Tuesday 16 February 2021

A Message from Dr Efraim Zuroff, February 16 2021- Chief Nazi Hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Director of the Center's Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs.

Add your voice to this petition here:

 This message is being written on February 16, a month before the date of the annual march of veterans of the Latvian S.S. in the heart of Riga. A somewhat similar march, one of neo-fascists and Lithuanian nationalist extremists, was scheduled to take place today, which is one of the country's two independence days. February 16 marks the independence achieved in 1918, which is "celebrated" by a march in Kaunas (Kovno), which was the interwar capital of Lithuania, whereas on March 11, the local neo-Nazis and sympathizers march in the current capital Vilnius (Vilna) to mark the independence achieved in 1990. Hopefully, none of these events will be taking place this year as scheduled due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

 The reason that I am mentioning the marches in Lithuania, in conjunction with the S.S. veterans march in Riga, is because all three are inspired by the same misguided extremist patriotism and sustained by the fake historical narratives created and promoted since independence by the Lithuanian and Latvian governments. They are ostensibly held to honor the brave patriots who volunteered to fight for independence against the oppressive Soviet regime, but in reality glorify anti-Semites, some of whom were active participants in the annihilation of their Jewish citizens and other Jews.

 So let's present the facts. The Latvian Legion fought in the framework of the Waffen-SS, Heinrich Himmler's army, for a victory of the Third Reich, the most genocidal regime in human history. Its defenders prefer to ignore that cardinal fact, and insist that all the men were fighting only for Latvian independence. The problem with that contention is that the Nazis had absolutely no intention of granting independence to any of the Baltic countries, regardless of whatever assistance they provided, whether it was in murdering Jews or joining the battles against the Red Army.

 A second argument is that the Legion did not participate in the murder of Jews. That is partially true, since the units were established after most Latvian Jews had already been murdered. Yet what is always omitted by the Legion's defenders, is that among the men who joined the Latvian Legion, were many mass murderers of Jews from the notorious Arajs Kommando mass murder squad and the Latvian SD, hardly individuals worthy of any honors.

 A third argument is that the men who served in the Legion paved the way for Latvian independence in 1990, but that too is of course totally baseless, since their service for the Nazis did not achieve any progress towards freedom, which was only obtained when the Soviet union crumbled. In fact, had the Nazis won World War II, the Latvians would most likely still be subjugated, but by the Germans not the Soviets. 

 All of the above are good reasons why we should be very glad that such events will not be held this year or ever after. 

 Holocaust historian Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Director of the Center's Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs.

 Dr. Efraim Zuroff Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center – Israel office and Eastern European Affairs Coordinator, SWC Nazi war crimes research worldwide www.operationlastchance.org

UPDATE 09.03.2021
Organisers of March 16 events have withdrawn their applications due to epidemiological situation- the organisers of this SS glorification march should withdraw due to historical facts, recognising that glorifying any SS detachment in the 21st century is unacceptable. To maintain that anyone who protests against this march is working together with the Russian government is ridiculous. Thousand s of people worldwide protest each and every year against the SS march in Riga, they are ordinary people who come from all over the world, they have two things in common: historical truth and common sense.

Flemish town erects monument honouring Latvian SS!

UPDATE 17.03.2021

No march went ahead.

For further reading please see:

Formation of a New Historical Memory or the Whitewashing of Nazism in Latvia with photographs of the marches

by Victor Gushchin    The Baltic Centre of Historical and Socially Political Studies

March of the Latvian Legionnaires  2012- Roland Binet  8 March 2021


UPDATE 24.05.2021

Latvian Legionnaries celebrated in Riga and, now also in Belgium, in Zedelgem 

Article by Michel Bouffioux   Paris Match Belgique   published  20 May 2021


Important excerpt from the Bouffioux's article translated here into English:

Dr Leanid Kazyrytski teaches criminal law and criminology at the University of Girona (Spain). His work focuses in particular on genocides and contemporary forms of Nazism glorification. In 2016, this researcher published a legal study devoted to the Latvian legionaries celebrated in Riga and, now also in Belgium, in Zedelgem.

