2015Efraim Zuroff, Simon Wiesenthal Center

Originally posted at www.i24news.tv, published 29 March 2015[1]

One man's journey to the heartland of fascism

1Hostility to minorities and attempts to rewrite Holocaust history in Baltics - but no one cares, except Russia

2This year marks the 25th anniversary of Baltic independence and more than a decade of full membership in the European Union and NATO. If the assumption was that those developments would cure Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian society from the scourges of fascism, racism, and anti-Semitism, the events of the past month clearly show that these plagues have not been eradicated. During this period, four separate neo-Nazi/ultra-nationalist marches were held in the Baltics, all of which I attended as a monitor/protester, and I believe that it is important to publicize what I saw and attempt to evaluate the importance and potential dangers posed by those events.

The first question in that regard is the legal status of these marches. Those 3in Latvia (in Riga on March 16, to honor Latvian SS veterans) and in Lithuania (in Kaunas on February 16 and in Vilnius on March 11, both days on which Lithuanian independence is celebrated) have been a subject of controversy since they were launched, in Latvia in the 1990s and in Lithuania in 2008. Local courts decided to allow the marches on the basis of freedom of speech, and all attempts to have them banned, or at least moved out of the city center, including my appeals this year to the mayors of both Lithuanian cities, have not achieved any practical results.

The second question concerns the sponsors of the events and the number and identity of the marchers. With the exception of Estonia, where the march was organized by the Blue Awakening youth movement, closely linked to the new Conservative People's Party (EKRE), 4the organizers in Lithuania and Latvia are not officially connected to political parties, but clearly identify with those on the extreme right. In the past, there were government ministers who participated in the SS veterans' march in Latvia, but since the annexation of Crimea, the government has forbidden such participation and last year it cost a minister his post. This year quite a few MP's from the right-wing All for Latvia party marched, and the ministers of justice and of culture, along with Parliament Speaker Ingrida Murnietse, attended a memorial service for the SS.

The number of marchers ranged from 200 in Tallinn to 500 in Kaunas and 1,500 each in Vilnius and Riga. In Estonia, the overwhelming majority of marchers were young - most appeared to be high school students - whereas in Lithuania, most were young adults and in Riga there were also many elderly supporters. 5One must remember, however, that for every person marching, there are at least several hundred Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians who fully agree with the marchers' ideology. Thus, for example, in Estonia's election several days after the march, the EKRE obtained seven parliamentary seats (out of 101), after garnering more than 46,000 votes.

6Two dangerous themes were dominant in practically every event. The first was the open hostility toward local minorities — Poles, Russians and Jews in Lithuania, the latter two in Latvia and Estonia. 7The second was support for ongoing efforts throughout much of post-Communist Eastern Europe to rewrite the narrative of World War II and the Holocaust. These are designed to [1.] hide or minimize the extensive crimes by local Nazi collaborators, [2.] promote the canard of equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes (erroneously classified as genocide), and [3.] glorify those who fought against the Soviets regardless of whether they had murdered Jews during the Holocaust.

Section of the march gets underway at Vilnius’s Cathedral Square on the March 11th independence day event organized by neo-Nazi and far-right elements with state acquiescence. Original photograph at www.defendinghistory.com

8Thus, Latvian SS veterans are portrayed as freedom fighters who paved the way for independence, even though the Nazis had absolutely no intention of granting the Baltic countries sovereignty, and marchers in Kaunas carried a huge banner with the image of Juozas Ambrazevicius, the prime minister of a short-lived provisional Lithuanian government, who publicly supported the Third Reich and lethal measures against Lithuanian Jews. In both Lithuanian cities many marchers wore swastikas, and in Vilnius, a large black SS flag was displayed. Only in Estonia was this theme missing, but each summer an international gathering of SS veterans from all over Europe is held, including from countries in which such meetings are legally banned.

