2012Denis MacShane, New Statesman

Originally posted at www.newstatesman.com, published 16 March, 2012[1]

Why does Latvia still honour the Waffen-SS?No EU member state should be honouring members of the biggest Jew-killing machine in world history.

Denis MacShane
[http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2012/03/latvia-riga-waffen-european Published 16 March, 2012 at newstatesman.com

This morning, 16 March, a 47-year-old British woman, Monica Lowenberg, placed a wreath at the foot of the Freedom Monument in Riga, Latvia. She was dressed in the ghetto garb the Nazis forced Riga's Jews to wear. Many of her family died at the hands of Germans and their Latvian collaborators.

1She stood in silent witness as marchers arrived to celebrate the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS, the biggest Jew-killing machine in world history. Latvians pushed Ms Lowenberg to one side to place their own large insignia of the Latvian Waffen-SS in front of the Freedom Monument.

Below is an open letter that Ms Lowenberg wrote to the government and parliament of Latvia to explain why in 2012 she believes, rightly, that no EU member state should be honouring members of the Waffen-SS in an open public ceremony in a European capital city.

Denis MacShane

Open letter to the government and parliament of Latvia on the eve of the Waffen-SS commemoration

My name is Monica Lowenberg and I am the only child and daughter of Ernest Lowenberg, a German Jewish refugee who managed to leave Nazi Germany five days before the outbreak of war in 1939. He was 16. His mother, my grandmother Marianne Loewenberg (née Peiser), born in Leipzig, a violinist and opera singer, managed with the help of the Hinrichsens, owners of the music publishing firm C F Peters, to leave Germany in April 1939 on a domestic's visa.

Tragically, the rest of the immediate Peiser and Loewenberg family did not manage to escape in time and were brutally murdered in the various camps or shot. My grandfather David Loewenberg or Levenbergs, born in 1877 in Libau in Latvia, was one of eight children, as I discovered only last year in the Latvian Historical State Archives in Riga. His two elder twin brothers also left Latvia, like himself, Moishe for Paris (his children worked in the French Resistance and were murdered by the Gestapo) and Abraham for Tehran. My grandfather was, from what I could gather, the only Levenberg who went to university and studied in Dresden, later making a life for himself in Berlin. He was an engineer and an inventor whose factory was taken away from him by the Nazis in 1935, forcing him to place his two sons in an orphanage.

His other brother and three sisters stayed with their parents, Minna and Lazzers (Lazzers had been a soldier), in Libau and most likely helped them out in their furniture shop. From what I have read, I must conclude that my Levenberg family who stayed in Libau were all murdered by Latvian Arajs commandos and auxiliary police in the Libau massacres of 1941.

After many years of searching for family members and even devoting ten years of my life to studying the Holocaust formally at MA and then DPhil level, working at Sussex university and the Wiener Library as an academic and education officer, I decided to go to Riga for the first time last year and try to establish what had happened to my uncle Paul, my father's brother born in Halle, Germany, 20 January 1922.

Paul, who was a year older than my father, had not managed to get out of Nazi Germany and therefore found himself trying to leave for Palestine with the help of a Jewish youth movement. He worked first of all on a farm in Denmark before going to Riga to work in 1940. The last letter my grandmother received from him was dated 8 September 1940. In the Riga archives, I discovered that Paul had been sent to the Riga ghetto on 4 October 1941. There are no records of what happened to him. I must assume that he was killed, aged 19. In 1941 and 1942, 90 per cent of Latvia's pre-war 62,000 Jews were killed, Latvian commandos and auxiliary police taking a leading role in their extermination.

As I am sure you can appreciate, discovering these facts has been exceptionally distressing. However, it was equally distressing to discover that the men actively involved in the mass murders of Latvia's Jews joined the 15th and 19th Divisions of the Latvian SS in 1943. The 15th Division was the most decorated out of all Himmler's SS divisions. In an EU country, these men are today held as "heroes" by many Latvians.

The current Latvian prime minister feels we should "bow" our heads to these Waffen-SS klillers. I also find it of deep concern that British Conservative MEPs in the European Parliament work with the Latvian MEP Roberts Zile and have made an unholy alliance with the party to which he is connected.

Last year two Latvian politicians, Dzintars Rasnacs and Raivis Dzintars, participated in the march to honour the Waffen-SS, the greatest Jew-killing machine in world history. Raivis Dzintars belongs to the national association "All For Latvia!" and was a member of the ultranationalist For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK party, to which Mr Zile is still linked.

I must also add that another party comrade of Mr Zile told the Latvian parliament that LNNK has always been against the trial of Konrads Kalejs and other Latvians accused of Nazi crimes. Kalejs was a close assistant of Viktors Arajs, chief of the bloody Arajs Commando, responsible for guarding and finishing off those Jews who were still alive in the ditches into they fell after mass shootings. Some survived and tried to escape but the Latvians were on hand to kill them.

