Chapter 2 – Living History 2 – Latvia
by Peter Cohen
On 16 March 1998 I received a copy of the Holocaust Book from the Jewish Congregation of Stockholm (Sw. Judiska Församlingen i Stockholm).
On 20 March 1998 the following bulletin was broadcast on public-service Swedish Radio at about 4.50 p.m. (my translation).
NAZI PARADE IN LATVIA EMBARRASSING FOR SWEDEN,
BUT NO REACTION FROM SWEDISH GOVERNMENT
The commemorative parade of SS-veterans and the high command of the current Latvian armed forces that was held in central Riga a few days ago is very embarrassing for Sweden.
Sweden is cooperating closely with Latvia in order to help develop the Latvian armed forces.
Colonel Dalbins, Commander-in-Chief of the Latvian armed forces, was at the head of the chiefs of staff in a commemorative parade for the World War 2 Latvian SS. Dalbins visited Sweden a short time ago and attended a meeting of Nordic and Baltic military commanders that was arranged by Ove Wiktorin, the Commander-in-Chief of the Swedish armed forces. At the meeting Dalbins expressed interest in obtaining access to surplus Swedish weapons and expressed his hope that Sweden would focus its military aid in the Baltics on Latvia. This matter has also been discussed with the parties represented in the Swedish parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Latvian SS-veterans’ march in Riga comes as an unpleasant surprise. The commemorative parade included former Nazis and was staged in central Riga at the Freedom monument, where an honor guard is stationed.
A source within the Swedish government says it is very surprising that the Latvian government did not forbid the heads of the armed forces to participate in the celebration. The event is embarrassing for Sweden, which has close military cooperation with Latvia.
To make matters worse, the Russian government now describes Latvia as a Fascist country and points to the lukewarm reaction among the EU countries.
Latvia’s history is still associated in a horrible way with the extermination (sic!) of the Jews during World War 2.
But Sweden has not reacted to the Nazi commemorative march in Riga, nor is the Swedish Foreign Ministry preparing a special comment on Latvia in connection with what has happened.
In the spring of 1943, three regiments were raised to form the “Freiwillige Lettische Legion” (Latvian Volunteer Legion). An artillery regiment was formed in January 1944. The Latvian Legion and the Latvian SS Volunteer Brigade (formerly 2nd SS Infantry Brigade) subsequently served under the VI SS Volunteer Corps. The Legion was regrouped in December 1943, to form a new division called 1st Division of the SS Latvian Legion. The division later became the “15. Waffen Division der SS Lettische Nr 1″ serving under the XXXXIII Corps of the 16th Army. It was composed of 471 officers, 1,330 NCO’s, and 13,192 other ranks.
The Nuremberg Tribunal of 1945-46 declared that the SS was a criminal organization.
Many Latvians claim that their Waffen SS troops were conscripted, that none of them joined voluntarily. This is an old song which was heard many times after the defeat of Fascism in Europe, when it seemed that almost all the people who had put on Nazi uniforms in Germany before 1945 had been forced to do so at gunpoint. Apparently, no one except Hitler, Goering and a few dozen others ever really wanted to be Nazis. The whole thing was just an unfortunate misunderstanding.
No comment in Stockholm
The Swedish government remained silent about the commemoration of the Waffen-SS in Riga. Nor was there any comment or protest from the Swedish mainstream media about the Waffen-SS march.
The reaction at the Swedish Foreign Ministry when I called: ”If we were to protest it would put an end to relations between Sweden and Latvia.”
A journalist at Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s leading daily newspaper, hung up the telephone when I asked him “Could you ask the prime minister why he doesn’t protest?” Comments from other newspapers and the public-service TV stations: “of no journalistic interest”. Svenska Dagbladet, equivalent of the British Daily Telegraph: “You have no right to call here and tell us what to write about”.
Even the Jewish community in Stockholm refused to comment. I contacted several prominent Jews in Stockholm, including Dr. Jerzy Einhorn, a well-known cancer specialist and a survivor of the concentration camps, but none of them wanted to become involved in a public protest.
