BriedisKārlis Lobe, 1963—David Guild, 1993



Latvians targeted, Bolsheviks execute Briedis

In the middle of May a Sister of Mercy informed the commander of the Latvian riflemen in the Kremlin that a rising was expected in Moscow in the next few days, and a pitiless revenge was to be exacted of the Latvian riflemen in particular. She had been told this by a cadet, Ivanov, who had fallen in love with her and who was undergoing treatment in the Pokrovskii Hospital. He was very insistent that this Sister should leave Moscow for the present and thus escape the troubles and dangers. The Sister's name is not mentioned in the Cheka documents, but it is thought that she was a Latvian woman, for why otherwise should Ivanov have begged her to go away and why should she have gone and warned the Latvians?

The Sister's information was given to the Cheka, whereupon they immediately began an investigation of Ivanov. Under interrogation he confessed, naming various officers, among them the chief of the Moscow organisation, Pinka. He provided Pinka's address and the latter was arrested. Pinka, for his part, expressed a readiness to betray the whole organisation if his life was spared; and this promise was given. As the protocol shows, Pinka really did do this mentioning both the details of Savinkov's appearance and dress and the names of his closest collaborators, addresses, passwords and details of about 500 men and many weapons and where a billeting party was driven to from Moscow on 29 May. Of the Latvians Pinka mentioned only Goppers, but at least in the pulished protocol he did not mention Briedis or any other Latvian.

P. Dardzāns tells how in June in Kazan he caught sight of Briedis in the street riding in a cab. Briedis said that he had come to organise a Latvian anti-Bolshevik group. Dardzāns replied that he should not meddle in Russian affairs, for all trust in the Russians had been lost at the front. 'You are right, Dardzāns', Briedis answered, 'but one must fight against scoundrels. Also we Latvians dare not lose heart.' Dardzāns could not find any answer to this, so he too allowed himself to be enrolled in the combat group. Since Briedis had nowhere to stay Dardzans offered to put him up. Soon several 1st regiment officers had gathered and were bedded side by side. After a few days Pinka too turned up with some very strange news. He said 45  that he had been arrested and interrogated by Trotsky himself. Then the Reds had locked him up in some small hut, from which he had escaped by means of the window, without the guards noticing. Immediately he had set off for Kazan as had been previously agreed.

Upon hearing this, one of Dardzāns' friends wasted no time in making off. Dardzāns had known Pinka as a very heroic officer, but he recalled having warned Briedis after this story, and thought that Briedis then made a mistake in returning to Moscow. As we now know, they would have arrested him in Kazan - surely he must have been under observation - and it only depended on the Chekists themselves at what time they would do it.

General Bangerskis also wrote that Briedis' and Goppers' actions in Moscow were foolhardy. When Bangerskis arrived in Moscow, he went to call on General Auzans in the Topographical Office of the Ministry of War. In Auzans' office he also met Goppers and Briedis, and it was there that they agreed to send a group of soldiers to Iaroslav and, indeed, elsewhere. Later in the flat Briedis told him that he was officially on railway duty, but considered himself to be at the same time the head of the intelligence section of the Union for the Defence of Freedom and the Motherland, and was in receipt of funds from Savinkov for his activities. Now that the establishment for the formation of the new Red Army had been announced, the possibility existed for the formation in certain units and staffs of select cadres which could, at the appropriate moments be given tasks to perform. In the first place attention should be paid to Iaroslavl' and the Volga region for the formation of units. At the same time he would do all he could to ensure that the riflemen should be sent across the Urals and should not be enrolled in the Red Army. Mrs Lianozova, Briedis' landlady, also took part in these lively discussions around the coffee table. Taking our leave we were surprised to find the flat doors ajar. Briedis checked the action of the handle but it was perfectly in order. Going down I heard a slight noise below the stairs. I went out of the door and quickly moved away, and then looked again. I was not mistaken for a dark figure immediately slipped out behind me. Fortunately there were passers-by in the street which gave me the opportunity of mingling with the crowd; having made several turns, I got on to a tram; then after a minute, I shifted to another tram and at that time evaded possible followers.'

