ADSS 3.2.448 Archbishop Springovics of Riga to Pius XII

ADSS 3.2.448 Antonijs Springovics (Riga) to Pius XII (1)

Reference: AES 444/43

Location and date: Riga, Latvia, 12.12.1942

Summary statement: Religious situation in Latvia, especially in Riga.  Reference to the ghetto in Riga: The atrocious doctrine of National Socialism appeared in Latvia in all its harshness and abomination:  all the Jews – several thousands – are isolated in Riga [ghetto] and sent for work in other regions.  There is terrible cruelty it is against all laws of human society.

Language: Latin


I received with great joy the letter of the Eminent Cardinal Secretary of State of 30.11.1941, (reference 9038/41) (2) for in that letter we have seen the paternal heart of Your Holiness, which is truly a father’s love for his children, scattered in the lands of the north.  From the bottom of my heart I thank you for your paternal care through the Apostolic Blessing for me, the bishops, clergy and all the faithful gathered together, and I express to you our tender love and filial loyalty to you, the Pope, the vicar of Christ.  This is an inseparable bond between us and will remain forever.

Now, allow me to present some information about the state of the church in Latvia in this last year [1941-1942].  Church life in the province of Riga since the liberation from the Bolshevik yoke has not changed greatly, only personal life is supposedly more secure.  Almost all the laws enacted by the Bolsheviks are still considered to be in force.

Church property and income from parish buildings has not been restored for us to live in, and there has even been price increases on the leases, which we are expected to pay. Parish priests of smaller rural parishes have been restored, but without the use of church property.  Both clergy and faithful are subject to numerous taxes.  Church bells have been seized by the military by government order.

Daily life become more miserable day by day; initially last year, after the liberation from the Bolsheviks, the people showed great joy and sings of gratitude to the liberators, especially offering food and gifts to the soldiers despite the shortage of goods.

But now the full weight of misery in daily life is felt, especially in the cities, with an insufficient system of food rationing and a famine expected.  Throughout the winter various common illnesses increased and in Latgalia (3) where there is a significant Catholic population, a typhoid epidemic raged and schools and churches were closed for three months.  Where priests did attempt to celebrate Sundays or Holy Days there were subjected to imprisonment or heavy fines. 

Nationalist government officials look upon the Catholic clergy with hostility.  For example: the most illustrious prelate, Stanislaw Vaikulis (1887-1961), was incarcerated for the whole month of February and endured various privations.  The director of the school in Aglona, Fr Dr Aloysius Broks, a chamberlain of Your Holiness, was imprisoned without cause for three months in Riga, from 02.12.1941 until 26.03.1942.  On 28.05.1942 on order of the Sicherheitspolizei he was detained and deported to Germany and we have no news of his fate. (4)

On 19.06.1942 a law was proclaimed which promised freedom of confessional associations, but rather prepares the way for persecution of the Church, because it does not recognise the Catholic Church (or the Protestants either), but requires ta new registration of existing sects.  The civil government (as news indicates) intends to destroy our ecclesiastical province of Riga and add all Latvian Catholics to a German diocese.

The civil authorities also appear to be ready to interfere with the religious instruction of the young.

The seminary in Riga is occupied by the civil government and is not yet restored to the Church, requests for this from the Archdiocesan curia have been rejected.  The seminary in Algona has 28 students, most of whom are studying theology.

The Catholic theology faculty in the University of Riga is not active, although professors receive a stipend of about 300 Latvian roubles a month.

The General Commissar for Latvia (5) proposed in writing on 03.10.1942 that the Catholic theological faculty of the University of Riga be abolished, and if necessary create another institute for the clergy.  The final decision on the fate of the Catholic faculty already seems to have been made.