To raise concern about these Latvian politicians and the Waffen-SS, I launched a petition, started on the anniversary of my uncle's birthday – 20 January 2012 – 70 years to the day of the Wannsee conference when the Final Solution of exterminating the Jews was planned. The petition was called "Stop the 16 March Marches in Riga and Latvians Revising History", as I sincerely believe glorification of pro-Nazi armed forces during the Second World War has no place in a country that is a member of the European Union, Nato, the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

In little over a month, the petition has gained over 5,500 votes from around the world, indicating that I am not alone in believing that such glorification is terribly wrong. One should add that the ECRI, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, had already in 2008 explicitly stated: "All attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen-SS and collaborate with the Nazis should be condemned. Any gathering or march legitimising in any way Nazism should be banned." The ECRI reiterated the same in its most recent report about Latvia, dated 21 February 2012.

The Latvian apologists and their friends in British politics who refuse to dissociate themselves from Mr Zile should consider the following:

21. Many of the worst Latvian killers served in the Latvian Security Police prior to joining the SS Legion. Honouring such persons would be a travesty of justice and a whitewash of their heinous crimes.

32. The Legion fought under the Nazi high command for victory of the Third Reich. They do not deserve to be honoured for fighting for a victory of the most genocidal regime in human history. Ironically, such a victory would have been a disaster for Latvia because the Nazis had no intention or plan to grant Latvia independence.

43. About one-third of those who served in the Legion were volunteers (two-thirds were drafted) and many of them had served in Latvian Security Police units that actively participated in the mass murder of Jews in Latvia and in Belarus, such as the infamous Arajs Commando squad.

54. When Latvian SS killed Soviet soldiers, they allowed Nazis on the western front to kill British and American soldiers in turn and thus made it possible for Auschwitz and other concentration camps to continue their heinous crimes against humanity.

65. Democratic Latvia should not glorify those willing to give up their lives for victory of the Third Reich. The Latvian Righteous Gentiles would make much better role models.

76. The ultranationalists who support the march are the ones who are seeking to rewrite the accepted narrative of the Holocaust in Latvia. Their efforts will help hide the crimes of local Nazi collaborators and promote the canard of equivalency between communist and Nazi crimes.

87. Ceremonies in churches and cemeteries are also forms of honouring the deceased (whether they deserve it or not). Witness the masses held in Zagreb and Split, Croatia, last December in honour of the Croatian mass murderer and leader of the Ustashe Ante Pavelic.

As these men march from the main Latvian Lutheran Church towards the symbol of Latvian independence – Freedom Monument in Riga's central square on 16 March – will any of these men and politicians spare a thought for their Latvian murdered compatriots who happened to be Jewish? 9Will they remember how 25,000 of them, in the autumn of 1941, over two weekends, were marched down Riga's streets from the ghetto to Rumbula, shot and thrown into pits using the "sardine method"? Will they say a prayer for them?

With kind regards,

Monica Lowenberg

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former Europe minister

Analysis

Contention versus Fact
Those who collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust numbered 300-500, well documented in the Nuremberg trials. Honoring such individuals would be a travesty. The only men being honored are those who fought against Soviet re-occupation including those who held out in Courland until the end of the war—the only territory not taken by the Red Army despite Stalin throwing in division after division, promising to Roosevelt and Churchill that Courland would fall shortly. The Latvians had no clue that they had already been given up to Stalin.
It is utterly false to accuse the Legion of any Nazi sympathies. Indeed, one of the Legion songs was of their hope to repeat the War of Independence, to first drive out the Russians, then turn on the Germans and then drive them out.
Again, Arajs Kommando numbered 300-500 during the Holocaust. Soviet show trials later convicted Latvian units, for example, finding the 18th Police Battalion guilty of slaughtering all the Jews of Slonim—based on manufactured evidence placed in Soviet archives, thoroughly discredited by the Nazi's own records that one of the Latvians convicted and executed was not even in Slonim and that the Germans had slaughtered Slonim's Jews before the Latvians ever showed up.
If we are looking to place blame, then Stalin should not have invaded and subjugated the Baltics in partnership with Hitler in the first place nor conducted mass deportations of innocents throughout the Baltics. In that case, the Nazis would have been the first invaders and the Soviets would have been hailed as liberators. Instead, the Soviet occupation was so brutal that the Nazis were hailed as liberators. Latvians took German weapons to fight the Red Army because they had already experienced the Soviets. Blame Stalin, the perpetrator, not the Latvians, the victims. Indeed, we are puzzled why scholars today rush to take everything Stalin said and did as reflecting the truth--while dismissing Hitler's statement that Stalin's invasion of the Baltics, Romania, and other Eastern European territories violated their "spheres of influence" agreement and was decisive in Hitler deciding to invade the USSR.
This is simply a restatement of #2 above. There is no "role model" supporting Hitler and the Third Reich.
There is no attempt to rewrite the Holocaust in Latvia. The guilty have been acknowledged and punished. As for "equivalency", that is a Jewish activist construct. What Eastern Europe seeks is acknowledgement that it was not "liberated" by Stalin but murdered by Stalin. That the Red Army were the "liberators" of Hitler's death camps was, for Stalin, a propagandic coup. WWII was rife, once Hitler and Stalin were on opposite sides, of each accusing the other of their heinous acts. For example, the "Hitlerian" Poles were denounced for accusing the Soviets of the massacre at Katyn, upon which the Soviets severed relations with the Polish government in exile. And today, Russia is rewriting WWII to ignore the Stalin-Hitler partnership starting the war. (Indeed, Moscow sent its congratulations to Hitler on the fall of Warsaw prematurely; meanwhile, once Poland disappeared, partitioned between the Nazis and Bolsheviks, the USSR occupied more Polish territory than Nazi Germany.) As for the Latvians, the only history they are attempting to justly rewrite is that of the "Great Patriotic War" liberating Eastern Europe: the Soviets enslaved 100,000,000 Eastern Europeans in a brutal occupation which lasted half a century.
This last condemnation is the litmus test, that is, Lowenberg sincerely believes the Legion was a haven for mass murderers and champions for Nazi victory, that none should ever be commemorated anywhere in any manner. Her beliefs regarding the Legion and its commemoration are as unfounded in fact as they are deeply held.
Arājs Kommando murdered just as many Jews as died at Rumbula. Yet, in this, the largest single slaughter of Jews in Latvia, Germans did all the killing.

