Latvian president defends annual parade honoring Waffen SS troops who fough the invading Red Army
Latvian President Andris Berzins defended a controversial annual parade that honors troops from the Baltic state who fought the Soviet Union under the banner of Nazi Germany. Berzins said veterans of the World War II Latvian Legion, a 140,000-strong unit of Germany's Waffen SS, deserved respect not condemnation: "They were conscripted into the fascist German Legion. They went with the ideal of defending Latvia. Latvians in the Legion were not war criminals." After experiencing Soviet horrors during the 1940-1941 USSR occupation Latvians hailed German troops as liberators.
Annual controversy about the march honouring Waffen SS forces in Latvia rages again
Hundreds of people met in the Latvian capital of Riga to remember World War II veterans who fought against the communists with Nazi Germany in the Waffen SS, after a court overturned a ban on the controversial annual gathering. Latvia was occupied by the Red Army in 1940, and many residents saw the Germans as liberators when they marched in 1941. A number of men volunteered or were conscripted into the Latvian Legion, a formation of the Waffen SS. While the group, nationalist veterans' organisation Daugavas Vanagi, says the march is just a remembrance of those forced to wear the Nazi uniform to defend their country, critics claim that it glorifies the fascist forces.
During the war many Latvians faced a grim choice: either support godless Communism by joining the Red Army or support the western civilization by joining the Waffen SS.
19th Waffen Grenadier Division (2nd Latvian division in the Waffen SS) - located in the Courland Pocket in 1945 - was one of the last German units to surrender at the end of the war.
Latvia to become the first country to hold a publicly-sanctioned parade honoring its Nazi invasion
Latvia is set to become the first country to have a publicly-sanctioned parade honoring its invasion by Nazi Germany. The Administrative District Court overruleed a Riga municipal ban on the parade. Latvia's prime and foreign ministry issued a joint statement condemning the parade: "Hitler and Stalin's propaganda and beliefs are degrading to our people and country... freedom of expression can not relate to Nazi propaganda." In Latvia the painful WWII past - that much of Europe has put behind it - seems to live on: The annual Waffen-SS veterans march in Riga always proves controversial.
Waffen SS veterans march through Riga, Latvia, where Stalin was considered worse than Hitler
WWII Veterans of the Nazi Waffen SS marched in freezing temperatures in Riga, and were cheered by locals. A city council ban on the march was overruled at the 11th hour by a court. Men who once wore the SS-flashes of the Nazi party's elite combat unit were honoured among the 2,000 who took part as freedom fighters from Communism. The Latvians who went to war for the Third Reich against the Soviet Union were the heroes in the Baltic state where Stalin was seen worse than Hitler. March 16 has become a sacred date for Latvians: On that day in 1943 they fought the Red Army for the first time and halted it.
US government praised Latvian Waffen SS units after the war, so why cannot Latvians do the same
The Latvian Legion was set up only in 1943, about a year after the last mass murder of Jews in Latvia - there is no reason to claim that there were any direct connections between the legion and the war crimes by military or paramilitary groups. Latvian soldiers did not kill civilians, they fought against the military might of the Soviet Union. Only a few years earlier, in 1940, the Red Army had ended the Latvia's independence, killing and deporting civilians. As the US government said in an official statement in 1950: "Waffen-SS units of the Baltic states are to be seen as units that stood apart and were different from the German SS in terms of goals, ideologies..."
Waffen-SS march divides Latvia and Russia
Tensions have risen between Latvia and Russia ahead of a march to mark Waffen-SS soldiers on March 16, with Latvian foreign minister Maris Riekstins criticizing Russian claims Latvia is glorifying Nazism: "Nobody in Latvia is praising fascist ideology. The Russian foreign ministry does not have enough information about neo-Nazi trends in Russia, the murders of journalists and ethnic minority issues in Russia, otherwise it would never direct such criticism against Latvia, which has never found totalitarian ideology acceptable." March 16 is "Legionnaires Day" and includes a parade in Riga to commemorate soldiers who fought on the German side in WWII.
Remains of 600 World War II soldiers found in Riga, Latvia
The remains of 600 World War II soldiers have been unearthed under a playing field on Kartupelu Street in Riga's Pardaugava suburb. It is believed that these soldiers, who fought on the German side and were seized as POWs by the Soviet Army, died 1944-1949. The soldiers found are of various ethnic groups: Latvians, Germans, Poles, Austrians, Slovaks, Belgians, French and even one soldiers from Tatarstan. The names of all of the soldiers are known because of hospital archives kept from that time. The bones will be buried at the German graveyard in Pinki with a special memorial plaque.
