A multi award-winning British documentary journalist will launch a remarkable book about the carnage of the Second World War in Latvia at the Occupation Museum in Riga on Monday June 19 at 1600.
Former BBC documentary journalist turned university lecturer Vincent Hunt crossed Kurzeme several times gathering stories from veterans, survivors and experts for his new book Blood in the Forest. The End of the Second World War in the Courland Pocket – published by Helion & Company.
The book tells in vivid detail what the six battles between October 1944 and May 1945 in Western Latvia were actually like, as the battle between Fascism and Communism reached its bloody endgame.
“The fighting in the Kurzemes katls was relentless and brutal, on an unimaginable scale,” says Hunt – a former BBC World Service producer who lives in Manchester, UK, with his Latvian wife, Daiga. “It was a turning point for the Latvian nation, with Latvians fighting on both sides – often press-ganged into both armies. Sometimes brothers faced each other across the battlefield.
‘With the help of historians and military enthusiasts, I crossed western Latvia, finding people who had been there and listened to their accounts of what happened not only then, but also afterwards.”
Hunt’s book begins in Riga and crosses the battlefields west to Liepaja via Pilsblidene, Dzukste, the cemetery of national remembrance at Lestene and the remarkable Courland Pocket museum in Zante, returning via Jurkalne, Ventspils, Kuldiga and Tukums – charting the resistance of the Rubenis battalion, the massacre at Zlekas and the exodus to Gotland. He also visits the Soviet war cemeteries in Priekule and Dobele and the German cemetery at Saldus and explores the difficulty Latvia has had honouring its own war dead.
Among his interviewees are the former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga whose family fled as refugees, eminent Holocaust historian Margers Vestermanis, who escaped into the forests from a concentration camp death march and became a partisan, Lestene bralu kapi commemorative statue sculptor Arta Dumpe, who was rescued from the front line by Legionnaires, and several veterans who won Iron Crosses in the fighting.
“Every Latvian family has its war stories, but one of those who escaped was Arvīds Blūmentāls – the real-life Crocodile Dundee,” adds Hunt. “His fate symbolises a generation of Latvians cast to the winds by the war. Vast numbers were killed and the choices for survivors were stark: many fled to the West to avoid Soviet captivity, which meant years in Siberian labour camps. Those who stayed accepted life under the new regime.”
Duncan Rogers, Publisher at Helion & Company said: “What happened in the Kurzemes katls – known in the West as the Courland Pocket – was on the same level and at the same intensity as on the Western Front. The military onslaught and scale of force used is mind-blowing, with breathtaking casualty figures, yet Vince is one of only a handful of authors to have taken on the monumental task of researching this period.
‘Blood in the Forest is also a fantastic travelogue through a country readers may never have thought of visiting, uncovering the 70-year-old hidden secrets behind the beautiful countryside and charming villages.”
Blood in the Forest is Hunt’s second historical travelogue. His first, Fire and Ice (History Press, 2014) is a journey across Arctic Norway gathering accounts of the Nazi’s scorched earth destruction and forced evacuation of the north of the country in 1944.
Blood in the Forest. The End of the Second World War in the Courland Pocket is available for purchase from www.helion.co.uk