The final question relates to the reactions to the demonstrations. Unfortunately, with the exception of Riga where about two dozen protesters symbolically "fumigated" the Freedom Monument after the SS march, 9there were very few counter-protesters, 12 individuals in Kaunas, no one besides myself in Tallinn, and about 20 in Vilnius, almost all of whom came thanks to the dedicated efforts of Prof. Dovid Katz, the editor of www.defendinghistory.com who is the sole active Jewish voice in the Baltics against Holocaust distortion.

The only good news was that for the first time since Faina Kukliansky assumed the post of Chairperson of the Lithuanian Jewish community, she issued a statement denouncing the march in Vilnius (after initially ignoring the one in Kaunas), and several community officials participated in our protest. There was only silence from the Jewish communities of Latvia and Estonia, as well as from the Israeli embassies in Vilnius, Riga and Helsinki.

11Outside of the region, 10with the exception of Russia, there were no official responses despite numerous international media reports, especially about the Riga march. I can only surmise that perhaps the incessant, and to a large extent justified (albeit often exaggerated) criticism from Moscow of this phenomenon, has silenced those in the West, who long ago should have been the first to object.

Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and director of its Israel Office. His most recent book is "Operation Last Chance; One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice." His website is: www.operationlastchance.org and he can be followed on Twitter @EZuroff