No one wanted to ask the Swedish government about its lack of interest in Latvians who “defend the ideology behind the genocide…” Or about whether the government would fulfill its promise to deliver weapons to Latvian Fascists.
Protests from Germany’s chancellor Helmut Kohl and French president Chirac were reported in the International Herald Tribune on 27 March 1998. The report did not mention that Latvia’s defense ministry participated in the Waffen-SS celebration.
The Swedish government’s silence was reminiscent of the autumn of 1991, when a statue honoring the Waffen-SS was erected in Lithuania. The then recently elected Swedish premier minister Carl Bildt was asked to comment by a journalist from Swedish Radio’s P1 lunchtime news. Bildt said it was “a marginal event”.
16 March 1999: Another Waffen SS celebration in Riga, high military officers participate. No comment from the Swedish government, nor from any of the political parties that endorsed the Holocaust Book.
January 2000: Holocaust conference led by Göran Persson in Stockholm. No mention of what was going to happen in Riga in March.
16 March 2000: Another Waffen SS festival in Riga. No comment from Persson’s government, nor from any of the political parties that endorsed the Holocaust Book.
6 April 2000: Dagens Nyheter reports:
Holocaust medal to prime minister. Ceremony in London. A humble Göran Persson appears together with Mandela.
– It feels impressive, said prime minister Göran Persson, who on Wednesday night in London received the Interfaith Gold Medallion from Sigmund Sternberg on behalf of The International Council of Christians and Jews.
– All of us who participated in the Holocaust Conference in Stockholm were deeply moved, said Sigmund Sternberg.
Göran Persson received the medal for his efforts to disseminate knowledge of the Holocaust and against racism and xenophobia. Sigmund Sternberg naturally mentioned the Holocaust Conference but also highlighted the book for students (the Holocaust Book) and the importance of spreading this knowledge further.
– Plans to arrange an annual conference in Stockholm on conscience and humanity show that this was not just an isolated gesture, added Sigmund Sternberg.
– I feel humble and optimistic, said Göran Persson in his formal speech of thanks.
Persson and Nelson Mandela were invited as honorary guests and speakers at a banquet later in the evening. Persson planned to talk on the themes of tolerance and knowledge.
– It’s easy for people to be understanding and tolerant on the personal level, said Persson after the ceremony at which he was awarded the medallion. But we can never tolerate political systems like Nazism. And history can repeat itself, it can happen again. I find this terribly frightening. We have to be on guard against the extreme right throughout the whole of Europe. (Emphasis added)
– We often have an unsuspecting attitude and believe that people change, but we have become a bit more experienced, said Göran Persson. I don’t think that people are born either good or evil – I think that they are basically good but circumstances can lead to evil.
Sigmund Sternberg and others who attended the Holocaust conference in Stockholm would probably have been even more moved if they had been told about the Waffen-SS marches in Latvia and the Swedish government’s silence. Although Göran Persson was a guest of honor together with Nelson Mandela, he did not mention that he never – to my knowledge – made any public statement condemning the South African apartheid regime while it was in power, or called for sanctions against it.
1 May 2000: ”It’s not the few loudmouths who are the biggest threat, it’s the many who are silent” – Social Democrat Minister for health and social affairs Ingela Thalén, May Day speech in Linköping, Sweden.
5 May 2000: Dagens Nyheter reports:
Persson applauded. Prime minister in US. International forum on humanity to be held annually.
Prime minister Göran Persson was met by hearty applause when he spoke in the rotunda of the US Congress building on the anniversary of the Holocaust during World War 2.
– The Holocaust was not an accident, he said. It happened because people wanted to do it, planned it, and carried it out. It happened not least because people were silent. (Emphasis added)
Göran Persson had been invited as keynote speaker by the Holocaust Museum. This is a direct consequence of his commitment in Sweden to the question of the Holocaust and to the international Holocaust Conference in Sweden in January.
20 October 2000: Dagens Nyheter reports:
Sweden arms 10,000 Balts. Swedish weapons donated to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. More than 3 battalions to be armed…This is the largest Swedish military effort abroad in the past two hundred years or so.