This scientist draws attention to a period of history not very present in the Latvian nationalist version: what happened between the German invasion in the summer of 1941 and the formation of the Legion in the early winter of 1943: " From the first days of the German occupation, Latvian police battalions (Lettische Schutzmannschafts-Bataillone) made up of volunteer civilians were born. They will be the devoted accomplices of Nazi war criminals in punitive operations, especially in Belarus, against partisans and against civilian populations. These Latvian collaborators also took part in pogroms, in the genocidal mechanics of the Riga ghetto, in the `` management '' of the Salaspils concentration camp (near the Latvian capital) where tens of thousands of people, many of them 'children, lost their lives in horrible conditions (hunger, cold, ill-treatment). These battalions of collaborators played an active and very important role in the extermination of the Jewish community in Latvia. "



We can, for example, mention the “Sonderkommando Arājs”, a back-up for the SS Einsatzgruppen who carried out mass massacres of the Jewish populations. Latvian collaborators were notably present in the forest in Rumbula, near Riga, when in three unspeakable days in the winter of 1941, 26,000 Jews were shot and executed. "In this debate, it is important to understand that these early 'volunteers' will constitute the hard core of the Latvian legion from 1943," Kazyrytski underlines. Thus Viktor Arajs will join the 19th Latvian division in 1944, while the collaborative Latvian government supported the recruitment of legionaries.



During his research, Karyrytsky also unearthed an order from Himmler dated May 26, 1943. Important in terms of legal responsibility, “ this document establishes that  the Latvian Legion was an entity which included all Latvian units subordinate to the SS in this regard. including the Latvian police battalions. 

For this researcher, the Latvian discourse on the “conscription” of legionaries must be put into perspective: “Those who joined the Waffen-SS made a choice: the Germans also offered the alternative of a labor service in their war industry. Also, they could desert: in 1944, 32.2% of Latvians invited to join recruiting offices did not show up there… Joining the SS in 1943 was very significant while this criminal organization was at work. in Latvia, in full view of everyone, since 1941. In addition, there is a contradiction in the Latvian novel which describes legionaries who were both “in spite of us” and “fighters for freedom”. Should we be forced to fight for our freedom? Hitler never promised any autonomy for Latvia and therefore we do not see how wearing the SS uniform led to "freedom" ... "



Kazyrytski further asserts that " there is strong evidence, not only of the participation of Latvian police battalions in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but also of the engagement of the Latvian SS Legion as such in the commission of these crimes. Among other examples, between December 1943 and April 1944, the 19th Waffen-SS divisions participated in punitive operations in Russia and Belarus during which villages were set on fire, many civilians were killed, sometimes burned alive in their homes. " 

Regarding the Nuremberg judgment, this researcher explains that “  this element cannot be used as proof of the non-involvement of the Legion in the commission of war crimes. These were documented after this pronouncement which, in any case, never had the legal or political significance of absolving the perpetrators of such facts. "

Moreover, he further specifies, this affair must be approached taking into account the geostrategic context of the immediate post-war period: “  After having surrendered to the allies to escape the Red Army, Latvian legionaries have been detained for a short time. Released, they remained in the West because Latvia had become Soviet again. They created various organizations used for propaganda purposes against the USSR. It is in this context of the Cold War that we must read certain Western positions - especially American - which made a distinction between Latvian SS units and other Waffen-SS formations."

Rendez-vous manqué entre histoire et mémoire | Cairn.info
Le camp de concentration de Salaspils en Lettonie


Top Photo to the Left Monica Lowenberg in silent protest at the legionnaires march 16 March 2012, Riga Latvia PHOTO: COURTESY OF DEFENDING HISTORY.COM http://defendinghistory.com/category/lowenberg-monica

Centre Photo From left to right Monica Lowenberg (UK), Helmut Scholz, (Germany, MEP), Joel Rubinfeld, president of the European Jewish Parliament (Belgium), Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (Israel), Tatjana Ždanoka (Tatyana Zhdanok), EP deputy (Latvia), Janis Kuzins, Chairman of the Board for Associated Diversified Trade Unions ( Latvia) , Joseph Koren, president of the association "Latvia without Nazism" (Latvia), Hermann Dvorzak, leader of the European Social Forum (Austria), laying down a wreath to the victims of Nazism 16 March 2012 , Riga Latvia PHOTO: COURTESY OF DEFENDING HISTORY.COM http://defendinghistory.com/1500-honor-the-waffen-ss-at-rigas-liberty-monumuent-event-is-praised-by-latvias-president-condemned-by-the-european-commission/32654