Investigation

Our issue lies more with Denis MacShane's introduction to Lowenberg's letter than with the letter itself:

1 “She stood in silent witness as marchers arrived to celebrate the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS, the biggest Jew-killing machine in world history.”
Describing the Latvian Legion as part of the "biggest Jew-killing machine in world history" is both prejudiced and false. Indeed, that year, in an interview on Latvian State Television LTV1 on March 16th, even Efraim Zuroff clearly admitted that the "Latvian SS Legion was not involved in the crimes of the Holocaust."

MacShane's mission, however, is not one of journalism but of polemics. His characterizations become less surprising viewed through his Labour party lens and his membership in Labour Friends of Israel. MacShane's blog provides further examples associating his Tory opponents with Nazis:

18 March 2010 Tories must answer for extremist links

The ahistorical David Cameron has no idea how much his association with Waffen-SS admirers has tarnished UK politics. Ian Traynor's balanced report from Riga about the Waffen-SS commemoration in Latvia is a reminder that Britain's Conservative party has not been adequately called to account for its links with extremists in eastern Europe....

This week we can see the ugly face of the Conservatives' foolish alliance [with east European nationalist populist politicians]. Even if no Tory MP was present to march in memory of the Waffen-SS alongside their Latvian allies, the grotesque nature of the ceremony mocks not just Jews but all who sacrificed themselves to defeat Nazism. As Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, noted the event was deeply offensive. "These people were thinking they were fighting for Latvia but the real beneficiary of their service and their bravery was Nazi Germany."

Stalinism was cruel and Russia's occupation of Latvia in 1939 and the brutality of the Red Army as it raped its way across the Baltic states in 1944 and 1945 have scarred Latvian national memory. Five per cent of the Latvian population was deported to rot and die in Siberia under Stalin. Many Latvians fled to west Europe or North America rather than live under Soviet imperialism. But 90% of Latvia's Jews were killed by the Nazis with the active collaboration of Latvian recruits to the Waffen-SS local divisions....[2].

In this 2010 posting, MacShane shamelessly promulgates the Latvian Legion are Nazis meme, as the Latvian Waffen-SS was not involved in a single war crime, let alone in the murder of 90% of Latvia's Jews.

MacShane's accusations regarding "whitewashing the murder of Jews" and sinister plots to reduce—indeed "absolve"—the horror of the Holocaust by elevating the horror of Stalinism betray his political motivation: denounce the Latvians as Jew-murderers; denounce the Tories as the bedfellows of said Jew-murderers; elevate Labour as the sole champions of all that is just, moral, and right. The more strident MacShane's rhetoric, the less it has any basis in historical fact.

On the other hand, we cannot fault Lowenberg for her deeply held feelings. Nor are her basic historical facts in error. Arajs Kommando, numbering 300-500 at the time, did, indeed, participate directly in the Holocaust under German supervision and command. Nevertheless, as we noted above, it was a hand-picked squad of Germans only who pulled the trigger at Rumbula, the single worst massacre of Jews in Latvia—amassing 25,000 dead over two days.

Regardless, as with all aspersions cast upon the Latvian Legion commemoration, at the foundation of Lowenberg's misguided despair is a false belief that Nazism and the perpetrators of the Holocaust are being glorified. And if the purported history of the Holocaust in Latvia does not serve the truth, then what and who does it serve today?


[1]Denis MacShane's article published at retrieved 10 June 2015.
[2]Tories' alliance in Europe: Waffen-SS march in Latvia, retrieved 9 June 2015, commentary also indicated as having been published in The Guardian
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