Accepted Paper:

With few changes on the Eastern front: Latvian soldiers and their correspondence during World War II  


Valdis Kuzmins (Latvian War Museum)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the letter writing practices of Latvian soldiers fighting on both sides during World War II, focusing primarily on the epistolary dialogues and codes (both written and unwritten) to which such correspondence was subject to. What was the purpose of correspondence in the soldiers’ everyday life?

Paper long abstract:

During World War II, 120 000 Latvian citizens joined the German army, most of them conscripted against their will. On the other side at least 80 000 were mobilised to the Red Army. In the context of contemporary scholarly arguments in Latvia over the motivation soldiers might have had for fighting while exposed to the everyday dangers of brutal warfare, letters provide a valuable source for understanding why soldiers fought - or failed to fight.

The rather extensive series of letters written by Latvian soldiers and their addressees back at home allow us to observe some general trends in letter-writing, among these the surprising, almost ritual repetition of style and content throughout long correspondences. While censorship rules and their application differed even among individual units, it appears that only a small number of letters were censored. Still, the content of the letters varied minimally even if the authors were sure that the letters would not get censored, indicating that the exchange of news/information was by no means central for this circulation of contact.

In order to better understand the nature and genesis of Latvian letter-writing practices during World War II, the letters from both sides of the front will be compared with letters written during World War I, exploring letter-series from soldiers with different social backgrounds, age, gender and marital status. The paper will also consider the possible impact of the traditional “war” or “blood” incantations (widely used among soldiers) on wartime letter writing practises.

Panel P02
Love exchange and sentimental circulations: rethinking romantic love (EN-FR)