Soviet partizan, who wearing German uniforms killed civilians, acquitted
In the case of Vassili Makarovich Kononov v. Latvia, the European Court of Human Rights acquitted the defendant, who complained that at the time of his war crimes, they did not amount to war crimes either under any law. --- In 1942 Kononov was called up into the Red Army, and trained to set up sabotage and partisan action. In Feb. 1944, near the village of Mazie Bati, the German army eliminated a unit of Red Partisans. Thinking that the villagers had betrayed them, Kononov's partisan unit did a "reprisal action". On 27 May 1944 the Red Partisans wearing German uniforms entered the village and killed 9 villagers (including two women, one in the last month of pregnancy).
Latvian seeks 4M compensation after being jailed for killing 2 Nazi sympathisers
A man is to be judged by European Court of Human Rights on whether he was right or wrong to kill Nazi sympathisers in 1944. Latvian Vasiliy Kononov - a specialist mine layer who destroyed 14 German troop trains - claims compensation of £4 million for being sentenced to 6 years imprisonment in 2001 for the killing of civilians who had betrayed a partisan group to the Germans. Kononov, a guerrilla tied to the Soviet Red Army, helped kill the collaborators. Kononov says he acted properly by killing the 9 civilians in a Latvian village, because at the time he was legally fighting with the Red Army, and on the side of the Allies.
Latvia, Nazis, Jews and World War II History (Article no longer available from the original source)
Micah Halpern does well to publish article "Riga: Modern Latvia Flocks to Nazi Past", but there is a lack of historical knowledge about some events. Nazis used Latvian soldiers as cannon fodder. No one would think of calling the Finnish people Nazis just because they, with no option at hand, got the Nazis as allies. Amongst the Latvians that killed Jews were also drunken teens who had parents exiled by the Communists some years earlier. One can ask Valentina Lasmane, a teacher of such kids. Communists killed a lot in 1940, and Latvians remembered this.
Waffen SS unit, the Latvian Legion, marched in through Riga
3000 marched through Riga under heavy protection to honor countrymen who fought in a German Waffen SS combat unit during the Second World War. Protesters jeered as the procession - including a few living members of the Waffen SS unit, the Latvian Legion - made it at the Freedom Monument. Participants sang patriotic songs and waved Latvian flags before laying roses at the base of the monument as protesters chanted "Hitler is dead!" Veterans who fought on the side of Nazi Germany were fighting for their freedom against the Soviet threat. Russians claim that the Soviet army freed the Baltic state from fascism.
Estonian Waffen-SS veterans gather for congress (Article no longer available from the original source)
A congress of servicemen from the 20th Waffen-SS division and other Estonian veterans who served in German military units during World War II has started in the Vaivara district. The congress started near the Sinimae hills, the scene of the worst battle in Estonia in WWII in 1944. The veterans, holding the flags of the units they served for, laid wreaths at a memorial rock in honor of the 20th SS division servicemen who were killed in action, and also to the commemorative plaques in honor of the Danish, Dutch, and Norwegian Waffen-SS legionaries who fought there.
Latvia caught in historical minefield over Waffen-SS past (Article no longer available from the original source)
On March 16, Latvians commemorate the Latvian Legion - a Waffen-SS unit formed by the Nazis in 1943. Some view its soldiers as patriotic heroes, but others see them as criminals. "The whole concept of the Legion is a historical minefield. It's far easier to say what it wasn't than what it was," said Matthew Kott, an expert on non-German SS units. Latvia's WWII history is both complex and tragic: The country was occupied by the Soviets in 1940, invaded and occupied by the Nazis in 1941 and re-occupied by the Soviets in 1944. During Soviet occupation, over 15,000 Latvians were deported or executed. As a result, many Latvians viewed the Nazi invasion as a liberation.
Baltics mourn deported sent to Siberia by the Soviet occupiers (Article no longer available from the original source)
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania paid tributes to the tens of thousands of persons who 65 years ago were rounded up in dawn raids and sent to Siberia by the Baltic states' Soviet occupiers. In the early hours of June 14, 1941, 10,000 Estonians, 15,000 Latvians and 16,000 Lithuanians were herded onto cattle trains and shipped out to the far eastern reaches of the Soviet Union, where many of them died. The expulsions were carried out "to persecute and silence" opponents of Josef Stalin's Soviet Union, which occupied the 3 Baltic states first in 1940, and again at the close of World War II following a few years under Nazi occupation, Latvia's Occupation Museum said.
Latvia: Argument over status of Waffen-SS troops spreads
According to the IPI the Latvian security services started an investigation of the Russian language newspaper Chas, when it suggested that the annual march by Latvian Waffen SS veterans in Riga should be stopped and it published articles on crimes of Waffen SS during the Second World War. In Latvia, March 16 is the day of the memory of Latvian Waffen SS troops, who fought against the U.S.S.R. during World War II.
