Monday, 16 September 2013

Latvia’s Nazi Nostalgia


By Monica Lowenberg

Now, Woody Allen isn’t to everyone’s taste but every so often he does manage to come out with a golden nugget that makes you roar in the aisles if not chuckle.  In his film Midnight in Paris there is one such nugget.  When speaking about which era they would most like to live in, the central character says in a dead pan voice, ‘I am a little nostalgic about La Belle Époque, sans tuberculosis.’

La Belle Époque, the ‘beautiful era’ a period in French history starting in 1890 and ending when World War 1 began, when peace and prosperity in Paris allowed the arts to flourish and Zola, Picasso and  Gauguin,  amongst other greats, met their friends for un cafe in Maxims, or so we believe. However, on scratching the surface, we find the era was not so belle. Time and the desire to forget trauma have a  curious way of making us distort facts and see only what we want to see, unless one reads Zola’s ‘J’accuse’ one would forget the Dreyfuss affair that highlighted French anti-Semitism during the Belle Époque, one would forget government corruption and one would forget urban poverty riddled with tuberculosis.

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing as often it is wrapped in illusions, illusions that feel more comfortable to deal with than reality. Without first hand witnesses on hand it is easy to discard historical facts, primary and secondary sources if one so chooses.  It is also easy to even distort facts particularly if one has the backing of the powers that be, as Milan Kundera so clearly pointed out, "The struggle of man against power," he wrote, "is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”


And so in view of these facts,  when I tell you that since 1998 on the 16th of March each and every year, in the very centre of Riga, Latvia, a member of the EU since 2004, a NATO and OSCE country, marches have been regularly held to praise the ‘heroism’ of the former Latvian Legion, i.e.Waffen SS veterans in their combat against the allies during the Second World War and that each year these events are receiving tacit (and sometimes very explicit and public) support from state authorities, this year from the president himself who stated the Latvian SS are not criminals but should be ‘bowed down to’ , you are perhaps not surprised?  Perhaps, it will also not surprise you that our very own British conservatives, the presumed heirs of Churchill, perhaps as an antidote to the French revolution, perhaps as a summer Valentine’s day, joined up forces on the 14 July 2009 with Robert Zile, a Latvian MEP whose associations support Nazi marches?


Of course marches take place all the time and why should one get upset about a few SS men being heralded as heroes and offered flowers?  As the Latvian ambassador wrote to me, when February this year I asked him to sign the petition I had set up against the 16 March marches in Latvia with the support of Dr Barry Gardiner (Labour MP) and Bob Blackman (Conservative MP), ‘There are no war crimes attributed to the Latvian units of the Waffen SS which was formed in 1943. Members of the notorious Arajs Komando constituted less than 1% of those enlisted and in most cases they were duly prosecuted after World War II.  All the above mentioned was recognised by western allied authorities, including the UK government, when admitting former legionnaires to their territories.  In a twist of irony, some were even enlisted by the US army to guard Nazi war criminals at the Nurnberg Tribunal...  In light of the aforementioned I cannot see how your petition would help in bringing justice to the victims of war crimes or crimes against humanity, including the Holocaust.  On the contrary, it would simply replicate some of the old but recently reheated Soviet propaganda about ‘those Fascist Latvians’.  I can only regret that your research into the history of the Latvian legion was limited to communicating with Mr.  Feigmanis (sic Mr Feigmanis is actually a historian and has a PhD) and some left wing politicians in Latvia’.  Both sides of my polite debate with the Latvian ambassador are reproduced in full by at:


Curiously enough, on the  very same day and within a few hours of receiving this email from the Latvian ambassador, Mr Martin Callanan, the chief whip, at the time, of the conservatives in the European Parliament, also wrote to me expressing very similar sentiments ,

‘It is very unfortunate that your purpose does not seem to be to clarify the historical facts about the Latvian Legion or to honour victims of the Genocide against the Jewish population, which is why I cannot sign your petition.’  A few hours after sending this email to myself Mr Callanan publicly announced that he would be leaving his post as conservative chief whip, 


"It has been a privilege to serve as Leader of Conservative MEPs for the last 16 months. It has been a tumultuous time for the EU and a fascinating time to lead the delegation. I am proud of the successes that Conservative MEPs are achieving and the hard work that we put in to defend the national interest. I would love to stay on but my commitment as the newly-elected chairman of our wider European grouping requires my full-time dedication. It was an enormous privilege to have been elected leader of the ECR last December’

So, who is telling stories here?  Maybe it is time to get a few facts straight.

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 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   ‘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 Nurnberg trials, forget two very important points:

  1. 95.6% of Latvia's pre-war Jewish population were 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 Nurnberg 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.

Anyone still feeling nostalgic?

 Other articles on the Conservatives unsavoury allies, written already in 2009

I knew the day of Holocaust 'debate' would come. Just not in my lifetime

Why is it left to the US to confront the Tories on an alliance with those who distort historical truth and defend Nazi collaborators?


