When the author, whose father survived the Holocaust, went to Latvia to fill the gaps in her knowledge and find out details of how her relatives had perished during the Nazi occupation of Latvia, she also found out a lot about the present state of Latvia and subsequently devoted her energy to make known the background to the annual glorification of Latvian collaborators.
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 deadpan 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 Dreyfus 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 Nürnberg 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 DefendingHistory.com at: http://defendinghistory.com/monica-lowenberg-in-dialogue-with-latvias-ambassador-to-the-uk/32025.
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 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, Leader of the Labour Party, 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 Nürnberg trials, forget two very important points:
- 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.)
- With regards to the Latvian Legion guarding at the Nürnberg 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 defence 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 they 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 ultra nationalists 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?
You Tube Clips
1. You Tube Clip: NRA.LV
‘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 DefendingHistory.com (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 women 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.
Stop the 16 March marches and Latvians revising history!
1. Add your voice to this petition if you are not a British citizen and live outside the UK
2. If you are a British citizen or normally live in the UK add your voice to http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/27795
To help people find out more about the situation in Latvia I have created a blog on the marches under: