question is to be found in 241 pages of text, 75 of them on the pre-independence period. Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania had different histories, different political structures, different views, different ethnic make ups, different linguistic backgrounds. Although on the Baltic coast, their preoccupations depended on the whims and values of their great and powerful neighbours. In 1917 German troops appeared in the role of crusaders who had come to liberate the Baltic peoples from their yoke, noted von Rauch, and pro-German bias was reinforced by the long and positive presence of the Baltic German émigrés, who had lived on the Baltic for 700 years before the third reich, leading to the situation, as Von Rauch expresses it, whereby
Von Rauch described with detachment the Kaleidoscope of changes that followed the Soviet Union's takeover of the Baltic States under which the Soviet Union regained the Baltic provinces lost by Russia during the first world war, gained access to the Baltic on a broad front, and increased its population by six million. During the first nine months of Soviet rule, Von Rauch recounted, from August 1940 to June 1941, it must have seemed to the Baltic people that their fate was sealed. But with Hitler's surprise attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, they could hope for the future.
When the German troops marched into the farms and villages of the Baltic republics they were greeted as liberators by the vast majority of the indigenous population, and in all three territories there were spontaneous popular risings against the Soviet army of occupation. Blissfully ignorant of Hitler's imperialist ambitious Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian politicians were convinced that Baltic sovereignty would soon be restored. The most tragic outcome was for the Jews: of the 250,000 Jews living in the Baltic area, when it was overrun by the German army, recorded Von Rauch, probably not more than 50,000 survived the war.
The situation was complicated by the lack of disinterested policy by the western powers. Although Churchill said that to surrender to Baltic people up to the Soviet Union against their will was to contravene every principle for which allies were fighting. The Anglo-Soviet Alliance on 2 May 1942 and its aftermath assured quiescence when the Red Army occupied the Baltic States in 1944.
This is an important book which deserves a wide audience, and a fitting basis for a new generation of scholars working in Estonia, Romuald Misiunas, Rein Taagepera and Suzanne Champonnois.