16 March 2001: Another Waffen-SS march in Riga. No comment in Stockholm.
16 March 2002: Another Waffen SS party in Riga. No comment from Persson’s government, nor from any of the political parties that endorsed the Holocaust Book.
7 November 2002: During a visit to Finland, at Jyväskylä University Göran Persson expresses his gratitude to the Finns who fought shoulder to shoulder with the Nazi Wehrmacht. By resisting a Soviet offensive at Tali-Ihantala in 1944 they ”had fended off what could have been a fateful Soviet expansion to the west.”
In April 2000 Persson had said in London ”But we can never tolerate political systems like Nazism”. Does toleration extend to those who collaborated with Nazi armies?
Surprisingly, Persson did not express his gratitude to the Nazi generals Guderian, Keitel, von Manstein and others who fought in the war against he Soviet Union, nor to the death squads (Einsatzgruppen) who murdered Communists and Jews in Nazi-occupied Soviet territory.
In any case, Persson revealed his ignorance of history. An armistice between Finland and the USSR that included preliminary peace terms was signed on September 19, 1944, about two months after the battle to which Persson referred.
If the Soviets had had plans for expansion westward in the Nordic region they could certainly have occupied Finland, since there was nothing to stop them. But they didn’t. No evidence to the contrary has ever been provided.
16 March 2003: Another Waffen SS party in Riga. No comment from Persson’s government, or from any of the political parties that endorsed the Holocaust Book.
June 2003: The Swedish government announces the establishment of the Forum for Living History (Sw. Forum för levande historia), dedicated to spreading knowledge and awareness of the Holocaust. As mentioned above, the Forum has the status of a government agency, at the same level as the Swedish tax authority.
The head of the Forum states in Dagens Nyheter (Sweden’s leading morning newspaper) that its tasks are to spread knowledge of the Holocaust and carry out research on “the crimes of Communism”.
January 2004: Persson’s government arranges an international conference in Sweden on the theme “Preventing Genocide – Threats and Responsibilities”. The Holocaust is mentioned many times.
16 March 2004: Dagens Nyheter reports: “Latvian SS-veterans march again”.
The veterans are accompanied by neo-Nazis from the Latvian Club 415. They carry banners reading “Latvia for the Latvians. Kick out the occupiers”, meaning the large minority who speak Russian. Police are present to keep the peace, but one of the marchers tries to kick DN’s reporter and shrieks at him in Latvian: “Fucking Jews and occupiers. If the police weren’t here I’d break your head”.
The Swedish government maintains its silence.
15 March 2005: Göran Persson is in Jerusalem, attending the opening of the Holocaust Museum together with dignitaries from 39 other nations. According to API, Israel’s president “warned of renewed anti-Semitism”. The Waffen-SS march scheduled in Riga on the following day was not mentioned.
16 March 2005: The BBC reports that the Latvian police arrest about 25 anti-fascist protesters when the Waffen-SS veterans marched through the streets of Riga.
Statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry reported on the same day by Itar-Tass:
It is particularly cynical that such actions are being held with the consent of the Latvian authorities, who are trying on the eve of the 60th anniversary of VE-Day to find support in the European capitals for Riga’s policy of revising the outcome of World War 2 and the verdict of the Nuremberg trial, which classified the SS as a criminal organization…Only distorted logic can explain a situation where the Legion members march freely in the center of the Latvian capital while the police use force against anti-Fascists. All this is happening in contemporary Latvia, which according to the EU is in full compliance with the Copenhagen criteria for democracy.
No comment from Stockholm.
Spring 2005: The Forum for Living History arranges an exhibition in Stockholm devoted to the deportation of approximately 165 Baltic soldiers in 1945 from Sweden to the Baltic provinces of the Soviet Union. The deportation was in accordance with the terms of the German surrender that officially ended World War 2 in Europe.
The exhibition displays a perverted version of European history during the 1930s and expresses sympathy for the deported soldiers, who were members of armies that were allied with the Nazis. According to the Forum’s web site, “For many of them this involved an uncertain future in Soviet prisons”.
