2016Aleksandrs Feigmanis

Some High Latvian Politicians Think the Waffen-SS Fought for Freedom

Originally posted at www.defendinghistory.com, published 4 September 2016[1]

There are here in Latvia some high-ranking Latvian politicians who 1actually believe that the country’s Waffen-SS fighters fought for freedom of their country. Every year on the 16th of March Latvian nationalists gather at the Freedom Monument in the heart of Riga, the nation’s capital, and in the cemetery at Lestene, a village some seventy-two kilometers from Riga, to remember and 2honor (honor!) the living and dead veterans of the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS.

Dr. Aleksandrs Feigmanis (Rīga)

Established by order of Adolf Hitler on the 10th of February 1943, they fought 3for Nazi Germany 4against the Red Army on the Volkhov front near Leningrad, and later in Great River region, Kurzeme (Kurland), in Poland, Germany and elsewhere.

Although the 5alarming series of annual events commemorating and glorifying the Latvian SS Volunteer Legion events are now officially non-governmental, some MPs and even ministers do not hesitate to not only participate publicly, 6setting an example for the nation’s youth, but also to 7publicly refer to Waffen-SS legionnaires as heroes and national freedom fighters. 8Had Hitler won the war, there would have been no Latvia left to become free in 1991. By 9swearing an oath to Adolf Hitler’s genocidal regime, and then 10in fact delaying the liberation of the concentration camps by the Allies, they were 11pawns of the Nazis who do not deserve to be glorified by a modern, democratic member of the European Union and NATO.

(Continued...)

Analysis | Exposition

We hope that some day the role of the Latvian Legion Waffen-SS will be the subject of historical analysis and not the target of polemics. However, even seventy-two years after the end of World War II, the polarized divide between, empirically, Jews and Latvians, remains a gulf waiting to be bridged. As some history is acknowledged, that is, fighting against Soviet reoccupation, it is nevertheless now being represented as a "choice" to fight for the Nazis.

As someone born, raised, and educated in Latvia, Dr. Feigmanis[2] is in a unique position to foster understanding and reconciliation of, and atonement for, the past. Thus we were all the more disappointed to find Feigmanis forfeiting his opportunity—and we would argue duty—to instead truck out the formulaic[3] and false "Latvians fought for Hitler's victory" script.

Contention versus Fact

Feigmanis' incredulity sets the tone for the rest of his opinion piece. Latvian Legionnaires wore the Latvian flag under their uniforms for the hope of a free Latvia. Latvia was caught between two occupiers. There was no choice against the Bolsheviks except Germany—just as after WWI. Feigmanis judges the Latvian Legion by the uniform they wore, not their hopes and dreams for Latvia, and tarnishes the memory of those who held out in Courland until the end of WWII in the only territory not captured by the Red Army.

Feigmanis literally doubles down on his derision of those honoring fallen and surviving Legionnaires.

Here we have the syllogistic history-denying foundation of Feigmanis' false narrative. Those in the Legion certainly knew the history of the Latvian war of independence—enshrined in Legion song, allying with Germans to drive out the Russians, then turning on and driving out the Germans to achieve victory and freedom—more than 700 years after the first time the Germans arrived to subjugate them.

Latvian independence at the end of WWII required only that Latvians not be forced to hand over the Courland pocket to the U.S.S.R.. Latvians battled for and achieved independence after WWI holding even less territory. Little did Latvians know that Roosevelt and Churchill had betrayed them to Stalin. Roosevelt had personally joked with Stalin over the notion the U.S. would resort to force to protect Baltic independence. And whereas the British had provided the fledgling Latvian government sanctuary on a ship in Liepāja during its war of independence, Churchill crafted the Western Allies' acceptance of the fraudulent Baltic Soviet "elections" and petition to join the U.S.S.R. as the will of the people. Not only did Churchill save Stalin from violating (on paper!) the Atlantic Charter, but as the Charter was the predecessor to the United Nations, Britain and 50 other nations founded the U.N. on the ashes of Baltic independence.

Latvian independence required neither Soviet nor Nazi victory as a prerequisite—nor did Latvians fight for anything other than Latvian independence.

