What was the Swedish Extradition of Baltic Soldiers (1945-1946)?

Introduction

The Swedish extradition of Baltic soldiers (Estonian: Balti sõdurite väljaandmine Rootsis) or simply the Extradition of the Balts (Swedish: Baltutlämningen, Latvian: Baltiešu izdošana, Estonian: Baltlaste väljasaatmiseks), is a controversial political event that took place in 1945-1946, when Sweden extradited some 150 Latvian and Estonian Waffen-SS volunteers and conscripts who had been drafted and recruited by Germany to fight against the Soviet Union during World War II.

Background

On 02 June 1945, the Soviet Union demanded that Sweden extradite all Axis soldiers. The government protocol from 15 June was kept secret until it became public on 19 November. It was supported by most of the parliament and the Swedish Communist Party wanted to go further, by extraditing all civilian refugees from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The majority of the Baltic soldiers extradited were Latvians (149 out of 167) who had escaped from the Courland Pocket. When they reached Sweden, those in uniform were detained in detention camps. The extradition to the Soviet Union took place on 25 January 1946 in the port of Trelleborg for transportation on the steamer Beloostrov. On return they were briefly put in a camp in Liepāja and later released. According to one source at least 50 of the Latvians were arrested between 1947 and 1954 and were sentenced, often to 10-15 years in prison.

Sweden also extradited about 3,000 German soldiers, according to laws on prisoners of war. The people from the Baltic states were, however, more controversial since the Soviet authorities viewed them as Soviet citizens (the Soviet Union had occupied the independent Baltic states in 1940) and therefore regarded the people from the Baltic states as traitors, and the internees feared death sentences. Two Latvian officers committed suicide.

Of the prisoners, Lieutenant Colonel Kārlis Gailītis and Captain Ernsts Keselis were sentenced to death but had their sentences changed to 17 years hard labour. Three others of lower rank were sentenced to death and executed in 1946.

Subsequent Events

In 1970, Johan Bergenstråhle made a film, A Baltic Tragedy, about the subject. The film is based on Per Olov Enquist’s Legionärerna: En roman om baltutlämningen (1968) (English title: The Legionnaires: A Documentary Novel) which had won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize and Enquist collaborated on the script.

On 20 June 1994, 40 of the 44 surviving extradited (35 Latvians, 4 Estonians, and 1 Lithuanian) accepted an invitation to visit Sweden. They were received by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. The Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Margaretha af Ugglas said that the Swedish government agreed with the criticism of the decision and regretted the injustice.

A memorial, “stranded refugee ship” (1999-2000) by Christer Bording, has been erected in Trelleborg.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.