The Forum did not mention that of the 165 soldiers, about 35 were sentenced by Soviet courts to varying prison terms for collaboration with the Germans during the war. None of them were executed. (See Per-Olov Enquist’s documentary novel Legionärerna: En bok om baltutlämningen, 1968.)
Efraim Zuroff is Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem. In the summer of 1998 the Center published an article by him entitled The Failure to Prosecute Nazi War Criminals in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, 1991-1998. There is no indication at the Forum’s web site of the article, which begins as follows:
Any attempt to assess contemporary efforts to prosecute Nazi war criminals in the Baltics must begin with a brief historical description of the active involvement of local collaborators in the implementation of the Final Solution in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Unlike the situation in most of the rest of Europe, where the majority of the Jews were rounded up by the Nazis and their local helpers but were murdered in Polish death camps, practically all the Jews annihilated in the Baltics were killed locally and in many cases by their compatriots.
The active involvement of Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians in the murders took various forms. Probably the most pernicious was their service in special killing units established by the Nazis expressly for the implementation of the mass murder of “enemies of the Reich”. Units such as the Lithuanian Ypatinga burys (Vilnius Sonderkommando) and the 12th Auxiliary Police Battalion, and the Latvian Arajs Kommando each carried out the murder of tens of thousands of Jews, and the latter two formations were even sent outside their respective countries to carry out mass executions which earned them considerable notoriety. In addition, local police units throughout the three countries were active participants in the annihilation of local Jewish communities, as were vigilante gangs of local fascists who in some cases, particularly in Lithuania, began their physical attacks on Jews even before the Nazis occupied their homeland.
Local administrators played a role in the various stages of the persecution and murder of the Jews (and the confiscation of their property), and the role of propagandists should also not be ignored. Given the relatively large number and particularly high percentage of Baltic Jews murdered – especially in Lithuania (212,000 Jews killed which constituted 96.4% of the Jews living under Nazi occupation), but to a certain extent in Latvia as well (67,000 Latvian Jews which constituted 95.7% of the local community) – and the murder of at least several thousand, primarily Central European, Jews in each of the three countries, as well as the active participation of numerous Balts in the killing of Jews in Byelorussia and Poland – It becomes clear that the number of Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians who played a role in the annihilation of European Jewry is extremely large and quite significant by any standard.
Many of these perpetrators were brought to trial by the Soviet authorities during the initial decade following the end of World War II, but others were never held accountable. A considerable percentage of those in the latter category escaped prosecution by emigrating to the West, in many cases to countries like the United States, Australia, Canada and Great Britain which had fought against the Nazis. Ironically, within less than a decade after the conclusion of the hostilities the former allies had admitted at least hundreds, if not thousands, of Balts who had collaborated with the Nazis.
During the period of postwar Soviet occupation (sic!), decisions regarding the prosecution of Holocaust perpetrators were made in Moscow, not in Vilnius, Riga or Tallinn. With the advent of Baltic independence in 1991, however, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were forced to confront not only the larger historical and moral issue of the wartime collaboration of their countrymen with the Nazis, but also practical legal issues that emanated from that fact. Although the scope of the issue differed from country to country, there were basic similarities in the responses of the three countries. Most important and illuminating is the fact that none of them have to date tried a single Nazi war criminal, although elderly KGB operatives of an equivalent age have been convicted and incarcerated in Latvia and indicted in Estonia. (Emphasis added)
During Göran Persson’s second term as prime minister of Sweden, the Jewish Political Studies Review 14:3-4 (Fall 2002), publishes an article by Zuroff entitled Sweden’s Refusal to Prosecute Nazi War Criminals: 1986-2002, which we shall return to in Chapter 12.
It is perhaps superfluous to point out that there is no mention of Zuroff’s article at the web site of the Forum for Living History.
16 March 2006: The annual celebration is held in Riga. No comment from the Swedish government or parliament.
16 March 2007: The annual celebration is held in Riga. No comment from the Swedish government or parliament.
16 March 2008: The annual celebration is held in Riga.
Report by the Associated Press, Sunday, 16 March 2008:
RIGA, Latvia: Thousands of people marched through this capital Sunday under heavy police protection to honor countrymen who fought in a German combat unit during World War II.