Feigmanis' painting honoring of the Latvian Legion as cause for alarm denies Latvia's historical DNA. Members, survivors, and their families have reverently honored the Legion for sixty-five years. It was only after Russia mounted a concerted propaganda campaign after commemoration was declared a national Latvian holiday that this new ahistorical narrative blossomed, including winning over Holocaust activists to its "anti-Nazi glorification" cause.

The example being "set" is to inculcate awareness and understanding of Latvia's history. Any understanding of Hitler's collaborators in the Holocaust begins with a factual accounting of who did, and did not, participate.

What is the alternative? Would Feigmanis have us denounce the Latvian Legion as Nazis? Feigmanis plays into the subtext that having fought against the Soviet Union brands one a Hitlerite, not someone defending one's homeland against reinvading Soviets. That we now know that the Legionnaire's hopes for freedom were doomed, that there was no scenario in which the other Allies had not already consigned Latvia to Soviet subjugation, does not give anyone the right to denounce those dreams as null and void or any less genuine.

The other bookend to the syllogistic binary Allied or Nazi victory only theorem, the historically fraudulent contention that Latvia's only path to restoring independence was through brutal Soviet reoccupation, that the only other possibility was a Nazi victory which would have spelled the end of Western civilization. That would have meant the end of Latvia as well, ergo, even if they weren't war criminals, the misguided Latvians were only fighting to accelerate their own demise. The Latvians' own War of Independence proved there was a third alternative, to drive out both Russian and German invaders.

Feigmanis ignores that by the end of the war the Nazis had forcibly conscripted every Latvian male born after 1905. Regardless, there was such outrage over the original Waffen-SS oath that the Legionnaire's oath to Germany was only to follow military orders. No allegiance to Nazism. No swearing to defend Nazi Germany. Taking an oath solely to fight against the Bolsheviks.

That the Legion prolonged the suffering of Hitler's concentration camp victims is the most immoral and outrageous of Feigmanis' contentions. Germany fielded some 3,500,000 servicemen on the Eastern Front. Latvians were a mere fraction in comparison. The Latvian tragedy of WWII, beyond the loss of independence, was that both Germans and Russians pressed Latvians into service, some 100,000 or more on each side. Hundreds of thousands of Latvians fought in the war suffering horrific levels of casualties, in the end, to no net effect.

Were Feigmanis truly interested in delays to Allied victory, he need only look to Stalin himself, who from October 1944 through March 1945 threw in division after division to their slaughter in Latvia's Courland—a totally non-strategic objective—in a doomed attempt to seize the last piece of Latvian-defended territory. The Red Army suffered some 300,000 dead, wounded, and missing in their Courland campaign. It was more important to Stalin that he exterminate the Latvians than pursue the Germans and defeat Hitler. That the Soviets subsequently "liberated" Hitler's death camps was, for Stalin, just more fodder for propaganda. Lastly, Feigmanis omits that the "liberators" of Hitler's death camps proportionally deported Jews more than any other group of Latvia's citizenry: 5% of the population but 12% of deportees. The Jewish community was still reeling from Stalin's beheading of its political and civic leadership when the Germans invaded a week later.

As the war drew to a close, the Germans were even prepared to possibly restore Latvia's sovereignty. The contention of "pawns" insults the struggle against Bolshevism which led to Latvia's independence and the struggle against Bolshevism which led to Latvians holding out to the end of the war in Courland.

Feigmanis conjures an image of the European Union and NATO consorting with Latvian Nazi-glorifiers. There has never been any Nazi allegiance or glorification. Even Gustavs Celmiņš, the exiled leader of the pre-war fascist Pērkonkrusts, upon his return to Latvia, lobbied the Germans to form Latvian military units to pursue retreating Red Army on the Eastern Front, not to kill Jews.

Feigmanis' piece continues...


[1]Dr. Aleksandrs Feigmanis' opinion piece is published at defendinghistory.com/some-highlatvian-politicians-think-that-waffen-ss-fought-for-freedom/83530, retrieved 7 September 2016
[2]Our research indicates Feigmanis received his doctorate from the University of Latvia Department of Theology, having defended his dissertation February 16, 2012, on "Rabīniskā literatūra Latvijā līdz 1940. gadam: virzieni un personības" (Rabbinical literature in Latvia prior to 1940, trends and personalities). At www.lu.lv/zinas/t/10271/, retrieved 7 September 2016.
[3]Compare Feigmanis' opinion piece with that of Efraim Zuroff earlier in 2016.

Updated: June, 2017

Continued, originally posted at www.defendinghistory.com, published 4 September 2016[1]

For example, on 16 March 2014 in the commemorative events in the cemetery of Waffen-SS legionnaires in Lestene were graced by the 12very public presence and support of Dace Melbarde, who is today Minister of Culture of Latvia, and MEP Karlis Šadurskis, now the Minister of Education. In their speeches, they called the Waffen-SS legionnaires “fighters for freedom of Latvia” (see report in the newspaper Latvijas Avize, 17 March 2014, p. 2).

One year later, on March 16, 2015, the same commemorative events for the Waffen-SS legionnaires attracted the 13enthusiastic participation of Justice Minister Dzintars Rasnacs, Culture Minister Dace Melbarde, plus seven members of parliament from the National Association party and one member of the Unity party. Both parties are 14members of the ruling coalition. In addition, one of the events held in Lestene was attended by representatives of the Latvian armed forces and the Number Two in the state ladder of authority, Speaker of the Saeima (Latvian Parliament) Inara Murniece.

But do Latvia's leaders really want the country to be known in the European Union for educating its young to adulate members of the Waffen-SS?

In her speech, Speaker Murniece recalled that in 1950 the United States recognized the Latvian and Estonian SS legions as 15“different” from the German SS divisions whose fighters were actual members of the Nazi Party. She stressed that the Latvian and Estonian SS legions 16did not in her view [our emphasis—Editor] commit war crimes or crimes against humanity. A report on the commemorative events in Lestene was published on the front page Latvijas Avize of 17 March 2015. The article featured a photograph of children at the memorial stele that features the names of perished Latvian Waffen-SS. The caption to the photo reads: “Many pupils also participated in the commemorative events in Lestene.”

For future historians 17it will be a curiosity that leading Latvian politicians, praising the Waffen-SS legionnaires fighting in the army of Nazi Germany, do not meet with the tiniest official response from the Israeli Embassy or indeed the official Latvian Jewish community leadership.

I asked the head of a Jewish research organization that works closely with the Ministry of Culture of Latvia whether he would consider, bearing in mind the suffering and the number of victims of genocide by the Nazi regime in Latvia, to 18protest against the minister‘s description of the Waffen-SS as “fighters for the freedom of Latvia.”

He replied that he would not make any statement but that the speeches of his country‘s Minister of Culture are not of interest to him.


Aleksandrs Feigmanis, who holds masters and doctoral degrees, is a Riga-based historical and family tour guide and genealogist in Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. Dr. Feigmanis‘s websites are www.balticgen.com and www.balticgentour.com. His earlier contributions to defendinghistory.com are available here.

Analysis | Politicization

Given the tone of Feigmanis' rhetoric, we were unsurprised to find him to be the primary scholarly contributor to the Monica Lowenberg "Stop the 16th March Marches in Latvia" petition. Among other grossly mistaken contentions, it purports as history that the Waffen-SS were Nazi sympathizers, and that an equal amount of Latvians "volunteered" to join the Red Army to fight against them.

Latvians were conscripted by both sides, arrested by both sides, shot by both sides. No Latvian fought "for" the powers that occupied and decimated their homeland and fellow citizenry. To suggest they did is, perhaps, the most grievous historical lie of all—to define Latvians not by their own hopes and dreams, instead to conjure up a civil war among Latvians dividing themselves into Nazi and Bolshevik camps and willingly taking up arms up against each other. Such contentions blaspheme history and every Latvian. Contrary to Lowenberg's via Feigmanis' account, Latvians sent into battle against each other laid down their weapons and refused to engage.

Contention versus Fact

Having laid out a historically false exposition concerning the loyalties and goals of the Latvian Legion, Feigmanis portrays leading members of parliament and the entire governing political coalition as a den of Nazi sympathizers. Feigmanis demeans the Holocaust and the memory of its victims by employing them as political pawns.

Feigmanis "quotes" the word "different" to suggest that the Waffen-SS were not different at all from the Nazis. U.S. authorities in Germany conducted an extensive investigation before confirming the Legion were, indeed, different. Perhaps Feigmanis is unaware that the Allies (Soviets included) posted Legionnaires as guards of the most notorious prisoners at the Nuremberg trials.

Herein lies the insidious heart of Feigmanis' thesis. No one has ever been accused of a war crime in the service of the Latvian Legion, not even the members of Arājs Kommando who were joined to the Legion late in the war as conditions on the front deteriorated, and who were ultimately convicted for their participation in the Holocaust. This is all the more remarkable given the lengths to which the U.S.S.R. went to fabricate evidence against Latvian émigré leadership, creating an entire KGB division dedicated to that mission.[2]

Feigmanis reduces to personal opinion that the Waffen-SS had no Nazi sympathies and committed no crimes—thereby elevating the alternative "view," that the Waffen-SS were Nazi war criminals, to an equally valid opinion. The Kremlin's propagandists and Internet trolls regularly employ this tactic: they reduce historical facts to opinions which they then dispute with "countering," factually fraudulent, "equally valid opinions."

Our hope is that some day historians will find it a "curiosity" how so many scholars and political leaders judged the Latvian Legion by their uniform—not by their hopes and dreams and the Latvian flag they wore under their uniform close to their heart—and disavowed the Legionnaires' historical DNA which instilled in them the tangible hope of repeating Latvia's first miracle of independence despite overwhelming odds against them. That so many purporting to hold the memory of the Holocaust sacred stampeded to exploit it in their domestic politics wholly unrelated to Latvia to assail their opponents as bedfellows with Nazi goons. That so many purporting to disseminate knowledge of the Holocaust in the cause of fostering tolerance and understanding engaged in prejudice and historical misrepresentation to vilify the innocent.

The day Latvia disavows the Latvian Legion is the day it affirms the Soviets "liberated," not subjugated, 100,000,000 Europeans after WWII. That is the day Latvia becomes a vassal of the Kremlin. Surely that is not Feigmanis' intent, but it is the consequence of fulfilling his request.

Postscript

Feigmanis has produced creditable and insightful research and scholarship on Jewish religious and secular life in Latvia. We are therefore all the more disappointed that he has chosen to take up the deeply flawed activist narrative to denounce the Waffen-SS and to smear Latvia's leadership who commemorate the Legion as Nazi glorifiers.

The moral obligation of every Latvian citizen is to challenge the ahistorical narratives others seek to impose on Latvia as "truth."

LATVIA FIGHTING GOES ON

Germans Say "National" Regime Has Been Formed

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Wednesday, May 9 (U.P.)—The German-controlled Libau radio in Latvia announced today the formation of a so-called National Latvian Government and declared that German troops in the Baltic nation would not obey the German surrender order.

The broadcast said that the troops would continue to fight in the service of the Latvian Government under the Latvian Supreme Command.

The broadcast urged the Soviet Government to cease hostilities and applied to Allied Governments for their support and mediation.

Latvia's last gasp in WWII, as reported by the United Press.

One can make the case that Latvians should, perhaps, consider commemorating the Latvian Legion without the few remaining alive wearing their Waffen-SS uniforms. It is quite another to contend that because the Latvians fought against the reinvading Red Army and used German arms to do so, that they fought for the end of Western civilization.

Caught between two occupiers, the only option against Soviet reoccupation was the Germans. It is an utter fallacy to suggest that the only "moral" option for Latvians after Soviet annexation and Nazi occupation was to welcome the return of Soviet brutality in the hopes of some day restoring independence, to trust (trust!) that the Latvian culture and people could survive in the face of mass deportations and Russification as an increasingly marginalized sub-class in their own country. For tangible proof of the peril, one need only look to the destruction Russia has wrought upon Crimea's Tatars in three years of annexation subjugation.

