Zedelgem – SS – Rehabilitation in Belgium

The FIR and its member federations are frightened about beginnings of the history forgetfulness, as it is to be experienced for some time also in Western Europe. For years Dutch anti-fascists – supported by the FIR – protest against the public honors at the gravesites for SS members and war criminals on the military cemetery of Ysselsteyn in the city of Venray. Recently, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has also joined this protest with an unequivocal statement.

Another scandal exists in the small West Flemish town of Zedelgem (Belgium), which only three years ago erected a monument (“The Latvian Beehive”) at the site of an Allied internment camp for prisoners of war – together with official Latvian authorities – in honor of the Latvian SS volunteers who were interned and perished here. It commemorates the “Latvian Legion” who, according to the present Latvian government, were “anti-Bolshevik freedom fighters”.

The monument consists of a bronze beehive on a column of polished stainless steel, studded with hundreds of gilded bees. It combines common European values and symbolic language understood by all Europeans with something special and visually characteristic of Latvia, the artist claimed. What cannot be seen here are symbols of the SS, although the “Latvian Legion” was a unit of the Waffen SS. Many of the Legion’s men were from Latvian auxiliary police battalions that participated in the massacres of Jews. Three quarters of Latvian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. The Legion, established in 1943, consisted of the 15th Waffen Grenadier Division (1st Latvian) and the 19th Waffen Grenadier Division (2nd Latvian) of the Waffen SS. About 146,000 Latvians fought in these units. Thus, this monument honors and rehabilitates collaborators of the Waffen-SS, which the Nuremberg Main War Crimes Trial condemned as a criminal organization.

Since the end of 2020, a public debate has been developing in Belgium around this monument. Veterans and anti-fascist organizations such as “Amis – entend-tu”, “The Belgians Remember them”, “Group mémoire” and the Jewish community in Belgium condemned this scandalous commemorative practice. Even in the Belgian Parliament, MPs spoke out against this memorial in early June 2021. French-language newspapers in particular criticized the forgetting of history. In an interview for the newspaper Paris Match, FIR also positioned itself against this rehabilitation of Nazi collaborators. It demanded that the monument must be removed because, first, it honors a group of military personnel who are not to be honored. Second, FIR said, the monument in its aesthetic/iconographic form is a complete trivialization of the criminal organization of the SS and its members. The only thing that could reasonably be done at this site would be to add an educational plaque about the crimes of the SS volunteers.

The local government, on the other hand, spoke of “fake news” from the French-language media. The municipality receives backing from the Flemish nationalists, without them having a majority in the municipality itself. They are obviously hoping to rehabilitate the volunteers of the Flemish SS units. The political dispute will certainly continue after the summer break in Belgium.
The FIR and its member federations are confident that it will succeed in Belgium to end such form of Nazi glorification and SS rehabilitation.