Protesters jeered as the procession of about 3,000 people – a few surviving members of the Waffen SS unit known as the Latvian Legion among them – arrived at the Freedom Monument in central Riga.
Participants in the march sang patriotic songs and waved Latvian flags before laying roses at the base of the monument as protesters chanted “Disgrace!” and “Hitler is dead!” in Russian and blew whistles to drown out the singing.
Thousands of police officers deployed to prevent unrest kept the two sides apart. No violence was reported.
The Swedish government responds with the usual silence.
By permitting a march to honor those who fought alongside the Nazis for a victory of the Third Reich during World War II, the Latvian authorities are sending a deeply-flawed message which distorts the historical events. And by honoring all the Latvian SS Legion veterans, even though among them are many who were active participants in the mass murder of Jews in Latvia and Belarus, the organizers of the march are insulting the victims of these murderers and reinforcing the myth that Latvians bear no responsibility whatsoever for the annihilation of Latvian Jewry (and numerous Jews in other countries), a fabrication which has no connection to reality. (Emphasis added)
16 March 2009: Another march in Riga. When the Latvian Legion reaches the so-called Freedom Monument, about one hundred members of the Latvian Anti-fascist Committee are waiting. They call out “Hitler kaput” and “Fascists”. Three of the anti-fascists are arrested by the police.
More silence in Stockholm.
16 March 2010: The Latvian Legion marches again. The Guardian reports that a photograph of SS soldiers is laid on the flowers at the so-called Freedom Monument. No comment from Stockholm.
16 March 2011: The SS veterans march again after a district court nullifies the city council’s ban on the demonstration. Business as usual in Stockholm. See http://www.reitingi.lv/en/news/latvia/3181.html
Commemorating a Ukrainian Jew-killer
In 1918 Russia was invaded by military forces from 14 countries, including the US, the UK, France and Japan, in an attempt to overthrow the new Communist government. Approximately 14 million people died of violence, starvation and disease during the resulting war, which ended in 1922. The victims included Jews killed in massive pogroms in the Ukraine, who were murdered by Ukrainian nationalists led by one Simon Petliura (also spelled Petlura).
When the Western invaders were forced to leave Russia, Petliura fled. He settled in Paris, where in 1926 he was murdered in the Rue Racine by Samuel Schwartzbard, a young Jew whose family had been among the victims of the pogroms under Petliura.
Schwartzbard was tried in a French court, where he claimed that he had executed a murderer. Witnesses who offered to testify on his behalf included the philosopher Henri Bergson, the writer Romain Rolland, and Albert Einstein. Schwartzbard was acquitted.
He later became one of the founders of the “International League Against Antisemitism” (Ligue Internationale Contre l’Antisémitisme), which Göran Persson and the other Swedish politicians who have endorsed the Holocaust Book would surely have been eager to join.
The Orange revolutionaries honor Petliura
Ukrainian nationalists have kept the flame of anti-Semitism alight. For example, the British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG) reported that in 2003 the newspaper Silski visti (Village News) printed an anti-Semitic diatribe. The paper is a leading supporter of Viktor Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine party. Yushchenko was elected president of Ukraine in the co-called “Orange Revolution” in 2005. The BHHRG stated that:
In late 2003 Alexander Shlayen, the head of the Ukrainian Anti-Fascist Committee and a prominent member of the post-Holocaust Jewish community in Ukraine, initiated a prosecution of the newspaper Silski visti for promoting inter-ethnic discord in the country, which was the site of the infamous Babi Yar massacre along with countless other Nazi atrocities against Jews.
On 28 January, 2004, the court ordered the closing of the newspaper but it defied the ruling with the vocal backing of the opposition Our Ukraine party and its allies. In August, 2004, Alexander Shlayen died suddenly and unexpectedly.
Victor Yuschenko – who our media always apostrophizes as ‘the pro-Western presidential candidate’ and who enjoys the open support of the Bush administration – and another prominent opposition leader, energy oligarch Yulia Timoshenko, as well as Alexander Moroz of the Socialist Party issued a statement headed ‘Hands Off Silski Visti’!”