The Guardian,

1.  Stephanie Butnick in Tablet on recent news in Lithuanian-Jewish affairs Novemeber 7 2013:
2.  Monica Lowenberg 'Riga, Roots and Reflections'  published by Defending  28 October 2013
3.  The Holocaust lessons by Marek Wojnar
published 5 November 2013 by New Eastern Europe
Any comments to this article  expressing a different point of view have as yet not been published by the editors.
An example comment is the following:

'As much as it is necessary for those who feel they have suffered under various occupations to be heard, it is historically false and morally reprehensible at best to:

1.       Equate Nazi crimes with Communist

2.       Create an argument where  collaborators are likened to the victims they  willingly and brutally murdered particularly

3.       When the topic is thousands of "nationalist heroes" who did the actual KILLING of an ethnic minority in their midst --- all the men, women and children of that minority ---  for then the current campaign of double-talk to equate this genocide with various other crimes becomes even more reprehensible and completely unbecoming to nations that are, or want to be, bona fide members of and partners in Western civilisation, and its European Union  and NATO alliances.

Baltic people and Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazis are not victims, they were collaborators , collaborators who worked for the most genocidal regime the world has ever known.  A regime that murdered  on an industrial scale millions of innocent civilians, who were targeted because they happened to be Roma and Sinti and Jewish.  The vast majority of the Jews murdered had no connections to high ranking Communist leaders some of whom were Jewish, many did not even know who Stalin was.

The stubborn insistence of, in particular, the Lithuanian and Latvian governments to honour TODAY via marches and monuments for the Latvian SS, name plaques and streets after collaborators are acts that only highlight their complete unwillingness to accept  that their ‘heroes’, their liberators from the Soviets, were also collaborators of the worst kind.  This is not education this is revisionism, as is this article. '
posted by Monica Lowenberg 6 November 2013

Latvian state dance troupe displays Nazi swastika 17 November 2013 in Riga stadium
article by Graeme Atkinson and Monica Lowenberg , Hope Not Hate, 24.11.2013

You Tube Clips

1.  Monday 8 July 2013,  'Jewish Hour' on Salford City Radio  94.4FM
Interview with Monica Lowenberg speaking about her trip to Latvia and the annual SS marches that take place in the capital of Riga.

2.  Nazi Heroes-  Waffen SS hailed in Latvia
VIEWS: 95, 547
‘I am a European like you’ says Joel Rubinfeld…’The days of the Third Reich are over!’


 The laying of the wreath for the victims of Nazism by:

·Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (Israel),

·Hermann Dvorzak, leader of the European Social Forum (Austria),

·Monica Lowenberg, British academic and initiator of the petition 'Stop the 16 March marches and Latvians revising history' (UK),

·Dovid Katz, former professor of the Vilnius University, editor of (Lithuania/UK),

· Joel Rubinfeld, president of the European Jewish Parliament (Belgium),

·Joseph Koren, president of the association "Latvia without Nazism"(Latvia)

·Helmut Scholz, EP deputy (Germany),

·Tatjana Ždanoka (Tatyana Zhdanok), EP deputy (Latvia)

Two Latvian young men and two Latvian young girls desecrate the wreath to the victims of Nazism (17 mins of footage)

Joseph Koren, president of the association "Latvia without Nazism" (Latvia) and Dr Tatjana Ždanoka (Tatyana Zhdanok), EP deputy (Latvia) try to restore the wreath to the victims of Nazism and remove the Latvian SS plaque that was placed in front.

During the Shoah, Nazi collaborators from Lithuania and Latvia, helped murder more than 275,000 Jews – their neighbours – many of them known as Litvaks, 96% of those countries Jewish population, the highest percentage rate in any European country.
The film explores the search for these collaborators, the efforts to prosecute them and the refusal of countries to bring their citizens to justice.
More info at

Rachel Kostanian, who was for many years director of the Green House Holocaust museum in Vilnius, and is the author and editor of noted works on the Holocaust in Lithuania, shares her views in a strictly personal capacity (not representing any institution) in an interview with Dovid Katz, formerly professor of Yiddish at Vilnius University, now editor of, a website dedicated to preserving Holocaust history and countering claims to revise and delegitimize that history especially in Eastern Europe

9.  Danny Ben-Moshe's documentary "Rewriting History" (

10.    BBC  The Story of the Jews , Episode 4 , Over the Rainbow with historian Simon Schama  first televised 22.09.2013


Documentary series. Simon Schama explores how Eastern European Jewish culture made its mark across the world, from Soviet politics to Hollywood cinema.  At 52.12 in episode 4 Simon Schama visits Lithuania and speaks out regarding what happened there.


11.  20.11.2013

Latvian dance troupe recreate a Swastika prior to a hockey match  against a Russian team in Riga's football stadium.  Riga is to be European Cultural capital for 2014...


Stop the 16 March marches and Latvians revising history!

You Can Add Your Voice To This Petition Here:



Petitioning HE President Dalia Grybauskaitė

President of Lithuania
Abandon defamation of Holocaust survivors and glorification of Holocaust perpetrators