The horror of nationalist doctrine has appeared in Latvia in all its harshness and disgust, nearly all the Jews have already been killed, there remain only a few thousand in Riga (ghetto) and the majority of these have been brought from foreign countries. (6)

The mentally ill, the incuarable and those not useful to human society were all murdered in a most cruel manner.  The same also applied to the nomadic Bohemians (Zigeuner), many of whom went to a violent death (7).

Several thousand, (about 40) Latvians of military age have volunteered to wage war against Bolshevik Russia in a variety of ways and with cruel arguments.  In the same way many young Latvians, of both sexes, (between 16 to 40 years) have been sent to Germany against their will for work (8).  By so doing the German officials (Sicherheitspolizei)(9) has made many enemies here and numerous adversaries of the German people.

There is no pastoral care for the religious life of the soldiers, volunteers or civil servants and when we have proposed this care there has been silence.  Therefore soldiers and workers dispersed across the whole of Latvia are deprived of every pastoral care.  The material misery of hunger is aggravated by the misery of the spiritual life.

In these difficult circumstances caused by the storms of war, we are grateful for the providential care of Your Holiness who through the Nuncio in Berlin has sent us olive oil for the Holy Oils, two casks of liturgical wine and RM 14,838 which will be used to rebuild burnt churches and care for orphans whose parents were killed or deported to Russia by the Bolsheviks.

Thus the continual paternal solicitude of Your Holiness stirs us with gratitude towards the Holy See, it increases strength lifts the mind and impels the heart to be more zealous for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.

And so, when the life of the Church in the province of Riga in its difficulty, prostrates itself at the feet of Your Holiness and with a sense of profound gratitude, ask for the protection of the apostolic blessing for me, the bishops of Latvia, the clergy and faithful.

(1) Antonijs [Anthony] Springovics (1876-1958) was the first native-born Latvian archbishop of Riga from 1923-1958.  During the Soviet occupation of Latvia between 16.06.1940 – 01-10.07.1941 a fierce persecution of the Catholic Church commenced that ended temporarily with the German invasion in July 1941.  The Red Army returned to Latvia in August 1944 and Soviet rule was imposed until Latvia declared its independence from the USSR in 1991.  It is estimated that 30% (180,000) of the total Latvian population died under both Soviet and German occupation. ( Accessed 20.04.2013

(2) ADSS 3.1.331

(3) Latgalia was the most eastern province of Latvia on the border with the USSR.  It was the site of Latvia’s most significant Marian shrine.

(4) Aloizs Broks (1898-1943/44), parish priest of Algona founded the school in 1921. It was closed by the Soviets in 1940. Broks was sent to KZ Stutthof where he died. Accessed 20.04.2013

(5) Otto-Heinrich Drechlser (1895-1945), General Commissioner of Latvia, 1941-1944.  (Latvia formed part of Reichskommissariat Ostland) He was responsible for the creation of the ghetto in Riga and oversaw much of the extermination processes in Latvia.

(6) Riga ghetto was established on 21 July 1941 and liquidated by 2 November 1943.  About 30,000 Latvian Jews and 20,000 Jews from Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria were imprisoned in that time.  About 1,000 survived.
The Jewish population of Latvia in 1935 was 93,479.  An estimated 5,000-6,000 were deported during the first Soviet Occupation and about another 25,000 fled before the Germans arrived.  Of the 60,000 remaining Jews, only 3,500 are believed to have survived the war.

(7) There were about 4,000 Romani in Latvia before the war.  Most of them were sedentary dweller and did not fit the Nazi stereotype.  While accurate numbers will likely never be known, it is estimated that the Germans murdered about half the Romani in Latvia.

(8) Up to 60,000 Latvians may have been deported to Germany for forced labour.

(9) Use of this term is curious.  The Sicherheitsdienst (SiPo) – Security Police – combined the Gestapo, the German secret state police, and the Kripo, the Criminal Police, between 1936 and 1939.  SiPo was absorbed into the RSHA in September 1939.  However, use of the term “SiPo” remained throughout the Nazi era.  The archbishop may have heard the term “SiPo” used.

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