Jewish community leaders in this newly independent republic are expressing concern about a stepped-up campaign by World War II veterans to rehabilitate those who collaborated with the Nazis in wartime crimes against Jews and others.
A statement issued here by G. Gramberg, chairman of the Jewish Cultural Society in Estonia, and D. Slomka, chairman of the Jewish religious community here, appealed for Western assistance in lobbying the Estonian government to halt the rehabilitation effort.
The Jewish leaders said that many veterans who are being hailed now as heroes of Estonian independence belonged to military units responsible for the genocide of Estonia’s 2,000 Jews, an operation that made the republic “Judenfrei” by December 1941.
They also assisted the Nazis in more than 20 concentration camps, where Jews from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, France and Holland were killed.
The Jewish leaders expressed particular concern about a rally for Estonian “freedom fighters” held Nov. 9 in the town of Paide.
Radio advertisements for the rally invited, among others, veterans of police battalions and of the self-defense organization Omakaitse who were part of the 20th Division of the Nazi SS.
There seem to have been other such rallies in Tartu and in the towns of Tori and Adaveri.
The two Jewish leaders claimed their own safety is in jeopardy for passing on information about these events. “But the memory of the dead does not let us keep silent,” they said in their joint statement.
Estonian war veterans attempted in vain to hold a similar rally last year, before the Baltic republics gained their independence from Moscow.
On July 6, 1990, heavily armored Soviet troops broke up a rally in Tori that had been organized by the Heritage Society, a group that bills itself as “seeking to promote awareness of Estonian history.”
LITTLE AWARENESS IN U.S.
In New York, American Jewish organizational leaders, who have devoted a lot of attention to efforts to rehabilitate wartime collaborators in Lithuania, seemed to be largely unaware that a similar campaign is building in Estonia.
When asked about the Estonian rallies, Abraham Bayer, director of international concerns for the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, said, “I don’t want to tarnish the name of a new republic that has fought so hard for its sovereignty.”
But if the details in the Estonian statement are true, he added, “it reinforces our sadness about those who do not express their remorse for having participated in such heinous crimes.”
The Anti-Defamation League sent a letter to Estonian President Edgard Savissar at the end of October, asking for the opportunity to discuss subjects pertinent to Holocaust survivors, possible return of Jewish property and the issue of Nazi war criminals, said Myrna Shinbaum, the agency’s director of public relations.
“Now that there is an independent, free Estonia, we would hope that the government of Estonia would live up to all its obligations on behalf of those Jews who were victims during the war and want to make sure that we would not have the same situation as happened in Lithuania,” she said.
Elliot Welles, director of ADL’s Nazi task force, said, “Jewish blood is still on the head of Estonia, and no justice has been done by the government of Estonia in condemning the SS.”
Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, pointed out that the popular campaign to rehabilitate collaborators in Estonia “is not a situation unique” to the republic.
“We’ve seen these rallies and similar kinds of rallies in the other Baltic countries and in the Ukraine,” he said. The question, he said, is what influence these “reactionary forces have on the newly established independent governments.”
(JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this report.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.