Analysis

Contention versus Fact
We can only hope this is the work of the headline copy-editor. Given its neo-fascism, ultra-nationalism, and brutal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of its territory, Russia's only interest is to denounce as a "fascist" anyone who disapproves of the "USSR liberated" Eastern Europe narrative or of Russia's aggressions against its neighbours.
The history of the Latvian Legion as dedicated solely to fighting against the re-invading Red Army, as having no Nazi sympathies, as planning to drive out the Germans after driving out the Russians in a repeat of the Latvian War of Independence—a goal enshrined even in a Latvian Legion song—is incontrovertible. Zuroff is the danger here: his being seen standing arm-in-arm with known Russian propagandists shouting Nazi epithets from the sidelines drives a wedge between Jews and the Baltic peoples and casts a shadow over his cause. If Zuroff were to protest that his cause should be judged by its morals and not by the company he keeps, then he would be obliged to recognize the same regarding the Legionnaires, who fought only with the hope of restoring Latvia's independence, not in "support" of Nazi Germany.
Our focus here, the Latvian commemoration, has been observed for 65 years—every year since 1952. If there were genuine controversy, it would have manifested itself decades ago. Nor was there controversy when the commemoration began to be observed in a Latvia free after half a century of Soviet occupation. "Controversy" arose only after the commemoration was declared to be an official day of remembrance[2]—questioning the motives of the accusers not the participants.
Zuroff's contentions emanate from his neo-Nazi event meme, in which case all supporters are fascists by definition—"extreme right" is merely a euphemism. (We expect more politicians would march had they the courage of their convictions and if the Latvian government did not buckle in the face of criticism, thereby validating false accusations of extremism. We would note that Russians who publicly called the "All for Latvia!" party "fascists" were successfully sued for defamation and forced to pay damages.) Zuroff betrays his prejudice as he calls the Legion commemoration a "memorial service for the SS." The Legion had nothing to do with Hitler's elite SS; it is Zuroff and Russian propaganda that make the false association.
Since Zuroff describes the commemoration as an manifestation of Nazism commemorating Hitler's SS, then anyone participating must be an adherent of fascist Nazi ideology. We can only observe that if 1,500 marched in Rīga, then there are not only several hundreds but more likely a thousand Latvians for each participant who hold sacred the memory of those who sacrificed their lives in the hope of restoring Latvia's freedom.
There is no basis for Zuroff's contention of widespread hostilities toward Russians and Jews. When the international association of Russian journalists held its annual convention in Latvia in 2000 to call attention to the oppression and abuse of the Russian minority, even the Duma representatives in attendance freely admitted that what they found was far different from what Russian pronouncements and Latvian Russian "rights-advocates" had led them to expect—by the same people with whom Zuroff now stands in alliance denouncing Latvian neo-Nazism. Zuroff fails to recognize his own role as instigator of discord. Instead, the personal antagonism Zuroff & company invite against themselves by denouncing Latvians as "Nazis" is transmogrified into ethnic and anti-Semitic hatred.[3]
Herein lies the heart of Zuroff's alleged Latvian neo-Nazi trifecta. First and foremost, it is the USSR's liberation of Eastern Europe which is being rewritten, nothing else. It is "liberation" only if sovereignty is restored to the legitimate authorities. Instead, for 100,000,000 people, the Nazi occupation was replaced with a Soviet one, while the Baltic countries disappeared off the world map completely.
  1. Commemorating the sacrifices of the Latvian Legion has absolutely nothing to do with Jews or the Holocaust or Nazism. Even "guilt by association"—employed to use the crimes of the few joined late in the war to the Legion to condemn it—fails to hold water: not a single individual has ever been accused of a war crime while in the service of the Legion. No crime is being hidden or minimized.
  2. Technically, Zuroff is correct that according to the definition of genocide passed by the United Nations[4], mass population displacement and murder targeting an economic or political class are not included under acts of genocide—but only because that would have opened an Allied power, the Soviet Union, to criminal charges and threatened the resolution with a Soviet veto. Indeed, Raphael Lemkin, progenitor of the term "genocide" (1944), considered the conduct of the USSR in pre-Ukraine and elsewhere to constitute genocide.[5] Zuroff's contention here is the canard of non-equivalence. That Hitler targeted Jews as a race—recalling the goal was to eliminate Jewish influence on German economic and political life, packed them into cattle cars and sent them off to their deaths—their bodies destined for industrial ovens, is genocide. Following Zuroff's logic, he would contend that in Latvia, Stalin's targeting Jews as an economic and political class[6], packing them into cattle cars and sending them off to their deaths—bodies dumped by the track side or buried in mass graves after perishing in Russian labor camps, does not constitute genocide. Moreover, it was Stalin's utter decapitation of Jewish civil society which rendered Latvia's Jews unable to organize and respond to the Nazi onslaught a mere week after the first Soviet mass deportation.
  3. That anyone would use defence of Latvian freedom to excuse crimes against humanity is a reprehensible and baseless accusation, regardless of the morality of their cause.
Hindsight is 20:20. As it turned out, messages the British radioed to the Latvians trapped in Courland to prepare for evacuation by sea were a complete lie as well. Germany did, in fact, hold out the carrot of the restoration of Latvian sovereignty in return for continued resistance against the Red Army. As mentioned above, Latvians hoped to drive out the Russians and then turn on and drive out the Germans in a repeat of their War of Independence—the Germans had no intention of granting sovereignty the first time around, either, yet the Latvians had prevailed. Because Latvia's hopes for freedom were doomed (in retrospect), the professions of such hopes and motivations are lies? The notion is as preposterous as it is prejudiced.
Zuroff bemoans the world's apathy to the glorification of Nazism. We can only hope it is apathy to baseless accusations, as the true rise of actual neo-Nazism in Russia and elsewhere is a genuine and legitimate concern.

Investigation

They are all Nazis

An ever-present subtext to the Holocaust in Eastern Europe are contentions that it could have only succeeded so thoroughly if it had massive local support among the local population, therefore proving the Holocaust had massive local support. Holocaust activist scholarship largely ignores that the Nazis fabricated and staged the "Germanless Holocaust." Indeed, there are specific accounts where reports were sent to Berlin telling of marauding Lithuanians completely wiping out local Jewish settlements—whereas a German witness to one of these atrocities wrote to Berlin that the German commando unit was sloppy and was nearly discovered; they needed to be more careful, as it would look bad for Germany if the truth of German responsibility were to be revealed.

Zuroff is no exception to this subtext. While he attests to the existence of German mobile killing units, he also contends that the extermination of Jewry, "900,000 victims in 15 months" "from the suburbs of Leningrad in the north to the Asov sea in the south"—meaning the totality of Eastern Europe—was made possible by "fanatic support by the native population."[7]

In this, Zuroff echoes Elizabeth Holtzmann's utterance that "all Latvians are Nazis." For Zuroff, there is no possibility the annual commemoration of the Latvian Legion is what its participants contend is its purpose. Reading between the lines, Latvians have no moral authority to claim they were victims because Zuroff counts them among those he maintains "fanatically supported" the Nazi annihilation of eastern European Jewry, insuring the completeness of that annihilation.