Photo to the Right Volker Beck gives a speech of support to protesters at the Latvian Embassy in Berlin on the eve of the 2017 annual Waffen SS march in central Riga to his left Dr Hans Coppi, VVN Berlin PHOTO: LOTHAR EBERHARDT. http://defendinghistory.com/german-member-of-parliament-volker-beck-joins-protest-at-the-latvian-embassy-in-berlin/87225

Sunday 16 February 2020




Neither Common Sense,  COVID 19 nor a Government Ban prevented some SS glorifiers from attending the annual SS glorification day... Some people never learn.  The demographic policy adviser to the Baltic nation's prime minister was the highest-ranking official to pay tribute to the legionnaires.

  Add your voice to this petition here:  http://www.petitions24.com/stop_the_16_march_marches_and_latvians_revising_history

To date Common Sense, Reason and Respect have not stopped the SS glorification march but now an unseen virus that indiscriminately attacks any member of the human race might!  



Will the West Remain Silent as Latvia Prepares Again to Glorify its Waffen SS?

by Monica Lowenberg



Since 1998, former Latvian SS have each and every year on the 16th of  March been marching in the capital city of Riga to commemorate their fallen colleagues whom they perceive as war heroes. The marches have over the years increased in alarming numbers and have even been publicly condoned by Latvian officials. In the heart of NATO in Riga, more than 2,500 people, amongst them Latvian politicians, have been known to annually pay tribute to Latvians who fought on the side of Nazi Germany in Waffen SS detachments during World War II. In 2012  the Latvian Prime Minister told local media he did not think March 16 had “any special significance.” Legionnaires’ Day is used by radicals on both sides, he said, “to confront each other”! However, we believe Latvia, the international community, the UK government, the European Union and NATO should condemn this pro-Nazi event, for which the center of an EU capital is annually gifted by authorities, in morally clear terms.  Waffen SS veterans are not remotely regarded as legitimate “heroes” by the European Union, of which Latvia has been a full member since 2004.
Please add your voice to the international petition, see earlier articles and papers available online, and reports on earlier marches in Defending History. A packet of background materials is attached in PDF format .

Time to call a halt…
Stop the 16 March marches and the twisting of history! 

By Ruth Barnett MBE, Holocaust Educator and Author 

16 February 2020

Humanity, the one human race, is denigrated by those of its members who try to avoid responsibility by covering up, denying and trying to re-write shameful parts of their history. Nearly all, if not all countries have some shameful history. It is time for an international 'amnesty' in which this is recognised and all past shame publicly acknowledged, so that we can all go forward accepting the truth of the past in order to create a better future.

Currently the Family of Nations on Planet Earth is the most dysfunctional family of all time. We have too many leaders at all levels, who should be role models and guardians of the truth, irresponsibly putting their greed for power and wealth before the interests of their people. We need a country like Latvia that suffered and caused suffering in World War II, to lead the way by heralding the truth instead of glorifying atrocities.

Ruth Barnett MBE, Holocaust Educator and Author of:
 Person of No Nationality, Jews & Gypsies, Why War? 
 Love, Hate & IndifferenceEquality and Inequality
 and What Price for Justice: a Play in Two Acts

Time to call a halt…
Stop the 16 March marches and the twisting of history! 
By Graeme Atkinson anti-fascist journalist and internationalist 03.03.2019

Annually since 1998, in the centre of Riga, on 16 March, processions have been held to honour veterans of the Latvian Legion of the murderous Nazi Waffen SS for fighting the Allies in WWII.

And, through the media of Latvian government materials and state propaganda film footage, the role of the Latvian Legion is still apologised for or excused while the far-right National Alliance – which sits in the Latvian government – is again loudly demanding that the date be enshrined as an official national memorial day.

Not new: these events have received tacit (and sometimes explicit and public) support from state authorities, including, in 2012, Latvia’s president himself and have been attended by members of the Latvian Parliament, members of the Riga City Council and officials of the Latvian defence ministry. 

Documentary evidence of official complicity in Latvia’s Day of National Shame is copious but astonishingly the ghastly charade of memorialising the SS in Riga, a European capital at the heart of NATO and the EU, goes on, attended by increasing numbers and attracting right-wing extremists and Hitler fans from across Europe, including the UK.