R. Bauze, one of Latvia's major communists, 'Chief of the Political Section of the Latvian Rewoensovet',[1] wrote: 'The executive committee of the riflemen began a bitter struggle against the nationalist and counterrevolutionary organisations. The Latvian Nationalist (Soldiers') Union was closed down and activists handed over to a revolutionary tribunal for their connections with counter-revolutionary organisations. On the instructions of the Iskolastrel,[2] F. Briedis was arrested and shot.' No mention is made of any trial.

After the suppression of the Left-Social Revolutionary uprising of 6 July in Moscow many arrests were made. Briedis' secret staff had become known to the Bolsheviks. There, on 22 July 1918, he himself was arrested, as were the former adjutant of the 2nd regiment, the very serious and thorough Captain Rubiss, and several other Latvian officers. On the night of 28 August in the Butyrki prison Briedis and Rubiss were shot.

During the approximately five weeks that Briedis spent in captivity many attempts were made to free him: whether by bribing the guards to escape along with Briedis; or by organising an armed patrol which would free him by force as he was being transferred; or by attempting to influence the riflemen; or by making appeals to the Rewoensovet and other bodies, citing Briedis' exceptional military merits and asking for him to be pardoned. All of these proved to be vain. Besides, Erdmanis-Birze, whom the Defence Ministry was holding in custody in the prison in Liepaja, had been released by the Germans after the uprising of 16 April 1918.[3] The Niedra government[4] appointed him commander of the newly formed 2nd brigade and the protocol of the interrogation disappeared together with the Cheka documents which had been taken from him. After the defeat of von der Goltz and Niedra he lived, according to our information, in Paris. It has been written elsewhere that Mrs Lianozova was apparently an accomplice of his. We don't know how true this was or how much she knew about Erdmanis-Birze.

People who were connected with the rescue attempts mainly blame Erdmanis and he blames others. I interrogated Erdmanis but, as has already been said, the protocol disappeared after Erdmanis was set free by the Germans following the 16 April putsch in Liepaja. As far as I can remember, he said (which, of course, does not have any great significance) that it had all been 47  prepared and that he was to receive money in a further instalment but that he hadn't received any. From other sources it is reported that those who promised the money did not pay it at all. The unexpected news of Briedis' shooting came and then he did not need it. So the money remained, as it were, only in the form of promises.

The Provisional National Council's Foreign Department in Petrograd, said J. Seskis, waited impatiently for the telegram concerning the results of the attempts to save him (Briedis). The telegram did not come. At this point I read one day in the Moscow Izvestiia that Briedis had been sentenced to death and the sentence had been carried out. So Briedis had been twice betrayed: first, as an anti-Bolshevik agitator, and second, in that it has been divulged that there had been plans to save him 'by stealing him away'.

In this matter, and also in the collection of the money and in the bribery version, the Cheka was immediately and closely implicated (for example, through Erdmanis, but in Briedis' opinion, still others were involved) but if anyone came upon this he too disappeared into the Cheka. It is very possible that all the suggestions about collecting the money and the 'plans' were inspired by those parties who wanted to skim off the resources of the anti-Bolshevik movement - of which there was not much - and at the same time to justify the speedy shooting of Briedis.

All those plans to use bribery and to free him (of which there are various versions after the model of the detective novel) are more than doubtful. Before which court then were the 'counter-revolutionaries' taken at that time? Also, Briedis would not have been handed over for transportation to a tiny group of riflemen. Besides, if one allows that at that time men could more easily be bought than at others, then the riflemen whom they wished to buy off were not either poor or hungry while in the Bolshevik service.

But that is how it is in the world! Also, one of the principal accessories to Briedis' death, Robert Bauze, perished like many others in the 'purges' of their own kind by the Communists in 1937. Such was their gratitude in this case.

The transformation of war into civil war, amidst countless other sacrifices demanded also, it seemed, the sacrifice of a most brilliant soldier (I do not think that this can be counted an exaggeration) who had come from our people, or indeed from other peoples which are much larger.

