NEW YORK (Mar. 18)
A Simon Wiesenthal Center official has sent a letter to Latvian President Anatolijs Gorbunovs protesting his participation in ceremonies this week marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Latvian SS Legion.
These included a wreath-laying ceremony Tuesday at the Freedom Monument in central Riga and a moment of silence in Parliament.
The Latvian president signed a declaration indicating that the Zemessargi, the Latvian armed Home Guard, is the heir of the SS Legion, and its commander was officially honored.
There is now “a tremendous amount of sympathy” in Latvia for right-wing nationalistic fervor, Efraim Zuroff, director of the Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.
In his letter to Gorbunovs, Zuroff wrote, “It was with a sense of shock and outrage that we learned of the recent events commemorating and glorifying the anniversary of the establishment of the Latvian Legion, in which you personally participated.
“Given all we know about the horrors of the Nazi regime, it is shocking to see homage paid to those who willingly joined the ranks of the German military machine in an effort to achieve a Nazi victory.”
The 50th anniversary was observed with a series of public events, the one in the Latvian Parliament being the most important.
Zuroff said he had learned from local sources that the only members of Parliament who did not stand and observe the minute of silence for fallen SS members were several members of the Russian Radical Party and Ruth Amriag, a Jewish member of Parliament, who walked out.
The wreath-laying ceremony “was attended by many well-known right-wing Latvian political leaders,” said Zuroff.
ENVOY DENIES ANY ‘RESPECT FOR NAZISM’
Zuroff said Latvia’s 20,000-member Jewish community “is divided” about how to respond to the nostalgia for the Latvian SS.
“There are those who believe this should not be harped on, and there are others who feel they should be speaking out loudly and boldly,” he said.
Asked about the commemoration, Latvia’s ambassador to Washington, Ojars Kalnins, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: “It is my understanding that these people (the Latvian Legion) fought to try to re-establish independence.”
“The slaughter of the Jews in Latvia was done in 1941 and 1942 by the Nazis,” whereas the Latvian SS Legion was formed in 1943, he said.
These commemorations are “definitely not any sign of respect for Nazism,” he maintained.
Zuroff acknowledged that the legion was formed after the mass murder of Latvian Jews. But he said that many of its members had served in police units involved in the killings.
“We are talking about a unit that was part of the SS, that collaborated with the Nazis and fought to help achieve the victory of the Third Reich,” he said.
“They were trying to obtain an objective which was too horrible to contemplate: a Nazi victory in Europe.”