Despite the mounting international input, the rest of Europe just looks on at this unwholesome performance that lauds the members of a proven criminal organisation. It is surely time that Latvia, the UK government, the European Union, NATO and the international community showed some self-respect and pressed for a halt to it.


Robert Singer- World Jewish Congress- 17 March 2019

'All those who glorify Nazis and their collaborators by marching or otherwise are inciting hatred, plain and simple'

Amy Mills, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada- 20 March 2019

“Canada is strongly opposed to the glorification of Nazism and all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance and extremism,” Mills said. ”That is why we condemn the parade to commemorate the Latvian SS Brigade held in Latvia on March 16th.”    

Michael Mostyn Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada -  15 March 2019

“We must challenge those who distort historical records on governments, military units or organizations that fought with, supported or sympathized with the Nazis during World War II. This includes government leaders who acquiesce in, or fail to condemn, a process of Nazi glorification that amounts to Holocaust distortion. This cannot be tolerated.”



 Cornelia Kerth, chair of the VVN-BdA protesting outside the Latvian embassy in Berlin on 15 March 2016 after having been prevented from boarding a flight to Riga from Berlin with Baltic Air earlier that same day.  The VVN-BdA demanded that her five fellow protesters, who had been allowed to leave the country, only to be arrested on arrival at Riga airport and placed into a Latvian jail, be immediately released.


British MEP Richard Howitt, European Parliament Spokesperson on Human Rights, Issues Statement on Riga Waffen SS March
Posted on 13 March 2014 by Defending History
Richard Howitt, British Labour Member of the European Parliament, and spokesperson for the European Parliament Human Rights Sub-Committee today issued the following text of his statement which will be read out in Riga this Sunday March 16th.

Today brings the seventeenth annual march in Riga, Latvia glorifying Waffen SS forces from the Nazi era which brought death and destruction to our continent and which today’s European Union was supposed to consign to history.
I am pleased to hear that the Latvian Government has forbidden Ministers from attending the march this year, but condemn the Latvian High Court’s decision of 2013, forcing the Riga Mayor to apologise for all the years of trying to ban it.
Coming from Britain, I am saddened that the governing Conservative Party from my country chooses to ally itself in a common European Group with the Latvian “For Fatherland and Freedom Party,” whose Member of the European Parliament is on record as supporting this sickening celebration, even supporting its previous status as a public holiday in the country.
I am also shocked at the report that the British Conservative MEP, who was head of his European group in 2012, is reported to have personally refused to sign the petition against the celebration, despite 7,000 people worldwide having done so.
The party of Government of my country should not sit with a party which has proposed the Waffen SS troops be renamed “liberation fighters.”
They are a scar on my own country.
What they should remember is that almost all of Latvia’s 70,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Whether local boys were forced to don the SS uniforms or were eager volunteers, celebration of their actions not only insults the memory of the victims but also honours Nazism itself.
Today, the British Labour Party stands with all victims of the Second World War, all who condemn fascism, all who oppose anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, to express our horror at those who seek to rewrite history in order to justify those who would spread bitterness, hate and division in a new century.
This year sees the 100 years centenary since the beginning of the First World War, and people throughout Europe will come together to remember the horrors of both wars of the twentieth century and celebrate the fact fascism was defeated and not victorious.
When survivors of Nazi concentration camps in 1945 stood holding signs saying “never again,” they could not have foreseen what is happening today in Riga. These are the people we should be commemorating and this is the message we should remember.



The Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jewish Manifesto for the 2014 European Elections:

In Europe, the 2008 Prague Declaration caused alarm among many Jewish communities by conflating crimes under Soviet Communism with Nazi crimes. The concern here is that some countries have attempted to deflect attention from the complicity of their wartime governments in the Holocaust, using this as a cynical attempt to avoid liability for compensation to Jewish victims. The crimes that Communist governments committed against their people should be explored and the perpetrators prosecuted, but it is important that countries acknowledge their role in the Holocaust and do not attempt to dismiss a very troubled period in their history by reference to what happened under Communism.