John Laughland in The Spectator, 5 November 2004:
A few years ago, a friend of mine was sent to Kiev by the British government to teach Ukrainians about the Western democratic system. His pupils were young reformers from western Ukraine, affiliated to the Conservative party. When they produced a manifesto containing 15 pages of impenetrable waffle, he gently suggested boiling their electoral message down to one salient point. What was it, he wondered? A moment of furrowed brows produced the lapidary and nonchalant reply, ‘To expel all Jews from our country.’
It is in the west of Ukraine that support is strongest for the man who is being vigorously promoted by America as the country’s next president: the former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko. On a rainy Monday morning in Kiev, I met some young Yushchenko supporters, druggy skinheads from Lvov. They belonged both to a Western-backed youth organization, Pora, and also to Ukrainian National Self-Defence (Unso), a semi-paramilitary movement whose members enjoy posing for the cameras carrying rifles and wearing fatigues and balaclava helmets. Were nutters like this to be politically active in any country other than Ukraine or the Baltic states, there would be instant outcry in the US and British media; but in former Soviet republics, such bogus nationalism is considered anti-Russian and therefore democratic.
In 2005 Yushchenko became president of Ukraine. He and his wife travelled to Paris to lay a wreath on the grave of Simon Petliura, who is regarded as a hero by Ukrainian so-called nationalists (read Nazis).
In 2006 Yushchenko arranged a nation-wide ceremony in commemoration of Petliura and declared him a national hero. A postage stamp bearing his portrait was issued in his honor
Yushchenko also conferred the status of national hero on Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych, both of whom collaborated actively with the Nazis during World War 2 and slaughtered many thousands of Jews as well as non-Polish Jews. Information on Bandera and his post-war service as a British agent is given by Norman J.W. Goda, Braman Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Florida, at http://hnn.us/articles/122778.html
In view of previous performance, it is not surprising that the glorification of Ukrainian Fascists by the leader of the Orange Revolution did not stimulate any protests, or even comments, by the Swedish government or by mainstream Swedish political parties, politicians and journalists. Or by their counterparts in other Western countries.
To my knowledge the Forum for Living History has not produced any reports or analyses regarding the official resurrection of Fascists and Fascism in the Baltics and the Ukraine, although it claims that “…with the help of history the Forum creates (sic!) knowledge of the present”.
How can the silence be explained?
Why do people whose hearts bleed for the Jews killed in the Holocaust refuse to condemn the modern inheritors of the Fascist tradition, or the governments that support them, as in the Baltics?
The answer is related to a number of other questions that are discussed in subsequent chapters, including:
- Why are the Nazis condemned in the West almost exclusively for the slaughter of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, the handicapped and the retarded? Why are they not universally condemned for the extermination of approximately 15 million civilians in the Soviet Union?
- Why are the Nazis not universally condemned for having launched a war of aggression, which was defined at the Nuremburg Tribunal as “…the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
- Why did Sweden become a safe haven for Baltic Fascists? Why were Baltic war criminals resident in Sweden never indicted for their crimes?
- Why were thousands of Baltic Fascists welcomed into the UK and the US after World War 2 ended? Why did the British and the Americans employ them as agents?
- Why were approximately ten thousand Nazi war criminals recruited by the Americans for service in the military, the intelligence services and industry?
- Why did the Western powers acquiesce when Nazis were reinstated throughout society in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (West Germany), from the highest levels of federal and local governments to the judiciary, the military, the civil service, the professions, the educational system and major corporations and banks?
- Why did the Western powers enable West Germany to be rearmed, in violation of Allied agreements during the war? Why were major Nazi war criminals appointed to lead the German military establishment?
The answer is clearly suggested by the comment of a high-ranking CIA officer who played a major role in recruiting Nazis for post-war service: “It was a visceral business of using any bastard as long as he was anti-Communist” (see Chapter 11). “Visceral” appears to mean “instinctive”.
Both before and during World War 2, Fascists were the shock-troops of the West in the war against Communism in general and the Soviet Union in particular. It was therefore perfectly natural for them to participate in this war after 1945. The nature of the Western interests that were and are promoted by the war is one of the main themes of this book.