28 Sep, 2019
In a disturbing example of revising the role of Nazi collaborators in World War II, a Latvian minister said veterans, his compatriots who fought in the Waffen-SS, were “heroes” and memories of their sacrifice must be cherished.
“It is our duty to honor these Latvian patriots from all the depths of our souls,” Defense Minister Artis Pabriks told the crowd during a memorial event on Saturday.
He then called the Latvian legionnaires – Nazi collaborators now praised as freedom-fighters for their anti-Soviet alignment – “heroes” and “the pride of the Latvian nation and state.”
“Standing next to our legionnaires’ graves and memorials, we are all overwhelmed with power and confidence that our country has a future, that we are on the right path,” the minister proclaimed.
The legionnaires comprised two grenadier divisions within the Waffen-SS, the elite military wing of the German Nazi party that fought alongside regular troops during the war and became infamous for their mass atrocities. Germans began recruiting and drafting Latvians to fight against the Soviets shortly after invading and occupying Latvia in 1941, which was part of the USSR at the time. The Latvian soldiers were trained and led by German officers. When joining the legion, each soldier pledged personal loyalty to Adolf Hitler.
The topic of the Nazi collaborators remains a bone of contention in Latvia, as the small Baltic nation remains among the very few countries that openly celebrate Waffen-SS veterans. Former legionnaires and their supporters stage annual marches in downtown Riga. Their cause is supported by many local right-wing politicians, historians, writers and media figures.
Latvia’s sizeable Russian-speaking and Jewish populations, meanwhile, stage annual protest rallies, pointing out that the glorified Waffen-SS veterans effectively fought on Hitler’s side and committed war crimes.The supporters of the legionnaires view them as freedom-fighters whose goal was to restore Latvia’s independence after it got incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940. They also insist on having never subscribed to the Nazi ideology and deny being complicit in the war crimes of the German forces, which killed tens of thousands of Latvians, mostly Jews and Gypsies during a three-year occupation, which ended thanks to Soviet troops.