At times, a related trope is that many leading Communists were Jews and so the Jews as a whole are complicit in the crimes of Communism. The rationale continues that, as such, Jews in general do not deserve sympathy or compensation for what they suffered during the Holocaust. But the fact that some Jews were leading Communists did not leave Jews – as a corporate entity – with the wealth of the subjugated people in the same way that Nazi expropriation of Jewish property remains in the hands of some states.

Commitment: MEPs should challenge their European colleagues on these narratives that seek to minimize or downplay the Holocaust

Council of Europe (§ 87)

Report on Latvia   by the ECRI calling a halt to all forms of Nazi glorification February 21, 2012:
In the framework of its statutory activities, ECRI conducts country-by-country monitoring work, which analyses the situation in each of the member States regarding racism and intolerance and draws up suggestions and proposals for dealing with the problems identified. In the report on Latvia published on February 21, 2012 ECRI expresses concern as regards the authorisation of certain public events to commemorate two incidents and the authorities’ reaction in this connection. As concerns the first incident, every year, on 16 March, a gathering commemorating soldiers who fought in a Latvian unit of the Waffen SS is held in the centre of Riga. In this connection, ECRI regrets that, in spring 2010, an administrative district court overruled a decision of the Riga City Council 27 prohibiting this march. Moreover, ECRI is concerned that the speaker of the Latvian Parliament allegedly publicly expressed regret for the formal prohibition of this event and that certain MPs have voted for the restoration of March 16 as day of remembrance.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem 16.03.1999  
 Although these units were not involved in crimes against humanity, many of their soldiers had previously served in the Latvian security police and had actively participated in the mass murder of civilians, primarily Jews...The stubborn insistence of Latvia’s SS Legion veterans to conduct a public march to glorify their role as combatants on behalf of the Third Reich is a clear indication that many Latvians have still not internalised the lessons of WWII... not one of the numerous Latvian killers who collaborated with the Nazis has been brought to justice since Latvia obtained its independence, far too many Latvians feel free to identify with those who fought alongside the perpetrators of the Holocaust rather than with its victims’.

At the Nuremberg trials of 30 September 1946, it was crystal clear: there were no heroes among the SS; there were no divisions that were deemed better than others but rather the SS as a whole was defined as a “criminal organisation.”

Stated the Nuremberg judgment and worth quoting at length:

Much of the evidence and the argument has centred around the question of whether membership in these organizations was or was not voluntary; in this case, it seems to the Tribunal to be quite beside the point. For this alleged criminal organization has one characteristic, a controlling one, which sharply distinguishes it….When an individual became a member of the SS, for instance, he did so voluntarily or otherwise, but certainly with the knowledge that he was joining something.  Many of these men have made a mockery of the soldier’s oath of obedience to military orders. When it suits their defense they say they had to obey; when, confronted with Hitler’s brutal crimes, which are shown to have been within their general knowledge, they say they disobeyed. The truth is that they actively participated in all these crimes, or sat silent and acquiescent, witnessing the commission of crimes on a scale larger and more shocking than the world has ever had the misfortune to know. This must be said.

For Further Information See:

Selected News Coverage from 2019

See previous blog spot entries for full coverage

On September 27 2019, Latvia's minister of defence, Dr Artis Pabriks, delivered a speech in More parish to commemorate the More battle of September 1944. He stated that "Latvian legionnaires are a pride of the Latvian nation and of the state." Moreover, this quote was chosen as the title of an article on the ministry's website in Latvian and now removed,  https://www.mod.gov.lv/lv/zinas/pabriks-
 .  It should be noted the ministry did not proclaim this on their English-language website. 

The Waffen SS Latvian Legion was a collaborationist unit, partly volunteer, partly conscripted.

See the report in Russian at a state-owned news portal LSM.lv:

Mr Pabriks, a political scientist, has long been infamous for having said in 2013, "We are welcoming German boots on the ground here in Latvia ever since 1940." Later, he explained that this was meant to refer to NATO troops. 


In 2013, Pabriks represented the conservative "Unity" party. His current party, "Development"/"For!” is considered "liberal" by Latvia's standards.

In response to Pabriks’ comments, Dr Efraim Zuroff of The Simon Wiesenthal Centre condemned  on October 7 2019 the Latvian defence minister's comments. 
"Given the fact that the Legion fought for a victory of the Third Reich, the most genocidal regime in history, and that among those serving in it were active participants in the mass murder of Latvian Jewry, as well as of German and Austrian Jews deported by the Nazis to Riga, such comments are incomprehensible, let alone deeply offensive, coming from a senior minister of a country with full membership in the European Union and NATO," said the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Efraim Zuroff in response.

December 3, 2019  by David Pugliese

March 24, 2019  by Scott Taylor

Latvian supporters of the SS Legion make the point that many members of these two combat divisions — 120,000 personnel in total — were forcibly conscripted by the Germans. That is a historical fact, which is not in dispute.
However, I will argue that if you were forced to wear an SS uniform against your will during the Second World War, it is unlikely that you would dig it out of your closet to proudly wear it down the streets of Riga 45 years later.'



Photo to the Left
Monica Lowenberg in silent protest at the legionnaires march 16 March 2012, Riga Latvia PHOTO: COURTESY OF  DEFENDING HISTORY.COM
Centre Photo
From left to right  Monica Lowenberg (UK),  Helmut Scholz, (Germany, MEP),  Joel Rubinfeld, president of the European Jewish Parliament (Belgium),   Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (Israel), Tatjana Ždanoka (Tatyana Zhdanok), EP deputy (Latvia), Janis Kuzins,  Chairman of the Board for Associated Diversified Trade Unions ( Latvia)   Joseph Koren, president of the association "Latvia without Nazism" (Latvia),   Hermann Dvorzak, leader of the European Social Forum (Austria), laying down a wreath to the victims of Nazism 16 March 2012 , Riga Latvia  PHOTO: COURTESY OF  DEFENDING HISTORY.COM

Photo to the Right

Volker Beck gives a speech of support to protesters at the Latvian Embassy in Berlin on the eve of the 2017 annual Waffen SS march in central Riga to his left Dr Hans Coppi,  VVN  Berlin PHOTO: LOTHAR EBERHARDT. 

WHAT IS MARCH 16TH IN LATVIA?  by  Monica Lowenberg

First published as

Latvia’s difficult legacy  What is March 16th?  by Monica Lowenberg published by the Holocaust Educational Trust and Second Generation Network, Voices April  2012

Each year since 1998, former Latvian SS veterans have, on the 16th March, been marching in the centre of the capital city of Riga, accompanied by supporters of all generations, to commemorate and herald their fallen colleagues as war ‘heroes’. The marches have over the years increased in alarming numbers and have frequently been, and continue to be supported by Latvian officials.

On March 16th, 2011 in the heart of NATO, in an EU country, in Riga, more than 2,500 people, (75% of them under the age of 30), gathered to pay tribute to Latvians who fought on the side of Nazi Germany in Waffen SS detachments during World War II.   Amongst them a large number of neo-Nazi activists from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Germany, Norway and Denmark and Latvian officials and MEP members. Over the years the marches have been attended by the Latvian Chief-of-Staff, Secretary of Defense, members of the Seim and current and former ministers and officials. They herald the Latvian SS veterans as war heroes and freedom fighters as they claim they fought in German ranks to hold back a greater evil, the Soviet Union.  Many Latvians believe that the Latvian Waffen SS legion could not have played a role in the Holocaust as it was not officially formed until 1943 when nearly all of Latvian Jewry had already been murdered. However, a substantial amount of evidence including a series of personal accounts and confirmation received from the trial of German Nazi Adolph Eichmann, supports that unknown numbers of Latvian Waffen SS soldiers had indeed been previously involved in the murder of Jews as auxiliary police between 1941 and 1942. 90 percent of Latvia’s pre-war Jewish population, were killed in 1941-42, only one in ten survived.   Approximately 67,000 Jews were living in Latvia at the time of the Nazi invasion in July 1941. Approximately 62,000 of them were killed during the Nazi occupation. About 30,000 Jews were killed already by mid-August 1941. The main agents of this murder were small German military units joined by the so-called Arājs Commando and assisted by Latvian auxiliary police, which consisted mainly of volunteers. In late 1941 approximately an additional 30,000 Latvian Jews were killed in a carefully organised execution also aided by Latvian police and Arājs Commando in Rumbula forest, just outside the capital city of Rīga. After this, about 25,000 European Jews were brought to the Riga Ghetto by train and at least half of them were murdered by mid-1942.

Shamefully forgotten is the fact that not one of the numerous Latvian killers who collaborated with the Nazis has been brought to justice since Latvia obtained its independence.  Killers who prior to joining the legion in 1943 had been part of 16 auxiliary police (SD) battalions that had previously taken an active part in the liquidating of ghettos in Latvia, Belarus and Poland, as well as in the destruction of civilian villages in Belarus and Russia’s Pskov region.  Killers who  before joining the legion had been in the ‘Arajs Team’ led by Viktor Arajs, comprising of up to 1,500 Latvian men, known worldwide as the active performers of the Holocaust in Europe, executioners of Latvian, Vilna, Warsaw and many Byelorussian ghettos.

During World War II, the Nazis created 37 divisions of Waffen Schutzstaffel (Waffen SS) of which only 12 were comprised exclusively by Germans. Most of the members of the divisions were recruited among the so-called «Aryan» populations of the occupied or annexed countries. Although the Latvians were not all considered «Aryan», they were massively recruited. Out of 900,000 Waffen SS, almost 150,000 were Latvians thus being the largest foreign contingent while their country, Latvia, only had two million inhabitants. The Latvians were mainly placed in the 15th Infantry Division, which became the most decorated non-German Waffen SS unit. It was the 15th infantry division who entrenched themselves in Berlin and engaged in the last military actions of the Third Reich. 

The Latvian legion formed in the winter of 1943  was ,under Hitler’s orders ,formally established  on  March 16th 1944  There is consensus amongst all Latvian historians that the day marks the only time, the two Divisions of the Legion (15th and 19th) fought together against the Red Army.  Therefore, by making the 16th March a day to remember war dead,  Latvians,  (despite Latvian official protestations to the contrary), are making the day  when Latvian volunteers fought in the 15th and 19th divisions of the SS an act of commemoration.  As Israeli/Jewish critics have commented even if one takes the stance that the Latvian legionnaires were not criminals and that they were forced to fight for the Nazis, to commemorate the Legion is far from being a positive act and  a far cry from a policy to GLORIFY them. Glorification of pro-Nazi armed forces during World War II has no place in a European Union / NATO / OSCE country.

Despite condemnation from the international community and reports from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance that in 2008 explicitly stated, ‘All attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen SS and collaborate with the Nazis should be condemned.  Any gathering or march legitimising in any way Nazism should be banned’, in January this year, many Latvian policymakers expressed their respect and admiration of former SS veterans. Political party “Visu Latviyyay!” announced that it is preparing a bill declaring the veterans of the SS Legion as national liberation movement fighters. Under the bill, former SS soldiers in Latvia will enjoy many benefits and advantages, in contrast to the veterans of the Allied forces who fought against Nazism.

Some Facts to Consider

It is a sad and important fact to remember that a substantial number of the same Latvian Waffen SS (the “legionnaires”) had, prior to joining the Latvian SS legion, been members of the worst Jew killing machine the world has ever known, killing with the Nazis in the summer-autumn of 1941 some  75, 000 Jews.  To honour such men, no matter how many were involved, is a travesty of justice. The legionnaires who were mobilised into the Latvian Legion, against their free will, are in some respects victims but as the video clips of this year’s march which I protested at (see links below) reveal, their descendants do not perceive them as such as they desecrated the wreath to the victims of Nazism and hissed anti-Semitic statements.

 Aside from any EU regulations that strictly forbid days that commemorate and glorify Nazism, (see Report on Latvia by the ECRI (European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance  published 21 February 2012) for let us not forget Latvia is since 2004 a member of the EU, NATO and OSCE , apologists and supporters of the march would be wise, on seeing the You tube clips and the international petition site that I set up in January 2012 against the SS marches http://www.petitions24.com/stop_the_16_march_marches_and_latvians_revising_history littered with anti-Semitic, homophobic and xenophobic sentiments,  to concede  that days that commemorate Nazism and any associations with Nazism will simultaneously generate anti-Semitic, homophobic and xenophobic sentiments. All the flowers in the world will not dismiss this and the above mentioned tragic facts. 