The Latvians did their part for independence, holding out in the Courland Pocket until the end of the war. They could not have known that Britain, their erstwhile ally in their war of independence against the Bolsheviks had, only a generation later, prostituted the principles put forth in the Atlantic Charter to paint a Potemkin facade of legitimacy on the Baltic "petitions to join" the U.S.S.R., the act by which the Baltic states were wiped off the map.

Hindsight is 20:20. The final Western betrayal was a radio transmission from the British to the Latvian Legion telling them to expect naval evacuation. We can only surmise this commitment was quashed higher up in the command chain because the evacuation never came, condemning the Latvian Legion to the GULAG or to be shot as traitors.[3]

If the Latvian Legion fought in vain, let us not denounce them as Nazi "pawns." Let us, instead, lay blame for their failure on those who betrayed Latvia.

It was inconceivable to the Latvians that the Western Allies would allow the Bolsheviks advance all the way to the Elbe River in Germany.[4] As the Latvian Legion fought and died in Courland, holding out to the end of the war against impossible odds, hoping to repeat the miracle of their War of Independence, Roosevelt laughed with Stalin at the prospect the U.S. might intervene to defend Latvia's freedom. Roosevelt and Churchill accepted as the "price" for their own freedom, the Soviet subjugation of 100,000,000 Europeans—lives and nations which were not theirs to give—offering those they sacrificed only the cynical hope they might moderate Russia to become less barbaric some day.[5]

If the Latvian Legion is to be a touchstone, it is not that its commemoration signifies a rebirth of Nazism. It is that after holding out on Latvian territory until the end of the war, their handing over by the West to Stalin foretold the Cold War. It was only ten months later that Churchill uttered, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."

When you sacrifice others to preserve your own freedom, you empower and encourage the tyranny you feed.

Below, a comparison of Bolshevik-held to Latvian-held territory during the war of independence and WWII.

Bolshevik versus Latvian held territory (blue), maximum extent of Bolshevik control during Latvia's war of independence versus the Courland Pocket where the Latvians and Wehrmacht held out until the end of WWII (red outline)—Latvians had achieved independence starting from far less.

[1]Dr. Aleksandrs Feigmanis' opinion piece published at defendinghistory.com/some-highlatvian-politicians-think-that-waffen-ss-fought-for-freedom/83530, retrieved 7 September 2016
[2]"Section Five" was established in 1967 dedicated to ideological counter-intelligence, including discrediting the leadership of the U.S.S.R.'s most troublesome anti-Soviet émigré communities. The Latvian SSR had its own KGB Section Five focused solely on Latvians abroad: "A training textbook of the Highest School of the USSR’s KGB called for the infiltration of émigré groups, the takeover of émigré communication channels, the fragmentation of émigré organizations, and the spreading of disinformation about émigré organizations and their leaders." —Ieva Zaķe, Soviet Campaigns against "Capitalist Ideological Subversives"during the Cold War: The Latvian Experience, Journal of Cold War Studies, Volume 12, Number 3, Summer 2010, pp. 91-114, MIT Press.
[3]"Traitor" included not only the Legion, but every refugee. In concert with Latvia's annexation, everyone was made a Soviet "citizen." Therefore, it was "Soviet Latvia" which was occupied, and anyone who fled Latvia was branded a defector and, according to Soviet "law," declared a traitor.
[4]Silgailis, the senior Latvian Waffen-SS officer, wrote in his history of the Latvian Legion, “the possibility that [the] Allies would allow the Red Army to march until the Elbe was not even considered by any politically rationally thinking person.” Latviešu Leģions (Copenhagen: Imanta, 1964)
[5]"It is natural that the European countries will have to undergo tremendous changes in order to adapt to Russia, but [Roosevelt] hopes that in ten or twenty years the European influences would bring the Russians to become less barbarian." Gannon, Robert I., The Cardinal Spellman Story, New York, Doubleday, 1962.

Updated: June, 2017

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