To such an extent is the life of the elect usually of short duration: indeed it seems to disappear in a flash.

David Guild's translation ends here. Ours continues.

 48  However it came to pass, the greatest among the ranks of the riflemen, the layer of their first and brightest foundation, who did not believe, that those carrying the Riflemen name, whoever they might be, could shoot him, with perhaps the heaviest of bitterness in his heart ....

He had looked into the eyes of Death herself too often, to have met her as a stranger.


Briedis is resurrected in Virza's "Night Parade":

Across the swamp, which men flee, where rarely the wolf strays,—

This night, a great blizzard swirls, who knows, how long it will last.

And the spirits of the winds and storms whistle, the snow itself wails and wails,

And it swirls in the air and upon the land which fear and slumber have embraced.

And within this caterwauling blizzard, which, it seems, has been roiling since prehistory,

Are heard the breaths of lungs, breathing, and heard the shouts of commands.

Regiment after regiment appears. Are they materializing up from the earth or out of the sky?

The wind wails in their hollow eyes, and the whistling snow falls in.

Where are they heading, in this werewolf night, when all has hid in fear,

These macabre troops with their grenades, machine guns, and flintlocks?

And at their front, upon a horse, can be seen some young colonel,

From his forehead leers the hole, where the wicked shot has struck,

And he summons his adjutant, and whispers in his ear: "Go,

And check if eight regiments are here as ordered."

And the adjutant gallups upon his horse across the field, where the maelstrom rules.

And having returned, announces: "They are here, colonel, and await."

The colonel gestures slowly with his hand, and all then slither forth,

With their grenades, machine guns, flintlocks, they disappear into the snow and storm

They are blown away like snow in the field, nowhere to be seen.

Who could this leader be, who holds a parade in night and blizzard?

Across the swamp, which men flee, where rarely the wolf strays,—

This night, a great blizzard swirls, who know, how long it will last!

That soul-blizzard rises then in to the sky, at Christmas,

And wails and swirls across Latvia and shall wail eternal.


[1]Revvoensovet was the acronym for Revoliutsionnyi voennyi sovet (Military Revolutionary Council).—D.G. (original footnote)
[2]Iskolastrel was the acronym for Ispolnitel'nyi komitet latyshskikh strel'nikov (Executive Committee of the Latvian Riflemen).—D.G. (original footnote)
[3]An account is in Georg von Rauch, The Baltic States: The Years of Independence, 1917-1940, London 1974, pp.60-61: 'The Latvian Government then tried to strengthen its own army by introducing conscription. But von der Goltz objected to this move - which was, of course, designed to reduce the imbalance between the German and Latvian armed strength - whereupon the Latvians appealed to the Western Allies. At this point a detachment of shock attached to the 'Baltische Landeswehr' decided to take matters into their own hands. Led by their youthful commander, Baron Hans von Manteuffel, who acted without von der Goltz's authority, these troops overthrew the Latvian Government on 16 April in the Liepaja putsch. Premier Ulmanis and most of his ministers managed to avoid arrest and sought sanctuary aboard a British warship'.—D.G. (original footnote)
[4]After the putsch the leaders of the Baltic German community settled on Andrievs Niedra, a pastor and writer, and an adversary of Ulmanis of long standing, as a politician who might be willing to co-operate with them. Niedra's cabinet of six Latvians and three Germans commanded little support, for he was regarded as little more than a puppet of the German forces occupying Latvia. See further in von Rauch, op. cit., p.61.—D.G. (original footnote)
Under Swedish copyright law, "Briedis," including all derivative works, remains under copyright by the original rights holder until 2067, regardless of copyright by Taylor and Francis of David Guild's translation. Our corrected and annotated version of that translation is reproduced by express permission of the late author's wife, Heather Guild. Without prejudice to other rights accorded, "Briedis" is presented here for informational, educational, and research purposes under §20. and §21. of Latvian copyright law and as a protected derivative work under §5. The Goppers archive resides in the Latvian National Library.

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