As Dr Efraim Zuroff stated in The Guardian already in 2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/14/conservatives-poland-right-wing   ‘The results speak for themselves. Although there were numerous Nazi war criminals who could still be brought to trial, not a single one was ever punished in the Baltics, which had the worst record of local collaboration, and only two have been punished in democratic Eastern Europe. Although various leaders issued public apologies (usually in Israel, almost never at home), they failed to deliver in terms of prosecution, restitution, education and documentation. Even worse, Holocaust-related issues became the main cause of renewed local anti-Semitism, which threatened the minuscule remnant Jewish communities in these countries. 

For some reason, these issues, which should have been highly significant in determining the candidacy of these countries for European Union and NATO membership, were apparently not taken into account. Suddenly, these countries have the legitimacy of those memberships without having fully internalised the concomitant values. Miliband is correct in pointing out the obvious flaws of the Conservatives' new allies. But they are only the tip of the eastern European right wing, which is determined to rewrite the history of the Second World War in a way that no self-respecting European should accept. By joining forces with parties such as Fatherland and Freedom and Law and Justice, the Conservatives are granting important legitimacy to a false narrative that seeks to whitewash war crimes and erase the heroic victory of those who saved the world from Hitler and the Nazis.’ 

Latvian nationalists and apologists who argue that the legionnaires should be seen as distinct from the German SS, as one they were acquitted of crimes by the American courts in the 1950’s and two they guarded at the Nuremberg trials, forget two very important points:

  1. 95.6% of Latvia's pre-war Jewish population was murdered in 1941 and 1942 by German Nazis and Latvian Arajs commandos and auxiliary police, many of whom subsequently, in 1943 and 1944 freely joined the Latvian SS Legion,  the 15th and 19th divisions, the 15th becoming the most decorated out of all SS divisions. It is true that the Latvian Legion per se did not murder, virtually all of their Latvian compatriots; who happened to be Jewish, but a substantial number of them prior to joining the legion had been mass murderers of the worst kind. (The main core of the Waffen SS legion Lettland was created in 1943 from 16 battalions of Latvian police which in 1941-1942 participated in the Holocaust in not only Latvia but also Russia, Belorussia and in the executions in the Warsaw ghetto.) 
  2. With regards to the Latvian Legion guarding at the Nuremberg trials the reality is that only a third of them did so, in the exterior ring not because they were innocent of crimes but because they spoke good German!  Other rings were composed of Americans, allied troops and police.  One should also question the following, Ivan Demyanyuk, also like the Latvian legionnaires, worked for the Americans immediately after the war, does this mean he is not a criminal?

Other facts to consider are the following:

1.  The legionnaires participated in the defense of the Reich’s Chancellery in Berlin in April-May 1945, right next to Hitler defending him from Soviet attacks.  Now, if that is not collaboration what is? 

2. The Legion fought under the Nazi high command for a victory of the Third Reich. They do not deserve to be honoured for fighting for a victory of the most genocidal regime in human history. Ironically, such a victory would have been a disaster for Latvia since the Nazis had no intention or plan to grant Latvia independence. Historians know very well of the Nazis’ plans to do away with the Latvian (among other Baltic) peoples after the planned-for victory. There would have been no Latvia to become independent in 1991.

3. About one-third of those who served in the Legion were volunteers, many of them those who had served in Latvian Security Police units which had actively participated in the mass murder of Jews in Latvia and in Belarus, such as the infamous Arajs Commando mass murder squad.

4. When Latvian SS killed Soviet soldiers they in turn allowed Nazis on the western front to kill more British and American soldiers and in turn allowed Auschwitz and other concentration camps to continue their heinous crimes against humanity. During the years of the Latvian Holocaust, the Soviet Union was in alliance with Great Britain, the United States and other Western democracies, whose ranks Latvia has now joined.

5. Democratic Latvia should not glorify those willing to give up their lives for a victory of the Third Reich. The Latvian Righteous Gentiles would make much better role models for today’s young people in Latvia and for future generations.

6. The ultranationalists who support the march are the ones who are seeking to rewrite the historic narrative of the Holocaust in Latvia in order to hide or downgrade the crimes of local Nazi collaborators and promote the canard of equivalency between Communist and Nazi crimes.

7. Ceremonies in churches and cemeteries are also forms of honouring the deceased (whether they deserve it or not). Witness the masses held in Zagreb and Split, Croatia, last December in honour of the Croatian mass murderer and leader of the Ustashe Ante Pavelic.