When Latvia was seized by USSR 8 ships stayed independent (Article no longer available from the original source)
Crews of the eight Latvia-flagged vessels refused to obey Soviet orders when Latvia was annexed and incorporated by the Soviet Union in 1940. They kept the Latvian flag flying, legally remaining the sovereign territory of the Republic of Latvia. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, all eight steamers went into the Allied service, sailing both independently and with the Allied convoys and delivering strategic cargo for the Allies. Ironically they found themselves on the same side of the war as the Soviets, who entered the anti-Axis alliance in 1941 after being attacked by Nazi Germany.
Fighting Past Battles: documentary about Baltic Nazi collaborators (Article no longer available from the original source)
Nazism, Baltic-Style - Is a controversial russian documentary about the Baltic pro-German collaborators. The Latvian Waffen SS (the Latvian Legion) was formed while the country was occupied by Nazi Germany. In 1943-44, about 150,000 Latvians were conscripted in a last-ditch effort to stave off the Red Army. In interviews mixed with archival footage, the film examines the 15th and 19th police divisions, voluntary units that were integrated into the legion. The film features testimony from former volunteers, one of them says: "I have never been a member of the Waffen SS. When I enlisted, I was told I would serve in the Grenadier Guards."
Ex-SS legionary's new book "Latvian legionary in true light"
On the eve of Day of Latvian Waffen SS legionaries, famous public writer and ex-SS legionary Visvaldis Latsis presented his new book "Latvian legionary in true light." The author tried to collect all "justificatory" arguments of the presidential historical commission, and stress the importance of their deeds in patriotic education of youth. He said that he wanted to prove that Latvians fought for their freedom, but were naive. Latsis himself is a contradictory person: Loyal soldier and commander of Latvian SS Legion Strike Force.
Latvia braces for violence over Waffen SS parade (Article no longer available from the original source)
The glory days of the Latvian Waffen SS come alive again as Visvaldis Lacis tells war stories. "I was so scared," says the silver-haired platoon commander, "But I knew I would be the first to give the order to attack. I was the Fuehrer. I did it and started running." Veterans like Lacis are at the heart of a growing storm 120km away in the capital Riga, where an annual March 16 parade commemorating the Latvian Waffen SS Volunteer Legion's fight against the Red Army has been banned. Latvia had two divisions of around 100,000 men, the biggest contribution of any German-occupied nation to the Waffen SS's 900,000 men.
Latvians debate history and archive of the Latvian 15th Waffen-SS Division
The Latvian government announced that it wants schoolchildren to study the country`s history as a separate subject. But in a country whose history is still under debate, the reforms are proving to be controversial. Latvia`s independence is based on the claim that the country`s annexation by the Soviet Union was an occupation. Moscow claims that Latvia volunteered to join the U.S.S.R. The most awaited event of the year will be the opening of the regimental archive of the Latvian 15th Waffen-SS Division, recently returned from Holland and already the subject of intense debate both in Riga and Moscow.
Timeline: Latvia - A chronology of key events
1940 - Soviet troops invade Latvia following Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939. Latvia incorporated into the Soviet Union along with the other two Baltic republics. 1941 - Nazi forces invade; some 77,000 Latvian Jews murdered by Nazis and Latvian police. 1944 - Red Army returns, presaging deportations of Latvians and repression of resistance to sovietisation. 1986 - First anti-Soviet demonstrations held by nationalist and environmental activists.
Latvian government grants bigger tax breaks to former Nazi collaborators
The Latvian Cabinet has approved tax law amendments granting bigger tax breaks to members of the Forest Brothers guerilla movement, which collaborated with the Nazi regime. The Nazi collaborators will also be paid a monthly bonus of $100 by the Latvian Defense Ministry. -- The Latvian parliament has repeatedly rejected a bill on the status of soldiers of the Anti-Hitler coalition. The Opposition demanded benefits for those who fought in the anti-Hitler coalition. Currently this group have no benefits at all and opposition feels that Soviet veterans should have at least the same status as national resistance participants, including the veterans of the Waffen SS.
Nazi hunters advertise in Latvia
A Latvian newspaper has published advertisements offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the trial and conviction of Nazi war criminals. The advertisements are part of a campaign called "Operation Last Chance" launched by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which hunts Nazi criminals. About 80,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis and local collaborators in Latvia between 1941 and 1944. Thousands of Jews from other European countries were also sent to Latvia for execution. Of Latvia's 95,000 pre-war Jewish population, barely 4,000 survived the Holocaust. But Latvia has not prosecuted any Nazi suspects since it regained independence in 1991.
Latvia security police Arajs Kommando killers rehabilitated
In a forest just outside Latvia's capital, Riga, a massive slaughter took place in the winter of 1941. At Rumbula, 30,000 Jews were herded to their deaths in freezing temperatures. Archive pictures show the victims' last moments, as they were escorted to the killing pits by the local security police, the Arajs Kommando. Now the BBC has learned that some of the murderers have been quietly rehabilitated, given extra pensions and welfare benefits.