Only Russia cares

We cannot imagine that Zuroff is unaware of events in Ukraine ever since Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea a full year prior. Yet, it appears he has no issue associating himself with Russia in denouncing Latvian Nazism. If, indeed, the "enemy of my enemy is my friend," then one might expect Zuroff to offer the same courtesy—or at least benefit of a doubt—to the Latvian Legion allying, albeit conscripted, with Germany to resist the Red Army.

11 “Outside of the region, 10with the exception of Russia, there were no official responses despite numerous international media reports, especially about the Riga march. I can only surmise that perhaps the incessant, and to a large extent justified (albeit often exaggerated) criticism from Moscow of this phenomenon, has silenced those in the West, who long ago should have been the first to object.”

Zuroff mistakes cause and effect. The world has not gone silent because it is tired of hearing Russia complain about Latvian Nazis, oppression of the Russian minority in Latvia, and so on. It has gone silent because Russia's accusations are simply untrue. Accusations cannot be both "justified" while also "often exaggerated." Zuroff cannot affirm Russian accusations and at the same distance himself from their vitriol. Indeed, it is his personal participation taking up their common cause, standing side by side with the propagandists present who serve a completely different agenda, which rewards, encourages, and escalates Russia's anti-Latvian propaganda and moves us further away from reconciliation of the past.


[1]Efraim Zuroff's comments published at www.i24news.tv/en/opinion/65928-150329-fascists-march-in-the-baltics-and-the-world-is-silent, retrieved 22-Apr-2105
[2]16.martu izmanto Krievijas propagandas nolūkos, pirmdien intervijā LNT raidījumam "900 sekundes" sacīja Latvijas Universitātes vēsturnieks Inesis Feldmanis.
  Viņš norādīja, ka savulaik leģionāru pieminēšana, noliekot ziedus pie Brīvības pieminekļa notikusi bez starpgadījumiem, līdz 1998.gadā 16.datums oficiāli tika noteikts par piemiņas dienu.
  "No brīža, kad 16.marts tika noteikts par piemiņas dienu, tā kļuva par konfrontācijas dienu," sacīja vēsturnieks.
  Vēsturnieks pauda, ka vēlāk gan piemiņas dienas statuss 16.martam tika atcelts, taču "izlietu ūdeni nesasmelsi".
  Lai iedzīvotājiem skaidrotu 16.marta notikumus un latviešu leģiona gaitas, šogad izdots skaidrojošais materiāls.
  "Mūsu uzdevums ir nodrošināt, lai kritušo leģionāru tuvinieki un cīņu biedri varētu viņus pieminēt," sacīja Feldmanis.
Historian Inesis Feldmanis' remarks, 16 March 2015, at www.focus.lv/latvija/viedokli/vesturnieks-16martu-izmanto-krievijas-propagandas-nolukos, retrieved 03 May 2015
[3]We suspect that the Russian middle class would not be now fleeing to Latvia to escape the oppression of Putin's regime were Russians the object of the hatred Zuroff alleges, viz. Special Report: The Russians Seeking Refuge In Latvia, retrieved 04 May 2015.
[4]U.N. General Assembly, 3rd Session, "Resolution 260 (III) [Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide]," 9 December 1948.
[5]Anton Weiss-Wendt, "Hostage of Politics: Raphael Lemkin on 'Soviet Genocide'," Journal of Genocide Research 7, no. 4 (2005): 551.
[6]Proportionally, Jews suffered the heaviest losses under Stalin's first mass deportation, also being condemned to the harshest conditions.
[7]Efraim Zuroff, Beruf: Nazijäger. Die Suche mit dem langen Atem: Die Jagd nach den Tätern des Völkermordes, Ahriman, Freiburg 1996, p. 44 and following.

Updated: May, 2017

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